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Sunday, 22 May 2011

The Autumn Colour Photography Road Trip

Well a few weeks have gone by since our Autumn Colour Road Trip and it's only now that I am finding some time to catch up with the blog.

The roadie was a quite a whirlwind tour of the greater New England area of NSW and involved about 1350klms of driving in 3 days. Now to an Australian or an American that's no big deal…. quite a relaxing drive really, but to my English friends that is a major effort and would require heaps of planning, motels, cut lunches, thermos flasks, car services and all sorts of preparation. Whereas we simply chucked our camera gear and a bit of camping gear in the back of the 4x4 and took off.

We had a rough idea of where we were headed, but how to get there was open to suggestion and true to our usual form, we decided on a "back road detour" within minutes of leaving home. This detour allowed us to totally bypass a number of major roads and freeways and put us on small winding country roads, that ultimately resulted in the use of a steep, single lane road to climb the range towards Warwick.

This was a beautiful section of road and countryside, that I am sure would have offered many, many photographic opportunities….. if only it were not sitting inside a thick cloud of fog & mist. We stopped several times for images, but the pea soup fog made for little detail… even in objects that were just 10m away. Not to worry but, we simply shot some phone pix for GPS tagging and these will allow us to return to these exact locations at a later date.

At the top of the range, not far from the township of Killarney, there is Carr's Lookout. Here the fog lifted a little for us and it exposed a farm's cattle yard and crush…. determined to take an image of something on the detour, out came the cameras.

Now I have no idea what Carr's Lookout 'looks out' to, as the fog did not clear enough to see, but the name suggests that something must be there, so it will be a stop on a future trip.

Continuing across the range & heading to towards Killarney, the road follows a scenic valley and small creek. Plenty of photo opportunity here, but once again the fog is too thick for us to play…. plus the best vantage points seem to be on private property and permission to enter would be required. ….Yes I know that many people would simply "hop the fence", but we plan to use the images that we capture for commercial gain and therefor require a release to shoot on private property.

Pretty soon the undulating valley and creek starts to disappear and we head into a more wooded environment. It is at this point that we start heading down the range a touch and we come across a turn-off for Dagg's Falls. "Hmm? Do we take the time or don't we?" We did agree at the start of the roadie, that our mission was Autumn colour and that we wouldn't waste time on locations that could be shot anytime…. but a quick vote and it was "what the heck".

No sooner had I swung the wheel it was on the brakes! The turnoff was actually an entrance to the carpark and the falls resided just meters away…. in fact, I could park the car at the end of the lookout and be shooting within 10 easy steps! This has to be the easiest location ever and well worth the 1ml of fuel that we used to get there. ;)

Image Courtesy of Bernie Zajac

Back in the car and soon it's breakie time in Killarney just a few k's down the road (after passing & NOT shooting Brown's Falls, as I have been there before and it's not worth the walk IMO). We feel as if we have already done a day's work and a cup of coffee goes down well. We decide to make another quick detour to a sunflower field that I know is located nearby, in the hope of grabbing some images. Unfortunately the flowers had passed their use by date and were now hanging their balding heads and awaiting harvest. Needless to say that no images were shot, but the location is noted for a return next year.

From Killarney we head to Warwick, then on to Stanthorpe. Having shot nothing since Dagg's Fall's we feel that Stanthorpe requires a closer look and we exit the bypass to go though the middle of town. This is where we see the very first of our Autumn colours and the excitement twitches in our shutter fingers. This excitement is short-lived however, as we soon realise that the "middle of town" location of these autumn trees, leaves very little to artistic composition. :( Will this be our problem for the whole trip? After all, these trees are not native and simply don't exist outside of towns…… now we are worried. :(

Once we leave Stanthorpe we are quickly over the border and in NSW…. next stop Tenterfield.

