Following on from our interview with Graham Hudson, we thought we should catch up with his Online Sales & Support team-mate, Lily Wan.
Graham and Lily work tirelessly to run the hectic online side of the business, keeping customer enquiries, stock, orders and shipping running smoothly. And that’s no mean feat.
Lily joined Wilkinson Cameras just over a year ago, initially visiting stores (both at Preston and Liverpool stores) to gain first hand experience of the business. Previously working in a range of retail and hospitality businesses, Lily had also taken some time out to care for a family member.
Lily told us: ‘I really wanted to get back into retail and in particular an online retail role.’
‘After working for brands including Next and Asda, photography was a new sector for me, but I’ve always had a keen interest in taking pictures on my travels, so it was an exciting opportunity.
‘In terms of my own photography, I’d say I’m still a beginner, but in this job I get to learn about a vast range of equipment and accessories – including all the latest product launches and new cameras. So in a short space of time, I’ve gained lots of product knowledge, helping me to help our customers.
‘As Graham mentioned, times have certainly been interesting! I’ve experienced the retail madness that is ‘Black Friday’, the festive challenges of Christmas and the Boxing Day/New Year sales, and then of course the one that no one could have predicted…the Covid Pandemic.
‘Our single biggest challenge was when the stores had to close – and at the same time we saw a huge increase in photography related enquiries and sales. But as a team, Graham and I work really well together. Graham’s store background and extensive product knowledge, together with my experience of the IT & sales systems here, mean that we’ve managed to keep the wheels turning really well!
‘It took a lot of juggling of stock from stores to HQ – and currently back again now stores have reopened!
‘We also manage pretty much all communication with customers – by phone, via email, messenger or web chat – so days can certainly be hectic. One of the really nice things though, is that especially during the lockdown period, we’ve seen so many new photographers getting in touch – even taking up photography as a brand new hobby, which is great to see.
‘Now (at time of writing!) that schools are back and more people are back to work, things are ‘slightly’ getting back to normal – but we’re still seeing high levels of enquiries and sales.
‘We’ve also see a few unique and interesting trends – for example a resurgence in film sales!
‘One of the nicest things is all of the positive reviews from customers – it’s really good to know people appreciate your advice and are happy with our products and service.
‘Also, I’m a family type person and with Wilkinson being an independent business, we do treat each other as family – which I really like.’
Lily’s Own Photography
‘Personally, I shoot a lot on my iPhone, plus, I also have an Olympus PEN and an older Canon 550D DLSLR.
‘I really love that photography freezes a moment in time that we can keep forever. After a hectic week I love to go out walking and most of my pictures are of the surrounding landscape.
‘One of my other favourite subjects, who is a bit of a star on my Instagram feed is Gizmo, our rabbit! We’ve had him just over 6 years, he lives inside with us, but has full roam of the house and garden and he’ll be waiting for dinner when I get home today!’
‘For me, photography is a hobby, alongside other things such as travel, walking, etc. I don’t want to miss the experience by always looking through a lens. Equally I love to look back on those pictures of moments in time – so it’s a balance.
‘I’d really love to visit Iceland, to explore the amazing landscape there and of course experience the northern lights.
‘Kit wise I can’t deny (being surrounded by all this amazing photography gear!!) that I’m not tempted on an upgrade. My wish-list would include a Sony A7C as it’s full frame but still compact – or a Fuji X-T4. A great camera but also super stylish looking too!
‘I’m definitely a digital girl – I won’t be following the trend back to film just yet. But never say never – we’ve had some of the most beautiful vintage cameras in our office!’
To see more of her photographs, check out Lily’s Instagram account @Tiger_Lilstar
Meet other members of the Wilki Team and keep checking back as we plan to introduce many more team members in the future too!
Ben Cianchi had always said that if the first two sections of The Great Australian Triathlon expedition went without much complication, the rest of the journey would be plain sailing. Dan Lamb came over from the UK to join Ben for the third and final leg of the expedition. They planned to cycle some 7000 km following the Great Dividing Range of mainland Australia, from its most southern point, Wilson’s Promontory in the state of Victoria, to its most northern point, Cape York in tropical Queensland.
Missed the first parts in the series? Catch up now:
Confidence was high as both cyclists had previously completed long cycle tours; Ben had ridden from London to Istanbul on one occasion, while Dan had ridden from the Italian Dolomites, across the Alps and back to the UK on another. Nothing could stop them, all they had to do was show up and ride each day, and the world first title was Ben’s. However, no amount of confidence, ability, or surprisingly excellent organisation could have foretold what we would have to overcome.
The plan was to follow the Bicentennial National Trail (BNT), the world’s longest unbroken multi-use trail. It was not the most direct route, nor the fastest, but it did offer a much more interesting and engaging journey through some of the most beautiful landscapes Australia has to offer. However, before they could reach the promised lands, Ben and Dan had to tackle some of the most difficult and demanding cycling of their lives. They were challenged with riding up and over innumerable mountains, covering thousands of metres of elevation. The descents were often just as brutal, which meant their progress was frequently reduced to a crawl.
The guys expected to cover anything from 80 to 120 km per day, which meant I’d need a car to keep up while filming. So, while the guys cycled north, I headed west to Melbourne to buy one. I spent a stressful week sorting out paperwork for the car while stuck in a tiny hostel room watching Ben’s tracker move further and further away. I did get a chance to check out Australia’s largest free music festival, and meet a fox while out photographing the city one night. I was also incredibly lucky to be sharing the hostel room with some lovely people, one of which ended up joining the expedition for a while as my driver and ‘stunt-coordinator’ (his words). Once I was eventually underway again, the filming was not dissimilar to the running section, only everything was much faster!
The First Test
I am sure you all know that the fires in Australia this season have been some of the most widespread and catastrophic the country has seen in many years. For the several months preceding the start of The Great Australian Triathlon, Ben and I were not sure whether it would be able to go ahead. Even when we were in Tasmania, the fires were still raging on the mainland, it was all we could do to remain focussed on the task in hand and hope they would quickly die down.
