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Yesterday I finished a major project. It was the third of the photobooks I have created from our trip earlier this year to Iceland, the Baltic, and Norway. I’m very proud of it, as our photos from Norway in particular are beautiful. It would almost be impossible to visit Norway and come away without beautiful photos. Some of my favourite photographs were taken out the front of the car as we were driving, and some required a bit more thought or design; here are just a few.

Fjaerlandfjord, with boats in the foreground and snow on the mountains

Fjaerlandfjord, from our beautiful hotel, is the cover of our Norway photobook

A bookshelf on Fjaerlandfjord, with Boyabreen glacier behind

Mundal, on Fjaerlandfjord, is an international book town

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route, surrounded in snow

The Geiranger-Trollstigen national scenic tourist route

Fb reminded me that this time last year I had already booked our flights and the Baltic cruise, and I was right in the middle of researching and planning our travel. I realised last night that, on and off, I’d spent a year planning and organising our trip, being on the trip, or completing photobooks after the trip. Of course, those aren’t the only things I have been doing, but I do feel that now I have some real space to think about other things. It’s time to move onto other long-neglected projects, and you know, that’s quite an exciting thought.

 

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My major project at the moment is sorting through hundreds of photographs from our trip. Both my husband and I had cameras – his a compact but with an enviable 40x zoom lens, and mine a mirrorless with interchangeable lenses – and we snapped away merrily at anything that took our interest.

There’s a point of view, often expressed scathingly, that those of us who like to take photographs (I’m focused on travel photography, rather than events or family gatherings) become observers, rather than staying in the moment, really experiencing what is around us. I heard this opinion again recently on the radio here, and then saw another article about it, and I have to confess that I’m getting a bit sick of the holier-than-thou attitudes of those who profess it. They seem to assume that photographers just want bragging photos they can put up on Instagram or Facebook and that by looking through a lens, we’re not actually looking with our eyes. As with anything, there are always extremes, and I like to walk the middle road.

I take photographs, but either before I take shots or after or both, I drink in the experiences. We spend a lot of money on our travels, and I am determined to embrace them – the sights, sounds, food, and feelings – to the limit. As I am a writer, I like to fully experience something so that I can describe it later. For every photograph of a fjord in Norway or a grand building in St Petersburg or every volcanic cone or lava field in Iceland there were dozens taken in my mind or written about in my head, and believe me, they take much more concentration and awareness of where I am and what is happening around me.

When I take photographs, I try to capture what had me gasping in awe, or laughing in amusement, or reeling in horror, in those photos. Whilst I’m an opportunistic photographer – I take what is in front of me (or within easy walk!), rather than carefully planning and composing shots – I also try to think about what I’m taking, and why I am taking it. I’m not good at taking photographs of people, as I feel rude and voyeuristic, though I adore looking at others’ shots of interesting people or people in interesting places. I wish I was braver!

I find thinking about composition or zooming in gives me an added appreciation of the view or events in front of me. Zooming, in particular, allows me to capture small nuances that might otherwise be missed. For example, I’ve learned a new appreciation and love of birds since I’ve had a camera that could capture them in detail. And sometimes there might be an unexpected bonus when we look at our zoomed-in image.

For example, here’s a long shot of a farmhouse dwarfed under a rock face, and then the close-up when we were able to find an off-road park.

But I was truly delighted when we got home to discover that this shot included a lot of old turf buildings outside the main farmhouse.

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The unexpected turf buildings

Blown up they’re grainy, but even when I look at the long shot, I now know they’re there, and it tells me so much more about Iceland and farming life and living there in the past.

I don’t take photographs just for Instagram. In fact, until we left on this trip I didn’t even have an Instagram account, and I probably posted more photos (maybe one or two every couple of days) on Facebook for family and friends who were interested. Equally, because I adore travel, I also adore seeing other people’s photographs too.

I don’t take selfies for a lot of reasons. But when they’re too frequent – they always seem to be more about the person (“look at me, look at me, look at me,” as Kath would say) than the place or events occurring where they are. Though my father always said that he liked to see a photograph with a person in it, so we always take a few shots with one of us in it or both, and likewise, when family or a friend is travelling, I love seeing their faces pop up in exotic places. Most recently I’ve loved seeing friends’ faces in Istanbul and Macchu Picchu and Scotland.

Unlike a lot of people, I actually do things with my photographs when I get home, and love looking back at favourite trips in our photobooks (and albums in the pre-digital days), or with the photos hung on my wall or the ones that flick up in my screensaver (which is one of the best ways to regularly see your favourite photos). I have a good memory for people and places – but seeing the photos keep the memories alive. And besides, it means we’re getting better value for money for those flights and accommodation every time I look at a photo and smile.

