Rob Gray :: photography :: about
Home



Born in 1954 Rob has traveled extensively to such diverse areas as Tahiti, Panama, USA, UK, Europe, New Zealand, Africa and much of Australia.

During the course of these travels he worked as a darkroom technician in London and Canberra, a commercial photographer in Perth, a stock photographer for Globe Photos, New York and a newspaper photographer in Grafton. He also wrote and/or photographed articles for travel magazines on subjects such as London, Paris, African wildlife and bushwalking.

Turning to large-format landscapes in the mid-90s Rob exhibited, ran workshops, and sold prints from his small gallery in Canberra until the year 2000 when he, and his wife Chris, left their jobs, closed the gallery, sold most of their possessions, and started a life on the road in Australia's largest and weirdest off-road motor home.

In 2004 Rob retired the large-format camera and switched to digital equipment, this also signaled a return to his first photographic love, wildlife and nature photography, but also he is keeping large-format landscape principles alive by shooting multi-image panoramas, a process similar to using a large-format camera.

Rob now spends his time homesteading and photographing wildlife, landscapes, and rural scenes around Australia.



"Miles from nowhere
Guess I'll take my time
To reach there
Look up at the mountain
I have to climb
To reach there ..."

Standing on one of the giant granite outcrops that give the Ramshead Range its character I watch the storm sweep towards me across the main range. The vision of Mt Kosciuszko falters then vanishes behind a wall of sleet; a wall that will engulf me before my beard is much longer.

Looking around I see nothing to remind me of humanity. No roads, no buildings, no people. Only nature's objects, the giant granite tors, last winter's surviving snowdrifts, and the approaching storm. I am alone with the elements in the solitude of the Australian bush.

For years I dreamed of being a landscape photographer, working with a traditional style of camera that's changed little in over a hundred years. The words of Frank-n-furter haunted me: "Don't dream it, be it" he implored. So I stopped dreaming, purchased a five-by-four field camera, and proceeded to "be it".

Raindrops return me to the present, turning from the weather I walk to my nearby shelter. As I tread the soft alpine heath I think about what drives me to photograph the landscape.

The words of Cat Stevens come to mind. Like him I'll climb the mountain, and like him I'll "reach there", but unlike him I'm searching for an elusive combination of shape and form. An interplay of natural entities such as eucalypt and granite. The right light, and the calm state of mind that allows me to stop looking at objects and start seeing relationships and balance.

Only when all these elements are in harmony do I find what I'm looking for. A tranquil state of mind and matter that allows me to create images that are, by most accounts, peaceful and beautiful.

For I feel privileged to know the solitude of the Australian bush and I hope that, through my photographs, those who have been there will remember; and those who have not will find the will to go.

The storm hits, plucking at the fabric of my frail shelter as if trying to cast it to the valley below. This is nature at its most raw, it's wild and it will get worse before I see the cold light of dawn. I lay down, close my eyes and search for sleep with the sound of rain on canvas as my guide.

I marvel at how lucky I am.

"...Miles from nowhere
Not a soul in sight
But it's alright"

2007-8

Building Wothahellizat Mk2.

2005-7

Travelling around Australia photographing nature and writing magazine articles.

2004

One of several of Australia's leading photographers invited to take photos for a WWF-funded book on the Tarkine Wilderness, a project designed to help have this area World Heritage listed.

2003

Represented by Adrianno's Fine Art Gallery, Perth.

2002

Represented by The Wilderness Gallery, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

2001

Now live on the road full time, photographing Australia.

2000

Still building motorhome, will it never end?

1999

Ran two more MONOscapes workshops, this time we did three-day affairs in the Blue Mountains with walks into the Grand Canyon.

Still building the motor home.

Still guest lecturing at the Canberra School of Photography.

1998
Taught first MONOscapes workshop. It was a success so we have scheduled another for 1999.

Still guest lecturing at the Canberra School of Photography.

Otherwise very quite photographically, too busy building my motor home
1997
Regular guest lecturer at the Canberra School of Photography.

Designed and release a new range of 40 greeting cards.

Designed and released seven posters featuring National Parks and other wilderness areas.

Started writing a regular column in a new magazine about black & white photography published by The Black & White Enthusiast.

Finished the book MONOscapes:The thoughts and images of Rob Gray.
1996
Regular guest lecturer at the Canberra School of Photography.

Gave talks on landscape photography at camera, bushwalking and cross country skiing clubs, also at local high school.

Released range of 32 greeting cards.

Approached by The Black & White Enthusiast to write a book about black & white landscape photography.

Images selected for the Creative Monochrome yearbook (one of a handful of photographers to be selected for all three editions).
1995
Opened The Rob Gray Gallery in Canberra.

Images selected for the Creative Monochrome yearbook.
1994
First solo exhibition.

Started selling photographs at local markets.

Image selected for the Creative Monochrome yearbook.
1993
Returned to photography, specialising in large format black & white landscapes.
1981-93
Left photography to work in the computing industry. Although I kept in touch by teaching adult classes in basic photography and darkroom practices. I also wrote and/or photographed articles for travel magazines on subjects such as London, Paris, African wildlife and bushwalking.
1979
Newspaper photographer, Grafton. General photography of sports and events with the occasional fire and storm damage photos.
1978
Darkroom technician, A&B Studios, London. All forms of darkroom work for the advertising industry, including extremely accurate stripping of line and half-tone negatives. Also did much of the product photography for the studio.

Joined Globe Photos stock library, New York.
1975-76
Employed by Noel Holly (Illustrations P/L in Perth) as a commercial/product photographer. Studio and in-store product photography. Smaller industrial jobs and assisting Noel with larger jobs. Fashion and model's folio shots. Interior and exterior architectural work.
1972-75

Darkroom technician with the Australian Information Service in Canberra. Also wedding work.

1971

'Asked' to leave school. I never went back.

