Here is a photo of Trey Ratcliff and Danny Levin that I took about five years ago. Danny and I were on one of Trey’s New Zealand photo adventures.
That seems like such a long time ago, but I still have a ton of photos and memories. I shot this on the original Sony A7R which was relatively new at the time. Now, I’m on the third generation of that camera, but I still own the original. Not too shabby if I do say so myself.
Actually, I processed this with the latest tools. In this case I Aurora HDR 2019 and Luminar 3. Those are also the third generations from Skylum, and I’ve been using them for three or four years now. Every time they come out with new versions I go back and find old photos like this to process. When I do that, it’s like taking a trip down memory lane.
This is the bridge where Lake Wakatipu ends and enters the Kawarau River. Or, at least it was. Since I took this, they built a new bridge that’s not nearly as photogenic.
I took this on my first day in New Zealand as I was walking around getting the lay of the land. The bridge was next to the hotel. I must say, that trip was probably the most fun I’ve ever had. It was a photography workshop with Trey Ratcliff, and it was a doozy. Everything, from the scenery to the food was over the top.
I’ve been looking at some of the photos I took while there and am post-processing them with the newer software. At the time I was using the A7R which was relatively new at the time and, the choice of lenses was limited. That was two generations of A7R ago, and the RAW files are holding up quite nicely. But boy, what I could do now with the newer camera. Without a doubt, I very much want to go back.
Nearly five years ago I flew to Queenstown New Zealand to participate in a workshop with Trey Ratcliff. Due to jetlag, I woke up on the first morning at an ungodly hour. But after a couple of hours walking around the hotel, dawn began, and we had the most amazing pink sky. It was an excellent start to a week of photography.
I’ve had this in my backlog for a very long time. The biggest challenge was that the sky was so red and orange that it did not seem real. In the original RAW images, it looks like I photoshopped the colors. To make it seem a little more realistic, I’ve desaturated the glow. Usually, it’s the other way around; I might saturate or add vibrancy to give a photo a little extra pop. Not this time.
In the grand scale of things, five years is not a long time, but for me, it feels like a lifetime. It was a life-altering trip; it moved me in ways I can’t even begin to describe. I had such a fantastic time that it almost didn’t seem real. Life is rarely perfect, but that week came about as close as I’ve ever known. And it all started on the morning of this sunrise and continued building from there.
This is an HDR image full of fall colors that I took four years ago in New Zealand. It was the first morning of a five-day workshop with Trey Ratcliff. In the southern hemisphere, April is in Autumn so the leaves were turning.
I had recently purchased the Sony A7R and now, four years later, I’m still impressed with the images. Since that time Sony has created two new generations of that camera so I now use the third generation A7R III. Also, since that time Trey and Skylum introduced HDR software known as Aurora HDR. Now Aurora is in its second or third generation as well. As a result, I’m revisiting these old photos with the new software. The software has improved to the point that it’s very easy to make old photos look amazing.
Four years seems like such a long time, I would go back in a heartbeat. For a photographer, New Zealand is a dream. But I did take thousands of photos while I was there so even if I don’t get back right away I still have these photos to look at and enjoy.
At the time I took this shot I was way outside of my comfort zone. This is a shot I took just before landing on a mountaintop in sub-zero temperatures while in New Zealand. In this case the scale is difficult to convey because there is nothing to use for reference. However the copter landed on the icy plateau on the upper left and it would look like a small toy if we could see it here.
I remember this stop in particular because I walked a little ways down that slope on the left. It was nothing but ice and the incline increased with each step as it dropped into the abyss. I realized that just in time and froze in my tracks then took several steps backward until my footing was sure and the panic subsided.
We landed in spots that were pretty much inaccessible save for experienced climbers. As it turns out our pilot was a mountain climber and used his knowledge of the area to choose our landings. In fact, he had been up in the area on foot a short while before. Some of the peaks seemed to me nearly impossible to reach and I was always looking for a route down should we get stranded. In places like this I’m not sure what options there would have been.
Despite the extreme landings I was so occupied with capturing landscape images that I had no time to be afraid. It’s only on reflection from the comfort of my home that thoughts of potential danger return. Certainly I had the same thoughts on that day as well, but they were crowded out by the task at hand and the rare opportunity to capture these images. In reality the pilot was super competent and never put us in any real danger. Lucky for me he was well within his own comfort zone.