As luck would have it, the fires did indeed dissipate during the kayaking section of the expedition and we were able to continue the journey. The fire damaged trails of the BNT however were closed; they were too dangerous to pass through, not because of the physical risk of fire, but due to the potential for falling trees, destroyed infrastructure and an uncertainty of the water supplies. This was a hard pill to swallow. It was hard not to feel disappointed, the dream of epic off-road cycling through regions of unparalleled beauty had all but gone up in smoke. It had been replaced by endless kilometres of tarmac and gravel roads trapesing across farmland, through pine plantations and far too many towns. Several weeks into the ride, we passed through the Snowy Valleys region of New South Wales, at which point our perspectives on our situation began to change.
A Fresh Perspective
When you see news stories of bushfires on the television, you see statements like ‘The Green Valley fire is now 233,000 hectares in size, and is moving to Mundaroo, Tumbarumba and Mannus’, you can appreciate that it is bad, but it’s impossible to grasp the scale of what is actually happening. It wasn’t until we passed through Tumbarumba that the reality began to dawn on us. I spoke with many of the locals and heard stories of apiculturists (bee keepers) loosing hundreds of hives and 50% of their business, farmers narrowly avoiding losing everything, and families being split by the path of the fire. We listened to the experiences of firefighters on the front line and sadly too many stories of homes being completely destroyed. Our journey took us through much of the burnt and destroyed landscape, the blackened skeletal remains was all that were left of the native eucalypt forests, pine plantations and fruit farms. The scale of the devastation was apocalyptic. Even after all of the stories and seeing the destruction for ourselves, it was still so difficult to imagine what it must have really felt like to have been there in the moment with the fires raging all around. Our perspective shifted overnight. It went from feelings of apathy and frustration, to those of empathy and gratitude. The difficulties we had faced so far during the journey paled in comparison compared to those the locals were experiencing; it was humbling, it was grounding. We were so grateful that we had missed the fires first-hand, and that we were still able to continue with the journey at all. But most of all we were grateful for the opportunities, connections and friendships that the change in route had created.
A Radical Change Of Plan
Throughout the following weeks, Ben and Dan constantly re-assessed the route with the goal to re-join the Bicentennial National Trail. However, after another 700 km of closed trails we reached Aberdeen, New South Wales (NSW), where received some disappointing news. The BNT trail coordinators for the rest of the state confirmed our worst fears; the next 800 km of the route were closed. After a mentally challenging day of access issues, road closures and diversions, Ben and Dan had had enough and proposed a radical change of plan. We abandoned the BNT, at least for NSW, and decided to cross the Great Dividing Range to the coast. Not an easy decision considering it would require a further 300 km of riding and over 3000 m of elevation through the Barrington Tops National Park rainforest to achieve very little northward progress.
End Of The Road
On the 17th March, we had stopped for breakfast on the shore of the Macleay river when I received a message and link to an article: a community notice from the Northern Peninsula Area Regional Council saying that until further notice, the area north of the Jardine River in Queensland was closed to all non-essential people. That meant us. The area in question included the most northern point of mainland Australia and our finishing line. While we were concerned, we were still several thousand km, about two months of riding away. With the tiny amount of information we had, we decided to continue as planned since at that point, there had been little impact from the Covid-19 virus in Australia and we were still free to travel. Of course we spoke about the virus, everybody did, but it would be a lie if I said we didn’t bury our heads in the sand a little in the hope that it was just another product of media hyperbole and it would all just blow over as quickly as it began.
The 23rd of March was the day everything changed. The entire of Cape York, the top 1000 km of Australia had been closed, and the Queensland border would soon follow suit. Everything had changed so quickly; we were in a state of shock. We spent a few hours calling home, discussing, procrastinating, just trying to avoid making the final decision we knew we had to make. In the end it happened. At length we booked flights back to the UK. The following day the guys cycled the last 40 km over the border into Queensland, the fifth and final state of the journey and the finish line of The Great Australian Triathlon, some 3000 km premature. The expedition was over.
Two weeks of quarantine have passed since our swift exit from Australia, and the reality of the situation is finally beginning to sink in. Journeys are inherently full of risk and uncertainty, you can plan and prepare as much as you can, but in the end, you really have no idea what will actually happen. I think that’s why we are drawn to them, it’s the excitement of the unknown and the thrill of adventure that captures our imagination and pulls us out time and time again. Okay, so The Great Australian Triathlon didn’t win us a world-first title, but for me it was still a success. We got to delve deep into areas of the Australian wilderness we did not even know existed, we had to test our mental and physical resilience to overcome a multitude of challenges we faced, and we met so many interesting people who provided us with a completely different perspective on life in Australia. Adventure isn’t about titles and accolades – for me, it’s about creating connections; with my team, with the environment and with the people we meet along the way. I feel we achieved this and so much more and I am truly grateful for the time spent with Ben and the team. Now, who’s ready for the next adventure?
There is currently a documentary film about The Great Australian Triathlon in the making, but if you can’t wait for that, there are a series of blogs and vlogs on our website and Facebook page to check out. Just search for ‘The Great Australian Triathlon’ online to find them.
The kayaking section of The Great Australian Triathlon was the one that concerned me the most. I think this was because the Bass Strait has the reputation for being one of the most treacherous bodies of water in the world.
Missed the first parts in the series? Catch up now:
A reputation which is well deserved. The sea between Tasmania and mainland Australia has seen over 1000 shipwrecks, including the destruction of 5 yachts during the 1998 Sydney to Hobart yacht race, claiming 6 lives. The reason the strait is so dangerous, is because it is very shallow with an average depth of 60m, a stark comparison to the ocean on either side which plunges down to several thousand metres. Wind can travel uninterrupted for thousands of kilometres across the planet to reach the shallow shelf of the Bass Strait, and in doing so can create waves as tall as 20 metres high!
While the obvious choice for the crossing was to wait for the very calmest days to paddle on, the team only had 21 days to complete it as Aidan Cameron and Alie Repetto, the kayakers joining Ben, had to return to Sydney in time to start the next semester of university.
