The Flinders Ranges, the D800 & some fresh air.

On July 1, 2012 by Simon Fleming

First morning, first sunrise in the Flinders for Maya.

Last week I was fortunate enough to be able to take a week off with my wife and 7 month old German Shepherd Maya. We are expecting our first child in early October, so this was also to be possibly the last time we get away camping without a little extra person in the mix. We decided to head up to the Flinders Ranges, which for those of you reading outside of Australia is about 500km north of Adelaide, in South Australia. The ‘Flinders’ are a favourite region of mine, and somewhere I have travelled to since being able to drive. In fact not long after obtaining my learners licence I convinced a fully licensed driver to accompany me so I could participate in my first official Land Rover Club trip in my own vehicle. She was a friend of my sister’s who had absolutely no idea what she had signed up for being a passenger in a 1965 soft top ex-army Land Rover, covering around 1500km in 7 days. Top speed of 100km/h if you were lucky (downhill, weather permitting and a tail wind), and not exactly a quiet or smooth ride (that’s putting it very mildly). She had an ‘interesting’ week.

The plan for the week was for Emma to take it easy and for me to breathe some fresh air and take the D800 for a spin. Plus introduce Maya to the great outdoors, which up until now she had only experienced a brief ‘controlled’ taste.

The D800 is a fantastic chunk of camera. Typical Nikon build quality, and ergonomics that just feel right. I read all the typical internet murmurings of how it couldn’t possibly be any good at high ISOs, how ridiculous 36MP is and all the other unsubstantiated rubbish that was flowing before the camera was even available. I have to say I wish I had just stuck with my gut feeling that it would be great – another game changer potentially like the D3 was – and not wasted my time reading all that garbage. I don’t generally shoot at high ISOs unless I have to – I much prefer to get the best noise and dynamic range the camera can give me by staying at it’s lowest native ISO. Having said that, there is nothing wrong with what the 800 produces from 3200 – 6400 ISO.

ISO 6400. No noise correction.

I have already shot a number of portrait sessions with it, and absolutely love the results and the resolution it produces. The biggest issue I have noticed (mine, not the camera’s) is how quickly it will show up inaccurate focusing…  if you don’t nail your critical focus on the eyes, it just seems to be so more obvious than with the D3. Even though there is some really outstanding technology in this camera, you really need to be on your game to get the most out of it – which I really like. It has made me tighten up a little more on my technique, iron out some wrinkles, continue to adapt and learn. I had a brief run with it in Tasmania shooting some landscapes but nothing I was overly happy with. My head was in a very different place, being down there with Joe McNally & Drew Gurian, and to be honest I just made some really basic mistakes. Small mistakes, but enough to kill the images I had hoped for. So, the Flinders were going to provide me with an opportunity to rectify those mistakes – I hoped. This is one of my favourite panoramic images shot whilst the weather held together. Still putting the final touches on it… it was shot as five vertical images using a Nikon 24mm PC-E lens – this is how I shoot all my panos.

I also shot some portraits of Emma, who usually knows when I’m planning for her to step in front of my camera, and somehow vanishes into thin air – but not this time. Both were shot using a single SB900 through a Lastolite 24 inch Ezybox (the Joe McNally version with the white interior), one in the morning light, the other at last light – had a 1/2 CTO gel on the flash to keep the light warm as per the scene for this one.


Also managed to grab a lucky shot of Maya while I had the off-camera lighting going.

The first few days were beautiful weather wise. Cool, clear days. Nights that were cloud free for some night shooting, but not so chilly that you couldn’t enjoy them (along with a nice drop of red and a camp fire of course). We did more of the four wheel driving tracks that I had planned to do in those first few days, which was great, but unfortunately the wrong way round in hindsight as the weather did a complete about turn later in the week. We had some of the wettest and windiest weather we have ever experienced camping up in the Flinders – the winds were absolutely ferocious, snarling almost arctic style winds. I didn’t sleep at all the last two nights as I expected to have to get up at any moment to re-erect the flattened tent… it sounded like what I imagined it would be like on an old sailing ship in a storm (minus the pitching and rolling thankfully).


With the weather turning super-feral outside, I setup a workspace in the front of the tent whilst Emma and Maya slept in the nice and cosy sealed up bit at the back. It wasn’t all bad – reheated some campfire pizza made the previous night, and stayed warm by the heat of the MacBoook Pro and a big cup of coffee… Somebody once said a shitty day in the field generally beats any day stuck in the office. Sure does.

Unfortunately, because of the dramatic change in the weather a few places I had wanted to get some pre-planned panoramics shot at just weren’t going to produce the goods. Still, nasty weather often produces some unexpected shots so I kept that in mind whilst driving home, and did manage to get a few dramatic shots of the weather blowing through the Ranges. Beautiful weather or nasty weather, it is just a privilege to see this great country in any light.

 To finish up, a short four second time-lapse star trial shot and produced entirely in the D800 – one of a number of new features it has on board.


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