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Photography weekend


Spring CreekA photographic weekend retreat organised through Chris Bray Photography sounded like a good idea when it was advertised on their FB page so once again I jumped right in, found out more, liked what I saw and quickly spent more of my children’s inheritance.  Spoiler alert – I was not disappointed.  From Friday night to Sunday afternoon nothing will be heard except the click of shutters and the exasperations of not being able to find the proper setting.  Because I haven’t got a clue where I am going and I have printed off the trusty Google map – I take the day off from work so that I will arrive relaxed and ready to go.  Yes, I know – it is only about a 90 minute drive from home but one has to be prepared doesn’t one?

The day has arrived, the sky is blue, the sun is out and all is well in the world.  Making sure I have everything photographic that I possess (NatGeo is on the move) it is time to head off.  What a great day and what a good drive down, this is going to be one great weekend.  From my place I head down Alfords Point Road,  New Illawarra Road to the end; turn left onto Heathcote Road; turn right on the Princes Highway.  Follow this all the way to Kiama – there is the turn off – the beach looks wonderful so turn left and explore.   I am in no hurry, I still have a few hours to go before we are supposed to arrive around 6pm.

I always holidayed on the North Coast – Tugun to Coffs Harbour – Urunga but the South Coast has a totally lay back feel that the North Coast used to have before it was sold out to thousands of tourists and their developments – but I digress.  Time to find Spring Creek Retreat otherwise known as Kiama Country House– our home for the next two nights.  OK – so back towards the Kiama turn off and following the map it is not long before I am heading in the right direction until Speedy Gonzales arrives on my rear at breakneck speed and obviously wants to sit in my back seat.  Geez – what has turned out to be a nice leisurely drive is now really annoying the tripe out of me.  The countryside looks wonderful – or what I can see of it as I am pushed along – I finally get to Jerrara Road and turn left as Speedy hurtles by in a cloud of dust. Moron!

OK – I have arrived nearly 2 hours early and what a fabulous place – on the top of a hill and surrounded by green valleys and trees.  This is going to be wonderful especially at night – no screeching of tyres or honking of horns only an alarm to wake me at 5am (is that good?) to get ready for the sunrise shoots. But I am jumping ahead of myself.

My bedroomThe bathroomGreeted by Jonathan who is hosting this weekend – he welcomes me with a smile and then lets me have first choice of two bedrooms seeing I am first here.  The bedroom down the end of the hall suits me to a T – so back out to collect my gear but I am waved away by him and his partner in tuition – Natsumi – the other CB host.   For the sake of this blog I shall call her the Lady Natsumi – I don’t know why she just looks like a Lady Natsumi.  Being waited on hand and foot – yes I can cope with that.

The bed is nice and comfy and once unpacked and settled it is time for a bit of a look around.  The doors in the bedroom open to a small verandah space and then the rest of the property.  Grabbing my point and shoot Canon it is time for a couple of quick flicks!  No photographic genius required here.

The gardensTo the oceanThis little Canon sure comes in handy – but it has a down side – I cannot make many manual adjustments for light etc – but that’s OK.  The garden has lots of lavender bushes and the view is wonderful – right out to the Pacific Ocean.

Time for a few photos inside and then the Lady Natsumi asks if I would like something to drink?  Tea, coffee, juice, wine red or white?  Ah – Lady Natsumi has found a friend for life – white wine please.  How civilized is this?  As we sit for a moment and get to know one another we ponder what is to happen over the weekend.  Jonathan works full time for Chris Bray Photography and mainly operates the Australian Safaris and Lady Natsumi works for Australian Geographic – some people just have the most fascinating avenues of employment, how do they get these jobs?  They then continue to get things ready and as I head back to the room and I hear another arrive – there are only 2 more to come (a very small group).  They are driving from Orange and should be here around 8pm tonight.  On the table are little pressies for us.  A set of cards and instruction book on how to get the best out of our cameras – and a dust cloth in a little bag that attaches to the camera. How cute.

OK – time is getting on so as we sit and enjoy more wine, cheese, olives and bikkies, around 8.30pm our other companions arrive.  Once they settle in Jonathan and the Lady Natsumi give us a refresher course on our cameras (we all have Canons except for Mr and Mrs Orange) but the settings and principles would be the same I imagine.  A really informative discussion on F stops, leading lines, horizons etc and then we are told we will have wake up coffee at around 5.30am for our first sunrise shoot tomorrow morning but does anyone want to experiment with painting with light before we bed down for the night?  Yep, I’m in.

We have our cameras on tripods – all poised for action – Jonathan and the Lady Natsumi have high beam coloured torches and away we go.  Jonathan counts us down on when to click and hey presto these are the efforts – we are asked if we want to draw something – no thanks – so I am used as a model,  how angelic – bit blurry but never mind – it’s sort of that Doris Day look.

