Photographing the Blue Mountains (Part one)

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Located in the west of the Greater Sydney region, the Blue Mountains is an iconic natural landscape in Australia. Over the years, it has attracted countless tourists, bush walkers, photographers and adventurers seeking to experience the rich and unique landscape features – giant precipitous rock walls, lush blue gum forests, falling waterfalls and clear creeks, narrow canyons and hidden caves.

From 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic severely restricted long-distance travel. Unexpectedly, this has provided me with the opportunity to thoroughly explore the area. In this article, I'll share my experiences as a photographer rediscovering the unique beauty of the Blue Mountains from a new perspective.

The Blue Mountains is big!

The Blue Mountains is bigger than most people think – the area of the Greater Blue Mountains National Park is 2,690 square kilometres. 

Map of the Greater Blue Mountains National Park. The entire mountain region can be divided into three sections. Many well-known locations in section I are easily accessed by public transport, while most places in sections II and III can only be accessed by private vehicles.

You can divide the park into three sections, although most people are only familiar with Section I – a small area of the entire mountain region. In this area you'll find many well-known scenery spots, such as the Three Sisters and Wentworth Falls in Katoomba.

On the other hand, Section II to the south and Section III to the north are relatively lesser visited. However, located in these areas are extraordinary rock formations, towering cliffs, outstanding cave systems and spectacular canyons, which we'll explore in next week's article.

Photographing the Blue Mountains

Since 2020, the Blue Mountains became one of the few places I could go without travel restrictions.

Through countless day hikes and overnight backpacking trips, I discovered a number of new, truly unique features hidden in this amazing place –  reaffirming my belief that the Blue Mountains is one of only a few mountain regions I know which can produce such great diversity in photography.

Gum Forests

Gum trees are the most common flora in the Blue Mountains; tall and elegant, they are an iconic subject in the mountains, and yet also quite difficult to photograph.

Weather plays a critical role in photographing forests. Usually, I recommend taking photographs during rain as it creates a good balance between brightness and shadow.

Also, fog usually cloaks the highlands when it rains, creating a mysterious atmosphere. You'll also need time and patience to explore the forest to find a good location. 

Blackheath. A telephoto lens can be very useful for taking forest images. Here, I used an 80-400mm lens to capture this misty forest during heavy rainfall. I 'localised' the gum tree bark with the misted forest in the backdrop.
During a bush walk, I discovered a vantage point off the trail near Blackheath, from where we can see these tall, elegant gum trees piling up on the hill. I returned to the same place on another rainy day and witnessed this beautiful scene.


Many waterfalls in the Blue Mountains are well known to the public, such as Wentworth Falls, Empress Falls and Sylvia Falls. All these waterfalls are located along the Valley of the Waters track – a popular walking trail for tourists and bush walkers.

But there are also many other waterfalls, equally beautiful, but lesser known to even local Blue Mountains residents. Some of these waterfalls are hidden deep in the forests and canyons, and probably have never been photographed before.

Hazel falls, Hazelbrook. Waiting for the right amount of rainfall is my pre-condition when taking photographs of waterfalls. To create this image, I waited several weeks until finally the waterfalls and creeks flowed vividly after a heavy rainfall period. This is a panorama image consisting of nearly 50 successive single shots and covers a 180-degree wide view. The image was a result of 9 portrait frames at 14mm wide focal length. For each frame, I took 9 shots again in order to avoid any out of focus in the frame as the foreground is very close to my camera – some parts as close as 40cm or less. With focus stacking and frame merging, the image was complete.

I spent a considerable amount of time searching the Blue Mountains for these hidden waterfalls. As luck would have it, I discovered a few.

Photographing waterfalls can be challenging. This is because most of the waterfalls are constantly changing throughout the year in terms of the amount of water flowing, which significantly changes the form of the waterfall. It's likely you'll need to wait a long time before a good opportunity to take a truly remarkable waterfall shot when flow and lighting conditions are just right.

Edith falls. A new technique has been used to photograph this waterfall. I wanted to create a very long exposure effect  to specifically capture the moving traces of water coming from the fall. To do so, I took a 6-minute time lapse, which consisted of 360 successive single frames. By stacking all these 360 frames together, these curve lines were created and formed a unique foreground.
Bridal Veil Falls is one of the biggest waterfalls in the Blue Mountains, located in Leura. From early February 2022, rainfalls have greatly increased in the Blue Mountains area, which changed the falls significantly. I visited on two successive days during the morning rain. The upper fall was hidden in the misty fog, while the lower fall was big enough to push water over the solid surface that used to be dry and had formed several beautiful small creeks. The whole scene was filled with a mysterious and serene atmosphere.
Walking on Terrace Falls Trail is a delightful experience. The narrow path is surrounded by lush forests and the overhanging rocks, colourful fungi and knobbly trees all add to the charm. One feature of terrace falls is the side rocky stacks, which provide an interesting viewpoint to illustrate the waterfalls’ depth of field.

Look out for part two next week. 

About the author: Yan Zhang is a Sydney based passionate landscape photographer and an outdoor and mountaineering enthusiast. Yan’s photographs have been published in professional photography, geographic and travel magazines such as Practical Photography, Popular Photography (Chinese), Landscape Photography Magazine, New Zealand Geographic and ColoursYan is also an editor and regular contributor to the e-Magazine of – the world’s largest curated online photography gallery. See more of his work at

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