Photographing The Great Ocean Road

Showing off some of the beauty Australia has to offer, we bring you another awesome guest post from our friend Joshua Holko!

A few days ago I returned home from a whirlwind trip down the Great Ocean Road and I have now sorted through the roughly 600 frames which I shot while travelling down the coast photographing some of the mightiest icons of Victoria. For those of you who may not be aware, the Great Ocean Road is still one of the leading tourist attractions in the world. As a result of the increasing tourism, the area is now quite busy over the weekends, with regular busloads of camera-toting tourists and back-packers scurrying over the usual tourist hot spots. Shooting at the iconic Twelve Apostles at sunset can be like rush-hour. And yet, for the intrepid and dedicated landscape photographer, there are many other rugged and beautiful locations to choose from that are just as spectacular and more secluded from the tourist throngs.

The Cauldron

We were fortunate during this trip to have some dramatic light on the evening of our arrival, as well as some truly beautiful pre-dawn glow on the final morning before our departure. As a landscape photographer, I am always chasing dramatic light in order to create photographs that are unique, powerful and expressive. Whether it is through curtains of rain or stormy clouds, I seek out that special light that usually lasts for only a few seconds. And, it is not often I am fortunate enough to experience dramatic storm-light in combination with sunset, a combination that is truly magical and quite rare.

The conditions under which this occurred last Friday evening were challenging, with pelting rain, hail and powerful winds all conspiring against the rigidity of my camera and tripod which were perched precariously on the edge of the limestone cliffs. Standing near the edge of a 35 metre cliff above the broiling ocean, with the winds threatening to toss me into the sea with each gust certainly gets the adrenalin flowing. I was very thankful for the weather sealing of my 1DS MK3 as it was exposed to several hours of intense rain and pervasive salt spray from the storm breakers smashing into the cliffs. The waves that were crashing against the coastline were 6-8 metres high, tossing spray over a hundred feet into the air as they slammed into the rugged cliffs – it was both awe- inspiring and  intimidating to be on the edge of that precipitous cliff.

Rogue Wave

One of the joys of storm photography is how often and how quickly the light changes. You have to move quickly and instinctively in order to make the most of it if you are to capture the best light. Balancing composition with light in weather conditions that are conspiring against you can be a real challenge. Even keeping the camera lens free of rain spots can be problematic. Also, having an instinctive understanding of your camera controls is essential to being able to work quickly to make the most of the changing light and conditions. Likewise, understanding shutter speed and the effect it will have on moving water and waves is essential to creating photographs that are artistic and capture the feeling of motion and drama in the sea. Being able to combine your skills as a photographer whilst battling the elements takes some practice.

Brewing Storm

The Great Ocean Road is an astonishing but challenging location to photograph. The coastline is truly spectacular between Apollo Bay and Warrnambool, but to convey a sense of scale, place and context is difficult. Most photographs I have seen of this part of Victoria fail to do justice to the rugged beauty and grandeur of this coastline – a lovely sunset just isn’t enough. Although calm seas and a perfect sunset will always result in a pretty picture of this Victorian coastline, the area offers so much more for photographers willing to put in the hard yards and exercise their patience in search of the right light and the best composition.

London Bridge

Landscape photography in Australia is an exercise in patience and frustration followed by final fulfillment. Australia’s often harsh daytime light works against good art photography of the type I am pursuing, as does the flat light caused by overcast conditions. The golden hours of perfect light are fleeting. As I have said before, landscape photography in Australia is like a long-haul international flight – hours of boredom followed by a few seconds of sheer panic during landing, when the light is at its best. It is an exercise in patience, which, in the end, can be extremely rewarding. This is not known as the Shipwreck Coast for nothing.

Nearby, the dense and mysterious Otway forest offers many opportunities for daytime photography, including several waterfalls, a forest of giant Californian Redwoods, the Cape Otway Lighthouse, and countless coastline images, including a multitude of abstractions in the coastal cliffs, as well as the myriad of possibilities in the many rock pools.

I will shortly be offering a multi-day workshop down the Great Ocean Road designed specifically for photographers who are keen to work hard for their images and who want to take their photography to the next level. Like my international workshops, this trip will be strictly limited in numbers to ensure we can operate quickly and cohesively in the field. Bookings will be taken on a first come, first serve basis.  Stay tuned for further details over the coming weeks.

The Wall - Great Ocean Road

Higher resolution versions of these photographs can be seen on my primary portfolio website at www.jholko.com under Australia.

It is worth noting that I was travelling with a good friend of mine who owns and runs a successful portrait studio on this trip. It was very interesting to hear about the needs of a professional portrait photographer in contrast to my own camera requirements. Surprisingly, our needs proved to be more in step with each other than we might have first assumed, and I will have more to say on this in a future blog post.