Sunday, 15 June 2014

Boring skeletons - Survival Guide for Outback Photography

Your $5000 camera and  300mm prime lens won't be much use if you run out of water in Australia's remote inland areas. You will simply end up a very boring skeleton with a frilled-necked lizard peering through the viewfinder of your expensive camera and termites building nests in your rib cage.

Not only is inland Australia a harsh, dry unforgiving environment but it is one of the most sparsely populated regions on planet earth. There's just 0.1 persons per square kilometre. I can't remember the last time I saw 1/10 person walking around with a  Hasselblad but it was a long time ago. (But I have seen a few tourists walking around Kings Park with what looked like half a camera).

Survival wise, there's one simple rule -
Fail to prepare, be prepared to fail.

I've lived in Australia's outback for four years; two years in Halls Creek and another couple of years at Lombadina Mission near Cape Leveque. In recent years I've led a couple of tours through the Murchison and Pilbara to Karijini Gorge and  traversed a few pretty remote tracks. On a few tracks I barely see one other vehicle or human being a day. In '64 I almost ended up a skinny skeleton myself on a  remote track while driving from Alice Springs to Hall's Creek through the Great Sandy Desert. I was lucky to survive when our vehicle bogged in an 'inland sea' that rose in unseasonal rains. But that's another story!
Mount Augustus

Your essential preparation requirements for personal survival:
  • water (lots of it!)
  • reliable vehicle with spares
  • EPIRB* or satellite phone
  • telling someone of your route and schedule
  • Fuel +50% until next reliable fill-up
  • First Aid Kit
  • snake charming kit (just joking!)
For more information please click HERE.

The Australian outback provides unique photographic opportunities simply because of the lack of habitation and people. It is indeed a wide brown land.  In some places you can confidently say that you may be the first human being to set foot on that piece of earth. 

Let's assume you and your vehicle are going to pull through and your only snake and centipede encounters are digital rather than physical. You can prepare photographically by checking these points:

Night shoot - Honeycomb Gorge - approx 20 minute exposure

Photographic Preparation
  • Charging batteries - use solar or an inverter
  • Dust - it's everywhere and very fine. Seal gear in plastic. Carry an Arctic Butterfly.
  • Head torch - for late night  shoots and seeing centipedes at night when peeing
  • Spare camera body - essential (if you have a spare body for yourself, take that also)
  • Tripod and remote release (you will be in remote locations)
  • Three best lenses - wide angle 20mm, telephoto min 300mm, macro 85mm
Fern Pool - Karijini Gorge
I haven't mentioned getting your brain into gear before you set off on your epic journey. Take some outback pump-up music with you to hone your focus. Suggest you start with 'The Air that I Breathe' by The Hollies.

Oh, one more thing ... unless your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend is a dyed-in-the-wool photography sympathiser, can cook camp casserole and stare down desert dingoes, leave him/her at home to tend the roses and save yourself the cost of the divorce.

* Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon


Check out my Photography Workshops at UWA Extension.

'Thank you for your generous sharing of encyclopedic photographic knowledge and the empathic way you impart it'  (Dr) Peter Randell 2013

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