Nearly joined the Army, passed medical but, after being kicked out of boarding school because I couldn't handle the discipline, how clever would it have been to join the Army

Non-photographic experience includes, barman, greenkeeper, farm hand, plumber's mate, telecom technician, electronic engineer, carpenter, welder, metal worker, mailroom clerk, dry wall fixer, software engineer, garbage man, forklift operator, furniture manufacturer, clerk, diplomatic mail courier.

In 2000 we left the rat race to live on the road and until last year (2018) I really had no opportunity to exhibit. That changed recently as we have now dropped anchor and I also worked in a local gallery.

I now plan to exhibit more often.

Solo Exhibitions

2018
  • Australian Nature, Courthouse Gallery, Gin Gin.
1999
  • Australian MONOscapes, North Light Gallery, Toronto, Canada (cancelled, I think the gallery folded).
1997
  • Silver & Silicon, The Arts Factory, Watson.
1996
  • Untitled, Gallery Restaurant, University of Canberra
1995-6
  • Untitled, Mooi Café, Canberra
1994-5
  • Tranquil Light, QANTAS Club lounge, Canberra.
  • National Parks, Kosciuszko NP Headquarters, Sawpit Creek.
1994
  • MONOscapes, Graphix Gallery, Canberra

Group Exhibitions

1995
  • Photex 95
  • AIPP Print Awards, Link Gallery, Canberra.
  • Six Canberra Photographers, Bungendore Woodworks Gallery.
1994
  • Lost & Found, PhotoAccess, Canberra.
  • Ten out of ten, Link Gallery, Canberra
  • Untitled, Kayell, Canberra.
  • Photex 94
1993
  • Vote 1 the Budawangs, PhotoAccess, Canberra .
NOTE: Sometime in 1997 I decided not to enter any more competitions. Much as I think it's important to have your work judged by your peers I felt I was in danger of taking photos just to win competitions and earn more brownie points. In 2005 I got over it and started submitting to competitions again but only a couple. I no longer see much point to be honest.

2006 ANZANG nature photographer of the year

Runner up in the Interpretive photography category with image #21162

Highly commended in the Black & White section with image #00342

2006 Shell Wildlife Photographer of the Year.

Short listed in the world's most prestigious and hotly contested competition (used to be called British Gas Wildlife Photographer of the Year).

 

2005 ANZANG nature photographer of the year

Runner up in the Botanical category with image #10279


 

1997 ACT AIPP print awards

Winner of Ilford open black & white print award.

Winner of Most Outstanding Portfolio award

Highest scoring black & white print

1996 ACT AIPP print awards

Joint winner of Ilford open black & white print award.

1996 Nikon Panorama Photographer of the Year

Honourable mention.

1995 Photex '95

Winner of "Peoples Choice" award.

3rd in "Self Commissioned" section.

1995 Escalade Nikon Photographic Competition

Winner of Ilford award for best black & white print.

1995 ACT AIPP print awards

Joint winner of Ilford open black & white print award.

3rd in "Landscape & Pictorial" section.

1995 Heritage Acquisitive Photographic Awards

Three acceptances.

1994 Kosciuszko Nikon Photo Competition

Best overall photo.

Best photo, landscape section.

1994 Blue Mountains for World Heritage Competition

1st in open black & white section.

2nd in open black & white section.

2019

After a long hiatus I am returning to photography. I'll still be using my DSLR gear but also plan to return to large format shooting, using the hybrid technique of film and scanning as it's no longer practical for me to have a darkroom.

2011

Dropped anchor in Central Queensland, building a house from shipping containers.

2008-11

Once again, travelling around Australia photographing nature and writing magazine articles.

2007-8

Rebuilding the motorhome.

2005-7

Traveling around Australia photographing nature and writing magazine articles.

2004

One of several of Australia's leading photographers invited to take photos for a WWF-funded book on the Tarkine Wilderness, a project designed to help have this area World Heritage listed.

2003

Represented by Adrianno's Fine Art Gallery, Perth.

2002

Represented by The Wilderness Gallery, Cradle Mountain, Tasmania.

2001

Now live on the road full time, photographing Australia.

2000

Still building the motorhome, will it never end?

1999

Ran two more MONOscapes workshops, this time we did three-day affairs in the Blue Mountains with walks into the Grand Canyon.

1998

Taught first MONOscapes workshop. It was a success so we have scheduled another for 1999.

Still guest lecturing at the Canberra School of Photography.

Otherwise very quite photographically, too busy building my motor home.

1997

Regular guest lecturer at the Canberra School of Photography.

Designed and release a new range of 40 greeting cards.

Designed and released seven posters featuring National Parks and other wilderness areas.

Started writing a regular column in a new magazine about black & white photography published by The Black & White Enthusiast.

Finished the book MONOscapes:The thoughts and images of Rob Gray.

1996

Regular guest lecturer at the Canberra School of Photography.

Gave talks on landscape photography at camera, bushwalking and cross country skiing clubs, also at local high school.

Released range of 32 greeting cards.

Approached by The Black & White Enthusiast to write a book about black & white landscape photography.

Images selected for the Creative Monochrome yearbook (one of a handful of photographers to be selected for all three editions).

1995

Opened The Rob Gray Gallery in Canberra.



Images selected for the Creative Monochrome yearbook.

1994

First solo exhibition.

Started selling photographs at local markets.

Image selected for the Creative Monochrome yearbook.

1993

Returned to photography, specialising in large format black & white landscapes.

1981-93

Left photography to work in the computing industry. Although I kept in touch by teaching adult classes in photography and darkroom practices.

I also wrote and/or photographed articles for travel magazines on subjects such as London, Paris, African wildlife and bushwalking.

1979

Newspaper photographer, Grafton. General photography of sports and events with the occasional fire and storm damage photos.

1978

Darkroom technician, A&B Studios, London. All forms of darkroom work for the advertising industry, including extremely accurate stripping of line and half-tone negatives. Also did much of the product photography for the studio.

Joined Globe Photos stock library, New York.