Approaching Tenterfield more disappointment awaits us, as we see that the standing Poplars that are so common roadside in the New England area, have already fully lost their leaves. This can only mean that an early frost has been experienced and this could well effect our entire trip. But we are just hours in and nobody is calling anything off just yet, so we push on and are soon greeted by the wonderful old growth roadside trees on the northern edge of town. I have driven this section of road many times and know that there is an image to be found in these trees, but I have never been fortunate enough to time it just right. This time was no different, as these trees were yet to present their autumn colour.

Once in town we see a park full of autumn colour and decide that it is here where we will have our "driver reviver"…. naturally the cameras come out, as this is our first taste of the autumn colour that we have been seeking.

As beautiful as this location is, we are once again challenged by the "middle of town" location and find it difficult to keep the background clean of unwanted objects. Bernie and myself head to a very similar position, but I leave it to Bernie and move to a position where the trees work to hide buildings in the background. I felt my new position doesn't work that well for composition, but there is no point in shooting the same images as Bernie…. mixing things up will increase our effectiveness in each location and as a team we stand a better chance of coming up with the goods.

We depart Tenterfield and are soon greeted by many more Poplars that have already lost their leaves. This is a real shame, as the popular Poplars populating the roadside are favourites with the photographers that travel in the New England area. (…sorry I had to do that. Try saying it three times fast. lol)

Our next stop is Glen Innes. I have stopped and stayed at Glen Innes a number of times, as one of my best mates was the owner of the motor inn there….. oddly though, I had never ventured any further west from the highway than the bottle of port at the back of his bar. To my surprise, Glen Innes has a wonderful park running down the middle of the town beside their creek (drain). It is full of Autumn trees and has wonderful colour, but once again we had to battle with the "middle of town" issue and could not come up with images without disturbing background objects being seen.

We shot a couple of images and decided that we should move on…. there must be a better location that would provide us with a true "landscape" image of autumn colour. Our next stop would be Armidale (after seeing nothing at Ben Lomond) and this is as far south as we had intended to go. Once again we had no luck with images on the way, as the Poplars here had also been decimated by the early frost and subsequent strong winds…. and still there were no other colourful trees. :( It seems that these things really do exist only in the towns, but I guess that stands to reason, being non-native and all. :(

We arrive at Armidale late afternoon and have enough time to scout around looking for a sunset location, or at least that's what we thought. Once again the "middle of town" demons have reared their ugly head and we find it impossible to find a scenic location for an Autumn colour shot. It really shouldn't be this hard, but sadly unwanted "street views" seem to be the only thing available to us.

I would have thought that local councils would create magnificent autumn gardens in areas like this. The trees obviously thrive and people obviously like them, as they adorn yards and footpaths everywhere, but nobody has put the effort into creating what could and most certainly would be, a fantastic tourist attracting centrepiece for the area. Bright in Victoria has done just that, not a park, but the entire town and each year their Autumn Festival attracts thousands!!! It must do wonders for the local economy, so come on New England get with the program!

Now with very limited time we head out of town, at least hoping for a regular landscape for sunset…… NOTHING!! Disappointment reigns supreme in the car and we decide to go make camp. I did however catch a glimpse of a tree lined driveway earlier, so on the way back we pulled over to take a closer look. It was "sorta ok" and since it was a "this or nothing moment" the cameras came out.

"Enchanted" (Photoshop effects for a total departure from reality)

It was now time to make camp and we checked-in to the local van park. Being rather cold at this time of year, we had the pick of the spots and setup camp beside their little lake. What a GREAT camp ground it was!!!! Any camp ground where I can put my pegs in without belting the crap out of them and bending them, is a GREAT camp ground in my book!

Over dinner and a warming drink, we start discussing where we should shoot in the morning. Not having found anything local, we turned to Flickr as our guide and stumbled across images of the Gostwyck Church, just a 20 minute drive south. Impressed by the images we decide that is where we will head.

But it wasn't time to turn in just yet, as Tim wanted to do some star trails. So back into the car and bush we go… no clear direction, we just drove around looking for some foreground interest. Which was pretty darn hard I might add, out in the middle of nowhere, no lights, no moon, just blackness. Somehow though we stumbled upon a National Park and waterfall. The falls sounded close, but Bernie just days out of knee surgery, couldn't manage a long walk, so I went ahead to the lookout to see what I could see.