Painting with lightHow angelic!When all the photos have been taken I decide to hit the hay.

The alarm goes off at 5am – – where am I?  That’s right – sunrise photography.  Now that sounds like a great idea, all I have to do is open my eyes.  Dressed, have the gear ready and head for something light to start the day – juice and then a hit of coffee and we are away heading to the coast.  Our first port of call is the Kiama ocean pool.  It is still dark when we get ready for the sun – tripods at the ready and here we go.

Make sure of the straight horizon – experiment with F numbers – don’t leave your hand on the tripod – maybe use a 2 second delay – leading lines – ouch, my brain is hurting but I am enjoying every minute.  Practical work with excellent instructors is much better than looking through your camera manual and working it out yourself.

Kiama sunriseSunrise!Low or high ISO?  For blurry water – definitely low ISO and slow shutter speed – as the sun comes up I have discovered I have left the lens hood back in the house. Oh great – going to be one of THOSE weekends. Never mind – I will continue on. If it gets too bad there is always Photoshop.

After about an hour or so we head back home for breakfast, but first a stop at Baker’s Delight for some scrumptious Danish etc.

Breakfast is juice, cereals, fruit, toast, danish – all the usual suspects and it is washed down with some lovely hot coffee.  We have enough time to put our batteries on charge, have a shower, bit of a rest and then it’s off to Minnamurra Falls.  We all get back in our little bus and about 200 metres down the road I discover my camera is still back at the house. YEP – there is always one in any group and this weekend it looks as if it is my turn.  Cringing down in my seat I tell Jonathan who does a quick U turn and the camera is recovered from its reclining position on the lounge.  How embarrasing!  I share this knowledge with you because I know you will not tell anyone!  Feeling sheepish and stupid our journey continues.

Minnamurra Rainforest Centre is a multi-award winning nature based destination, and is one of the best examples of subtropical and warm temperate rainforest that once covered vast areas of the Illawarra region.  I just love walking through a rainforest.  The air and stillness all around really gets the senses going.  Making sure we (meaning I) have all the gear we enter through the Visitor’s Centre and start our little journey to The Falls.

MinnamurraMinnamurraMinnamurraThe walk is lovely and we come across some little suspension bridges over the waterways so it’s time to stop and learn how to photograph water.  The first few shots are useless – got to remember to take my hand off the camera – but I get the swing of things and these aren’t too bad eh?

Time to move on – where the paths divide to either take the easy way back or make the climb to the top we stop for a breather.  Jonathan tells us the path is steep in parts but we all decide to press on.  My legs and knees are OK so far so onward we go.  Well, that was a big mistake let me tell you. The pathway makes sudden inclines every now and again and about half way up my knees are saying – fool turnaround we are not going any further!  I look ahead of me and I swear the you need rock climbing equipment to get up that path.  Discretion is the better part of valour and I head back down with the Lady Natsumi – she is so kind to accompany me (most probably thought I was going to collapse in the bush if the truth be told.)

She tells me she has seen many waterfalls and it is no big deal – but I still feel lousy.  We continue to do some water photography and a bit of macro so the time is not wasted.  Arriving back at the Centre I collapse into the chair and I doubt if I can get back out of it.  About 45 minutes or so the group arrive back so now it’s time for lunch – that gets me up!

We have lunch in the picnic area which is right beside a little stream.  We all seem a bit flagged except for Jonathan and the Lady Natsumi – we talk about what we have seen or in my case what I didn’t see, and I make a mental note that I will come here by myself sometime so that I don’t have to worry about the steep climb, then again with just the thought of those inclines maybe someone should come with me in case I collapse.

To cut a long story short – we arrive back at the house I head direct to my room – put the batteries on charge and collapse on the bed. We are going for sunset photos to Cathedral Rocks later this evening.  I am so happy to get on the bed and rest my knees I loose track of time and soon there is a knock on the door. Yep klutz time again. Grabbing everything I am ready in 10 seconds and we are on our way.

We arrive and have to negotiate the path across the rocks – we are very careful – my knees are saying oh really? so I am more than doubly careful.  Once we get settled – tripods – cameras – settings – it’s all about remembering what to do and away we go snapping away.  This must be a a popular spot as we are not the only group here.  Some people in our group are brave and jump across the rocks like mountain goats – I am happy to stay on the flat rocks, well relatively flat, and just take my time.

I practice all different settings – these were taken at the same time but with different light settings – how exciting is that?

Cathedral RocksCathedral RocksOnce it gets too dark we head back, I have my head torch, yes very professional, and we all make it safely back to the bus – but before we head back to the house a quick stop at the Kiama Lighthouse.

