The Mists of Lady Bowen

Early morning. Milford Sound, New Zealand. Tide’s out. We’re standing way out on the rocks. We have to move fast, because the tide is about to start coming in and it doesn’t mess around. It’s not violent or anything, but if you’re like me, you’d just rather not swim back into shore with your gear.


It’s tricky being in a stunningly gorgeous AND iconic place for the first time. You want to hold your breath in wonder, soak it all in for awhile. But you have to maximize the minutes you have out there, try to snag  photos that’ll give you chills when you get home and not shriek “Do over!!” when you’re 6000 miles away.
It helps to scout before you go … and to look at photos others have taken. You can get a pretty good idea about how you’d photograph a place that way. Heck, you can educate yourself on composition while you’re at it. Rather than look at someone’s photo and saying “I don’t like that, what terrible lighting!” or “you call THAT processing??”… be clinical about it. If you don’t like the photo, figure out why. If it’s because it was at high noon and the light was flat – then plan your shutter moment for earlier or later in the day. If it’s because the photo is zoomed in too close, plan to use a wider lens on yours. Or maybe the person used too wide of a lens (or stood back too far) and their shot lacks focus. See if you can find several more intimate compositions in that same frame that would be  1. more interesting to you and 2.  tell the story of the place better. Imagine where you might like to stand to get those shots. That’s good planning! You can find photos of a place you’re planning to by searching Google images, Flickr – or by using an iPad app like Stuck on Earth. Of course, you can’t know exactly what the conditions will be at a place like Milford Sound; some places are definitely more weather-predictable than others. The point is, wherever you venture, you’re likely to have a higher success rate by loosely planning your shots ahead of time and bringing the right lenses and plan so you can nail it the first time!

As for this photo… this is Lady Bowen Falls. It’s one of only two year-round waterfalls at Milford Sound… after rains, there are hundreds! This lovely one was named for Diamantina Bowen (such an awesome name!), wife of George Bowen, the fifth Governor of New Zealand. I love learning tidbits like that. I had already captured what I call my “big” shots… those wide open photos of the entire sound (technically, it’s a fiord) with their impressive mountains. I was finishing up by capturing segments of the scene that I found interesting. I knew what to look for – and how to shoot with my own twist on it – because I’d already looked at tons of photos of this place and knew both what I did – and didn’t – want to come home with.

Oh yeah… and if you visit Milford Sound… bring bug spray! Those sandflies are nasty little buggars!