Category Archives: Kakadu

The Unchosen Ones

On a busy day at a world class location like Hawk Dreaming or Purnululu National Park I may end up with hundreds of different compositions and several hundreds RAW files. I then spend many hours in Adobe Lightroom in preview mode, marking my ‘picks’ simply by pressing P. I repeat this until I feel I have found and developed all my Chosen Ones.

After a bit of time it can be a great eye opening exercise to filter out the picks and look at the rest with fresh eyes. Often there are subtle gems and future favourites hidden in these rejects; pictures that were left behind when all the obvious choices screamed “pick me! pick me!”. These are the stories of 3 photos that were picked late in the game but ended up outshining others:

Having climbed up into a rock art cave in darkness; I witness first light looking out over the Hawk Dreaming landscape. This shot is not wide angle for a change, but a 100mm zoom view of Cannon Hill in the misty morning light:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Misty Morning at Cannon Hill
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Trekking in the Bungle Bungle Ranges is an otherworldly experience. This image of blue sky, white gum trees and orange rock is perhaps only for outback fanatics like myself; but I like it very much:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Bungle Bungle Ranges landscape
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Purnululu National Park has very quickly become one of my favourite spots in Australia. Watching the sun fire up the colours of the orange Bungle Bungle Ranges is a visual wonder:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Bungle Bungle range in the setting sun
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

The Unchosen Ones. Often ending up being some of my very favourite images!

Perfect Moment

Once in a blue moon I experience a perfect moment and I wish I could freeze time. A moment where it all clicks; all the elements come together and create a touch of magic. The real challenge is capturing this and creating an image that brings a viewer into this moment. It’s part of why I love landscape photography so much; I want to show people how magical and truly stunning nature can be. I want to capture these moments and have you experience them!

This particular moment lasted at least an hour; from pre-dawn to full daylight at Hawk Dreaming in Kakadu National Park. I’ve blogged about this sunrise before, it was the most magical of mornings producing many wonderful images. I recently dug another shot out of the archives and processed it. It is an image with a bit of a painterly style; with the many layers from clouds to mist and the many soft tones of the morning light. As you view it, know that you as the viewer are all alone in the world, standing at sacred Hawk Dreaming looking out over the huge floodplains. It’s just you and nature at it’s finest and most magical, no civilisation, no people, no distractions. Just pure Dreaming!

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Layers of Sunrise at Hawk Dreaming
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is an old-school single shot composition, something I enjoy shooting very much. Stitched images are a great way to increase the pixel count and I try to shoot as many panos as possible to maximise the amount of pixels. You never know when a customer might like a particular image printed at 2 meters wide and then it’s nice to know there’s enough pixels for great detail. Still; there’s a difference between a detailed shot and a great shot and I love single shots, I love composing right in the viewfinder and I try not to worry too much about pixel peeping and pixel counting. I have enough to worry about trying to capture a great photo!

To get the most out of these perfect moments I try and ‘sketch’ the scene using different compositions, different focal lengths, different positions and shoot horizontal and vertical. I don’t machine gun the camera, I take my time to make each composition count (going through 500 very similar images in Lightroom is very boring) but I do want to try and freeze the moment and the magic by capturing many different shots. I can then only hope that one of them works and takes you there and lets you experience the perfect moment.

Ubirr and Nourlangie Rock

“People need to come here and relax, sit on country, feel the spirits of this country and go home and feel the same way.”
– Natasha Nadji, Bunidj clan

One of my favourite spots in Australia to sit, relax and feel the spirit of the country is on top of Ubirr Rock looking out over the Nadab floodplains and taking in the 360 degree view. The feeling is exactly what Natasha Nadji, granddaughter of Bill Neidjie, is talking about. The landscape and view is breathtaking and the cultural heritage and history is humbling and incredible. I truly feel the spirit of the Gagudju country as I look out over this landscape. I feel a strange connection to Ubirr, 4 visits can attest to that. I actually feel home.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Ubirr Rock Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Kakadu National Park in Northern Territory, the Top End of Australia, is listed not once but twice as a UNESCO’s World Heritage site. Kakadu – or Gagudju as Kakadu is a European spelling error of Gagudju – is listed not only for natural but also for cultural values. I have written at lengths about Hawk Dreaming, a closed off non public site. In this post I will focus on two of the main public sites – Ubirr and Nourlangie (another spelling error, should be Nawurlandja).

