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The Victorian High Country

Australian Landscape Photography
With the Hasselblad XPan

By: James Pierce

The Victorian High Country offers many fantastic locations to photograph. This is a selection of some of my favourite images from various trips there with some explanation of how and/or why I took each one.

Falls Creek – Wallace Hut

Wallace Hut – Falls Creek – Victoria
45mm Lens – F11

About 8km from the Alpine village of Falls Creek stands Wallace Hut. It is the oldest stockman’s hut still standing in the High Country. From early settlement in Australia to this day, cattle have been sent out onto the plain for the summer to graze. In days gone by stockmen would use these huts while they herded their beasts. I had seen this hut many times in pictures and have always wanted to see it in person and make my own images of it. I arrived here at midday to scope the location. It seemed that there were many possible perspectives, so I fired off some ‘idea’ shots and made a sketch. This is something that I often do if I’m not sure when I can return to a location: the sketch includes possible shots, locations that I take test images from, and a compass bearing to plan for sunset/sunrise returns. I left for the rest of the afternoon to explore other areas. An hour before sunset I returned. The light danced between the trees creating soft shadows and golden highlights. The image here is the last that I took as the sun slipped behind a ridge. The natural framing of the snow gums, and the fact that no trees in the high country are very tall, suits the panoramic format of the Xpan. I will return here for a sunrise when I can to make images of the other side of the hut. I also have plans to ski out in winter when there is good snow.

Mt Buller – The Summit

Summit Hut – Mt Buller – Victoria
45mm Lens – F11

Having skied My Buller many times, I decided it was time to go there and take some pictures. After a steep walk up to the summit of Mt Buller (1804m high) we waited for the sun to set. I made images of the other mountains in the distance, but the light was not very warm until just before the sunset, when Mt Buller – being the dominant mountain in the region – casts a large shadow over the other peaks. I decided therefore to concentrate on the sunset itself. Plain sunsets, while pretty, don’t make the strongest images, so I used the hut to try and give a point of interest in the foreground.

Mt Buffalo – Alpine Meadow

Alpine Meadow – Mt Buffalo – Victoria
45mm F22

Mt Buffalo is filled with meadows strewn with granite boulder and daisies, interspersed with clumps of gnarled snow gums. After walking for most of the afternoon and taking many pictures I still had not found an image that I thought captured the feeling of being out in one of those meadows. I found it here – lying on the ground (a perspective that I recommend you consider when out taking pictures), I found the feeling that I wanted to convey. The shot was made at F22 and hyperfocal focus to try and get everything in focus. As the daisies were only 15 or 20 cm from the lens they were never going to be sharply in focus with a 45mm lens. For a while I was sorry that I didn’t make an image with the flowers sharp and the mountains slightly out of focus, but over such a wide frame, printed large on the wall it would lose impact. I’m very happy I chose to shoot it the way I did.

Omeo - Mt Blowhard

Looking North – Mt Blowhard – Victoria
45mm F11

I spent last Easter up in Omeo shooting with a few friends, this use to be hopeless until we all started shooting different formats, somehow it works now! Mt Blowhard quickly became a popular location for us when the light was good: I have many nice images from the top of this little hill, but this is my personal favourite. The straw-coloured grass turns to a sea of orange with the evening light, the clear mountain air makes the sky so, well, clear. There is nothing special about the way this image was taken, it was just a great location.

Wombat Hills – Mansfield

Wombat Hills – Mansfield – Victoria
90mm F16

I nearly didn’t include this image as strictly speaking it wasn’t taken in the High Country – however it was using the wonderful 90mm lens and Mansfield is in the foothills. Before I started shooting with the Xpan I assumed that I would want wide, wider and widest lenses at my disposal, however I find that my rate of ‘keepers’ is much more even between the 45mm and the 90mm lens. I shoot many more images with the 45mm. I think this is because with such a wide frame it is often hard to find enough interesting details to fill it; having two interesting things on either side of the frame doesn’t make strong panoramic images. The longer lens, however, allows isolation of elements within a scene. This image was taken just before sunset as a storm rolled up the valley – the wind hasn’t touched the water in the foreground, but it did so only a few seconds after I took the shot. Again this was shot from a very low angle to compress the foreground and the background together. With this kind of shot you need to carefully set the hyperfocal distance on the lens – a 90mm lens doesn’t have much depth of field, and a slightly soft foreground will really spoil a shot like this.