1975-76

Employed by Noel Holly (Illustrations P/L in Perth) as a commercial/product photographer. Studio and in-store product photography. Smaller industrial jobs and assisting Noel with larger jobs. Fashion and model's folio shots. Interior and exterior architectural work.

1972-75

Worked as a darkroom technician with the Australian Information Service in Canberra. Also did the obligatory wedding work.

1971

'Asked' to leave school. I never went back.

Nearly joined the Army, passed medical but, after being kicked out of boarding school because I couldn't handle the discipline, how clever would it have been to join the Army?

Instead I went to Europe, bought first SLR (a Praktica Super TL) in the Panama.

Non-photographic experience includes, barman, greenkeeper, farm hand, plumber's mate, telecom technician, electronic engineer, carpenter, welder, metal worker, mailroom clerk, dry wall fixer, software engineer, garbage man, forklift operator, furniture manufacturer, clerk, diplomatic mail courier.



While it's true that fancy equipment does not make you a good photographer, it's also true that you need appropriate tools to do a job and when that job is nature photography this usually means fast cameras, big glass, and good flashes.

Landscape work on the other hand doesn't normally require speed, so an old camera with good glass is all that's required.

I've owned Canon professional camera equipment for over 40 years, starting with my first F1 in the mid-seventies. In 2004, after two or three years following the progress of digital equipment, I finally bit the bullet and purchased a digital kit.

Because I had old Canon FD equipment (which was totally incompatible with Canon's EOS system) I may just as well have bought into Nikon or maybe Olympus. I stuck with Canon because I felt they had the best solution to my needs, and also because in that 40 years of using Canon equipment it has seldom let me down.

Canon EOS 1Ds mk2
Canon EOS 1D mk2 N x 2
Canon EOS 10D x 2
10D Battery pack x 2
17-40/4 L zoom
24-105/4 L IS zoom
100/2.8 macro
70-200/2.8 L IS zoom
400/4 DO IS
1.4x converter
2x converter
Right-angle finder
Extension tubes
420EX flash
580EX flash
MT-24EX macro flash
STE2 flash transmitter
Gitzo 2220 tripod
Tamrac 5578 backpack
Wimberly quick release clamps
Wimberly Plamp
Better beamer flash extender

 

Canon EOS 1DS mk2

This is my landscape camera. At 16.7 mpx it was the world's best 35mm-format digital camera for about a week a couple of years ago. It's just as good now, it's just that the new cameras got better.

But it doesn't matter, the quality of the images this camera produces is quite unbelievable.

This camera is used for bushwalking when I am primarily looking for landscape photos, and to be fair a 5D would be better as it weighs 890gms and the 1d is 1500.

So why not buy a 5D at less than half the price? Mostly because I often use two cameras at the same time with different lenses, when I do this I like the two cameras to be exactly the same physically so when I swap I'm not fumbling with a different user interface.

 

 

Canon EOS 1D mk2 N

If this isn't the world's best camera for photographing wildlife (at the time of writing) I'll eat my Landcruiser. Whereas the 1Ds (above) has amazing quality and reasonable speed, the 1D has amazing speed and good quality.

At 8mpx and 8fps this camera is tuned for sport and wildlife. It also has a smaller sensor than the 1Ds effectively making all lenses 1.3x longer, always a good thing with wildlife photography.

 

 

 

Canon EOS 10D

While not a pro-quality camera the 10D was very good in its day. These bodies are now just kept as backups.

Battery packs for 10D
At first I wasn't going to buy battery packs for the 10Ds, reasoning that it would stop me getting the camera low enough for some macro work. This is true, but I haven't really noticed that has been a problem. Anyway it's a fairly quick job to remove the pack.

Now I have battery packs I'm glad I bought them, the most obvious reason is the improved ergonomics when shooting vertical. Of course the ability to hold two batteries is good as well, however I find that I usually run it with only one, an ability that's useful, and not well known.

I keep the other in the camera case, this is the digital photography equivalent of a reserve petrol tank. You can have all the low-fuel warning lights in the world on your dashboard, but there's nothing quite like a spluttering motor at the traffic lights to send you straight to the petrol station.

Similarly I find the act of changing batteries to be a very loud and clear message that I'm at the 50% mark (when I'm carrying two batteries).

Of course this battery changing may happen at an inappropriate moment, so I sometimes insert the second one if it looks like I'm getting low, and may have to concentrate 100% on taking photos.

The Canon battery pack will accept two batteries with unequal charge, running off the most highly charged until they are equal.

 

 

17-40 f4 L zoom

The selection of a wide-angle zoom was one of the main reasons I delayed my move into digital. What really tipped the balance for me was an analysis of my photos.

Although I've always had very wide lenses, down to 14 or 16mm, and considered myself a keen wide-angle user, I found that wasn't necessarily the case.

In analysing the 1000s of images on my database I found that only about 300 where taken with lenses wider than 28mm. If I narrowed the search to those images I considered to be "good", I had only about 30 wide angle (<28mm) shots. When I looked at my "best", there was only 3.

This realisation finally got me over the wide angle hurdle, so, as the 17-40 is equivalent to 27-64 on the 10D (22-51 in the 1D Mk2), and it's half the cost of the 16-35, my decision was made. At f4 it's a little slow, but I can live with that in a wide lens.

The bottom line is that you tend to see photos that it's possible to take with the equipment you have. For years I used a 5x4 camera with only two lenses, 90 and 210mm (roughly equivalent to 30 and 70mm lenses on a 35mm camera). No super wides here, and yet I made some of my best ever images with that combination.

 

 

24-105 f4 L IS zoom

Fantastic lens and, on a full-frame camera at least, the ideal walk-around bottle. It's a bit long for this on a 1.6 factor camera (38-168mm equiv) but fills the gap between my 17-40 and 70-200 (which I mostly use on a 1.4 converter) nicely.

Fantastically sharp, and the IS is great. I'll never buy a lens without IS again.

