Frank & Jack’s Hut – Walking Photography

Dingoes, Bees & Trees

After a busy few months for us everything’s settled down enough so we can get out hiking more. We kicked this off by heading out to Namadgi National Park on an early Saturday morning to beat the forecast 34 degree heat (which was better than the 40’s we’d been having). 

Namadgi National Park is approximately 30 minutes south of the Canberra CBD. Established in 1984 the park encompasses over 106 thousand hectares of native bush and regenerated farm land. Earliest settlement has been traced back to the Ngunnawal people, living in the region 21,000 years ago. Evidence found in rock shelters located at Birrigai (a story for another time) places continued habitation in the area during an ice age! While most Canberrans will tell you the ice age was just last winter, the entire continent was between 5-10oC cooler. Last year (2018) Canberra’s average maximum daytime temperature didn’t rise much above 15oC for 5 months. This suggests the Ngunnawal people were historically thriving in a very cold environment, an impressive feat.

Since then the park area has experienced grazing, logging and recreational skiing. Yes, you read right, the Canberra Alpine Club was skiing in the Brindabella ranges following their formation in 1934. Namadgi was also home to the Honeysuckle Creek and Orroral Valley space tracking stations. These assisted in monitoring our first steps into space from the 1960s – 1980s. These tracking centres have since been deconstructed and replaced by the Tidbinbilla Deep Space Tracking Station.

We’d come to do the 4km return walk to Frank and Jack’s hut. The dirt trail is part of a fire management road wide enough for a car. We were both keen for a nice, easy stroll on a relatively flat road. It winds up and down a few slopes through the bush which made it really shaded most of the way. The usual kangaroos and wallabies were everywhere, the younger ones bouncing off as we got closer but the bigger males finding it too hot to bother moving. There were also a few clearer sections with views to the gum tree covered Yankee Hat mountain that looked menacingly steep, even from a distance.

ALWAYS IN MY BLOODY PHOTO!

Bees

While checking out the views along the way we spotted quite a few other animals. First was a group of European honey bees flying to meet on the hollow left by a broken gum tree branch. Watching them while taking photos we soon spotted some with bright orange pollen on their legs. A local fashion trend compared to the normal yellow perhaps. European honey bees were introduced to Australia 180 years ago, to provide pollinators for early settlers. Feral populations result from swarming hives. A new queen and a portion of the existing hive leave for pastures and flower fields new, leaving behind the old queen and workers, generally during spring as hive populations expand. Feral populations compete with Australia’s native animals for habitat, in particular mammals and birds that use nesting hollows in trees. Turns out bees like a nice hollow branch as much as the next cockatoo.

Orange must be in this season

Using my teleconverter but standing the minimum focusing distance away (1.8 metres for my 70-200 mm lens) allowed me to zoom in and get quite good close up shots of the bees. After a few photos I became determined to get a shot with some bees flying in, heavily laden with pollen. Watching the bees for a few minutes we found they were mostly coming from the same direction. Unfortunately, when I focused on the stationary bees I couldn’t see when the bees flying in were approaching. So, Mitch would tell me every time bees flew in so I could pre-focus on about the right spot and rapidly fire the shutter just as the bees were about to enter the frame. This upped my chances of getting a flying bee in good focus within the frame. This technique involved some planning and a lot of luck and patience, but let me capture bees in action. Don’t forget, always make sure your voice activated light stand is well trained to provide assistance in all situations.B

BEE_01 to Control, request permission to land

Dingo

While I was busy photographing the bees, Mitch saw a flash of white in the bush up the hillside on our left. A dingo!!! He got very excited and we left the bees to try and get a closer look at the wild dog. It was wary of us trying to get close and disappeared further into the bush, only to come out again if we stood still long enough. We never got closer than 30/40 metres to it but because it didn’t take off as soon as it saw us. We assume there was something worth staying in the area for, possibly it had pups, a den or there was something good to eat nearby. We managed to get a few shots, my new 1.7 teleconverter really helped but it was so far away I’d have to zoom in and crop so any photos were just for showing that we saw it more than anything.

Not sure if they’re coming or going

Dingoes have been acting as high-level predators in Australia for about 4000 years, filling the niches left by declining marsupial predators. It’s thought their introduction to mainland Australia occurred during visits from early seafaring peoples. According to the ACT Parks and Conservation Service the Namadgi population is mostly wild dingo, with some introduced domestic dog genes.