Kiama LighthouseSituated across the way from the famous Kiama Blowhole, Kiama Lighthouse is one of the prettiest going around.  So out come the tripods again and soon we are snapping around.  By this stage I am not too worried about horizons (as you can see) – more about remembering to take my hand off the camera once I push the button!  It is a lovely night – not too cold and we can hear the Blowhole erupting not far away so we go and investigate.  The sudden thump and then a whoosh and the water is shot into the air.

Unfortunately no Kodak moments here so it’s time to head em up and move em out – time for dinner.

Jonathan is cooking us a barbeque of steak, lamb cutlets and grilled veggies (oh yes please) and the Lady Natsumi has prepared the salads which are most appetising as well.  We are all chomping at the bit to get at the food and it soon disappears from our plates.  To finish it off there is a banana cake for dessert.

Jonathan then asks if we are interested in star trails?  Yep, so get the camera and tripod and while he is instructing us in the finer points we get rubber bands and little sticks to hold the shutter down – very upmarket I must say – timing is 1 photo every 30 seconds and once we have lined up everything on the Southern Cross it’s back inside and wait for around 45 minutes.

Star trailsThis is the result!  How incredible is that?  113 photos all stacked on top of one another – for full instructions follow the tips on the Chris Bray website.  You need a special program – Star Stax which is free to download off the web.

Unfortunately on the night you cannot see what you have done so after all of that that I waddle back up the hallway – put the batteries on charge – and am asleep before my head hits the pillow.

5am alarm – up again for more sunrise photography.  Today is our last day – the time has sure gone fast – juice and coffee and then it’s off again – and YES – I do have my camera with charged batteries, lens hood and tripod.  The wind has certainly arrived and it is blowing a gale.

SunriseSunriseWe find a lovely beach and wait in the dark – soon we are happy snappers once again.  More instructions from Jonathan and the Lady Natsumi – they are very thorough in explaining everything – even on this last morning. One thing I realise is practice – practice – practice.  Yes, I do take a lot of photos normally but now I have the added advantage to know what I am doing in composition, settings etc.

Time for our next stop – the little Blowhole.  This is not as well known as the ‘Big’ Blowhole but it is just as interesting.  We take up our spots – no tripod for this one and Jonathan keeps an eye on the swells – wait – wait – wait – now!

Little Blow HoleLittle Blow HoleLittle BlowholeWe hear the rush and then the thump and click, click, click.  This little one is very pretty – not as dramatic as the other – but has class in its own way.  You can see how windy it is and the spray sometimes covers us all but that’s nature for you. Got to be prepared for anything she wants to throw at us. At least it is not raining!

Enough clicking so back to Baker’s Delight for some more pastries and Cheesymite Scrolls – breakfast, shower and then Jonathan tells us we will not be going to Wollongong Botanical Gardens for macro photography because of the wind.  I can understand this – but instead we are heading to the Nan Tien Buddhist Temple at Nowra.  Apparently there are protected gardens so hopefully that will be the case.

I have seen the Temple as I headed south to visit my friends at Callala Beach so now I will get a first hand look.  As we are heading north back towards home and it is silly to come all the way back here, we pack our cars and head off convoy fashion following Jonathan.  This is not too bad until we take a wrong turn – about face – and continue but we end up going through the Wollongong Memorial Gardens and Crematorium (that’s a hoot) – surely not.  No, we have found our way and enter the Temple grounds.

Macro cactusTime for macro – but hand held – no tripod – so don’t know how this will go. Mmmm – not too bad eh?  These are lovely gardens – so well ordered – and even though there are loads of people here (mainly visitors) it still has an atmosphere of serenity.

On our walk through there is a garden area where there are lots of statues – I think these may be spirits of the past although not too sure about that.  Some are happy, some immersed in thought and some look grumpy so I suppose that is what life is all about.

At the TempleAt the TempleAt the TempleOK – I am off the track – back to macro.  It is hard to hold the camera, press the shutter and not move let me tell you.  I try bracing myself against something, holding my arms into my body but sometimes I just give up and just have a look around.

Once we finish our photography it is time to head for lunch. We get into the bus and move en masse to the Aqua Restaurant on Wollongong Beach. Seafood – my favourite type of food.  A lovely little place although today being Mothers Day it is packed out but we have a reservation.  Start with a glass of Sem Blanc that takes forever to arrive but soon the main meal of flathead fillets (just the best fish ever) served with chips (of course) and salad.  Yep, delicious.  Tummies full we now finish off the day and head back to our cars parked at The Temple.

Weekend_escape_groupGoodbyes are said – Jonathan takes a happy snap of our group – that’s Jonathan on the far right and the Lady Natsumi beside him.  I hate having my photo taken – I always look 60 kg overweight and depressed.

Time for us to say goodbye, many thanks for a wonderful weekend and then we head back home to practice, practice, practice.

I have decided to buy a new camera – a Canon 7D Mark II.  Africa here I come – two cameras and a wealth of knowledge!

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