NOTHING!! It was like looking up a cows bum! it was that dark. The lookout was positioned just meters above the top of the falls and the cascading water leading to the drop would have made a lovely photo in the day, but at night it was impossible to see. Plus the view was in the wrong direction to include the stars and celestial south anyway… so we returned to the carpark were a couple of images were made using the trees as foreground. After that, it was back to camp, another "warming drink" and then bed.

Being the first to rise (I am ALWAYS the first to rise and then have to belt the crap out of the other's tents to get them up), I was greeted by darkness and a pea soup fog. "Oooooh! Fog!" This could be perfect for the Gostwyck location I thought, as churches and fog always work well together, provided that the soupiness would thin and some detail could be rendered. So hurriedly the others awake and we set off in the fog.

On route we enjoy patches of clear and varying degrees of pea soupiness and we joke about how funny it would be if we see Garry at the church. OK Let me explain who Garry is… Garry is another photographer from Brisbane that we always seem to bump into whenever we are out shooting. So we joked about being 650klms from home, in the middle of nowhere, in the fog, in the early morn and running into Garry. "What are the chances?" we laughed as we continued to drive.

Pretty soon, the open country road that we were on presented us with old growth Autumn trees lining both sides of the road. Awesome! At last we had found a true "Landscape" location for our images. The leaves had not fully turned, but had yellowed….. and given our hunger for a location we were not too concerned. The road made a lovely sweep between the trees and as we rounded the corner Gostwyck Church, covered in lovely red vine, was positioned beautifully within a triangle of road and trees.

It was at this point that Bernie noticed another photographer had beaten us to the location…. "It's Garry!" we all joked and laughed once again. We parked the car near the other photographer's (to ensure that we did not interfere with the shots being taken… it is always good to be considerate) and Tim notices that the photographer's car is Magna, just like Garry drives… once again laughter follows.

Out comes the camera gear and we start setting up. A friendly g'day and nod is made towards the other photographer through the fog and we start to shoot. "Hang on…. that does look like Garry" I say to myself. "Excuse me mate, is your name Garry?" I ask. "Yes, how did you know? comes the reply.

Walking closer to see better through the fog, all faces now carried the same look of disbelief as we recognised each other. It was one of those "Bull S***!" moments and I am pretty sure that "Bull S***! was the greeting used by all as we shook hands. ;) ….so, just what ARE the chances?

The location was brilliant! It offered postcard views of trees and church, a classic country road and even a wooden bridge. It was not without it's challenges however. The light was constantly on the rise, plus the fog was constantly on the move. What was clear and detailed one minute, was foggy and milky soft the next. These are challenging enough conditions when shooting single frames, but when shooting multiple frames for panoramic stitching these conditions could be a nightmare.

Thankfully we managed some images with some variety in our views. Bernie even had the Fuji GX617 going for some old school film stuff…. we are eagerly awaiting their return from being scanned.

At last we felt happy that we had some images to show for 650k's, so we could now relax with some breakfast, a hot cup of coffee and a chat with Garry….. GARRY!!!

After breakfast we returned to break camp and hit the road again. We decided to have one last look around town before hitting "Waterfall Way" to Dorrigo and hopefully some more Autumn colour. After taking several wrong turns we stumble across a school or college with a magnificent ground full of colour. Not the "landscape" images that we were looking for, but this much beautiful colour could not be ignored…

It was now time to hit the highway….

The country soon changed heading east from Armidale and we were travelling through light undulating hills and views for miles. "This can't be the right way" we discussed, as there were nothing large enough for decent waterfalls, but no sooner than that and we saw a turnoff for the first of the waterfalls. OK so we must be going the right way….. "But the waterfalls must be small then" we agreed.

Then this appears right beside the car…..

It's just a view shot, but we wanted a record of this gorge as it really did take us by surprise.