The domestic mixes originated from interbreeding with released and escaped dogs over the last 200 years. The best advice for seeing them is to watch, but otherwise leave them be. We took the opportunity to enjoy seeing one of the few large native carnivores active on Australia’s mainland before heading on our way.

The hut

Weeds count as flowers right?

We seemed to hit a stretch of hills after seeing the wild dog. The wallabies and roos on the side of the track were all lazing about in the shade by now, some of them not even bothering to look at us as we walked past. Even the energetic youngsters had lost their usual nervous bounce as the temperature continued creeping up. Just as the hills were getting monotonous, we rounded a downhill curve in the track and the hut came into sight across a clearing. Weeds or native flowers lined the track (we’re definitely not botanists) giving a colourful entrance to the hut. The hut sat at the end of a grassy space, surrounded from behind by a bush covered hillside. The trail split off before it reached the hut, heading off towards Yankee Hat mountain.

The hut itself was larger than we expected. To enter you climbed some stairs next to the water tank, through a door to the enclosed verandah. Looking through the windows gave a great view back along the track from where we’d just walked in. Sunlight reflected from water pooled on top of the tank and danced across the wooden ceiling in wobbly patterns. Opening another door we walked into the kitchen/dining area with a woodfire stove taking up most of the wall on our left. Looking straight ahead was a sturdy table and chairs and a window with a magnificent view of the outdoor dunny. Turning right you entered the bedroom which was sparsely furnished to say the least. The frames of two metal beds sagged on opposite sides of the room. One was particularly dilapidated with metal springs spiralling in all directions and bare wire, giving that cozy, welcoming feel of an abandoned asylum.

I’ll take the one on the left, Mitch you get the other one

Frank and Jack’s hut was built in 1954 for Frank and Jack Oldfield by Cecil Hopkins. Originally bought from the Bootes family in 1948 it was never used as a permanent residence, but instead served as a stockman’s hut for sheep grazing. ACT Forests used the hut through the late 1950s to support and develop their pine plantations. According to the Heritage Register, for the huts in the Namadgi area, Frank and Jack’s is a particularly lavish example of a stockman’s hut (who would have thought it!). 

All the Mod-Cons

After a few photos we decided dining alfresco might be cooler and found a fallen log in the shade. Insects buzzed around us and crawled over the scribbly gums bordering our outdoor restaurant. Behind us was a meadow of yellow flowers and overhead white cockatoos flew past, screeching to each other. The peaceful atmosphere made it easy to understand how someone could make their home here.

Just a little off the top they said, just a trim they said!

Event Photography – World Wetlands Day 2019

We were asked by the Woodland and Wetlands Trust to capture some social photographs at their World Wetlands Day (WWD) event. This event commemorates the signing of the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance (the Ramsar Convention), signed in Ramsar, Iran on the 2nd February 1971. World Wetlands Day aims to raise public awareness on the value and benefits of the world’s wetlands, along with promoting conservation activities worldwide.

man holding Diamond python

This was the first event we’d photographed together and we hadn’t been to previous WWD’s before so didn’t really know what to expect. We carefully studied the hand drawn map of stallholders and planned our method of attack. It was an overcast rainy looking Saturday morning which we thought would affect the turnout. This all went completely out the window as the clouds had cleared to a sunny, humid afternoon by the time the event kicked off at 4pm. Our first stop was at the Trust’s tent to pick up a stack of photo release forms from the communications officer. You see there was a tiny hitch, so the Trust could use our photos on their social media and share them with OutInCanberra we had to have signed permission from everyone who could be identified in each photograph. So, with forms in hand, pens and cameras at the ready we set off.

boy looking at snake in glass enclosure
A young Harry Potter fan?

We felt completely out of our depth straight away and headed for some familiar territory – the reptile display! Here two stall holders from the Canberra Reptile Zoo (Reptiles Inc.) watched over a bunch of different scaled creatures as kids scampered between displays trying to pat everything they could. It was quite warm so the reptiles were all very active. Two Water pythons reared up and snaked their heads around as children approached their glass enclosure. The Diamond python, wrapped around one of the stallholders, kept trying to make a break for it, heading up his head in an attempt to climb up to the marquee tent above. The goanna was a hit with the kids as it kept digging up the AstroTurf and tipping over the fake rock in its enclosure. After a few shots of the animals to feel comfortable again (and who wouldn’t want to get a shot of the snake with its tongue out?!) we stepped back to get some photos of the kids interacting with the animals. Mitch had chosen to shoot with a wide angle while I was using my macro (which I haven’t brought myself to take off my camera since getting it last month).

child reaching to pat diamond python
Maybe the wrong spot to pat

The reptiles were very popular, we’re not sure how but every kid that came up seemed to have a goal to pat all the reptiles in the display as quickly as they could. Needing a change of scene, we headed off to see the firemen as we kept hearing them sounding the alarm on their truck. After a quick chat we coaxed both of them out of the shade for a quick portrait. It only took one comment about them posing very naturally to hear a story about them being involved in a tasteful nude photography project. Somehow, I think every firefighter might have one of these stories.

two fireman lean on the front of their fire truck
You think they’ve done this before?