Gagudju Country

Bill Neidjie - copyright Mark Lang - www.marklangscapes.com

The Gagudju country will tell you the story of at least 25,000 years of occupation meaning at least 250 generations of Australians have lived and died here. 250 generations is a number so great it is hard to conceive and is why I balk when people say Australia is a young nation with no history. Oldest land in the world; oldest still living culture. Gagudju people had already been trading with the Macassans sailing over from Indonesia, but European contact in the late 1800’s proved catastrophic to 25,000 years of culture. From several thousands living here the number was already down to probably less than 100 in the 1920’s. Today, none of the old Gagudju people remain. Bill Neidjie, see photo kindly provided by Mark Lang, lived for about a year at Ubirr when he was very young and he was the last of the original Gagudju. Fortunately Kakadu National Park starting in 1979 was handed back to aboriginal management and ownership so a new generation of Gagudju can grow up and learn Gagudju law on their land.

As you sit on top of Ubirr reflect on this and the fact that this is no museum. The landscape isn’t constructed. Ubirr has several major rock art shelters with some very impressive and important drawings and they weren’t brought here for an exhibit. This is real; this is a home. People lived here for 25,000 years and it’s still almost untouched by civilisation.

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Nourlangie Rock Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Almost untouched. Almost. There are paved roads. There are fences, signs, tourists, tour guides and rangers. There are opening hours for the sites. 8am to sunset. You won’t exactly have the place to yourself. Ubirr and Nourlangie being the two main sites of Kakadu are easily accessible with paved roads and car parks for coach busses so they get very busy in the middle of the day. It is a good thing as many people will come, experience and learn; but it can be a bit hard to ignore the crowd and truly feel at one with the country. Arrive very early or very late in the day to avoid the crowd. Also; the tour guides pointing out where a few scenes from Crocodile Dundee were shot should be banned! There are more important stories about Ubirr. For true untouched Kakadu you have to go to Hawk Dreaming. At Ubirr you have to work harder to take it in and ignore the people.

The rock art at Ubirr and Nourlangie is incredibly impressive. I am spoiled though having visited every accessible cave in Hawk Dreaming and experiencing amazing rock art up close and personal with just me and a guide, no crowds, no fences and completely untouched. I long for more when I view the art at Ubirr and Nourlangie standing on a boardwalk, behind a rail. You can’t sit in the cave and dream yourself tens of thousands of years back. You view from a distance in the company of tourists. Ubirr and Nourlangie are still incredible and do catch some of the aboriginal ranger talks, they’re fantastic. I’m just completely spoiled having had Hawk Dreaming all for myself twice. My dream is to someday be allowed off-limits access to Ubirr and be allowed to stay after sunset. Watching the moon light up the flood plains from the top of Ubirr must be true magic.

Photographing Ubirr and Nourlangie

Ubirr and Nourlangie can be as frustrating as they are fascinating. It takes a long time to get to know these places and create great images, Ubirr and Nourlangie will really test your skills for composition and shooting photos in difficult light. These are huge chaotic areas of savannah floodplains and rocks and won’t easily present some simplicity for you. It’s made even harder by the many closed off sections, the crowds, the opening hours. I still only have a few shots that I’m reasonably happy with and still; they’re not really art more like good stock images. Ubirr especially keeps kicking my behind every time I visit. Few photographers have mastered Ubirr and Kakadu. Mark Lang is at the top of my list, having spent 3 years here in the company of Bill Neidjie, his work truly captures Kakadu and is what I strive for.

I have presented two stitched panoramas above which are my favourites from Ubirr and Nourlangie. The Ubirr panorama is not from the top of the rocks, but at the beginning of the climb looking North towards Cannon Hill in Arnhem Land. The afternoon light is still harsh but has warmed a bit and creates shadows compared to midday light. I lucked out and had a few clouds, most days in the dry season have none but this was late September and the buildup season was starting. I used an ND grad filter on the sky to bring out the colour. The Nourlangie Panorama is from the gun-warddehwardde lookout and is the spot for a good shot of Burrungui, the upper part of the rock. Again; lucked out with some nice clouds and it’s early enough in the day to still have light on the rock. Later in the day this is all in shade.

