Setting off to capture the best holiday photo

Gunlom Plunge Pool at sunset | Andrew Thomasson
Gunlom Plunge Pool at sunset | Andrew Thomasson

Andrew Thomasson has just returned from his most recent photography trip on the Larapinta Trail in the Red Centre.  He’s dusted off his boots and chats with us on his upcoming Australian photography tours and tips of the trade.
Andrew Thomasson - Focus 10

About Andrew Thomasson

Andrew has travelled extensively on all seven continents and has led photography trips for the past 30 years. An acclaimed photographer, Andrew has broad and wide-ranging expertise across all types of photography, including digital, new technology and film. His light-hearted communication style has proven to be hugely popular in the photographic courses he offers through his business, Focus 10.

You have been in the photography industry all your life, what is it about the world of photography that inspires you to photograph and teach?

I love the ever-changing nature of photography. It’s gone from film to digital and continues to evolve.  I like to see people realise their potential and nurture their creativity and digital photography allows that.  It makes it possible for almost anyone with a smartphone to take photos virtually zero cost.  People can now learn new skills, experiment, be creative with equipment they have already.

Kakadu National Park in the Northern Territory and Flinders Island in Tasmania are the locations for your upcoming photography tours. What is so special about these places and what can a participant expect on your photo tours?

These two great destinations each offer a wide variety of fantastic subjects and are unique to the world.  Both locations are wilderness areas and home to stunning aboriginal artwork. Australia has some of the world’s weirdest and most unusual animals, birds, reptiles, amphibians, fish and invertebrates.
The challenge on these tours is to capture something unique to the destination.  When shooting animals, for example, go in for a wider shot that captures the animal’s natural surrounds.  I particularly like Australian backlight, which is strong and rich and the way it can highlights an animal’s unique shape.   Try to shoot wildlife in inclement weather, of which Flinders Island has plenty.  Shoot with water as a major eye-catching attraction in the shots.
I’ll be providing expert photographic guidance to all the guests on the photo tours, ensuring they get the best photo with their camera equipment. It’s a great opportunity to combine the holiday with on-location learning and gain a new skillset. 

Andrew Thomasson Yellow waters

What is the best time of day to take a photograph?

Sunset and sunrise are the best times to take photographs because of combination of colours – a vivid blue sky emerging from pastel hues of pink, orange, purple - all the colours of the rainbow.
There are a lot of differences between shooting at dawn and dusk.  At sunrise the air is definitely clearer in urban areas and there is usually less wind. Sunsets mean more lights are on in cities and there are more opportunities to take light trails.
Generally, the rule of thumb is to shoot in early morning or late afternoon sunlight or twilight for exterior landscapes. Early morning light gives cool, blue tones with low contrast.  At sunset his light is replaced by a much warmer golden light which is excellent for front-lit and side-lit buildings or strong silhouettes. Aim to shoot landscapes with water vistas in the morning with sunlight when the water will be still and blue rather than choppy and grey in the afternoon, especially if there is a strong breeze.

You’ll be camping on your photography tours within the wilderness, can you explain how to use long exposure to take a photo of the stars?

Way back when we used film, photographing the night sky involved lots of trial and error.  Today, because the digital sensor’s response is linear, it’s much easier to get great star images.
If you like the look of long star trails, you might want to try what’s called image stacking, whereby you capture many consecutive short exposures of a star-filled nocturnal landscape and combine these exposures using stacking software. Use post-production to get it just right. Consider bringing along a digital compass to log GPS data, as well as to determine your orientation in relation to the heavens. This can prove critical when shooting star trail images.
It’s important to remember that making long exposures at night is taxing on camera batteries.  A lot of people don’t realize that cold temperatures can cause batteries to deplete more quickly as well, so it’s a good idea to have extra batteries and chargers on hand to shoot.  Another tip is to disable the electronic controls on your camera such as Live View, the LCD screen or image stabilization as this will also help maximize battery life.