How the hell was I going to film Ben kayaking across the Bass Strait? I don’t kayak and with such a limited budget, hiring a boat was never really an option. I decided that the best course of action was to base myself on Flinders Island, the largest island the team would stop at during the crossing. The island can be accessed by a 9 hour ferry crossing which is often described as an adventure in itself. However, unfortunate timings meant I would miss its departure by a day and so in order to avoid risking missing the team altogether, I opted to fly to Flinders Island on a 6 seater plane instead. My equipment list was somewhat more limited than in leg one as I could only take what I could carry and I somehow had to squeeze in my camping gear too. With just 20 minutes to pack before my flight left, I threw everything into a couple of bags and miraculously the only items I forgot were the sun cream and a change of clothes!
I was lucky to ride shotgun on the flight over to the island, and my luck continued throughout the day. I managed to blag a lift from the aviation company to find somewhere to hire a car, where I then, managed to obtain the very last hire car available on the Island! At length I found myself set up and camping at Trousers Point, a perfect campsite situated just inside Strzelecki National Park right on the edge of a white-sand beach. My watch had begun.
At this point the pace of the expedition slowed down dramatically. I was two paddling days ahead of Ben, Aidan and Alie and while they were out battling the big seas and strong winds of their first day, I struck out to explore the Island. My first objective was to climb the 756m Mt. Strzelecki, the highest point on the Island and interestingly, also part of the Great Dividing Range, which we would later be following on mainland Australia. While the views, as you would imagine we literally breath taking, the highlight for me was on the run back down to the car. I was making excellent time when I suddenly rounded a corner and my brain subconsciously stopped me dead in my tracks. There in front of me was the biggest snake I had ever seen. Wait, make that two. A pair of Tiger Snakes, the 4th most venomous land-snakes in the world were sat right in the middle of the path no more than two metres in front of me. They just watched as I got my camera and tripod out and proceeded to film them, best day ever!
The next morning, I got a call from Ben telling me that he was eating a pie… this was bad news. The team were sat just 20km south of my position on Cape Barren Island, but due to the inclement weather, it would be another couple of days before they would be able to make the crossing to my position. It was such a shame that I had to spend two more days stuck on a paradise island with nothing to do but explore! I spent the time interviewing and filming with a local mountain biking company and discussing what it is like to live on the island and how they managed to make a living there. Even though many of the residents needed to work multiple jobs, they all told me they couldn’t think of anywhere else they would rather live.
Four days after arriving on Flinders Island, I was out location scouting when I got a satellite message from Ben’s Garmin GPS device to say they had set off. I rushed back to Trousers Point and set up shop; the Sony A7iii, equipped with a Canon FD 100-300mm lens, was sat atop my 3-Legged Thing tripod, and my DJI Mavic Pro drone prepped and ready to launch at a moment’s notice. I was joined by Les and Jenni, two sea kayakers from Western Australia who were waiting for a good weather window to kayak back to Tasmania. We’d spent the last few days chatting over a cup of tea or two and they were keen to welcome Ben and the team to the island. A tense hour crept by gazing though my Hawke Endurance binoculars waiting for the first glace of bobbing heads and splashing paddles. I blinked and suddenly there were there. Four days of waiting had built up to this, I set the A7iii rolling and scrambled the drone.
Patience Part 2
The very next day Ben and the team made it further along the coast to the main town, Whitemark. But just as we felt we were making progress with the crossing, the weather turned on us again. Strong North-westerly headwinds were forecast, meaning paddling would be off the cards until they changed direction. The mood in camp was understandably tense. Ten minutes wouldn’t go by without at least one of the team checking the weather to see if the wind would be changing any time soon. It wasn’t, and with six days already gone, they were getting ever closer to having to make the call to abandon the crossing. We spent the time eating pies and pizza, exploring the town a little and playing hackie sack (terribly) on the beach. Three days slowly went by, but little change in the weather the mood remained the same. During a series of interviews, I asked the trio whether they though the crossing was still possible, to which the best answer got was a firm maybe. So at least there was still a shred of optimism left.
As it happened, a very small weather window opened the very next day and the decision was made to push a little further north to Roydon Island, a tiny landmass just off the north-west coast of Flinders.
I found myself huddled behind a rock on a headland, sheltering from the battering wind and sporadic rain and watching Ben’s GPS dot move painfully slowly towards my position. After 5 hours of waiting, my patience paid off as I spotted three sea kayaks in the distance, it was go time. I launched the drone and set my camera rolling and with no room for error, I spent an intense 15 minutes trying to capture as much footage as possible before they disappeared into the distance. That was the last time I saw the paddling trio for quite some time.
The team spent another five painfully slow days on Roydon Island, experiencing torrential rain and 80 mph winds. Of course, they always knew there would be an element of waiting involved to complete the crossing, it was inevitable, but I’m not quite sure they were fully prepared for the monotony it provided! In the end Ben, Aidan and Alie managed to complete the crossing in a total of 19 days, 9 days of kayaking and 10 days of waiting!
Ben had always said that if the first two legs went well, then it was basically a done deal that he would become the first person to complete a completely human powered vertical crossing of Australia. Little did he know what difficulties lay ahead of him in the coming weeks…
See how they get on in the final leg of The Great Australian Triathlon:
Many of us are still stuck in lock-down and self-isolating. But this will not last forever – hopefully we will be back out with our cameras before we know it. Whilst it feels like our lives have been put on hold, the natural world has not stopped.
Wildlife is still going about its daily routines as normal albeit under less pressure from humans. My favourite time of the year has not been put on hold: the return of the seabirds to our cliffs. At this time of year, many will be busy collecting nesting material in preparation for the upcoming breeding season.
In the post below I will set out to share 5 tips to help you improve your seabird photography – ready to be put into practice once we are all free to visit these amazing places!
The biggest mistake people make when working at a seabird colony is not stepping back and looking at the bigger picture. I understand photographers may get excited when seeing a beautiful subject such as an Atlantic Puffin and rush to shoot as big and bold in the frame as possible. But please, just for a second, slow down, step back and look at the bigger picture: seabirds live in some of the most stunning habitats in the UK. Look to combine the two, the beauty of the seabird and the dramatic coastline.