 

 

100 f2.8 macro

You can stick any lens on extension tubes to get macro capability, and that's what I used to do. But a good macro lens will blow you away.

Firstly the quality is way better, the lens is designed for this job.

Secondly, with a longer focal length, you get an improved working distance. To get 1:1 (approx.) with extension tubes I used to put a 28mm lens on a 25mm tube. This worked, but the subject was in focus when about 20mm from the lens. Very few subjects will allow you to get this close, and those that do want to attack their reflection.

With a 100mm macro you can get 1:1 with the lens's front element still being about 150mm from the subject.

Even at 2:1 I'm still several inches from the subject.

I always wanted a 180 or 200mm macro but they are very expensive. With the 10D I get the equivalent of 160mm for a reasonable price and weight, and on the 1D it's a 130mm lens.

This is a fantastic lens, the sharpest thing I've ever seen by itself, and still very good with the 1.4 converter and/or extension tubes.

 

 

70-200 f2.8 L IS zoom

This is one serious lens, with a 35mm equivalent focal length of 112-320mm on the 10D (91-260 on the 1D Mk2). It's heavy (1.3kgs), but nowhere near as heavy as a 112-320/2.8 would be, even if Canon or Nikon made one. The closest I know of is the Sigma 120-300/2.8 which weighs in at 2.6 kgs, twice weight of the 70-200.

As the 300/2.8 focal length is almost an industry standard for large wildlife, this is a perfect lens for this application on a crop factor camera.

The IS works well, the auto focus is fast, and the lens is very sharp, all of which you would expect for 3500-odd dollars.

This is probably the best lens of its type in the world. Unbelievably sharp even at 2.8, extremely good with the 1.4 converter, and still pretty good with the 2x, if you stop down one stop.

 

 

400 f4 DO IS

Pics I take with this lens are RAZOR sharp, even wide open with the 1.4 and 2x converters. In fact one image with the 2x is so sharp it looks like it's been taken with a 50 1.8.

I do get some soft shots but that's my technique, or lack thereof. A 1.4x lives almost permanently on this lens giving a 35mm equivalent focal length of 727mm (on my 1Ds Mk2) in a package I can handhold and carry around just in case I need it.

This is one fantastic lens.

 

 

 

1.4x converter

Works well with my 70-200, and in fact is almost permanently mounted to this lens. Loss of image quality is not noticeable (unlike the 2x).

This converter gives me a 157-488 equivalent focal length on the 70-200 and the 10D, (127-364 on the 1D), a nice range for most large and/or approachable wildlife, and still fairly fast at f4.

 

 

2x converter

This doubles my 70-200, giving me a 35mm equivalent of 224-640/5.6 (182-520 on the 1D Mk2). As it happens this range is good for most smaller wildlife, especially birds, which is why I bought the converter.

The combination is a little slow for my liking (f5.6) and really should be stopped down at least one stop for sharp images. This makes the 70-200 an f8 lens which is even slower, although still very usable in the field.

 

 

Right-angle finder

Don't leave home without one. One reason I stayed with the Canon F1 for 30 years was the speed finder, a device that allows you to look down into the camera and easily take low-angle photos without breaking your neck. The speed finder worked well, but was difficult to use when shooting vertical photos at ground level.

The right angle finder is better than the old speed finder, allowing the easy shooting of either horizontal or vertical photos with, if required, the camera right on the ground.

For a lot of macro work this is essential.

The only disadvantage the right-angle finder has is that it's a separate piece of equipment that must be attached or removed according to the needs of the shot. The old speed finder was part of the camera.

The right-angle finder has it's own dioptor adjustment, but there's no détentes, so I find that I'm resetting the focus every time I use it.

Some gaffa tape will be applied before long.

 

Extension tubes

The Canon documentation states that some lenses may not auto focus when placed on extension tubes. I find that the 70-200 zoom works with the tubes, but it's with the 100 macro that I need them the most, and that does tend to focus hunt more than normal on a 10D.

In general, when shooting macro with an extension tube, I switch to manual focus. However, if the subject is particularly fast moving, I'm more likely to get the shot with the auto focus enabled, it still misses, but not as much as I do. Normally macro work is done in manual exposure mode anyway so the above is of little importance.

 

 

420EX flash

In the past I've never been much of a user of flash, but that's because I hadn't encountered these new-generation versions. The 420 is fantastic, handling fill flash and off-camera macro work effortlessly.

But why not buy the next model up, the 550 (or 580)?

I wanted to be able to use the flash in wireless mode (see the STE2 below), the 550/580 can do that of course, but it's a lot more expensive, mostly because it can be a controller as well as a slave. The 420 can only be a slave.

But if you only need one flash, the 420+STE2 is a more versatile combination, allowing for both on- and off-camera flash. These two devices costs about the same as a single 550/580.

If you need two flashes anyway, and plan to always use one of them on-camera, then I'd get a 420 and a 550/580.

 

 

580EX flash

Just like the 420 only more so. This is now my primary flash for everything except macro. It's normally mounted on top of the 70-200's or the 400's tripod mount with the STE2 as a controller and a Better Beamer to increase its punch. This is a great combination for bird photography.

 

 

Better Beamer flash extender

The Better Beamer flash extender is basically a fresnel lens that you mount in front of your flash. It concentrates the flash beam so you can either use flash at a greater distance or use less power when the subject is close.

It weighs almost nothing and folds down flat so it will fit in a pocket and/or take up no room in your bag.

 


MT-24EX Macro flash

This is an amazing flash and I would recommend it to anyone who is into macro photography.

Used with both flashes mounted on the lens the light can be a bit flat depending on the subject, even with the ratio set to 8:1. eg. head A has 8x more light than head B.

It is however easy to remove one or both of the flash heads and place them further from the lens to give a more interesting light. I find that, so far, I have only done this once or twice, preferring to use a third flash if the subject will stay still long enough for me to set it up.

