Photographing the Blue Mountains (Part one)
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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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 Colours. Yan is also an editor and regular contributor to the e-Magazine of 1x.com – the world’s largest curated online photography gallery. See more of his work at yanzhangphotography.com.