Actually; I’ll dig out a nice old 1998 slide and present this as well. This is in January of 1998 in the wet season. It shows how green Kakadu gets in the wet and how dramatic the thunderstorms are. Also shows how I was just beginning to learn photography – and usually did bulls-eye compositions! I want to experience Kakadu in the wet again and re-capture dramas like these:

Ubirr in the wet season

Photography tips for Ubirr and Nourlangie:

  • The dry and the wet are two different worlds here as you can see. I recommend doing both, I want to experience more of the wet myself. The wet has amazing dramatic weather, everything is green, less people, but everything may be completely closed off and the humidity is unbelievable. The dry has clear dry days, but more people and less dramatic light. Try April or May just after the wet, or September or October just before the wet. Avoid June, July and August if you can.
  • As great as it is sitting on top of Ubirr, it’s hard to shoot anything worthwhile from the top. Everything is below you and the horizon so the image becomes very flat and distant. Climb down and get closer to subjects so you can compose with some foreground and middle ground.
  • Beat the crowd, get there very early or late afternoon! In the middle of the day you’ll be fighting tour crowds for position.
  • Ubirr is great in the late afternoon, enabling you to shoot north and east getting all the main subjects in the frame.
  • Nourlangie, the gun-warddehwardde lookout is only good before about 11am. Get there at 8am if possible. There are some great lookouts a short distance from Nourlangie like Nawurlandja and Mirrai which are great for sunrise and sunsets; I want to explore these some day.
  • Ubirr and Nourlangie open around 8am so sunrises are not possible. They are open till sunset but be aware the rangers kick you out as soon as the sun hits the horizon. They don’t want people falling off Ubirr in the darkness of course, but this means no dusk light for us photographers. I have never stayed at Ubirr for sunset. I had planned to, back in September 08 but being by myself at Hawk Dreaming with all the time in the world including dusk light and with no people proved too great a temptation!
    As you stand on the Hawk Dreaming savannah at sunset you can actually see Ubirr in the horizon and all the flashes going off on compact cameras set to automatic mode!
  • Check reflections off the rocks, they can burn out if you’re not careful as they’re usually the brightest part of a scene. Perhaps underexpose by about a 1/3 stop.
  • Watch your step at Ubirr! Don’t look through the viewfinder and walk as you’re likely to fall off or at least break an ankle.
  • Do visit the Warradjan Aboriginal Culture Centre as it is brilliant. Spend a few hours there and you will learn so much about Kakadu and aboriginal culture. Knowing a place also means connecting to the place resulting in a better experience and better images!

Last but not least, experience!

“If you respect the land then you will feel the land. Your experience will be one that you cannot get anywhere else in the world”.
– Brian Baruwei, Wurrkbarbar Clan

Hawk Dreaming Magic through Lightroom Magic

Hawk Dreaming is a magical sacred place so it is only fitting I use a Hawk Dreaming image to show a bit of Adobe Lightroom 2.0 magic.

Hawk Dreaming Magic

The image was photographed at my beloved Hawk Dreaming, home of Bill Neidjie and the Bunitj clan, in Kakadu National Park, Australia. Long time readers will be quite familiar with this, newcomers can read more by clicking here. It is one of the most magical places in Australia and I twice I have been fortunate to visit this incredible place with just me and a guide from Aussie Adventures (the area is sacred and closed off, you cannot visit without a guide)!

I am standing alone at the East Alligator River feeling truly at one with the landscape. It has been a humid and hazy 39 degrees warm day. Just as I like it. The wind has picked up and sweeps across the plains. The setting is timeless and takes you back tens of thousands of years. This is untouched. I am preparing to shoot Cannon Hill lit up by the sun across the river. But a bush fire has created a strong haze that eats and diffuses the setting sun so tonight’s light and photo is happening behind me. Always be aware of the light and clouds and approach with an open mind. Be prepared to shoot an entirely different scene than what you envisioned; you have to connect to the place and take what it gives you rather than force your own ideas! I do a 180 and move a bit to find a good composition I like that includes the clouds, ranges and savannah. I forget rule no. 1 when looking through a camera – look where you’re going – and nearly back into the river and join the crocs! I take a few steps forward onto dry land and end up making this image:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Sunset over the ranges at Hawk Dreaming
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Lightroom Magic

This is two images stitched with all post production done in the brilliant Adobe Lightroom 2.2. I develop the RAW files in Lightroom and then export for stitching in PTgui. I find Lightroom to be so intuitive, easy and powerful that I then import the stitched panorama tiff file back into Lightroom to do final post processing! Lightroom was made for photographers and version 2 is brilliant. For pixel editing, layers and masking etc. you need Photoshop – but Lightroom is now about 90% of my post processing workflow as Lightroom offers post production in such an easy non-destructive intuitive way that creativity is always at the forefront and not technical Photoshop skills.