Each flash head has a hot shoe and a 1/4" threaded hole on the bottom, so you can mount them to just about anything if you wish. A friend of mine who has been using some special flash arms is considering buying this flash and mounting the heads on his existing arms. This will work well, and give more options with the lighting as the heads will be placed further apart.

After some use
Although there are about 20 possible ratios to select, ie. 8:1 through to 1:8 plus only head A or B, I find that I always use the two extremes, that is 8:1 or vice versa. This is because I'm trying to create light that is as interesting as possible. Unfortunately, to get from one extreme to the other you have to go though all the other possibilities by pressing a button a hundred times or holding it down and waiting for what seems like hours as it auto repeats.

It doesn't sound like a big deal, but when you only have seconds to get a shot this can be a bit frustrating.

 

STE2 flash transmitter

The STE2 will control the EX flashes wirelessly. This works well, and I find it very convenient to just place the flash on the ground and work around a subject without any wires.

However, you do need to keep the flash's sensor pointing roughly at the camera, and this has caused me to miss shots because I didn't realise that things weren't aligned as well as they should have been. It's very good, but not perfect.

 

Wimberly quick release clamps

For years I used a cheap quick release clamp, and to be fair it did a reasonable job. It was never very secure, but while it worked I didn't have the incentive to upgrade.

My cheap clamp broke a couple of years ago, so now I've moved to the Wimberly system, which is based on the Arca Swiss standard.

This stuff is very expensive, a few clamps and plates cost around A$550, but they do work well, and should last forever.

VERY well made, all the parts fit together like they were made for each other, which I suppose they were.

 

Gitzo G2220 Explorer tripod

I own about 300 tripods, and they all suited my purpose at the time they were purchased. But these days I need a flexible pod, one that is "macro friendly", that can independently move each leg, and with a centre column that can easily go to the horizontal or even upside down.

The original macro friendly tripod was the Benbo, and in fact I still own a Benbo 1 which I bought about 20 years ago. They are great, but I've grown to dislike the way that the entire tripod is held together by a single clamp, undo the clamp and all three legs plus the centre column can collapse. You get used to it of course, but it can be difficult to adjust, for example, just one of the legs when the centre column is poking out horizontally.

Also the Benbo 1 is quite large, way too big for backpacking. They do make a smaller version called the Trekker, but I felt it was time for a new approach.

Enter the Gitzo 2220 Explorer. Each leg is independent with an infinitely adjustable angle, and the centre column can be easily flipped to any angle and rotated. In short, exactly what I want.

There are several tripods on the market that have removable centre columns which can be inserted in various other configurations, the new Manfrotto 190 is one that springs to mind. However, removing and replacing the column in a different hole is nowhere near as convenient as just loosening a knob. Trust me on this.

Why not carbon fibre?
Several times over the years I've looked into buying a CF tripod, and, so far, I've come to the conclusion that they just aren't worth the money.

However I am looking at getting one soon, a saving of even just 1kg is a lot at the end of a 10k walk.

 

Wimberly Plamp

This marvelous gadget clamps to a solid object, usually the tripod leg, at one end, and a moving object at the other, thereby stopping the moving object from moving. For macro work this is invaluable.

First impressions
This device is made from parts you can easily get from a hardware or engineering shop, and in fact I did consider making my own. However, the price of the components was nearly as much as the Plamp, for example, the flexible part is just a coolant hose from a milling machine, $30 (Aus) from a shop in my town. It's only $45 for the entire Plamp and there's no mucking around.

The small clamp does appear to be a bit strong for my liking, it may actually crush a small plant. I'll see how it goes in the field.

 

Tamrac 5578 backpack

No exaggeration, I've owned just about EVERY camera case/backpack ever made, mostly because my kit, and photography style, has changed over the years.

I have two Lowepros, one is an over-the-shoulder type, good for short sorties, but it doesn't fit all my gear, and becomes a real pain in the shoulder very quickly. The other is a Nature Trekker, not bad, but a crappy harness and still not large enough.

After some research I decided to give Tamrac a try. In these days of digital photography I felt that the external compartments would be useful for memory cards, batteries etc. Plus the tripod should fit snuggly in between the compartments.

First impressions
The pack is longer and narrower than the photos indicate, that's fine by me.

The pockets in the external compartments don't hold batteries that well. I find I have to put 6 AAs in each so they're in tight enough not to fall out when I open the compartment. Trouble is, I use batteries in lots of four, not six.

My tripod fits nicely in between the compartments and straps on securely.

Overall, everything fits snuggly and appears to be safe and secure.



In general
Camera
Lenses
Camera case
Tripod
Quick release plate
Light meter
Filters
Viewing frame
Change bag
Enlarger
Darkroom

"Gee you must have a good camera". You've probably heard that more than once. Normally I just agree; sometimes I try to explain about the difference between good cameras and good vision. One day I may just ask "Why?" I'd like to think the answer will be something like, "Well the definition and tonal range is exquisite" or, "They're so sharp". If this is the case then yes, the camera did help. However the answer is more likely to be, "They're such good photos" in which case the person is assuming what most laypersons do, that cameras make photographs.

What most people don't understand is that inspiration and vision make great photographs, not cameras. You can have the latest Leicanikolta and all the lenses in the world, but if you can't see what to point them at you may as well use a house brick.

This is not only a layperson's affliction. Photographers also suffer, although usually not in such an overt manner. Nevertheless it's common for a photographer to think that a new camera will transform his or her images. I know this because I've thought it myself many times. I've been convinced that if I could just buy an ABC model 2000 (in pro-black of course) with the latest 800mm f1.4 dohicky then my wildlife photography would soar to new heights. There have been times when I could actually afford the object of my fantasy, although I don't recall a vast improvement in images immediately following the purchase.

I think I'm finally over my equipment addiction. Recently I had family over from England and they offered to buy me some duty-free photographic equipment. I couldn't think of a single thing I needed.