This is another image I took from the slopes of Mount Bonpland in New Zealand. This location is above the northern tip of Lake Wakatipu. It was one of the last stops before heading back to the airport. We started early with subzero temps high up on the peaks and as the morning progressed and we headed to lower elevations we were peeling off the layers.
We made so many stops I can hardly remember them all save for the photos. The excursion was based on engine time so on some stops we’d jump out while the pilot kept the engine running, this was one such stop as the pilot was still at the controls up on the right. At other stops he’d cut the engine so that we had a little more time to explore and compose shots.
How I know where I was seemed nothing short of a happy miracle. I have an app on my iPhone called “gps4cam” that tracks GPS coordinates and then syncs them up with the photos using the image timestamp. I say it was a happy miracle because I wasn’t sure if it worked out of cell tower range. It does indeed because it uses the GPS receiver in the phone. So I ended up with exact locations of all our landings. That’s invaluable especially when I’m in areas I’ve never been before and want to review it later.
About three hours after leaving we returned to the airport. I’d taken about fifteen hundred images and seen many things I never imagined. The next time I go back I’d like to do something similar; it’s hard to imaging a better opportunity for a landscape photographer. Now if I could just manage to get back to New Zealand sometime soon.
Every now and then I like going back to look at my images from New Zealand. I was there a little over three years ago but it now seems like an eternity. But having those images brings back some of that magic. I find myself using the word “magic” a lot when describing the southern island of New Zealand. There is something about it that evokes a sense of wonder. You should put it on your bucket list, especially if you like natural beauty.
This is one of the many helicopter landings I made on the last day. I spent the morning shooting images of the Southern Alps and then flew home that afternoon.
I’m standing next to the oddly named Lake Unknown, which is on the southern slopes of Poseidon Peak. The mist on the left is from a light rain shower on the far side of the lake. In these mountains there are microclimates that vary from blizzards to light rain to sunshine. As we approached from the north we could see a rainbow through the shower, it was surreal; that’s another word I use to describe New Zealand.
The last time I was in the mountains was on a cruise to Alaska. I think there are two types of people, mountain people and ocean people. In Alaska you can be both at the same time if you live by the coast. Even though I live by the ocean in Florida I think of myself as a mountain person. I enjoy both but I need to see the mountains once in a while to keep sane. While I was in New Zealand I got a large dosage of rugged mountains took thousands of photos. Now, if I go too long without seeing the mountains I can look at the photos and remember what it was like. And then I start to wonder if I might redo one item on my bucket list. That’s allowed isn’t it?
This is a view of Mount Alfred from up the side of another mountain in Kinloch, Otago. The type of wide angle lens I’m using makes Mount Alfred appear far off and small, but in reality it is quite a bit larger. I got here by helicopter and was just one of a dozen spots chosen by our pilot from Over The Top – The Helicopter Company in Queenstown, New Zealand.
It’s been a while since I looked at my New Zealand photos. However I’ve recently been playing with a new tool for processing images called AuroraHDR 2017. That prompted me to go back and get some older photos and see what I could do. I’m pleasantly surprised with the results. In this case I processed one RAW image rather than three combined. It works well either way and normally I’ll combine two or three for a true HDR image.
On this excursion we started off around seven in the morning and the temperature was downright cold, it was below freezing. On top of that we flew above the mountains with the doors off. The combination of layers and adrenalin kept me warm until the sun rose. Within a few hours we were on this mountain side and the weather had warmed up considerably, most of the heavy layers were peeled off, yet the adrenaline was still flowing due to the amazing vistas and sights.
Processing an old image with new software is a good way to go back in time and reminisce an awesome day.
Near Queenstown New Zealand is Lake Hayes which has homes and cottages around its perimeter. Most had kayaks or rowboats laying along the shore. As you can see I was here in the autumn when the leaves were changing and carpeting the ground. Off in the distance to the South is the Remarkables, a mountain range that had already started collecting snow. We were here midday and it was fairly warm without much of a breeze, thus providing a glassy surface to the lake. These still waters are more common first thing in the morning, but in this case we had a rare occurrence in the afternoon.
The little village of Arrowtown New Zealand in the autumn. There were so many warm colors all around that it seems like they all ran together. Perhaps they did as they imprinted in my brain a most fond memory.