Getting the picture on Flinders Island

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Taking photos in Tasmania

Remote Flinders Island, a little dot off the coast of Tasmania, is a great place for a weekend of photography. Rugged coastline, deserted beaches, lichened rocks and dramatic mountains make it a photographer’s paradise.

It also boasts some interesting weather. Wild winds (the island sits in the Roaring Forties), showers and sunny spells – chances are the island will throw them all at you in a day. But the ever-changing light creates amazing opportunities.

I used to be a happy snapper but now I mostly rely on my smart phone. With some big trips coming up, I want to improve my photography. I borrow a lightweight and fairly easy-to-use compact mirrorless camera for the weekend and head off in an enthusiastic group to Flinders Island under the guidance of photographer Ric Wallis.

Leaving from Essendon Airport is fun – no long queues through security, just a quick walk across the tarmac to an eight-seater light aircraft.

Troubled past

Flinders Island is about 75 kilometres by 40 kilometres, connected to the world by a few flights and a couple of ferry services from Tasmania. Part of Bass Strait’s Furneaux group, the island has had a troubled history.

It was settled about 40,000 years ago by Aborigines and later abandoned. In the late 18th century it became home to sealers and Aboriginal women kidnapped from the mainland.

An ill-fated attempt to save Tasmanian Aborigines in the 19th century by moving them to Wybalenna on Flinders ended with 150 of the 200 dying. Today about 800 people live on the island, about 16 per cent of them Tasmanian Aborigines.

We land at the airport north of Whitemark, the main town, then head to Mountain Seas Retreat, bordering the beautiful Strzelecki National Park.

Take the weather

The photographer has a tough task ahead as bad weather strikes. The Flinders Island forecast is abysmal – day one rain, day two more rain and day three rain clearing to showers.

Wallis loves the island: “Flinders Island has a whole lot of fantastic landscapes packed into one small area.”

Good composition is essential for a memorable photograph, says Wallis. He uses strong graphic forms to draw viewers into an image – think upside-down triangles, circles, strong diagonals or lazy S shapes. We have a session on how to enhance our photos using software such as Capture One and Photoshop – and no, it’s not cheating, he says.

One of the surprises of the island is the multi-coloured, lichen-covered rocks along the sea shore. Azure waters lapping pristine white beaches, with towering mountains in the background, make for great photos.

We spend a few hours on Trousers Point, setting up our tripods and learning how to best frame our shots.

Taking photos in Tasmania in the rain

Rain check

Later that night we head to Fotheringate Beach to capture Mount Strzelecki at sunset. Unfortunately it’s raining so we learn about the “plastic bag technique” – basically how to set up the camera, frame the shot, wipe the lens clear of rain and protect the camera with a plastic bag.

Conditions are difficult but as the sun sets on the ocean it throws up some moody skies.

Next morning is a tough one – a sunrise session with, guess what, more rain. Wallis believes that getting out of bed no matter the weather and making that extra effort is what distinguishes a good photographer from a bad one.

We find a spot on Yellow Beach near Lady Barron, a little hamlet on the east of the island. Togged out in rain gear makes setting up hard work. It’s here I find my Zen moment – finding my preferred frame then stepping back and watching as the light shifts from pre-dawn to a sky in constant flux.

Wild rewards

While the rain is a pain for photography, the locals are thrilled as this is their first break after seven months of drought. Everywhere the kangaroos and pademelons (rufous wallabies) are scrabbling for food. We also see a blonde wombat, another interesting local, on our travels.

On Sunday we have lovely weather for our grand tour of the island, capturing all the iconic sights. We visit Walkers Lookout for a panoramic view, enjoy lunch at a sunny Allports Beach and afterwards stroll along Lillies Beach. We finish at Mount Tanner and climb up the rock.

The secrets to good photography are: roll out of bed to beat the rising sun, keep shooting whatever the weather, and climb the highest rock for the best view.   

Story: Mary O’Brien
The writer was a guest of, Yarra Valley Aviation and Mountain Seas.

Taking photos in Tasmania


RACV members travelling via Hobart can save 25% on accommodation at the RACV/RACT Hobart Apartment Hotel, and 15% on Thrifty car hire. Save 25% on accommodation at Freycinet Lodge on the way to the Flinders Island ferry at Bridport.

IN THE FRAME: Tips from RoyalAuto photographers

Light fantastic: Photography is all about light. You must fall in love with light, watch it, learn it and know when it changes.

The golden dusk, a storm cloud that diffuses and softens light. If you can capture beautiful light you are 90 per cent there.

The moment: We can set up a portrait, but we still have to capture that split second when the subject drops their guard and we see who they really are. Wait for this.

- Meredith O’Shea

Near sighted: It’s tempting to think that you have to photograph far-off and exotic places and people, but the most moving images are the ones that only you can take, because you know the people best.

Level best: Try to be around eye height to your subject. If they’re children, get down with them. It gives the viewer the sense that they’re on the same emotional level and can relate much better.

- Shannon Morris

Go low: To give an otherwise everyday shot a different look, choose a low angle. The difference can be dramatic and give your image a totally new perspective.

Send in the clouds: ‘Dull’ days bring out colours better and you don’t have to contend with deep shadows and dappled light.

People factor: Be it the Himalayas, the Simpson Desert or Borneo’s rainforest, people in the image bring out the scale and grandeur of a landscape.

- Don Fuchs

Use your eyes: Forget the technical aspects of your camera or phone. It is only the vehicle for capturing what the eye sees. Once you feel like you’re seeing the world, not just looking at it, you can concentrate more on the technicalities.

Trigger happy: Don’t think, shoot. This is especially true with people and moving objects. A moment will never come back.

- Thomas Wielicki

Written by Mary O’Brien
February 20, 2017