Shooting wide is a little more difficult in terms of composition, when using a long telephoto the bird is the main focus of the frame. When shooting wide the landscape is the main focal point but with a bird in the frame.
Many years ago a good friend once told me, ‘if the habitat adds to the image include it, if not exclude it from the image.’ This quote has stuck with me ever since.
Use Light Creatively
Wildlife photography is one of the most difficult photographic disciplines when it comes to using light, as we are often exposed to the elements on windswept mountains or rocky sea cliffs. We don’t have the luxury of studio controlled setups. One of the biggest assets a wildlife photographer can possess is how too understand light and the qualities it possesses. Once this is understood you can then begin to use light to your advantage.
Yes, summer sunrise shoots mean an early alarm, but sadly that’s part of the job when shooting wildlife. Being on location for first light allows you to shoot in the most exquisite light – the same goes for the evening light.
My favoured style of photography is back-lighting. This is when the sun is in front of you, lighting the back of your subject. Birds can look fantastic using this technique, as the light shining through their feathers looks almost translucent. Ideally, this should be tried earlier, or later in the day when the sun is close to the horizon. These times of day are also known as the golden hour and will create beautiful light with low contrast perfect for back-lighting.
Think Outside The Box
Seabirds are one of our most photographed subjects and for a very good reason. They live in beautiful habitats, are stunning birds and, for the most part, are accessible to the public. The issue with accessible subjects means they will have been extensively photographed. For example, just look at the number of puffin images that appear in our social feeds each summer.
You need to look at these images and think “what hasn’t been done” – the bar has been raised higher with these species than no other. But always remember however well a species has been documented there is always a new shot to be had.
I’ll share an example of when I was working on Shetland last summer. It was 1 am and I was walking back to my tent after a session shooting the amazing gannets colonies at Hermaness NNR. It was a clear night and the moon was rising out over the sea. I thought to myself, imagine a puffin silhouetted against the moon – that would be unique. A few moments later to my surprise a small group of puffins were resting on a ledge looking out to sea. I then had to manoeuvre myself, lining one of the puffins up against the moon, with very little contrast manual focus was needed. It was difficult in near darkness, but by framing the head of the puffin against the moon I was able to shoot a unique image of a well-photographed species. Yes, I’ll admit the opportunity to shoot a silhouette of a puffin against the moon doesn’t happen every day, but always keep your eyes open because you never know when the next opportunity will arise.
Embrace The Weather
Typically with the British Summertime, if we decide to wait for the golden light we could be waiting a long time. Cloud, rain, fog – this is the norm – but don’t get downbeat when the weather isn’t in your favour, embrace it. Often the best images can be achieved in the worst weather.
Shooting in wet weather can come with its own challenges, such as keeping yourself and your kit dry. Keeping yourself dry and warm in these conditions is vitally important once you get cold and wet, well in my case you’ll be thinking about that hot cup of tea and not the photography at hand. The longer you can stay out in these conditions the more chance you have of producing unique imagery.
A few years back I headed North of the border to Shetland, the aim of the project was to photograph Northern Gannets in the autumn gales. Yes, this trip was tough, working on the cliff tops in gale force winds was a bit sketchy, but the results were stunning. The weather was wild, but these were the conditions I was after, the power of the sea crashing over the rocks as the gannets soared below. The point is getting out in these extremes of weather can lead to dramatic shots, whilst other photographers may have packed their bags. Stay out and experiment – once your home and processing your amazing images all those cold and wet thoughts from earlier will be a distant memory.
Slow Down Your Approach
Seabird colonies are bustling habitats stacked with activity, whether it’s puffins reaffirming old bonds, gannets collecting nesting material, or skuas hunting for prey. If you are new to seabird photography, arriving at the colony can feel a bit overwhelming, so when you first arrive, take a moment, step back, and just watch.
Doing this will allow you to slow things down.
This allows me to simply watch the birds: see what flight paths the gannets are taking, which puffins are bringing sand eels back to the burrows etc. By operating a so-called bull in a china shop mentality you will miss the action around you – don’t be blinkered to the one opportunity, take it all in. Enjoy the sights, smells and sounds of the colony – only by doing this will you massively improve your chances of capturing unique imagery.
Looking For Inspiration
Whilst we are all stuck at home, review your archives, assess what works in the images and what doesn’t, so next time you’ll know how best to work the situation.
If you need further inspiration why not check out my Clowns Of The Sea image library, which documents the lives of the ever comical Atlantic Puffin across the U.K coastline – from the stunning Skomer Island to the most Northerly point of the British Isles, Hermaness NNR.
I’ve recently set up a Facebook group titled Coastal Worlds. This group aims to explore your connection with coastal nature and landscapes through imagery, video, stories, and conservation.
If you would like to join this fast-growing community, please search for Coastal Worlds and start sharing your favourite seabird shots.
Sadly, as we suspected, ex Wilki team member Jonathan Doyle and his friends attempting the Great Australian Triathlon have been halted by the global Coronavirus pandemic. After successfully completing the first two gruelling sections of the trip – the run and the kayak – the team sadly had to call it a day 60km south of the Queensland border, on their final cycle leg.
Now safely home and under lockdown in the UK, we caught up with Jonathan to talk about the decision to abandon and also to recap on the impressive achievements of the team.
We say ‘so far’ – and wonder if the adventure will be revisited at a later date?
“As you may have guessed from the current international Covid-19 situation, The Great Australian Triathlon had to come to an early end. For a few days we had seen news articles about some new virus that had spread out from China, causing some difficulties in Europe. We didn’t pay much attention, as the situation in Australia was mild in comparison, we kept our heads buried in the sand telling ourselves that it wouldn’t really affect us as we’ll be out in the wilderness again in a few days.
‘But then the local council closed the entire of Cape York, meaning we suddenly did not have access to the final 1000 km of our route. “It’s okay, we’ll keep moving, we’re 2 months away from there yet, it’ll be open again before we arrive”. Then the state borders were closed, and the UK were advising travellers to get back home as quickly as possible. It got real.
‘With heavy hearts we accepted that it was the end of the road. We booked flights and rode the final day into the fifth and final state of the journey and the finish line of The Great Australian Triathlon, some 3000 km premature. It was over.”