Lightroom 2 offers some amazing features that I use a lot: Virtual graduated neutral density filter, Retouching brush, Spot Removal and post-crop vignette. You can accomplish the same using layers and masks in Photoshop, but it is a longer workflow and in Lightroom it is just too easy. You’ll be laughing as the Aussies say. Grad filter emulates a real grad filter but you can add as many as you like and then have the filter change exposure, contrast, saturation etc. This video shows the filter in action. I shot this using my Cokin ND grad filter but still ended up with a dim foreground as the dynamic range is huge. So I used a grad filter in Lightroom to add some contrast to the sky and lighten the foreground as I am shooting into the light and also another filter to brighten the foreground. Adjustment brush enables you to paint in adjustments such as contrast, exposure, saturation to localized areas of the image. I used it in this image to paint light back onto the ranges. Post-crop vignette is simply the easiest and most powerful vignette feature. Spot Removal is an easy way of healing dust spots and as this was shot at f/22 with a dusty Canon 5D sensor I had quite a bit of spot removal to do. Too easy in Lightroom! The small web version (downsizing can heighten contrast and saturation) here makes it look perhaps slightly overcooked but the full size large version is sweet .

Hawk Dreaming. Adobe Lightroom. I highly recommend a magic location with a touch of software magic!

Capturing Australian tropical sunrises

As a follow up to Where Sunrises Rule The World I will take you back to Hawk Dreaming and the edge of the crocodile and mosquito rich river. I will share my sunrise shooting experience with two new panoramas from this morning.

I am back in Hawk Dreaming on the edge of the river. I have arrived early to capture the dawn light and greet the mosquitoes. I have chosen my composition, setup my gear and applied a full can of mossie repellent. It is an astoundingly beautiful morning; it is already more than 25 degrees but the air still has a crisp and fresh morning feel and smell. As the very first dawn light appears I capture the first panorama while it is still quite dark:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

East Alligator River at Dawn
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Ten minutes later and it is already close to daylight and the light has warmed considerably. I make small adjustments to the composition and exposure and shoot our second panorama in this series:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

East Alligator River at Sunrise
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

I could have wished for a few more clouds (the appeared later as seen here) and a stronger composition. But the colours and the light are gorgeous and a true representation of sunrise at this river, and at large size you can see the lovely thick layer of mist on the floodplains. Let us examine in detail how to capture this light and these colours.

Shooting the tropical sun rising

Walk softly and always carry mosquito repellent! The composition in these panoramas is dictated by the mosquitoes. Ideally I would have been lower and closer to the water; making the river (a finger of the East Alligator River) seem bigger with more colour reflection in the water. No go mate. I have never experienced a wall of a million mosquitoes quite like this! There was no choice but to step back 7-8 meters from the edge of the river and still I was getting eaten. Without mossie repellent you won’t get these shots so arm yourself. This is Where Mosquitoes Rule The World!

Be prepared; be quick! Coming from a cold dark non-tropical place you will be surprised by how quickly the sun rises in the tropics. You have very little time to work in before the sun basically jumps to the top of the sky and is at full force. So be prepared, arrive early and find your composition before the light show begins. The very best light is usually at dawn so no sleeping in! You should basically be setting up in complete darkness.

Use ND graduated filters! I used a Cokin 2-stop ND grad filter to even out the exposure between sky and ground but learned that this is nowhere near enough to tame the tropical sun rising. I needed a 4-stop and even a 6-stop in my kit as the difference in light level especially at dawn is incredible. Still a 2-stop is better than nothing and without an ND grad filter you would either blow out the sky or capture a pitch black foreground.

Do not blow the red channel! The red channel will be at least a couple of stops brighter than the other channels, so do not trust the luminance histogram on your camera. A blown red channel will ruin a tropical sunrise or sunset, creating ugly yellows and greens where there should be orange and red! Study your RGB histogram carefully if you have one, or bracket your exposures.

Finally…enjoy! Do not get so caught up in shooting, checking histograms, looking through the viewfinder, levelling the tripod, setting exposure, focus and aperture etc. that you completely forget to enjoy the spectacle! Step back once in a while and take it all in. We shoot landscapes because we love nature so don’t let the camera get in the way all the time. Enjoy!

The Hawk Dreaming Aboriginal Art Experience

I wish to take you on a journey into one of the Hawk Dreaming rock art shelters and try and make you feel what it is like to travel back in time. It is a difficult task describing this in words (time travel is a bit hard too), but do come along on this illustrated trip as we explore a Hawk Dreaming aboriginal rock art shelter.

