Copeton Magic



This month I drove north to Lake Copeton. This is a man made lake near Inverell in the New England region.  A dam, completed in 1976,  was thrown across the Gwydir River to impound water to meet the needs of the towns and agricultural activity west out onto the northern plains of this state.  Cotton is the main consumer of this water. At bankful stage the Copeton Dam holds three times the water of Sydney Harbour. We stayed at Copeton Waters State Park and Recreational area located on the southern margins of the lake.

This trip was important to me for three reasons:

1. I was meeting up with folk from Port Macquarie with whom I have worked/presented workshops to and the like over the last 6-7 years.

2. The promise of friendship, fellowship was an enticing prospect as I was going to be working with Rob Smith who knows the area well, has a wonderful knowledge, rapport and empathy with the lake and its ecology. He is an expert on long exposures at night; light painting and use of ND filters to achieve log exposure effects. He would teach me     a good deal about these techniques.

3.The week would allow me to continue my transition from studio work that has been a major feature of my photographic practice over the last 30 years back to my initial love affair with landscape.



 The drive north along the New England Highway saw the landscape signal the impact of drought.  North through Singleton, Muswellbrook on to Tamworth was brown parched by the drought or poor winter rains. The last 100 km included a crossing of the Gwydir, which was a mere trickle. I was not surprised then when arriving at the Copeton State Park and Camping centre to discover the dam was only 20% full.

This circumstance was to inject fabulous opportunities for photography. The lake was dominated by the emerging tree, rock and sandy formations of the many bays and inlets that were now revealed once more as the water level receded.  The former drowned features now offered absorbing relationships between ridge, water and sky. Drowned trees with their skeletal shapes, bleached granite tors glowed in the light, reflections of ridge and cloudscapes turned the dark surface of the lake into a mirrored pattern of disorientation and mystery.


Our days were long. Out at pre-dawn to a selected site and then back to base for breakfast, a snooze and then preparations for the afternoon and evening workout. There were about eight in the group and we each went our separate ways so as to avoid shooting in each other’s tripod holes. Rob mentored each of us on using his special skills and experiences as well as local knowledge. We did have visits from people in Inverell who came to chat and check our progress.

Moving from one shooting site to another  over the 4-5 days we disturbed feral goats, emu, pigs and kangaroo. The bird life too was impressive in sky, on land and on water.

Some folk used the middle of the day to go fishing. I have to say as fishermen, they were clearly great photographers. One insisted on wearing pink, magenta and or purple trousers that seem to hover between waist and knees. He wore this outfit whilst fishing and wondered why he did not get a bite. The fish would take one look at who was on the other end of the line and dive deep. A redeeming feature of purple pants was his capacity to make a curious concoction from vodka, rum and sundry left overs. In the middle of a chilly night it worked a treat although made focussing difficult!!!!

I enjoyed the evening shoots where we worked from the golden hour well into the night when stars dominated the sky ever so clear and vibrant. In fact, so clear the nightlight, so dark the waters that I saw star reflections on the surface of the water for the first time.  Fascinating. Astrophotography became the main game, late at night when the Milky Way, covered in  part by scudding cloud or accompanied by lightning, would offer sublime majesty.  Not content with simply photographing the Milky Way Rob led us on a light painting attack on distant ridges, trees and rock outcrops. It was a delight to watch someone who can blend prodigious skills, with patience and generosity of idea and process. We all learned a good deal about the art of light painting and its inclusion within long exposures of the night sky. This was a totally new experience for me as a large format monochrome landscape pictorialist – cum – lapsed studio operative.


The main photographic goals were technique oriented and individually and as a group  we worked on:

  •  Use of ND filters in daylight and night light settings
  • Long exposure techniques
  • Light painting including multi coloured gels
  • Multiple exposures
  • Tripod motion
  • Time lapse with stacking
  • Shutter manipulations
  • Night sky imagery
  • Star trails

As one might expect a wide variety of results were harvested over the week. Some successes, some failures and some do better, next time.

Samples here are just some of the images created. I have much still to learn of these approaches to pictorial landscape work using the 14-24mm Nikkor lens and heavy ND filtration.



I believe we are going back to Copeton in the “dark” of March 2016.  I look forward to it for the fellowship and shared fun of image discovery. The latter was enhanced by a couple of sessions late evening of show and tell where images made were displayed via digital projector for folk to study, comment upon or resolve issues they had confronted during the day.

I enjoyed the experience. Rob, Timo and Terry were great companions and Mike and Denise too came along  a little later in the week and helped enrich the festivities. Mike is from Scotland and wanted more mist. Rob wanted birds so he could try out his new sighting system for use with telephoto lens. Timo wanted fish and this was never going to happen whilst wearing his pink trousers.  Terry was happy exploring the early and late light of the golden hour. Mike and Denise wanted night studies of rocks and trees. Des wanted peace and practice. We all achieved our goals.


In coming weeks and months I intend heading off to other locations for night photography, figure in landscape either painted or projected as well as mastering the art and science of night photography via the light of the moon.