Two weeks of quarantine have passed since the team’s swift exit from Australia, who say the reality of the situation is finally beginning to sink in. But no adventure is time wasted, so we thought you’d still like to read the blog from the ‘First Leg’ of this epic trip, written by Jonathan Doyle.
My first challenge to was to figure out exactly I was going to single-handedly film Ben, Emma and Claire Cianchi running 640 km across Tasmania. Since running is inherently a fairly slow method of travel, I wrongly assumed the pace of filming would match this and that this leg of the trip would be the easiest to film. My first and most logical thought was to use a car to shoot from. I could easily carry all the gear, move around quickly and get ahead of the team with little effort. However, the planned route followed much of the Tasmanian Trail, a long-distance trail established in the 1988 which is mostly inaccessible to motorised vehicles. That option was out. My next thought was to run with them. I would be able to keep up and it would solve the access issues too, but it would mean carrying little more than my Sony A7iii camera and charging would be increasingly difficult. Perhaps not. I quickly settled on option three, I would cycle across Tasmania while the others ran. This would solve the issues with the other modes of travel and I would be faster than the runners too, in theory. Going for the bike was a bold choice as I had exactly zero cycle touring experience and in fact the furthest ride I had ever completed was about 30km between Kendal and Milnthorpe. As you can imagine, I wasn’t quite ready for what lay ahead of me.
The First Challenge
We landed in Hobart, Tasmania on the 29th of December and gave ourselves just one day for jet lag recovery and bag packing. The expedition would begin with a short hike in to South East Cape where we would camp overnight and officially start the expedition the following day. However, upon arrival at Cockle Creek, the closest point by road, we were faced with one of the most difficult decisions of the journey. With unprecedented temperatures and dry lightning strikes predicted, there was a very high possibility of bush fires starting. The peninsula is a remote spit of land with only one access point, and so if we went in, there was a possibility we could get trapped if there was a fire. After a great deal of discussion, we came to the unanimous decision that we would compromise the original plan. Instead we would smash out the 14km round trip as quickly as possible, returning the same night to camp back at Cockle Creek. The expedition had begun.
It quickly became apparent that I was carrying too much, like way too much. I could only just lift the back end of the bike, an issue when I ended up having to lift it up and over numerous fallen trees! The plan was to create a high-quality cinematic style film rather than the usual ‘let me just put the GoPro on the ground and you ride past it’ kind of production. In order to achieve this ambitious challenge, I did not skimp on the camera gear. I carried the Sony A7iii and A6400 and five lenses, a Zhiyun Weebill Lab gimbal, DJI Mavic Pro drone, tripod, charging cables, laptop, the list goes on. Needless to say, I was nowhere near the 20 kg dream weight most bike-packers strive towards.
It’s All Uphill From Here
On the fifth day on the crossing, I met my nemesis, the 1000m White Timber Mountain which we had to pass directly over. We spent the day on gravel tracks that only got steeper and looser as we gained height. It was not long before I found myself being overtaken by Ben, Emma and Claire and shortly after I was demoted to pushing my bike. It was a lonely and brutal slog, the ground underfoot was so loose, I often lost my footing and at times I was not even exceeding 1km/h! Gone were the thoughts of filming, the burn in my muscles consumed my mind and it took every ounce of strength to will myself on to take just one more step. Shirt off and sweat-drenched, I was making painfully slow progress.
I heard footsteps approaching from behind belonging to an Israeli chap named Asa. We walked and talked for a while and before I knew it he was helping me push my bike! I told him that I was conflicted about The Great Australian Triathlon as I felt it was ultimately a pretty selfish endeavour, we were spending all this time, energy and money travelling across an entire continent when we could be using our resources to help others. Asa stopped and looked at me, “You have to do things for yourself sometimes too. You need to help yourself to be happier and healthier so that in turn you can help others too”. Those words really stuck with me. Asa helped me push the bike right to the summit of the mountain where the others had been waiting for quite some time. The descent from White Timber Mountain was much more difficult and physically demanding that I had expected. Gone were the easy-going fire-trails, replaced with technical tracks needing 100% concentration to maintain any forward momentum. While the riding was not fast, it was some of the best of the trip.
I Don’t Have The Power!
A huge hurdle to overcome was meeting the colossal power demands required to shoot a film like The Great Australian Triathlon. In addition to all of the equipment mentioned above, I also had to charge the team’s phones and GPS devices. It seemed to me to be the impossible task, and it was a constant source of stress. My only power source was a 100Wh power bank which was charged via a 20W solar panel, and ultimately this system did not cut it. To ensure we had enough power to shoot, I took advantage of every kind person we met who had access to power. On one such occasion, I spent eight hours in a bakery with my 6-way extension lead plugged in with every single electrical item I had connected and charging! Ben commented that it was the most ridiculous thing he had seen. I did cut it fine one day however; following a series of interviews with the expedition team, I was left the last remaining Sony A7iii battery holding just 3% charge!
‘It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film.’
Filming an expedition such as The Great Australian Triathlon, it turns out is no mean feat. There were days when I had to push myself well beyond my comfort zone both physically and mentally just to get the ride done while simultaneously working my butt off to get the shots we needed. It was a full-time job to survive, and another to shoot the film. Often the runners were much faster than I anticipated, meaning that I had to set up every shot as fast as possible or risk missing a shot or even worse, making the runners stop. Both outcomes would result in frustrations within the team. I spent a lot of time trying to avoid this situation by refining my setup for maximum accessibility and efficiency. I would say one of the most important items in my arsenal was Peak Design’s Capture Clip. I used it to mount my camera right under my handlebars meaning it could be powered up and shooting within a matter of seconds. This took maybe a week to figure out, but I was so stoked to have finally solved a problem the internet was unable to prior to the trip!
‘Power is more valuable than gold.’
The Great Australian was the definition of trial by fire and I certainly learnt a great deal. It turns out power is more valuable than gold: running out means no filming, no GPS, no audiobooks. I have no idea how the early explorers survived without 48 hours of Game of Thrones audiobook for company. Do not go back to find something you have lost on the route, let it go, it belongs to the trail now. Finally, people are awesome. We met so many wonderful people during our crossing of Tasmania, they did everything from making us cups of tea to letting four strangers sleep in their house and steal all their electricity and hot water.
