A New Perspective on the Unique Beauty of the Blue Mountains
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Text and images by Editor Yan Zhang, Australia
In 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted long-distance travel. Unexpectedly, this provided me with the opportunity to thoroughly explore the Blue Mountains.
In this article, I share my experiences as a photographer rediscovering the unique beauty of the Blue Mountains from a new perspective.
The Blue Mountains are bigger than most people think – the area of the Greater Blue Mountains National Park is 2,690 square kilometres. We can divide the park into three sections, although most people are only familiar with Section I – a small area of the entire mountain region. In this area is located many well-known scenery spots, such as the Three Sisters and Wentworth Falls in Katoomba, as shown in the following map.
On the other hand, Section II to the South and Section III to the North are relatively lesser visited. However, located in these areas are extraordinary rock formations, towering cliffs, outstanding cave systems and spectacular canyons.
Map of the Greater Blue Mountains National Park.
The entire mountain region can be divided into three sections. Many well-known locations in section I are easily accessed by public transport, while most places in sections II and III can only be accessed by private vehicles.
PHOTOGRAPHING THE BLUE MOUNTAINS
Weather plays a critical role in photographing forests. Usually, I take photographs during rainfall periods in the Blue Mountains since rain may result in a good lighting balance between brightness and shadow. Also, fog usually cloaks the highlands when it rains, creating a mysterious atmosphere in the forest.
In the Blue Mountains, gum trees are everywhere. However, finding an appealing location suitable for taking photographs is not a simple endeavour. It takes time and patience to explore the forest. The following panorama image was taken during one of my explorations in the Blue Mountains.
But there are also many other waterfalls, equally beautiful, but lesser known to even local Blue Mountains residents. Some of these waterfalls are hidden deep in the forests and canyons, and probably have never been photographed before.
I spent a considerable amount of time searching the Blue Mountains for these hidden waterfalls. As luck would have it, I discovered a few of them.
Photographing waterfalls in the Blue Mountains can be challenging. This is because most of the waterfalls are constantly changing throughout the year – in terms of the amount of water flowing, which significantly changes the form of the waterfall. Quite often, we need to wait a long time before a good opportunity appears to take a remarkable waterfall shot – the water flowing is not too small or too big, and the surrounding lighting conditions are just right.
In March 2020, during the Sydney lock-down, we were allowed to travel to nearby areas within 15 minutes driving distance. I took advantage of this and went to some close-to-home areas of the Blue Mountains each week. This was one of the waterfalls I discovered during this period.
Waiting for rainfall is my pre-condition when taking photographs of waterfalls. To create this photograph, I waited several weeks until finally the waterfalls and creeks flowed vividly after a heavy rainfall period. This is a panorama image consisting of nearly 50 successive single shots and covers a 180-degree wide view. The image was a result of 9 portrait frames at 14mm wide focal length. For each frame, I took 9 shots again in order to avoid any out of focus in the frame as the foreground is very close to my camera – some parts as close as 40cm or less. Therefore, focal stacking and frame merging are needed during the post process.
The following photos were taken during several overnight backpacking trips.
Firstly, accessing wet canyons is usually difficult. This is because many wet canyons are located in remote mountain areas and you would usually have to hike a long distance to just reach the entrance of the canyon. Many times, you would also need to swim to cross various deep-water pools inside a canyon, and abseiling is a very common way to enter, navigate, and exit the canyon. Water in a canyon can be extremely cold, so wearing a wetsuit is always recommended for wet canyon explorations.
Secondly, wet canyons can be dangerous places. Without any marked signs, people may easily get lost inside a wet canyon. Such accidents have happened several times in recent years in the Blue Mountains. In December 2020, for instance, a group of people entered the Blue Mountains Wollangambe canyon – a relatively easy wet canyon. But due to some unexpected underwater currents during their water pool crossing, two participants tragically lost their lives. It is strongly recommended that safety training, clothing and equipment preparation and wet canyon research be undertaken prior to wet canyon exploration.
Finally, once inside a wet canyon, keeping cameras and lenses from soaking is not simple. Almost all so-called water-proof bags do not really work when fully submerged in water. Through my wet canyon experience, I have found that the best equipment for protecting cameras and lenses is the Pelican Case – which is watertight, temperature controlled protective case, and extremely strong. The Pelican Case not only protects cameras and lenses from water, but also protects these items from crashing against the hard rocky walls and surfaces inside the canyon.
The Pelican Case can be used as an ideal waterproof case for protecting cameras and lenses when exploring a wet canyon. Even if dropped into the water completely, the case will float on the surface without any water leaking inside the case.
Pink Flannel Flowers
From early February to March 2021, several places in the Blue Mountains were decorated with pink flannel flowers. Its generic name, Actinotus, means “bearing rays” and refers to the petal-like bracts surrounding each flower-head. Apparently, this flower requires extremely specific climatic conditions for its seeds stored in the soil to germinate. It is reported that these flowers bloom for one season a year after a fire and if there has been spring rain. In fact, these rare flowers’ seeds can lie in the ground for up to 40 years until the right conditions arrive.
Although I usually only take landscape photographs, I went to see these flowers and took pictures of them across 14 trips from February to March 2021. The pink flannel flowers are actually very small. In order to capture their details, I specifically borrowed a Nikon micro lens 105mm f/2.8 from my friend and used this lens to shoot many close-up photos of the flowers.
I shot this photo using a micro lens to capture the details of this flower. Daisy-like at first glance, pink flannel flowers consist of a cluster (umbel) of tiny pink flowers fringed not by petals, but by 11–12 furry-textured light pink bracts (modified leaves). About 1–3cm across, the flowers grow in spreading clumps to 50cm high.
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