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Behind the image: 'Blood Brothers'

DSC_8875 - web.jpg

This image shows one of the most intensely red sunrises I’ve witnessed, which was captured at the iconic Cathedral Rocks in Kiama, NSW. This is a location I’ve visited many times, which was an important place for my development as a photographer. It showed me how to adapt to quickly changing conditions, and also how to delicately balance perspective and objects within a frame to achieve a well-balanced composition, as a difference of a few feet at this location can throw your whole image off. Although it’s been quite a while since I last visited this Australian seascape icon, I have many fond memories of chasing light there.


This morning in particular was most likely my most memorable. Forecasts the night before showed a good-looking coverage of high cloud and minimal mid to low clouds, which is a recipe for burning colour. The winter sun position also meant that the most intense colour would be positioned right in between these two rock monoliths, rather than off to the side in the summer months. I made the early rise to make the 80-minute drive from Sydney, allowing for about 40 minutes of time before the sun rose.


This, however, would prove to be cutting it extremely fine. About halfway through the drive on my way down Mt Ousley, roughly 45 minutes out from Cathedral Rocks, I could already see the first touches of red soaking into the clouds. It was by far the earliest burn I had witnessed. While high cloud colour by standard appears 15-30 minutes before the sun breaches the horizon, this particular morning showed the beginnings of colour well over an hour beforehand. With hands gripping the steering wheel a little tighter, I continued down towards Kiama with consistent darting glances towards the sky.


By the time I was 15 minutes away, the colour was intense enough to make a solid photograph. Once I had parked, I grabbed my camera gear from the back of the car and sprinted the fastest I ever have through the shrubbery and over the sand to the rocks.


Time was not the only challenge I faced – since I was shooting on a Saturday with a typical forecast for a good sunrise, I was met by another 8 or more photographers upon turning the corner to arrive at the rocks, meaning finding a composition quickly would be even harder to do. Thankfully, as I sprinted over, the two rocks that you see in the foreground caught my eye, and I fumbled with my tripod and camera to set up as quickly as possible, battling with another photographer’s tripod legs at the same time as the colour began to properly go off right in front of me.


As if part of some miracle, I managed to finalise my composition and get in a couple of focus stacks and exposure blends. I did miss some later stages of colour that happened, as my volatile low position was compromised by a wave that splashed off the rocks and soaked my camera and lens. The gear ended up being fine (the Nikon D750 can handle its own when it comes to water!), and despite the frantic rush of the morning, I ended up with an image I’m quite happy with.



Technical information

Foreground (4-image focus stack):

Focal length – 16mm

Aperture – f/6.3

Shutter speed – 2 seconds

ISO – 250


Sky exposure blend:

Focal length – 16mm

Aperture – f/6.3

Shutter speed – 1/2

ISO – 250

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