Antipodean light

When I received my first developed roll of Kodachrome film in Tasmania, I thought that there was something terribly wrong. It was 1976 and I had left my English motherland, and a lot of my photographic experience, behind. The first photographs of my new home, of the Hobart waterfront, had a harshness to them that shocked me. 

It’s the light. It is so much stronger in Tasmanian than it is in the UK. Tasmanian skies are bright, clear and very much bluer; horizons are sharp and distinct without the haze found in northern latitudes. The colours of Tasmania are very different from the vibrant palette found in the UK and elsewhere. With the exception of spring time, green is not commonly seen. The sage or grey of eucalypts predominates, while the native grass lands turn to straw soon after spring, creating a dry landscape of brown to golden hues.

Tasmania hangs like a jewelled pendant off the southern-eastern corner of the Australian mainland.

It contains fantastic biological, geological and topographical diversity, contains unique wildlife, and is home to some of the world’s oldest living plants.

Clear blue and cloudless skies do not always make for great photography, but by choosing the right time of day and favourable weather conditions, nature will create some potentially magnificent opportunities for images that do not rely on post-production. Photography here follows the same rules as anywhere else on the planet, but unlike many other locations, you will never find yourself in a queue waiting for your turn to capture an image. There are iconic locations that are easily accessible, but a vast area of Tasmania is total wilderness, accessible only by foot over rugged and often hostile terrain.

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Looking into the wilderness from the top of a mountain is to be in awe of the natural landscape that has changed little for tens of thousands of years, still virtually untouched by man. To have made the ascent of such a mountain, it is probable that one would have walked over button grass plains and followed a river course through forests of differing types, passing giant eucalypts, ancient beech trees, unique celery top, King William and Huon pines, leatherwood and sassafras, all of which are evergreens. 

Only one native deciduous tree grows in Tasmania, commonly referred to as deciduous beech, fagus or tanglefoot (Nothofagus gunnii). This tree is a photographer magnet. When the days shorten and anthocyanin takes over from chlorophyll, the leaves turn to a gold and copper colour, before eventually falling to the ground. The colourful displays presented provide the centre of interest for many creative images. However, being a high-altitude species, it is not easily accessible, but a hike in the wilderness and a few nights spent under the stars, can deliver tremendous satisfaction.

There are 19 national parks within the state of Tasmania, together with areas of reserve. My favourite and one most threatened by climate change and fire, is the Walls of Jerusalem. It is an alpine region, famous for its ancient pencil pines (Athrotaxis cupressoides), some of which are more than 1,000 years old. These trees are found in clusters and stands, often surrounding crystal-clear tarns. 

One of my best experiences in this park was arriving late one summer evening at the tarns known as Solomon’s Jewels.

A dark sky opposed the setting sun and created a striking light, illuminating the surrounding trees and vegetation.

During the following days the light changed continually from day to day, but was best in the early morning, late evening and when there was good cloud cover, with the occasional ray of sunshine. Mount Jerusalem is one of many stand-out features within this park and to spend time in there one cannot help being moved by its magnificence.
 

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We can control location, but we have no control over the light. We take our chances at times, but by observing weather forecasts and knowing where to go, photography in Tasmania can be remarkable. It is often said that we can experience four seasons in one day. Snow has been known to fall in summer in the highlands, and can be guaranteed in winter.

Variable weather produces an equally variable light, the best of which, from my experience, is during the winter months and especially on the east coast.

Tasmania’s coastline is as diverse as its interior. The west coast is wild and unpopulated for the most part and bears the brunt of the prevailing winds that bring so much rain that this is one of the wetter places on Earth. Stormy skies, low clouds and pounding surf on endless, deserted beaches provide moments of inspiration. 

In the south-west, the Tasman Peninsula’s rugged cliffs and capes form bastions against the swells of the Southern Ocean and blasts of Antarctic wind, while at the same time being penetrated by sheltered coves and river estuaries. The sea cliffs of Cape Pillar at the tip of the Tasman Peninsula are the tallest in the southern hemisphere – more than 300 metres. From the top of these cliffs, one can see watch the sun rise over the Pacific Ocean, turning the waters below to liquid gold.

Tasmania’s sheltered east coast, is truly beautiful. There are many, mostly deserted, pure-white sandy beaches, caressed by a turquoise ocean.

Walking the Friendly Beaches in winter, with an overcast sky, a camera with a big stopper filter and a tripod, is my idea of heaven on earth, but then anywhere along this coastline and especially at sunrise, can be a location for wonderful imagery.

Finally, some of my most treasured images have been taken from just outside my living room, as was an image taken one morning when my wife dragged me from bed saying, “There is some wonderful mist in the valley.”
 


Steve Roden is a non-professional photographer who has been taking photographs since he was a child. Whilst he is self-taught, he draws on his background as a teacher of design and technology and his life-long interest in art and architecture, to inform his photography. Born in the UK, he moved to Tasmania in 1976 and work as a teacher of design and technology in several high schools. 

His main photographic interest is landscape, but his portfolio of work is eclectic and he is willing to experiment with other photographic genres. His second passion bird photography. 

More of his photography can be seen at steveroden.net.

Ed’s note: This article first appeared in the British online photographic magazine Light and Landscape, which explains the explanatory tone for a non-local readership. It’s a charming voice which we were happy to retain. 

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