Posts Tagged ‘Ayers Rock’

SOTM World Tour – Ten Top Travel Photos

Thursday, July 3rd, 2014

1660320_10153786052195241_1554794481_n“If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough,” Robert Capa once said.

Unfortunately for the poor bugger, he got too close to a landmine one day. Still, this is one of my favourite ever quotes.

While he was clearly talking about getting close to your subjects – he was on one of the barges which landed on the Normandy beaches for D-Day – I also like to think that to get closer to the world is also to improve your photography.

And that’s what the SOTM World Tour did for me. It took me out into places I’d never heard of, to busy, neon-stained alleyways, across African plains with skies that last forever and fighting arenas stacked with sweating, shrieking, betting-slip brandishing crowds.

These are ten of my favourite images from my year-long trip around the world, from the many thousands that I took with my Nikon D5100, my iPhone 4S and then, toward the end, my Nikon D7100 after my 5100 fell apart. It was only a few months old but I guess world travel was just too much for it.

I’ve only ever self-taught myself how to take pictures, and being out in the world was the best lesson of all.

The top image shows pupils from Sekolah Rendah Batu Marang school, in Jalan Batu Marang water village, Brunei. The charming Kathy Wharton is their English teacher and she kindly took us around, showing us her school and the water village, perched on top of perilous-looking stilts, where her charges come from.

After I posted some of these images on Facebook my friend Helen, with whom I stayed, told me I’d “captured the real Brunei”. Which pleased me greatly.

999168_10153125055170241_2082429276_nThe throbbing Shibuya Crossing, in the heart of Tokyo, has many smaller roads and alleyways running away from its busyness.

The gentleman above was the waiter in a noodle place, cheap and very tasty, in one of these veins. I fully intended to return, so good was the food, but was distracted by Tokyo’s many other shiny attractions and never made it back.

So it’s fortunate that I did ask him for a photo upon my only visit. He didn’t speak English but when I smiled and pointed at my camera, posed with great confidence and grace. And I liked his white wellies.

1379715_10153361940225241_114641734_nWhen in Port Elizabeth, South Africa, I was taken to the remarkable Shamwari Game Reserve by my friend Kimberley. There I went on three safari rides and was overwhelmed with the beauty of the place.

One time we spotted a serval hiding in the bushes. I saw it twitch through my viewfinder and instinctively pressed the shutter. When I looked at the screen afterwards, this shot is what I saw. It’s my best action photo, I think.

1025647_10152945200410241_220286925_oThere isn’t that much to do in Geneva. It’s pretty enough and very clean, but a bit too sanitised for my liking.

But at least Lake Geneva has public pianos for people to tinkle. I saw this young woman sat at one while delving into her bag. My camera was completely the wrong exposure levels so I was rapidly adjusting dials, willing her to hold her position for a few seconds longer – when she looked up.

I knew my exposure was wrong, but took the shot as I liked what I saw in my viewfinder. The moment then passed.

I looked at the image I’d taken and it was virtually black, totally underexposed. But as I was shooting in RAW I had hope. When I got it onto my computer, I was able to change the exposure – and was thrilled with how it turned out.

So if you’re not shooting in RAW, you should consider doing so. There may come a time when it will save you.

1377245_10153328471465241_1474946143_nI have always wanted to visit Uluru, fairly in the centre of Australia’s outback. When I was a boy it was more commonly known as Ayers Rock.

But even though I was enthusiastic about it, I was still hugely surprised about just how hypnotic it is. Enormous, red, hugely different to the landscape around it, a monstrous pimple squeezed up from the earth, back when the planet was still being formed.

Looking at the rock during sunrise and sunset is to experience kaleidoscopic colours and shapeshifting shadows. You might think staring at a large rock can’t be that exciting, but somehow, it is. You’ll never feel old again when you consider how what stands before you came into being more than 600 million years ago.

Also, about 2.5km of Uluru is buried below the desert soil. Mind. Boggled.

