Are you ready for a dose of adventure photography inspo? Settle in, legend-behind-the-lens Katie Goldie is about to share a few hot tips for shooting her favourite places in the Northern Territory’s Top End.
The Top End’s well-kept secrets offer an abundance of fun and inspiration – it’s a photographer’s paradise! After spending a week in the Northern Territory, I think it’s a must-visit for those who love wildlife, wholesome characters, capturing-out-of-this-world landscapes, and life in tropical climates.
Given that winter’s settling in back home, it was a pleasant feeling to jump off the plane in Darwin and be greeted by a warm breeze on my face. I instantly smiled, assured it was going to be a great week.
1. Nailing An Iconic NT Sunset
Ubirr – Kakadu National Park
The Northern Territory’s sunsets were off the charts, with nearly every evening promising an insane colour spectacle. My initial worries about capturing dramatic shots during my time in the NT quickly dissolved when we arrived at Ubirr for sunset.
En-route to the lookout, we walked past many beautiful Aboriginal rock art paintings; the area’s rich cultural history was incredible to witness. Traditional Owners urge you to not film or take photos of the ancient art, prompting us to enjoy them with our eyes only! As we approached the sunset viewing spot I was reminded of the Lion King; a dramatic cliff edge towering over vast green swamp and grasslands.
When shooting, light is your best friend and how you work with it will determine the style of your shot. At Ubirr, the sun was setting into the desired frame and putting on the perfect show. I chose to have a subject (this time it was me) sitting in the foreground. This added scale and helped to create a personable experience for viewers of my shot.
The sun caught the light on my hair, giving it a dreamy, backlit look. My favourite sunset settings to use are: low aperture so the sun remains soft, a lower ISO, and high shutter speed.
2. Navigating Low Light Conditions
Moline Rockhole – Kakadu National Park
We set out in search of NT waterholes to shoot and explore! First up was Moline Rockhole, and after a bumpy road and short walk we were greeted by a sparkling oasis.
Composition wise, Moline is a photographer’s paradise – steep rock walls lead to a gentle waterfall. I was super excited to grab some shots and go for a dip! Due to changing light conditions, this location was a touch harder to shoot. We had a dark understory with large canyon walls contrasted by the bright light that lit up only half of the landscape.
If I set my exposure too low I would have a noisy and dark lower half of the image. Yet, when I set with my exposure higher, I would have overexposed the upper half of the canyon. I settled somewhere in the middle, allowing myself the opportunity to adjust levels later in Lightroom. Personally, I’m not too phased about overexposing where the sun is shining, sometimes I like the effect it gives, you can see this in the image I captured at Moline.
3. The Ultimate Lens For Capturing Wildlife
Yellow Water Billabong Cruise – Kakadu National Park
The Yellow Water Billabong Cruise blew my mind. We boarded a boat cruise for sunset and couldn’t have imagined the wildlife encounters we were about to experience. Hundreds of birds and heaps of crocs kept us jumping from one side of the boat to the next, attempting like mad to get the shot in the unreal golden light.
Wildlife can be difficult to capture due to animal movement, distance and your own movements. Having a capable lens helps increase the chances that you’ll capture the shot you’re after. My partner and I use a 100-400mm f4 for wildlife. It’s not the best lens, but it’s light and has a great range for when the right opportunity arises. If you want to get more serious about your wildlife photography, your kit will become heavier and more technical.
4. When To Use A Polariser
Edith Falls – Nitmiluk National Park
We headed to Nitmiluk National Park the next morning. After a short climb, we reached another stunning waterhole, surrounded by bold rock faces.
It’s tough to shoot locations in the midday sun, but when possible I find a way to make my shots really interesting by shooting into the sun and capturing a unique sun flare. I used a polariser to assist capturing the richness of the rock and cutting out the glare on the water.
Read More: A Complete Guide To The Top End
5. Tips For Those Planning To Take The Plunge
Bitter Springs – Mataranka
One of my favourite locations of the trip was Bitter Springs. The warmth of the hot springs, combined with the immense clarity of the pristine stream system, made my images flawless. I highly recommend going to this spot to photograph, or to simply enjoy! Bring your underwater housing to really explore the unique underwater world.
The underwater housing I use is a Nimar Underwater Dive Housing. I wanted a housing that I could trust to take to great depths, this one was the most affordable and seemed very safe according to my research. Before taking the plunge, I always triple check my seals and camera settings. Once in the water, I do a dunk test first to check for bubbles or to see if the red warning light flashes indicating water leakage.
6. The Lens King For Landscapes
Nitmiluk Gorge – Nitmiluk National Park
Nitmiluk (Katherine) Gorge was another epic spot for photography in the NT. We soaked in another awesome sunset from Baruwei Lookout overlooking the stunning Katherine River.
I use a 16-35mm lens when shooting landscapes. Usually, I visit large and dramatic landscapes that require a wide lens to capture as much beauty and detail as possible.
Go Canoeing: Nitmiluk Tours – Canoe Hire
7. The Soft Waterfall Or The Crisp Waterfall?
Florence Falls – Litchfield National Park
Florence Falls is a picturesque spot with two twin cascading waterfalls. My tip for this place would be to go at sunset or sunrise, you’ll avoid the crowds and be able to bask in the golden light!
You can shoot waterfalls one of two ways: set a longer shutter speed to make the waterfall appear soft and full. Or, set a faster shutter speed to give it a crisp and sharp look. This time, I shot with a fast shutter because I didn’t have a tripod or a set of Neutral Density filters on hand (to help manage the light with a longer exposure). I like shooting waterfalls both ways!
8. Achieving Portrait Perfection!
Top Didj Cultural Experience – Katherine
Katherine’s Top Didj Experience was one of my highlights. We met Manuel, an inspiring Aboriginal man from Dalabon country, who enlightened us by talking through traditional ways of life that he learned growing up, and continues to practice today.
I like to keep things really relaxed and natural when capturing portraits or lifestyle shots. Getting to know your subject, being able to joke and have a laugh helps to keep things relaxed. In return, you have fun and the images are more natural. Usually, I set a low F-stop (wider aperture) with a low ISO and a normal to high shutter for portraits. I like achieving a really sharp image when you’re up close and personal! For my image of Manuel, I focused on him while blurring his instrument, to add depth to the image.
9. Composing Your Frame
Wangi Falls – Litchfield National Park
Out of so many amazing spots, Wangi Falls is my final pick of choice to visit for photography. During the wet season the waterfall can really pump, and if you like wildlife photography there are beautiful Rainbow Bee Eater birds flying in and out of the landscape.
For the most part, I like keeping the composition of my photos simple, by either incorporating a leading line or a three-part breakup to my images. For my image of Wangi Falls, I wanted to include the reflection as much as possible so I ditched my polariser. I kept it simple, trying to highlight the red glow from sun setting and emphasise the calmness of the water.
Words and photos by Katie Goldie