Back to travelling east and we had pretty well given up on the Autumn colour thing, as there was simply none…. the odd tree here and there in private yards but that was it. So we figured we may as well check out another waterfall. The township of Ebor was not far away and a road sign told us of Ebor Falls. Entering Ebor there was a lovely clear creek that was gently flowing, the kind of creek that as a kid you would float down in your home made raft or one of your Dad's old inner tubes. We take the turn off for the falls and the carpark is only 100m off the road, followed by a 20m walk across a park to the viewing platform and it is here that I rethink the "inner tube" idea…..

…and just in case I survived the double drop over Upper Ebor Falls, the extra large drop over Lower Ebor Falls should take care of me well and good….

The day is now passing and it's time to get to Dorrigo and hopefully some more Autumn colour, so it's back on the road again and we drive through some of the prettiest undulating, green hills that we have ever seen. With each corner we capture yet another image in our minds… but autumn colour is our task and we keep on track for Dorrigo.

Arriving at Dorrigo we are disappointed but, as the vast majority of Dorrigos trees are yet to change colour… BUGGA! There are a few in town, but already sick of battling the "middle of town" syndrome we head off to check a local waterfall. It turns out to be quite spectacular, but with only one vantage point and a hundred tourists. We convinced ourselves that "the light was all wrong anyway" and we hightailed it back to the hills for sunset. Once again running out of time, we stopped at a lookout and grabbed some rather uninspiring images. :(

Fed up with our lack of success for the day, we decided to find camp. This time though, I was not interested in a town van park, as I had heard of a camp ground called "Platypus Flats" nearby on the Nymboida River. Wilderness camping… YEAH!!!!

About an hour later, in total darkness… I mean "can't see your hand in front of your face darkness" we arrive at Platypus Flats, in the middle of a gorge, in the middle of a national park, in the middle of nowhere! We have the camp ground to ourselves and we make camp under the car's lights. The campground seems excellent, with soft "easy to push your tent pegs in" ground, basic facilities including fire pits and much to our pleasure…. pre-cut firewood. Woohoo!

I am not sure that I would be comfortable camping at Platypus Flats in rainy season however, as I think the river being confined the way it is, could rise fast… but the sky was clear and the stars bright, so all was good.

After dinner Bernie and Tim get the cameras out for star trails. I was low on battery so did not play, but I settled for a quick star shot with the happy snappa….

In the morning first light revealed just how fantastic the camp ground was. It is definitely a place that I will camp again. Bernie and I set off to photograph along the river bank, but this was not easy. No clear views and huge light imbalance between the river water and the tree covered banks from where we were shooting. Still I managed a couple of keepers….

and a happysnap of the campground if you are interested in going…

After breakfast it was time to head for home. We had no idea if we would find anything along the way, but we needed to make it home by nightfall so pretty much just made a b-line. We had lunch in a little town and found an old rail station, but that was it for the day.

In the end we covered about 1350klms in 3 days and managed a few images, but I have to say that I am disappointed with what presented to us for the most part. Perhaps a couple of weeks earlier and we would have had open landscape with Poplars available to us. Perhaps a couple of weeks later more Autumn colour would have presented?

Either way, this was the weekend that was available to us and regardless of the images made or not made, we had a bloody lot of fun anyway! ...after all... Who doesn't like a ROADIE!!! :-)

Oh! ...and let's not forget that we got to catch up with Garry.... GARRY!!! What are the chances? lol



Tags: landscape photography panoramas panoramic


  1. I sincerely loved reading your road trip write up...and I had a few smiles and goose bumps.
    Thanks for sharing
    You know me...don't you?
    Garry :-)

  2. Hmmm... Garry? Where have I heard that name before? Have we met? lol

    I am glad you liked the write up Garry. That morning is still one of the freakiest funniest things that has ever happened to me.... it will be a story that I tell to the day I die I reckon. ;)

  3. :) :) :) How fun! What a great read, Russell :) And the photos you all captured at Gostwyck Church were jaw-dropping...