I chose the shot above because I got Kata Tjuta in the background, once known as the Olgas. They’re a collection of 36 domes and in many ways are even more remarkable than their neighbour.

She’s the flashy one, who puts out with her russet looks, getting most of the attention, hogs all the postcards, while Kata Tjuta is visited as something of an afterthought, an added extra for tourists who’ve come to see the hot girl in the neighbourhood. But I loved them both.

1497771_10153699331050241_17606286_nThe Lumpinee stadium is beautiful because it’s fragile. It’s about to be knocked down and relocated, which makes the sweating, kicking, yelling all that more intense.

Like the last time you make love to someone you’re soon to part from, you savour everything because you know it won’t happen again. Their imperfections become adorable because it’s about to be all over.

Built in Bangkok in 1956, the stadium looks like it might not last too much longer. Look away from the shiny ring, where respectful Muay Thai fighter knee and punch and kick one another.

The apparently leaky ceiling is made of corrugated sheets, with many long-stemmed fans shivering like leaves on a trembling pond. The cheap seats aren’t even seats, they’re benches and people just stand anyway.

And the VIP seats are just part-plastic chairs, although they do afford an excellent view of the action. Despite this, I really wanted to move into better positions but was restricted to shooting where I was perched.

As a result, my 18-200mm Sigma lens came in handy, and of all the shots I got that night, this was my favourite. I turned it grayscale to add a bit more mood to the young man’s determined glare.

1656396_10153863531660241_1299583810_nI was on a food tour in Hong Kong and was taken to a dim sum place for breakfast by the smashing Laura, who runs Hello Hong Kong Tours. 

It was a local place for local people, and I loved it immediately. It’s one of the places in Hong Kong that still has people pushing food carts round, which supply you with your choice of dishes.

While there I spotted this chap walking around with a big metal kettle, topping up the ubiquitous Chinese tea that sloshes around in eateries all over the city. I was desperate to photograph him, he looked fantastic.

I grabbed some half decent shots of him at the next table, and then suddenly, out of nowhere he shimmered and appeared at our table, directly opposite me. I managed to take this photo, and then another.

I preferred the second image, but it’s not pin sharp because the focal point was over his shoulder. So after suffering that slight disappointment, I decided to have my camera on autofocus sometimes, especially in an unpredictable environment, to ensure that focus isn’t an issue at least.

After my shutter had flickered a couple of times, he spoke in Chinese and apparently said: “You have to pay me now, because everyone wants my photo, because I look like Buddha.”

We all laughed, and he said: “No, seriously, you have to pay me.” But he was joking, and when we left I shook his hand. It was like a lobster with a grudge.

1521421_10153707330765241_2000555735_nThere’s nothing so good for the soul as seeing a happy elephant.

There are plenty of these at the Elephant Nature Park near Chiang Mai, Thailand. These remarkable, beautiful creatures have been abused at some point, often by some of those in Thailand’s logging industry. The guilty ones must have black souls.

Eye-gouging, beatings, pelvises broken by forced matings, the stories run a chill though your blood. And if you ever want to ride an elephant, do bear in mind that they are beaten and broken as babies, treated horribly, in order to get them to allow humans to ride them – so don’t.

At least they are happy here in this sanctuary. This chap was having a damn good scratch of his nads on this concrete pole. Or it might be a female. I was too polite to ask.

photoWe were out of Kampot, at the very bottom of Cambodia, when a tremendous storm shattered overhead.

After making it back via a slightly traumatic tuk tuk journey, we found the town flooded. This is a common occurrence in these parts, and the population were clicking into gear, chucking out buckets of floodwater from shops and restaurants, using squeegees to push back the tides in a well-practiced fashion.

The local children seemed to delight in all the fuss. These two characters were going up and down the flooded road, so I got several shots of them with my camera. But this one was the first that I got, grabbed with my iPhone as they rode past and run through an Instagram filter.

It’s not totally sharp but captures their spirit best of all the ones that I took.