We kept hearing about the bees and were welcomed by the friendly and very funny ACT Bee Association. We were quickly given some honey to try (very good!) and while I ducked down to take some macro shots of the bees on display Mitch disappeared. The next time I looked up I saw him wearing a full beekeepers costume, including head protection and telling me we were going on a tour of the hives. So off we went with a few others, the whole time I felt very under dressed in a T-shirt and shorts. We were shown a number of different hives, including some belonging to native bees and different shapes where you could lift the lid or remove a section of the hive box to see inside. It was getting later in the day so we had some nice warm light to shoot in by this time but it was still very bright. Mitch took this as a challenge and decided to shoot bees in the shade with a person in a white beekeeper costume standing in full sun. A few tweaks in Lightroom and it came up quite nice. This was a good reminder to underexpose shots in tricky situations, we find it easier to keep as much detail in the brighter areas as possible and bring the shadows out in post processing.

beehive with beekeeper in background
beekeeper checking hive
Full suit, no gloves

Gaining confidence in asking people to sign the release forms we decided we were ready to attempt some photos at the face painting tent. After Mitch gained a few parents’ permission we began taking photos. Even though there were kids everywhere patiently waiting their turn and watching the face painting it was easy to find room to get the right angle. For the first time (ever!) I wasn’t having trouble shooting over the heads of a crowd, there probably wasn’t one kid there over six (years that is not feet). My macro lens is the Nikon 105mm, this is great for portraits as I didn’t have to get super close and could chat to one of the mum’s while waiting for the girl being painted as a lorikeet to smile. Timing is everything for these shots as we got quite a few with less than picturesque expressions because the kids talk the whole time. From our experience in animal photography we just kept being patient and waiting for the kids to smile or look the right direction (disclaimer: animals and children share no similarities…..animals are easier to work with).

girl getting her face painted blue

Smelling smoke we headed over to the Bush Tucker Garden and had a chat to one of the traditional owners. He was telling us about all the bush foods he was selling, the damper he had on the fire and the different types of bush teas we could try, all as the sun beat down. He was doing better than us, it was already very hot and being closer to the fire didn’t help, after a few photos we headed into the cooler air. By about 7pm the light was quite nice so we focused our attention on taking some general crowd photos. We’d been asked to get photos of the stallholders so Mitch was ready with his wide angle to get some great portraits of the basket weavers and the ACT Parks and Conservation mascot Gigi the Gang Gang cockatoo. Gigi was a crowd favourite, playing it up for the camera while also managing to greet any kid that happened to be passing by.

crowd watching traditional owner cook on fire

We wrapped up the evening with wide shots of the event as the sun started to dip through the clouds. An interesting challenge set by bright sunlight and shaded structures. Again, under exposing a little let us pull more detail back in post-production whilst capturing the light and the feel of the event. It was a great event involving a wide variety of people and activities which gave us an opportunity to stretch our skills in a direction we normally wouldn’t.

landscape of the event
signs for tours with crowd in background

Considerations for event photography:

  • Do you have permission? We were lucky enough to be invited to work with the Wetlands and Woodlands Trust to capture the event. This meant the stall holders were already on board before we even introduced ourselves. The only hurdle was the public, however we found introducing ourselves, handing out a business card and explaining what we were doing helped enormously.
  • Have a plan. With an idea of the layout for the event going in we had a vague idea of how and what we wanted to capture. It doesn’t need to be a plan of every image, but gives you a place to start.
  • Just ask. While you probably don’t need to put on a bee suit to get them, asking people if they can show you something in particular can give you some great opportunities.
  • Permission! Yes, this is here again. Check the laws as they relate to your country. For example, in Australia you can freely capture images of anyone in a public place. Sounds good right? However, the definition of public place by law is not your general layman’s definition. If in doubt ask permission, even if you think you don’t need it, that way you’re not the creepy person with a camera.