Shoot like a pro: How to photograph your favourite part of Your Margaret River Region


Shoot Like a Pro

How to photograph your favourite part of Your Margaret River Region

Phil HollettYour Margaret River region is a photographer’s paradise. Stunning coastlines, beautiful bushland and stunning vistas combine to offer even the most amateur photographer the chance to capture the shot of a lifetime.

But how and perhaps more importantly, where? Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll tap into the creative process of some of the regions best photographers to offer a few tips on how best to capture the shot of a lifetime.

This week, we visit Busselton based professional photographer, Phil Hollett.

Phil, could you tell us a little about how long you’ve been a photographer and what it is you like about the region?

My interest in photography has been long term but was re-ignited approximately 8 years ago after moving to Busselton from Perth with my wife and children. Photography became a way for me to explore the beautiful environment we now lived in. It was also the time that digital SLR cameras were just starting to become very good and I took the plunge into the digital world.

Digital photography was a real game changer for me, for the first time I was able to create panoramic images and be in control of the developing and printing process.

Eventually my hobby evolved into selling my images in local galleries and solo exhibitions and we now have our own gallery in Figtree Lane Busselton specialising in local landscape images.

“Give yourself enough time to walk around and explore the area… you will start to notice all sorts of interesting ways to compose and frame your images.”

The region is bursting with photographic potential, what advice could you give to someone hoping to capture that special image?

Give yourself enough time to walk around and explore the area, if you do so with the intention of finding photo opportunities you will start to notice all sorts of interesting ways to compose and frame your images. When I walk around a location I often feel that compositions reveal themselves as I move through the space. You really have to walk around with your photographer’s eye switched on. Usually you can’t imagine how interesting a certain viewing angle is until you stand there and view the scene from that unique perspective. If you do this, you can find new and interesting compositions even in highly photographed locations, and your photos will have originality and be more meaningful and rewarding to you.

And what about camera gear, what could we expect to find in your bag?

I use a Nikon D800e 36mp full frame DSLR and I mostly use lenses in the 18-70mm focal length. When photographing panoramic scenes I am frequently in the 35-70mm focal length range. I then stitch several images together to form a complete panorama.

I almost always use a tripod and wireless remote control, which enables me to release the camera’s shutter without the vibration caused from pressing the camera’s shutter button and I also use a camera feature called exposure delay or mirror lockup. All of these things help me to capture the sharpest image possible after carefully focusing the lens. I highly recommend using lens hoods to prevent the quality of your images being degraded by ghosting and flare caused when bright sunlight is in contact with the glass at the front of your lens. If you haven’t got a lens hood or the hood isn’t deep enough, you can use your hand to shield the lens.

Ideally, when are the best times to shoot the locations that have become your trademark?

Photographers often refer to the golden hour, a period of time around sunrise and sunset that presents the best opportunity to capture striking colours and dramatic natural light.

It is a good idea to be in position 30 minutes before sunset and sunrise and be prepared to stay 30 minutes after. It is an unpredictable time of day and you never know when the best action will occur. It could be as the sun is descending through the clouds and spreading its beautiful warm rays of light across the landscape, other times it is just after the sun has just dipped below the horizon and on another day you get a powerful glow of colour 20 minutes after the sun has set. The same is true for sunrise, just in a different order. A photographer can really increase their chances of capturing something truly outstanding if they decide to make the most of the golden hour period.

You will need a tripod to get really sharp images during most of the golden hour. This is because the ambient light is low, and the camera’s shutter will need to stay open for longer to allow enough light to reach the camera sensor. Typical golden hour shutter speeds are so slow that it is not possible to get sharp images without the stability of a tripod. You can use camera features like image stabilisation and high ISO settings if a tripod is not available but anyone serious about photography at this time of day will need a tripod for best results.

Phil uses just two types of filters:

  • Neutral density or graduated neutral density.
    Great for: These filters are used to control the amount of light that reaches the camera sensor but do not alter the colours.
  • Circular polarizing filter, use to reduce glare on water surfaces and reflections, and thereby boost colour saturation.
    Great for: Blue skies and white clouds but be careful not to over polarize the image as skies can go dark and uneven. Avoid this filter if you intend to stitch photos with lots of blue sky as the polarizing effect can be uneven and will look strange in a stitched image.

Top Tip: Keep the Sun Out

One of the challenges of photographing sunrises and sunsets is having the sun in or near your image. The extreme light of the sun can make getting a good exposure very difficult.

