I’ve just travelled five thousand kilometres – from Brisbane to Cairns and back over 21 days – and I’m thinking I’ve only just scratched the surface of what there is to photograph in Queensland.
Ribbons of white beaches, pristine barrier reef islands, towering rainforests with fan-leaf canopies, some pretty special waterfalls, and more than a couple of classic Queenslanders (timber houses with wrap-around verandahs) that warranted me pulling over for a quick pic along the way.
The fact is there’s so much to photograph in Queensland that if you have a real interest in photography – as in more than just capturing a snap as you go – you’ll need to be selective about what you shoot, and set aside some time to come back with something special. So, here’s my first suggestion: Pick a couple of locations you think represent the greatest potential to capture the sort of photograph you like taking, then plan around being there when conditions are likely to be ideal.
As most photographers know, good light is the key to capturing something outstanding – no matter how good you are or what gear you’re packing. Personally, I like to be at the location an hour each side of sunrise or sunset. The magic hour, as we photographers call it. It’s then you’re most likely to get that soft, mauve light before the sun appears. Or that glorious golden light late in the day that digs into the shadows and enhances whatever it falls on.
My second suggestion is to surf the net before you head off and look at photographs that have already been captured of the places you plan to visit (Google images or Getty’s). Then arrange your itinerary to arrive at the location at least the day before so you can study it – the best position to be standing, the right time to be there; anticipating how the light will fall or what impediments there might be to you getting the shot you’re chasing.
It’s with this in mind that I’ve included a selection of some of the places I particularly enjoyed photographing, and a few tips for photographers if you’re thinking of travelling the same route.
Assuming you’re starting off in Brisbane and probably overnighting before you pick your van up, I wouldn’t pass-up the opportunity to catch a City Cat (ferry) along the Brisbane River and photograph some of the city’s highlights. It’s a quick and comfortable way to see the Queensland capital, taking in three of its main features – the Storey Bridge, The Botanical gardens and Southbank.
Top Tip: Get a day ticket and take the ferry trip early in the morning (they start at 6am), when the light on the city is at its most complimentary, then jump on and off to photograph whatever appeals as you go.
There’s a reason so many Victorian’s holiday in Noosa, a couple of hours drive north of Brisbane. There’s a lot to see (and photograph) on the beaches and up in the near-by hinterland.
Top Tip: Be there early for the best light and work-up an appetite wandering the national park and swimming. The pandanus palms and paperbark trees make an attractive frame for its tiny coves and beaches. Then wander the café precinct along the beach boardwalk and chose somewhere for lunch by the ocean to just take it all in.
Agnes Waters and 1770.
It’s 5am and I’m parked on the headland waiting for the sun to come up. As it’s a clear sky, I’ve had a bit of a play with a “celestial shot” with the parked van and the stars in the background, and I’m waiting for the mauve light before sending the drone out. I like shooting back onto my subjects before the sun hits it, and the drone’s likely to capture it from an angle few have seen.
Having flown out and shot back the headland, I took advantage of the first rays of light and photographed a young couple in their van, then I waited until mid-morning for a bit of colour in the water and the low tide to fly out over the corrugated waterway that characterises 1770.
Top Tip: Plan to shoot at low tide when the correlated sand makes for some appealing patterns in the water.
What photographer doesn’t want to get up-close-and-personal to take photographs of kangaroos and wallabies on the beach? Cape Hillsborough has a caravan park right beside the beach where a national parks ranger comes in to feed them on adaily basis. Wander down before sunrise with your camera and you’ll find them hoping in between you for some fine photo-opportunities.
Top Tip: Spend two nights at the caravan park and use the first day to see how the morning with the kangaroos unfolds. Then return with your camera the next day with a particular photo in mind.
It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense to rent a van, then leave it parked on the mainland while you’re on an island but I’d recommend you pick at least two islands to visit if you’re traveling the Queensland coast. Some, you can do in a day but, if you’re a photographer, I’d be wanting to at least overnight to capture the late afternoon and morning light. Of course, all of the islands have their own appeal but I chose Fraser Island (the world’s largest sand island) and a Lady Elliot Island (because of the reputation for marine life) for this trip.
On Fraser Island, I overnighted at the King Fisher bay Resort so I could do the four-wheel drive bus tour of the island’s highlights (Lake McKenzie being my favourite place for photography).
Lady Elliot Island
On Lady Elliot Island, the marine life and the colour of the coral was exceptional. In my first 10 minutes in the water, I saw six manta rays (ok, maybe three that passed me twice), turtles, stingrays and an incredible array of fish.
Top Tip: It’s easy to get carried away by everything you’ll see underwater but this is the place to photograph turtles. While underwater camera gear is ideal, you’d still return with something memorable just using a phone with a camera that you can take underwater.
The Museum of Underwater Art
If you’ve a diver, there’s at least one Great Barrier Reef “indulgence” I can recommend – The Museum of Underwater Art, a sculpture-garden nestled into a colourful pocket of the reef a couple of hours off Townsville. It only opened recently – with its array of human sculptures, and a swim-through structure surrounded by some stunning coral gardens. It’s only a day trip so you can be on your way again late that afternoon.
It was raining ahead in Cairns so veered off the main highway and headed inland to the Atherton Tablelands to photograph Millaa Millaa Waterfall, which you see in all the promotional photos. Buses pull up in a car park right next to it, so it’s easy to get to. Of course, the flow of water tends to play a big part in the photo so, for this shot, you’d be hoping it’s had some rain beforehand.
Top Tip: Get there early before the buses arrive and, if you want that “milky” effect in the water, remember, you’ll need a tripod and a long exposure if it’s overcast (or bring a neutral density filter if it’s sunny).
Cape Tribulation was as far north as I travelled given the time I had, and I was keen to photograph the forests of Fan Palms that are unique to the area. Again, overcast conditions are ideal for this sort of photography (which was lucky as that’s all I got), and I happily spent a day wandering the forests and the beaches.
Top Tip: Use a tripod as you’ll be shooting in low light and take care with your composition to ensure there is a feature in your photo that draws the eye of the viewer. And lather yourself in mosquito repellent if you’re heading in early in the morning or late afternoon. And don’t go wandering into palm forests without signs, as I did (which was probably the reason at least half my day was not so happily spent).
In closing, as I began, there is much to photograph in Queensland, and these few photographs only begin to show the opportunities. But the real key to capturing a truly exceptional photograph of Queensland is simple: Just ensure you have a memorable holiday. That way, if you return with just one photograph that takes you back there and brings a smile to your face, you’ll know you’ve succeeded.
Equipment Check: David carried a Nikon Z7 with a 17-35mm, and a 200mm lens, and a medium format Pentax camera. He also used a drone (Mavic 2 Pro) and an underwater camera (Sony RX100, with dome lens and a housing).