2019 in review

With each passing year it’s slowly sinking in and I’m finally beginning to accept it: there simply isn’t enough time to deliver on all my photography ambitions and ideas.

Between the commitments of a fun and energetic family, a busy day-job at Tonkin + Taylor, the @purephotoadventures.nz business, and various photography projects, capturing images purely for myself comes some way down the list.  And for this stage of the journey I’m becoming completely fine with that.

That said, as always I remain extremely grateful for the incredible opportunities I have.  When I say I don’t have enough time to deliver on my plans, that’s against a backdrop of 2019 being the year where I’ve spent more time on personal photography than ever!  It seems the more time I spend on this crazy obsession the more time I feel I need. ?


The photography year got off to an amazing start in early January.  It was one of those rare evenings where the sky gave a couple of hours notice that something spectacular was likely to happen.  Just west of home I headed to a barley field I’d scouted on a previous occasion…

Ye classic Canterbury nor’wester sunset

Later in the month I went on a scouting mission into Arthur’s Pass National Park and Craigieburn Forest Park.  I didn’t come away with any images but found a couple of waterfalls and gorges I thought would make great winter compositions.  As it panned out I didn’t find time to return – hopefully next year!


A bog-standard workday in late-January quickly transformed into one of the most exciting of the year.  In the middle of a meeting a Messenger notification rang out.  Picking up my phone I was surprised to see a message from Michael Shainblum saying he was keen to chat.  “Michael Shainblum, THE Michael Shainblum?!”.

I’d admired Michael’s timelapse and photography work for a long time and initially couldn’t fathom why he’d be in touch.  However, a few messages and Skypes later it turned out he was coming to New Zealand for a commercial project and needed a location guide and logistics planner.  Just three weeks later he landed and off we went on an amazing campervan adventure around the South Island.

Those 14 days are easily one of the biggest highlights of my photography career to date.  It was such an honour, not to mention a great learning experience, to share some time with such a humble, down-to-earth, and consummate professional and show him some of my favourite spots.

Nothing could better summarise the trip than the vlogs from Michael himself.

Michael’s series of vlogs from our 14-day campervan adventure

Part of my brief was to capture video footage of Michael doing his photography thing.  A long-lost love with video was rekindled!  So much so that not long after the trip I purchased a Ronin-S gimbal and stereo microphone.  Below is a video I produced using various test footage along with some clips from the trip with Michael.  Just below the video is the only two images I’ve edited from the Shainblum trip so far.

A collection of clips from my trip with Michael Shainblum along with some other test footage

Our time in the Aoraki-Mt Cook area was accompanied by a number of storm systems which produced some crazy weather conditions

The iconic boulders of Moeraki, captured on day 4 of our trip


When April arrives and the leaves turn golden it’s time for our @purephotoadventures.nz autumn tours.  This year our 4-day workshop took us to the Wanaka and Queenstown areas with side trips to the Mackenzie Basin and Milford Sound.  Later in the month our 7-day trip saw us back at the same locations but with the addition of a couple of days in Aoraki-Mt Cook National Park and a lot more time in Fiordland.  Autumn is always a spectacular time for photography and 2019 was no exception.

Capturing the autumn colours on a @purephotoadventures.nz workshop

Lake Wakatipu on a glorious autumn afternoon

Lake Tekapo and the Mackenzie Basin, taken on a flight between Queenstown and Christchurch following our 7-day autumn workshop

In between the two autumn workshops I spent a few days in quite possibly my favourite place in the world, Fiordland National Park.  Although the light gods weren’t especially on my side, the weather was incredible and it gave me a great opportunity to scout out a bunch of new locations (some of which I returned to later in the year). The highlight was an overnight trip to Gertrude Saddle, a spectacular spot long on my bucket list (make sure you read that link if you intend doing yourself; the route is not for the inexperienced or faint-hearted and it definitely shouldn’t be attempted in anything but fine weather).

Sunrise on Mt Talbot (2105m) and the Hollyford River

Taken from the top of an 800m vertical drop, the view from Gertrude Saddle to Milford Sound Piopiotahi is amazing


Winter announced its arrival with a bang in early June with a huge dump of snow calling me to the Ashburton Lakes area.  From dawn to dusk the conditions were incredible.  Unfortunately this proved to be false hope for a good winter.  The next couple of months were fairly mild and it wasn’t until mid-August before it really got going again.

Lake Heron after the first major snowfall for the winter

In mid-June the first of our two @purephotoadventures.nz winter trips got underway.  We had a few challenges with fog but it did make for some beautiful imagery over the 4 days we spent around Aoraki-Mt Cook and the Mackenzie Basin.  By the time we got to our second workshop in mid-August winter had come back with a vengeance, and this time, snow was our challenge!

Winter Workshop I: When we found gaps in the fog the scenes were spectacular

Winter Workshop II: During our first couple of days staying in Aoraki-Mt Cook around 30cm of snow fell

A fresh dump of snow on State Highway 80 and Aoraki-Mt Cook (3,724m)

As my video plans continued to take shape I decided it was finally time to make the plunge into the world of drone photography.  In June a Mavic 2 Pro was added to my arsenal.