993629_10153064585165241_104983892_nThis lady lives in a shack in Missionvale township in Port Elizabeth, South Africa.

She lives alone and says she is lonely. Someone told me later that her husband had died in a fire after they lit a stove indoors, which also destroyed all her possessions. She is also HIV positive and washes clothes for her neighbours, in exchange for food so she can go on living.

She has had her room tidied up by Missionvale Care Centre, a charity which does incredible work in the community. The floor is mud, so they’ve put mats down, but when it rains the ground is still soggy beneath her feet. The roof leaks also.

The light was perfect as she sat near the doorway, so I took her photo with her permission. I’m very fond of it, and yet it upsets me whenever I look at it.

The world is both a beautiful canvas to work with and a terrible sight to see. Thank you for looking at my pictures.

SOTM World Tour – Uluru

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

 When I was a kid, I knew of Ayers Rock. A sleeping, red, ominous giant. A pimple in the middle of the Australian outback.

You’d think there wasn’t such a thing as a good pimple, of course, especially not a bright red one that stands out for miles around and brings people from everywhere to come stare at it.

However, this isn’t a blemish for teenage boys to worry about. This red lump is celebrated across Australia, famous globally, and the oxidation of its minerals is what gives it such a fiery hue.

Nowadays what the world knew as Ayers Rock is officially called by its traditional name, Uluru – although both names are used, depending on who you speak to.

Adventurous Kate and I were staying at the Outback Pioneer on Ayers Rock Resort, courtesy of Northern Territory Tourism and Flight Centre who were supporting this leg of the SOTM World Tour.

The stars of the show around here are Uluru itself and Kata Tjuta – formerly known as the Olgas. You can see both in the top image, with Kata Tjuta in the background – more of those later.

Let’s talk about Uluru. Despite it being a big stone, it fascinates. If nature is poetry, Uluru is the chorus that you belt out loudly, even if you can’t sing, because those words really mean something to you.

Uluru is a shapeshifter. It looks quite different at various times of the day. You think “Well, I’m not going to be hypnotised by a rock.” But you are. You can’t take your eyes off it, and its palpable shifts of colour make the thing seem like it’s more alive than you are.

The above shot was taken a little after sunrise – and that hour, plus sunset, is really when the rock is at its best.

This one was was taken shortly before the sun had given into the snooze button.

 And this one was taken after the sun started to get a grip and was rising steadily.

 And this was shot as the sun set one evening. See how different it can look?

dsc_0061-2The more you stare at Uluru, the more you notice its texture and shapes. This lion’s head was pointed out to me.

Here I am with a much-needed cup of coffee on one of the occasions that I got up before the sun did, just for that lump of rock.

I’m not a morning person, and have to get up around 4.45am regularly when I’m working shifts at the BBC, so I usually begrudge having to arise at ungodly hours when it’s not for employment purposes.

But I’m really glad I did. Seeing the sun rise over Uluru is a surprisingly unforgettable experience. It is, after all, just a rock. But when it’s right in front of you, it seems a whole lot more than that.

The Aborigines implore you not to climb Uluru, saying it is a sacred place and should not be clambered over.

Looking at how steep it is, and taking into consideration that 40 people have died and around 100 others are suspected to have died shortly after descending through heart failure, makes you wonder why on earth anyone would want to attempt an ascent. And the descent looks like the really hard part of it.

I was told a great story about the chain that goes up the first part of Uluru’s ascent path. Apparently a farm owner got the contract to put the single chain in, stretched between regular poles, for people to grip onto.

He was told to make it thigh-height. He was apparently quite a short man, so in obeying instructions he made the chain much too low for those of average height, or above, to hold onto as they haul themselves up the red, unforgiving rock.

Our trip to Uluru, and later Kata Tjuta, was part of the two-day Uluru Explorer tour with AAT Kings.

After worshipping from afar, we finally got up close and personal with Uluru, walking around part of its base and even being able to press flesh on that red rock.

