Photography Tips for Your Next Australian Outback Journey

Take home memories that will last a lifetime by creating photographs that truly capture the vast beauty of Australian landscapes and wildlife. Here, professional photographer Ewen Bell shares his top tips, for how to snap epic photos during your next handcrafted journey with Scenic. 
Late afternoon on the South-western corner of Uluru, the sun scrapes across the top of The Rock and filters down into the watering hole called Mutitjulu. You can feel the landscape breathing, as Butcher Birds keep watch on the grasslands while Thornbills snack amongst the acacia. There’s a calmness here and visitors come to capture stunning images of the various ‘moods’ of The Rock at different times during the day. 

You’re likely to be inspired by the incredible colours and will want to take photos during a Scenic handcrafted land journey of Australia’s Top End, preserving a very personal piece of this location. This is what I mean when I say “experience before exposures” – that feeling of being connected to a place and moment so deeply, that you are compelled to take out the camera. 

Making the most of your moments with the camera in hand is not as simple as planning a Scenic holiday. Your best photography happens when you’re relaxed and when you have time to take in the scenery before even thinking about the camera. A walk around Uluru, for example, allows you to see this iconic location from many different angles, some of which are photogenic, some that are not. Further, there are certain angles that the traditional Aboriginal land owners, the Anangu people, ask that you don’t photograph at all, out of respect for sacred customs. Photography is not about capturing everything – it’s about capturing how a place makes you feel. 
Cameras are like paint brushes, and they capture whatever you tell them but they do it with light instead of paint. 

The Storytelling of Photography 

Rock figs growing along the Kuniya Walk or intense yellow grevillea adorning the edge of trails become details that can later, as part of a photographic collection, re-immerse you into that destination. One of the great joys of the social media revolution is that we’ve embraced the habit of curating a collection of photos, instead of expecting to capture one perfect image to tell the whole story.  

Uluru at sunset is stunning to experience, plus you can rarely take a bad photo. Now add to that a few vignettes of the red sand, golden hues of wild grasses, puffy clouds across the desert or perhaps a flock of emu disappearing across a dune. A picture tells a thousand words, but with a handful of photos you can tell the entire story. 

Camera Equipment 

Many of us overthink the question of what type of camera we need to buy. There are no bad cameras anymore and even your phone can achieve wonders. My preference is for a wide-angle lens to shoot big landscapes, and a standard lens for almost everything else. If you own a DSLR, that means a focal length of 24mm or wider, plus 50mm for the standard field of view. For birds and wildlife, you often need a more specialised lens, because you can’t get as close to the subject as you might like. 

At Wilpena Pound in South Australia, the Euro Wallabies will come right up to you, so that 24mm wide angle wide lens work just fine. Out in the Flinders Ranges though you might want something much more powerful to reach the rare and endangered Yellow-footed Rock Wallaby. Adding a 100-400mm telephoto zoom to your camera bag will give you that extra reach. As a rule, the smaller the wildlife the bigger the lens you need to capture them. 

It’s All in the Lighting 

What do sea lions on Kangaroo Island and red kangaroos on the edge of Wilpena Pound have in common, is they don’t look their best when photographed under the noon-day sun. Midday is for lunch, not photography! The early and late hours offer the best light for shooting wildlife and landscapes alike.  

Cameras are like paint brushes, and they capture whatever you tell them but they do it with light instead of paint. Light is what gives character to photos. Portraits of people are best without direct sunlight. You can use a back light to keep the glare off their eyes as one option; or bring them into the shade of a veranda where a soft glow comes in from one side to create a gentle level of contrast. 

The angle of light is the key. Across the sun or just a little bit into it are my favourite ways to capture Outback landscapes and wildlife. When the sun is low, the mood is high and it comes through in the images. There’s only so much to be gained from buying a better camera or lens, but if you get up early and catch the first rays of daylight, you’re half way to capturing the spirit and character of Australia’s beautiful landscapes. 

Ewen Bell’s Top 5 Photography Tips 

  1. All cameras on the market, including phones, are of great quality – don't stress about ‘which camera’ to use 
  2. If shooting on a DSLR, choose a wide-angle lens for landscapes and a ‘standard’ lens for almost everything else 
  3. As a rule, the smaller the wildlife, the bigger the zoom lens in mm that you need to capture them 
  4. Early morning and late afternoon are best for shooting wildlife and landscapes – avoid the middle of the day 
  5. The angle of light is key: when the sun is low, it creates great light and mood.  
Photography is not about capturing everything – it’s about capturing how a place makes you feel. 
Find these experiences and more on a Scenic Australia handcrafted land journey