An article by Manfrotto Ambassador Philip Thurston.
Australia is a big place. A really big place. There is distinctive imagery that comes to mind when you think of Australia, red dirt, blue ocean and a few kangaroos hopping around in between, but in truth, Australia is incredibly geographically diverse. And depending on which coast you’re on, there can be a lot of distance in between the blue ocean and the red dirt.
We photographers travel great lengths fueled by vision, a story, or in this day in age a little google earthing! But when we arrived at this lake in the middle of the New South West Australian outback, the research and rumors fell very short of how breathtakingly it really was.
After a whole day of driving, our air-conditioned land drover pulled up to the end of this 4WD track that took us to an elevated angle, overlooking the lake we’d been anticipating and imagining for a long time. I eagerly opened the door, only to be invaded by a 40 degree wave of heat, intensified by the dry, dusty climate that the Australian outback is so famous for. I walked up to the edge and caught my first sight of the Menindee Lake System, a true display of natures magnificence. Before us was a vast aqua lake, the water colour was a milky blue, from the silt and surrounding the edges of the lake was a sporadically dispersed forest of dead trees. It was like a flooded graveyard of a once great forest. Yet as lifeless as the reality of it was, it had this incredible sense of atmosphere and aura about it. The lake was actually man made and serves as water supply to the darling river system, yet I would struggle to explain the trees and why they grew where they were.
We had planned to camp out by the lake that night and the swirling and misty clouds forming on the horizons of such an endless blue sky, gave a good indication that there was going to be a light show come sunset. In preparation of my hopeful forecast, I threw my Manfrotto Bumblebee Backpack on, grabbed by Manfrotto 190go carbon fiber tripod and waded into the silty waters to scout and explore this new location. I couldn’t see more than a few inches into the water and my mind raced with questions like ’what on earth could be in this water’ and ‘is this safe?’, nevertheless my anxiety of the unknown didn’t take too much away from the fascination I had with my immediate environment. I moved quite slow through the water, periodically tripping on logs and trees that lay hidden just below the surface, which ma1de it a little frustrating trying to find the best angles and compositions.
In terms of photographing the place, I found it was at first overwhelming on where to point my camera, but after spending a little time there, I realized that each tree had a distinctive character, like a community of tree folk, some more interesting than others, but every one strikingly unique. So I began to isolate the ones that drew my attention the most, and work with angles to make them stand out against the others. It was a challenge, but I was in my happy place, with camera in hand, so the challenge was rather enjoyable.
As the sun began to lower, the sky slowly transformed into hues of amber and orange, the heat tapered off and my excitement was on the increase. One thing with landscape photography in particular, is that you can travel a thousand miles to arrive at a destination but nature still does whatever it wants, with complete disregard to our travel plans and efforts. We can merely be hopeful that nature comes to the party with the beauty it is so very capable of showing off. It can be stressful but I have learned to just go with the flow, there is nothing we can do to change the cards that nature deals on any given day. In our favour though, as the evening approached, the sky exploded into a fiery array of golden colours and swirling cloud patterns, reflecting off the milky surface of the lake to create a frame full of contrasting figures encompassed in a circle of fire. Having scouted the area beforehand and making myself familiar with a few individual trees, my frenzy of “making the most of the light” was a little more orchestrated, but still, when the light arrived, I had two tripod and camera setups going simultaneously with only 25-30 second intervals of peaceful appreciation while the shutter was open!
The following morning, the light was completely different and the clear blue sky made for yet another opportunity to photograph this unique landscape. To capture these photos I used the Manfrotto 190go Carbon fibre tripod with the Ball head, I also had the Manfrotto Befree Advanced as my second tripod, with a Canon 5D mark IV and 16-35mm lens. In addition, I use the Manfrotto Xume filter system which makes changing filters incredibly efficient, especially in scenarios of dramatic lighting changes. I favor the Manfrotto ND64 and ND500 to achieve the silky smooth final result.