Photography Travelogues – The Great Barrier Reef 2/2
November 9, 2011 8 Comments
Whitehaven, Whitsunday Island, Great Barrier Reef
They say Whitehaven Beach on Whitsunday Island has the whitest sand in the world, although on my last trip some of the broad silica beach had been washed away by a tropical storm. Still, it looked pretty good to me and the northern end of the beach which ends at Hill Inlet appeared as it always does, an amazing pattern of water channels cut into the hard sands below.
Walking along Whitehaven Beach at the opening to Hill Inlet is a wonderful experience. The shallow waters are home to small rays which you’ll see scurrying across the sandy bottom as they feed, but despite the wonderful warm water and sheltered location, you don’t really get a sense of how beautiful Hill Inlet is without a higher vantage point.
There is a lookout on the headland behind the Inlet which offers the classical tourist viewpoint (shown here). A popular technique is to take a series of images and stitch them together for an impressive panorama. You can see the different colours of blue and aquamarine in the water, indicating different depths. At low tide, the lighter areas become exposed sand bars.
However, it’s not until you take to the air that you get to see how magnificent Hill Inlet really is. Helicopters can be hired from nearby Hamilton Island, but there are some height restrictions for flying as Whitsunday Island is a National Park. However, this simply means using a slightly longer focal length for tighter angles.
An obvious trick for getting good photographs from the air is to ask the pilot to take the door off so you’re not shooting through glass or Perspex. Next, you need to be sure your shutter speeds are high to avoid camera shake as helicopters are great sources of vibration. Some experts suggest a shutter speed of at least 1/500 second, but this depends on a number of factors and I generally prefer shutter speeds shorter than 1/1000 second. On this particular shoot, there was a strong wind blowing which came straight through the cabin, so even at 1/2000 second I found hints of camera shake in my files. Of course, this could also be because I was shooting with the new IQ180 and 80-megapixels will quickly reveal any shortcomings in technique!
I used the new Schneider Kreuznach 55mm leaf shutter lens. Although it has an f2.8 maximum aperture, my lens performs best between f5.6 and f8. And although the IQ180 has a native sensitivity of ISO 35, I would need a faster setting than this to keep my shutter speeds up. Some compromises were required! I settled on an aperture of f4 and ISO 200 which gave me shutter speeds between 1/800 and 1/3200 seconds, depending on what I was shooting.
While the overview is a crowd pleaser, my favourite shots of Hill Inlet are of the sand patterns just below the water surface. I will ask the pilot to fly up and down the inlet a couple of times, pointing my lens directly down. Every year the sand has moved, creating wonderful new shapes and lines.
The original file was taken when the sun was behind cloud. Sometimes this is better than full sunshine as it can reduce the reflections off the water, although depending on the time of day and the position of the sun, a polarising filter can be useful for this as well. However, a polarising filter reduces the light reaching the sensor and you lose a shutter speed or so.
Even starting with a flat file, there are lots of potential. The screen grab above shows Capture One open with the original file in the preview window. There isn’t a lot of colour, nor a lot of contrast, but the basic pattern and composition is pleasing to my eye.
Down the side of the Capture One screen, the thumbnails show several variations (using Capture One’s variants), and all of them have used increased contrast to bring out the sand patterns more strongly.
One of the tools I like to use for low contrast subject is the Levels tool under the Exposure tab. By grabbing the black and white point sliders and dragging them into the edge of the histogram, the image comes alive. Then it’s just a matter of fine tuning the exposure with the grey or gamma slider in the middle.
For the final edit, I refined my white balance, increased the colour saturation and used a local adjustment to lighten the top of the image.
If you’re interested in the photography workshops I present on Hamilton Island, or you just want an excuse to visit Australia’s tropical north, please visit www.hamiltonisland.com.au for more details, or visit my site at www.betterphotography.com. It’s a great excuse for a week on Hamilton Island!