And when you’re so close, you can see all the detail that has enchanted the indigenous people for so many millennia. Stories have been created to complement the fissures and mineral stains on the stone, for example.

dsc_0146-2While there, we spotted some markings in the sand in a cave, drawn by local Aborigines. No-one could work out what it meant. Looks like a dingo to me.

But if Uluru is the flashy redhead that everyone fawns over, Kata Tjuta is the cleverer, more voluptuous one.

They were formed around the same time but it’s Uluru that grabbed the spotlight, sells the postcards, brings all the tourists in. Kata Tjuta is the girl next door, the one with plenty to offer but who needs more work to unlock her secrets. She doesn’t put out quite as easily as the popular red head next door.

It too had a name change. It used to be known as the Olgas, a suitably exotic-sounding name for its red, rounded peaks.

It has, in some ways, more to offer. It opens itself up invitingly, like a familiar lover, as you walk over the Mars-like surface of Walpa Gorge.

Walking into this part of Kata Tjuta made me wonder what on earth it was like for the indigenous tribes who came here before the modern world ever presented itself to them so crudely.

Also the first explorers who found this place – looking up at the red walls, we were seeing much of what they saw back then. It was a thrilling time for me, to be treading the same paths as they did.

Speaking of which, some of Kata Tjuta’s peaks have green trails on them. This is because people used to climb these rocks too, and brought seeds on their boots. While the people have long been banished from clinging to the slopes, Mother Nature hasn’t relinquished her opportunity to spread a little more greenery around.

Aside from all this expeditionary stuff, there was some good old-fashioned pampering going on.

Kate and I had a great ride out into the desert just before sunset, thanks to Uluru Camel Tours.

I was riding Meryl, a cute and impeccably behaved camel. The seats are fashioned to each individual camel so they make for a very comfortable ride, even for someone with cheeks as skinny as mine.

Kate was on Rex, and it was a lot of fun getting out to our desert destination that way.

Once I’d bid a fond farewell to Meryl and scratched her behind the ears a bit (take my tip, fellas – the ladies love that) Kate and I had a wonderful evening at the Sounds of Silence dinner.

This saw us and a large number of others all sitting at round tables, enjoying tasty food and lots of Aussie banter. Then a hush descended on the assembled and suddenly a chap in a hooded cloak, an astronomer, started talking about the various constellations and individual stars which dazzled above us.

The cloak was naturally just for effect, but I must admit is was pretty cool. If cloaks came back into fashion, I’d be all over that.

I have never seen the night sky look like it has done in the Northern Territory. You can forget all sense of time with all the glittering.

Our planetary guide pointed out various star sign constellations including Sagittarius, which was quite moving for me as it’s mine and I’ve never seen it before. I don’t really believe in astrology, but the individual characteristics of my star sign often describe my behaviour and attitude, so I do find that aspect interesting.

Another moving moment was when the astronomer, using a hugely powerful green laser pointer, wobbled it around a sparkling dot. We were looking at a star’s light which dated from the time that the first settlers were building New Amsterdam – which later became New York, my favourite city in the world.

The photography around both Uluru and Kata Tjuta is severely restricted. We had to submit our photographs for approval before we could use them on any social media.

Any that showed parts of the rocks at certain times of day, when details such as some caves are in focus, were rejected. Therefore it was a little tricky to get some SOTMs there, but I did manage a couple, including this one. Click on the image to see what it’s all about.

And the excellent Danny, who was on our table at the Sounds of Silence dinner, kindly also thought of something memorable he’d once read on a wall.

There was one more early start for Kate and I, but again it was totally worth it.

We each sat on the back of a Harley Davidson provided by Uluru Cycles. We then rode to Uluru, saw another sunrise and toured around the rock in the chill of early morning. A brilliant experience.

Despite this pic, I didn’t control the beast myself. But I watched a lot of CHiPs when I was a kid, so like to think I styled it out pretty well.

After that bike ride, it was time to hit the road again – this time even further south, to check out Sydney and Melbourne. More on that next time.