The run across Tasmania was a journey of a lifetime, and we still had two more legs of the expedition to go…
Wilkinson Cameras ambassador James Rushforth has written four guidebooks in the past decade covering photography, ski mountaineering, rock climbing and via ferrata. He is currently finalising his next project, a photo location guidebook to Iceland for publisher fotoVUE.
Recently home from Iceland and writing from quarantine in Worcester, we asked him to share his experiences with book publishing and talk us through the process.
What you read and the images you see next may just have you reaching for your credit card and booking flights as soon as lockdown is over!
Ten years ago I agreed to write a rock climbing guidebook to the Dolomites for British publisher Rockfax. Shelling out £390 for my first camera (I paid less for my first car – were photographers all mad?) I bought a little Canon G12 and have never looked back. Which is not to say it has always been plain sailing, but it has been an experience.
I’ve tried to keep the following as succinct as possible, glossing over some of the more mundane economic considerations and focusing on the photographic side. I hope the article gives a little honest insight into guidebook writing, both the good and bad.
This stage is key and there are some essential questions to ask before making a start in earnest.
• Are you going to work for a publisher or self publish? • If the guidebook is a commercial enterprise is there a valid market? If so, will the market still exist by the time the book gets finished? • Do you have time? • Can you afford it?
Obviously the answers to these questions will vary depending on personal circumstances and the proposed project. For my part I’ve always worked for a publisher, which provides a certain level of security while alleviating some of the printing, advertising and shipping responsibilities associated with self publishing.
Certainly in my experience, writing a book always takes much longer than you think: come up with a timeline and then double it. For example, this current guide to Iceland contains 150 locations, with each location requiring an average of 4 images. That means I have to get 600 unique high quality images before I even consider the introductory material. Even if I were to average one print-worthy photo a day (which is nearly impossible – especially given the weather in Iceland), it would mean two years full time work before making a start on the text.
Then there are the finances to consider. My current expenses for Iceland are in the region of £20k, and that’s living out of a van and living as frugally as possible. Depending on the success of the book this can mean you’ve got several years to wait before you break even. In my experience guidebooks are profitable, but only in the long term. When I first started I took out a loan to cover the expenses, and now previous guidebooks cover the costs of the new ones.
Considering all of the above, it’s worth creating a quick mockup of how you envisage the pages looking. This invariably raises more important questions and allows a rough page count to be determined. Thought needs to be given to the book size, shipping costs and binding strength.
Then it’s time to start gathering the content, always the best bit of any project! The key is to be organised and methodical from the start.
• Record everything – You can never have too much information. Voice notes are an excellent way of recording exactly what you see; these can be typed up or referred to later. Geotagging images with GPS data is really useful for later reference. Many cameras have this function built in, or if not a GPS unit can be added, or the camera can be paired with a mobile phone.
• A map is a great visual reference – I create a custom google map and log locations I’ve visited, colour coding them according to chapter and quality. This allows me to see if I’ve under-represented any areas and helps plan the next day’s photos according to location. It also makes driving and navigation easier.
• Organise your images carefully using cataloguing software of your choice. Be sure to keyword your images and use a logical filing structure. A quick and efficient method of finding a desired image will save so much time in the future.
• Plan your locations – Maximising time and stacking the odds in your favour for a desired shoot location is important for maximising efficiency. Use software such as the Photographer’s Ephemeris, PhotoPills or SkySafari to plan for the best light and important celestial events.
• Scout the locations in advance – There’s nothing worse than stumbling about in the dark looking for a foreground as the aurora goes crazy over your head. Get to locations early or use bad weather days to do some location research before the stars quite literally align.
• Mix it up – Today the potential audience for anyone reading your books is broad, leading to a very eclectic range of photographic tastes and preferences. Try and mix up your image styles, techniques, subjects and processing to reflect this. If nothing else it might inspire someone to try something new.
• Think in three dimensions – Love or loathe them, the advent of drone technology has fundamentally changed the way we perceive photography. What would previously have been a £8k helicopter flight in Iceland can now be achieved multiple times with less than £1k worth of equipment. The technology is particularly good for guidebooks as it allows you to capture orientation style shots to aid navigation. Writing the Dolomites climbing guidebooks I frequently ascended mountains on the opposite side of the valley to get the crag shots I needed, whereas now you could simply fly a drone up from below. What took weeks would now take days.
• Buy a van – Okay, so you don’t have to buy a van, though it definitely helps! The ability to travel, cook and sleep under your chosen location makes getting the images you need much easier and that sunrise start becomes considerably less arduous.
Book Design and Layout
Some publishers will request the written text and images before laying out the book for you. Personally I much prefer doing this myself, then you’re involved in all stages of production. For all three publishers I’ve worked for, Adobe InDesign is the software of choice as it links so well with Lightroom, Photoshop and Illustrator for cataloguing, image editing, map and symbol creation.
Much like photography, designing a book is all about colour palettes that work together, interesting compositions, symmetry, variety and juxtaposition.
I won’t go into all the tedious details of writing except for the following quick tips:
• Try to avoid leaving all the writing until the end as it becomes a daunting task. Better to chip away at it slowly.
• Find yourself a good copy editor.
• Be patient: don’t think of the project as a whole as it’s daunting and instead take it one page at a time.
• Try and keep social media interest going. Schedulers like Planoly for Instagram are great as you can spend a day organising your social media posts for the next three months and then largely forget about it.
A few frequently asked questions…
Do you recommend guidebook writing as a career?
It’s lovely work, you get to travel frequently and spend time fully exploring beautiful corners of the world. You also get something tangible to show for all the hard work at the end. But you also have to make sacrifices. I’ve spent the last 10 years living out of a van, which is great when the weather is good, but less enjoyable when you’re stuck in a 2x5m area on the eighth consecutive day of rain. Or digging yourself out of yet another snow drift. Such a transient lifestyle also makes for a tough social life – you build up a great friendship network only to move on again. Of course, the dream is to write a guidebook from your home address!