Why the Hasselblad Xpan and the Panoramic Format?

I’ve shot with a whole range of different cameras from Nikon 35mm equipment through to a Toyo 4x5 camera. Over the years I have also shot a wide variety of subjects. One day I was reviewing some slides, and looking at a few prints from other artists around the room I was sitting in. I thought about the photography that I really like and am inspired by, and I realized that landscape photography is really what excites me. In particular, I have always liked wide format panoramic landscape work. It just suits the way I see, and it very often suits Australia’s flatter landscape. So I decided that I would buy a camera system capable of making high quality panoramic prints, and concentrate my photographic efforts on this subject. I considered a 6x12 back on some large format camera (Ebony, Linhof Technika etc.), or perhaps a Pentax 6x7 or Mamiya 7. In the end the Xpan won because of its size, weight, price and robustness. I bit the bullet and swapped my wildlife lens (300mm F2.8) for an Xpan – I was never a very good wildlife photographer anyway! I believe that I have found the perfect system for my kind of work. However, it does come at the cost of not being able to use long telephoto lenses, and giving up macro photography completely. One day I’ll buy the super-expensive 30mm lens no doubt – I think it would see the least use of the three, though.

I normally pack my camera gear in with the rest of my hiking gear. I use a Lowepro Photo-Runner in which I pack the following:
• XPAN
• 45mm Lens
• 90mm Lens
• Lots of Kodak E100VS
• Cable Release
• Bubble Level
• 49mm Polarizing Filter (though this rarely gets used)
• Spare Batteries
• An incident/reflected light meter (the Xpan under-exposes a lot of scenes – if I have time I confirm exposures with this meter)

On the outside of that pack is my G1228 tripod.

My total shooting kit weighs in at about 4kg, which is quite manageable with all the other things required to walk and camp for an extended period of time. This is very important when I’m trying to capture images of hard-to-reach places. My goal is to produce prints that look good up to quite large sizes, and the Xpan lets me get to the places I need to without compromising on quality. My prints are made onto Kodak Metallic Paper from high-res scans, but that is a whole topic in itself so I will stop here. More images can be seen on my site.

© 2002 James Pierce

Biography

James Pierce is a landscape photographer based in Melbourne, Australia – after pursuing a whole range of photographic subjects, ranging from low-light jazz shooting to wildlife, he has settled on landscape work as his niche. He is currently working exclusively with the Hasselblad Xpan to produce a series of limited edition prints that capture parts of Australia that others don’t get to see – sometimes because of the times of day that he is shooting, and often because getting to the locations requires a long walk! All the images featured in this article and many others can be seen at James’ website.

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Concepts: Large format, View camera, Photography, Telephoto lens, Image, Depth of field, Circle of confusion, Camera

Entities: Buffalo, boulder, Kodak, Nikon, Pentax, Australia, Falls Creek, Alpine, Easter, Michael Reichmann, Wallace Hut, Mt Buller, Mansfield

Tags: images, high country, Wallace Hut, camera, snow gums, Mt Buller, wide frame, wonderful 90mm lens, panoramic, super-expensive 30mm lens, large, prints, Victorian High Country, strong panoramic images, Toyo 4x5 camera, pictures, quality panoramic prints, Linhof Technika etc, format panoramic landscape, Nikon 35mm equipment, total shooting kit, long telephoto lenses, Kodak Metallic Paper, clear mountain air, good wildlife photographer, large format camera, wildlife lens, oldest stockman, soft foreground, favourite images, Alpine village, hyperfocal focus, steep walk, hyperfocal distance, test images, possible perspectives, strongest images, Mt Blowhard, panoramic format, golden highlights