I don't know what equipment you currently own but I would bet you dollars to donuts that, if you're unhappy with your photos, your equipment is not the problem. The answer is not to buy more equipment, but to learn how to use what you have. Of course it is possible that your equipment is not up to the job. If you are using a fully automatic half-frame point-and-shoot camera in an attempt to create large high-definition prints then you are likely to be disappointed. Just remember, there's a difference between owning high quality, appropriate equipment and buying the latest gadgetry.

In the mid-eighties I bought a Canon T90, the latest and greatest 35mm SLR at that time. I bought it directly from Canon before its general release, and, while I was on a roll I also purchased some new FD lenses. Within a year the EOS series was released. I no longer had the smartest camera on the block, and to make matters worse all my FD lenses were obsolete. I decided enough was enough and I dropped out of the technology race.

For landscape photography, and I stress landscape photography, I thoroughly recommend that you use a manual camera, or at least a camera that can be set to fully manual operation. You don't need seven segment active matrix metering and you don't need linear predictive focusing. These features are useful in other photographic pursuits but just get in the way with landscapes.

What you do need is a camera that will do exactly what it's told, a camera without a mind of its own. And don't start branding me as some kind of Luddite. When it comes to technology I'm the Grand Pooh Bah of gadget freaks; I've got more computers, scanners and electronic gizmos than you can poke a mobile phone at. It's just that the rampant featurism prevalent in today's photographic equipment is totally out of place when it comes to landscape photography. Worse than that, it can actually make life more difficult.

So what equipment do I use? Before I discuss individual items I should mention that you don't have to spend a fortune to "get into" large format photography, or indeed photography of any kind. There is quite a lot of good secondhand equipment around. With 35mm equipment there are many people who thought they would "do" photography. They buy a lot of equipment then the phase passes and they move on to painting or woodwork. You can often buy all of their equipment for a very reasonable price.

This is less likely to occur with large format, because normally, a large format photographer has been in the game for a while and is not going through a phase. Still there are people who retire or just get tired. Once again you can find reasonable bargains from such people. One thing that is important though is time. If you need to start right away you will probably wind up buying new gear, however if you have time the bargains will pop up occasionally. It took me about a year to put together my large format camera kit and I already owned an enlarger and most of the necessary dar

Camera

When it comes to landscape photography I am unashamedly biased towards large format cameras.

The sheer quality of the image, the tonal range and the detail, all make the inconvenience worthwhile.

I fully admit that they are difficult to use and carry, however I feel that features such as camera movements to help with depth of field and vertical convergence, and being able to process each sheet of film individually make the difficulties worth it.

Also, after my experience of trying to keep up with the latest technology, I find it somewhat comforting to know that this particular camera design has changed little in over a hundred years.

The Tachihara 4x5 field camera is made of cherrywood and folds to a relatively small size. This style of camera, while not as sturdy as those made of metal, does the job and is ideal for landscape photography.

 

 

Of the large formats available I chose four by five inch (4x5") because I felt it was the best combination of practicality and image quality. There are other formats but each has disadvantages that I felt outweighed the advantages. For example, it is very difficult to get film for 5x7" and it's almost impossible to lug 8x10" equipment around the bush. Some people do, but they must have levels of fitness and/or determination much higher than mine. I own and use a Tachihara 4x5" view camera.

The Tachihara is made from brass and cherrywood and, while not as sturdy as its more expensive metal brethren, it is sturdy enough to do the job. Most importantly it is roughly half the weight of the metal variety. This feature alone is enough to earn a hearty recommendation. I haven't used any other similar view camera so I can't recommend the Tachihara over another brand. What I can recommend however is this style of camera (usually called a "field camera") as they fold and unfold very quickly and, as mentioned, are much lighter than the metal variety.

One common method used to enter the world of large format landscape photography is to buy an old press camera, a Speed Graphic or Linhof. I cannot recommend this approach. The cameras weigh a ton, their ground glass screens are usually very dim and most of them have no movements, or at least they don't have the movements that are vital for landscape work.

Pocket camera
Of all the places I've been and all the photographs I've taken I hardly have any happy snaps. I guess I used to think that the taking of happy snaps was beneath me, but the result is a lifetime of experiences and friends with very little photographic record. I can't pull out the albums and reminisce because there are no albums. I've tried carrying one of my 35mm cameras on walking trips but even the T90 is just too heavy to carry as well as my other gear. More importantly it's too bulky to carry in a pocket so it gets stuffed inside my pack and never gets used.

To rectify this problem I recently bought a small point and shoot camera, specifically an Olympus XA. The XA has a very high quality lens, is only semi automatic (aperture preferred) and, because they are now obsolete, cost about a half or a third of a new pocket camera. I confess though that I find a range finder a little disconcerting to use; I miss an SLR. Maybe one of the new APS SLR cameras will be small enough. Don't be like me and miss a lifetime of personal images, take a camera that allows you to get the 'happy snaps'. In years to come you'll be very grateful you did.

Lenses

My 35mm arsenal includes ten lenses, ranging from 16mm fisheye to 800mm mirror lenses. Despite this I find that I use my 28mm and 100mm almost exclusively.

Realising this I decided that I only needed two lenses when I put my large format kit together. I purchased a 90mm Nikkor SW and a 210mm Schneider Symmar. The Nikkor is very close in coverage to my 24mm lens, while the Symmar is more the equivalent of an 70mm short tele or portrait lens. Why did I choose these two lenses? Did I analyse test reports? Were they recommended by a colleague? No. They were simply the first two "name brand" lenses that I encountered while browsing the newspaper adds for secondhand photographic equipment.

Don't worry too much about what lenses you have. I find that I tend to "see" photos that will fit the lenses I have available.

Camera case

Over the years I've used just about every style of camera case available. They all have features appropriate to different types of photography, however I haven't found any that are suitable for long, multi-day bushwalks.

I have three main requirements of a camera case. I'll explain them and the reason for each by detailing my modus operandi in the bush.