I am often asked how large is Hawk Dreaming and I don’t actually know, it’s not marked on a map of course. We’re only allowed access to a small area anyway but it is a significant and beautiful area along the East Alligator River with around 15-20 art sites included Bill Neidjie’s cave and important sites like the painting of the Warramurrauungi – the creation mother. All the paintings we can access are found around the large range shown here in my panorama:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Hawk Dreaming Ranges Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

This is a stitched panorama shot from the river looking southeast towards the ranges. It was a hazy sunset but with good clouds and light above the rocks. I am trying to shield the camera as it was so windy on this night that I had to hook my backpack to the tripod to prevent it from blowing over! I managed to get some sharp exposures and I am very happy with this shot, it is quite successful I reckon at expressing the open expanse of the Hawk Dreaming floodplains and the ranges.

The art sites are found in shelters in these ranges. Look at the full size version of the panorama above and you see some of the shelters as horizontal lines along the side of the range. One of them is a large spectacular cave accessed through a bit of climbing. It has a huge collection of art on the walls and grind holes in the rock. It also offers a magnificent view North and if one was allowed to bring a swag up here it would offer a truly special place to sleep. I have attempted to capture the feeling of sitting in the shelter in the following panorama. This stitched pano required a lot of work in PTgui. It is shot at 17mm so I could include the cave as well as the view. But 17mm means distortion and a very tough stitch. In the end I got what I wanted, a pano of looking out of the cave:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Rock Art Shelter Lookout Panorama
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

As you sit here in the rock shelter and lookout over the glorious landscape then think back tens of thousands of years and have a look around. There are grind holes on the floor from grinding paint and flour. There is still charcoal on the floor leftover from fires. There is absolutely nothing to break the illusion. You are back in time. No fences, no signs, no roads, no people! This is not a museum. This is real; this is authentic and you are right there in it, experiencing traditional living with the land lifestyle. Imagine a clan of Bunitj people sitting right next to you, laughing, eating, painting, sleeping. Living in this very shelter. It is a great place to live, the land here provides plenty of food and the natural shelters make for perfect homes. It is a slice of magical time travel.

Now. Look up and look behind you and what you see is this panoramic view:

Shelter art pano - 1000pix web

Tens of thousands of years of living here is documented on the walls in layers and layers of painting. Again; this is no museum. This is time travel; this is real. The paintings range from just having fun recreational paintings to very important sacred paintings. A lot of it is food sources and dreamtime stories and ceremonies. Very interesting are the paintings of encounters with white people and before that, meetings with the Macassan traders in the year 14-1700. I apologise for the large watermark but have to protect this image as it is sacred art and is something I shot for the present custodians of Hawk Dreaming. I’m afraid I can’t show you close-up of the art; you’ll have to visit and see yourself!

If you have visited other rock art sites in Australia I think you have spotted why this Hawk Dreaming experience is unlike any other. This is so real it becomes a time travel. Again; no fences, no crowds, no lines, no boardwalks, no signs, nothing that turns the experience into a museum like viewed from a distance feeling. Hawk Dreaming enables you to sit down in a shelter and take it all in with no filters between you and the authentic experience.

I trust you enjoyed this trip in Hawk Dreaming sitting in a Bunitj clan rock shelter. It defines the word special and I can only attempt to capture a bit of this in my photos. It feels like ‘my country’ like home to me.

What’s it all about? This is what it’s all about!

Some moments feels like they should last forever, frozen in time. But they are over too fast and all that remains is the memory…and the photo. I can’t bottle these moments but at least I can shoot them.

One of my favourite photos of the Hawk Dreaming raw files I have developed so far, is a simple against the light scene shot just after sunrise:

Click to see large size on my gallery! Copyright Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

Field of Hawk Dreams 
© Flemming Bo Jensen Photography

My eyes are always naturally attracted to against-the-light scenes; it must be my love of the sun. I love the light, the colours and the tall golden spinifex grass in this panorama. It is a personal favourite however because of the memory. The memory of standing here on this gorgeous morning; warm soft rising sun in my face, gentle warm wind against my body, the sound of birds and insects in my ears and my finger tips on my outstretched hands touching the moving waves of grass. Freeze time. Hope the future never comes.

The future came but at least I still have the memory and the photo. And I feel quite grateful for being able to connect so deeply with the amazing nature in the amazing Hawk Dreaming. Connect, experience and capture nature’s magic.

For me; this is what landscape photography is all about.

Shooting against the light

This is a fairly simple against the light shot. The trick is getting the angle right. You can’t have the sun in the frame because it will overpower everything. But you want the front-lit effect, so you position the sun just out of frame and move sideways till you have the right composition and light and no internal lens reflections. One step can make all the difference! Get this right and exposure is easy and you will love the results.