Old Voices From the Coast
I have a minor obsession with old places, especially ones so old that they express their age in geological voices, deep and unheard without careful, considered listening. So when a handful of photographer friends decided to plan a trip to Apollo Bay on Victoria’s Great Ocean Road for intensive shooting, editing, processing, and critiquing, I knew this would be a story I wanted to tell.
Friends-of-a-friend had very graciously granted us use of their holiday house, and we met there to plan our first location scouting sortie up in the hills by Skenes Creek.
Approaching evening and the sun was already fading fast, dropping in and out behind cloud cover, there was some interesting haze settling over the hills and valleys, and when enough light escaped to wash over the terrain, the view was pretty breathtaking.
The entire Apollo Bay area reveals its volcanic past through uncharacteristic (for Victoria) elevations, punctuated here and there by great striated shards of rock, bubbled through with old lava flows. And in the haze, something about these hills feels old and dormant, like a heart that beats once in a thousand years.
Awake at 5am to prepare for the day’s first shoot.
There was a bit of chill in the air, but nothing like I expected for this hour of the day/night; it was comfortable. We stayed by the cars while waiting for the light, which were parked by an access track to a beach by Skenes Creek. After a brief struggle with exposure, I stole this picture of the night sky. There’s still light pollution, but it’s markedly improved from what I’m accustomed to in the city.
There’s our Milky Way. I’m told the streaks are satellites.
The sun, as it does, came up rapidly after that. We hurried down the beach with tripods in the darkness, navigating by the glow of our phones (for a bunch of photographers, it does seem a little silly that none of us thought to bring lights). Somehow, no one broke any legs, and we got to shooting subjects that were still so dark we could barely see them.
As the light rose, we became braver in traversing the rocks. The beach is a layered landscape of lava flows that look and feel like moulded concrete, sculpted in places and scored unerringly straightly in others by ages-old upheavals.
I found myself waiting for a half-minute exposure on an exposed island of rock that was slick with algae and studded with sharp mussels. The wave snuck up an instant after the shutter curtain clicked shut, leaving me precariously bounding with tripod raised in the air to reach relatively dry sand, Roza’s cackling sounding somewhere up the dim beach. One shoe thoroughly soaked, no injury or (more importantly) loss of camera equipment, and this resulting picture.
As the sun broke the horizon, gorgeous pastel blues and purples gave way to warmer, more energetic tones. The most peaceful seascape I’d ever seen started to gain an orange blush that settled on everything…
…and became the kind of sunrise we couldn’t have imagined bargaining for.
Happy photographers snapped and chimped away. Against the still-dim sky, the golden glow of the sun made everything look gorgeous.
And sometimes silhouettes can’t decide if they want to be silhouettes. One of our teachers used to say that presence, form, and texture appear in the first three of Ansel’s zones…I think I’m starting to understand what he meant.
Parting shot of the beach as we left, the best part of the light coming to an end.
Back to the house for some downloading and editing.
Phil, a local and himself an accomplished photographer, joined us to plan the afternoon’s next location: Maits Rest in the Great Otway National Park.
…which is also where we learned that forests, being what they are, can be terribly difficult to shoot. Lovely walk, frustrating photography.
Revisiting the hills in the hopes for better evening light. This was about where we learned that the clouds do tend to roll in late each day and, while sunrises may be spectacular, sunsets are generally less so.
Still, the terrain up here is pretty remarkable.
Another early start, this time to a beach at Marengo.
Finding your subject in the dim twilight is, well, hard. I came by the puddle (visible at the time only as a reflection of the sky when I crouched down) and decided to stay put for a full thirty minutes to try to get this picture, wondering the whole time if I was missing other (better) shots. Think I’m glad I stayed.
My favourite time is when the sun itself hasn’t quite appeared, but casts its light over the horizon and flecks the clouds with all sorts of soothing colour.
Then you get low to the ground, and the rock pools do this.
And then the sun rises, and grey rock turns deep red in welcome. (And then, learning from past experience, you depart the little rocky outcrop before the tide rises any further.)
And when the sun does appear, it catches even the tiniest objects in long shadows.
We said goodbye to the others at this point, leaving just Roza and myself.
And it turns out that for some reason Victoria has a California Redwood forest, and that it’s in the Otways. Who could resist? So, another winding drive later, we were there. And it is genuinely spectacular. Very contrasty light though, as can be seen in the first picture here.
And in places, one is reminded that these trees may easily still be here long after one has passed.
Yet another early start (by this point, I’m looking forward to being able to sleep in past 5.30am again). Roza and I make it down to the marina at Marengo hoping to catch the morning light on some sails. Instead, we’re greeted by a very dramatic sky as storm clouds broil around us.
Rain spatters down, leaving wispy trails hanging from the clouds. A lone kayaker strokes back toward the marina.
Roza looks on, willing the sun to bathe the moored boats in gentle pink light. But unfortunately, it doesn’t happen.
Instead, we leave behind another golden sunrise, head back to the house to pack, and start on the way home.
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