It is possible to use more advanced techniques involving graduated neutral density filters or multiple exposures to manage these situations but keeping the sun out of your image is best for most people who don’t have this equipment or haven’t learned these techniques.

Another way of avoiding the sun at sunrise or sunset is to shoot in the opposite direction. The good news is that you can get a lot of beautiful colour in the sky opposite the rising or setting sun and the colours are often more subtle and delicate and the quality of the light is more gentle. All sorts of wonderful things happen in the sky opposite the rising or setting sun with rainbows being one of my favourites.

Busselton Jetty, 6.20am

(Camera tripod mounted, remote control, focal length 50mm, f11, 1/80sec, 2 stop graduated neutral density filter)

This stitched panoramic photo of the Busselton Jetty image was taken about 10 minutes after sunrise. I used a graduated neutral density filter to help me increase the exposure in the foreground without losing colour and detail in the clouds. The sun was rising in the east and my camera was pointing due west so I didn’t have to deal with the extreme brightness of the sun in or near the image. The soft reflected light gradually filled the clouds and lit up the whole scene. Light like this is a lot easier to photograph, especially for beginners and if it has been a rainy morning you have a good chance of capturing a rainbow.

Sugarloaf Rock, 7.27am

(Camera tripod mounted, remote control, focal length 35mm, f11, 1/30sec, 2 stop graduated neutral density filter)

Another example of soft reflected “golden hour” light that occurs opposite the rising sun.

If someone only had an hour or so at perhaps not the ideal time to take pictures (midday in harsh light for example), what advice would you offer?

While the golden hour gets much of our attention, it may not always be the most accessible or convenient time of the day for travellers. The lighting in the middle of the day can sometimes be quite harsh and a little uninspiring in some settings but in reality it is just different light that presents its own photographic limitations and opportunities.

Midday is the best time to capture the clear turquoise water of the capes region. When the sun is high in the sky, the bright light illuminates the water with a magnificent glow. The same mid-day light will also bring out the best in the colourful coastal plants, the rustic colours in the local rocks as well as a blue sky with fluffy white clouds.

Castle Rock, 12.46pm

(Camera tripod mounted, remote control, focal length 50mm, f11, 1/400sec, no filters were used)

I chose to get in the water for this stitched panoramic photo of Castle Rock near Dunsborough. The sun was high in the sky and behind me when taking this photo which helps to reduce reflections on the water and improve colour saturation. I would still recommend a lens hood even though the sun is not directly on the front of the lens.

Busselton Jetty, 12.40pm

(Camera tripod mounted, remote control, focal length 70mm, f11, 1/500sec, no filters were used)

This is another example of a midday photo opportunity, the sky was blue and filled with beautiful white clouds and the clear water was sparkling in the midday sun. This scene portrays an idyllic sunny day at the Busselton Jetty, train and all. It is a relatively simple stitched panoramic photo.

A circular polarizing filter could be used in an image like this but I chose not to use one because of the problems they cause with uneven polarization of the sky when photos are stitched together and because I liked the sparkle of the water surface and didn’t want to remove or reduce it. I used a lens hood to shade the front of my lens to prevent flare or ghosting in the image.

Boranup Forest 3.30 pm

(Camera tripod mounted, remote control, focal length 40mm,  f11, 1/80sec, no filters were used)

The real key to mid-day photography is to keep your eyes open so that you notice what is shining in the light of the moment.

Forest areas can also be successfully photographed during the midday hours because they naturally filter the light through the canopy and often present beautiful scenes of dappled light.

Phil 3And at most of these spots, you will always find a plethora of phones being used to take photos, what do you think about that?

One of the biggest mistakes people make these days is to use their phone camera to take images that become important memories. These images look deceptively good on the bright small screens they’re usually viewed on but can be very disappointing when viewed on a larger display or used to produce a special print. I suggest you always use a dedicated modern digital camera for photos that are likely to be the record of a special occasion.

To view more of Phil Hollett’s work, visit his gallery in Fig Tree Lane, Busselton or browse his online gallery.

Delve into the thriving art scene of Your Margaret River Region; see our list of galleries and artisans!

Anthony Pancia

Author Anthony Pancia

Anthony Pancia moved from Sydney to Margaret River 15 years ago. He came for the waves but soon discovered there’s much more to this region than that. He has a background in print journalism but is thoroughly enjoying feature writing and the ability to really tap into a issue or character. | Instagram

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