A large proportion of my bushwalking is in terrain that has no paths at all, or where the paths are little more than markers on some trees. This means that I am often "bush bashing" which in turn means that, as much as possible, I try not to strap items to the outside of my backpack.

Therefore requirement #1 is that the camera case must fit inside my backpack.

I usually base camp which means setting up camp in a likely spot and spending a few days there. This allows me to explore the area for periods of usually an hour or so. This exploration almost always involves some rock climbing. A normal, over-the-shoulder camera case is quite uncomfortable to carry for this length of time and downright dangerous when climbing, as it swings around uncontrollably and changes your centre of balance.

So, requirement #2 is that the camera case must be able to be worn like a backpack.

I did use a LowePro Compact AW (over-the-shoulder style) for a while but it didn't conform to requirement #2 and was too heavy, which brings me to...

requirement #3; weight. The camera case must, ideally, weigh nothing while providing a good measure of protection for the enclosed equipment. The LowePro provided good protection but weighed too much.

So, after all that, what did I buy? I bought a $20 day pack and fitted some partitions made from closed-cell foam and gaffer tape, total outlay about $30. The resultant "camera case" conforms to all the above criteria and cost almost nothing, a rare event in the photographic world. If you decide to follow my example, look for a day pack that is as rectangular as possible and that unzips entirely around three sides so the lid can be folded back all the way to access your equipment.

The day pack is good for short explorations, but if I intend being more than twenty or thirty minutes from my camp I need to carry some wet weather gear and emergency equipment. For walks from half an hour up to a whole day, I put the day pack inside my normal pack and throw in some food, Gortex coat, first aid kit and a bivy bag or ground sheet.

Why all this when I intend going for a three hour photo stroll then returning to camp? Well I may intend returning in three hours, but what if I break a leg or get bitten by a snake? I once took a (potentially) very bad fall while in the mountains. Fortunately I landed in a few inches of water and did no real damage, but, that was blind luck. If I had broken a leg I would have been immobilised and probably have had to spend the night there. The day had been hot and I was wearing shorts and a T-shirt (both quite wet after the fall). Less than an hour later the temperature was near freezing, and that night there was a blizzard with high winds and sleet. I would have looked pretty silly sitting there in my wet shorts.

Tripod

Pity the poor the landscape photographer. He's just finished drilling holes in a toothbrush and cutting the labels from tea bags to save weight, and now he's faced with having to buy a tripod; an item that, almost by definition, is going to weigh a ton.

Standing in the camera store, facing a forest of tripods, there are two voices competing for attention. The bushwalker voice is saying, "Get that small one over there, the one with legs in 48 sections so it folds down really small. In fact don't even bother with a tripod at all". The photographer voice is saying, "Hmm that 40 kilogram studio dolly looks about right".

In this case both voices are wrong. Some compromise is required between the stability of the tripod and your ability to carry it. There's no point having a really solid tripod if you're too exhausted to set it up at the end of the day. One thing's for sure, no matter which tripod you buy, it will appear to double its weight and halve its height once you get it into the bush.

Any photographer who works in the field has conflicting requirements when it comes to tripods. On long walks I use a Manfrotto 190 (equivalent to a Bogen 3001). Many people would tell you that this tripod is far too small for large format cameras and I would partially agree. However I'm not convinced that you need as sturdy a tripod as is often recommended for large format. When there is no wind almost any tripod will do, and when there is wind the design of the large format camera is such that it is easily buffeted and will probably move regardless of the tripod's stability. The Manfrotto 190 is however a little short which is very inconvenient at times, so on shorter walks I carry one of my large tripods, a Manfrotto #055 or a Benbo #1.

Photographers seem to have a love-it or hate-it attitude towards the Benbo tripods. They are a little awkward to use at first but once you get the hang of them I find they work very well.

There is a new breed of tripod made of carbon fibre hitting the market at present. I have looked at their specs and decided that, although they cost a fortune, I would get very little benefit from them. Compared to my Manfrotto 190 the currently available models are still the same height, have more leg segments (usually a bad feature in a tripod), and they are only 300 grams lighter. Maybe when the manufacturers have amortised their development costs the price/feature ratio will be more favourable.

Most tripods come with a pan tilt head. These heads have one advantage in that you can move the head in the vertical dimension without disturbing the horizontal alignment, and vice versa. However most of them are quite heavy and have great big handles that catch on every branch you pass. There are solutions to these problems You can buy a lighter head, and it's often possible to get a version with shorter handles. Nevertheless I prefer a ball head. They have almost no protrusions and have a simple one-handed operation. I use both Benbo, Manfrotto and Slik ball heads and find they are all up to the job.

I actually think that a large format photographer can get by with a smaller tripod head than those used for most small or medium format cameras because there is no need to tilt the camera vertically. With most rectangular format cameras you have to tilt the entire camera for a vertical composition. This places a lot of strain on the head and means that you need a larger and sturdier (read "more expensive") ball head. With large format cameras (and some medium format cameras) you simply rotate the back so the camera remains in its normal, balanced, position.

Quick release plate

Regardless of what tripod and tripod head you use, I recommend that you attach your camera to it with a quick release plate.

These nifty little devices allow you to quickly attach and remove your camera without fumbling with threaded knobs. Quick release plates are very convenient when using SLR and rangefinder cameras as they allow you to explore an area to look for different compositions. For example, if you have set up your camera and then decide that the shot might look better from three metres to the left. You can quickly remove the camera and check out the new composition. If it doesn't look good just replace the camera.

Light meter

For my money there is only one kind of light meter that is of much use for landscape work: a spot meter.

I detail my reasons in the essay on my system of exposure and contrast control. Suffice to say that you need accurate readings from objects that are very small or appear that way because of their distance from the camera. A true spot meter with a one-degree angle of view is the only convenient way to do this. You can get spot attachments for a hand held meters, or cameras with a spot setting for the meter etc. but, to my knowledge, none of these options has a narrow enough angle of view.

