Zen and the Art of Squishing Sandflies

Zen and the Art of Squishing Sandflies

Gillespies Beach, New Zealand, March 22nd, 2015

Behind the Scenes of this Photo


Taken in Gillespies Beach, New Zealand, March 22nd, 2015

I can find no peace as deep as that which comes from marveling at the beauty of our planet, feeling the last rays of the day on my face, breathing in the fresh salt air of the sea, and crushing hundreds of sandflies into a slimy pulp.

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X Marks the Spot

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Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Lake Matheson in the Fox Glacier township on the South Island of New Zealand on March 24th, 2015

Lake Matheson is an iconic New Zealand photo location, and from the main view point on Reflection Island surely millions of beautiful photos have been created. When I find myself in a situation like that I often approach things from out of left field by thinking “what would Josh NOT do here?” If I’d normally grab my wide angle lens, instead I’ll reach for a telephoto. If I’d normally include the sky I’ll try keeping it out. With this approach I find my mind starts working in unexpected ways and seeing unexpected things. And before I know it I’m beginning to craft I photo I otherwise wouldn’t have taken.

This was the exact case this particular morning at Lake Matheson: there were beautiful clouds, the gargantuan, snow-covered forms of Mounts Tasman and Cook were clearly visible, and the lake itself was as still as pooled silver. My instincts were screaming to grab the wide angle classic shot, and of course I did. But then I started thinking about what other smaller scenes could create powerful photos. The symmetric lines of the Fox Glacier canyon had been catching my eye all morning, and as the sun cleared the mountains to the east it lit up one of the canyon’s richly forested walls. The spot-lighting created a vivid contrast against the darkness of the opposing wall and lent the scene a simple, graphical quality. With the two slanting canyon walls reflected in Matheson’s surface my eyes were drawn to the X they created and I knew I had found my “Left Field” shot.

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The Benefits of Hydration

lake-matheson-sunrise-new-zealand

Behind the scenes of this photo

Taken at Lake Matheson on the South Island of New Zealand on March 24th, 2015

Normally I’m not one for hot beverages. Sure, I love a good cup of hot cocoa while camping but as a general rule hot drinks just don’t do it for me. I straight up don’t like coffee, and tea, well, it’s never quite been my cup of tea. Except, oddly, for when I’m in New Zealand. I don’t know if it’s the fact that I’m usually in New Zealand when it’s cold, whether it’s some subconscious nostalgic thing, or whether the tea is just plain better there. But for whatever reason, when I’m New Zealand I drink tea like an addict. Wake up? Make a cup of tea. Go for a hike in the rain? Come back in and warm up with a cup of tea. Have a cup of really good tea? Well heck let’s celebrate that cup of tea with a nice cup of tea!

The other thing I like about tea is that it helps me relax. I find it a pleasant way to wind down the day, and downshift my brain from active mode to sleepy mode. And if you are anything like me, a person whose brain never shuts up for a single second, having that help in falling asleep can be a lifesaver. So I’ll drink a cup of tea to start the process, and another 43 cups after that just to make sure. I mean, I’ll take all the help I can get, otherwise I know I’ll just lay in bed for hours with my mind blazing away with to-do lists, ideas for new projects, and images of dancing cats.

And as much as I enjoy dancing cats I often curse my overactive brain because I really like to sleep. Like, a lot. And here’s the thing: I’m not at my best when I’m tired. Far from it, in fact. When my energy levels are low I get cranky, stubborn, and downright curmudgeonly. “Photography?!” I’ll say, “Bah! Give me a warm blanket and a soft mattress instead.” And it was with this mindset that I consumed my 25 gallons of tea and then headed for bed in the small township of Fox Glacier on the night of March 23rd, 2015. You see: I was beat, exhausted from jet leg, car lag, and leg lag. I needed rest, otherwise I knew I’d start saying and doing things I’d regret later, like feeding keas and yelling at German backpackers. So when I closed my eyes for the night I had already decided to sleep in in the morning.

But as midnight came and went and the wee hours of day crept closer I felt an unmistakable tickle down in my guts. I tried to ignore it, tried to fool myself into thinking I could go back to sleep. But as I lay in bed, fruitlessly shifting position and willing myself to drift back off to dreamland, the tickle grew into an undeniable physical presence. Self-inflicted physiological Chinese water torture. All that tea had come back to bite me in the ever-expanding outward swell of my bladder. Grrrrr, I had to pee.