Is guidebook writing an economically viable career?
A good question that’s difficult to answer. Certainly in my experience it’s a good supplementary income but I’d personally struggle to live off the royalties full time. I also lead photographic workshops, sell prints and do some guiding. I’ve found that to be a good combination that keeps me on my toes and gives me good work variety.
What camera equipment do you use?
I’ve never got particularly excited about camera gear, I like taking photos. Some of the best work I’ve seen on my workshops have been taken by guests using mobile phones. Artistic creativity and a good eye will always trump expensive equipment. Working in Iceland the Arctic and at the top of mountains frequently my primary consideration is durability, it doesn’t matter how good the image quality is if it doesn’t take pictures when I need it to.
I’m currently using:
Nikon D810 with Kirk BL-D800 L-Bracket Nikon D850 with Kirk BL-D850 L-Bracket
DJI Phantom 4 Pro
I’m interested in writing a book, where do you recommend starting?
I think creating a photo book of one of your recent trips is a great place to start. If you enjoy the experience of whittling down your images, editing and creating a visual story then you can think more seriously about a bigger project.
If not, you’ll still have a nice photo book to show for your efforts!
Wilkinson Cameras has an excellent range of photobook options that are available to browse if you’re feeling inspired and want to get started with creating your very own photo book.
Enjoyed this feature?
If you would like to know more or get in touch with James you can visit his website.
James also has one of the most inspiring Instagram feeds we’ve seen – though we warn you it may give total wanderlust frustration at this time of temporary lockdown!
James was the overall winner of the Digital Splash Photographer of the Year Award 2018. He also won the Digital Splash Landscape Photographer of the Year and Digital Splash Sports Photographer of the Year categories in 2018.
Following on from our interview with Jonathan Doyle – former Wilki employee and adventure film-maker – we caught up with Jonathan to find out how he decided to spend his Wilkinson sponsorship, which products he chose to take with him and why!
Having just completed the first leg of The Great Australian Triathlon (running across Tasmania!) Jonathan has already put the kit through its paces!
“We are so grateful for the support we have received so far in the preparation of The Great Australian Triathlon. It is been mind blowing to have 8 companies, both big and small, believing in our expedition and lending us their support.
Wilkinson Cameras in particular has been especially kind to me, keeping me in the Wilki family even after I had to leave my job in the Kendal store in order to head out on the TGAT2020 expedition. The company has provided some fantastic pieces of equipment allowing me to up my game for this trip.
I thought for those interested in camera nerdery, I’d spend a little time discussing how I chose the kit supplied by Wilkinson Cameras and why these items are important in the filming process.”
Sigma 16mm f/1.4 Lens
“First of all, I chose a Sigma 16mm f1.4 lens for my Sony A6400 camera body. This system was originally destined to be my backup in case my Sony A7iii stopped working. However, it has since become the primary film camera for the kayaking team during their Bass Strait crossing to be used in conjunction with their selection of GoPro action cameras and also a Sony RX100 V. The lens is equivalent to 24mm in full-frame terms, giving me a nice wide cinematic feel to my shots. It is also fast, stopping down to f1.4, meaning it can handle reasonably low light situations without succumbing to excessive noise. Overall, while it is a prime, and thus has no zoom capabilities, it’s the perfect lens for the task in hand.”
GoPro Hero 8
“Secondly, I chose a GoPro Hero 8, the latest and most advanced action camera on the market. I wanted this for quick closeup ‘in the action’ shots, as well as it’s capability to shoot 4k at 60 frames per second, allowing me to shoot some tasty high-resolution slow motion footage.
The GoPro’s inbuilt image stabilisation has consistently impressed me and I have found it to be an invaluable item in my arsenal, with me using it far more than I originally expected. In addition, I also got the twin battery charger and spare battery for the Hero 8.”
Cokin Nuance Variable ND Filter
“The third item provided by Wilkinson Cameras was perhaps the most important of the lot: a Cokin Nuance variable ND filter. This is the number one item for any filmmaker as it allows you to reduce the amount of light entering the system while still being able to keep the aperture wide open, and as such achieve a nice shallow depth of field. A must for a bright sunny climate such as Australia!”
And finally, a Dead Cat!
“Not an actual dead cat, obviously! The final item on the list was a wind-stopper, known as a ‘dead cat’ for my Rode video pro shotgun microphone. Since I will be almost entirely filming outside, this has helped to reduce wind-noise interference, helping to improve the audio quality throughout.”
“I am incredibly grateful to Wilkinson Cameras for their generous contribution and I feel so very lucky to be the first person they have sponsored in this capacity, thank you!
Keep an eye out on my social media for more updates about the trip and my set up over the coming months.”
2020 is a huge year for former Wilki team member Jonathan Doyle, who worked at the Kendal store but has now left us to embark on the documentary film making trip of a lifetime.
Jonathan touched down in Australia on 29th December and had just a few days to acclimatize before starting filming for a ‘never before attempted’ feat of human endurance: the Great Australian Triathlon. A 600km run, followed by a treacherous 350k kayak across open ocean, and around 7000km of cycling (yes, seven thousand kilometres) to finish this epic endurance challenge.
Over the next 6 months – as Wilkinson Cameras first ‘Sponsored Project’ – we will be following the Jonathan’s adventures – plotting the team’s progress via social media and blog updates as the journey unfolds. Shooting both stills and moving images, Jonathan hopes to launch his full time documentary film making career following this ambitious next chapter.
Jonathan, 28, has been working part time in the Wilki store in Kendal alongside completing his PHD – while proving very successful at documentary film making in his spare time!
Jonathan first picked up a camera in 2016, a Nikon D3200, which he bought to go on a climbing trip in Tasmania. While on that holiday, he made a short video of his adventures, which, once edited, culminated in a 6-minute award winning film.
Having really enjoyed the film making process Jonathan summited his work ‘The Pommish Invasion’ to the Kendal Mountain Film Festival where it was shortlisted! Following this success it was subsequently recognised at the Vancouver International Mountain Film Festival, ‘Goat Fest’ in Arapiles, Australia, before finally winning at the Cradle Mountain Film Festival in Tasmania 2017.