I use a Pentax digital spot meter. I chose it because it is simple, small and light. Some spot meters can average multiple spot readings, take flash exposure readings etc. I don't think any of these features are important in landscape photography. All I need is a device that, when pointed at an object, will tell me how bright that object is.

You can get the Pentax calibrated to give it a flatter and more accurate response curve, frankly I don't think you need to be that accurate.

Filters

I use Cokin filters. This is mainly because, with adaptor rings fitted, the filter holder fits both lenses. Therefore I only need one of each filter type and one lens hood.

Speaking of lens hoods, I find the Cokin model particularly good because it comes in sections that clip into each other to adjust the depth of the hood. I own two of these sections and use one on my wide angle lens and two on the tele. If I had a longer tele I could buy a third section to increase the depth even further.

At present I use only two filters, Orange and Red. However Cokin is renowned for the vast array of special effects filters they manufacture. I make my opinions about special effects filters plain elsewhere so I won't waste any more time on them here.

Viewing frame

With a rangefinder or SLR camera it is an easy matter to wander around the countryside checking out different compositions through the viewfinder. This is not so with most large format cameras, so you need a viewfinder equivalent.

If you were to take a 35mm slide mount and hold it 300mm from your eye, the area visible through the hole in the mount would be equivalent to that visible through a 300mm lens. Move the mount to 100mm from your eye and you can see what your 100mm lens would see, etc. The same applies for any format if you use a frame that is equal in size to the negative of that format.

Enter the viewing frame. A viewing frame is basically a rectangle of cardboard or similar material with a hole cut that is the same size as the negative of the camera you are using, in my case four by five inches. If I hold this frame 210mm from my eye I can see what will be included in a photo taken with my 210mm Symmar lens, holding it at 90mm shows me what my wide angle lens will see.

I knew about viewing frames for a long time but could not think of a convenient method to measure the distance from my eye while using one. Then I spent some time photographing with friends of mine on the Sunshine Coast in Queensland and was dumbfounded at the simplicity of the method they used. A piece of string, calibrated and used as follows. Cut some string about one metre in length, punch a hole in the frame and thread both ends of the string through the hole. The string should now form a loop. Put this loop around your neck and slide the frame along the string. When the frame is at appropriate distances from your eye (90 and 210mm in my case) mark the string with a marker pen. Now remove the string from your neck and tie a knot in the position of the mark that was furthest from your eye. Trim any excess string and you have a calibrated viewing frame.

To use it, simply put the string loop around your neck, pull the frame out to the knot when viewing for your longest lens and in to the marks for your other lenses.

Change bag

A change bag is a light-proof bag with two sleeves for you to insert your arms. Change bags are often used by camera stores to rescue a half exposed roll of film from a jammed camera. Reloading double-darks in the field is another use for them and, on long car-based trips, I sometimes need to do just that. However I avoid using them like the plague as they harbour dust and, in hot weather, cause your hands to sweat profusely which is bad news if you touch the emulsion of a sheet of film.

Despite this I carry a change bag at all times. On two occasions it has got me out of trouble when Grafmatic film holders failed. Once, while photographing on the side of a steep cliff, the Grafmatic jammed. I had already used three sheets of film and did not want to lose them, but I could not remove the Grafmatic from the camera without jeopardising the film. I placed the entire camera inside the change bag, removed the Grafmatic and applied some percussion maintenance (I bashed it) to free the jam. My change bag also does double duty as a focusing cloth.

Enlarger

I use a Beseler 45MCRX enlarger. This enlarger is built like a brick dunny and is a real workhorse. It can handle formats from 35mm to 4x5" and uses either a colour diffusion or a black & white condenser head. I own both and normally use the colour head but occasionally have to mount the condenser head to increase contrast when printing very thin negatives.

Darkroom

Most of my other darkroom equipment is very standard and includes a simple electronic timer, large fibreglass and small stainless steel sinks, an old cabinet-style clothes drier, two secondhand work benches (one holds the enlarger and the other is used as a general work area), an archival print washer, light table, processing trays in various sizes up to 20x24" and a stereo.

For prints that are too large to be processed in the trays, I have three large troughs. These troughs are long enough to accommodate the standard 42" roll paper.

Processing tanks
When I started developing sheet film I had all sorts of problems obtaining even development and consistent results. At the time I was using a daylight processing tank, the design of which seemed to preclude even development. In despair I tried tray development but couldn't get the hang of it. Finally I designed and built my own set of small dip and dunk tanks and a special hanger that holds up to six sheets of film. The results were a revelation. Perfectly even and consistent negatives. The only catch is that the entire process must be performed in darkness, so I needed a method of timing. A friend reminded me of a method using a tape recorder so I recorded a set of tapes that prompt at appropriate times, telling me to "Put the film into the stop bath" etc.

Note: David Houlder, a friend of mine, took my design and modified it to improve the way the sheets are held. He has documented the design at, davidhoulder.com/info/4x5tanks.html

One aspect of my darkroom that is slightly innovative is the plumbing and construction of the large sink. It is built as a free standing unit, with all copper plumbing built into the framework of the sink and connected to the main water supply with two washing machine hoses.

This arrangement satisfies three requirements. First, it is legal because it connects to existing taps; second, it is easily isolated if a leak occurs; and third, it can be removed and reinstalled with a minimum of fuss, an important consideration when I move house

Note: I no longer use this equipment, having traded it in on a digital kit in 2004.

2 x Canon F1 bodies with MD motor drives and speedfinders
2 x Canon F1N bodies with MD motor drives and speedfinders
Canon T90 body
FD lenses - 14/2.8L. 20/2.8, 24/1.4L, 28/2.8, 50/1.8, 85/1.2L, 100/2.8, 135/2, 200/2.8, 300/4L, 300/2.8L



HOME  ❖  CONTACT  ❖  PHOTOGRAPHY  ❖  WRITING  ❖  GUESTBOOK