Carol with her bag of rolled oats and Mareeba Rock Wallaby mum and joey patiently waiting for a feed
Masterclass in Nature Photography
James Cook University, Cairns June 29-July 6 2012
When Liz forwarded the email flyer about this course I jumped at the opportunity to re-visit Far North Queensland after 25 years and at the same time seek to improve my skills in Nature & Landscape Photography.
Jürgen Freund is a multi-award winning photographer (his images have appeared in several BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year competitions) who specialises in underwater photography, in particular coral reef habitats. His wife Stella works alongside him, dealing with the logistics of their assignments; together they form a highly effective team, leavened with a delightful sense of humour. They embrace conservation photography, often working with marine research scientists and organisations such as the World Wide Fund for Nature. Two beautiful books reveal their mastery of the techniques and creativity needed to present their viewpoints.
A initial day in the classroom enabled Jürgen to introduce himself, and he prepared us for the techniques we would use and the locations we would visit with several slideshows. Members of our group introduced themselves, participants coming from Perth, Sydney, Brisbane, Sunshine Coast, Launceston, Mildura, Tamworth, Papua New Guinea and the US (a student who had arrived to undertake a semester of Biology at JCU).
After a 5.30am departure for a sunrise shoot along the coast where we were encouraged to bracket exposures with HDR in mind, we departed for Chambers Rainforest Lodges near Lake Eacham on the Atherton Tablelands where we would stay for 5 nights. Delightfully tame Mareeba Rock Wallabies were fun to photograph at Granite Gorge on the way.
The lodges had been built over a period from the 1960s onwards, immersed in the tropical rainforest at the edge of The Craters National Park. Lakes Eacham and Barrine, both volcanic maars, were a few minutes’ drive away. The Cathedral and Curtain Fig Trees provided plenty of subject matter, and one evening we “painted” the latter with light, obtaining some very interesting effects with time exposures.
John Chambers had established a viewing platform with lights at the edge of his rainforest and here we smeared honey on tree trunks to attract a Sugar Glider, Striped Possum and Long-nosed Bandicoot. Flash was used to capture these nocturnal animals, otherwise rarely seen. We also placed branches baited with oats, honey and banana on our verandahs to attract birds, including Victoria’s Riflebird, Black Butcherbird and Spotted Catbird. Musky Rat Kangaroos made an appearance on the forest floor, searching for invertebrates in the leaf litter.
The plants of the rainforest lent themselves to macro photography, to shots of textures or silhouettes against the sky or glowing in the sun. We needed overcast weather ideally to prevent the problems caused by huge contrasts between sun & shade, but that didn’t always happen so we needed to adapt techniques and subject matter to the conditions. Use of multiple flash units helped here.
Back at the lodge, Jürgen demonstrated focus-stacking in table-top macro photography and this was a good opportunity to see what equipment is available to the specialist photographer. Inevitably much of this gear comes from the US where there is a much greater variety of models and prices. Soft boxes on flashguns, use of wireless remote triggering of several flash units, rails to advance the camera by millimetres for focus stacking were all demonstrated. Tutorials on Lightroom and on the handling of a variety of subject matter were interspersed with trips to the localities which Jürgen & Stella had checked out during the preceding month.
This was the first Masterclass run by JCU so we were guinea pigs, and we were invited to provide feedback with an evaluation of the course. Doubtless some changes will be made for the next class taking place in September. The standard of instruction and the obvious enjoyment of our leaders with their very real interest in each one of us, coupled with a location I hadn’t visited since becoming more serious about photography, resulted in this being far and away the best course I’ve done. I felt I’d been taken to a whole new level of creativity. At the conclusion of the course we were presented with a Certificate of Completion and an invitation to keep in touch.
Carol Hall’s Images