Australian Landscape & Nature Photography by Michael Boniwell

Australian Landscape & Nature Photography by Michael Boniwell

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  LARGE Format - Suitable for enormous prints metres wide
Photographer's Blog: Thursday, May 7, 2020
Foggy Mountain Huts

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Where to start? Let us get the obvious out of the way first. These images were captured before Australia went into lockdown and the whole world was devastated by the Covid-19 virus. At the time I was enjoying the travel and adventure this trip afforded, blissfully unaware of the impending doom we were all about to face. I have since caught up on post processing and found the time to write this blog, so I'll try to, retrospectively, recreate the happy mood I was in.

The primary goal of this photographic journey was to make good use of the fog forecast for Falls Creek, in Victoria's Alpine National Park and the limited time available to me, but I needed to get the planning right. Doing the usual weather app checks I discovered there was only a small window of opportunity in which morning fog was present and access on or off the mountain was possible. A cycling race of some sort had the whole place blocked off during the day, meaning if I failed to hike out quickly enough, I would be stuck there until after dark.

I made Mt Beauty township in good time, and soon arrived at Falls Creek. Gearing up beside the ever-enchanting Rocky Valley Pondage I went over the plan as more and more cars arrived, and riders whizzed past, presumably training. A late afternoon breeze had begun to chill me, so I was keen to get moving. My intent was to stay the night at Fitzgeralds Hut, shoot it and nearby Kelly Hut, and hike back out before the zero-access cut-off.

I grabbed my favourite trekking poles and set out in good spirits, though there was no sign of fog. As the light faded, I was forced to turn on a headlamp. Nothing unusual about that, being fond of dawn, I am often alone in the wilderness at night scouting for compositions. The good thing about mountain huts is that they are at a fixed location. Landscape photography can, of course, be about discovering beauty in unfamiliar places, but on this occasion it sure was handy to have both a destination and a place to sleep beckoning from my GPS.

Fitzgeralds Hut appeared out of the gloom just when I was wondering if another map check was in order. A dark shape in the blackness, it took on form as I approached. I swung the torch around sighting the amazing gnarly old trees, my excitement growing with photographic possibilities. Wait, what was that flash of colour? A tent! Someone was already here. Fellow hikers no doubt. All the best to them, I pondered, though it would make things tricky come sunrise.

I set about establishing compositions by torchlight. Again, not unusual. The fog was, finally, starting to form and would diffuse the light even if it backlit the subject come dawn. The problem was that tent. In the end I had two compositions prepared. The first avoided the fellow campers, and the latter would require them to leave.

With that established, I moved to nearby Kelly Hut and once again repeated my nocturnal scouting, coming up with only one possibility that, whilst good, would require focus stacking. At around mid-night I was back at Fitzgeralds, tucked into my sleeping bag upon the old wooden planks inside the hut, with an alarm set for a half-hour before dawn.

I will not say it was the most comfortable night's sleep, but it was at least dry, and cozy and I had a mouse or two for company. Not wanting to wake the tent dwellers, I crept out quietly and was soon in position one. The fog was as thick as soup, almost obscuring the hut and lovely snow gums under which I hunkered. Awesome! Just the thing. I placed the best tree dead centre and the hut a nice little treasure beyond.

I shot, and reshot until satisfied and moved to my alternative. With the sun now up and fog providing that sense of mystery and atmosphere it looked glorious from my second composition, except for the bright red tent in the middle of it. In my experience fog can be a fickle thing, but this one seemed to envelope the land like a shroud and I had a second hut to photograph on my agenda.

Not wanting to waste opportunities, I hurried back to Kelly Hut as quick as my chilled legs could manage and set about capturing the scene I had prepared during the night. As predicted, it needed both a long lens and a close foreground, a combination that meant I would be stacking focus. A practice that, with today's software, is relatively straightforward in post, but impossible in the field if there is any movement. As luck would have it the misty realm in which I now stood was as still as a statue. Not even the grass dared to quiver.