It’s not a case of “pics or it didn’t happen.” Many of the most memorable occasions on our trip could not be captured in a photograph. Driving across the vast sand and ash plains of southern Iceland, desperate to beat the predicted high winds that could sandblast our rental car (and empty our bank accounts), was a bit scary but quite exhilarating. Likewise, it was wonderful driving through the huge lava fields of southern Iceland, enjoying the textures and play of light of the lichen and moss growing on the lava, imagining what it must have been like as the lava flowed. The three or more hours we spent sailing through an archipelago of islands when leaving Sweden gave us a wonderful snippet of rural and weekend Swedish life. Standing out on the deck of our ship as it spun on a pinpoint in the river in St Petersburg, pushed and pulled at the same time by tugs, was a special treat few would ever get to experience. Photographs couldn’t really capture these experiences (although I tried), and yet these were such special parts of our trip.

My name is Mali, and I unashamedly like taking photographs. Doing so helps me stay in the moment.

 

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As you may have realised, the photography challenges I leapt into at the beginning of the year have disappeared. A brief period of illness, then travel, then rain, and then travel planning all meant that I just didn’t have the time or the inclination to get out and take photographs. I hope to try it again, or maybe pick it up after our trip. Of course, when we’re away I’m going to be taking pics madly (and perhaps sharing some with you via a new Instagram account – look for TravellingMali), although I had hoped to have had more practice before I left, but isn’t that always the way?

I’ve joined a couple of social media groups – one for the challenges I was doing, and one for my particular camera – and have been learning a lot from them (eg. how little I know), and I’ve also been reading various websites to learn more, so I don’t feel like a complete failure!

It’s possible I might get to see the Northern Lights when I’m in Iceland – though with the nights getting lighter when we’re there, I am by no means counting on it – and I’d dearly love to be able to show you all a photograph of the lights … or a puffin. Ironically, the Southern Lights were visible from Wellington last Sunday, but I didn’t know about it until the next day. Typical, isn’t it, that I plan to cross the world to see the phenomenon, and all I needed to do last week was cross the city!

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Today is the final day of the Nature Photo challenge. I had hoped to include the major regions of the world that I’ve visited, but doubled up on Europe and omitted North America. That simply reflects the amount of time I’ve spent in Europe, and the number of eligible photos I have. So today, I decided to come home. Right back to my roots, in fact.

The photo below is of the beach paddock on the farm where I grew up. This paddock was right on the coast. Just a stony beach stands between it and the Pacific Ocean. Our house was about half a mile inland, where we could still see and, when the wind was easterly and the breakers large, hear the sea.

I took the photograph just a few years ago when I took my mother for a nostalgic trip back to the farm and the district where she spent most of her life. It looks exactly as it did 40 years ago.

Green paddock filled with sheep, with Hunter Hills in the background.

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This time in 2009, we were on our first visit to Africa. I fell in love, and – supplanting those relaxing tropical beaches – invigorating but restorative African safaris became my favourite thing to do. I loved the bush – it’s not lush and beautiful like the New Zealand bush, but I adored the wide spaces, the huge thorns, the stark leadwood trees, and of course, the animals. I have posted many photos from our visits to South Africa, but here is one you haven’t seen before. I took this exactly seven years ago today.

Impala looking back at us

 

 

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There are different types of trips. Some are holidays, some are family visits, and some are tours. As much as I love visiting friends and family overseas, seeing local life and imagining, just for a moment, what it would be like to live there, it isn’t really a holiday. Tours are exciting, but often frenetic, moving on every few days, seeing new and fascinating sights, learning more about the world and ourselves. But they rarely give you time to truly relax. So for many years, we’ve interspersed such trips with a true holiday, lying on a tropical beach or beside a pool, where beer o’clock begins about 11 am, and where the most stressful issue is deciding which massage package to choose or what to have for dinner.

I’ve written already, briefly, about one of our favourite holidays here.

 

dinghy on the beach and a bottle of bollinger,

A perfect combination of a tropical island beach, and a wonderful product of nature (see Day 4).

 

 

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Wine is a wonderful combination of nature and skill. In certain regions of New Zealand, the landscape has changed over the last 40 years from grazing (sheep farming) to hectare after hectare of vines. But in parts of Europe, they have been there for centuries. Here we have a view of the home of prosecco, an area kissed by nature in northern Italy.

Rolling hills coated in vines, Prosecco country, Veneto, Italy

 

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