Stumbling out of bed and into the bathroom I checked my watch and saw that it was 7:00am, just about 45 minutes before sunrise. “Ah, what the heck,” I concluded, “I’m already awake now, might’s’well see what the conditions are looking like outside.” So having satisfied nature’s call I grabbed my jacket and camera and stepped out into the pre-dawn glow, looking up to see a sky full of patchy cloud and rich with possibility.

At that moment all the clinging vestiges of sleep were wrung from my body like a wet rag, and I found myself in the car flying out of town, and a few minutes later skidding to a stop in the Lake Matheson parking lot. With sunrise ticking toward me like a luminous bomb I half power-walked, half jogged (at least, as well as I could jog with 20 pounds of camera equipment bouncing on my back like some personal version of the Beverly Hillbillies’ truck) the mile and a half to Reflection Island, Matheson’s most famous viewpoint.

I had just enough time to slap my camera on my tripod before the sun broke free of some entangling clouds to the east and cast its early morning light on the iconic scene in front of me. Lake Matheson was as calm as liquid glass, and Mt Cook and Mt Tasman played peekaboo through the clouds. As the sun rose higher in the sky its rays shone through the Fox Glacier canyon and I snapped four vertical photos to combine into this high-res panorama of the moment, all the while thanking my bladder and its timely wake up call.

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Ocean’s Breath

Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, Putai Blowhole, New Zealand

Taken at the Putai Blowhole, Punakaiki Pancake Rocks, New Zealand on April 18th, 2012

I really like pancakes. I also really like rocks. So when I found out there’s a natural phenomenon on the west coast of New Zealand’s South Island called The Pancake Rocks, I knew I was going to have to pay a visit. The pancake rocks are perched on a tiny coastal outcropping near the town of Punakaiki and do a lot to live up to their name. The rocks are made of a series of limestone “pancakes” that were originally laid down in a process called stylobedding, which is scientist speak for “we have no idea how this happened.” Over time the layers have been eroded away to form a rock garden of fantastically sculpted shapes. In some places the rocks have been eroded all the way down to sea level. So when the big swells at high tide come booming in, the water shoots out through the pancake rocks in a series of blowholes, the most spectacular of which is the Putai Blowhole. You have to be a bit careful while shooting the blowholes though, because as I learned, the wind and the fallout from these big blasts can fairly cover you and your gear with Ocean’s Breath.

Motukiekie Galaxies

Starfish and seastacks at sunrise, Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 23rd, 2012

With its shrub-capped seastacks, endless tidal pools, and unusual animals, Motukiekie Beach in New Zealand is an otherworldly landscape. In April 2012 I visited the beach at sunrise to find hundreds of 12-legged seastars clustered together in “starfish galaxies.” I used a minute-long exposure to transform the incoming waves into mist to underscore the surreal and alien feel of the place.

 

Morning Star

Starfish at sunrise, Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 23rd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool critters such as this 12-legged seastar. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

Wild West Coast

Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 22nd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool critters such as this 12-legged seastar. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

Seastar Sunset

Starfish and seastacks at sunset, Motukiekie Beach, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 22nd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool critters such as this 12-legged seastar. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

 

Times and Tides

Motukiekie Beach sunset, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Motukiekie Beach on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 22nd, 2012

I’ve never seen a beach quite as shootable as Motukiekie. It has every element I could possibly want to photograph in a seascape: exotic seastacks, glassily reflective sand, tidal pools, and an abundance of cool tidal critters. The only issue with shooting this beach is timing, as there is a huge tidal swing and the beach is essentially inaccessible at high tide. It took me a few visits before the tides and light cooperated, but in the end Motukiekie provided some of the best seascaping I’ve ever experienced.

Barking Mad

Seascape at Arnott Point, West Coast, South Island, New Zealand

Taken at Arnott Point on the West Coast of New Zealand’s South Island on April 15th, 2012

The seals and I, we have an uneasy truce. As long as I don’t go in the water, they won’t bite me. Seems like an easy arrangement to uphold, but just to reinforce it they bark at me and mock charge from time to time. But I bark right back and the peace is upheld. All the same, my adrenaline is pumping and I’m almost happy when the sunset fades and I can skedaddle from their turf.

We’ve caught the seals totally by surprise. Humans, here? On OUR beach? This is not a place that sees many bipedal visitors, unless you count the Fiordland crested penguins which roost here from July to December. Access is via a billy goat track which is so steep in places there are ropes rigged to help you get down. Plus you have to find the track in the first place, which we did thanks to a friendly local named Barry.

And if you manage to find the track and negotiate your way down the cliffs, once you get the beach you still have to contend with roaring surf, high tides, and a little scrambling. It’s no wonder the seals were surprised.