I worked quickly, got the job done, then raced back to Fitzgeralds yet again. Luck was once more on my side. The inhabitants of the bright abode had packed up. Yes! My final composition, showing the hut on the left required some careful adjustments to show off the old fence railings whilst keeping the trees in frame. In the end I shot it from several points, low, high, left, right, all within a metre of my pre-established framing. And with that ticked I was done.

Now to get out. If you recall I had to be back or suffer the wrath of our lycra clad lads and ladies. I packed hastily and strode away at a pace I was unlikely to maintain. About half-way back the fog turned to rain, but I was on such a high from being granted such fabulous conditions for photography it hardly mattered.

In the end I was back at the car with barely enough time to get off the mountain. I threw things into the boot at great speed and took off without a backward glance. Unfortunately, it was not until many hours later that I realised my lovely carbon fiber trekking poles, whose expense I'd agonised over, were still stuck in the dirt beside the road all the way back at the trail head. Noooooooo! A call to the info centre yielded nothing. One of the many people there that day must have gone home with them. My luck had finally run out after-all, though in retrospect the experience alone was worth it.


Above: For anyone wanting to really fill a wall I've an alternative version of Fitzgeralds Hut covering a much wider aspect ratio.

I'll skip over the less interesting photographic efforts that followed, and fast forward now to later in the trip, where I headed up Mount Hotham. My plan this time was to hike into Spargos Hut for dawn. I'd had this one on my radar for some years but filed it away in my mind as being a little too adventurous for a father-son walk. Our boy is at an age where he is joining me more often that not, but given the steep gradients involved, and the sunrise requirement meant I would need tackle this one alone, making it the perfect candidate for this solo adventure.

Getting a park on Hotham in winter is both expensive and frustrating, but in late autumn you can pull up nearly anywhere. Gearing up right at the trail head was handy, and I was soon off into the freezing cold night air, plunging down the track as it descended into a deep gully. The walking was rather marvelous and with a downhill slope I was making excellent time. That was, however, until the river crossing.

On the opposite bank lay an even steeper uphill slog. I fought my way up in the darkness, cursing the lack of those poles and my own stupidity for leaving them behind. On and on I went, mentally listing all the camera gear I was carrying and wondering what I could have left behind. I shed layers, and then put the torch away too. A faint pre-dawn light had crept over me, taking me unawares, lulled as I was by the exertion. Move! Up and up, fast as I could and there, finally, the hut stood nestled in a clearing, facing the rising sun like a beacon of hope.

A quick jog around the subject and the composition was obvious. I set up, ready to capture the first lick of direct light. Moments later the subject was bathed in gold. I worked the scene a little longer, but already knew I had it in the bag. Granted some high cloud catching colour would have been nice, but that's landscape photographers for you, we are always looking for more. If a unicorn turned up, I would probably grumble that it wasn't white enough.

The way out was considerably easier than the way in, and after a nice rest in Bright I headed off to Mansfield with a plan of launching another attempt at photographing Mount Buller's summit view. I'd been up there many times over the years, but what with wind and low cloud, I'd yet to come away with a keeper. Being only a short walk from the ski village, I knew the summit also represented easy access and that was something my aging body was telling was important.

In winter Hotham is a playground for the well-heeled, but at this time of the year you can enjoy zero fees and no crowds, making it an oft-overlooked, but very rewarding experience. I was lucky enough on this occasion to be granted a rare calm evening allowing me to capture the scene inclusive of the delicate alpine grasses, which just caught the last of the fading light. Moments later low cloud covered everything, forcing me to walk out through thick murky darkness, but I was elated with the whole trip and happy to be heading home on such a high.

So that is it once again for this report. Thank-you, as ever, dear readers for listening. I would wish you a chance of adventure yourselves, but it seems we are still in lockdown for a while longer.

Stay safe everyone.


Above: For anyone wanting to really fill a wall I've an alternative version of Buller Summit covering a much wider aspect ratio.


Michael Boniwell




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Michael is also available for Commissioned Photography assignments within Victoria, Australia.
Email michael.boniwell@gmail.com or Phone: 04 3473 0828.