7 Week Break

At the start of July I took an extended break.  In fact, the longest break I’d taken in my 21-year working career.  The opportunity arose because my time on the Kaikōura earthquake recovery (which I wrote about in both my previous reviews; see 2017 and 2018) was beginning to wind down.  Before new projects and commitments took over it was an opportunity to hit up some old and new spots around the South Island and hopefully, fingers crossed, use the luxury of time to capture some quality light.  It was 7 weeks of absolute bliss.

The period consisted of heading out on the road in blocks of 5-7 days before returning home for a day or two to say hello to the family and backup data.  The winter school holidays also coincided with this period, with those two weeks being spent with my family firstly in the Golden Bay area and then escaping the cold in Rarotonga.  The second winter workshop mentioned above also happened towards the end of the 7 weeks.

As you can imagine I took a LOT of photos and videos.  Even as I type this I’ve still only managed to do a first sweep through the images and process a few obvious keepers.  Slowly but surely working my way through them!

Over Week 1 I spent my time gradually making my way down the central South Island, eventually arriving on the south coast near Tuatapere.  From there I spent a bit of time mooching around Fiordland and managed to get a couple of good shots from locations I’d looked at earlier in the year.  On the way back I spent sometime in the Mackenzie area capturing both frosts and nor’west storms.

Recent rain had filled Lake Hauroko and drowned the lower sections of this jetty

This primordial spot in Fiordland is a location I’ve tried to shoot several times in the past; this is the best light I’ve had so far (it was actually raining!)

Week 2 signaled the start of school holidays and so with a fully loaded car the family and I headed for Golden Bay.   Although not quite what you’d call swimming weather the days were glorious and very un-winter like.  I managed to slip out on a few mornings and evenings for photography, and finally made it to my favourite beach in New Zealand for a sunrise shoot (also got in another sunset there too!).

My very first frame from a sunrise shoot at the Archway Islands, Wharariki Beach

Ligar Bay was just a hop, skip and a jump from where we were staying – easy for sunrises!

After only a day at home we were on a plane to start Week 3 in the Cook Islands, catching up with two sets of friends and their families while we were there.  Rarotonga was my first trip to a Pacific island and I was completely won over by it’s beauty and super-relaxed way of life.  I didn’t take much of my camera gear but still came away with a snap or two.

In early July my family and I traded out the New Zealand winter for the warmth of Rarotonga

Week 4 was spent exploring the southern part of the West Coast.  To the most part the weather was TOO clear and fine for photography and many of the days turned into scouting missions.  But things got a little epic when Rach Stewart and Jack Burden showed up and we flew into a spot above Fox Glacier for an overnighter.  Aside from the amazing landscapes we were very lucky to be joined by around 15 juvenile kea who were an absolute delight!

The West Coast has a habit of delivering some epic sunsets

During the 7 weeks I had several opportunities to capture my favourite alpine parrot (well, it’s the world’s only alpine parrot), the kea (nestor notabilis)

Week 5 saw me back in the Mackenzie Country exploring a few new locations.  By this stage the mountains were looking a little more wintery and a couple of nor-wester storms blew through, preventing some of the drone shots I had in mind.  But my luck improved when the Southern Lights (Aurora Australis) decided to make an appearance on a crystal clear evening.

For around 5 minutes Lake Pukaki went still enough to grab this shot, then a nor’west storm kicked in for the rest of the day

Lady Aurora made an appearance while I was staying in Twizel during Week 5

During Week 6 our second winter workshop commenced and the snow well and truly arrived.  As Week 7 commenced, I spent the last few days of my break exploring the newly blanketed landscapes around Aoraki-Mt Cook and the Mackenzie Country.  I rounded out the break with some skiing at Mt Hutt, spending the sunrise and sunset capturing some spots close to the ski area.

Lake Pukaki in less calmer conditions

Early morning view from Mt Hutt, taken in the last weekend of my 7 week break

This 9-image panorama shot from my drone of the Rakaia River is one of the last images taken on my break


By the time I returned to work in mid-August it’s fair to say I’d used up all my absentee vouchers with my family.  And when you’ve been away from a day job that long there’s always a fair bit to catch up on.  For those reasons the camera didn’t come out of the cupboard for the best part of three months.  Equally the motivation to work through thousands of images and start the editing process was not exactly on the high side given other competing demands.

Nevertheless, during this three months I started to chip away on some editing and kept fairly busy with print orders, a couple of commission jobs, and supplying images for some upcoming product launches.

At the end of November it was time for the last @purephotoadventures.nz workshop of the year to the Mackenize Basin and Aoraki-Mt Cook.

A fiery sunrise on the last morning of our @purephotoadventures.nz Lakes & Lupins workshop

The foothill ranges looking towards Mt Somers, taken on an end-of-year commission project

2020 approaches

There’s one more adventure coming up before the year is out; we’re off to walk the Paparoa Track, New Zealand’s latest Great Walk.  Well, part of it anyway – a slip has closed the central section of the track until March 2020 ?.

That’s nearly a wrap!  As always, a big thank you to everyone who follows my work and provides ongoing inspiration and support.  Have a great festive season and see you all again in 2020!