The film documents Jonathan and two friends, Ben Cianchi and Matt Amos, climbing The Candlestick – a 110m sea-stack next to the world famous Totem-Pole, at Cape Hauy, Tasmania.
The Great Australian Triathlon
For this new extreme challenge, the Great Australian Triathlon, the team – Jonathan, endurance athlete Ben Cianchi and Ben’s two sisters Claire and Emma – will touch down in Tasmania on 29th December, with just a day and a half to acclimatise before the challenge begins. Ben will then embark on the world’s first human-powered vertical crossing of Australia.
The Great Australian Triathlon will take around six months to complete and will span over 8000 km of the continent, covering a huge variety of terrain, from dirt tracks to the open ocean.
The expedition will be split up into three distinct sections; running across Tasmania, kayaking across the Bass Strait, and cycling across mainland Australia from the bottom of Victoria to the top of Queensland.
Following a successful kickstarter campaign, together with sponsorship from Wilkinson Cameras, Jonathan has packed his bags (and cycle shorts!) to film the entire adventure.
‘I’ve known Ben for around 6 years now, and he’s in my original Pommish Invasion film,’ said Jonathan. ‘If anyone can complete this challenge, Ben can. The filming is going to be very tricky though – I will be filming solo, so have to meticulously plan each stage and the logistics are challenging! No-one’s ever done this before and our timeline will be very dependent on weather conditions – especially the kayak section.’
‘I will be cycling on the Tasmania leg – so kit has to be kept to a minimum both in size and weight as I’ll be carrying everything myself. Data storage and power are big considerations – and this is where I’m particularly grateful for the Wilkinson Cameras support, which will enable me to fine tune my kit to exactly what’s required for the job.’
The sea kayak section of the triathlon will be filmed from one of the kayaks, with Jonathan filming via a drone for the bird’s eye view. Using a local ferry to the largest of the islands en route – Flinders Island – Jonathan will also be aiming to capture shore landings and departures, again travelling under his own bicycle power.
The final cycle section will also be filmed from a bike, with Jonathan leapfrogging the team in order to achieve action footage along the gruelling route.
‘Our aim is to produce one vlog per week en route, in order for people to follow our progress. Though often we will be relying on solar power – so we may have to rethink that in certain areas. Whatever happens, we’re hoping to post one image, across social our media platforms, every single day.
The triathlon starts with a challenging 600km run across the Island state of Tasmania. While carrying all of their kit, the team will have just 21 days to cross from Southwest Cape to Little Musselroe Bay using a combination of trails and minor roads. Severe fatigue is the obvious challenge Ben and his sisters will need to overcome, however the journey itself will not be a walkover. Tasmania is a notoriously wild state, so the team will have to face many difficult challenges along the way, including countless kilometres of steep gruelling ascents, treacherous river crossings and tough navigation through densely packed forest trails.
The paddle starts off where the run ends, at Little Musselroe Bay, and consists of 350km of sea kayaking across the infamous Bass Strait. With only three weeks to complete this leg the team will have to maximise good conditions to cross between isolated islands and wait out any storms that pass through. The biggest stretch of open water will be about 70 km, which is estimated to take at least 12 hours dependant on wind and current conditions. Long days, heavy swell and marginal conditions will make the journey to Wilson’s Promontory on Victoria’s southern tip an epic challenge for the team.
Crossing mainland Australia by bike is a monumental challenge, not least when you shun the easy coastal roads and head inland up the great dividing range. Seven thousand ‘or so’ kilometres from Wilson’s Promontory in the South, to Cape York in Tropical North-Queensland will be the longest and perhaps most mentally draining section of the expedition.
The “Why”? We had to ask!
As an outdoor enthusiast and documentary film maker – as well as capturing the physical side of the challenge – Jonathan wants to explore the reasons people like Ben give up well paid jobs and comfortable lives, battle through injuries and sacrifice their careers for the sake of what some people would see as pointless goals. Ben will face countless challenges from extreme fatigue to hungry crocodiles – dangerous tides and wild bush fires, all for no material benefit.
Ben is not being paid (in fact he’s spent his entire savings on the trip), he won’t get a world record (Guinness won’t recognise the expedition), and it’s likely that large parts of the trip will be a ‘sufferfest’. The documentary will follow Ben’s progress from planning and training at home, to the challenges and triumphs on the ground in Australia.
Jonathan will also be exploring the psychology behind why people decide to embark on such radical and life-changing journeys, what fuels them and what they hope they will get from it.
The final documentary will also delve into the ideas and misconceptions of one of the world’s largest and most sparsely populated countries. For example, Jonathan wants to look into why bush fires are so prevalent in Australia, what causes them and why are they so important for the ecosystem. The film will also aim to banish the Aussie stereotype that all of their wildlife is out to kill you and it is actually a much safer place than you may think.
Overall viewers can expect sweeping shots of the beautiful Australian landscapes, close-encounters with the local wildlife and of course engaging and interesting stories weaving in and out of the overarching tale of The Great Australian Triathlon.
‘There will also be an environmental undertone to the film; we are hoping the expedition will encourage others to use their cars a little less, and their own human power a little more,’ added Jonathan.
‘I think we will convey throughout that while human powered modes of transport are slower, they can provide so much more stimuli and engagement by allowing us to slow down a little, recharge and have some fun along the way!’
‘However, it is not lost on us that travelling around the world to create a film about using human-powered transport is somewhat contradictory and we don’t want to undermine our under-lying environmental message in any way. So, with this in mind, we plan on carbon offsetting the trip by calculating the overall carbon cost of the expedition (generated from non-human powered transport) and donating the carbon offsetting cost to an Australian and/or UK based initiative.’
To keep up with the team, you can follow them directly on the social media links below – and also look out for more information, video blogs and interviews on the Wilkinson blog.
For this extreme filming expedition we wanted to take a closer look at exactly what was in Jonathan’s kit bag. Over the coming months, Jonathan will also be showing the kit in use and sharing tips for filming and photography on such a challenging shoot.