Photographing ‘The Gap’ in Torndirrup National Park

The year was 2014. I was seven years younger and because of that, it was a very good year. Do you remember the time when it didn’t hurt to get out of bed?

When camera bags didn’t feel like bags of wet cement, and when your eyesight was so good you could spot a discounted Cabernet Sauvignon from one hundred paces? Ah those were the days. I shall remember them fondly.

So how did I get this shot? I am glad you asked. It wasn’t without some serious risk-taking on my part. As you may know from previous lies, I mean stories, I take landscape photography very seriously – so much so my wife has recently purchased Frankincense and Rosehip oil to help straighten out my frown lines. Remember when you didn’t have frown lines?

So really, how was this photograph taken?

First, let me set the scene. It was in Torndirrup National Park at a spot called the Gap not far from the southern town of Albany in Western Australia. The coastline here is battered relentlessly by the Southern Ocean. If you go south from this spot the next landmass you hit is Antarctica. When the swell arrives, it is huge and angry. To say death is a likely outcome when photographing here might be an exaggeration, but it does help set the mood and make things rather more dramatic. What you don’t see behind the camera is the sheer drop into the cold dark water. If you take that drop, you won’t be developing the negs, if you know what I mean!

Rocks, sand, and the seashore against a bright red sunrise

The coastline, because of all this extreme weather, is rugged and photogenic. This group of rocks are larger than they look. In fact, if you fell off these you would probably die horribly. Luckily, I was born with common sense, or is it just common? Anyway, I didn’t think the view from the top was as nice as the view from the bottom. I was then interested in trying to balance the composition and offer interest in the foreground that would lead your eye to the rocks behind. I used a vertical crop to allow more of the foreground to tell the story. This also allowed me to balance the three rocks with the central one as the main point of interest.

The image was shot on my Phase One IQ280 with the 28mm Phase One lens. The shutter was 2.5 seconds with an aperture of f/12 and ISO 35. The camera was secured to a tripod as the light was low; it was before sunrise. Now you say, “Those clouds look to be moving way more than the 2.5-second exposure would imply.” You would be right in that and please let me offer up a defense.

The clouds weren’t moving fast enough and as a result, the sky looked a little, as an Aussie would say, “poxie.” Roughly translated it means pretty average! So being the purist I am and by asking the viewers to “look away, nothing to see here,” I possibly, maybe, definitely added a bit of motion blur to the sky in Photoshop. I know, I know, I can see you now shaking your fists at the screen screaming, “WHY, WHY?” I guess I just got lazy and must have left the ND filter back in the Lamborghini. Still, it is only a little thing, and the real heroes are the rocks. I have also focus-stacked this image from five individual frames, all focused on different points and combined using PT GUI.

In Capture One I messed around (i.e., carefully selected) the white balance to set the color I wanted. I also wanted to lighten and bring out the detail in the rock. By having blues and oranges, two complementary colors, it added to the visual harmony and overall pleasing aesthetic. Photoshop was used to continue to refine the image and I used simple dodging and burning techniques to lighten the light areas and darken the shadows. This allowed me to make the rocks look more dimensional and increase depth and three-dimensionality.

A brightly colored rock surrounded by a flock of birds against a stormy sky

I hope you have enjoyed my completely honest and unbiased technical report on how this image came together. What I haven’t mentioned was how I love what I do and how much fun I have doing it. Life is too short, so get out and enjoy the pure pleasure of making photographs. There are no rules, just pixels — do with them what you want!

The article is courtesy of ELEMENTS Magazine. ELEMENTS is the monthly magazine dedicated to the finest landscape photography, insightful editorials and fluid, clean design. Inside you will find exclusive and in-depth articles and imagery by the best landscape photographers in the world such as Bruce Barnbaum, Edward Burtynsky, Michael Kenna, Erin Babnik, Chuck Kimmerle, Rachael Talibart, Charles Cramer, Hans Strand and Lynn Radeka, to name a few. Use the PETAPIXEL10 code for a 10% discount off the annual subscription.

About the author: Christian Fletcher has been a professional photographer for over 27 years, and remains dedicated to using photography as a way to reinforce our connection to our natural environment. Christian runs an award-winning gallery in Dunsborough, Western Australia, and teaches workshops both at home in Australia and internationally.