Gunlom Plunge Pool at sunset |  <i>Andrew Thomasson</i>

How do you deal with low lighting such as walking through a rainforest?

A full frame sensor camera allows you to pump up your ISO to give you faster shutter speeds. (ISO is the measurement of sensitivity of the image sensor.)  Another option is to use a fast lens such as a 50 mm f1.8 to achieve faster shutter speeds without having to resort to high ISO’s

In Kakadu National Park there is an abundance of birdlife and wildlife, what is the best way to take a photo of wildlife?

The most dramatic wildlife photos usually include a very simple and non-distracting background. The goal is to highlight your subjects and make them stand out.

  • Generally, shoot in the morning or late afternoon.
  • Concentrate and try to anticipate your subject’s movements so you are prepared. 
  • Shoot your viewpoint low and try to get close.
  • Remember to also shoot close-ups and macro.

Kakadu National Park |  <i>Andrew Thomasson</i>

How do you capture the close-up photos of flowers?

  • Use a tripod for low shots.
  • Cloudy days are best with soft filtered light or use a diffuser panel in sunlight.
  • Backlight gives a lovely effect with the petals made translucent.
  • Freshen up the wildflowers with a spray of water.
  • Use a macro lens or compact with macro.
  • Use Aperture Priority to manipulate the depth of field.
  • Push up the ISO to give faster shutter speeds to freeze the motion of the flowers on a windy day.
  • Shield a cluster of flowers with an improvised wind shield such as an umbrella.
  • For close up ‘portrait’ macro shots, select a contrasting background such as a black shadow.
  • Select flowers that are in good shape that are not wilted or have been chewed by bugs or injured by frost.
  • Mix up the viewpoint. A low angle can put the wildflowers against a blue sky and a higher ‘birds’ eye’ viewpoint puts the wildflowers in the context of their location.
  • A landscape type shot including the wildflowers is best shot with a wide-angle lens and high aperture number to give a great depth of field. Use a tripod or any support.
  • Shoot in the soft early or later afternoon light. It’s best to shoot the flowers in the morning when they are fresher.

If you could take only one lens with you what would it be?

An all-rounder such as a 24mm to 120mm, a 24mm to 105mm, or a 18mm to 135mm.

How do you keep your camera gear dry and dust free?

I have Pelican waterproof hardcases for when I’m shooting professionally in locations where I need a waterproof, crushproof, dust proof (especially in the outback) container to protect my valuable camera gear.

What are your three essential pieces of gear, what are they and why? And do you use filters?

Essential in your kit is a polarising filter, a tripod with a ball/swivel head and camera bag. The bag is to hold all your gear bits and pieces in a tidy and orderly fashion. It needs to have dividers for camera bodies and lenses and be able to accommodate all the paraphernalia such as external flashes, filters, cables & maybe a laptop

Jim Jim Creek in Kakadu |  <i>Andrew Thomasson</i>

How important is your smartphone to you in taking photos?

Extremely important. Smartphones take great 4K video and you can get unusual angles, difference perspectives and aspects as the device is small and light. It has an LCD viewing screen allowing you to visualise and execute the shot without the constraint of looking through a viewfinder. It’s also great to capture action shots where you can track the object with your eyes then press the rapid fire, slow-mo or video as the action comes into the screen.
The ability to share photos instantly via AirDrop on an iPhone is very helpful.  Similarly, the white balance capability and the panorama setting are fantastic on these devices too. And, best of all, there’s always a camera in your pocket.

Any other photography tips you’d like to share?

A great way to have fun, at the same time as extending your creativity, is to set yourself some cool photos projects using your smartphone. It will get you looking at things differently, here are some ideas:

  • Shoot a series of images that are the same colour.
  • Find an interesting family member, friend or pet and document ‘a day in the life’ of them.
  • Choose a time of day and take a shot at this time every day for a month.
  • Change your smartphone camera settings to monochrome and shoot only black and white.

Join Andrew in Kakadu National Park on the 1st of September and in Flinders Island on 3 November 2019.


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