The Murchison through the lens
Part of the living quarters for the men operating the State Battery at Sandstone. Picture: Stan Davies

Photographer Stan Davies packed his new Nikon Df and hit the road on a photographic quest, heading up to the Murchison and along the Miners’ Pathway drive trail.

See his full set of pictures HERE each with a full description of how it was taken and the equipment that was used for it to form a practical tutorial.

The Murchison is five or so hours from north of Perth, and the rich history and harsh landscape have always fascinated me. The potential to capture stunning images is unlimited, from landscapes to old rusted cars and machinery to ghost towns. You can comfortably explore the Miners' Pathway in four to five days, visiting the towns of Paynes Find, Yalgoo, Cue, Mt Magnet, Sandstone and Meekatharra.

Good preparation and planning are essential and I enjoy poring over maps, studying interesting features in the region and looking for photographic opportunities. Get the car serviced, check the spare tyre (preferably carry two), carry a few tools, plenty of water, work out distances and make sure you can carry enough fuel (you may need extra in a jerry can).

I drove up through Toodyay, Goomalling, Dowerin and Cadoux to Cleary (just a siding), where I slept for the first night. After Cleary, the outback experience begins. Taking the Mouroubra Road to Paynes Find, you travel next to 350,000ha Lake Moore. For most of the 150km to Paynes Find, the dirt road weaves through salt pans and the earth is a rich red.

At Paynes Find, I fill the tank - top up with fuel at every opportunity. I look around at the old State Battery, which operated from 1912 to 1986, crushing 70,000 tonnes of ore for 70,000 ounces of gold. There are plenty of old cars and rusted-out machinery to photograph.

From here I travel up the Paynes Find Yalgoo Road. The land is dense with spindly shrubs and small, lollipop-like trees, and rocky outcrops add interest to the journey. I stop frequently to photograph different aspects of my surrounds, including an old cemetery - these are always interesting and tell a story of hardship.

I stalk a bungarra; these are my favourite lizard, looking like miniature dinosaurs as they move across the burnt red earth.

Yalgoo has lots to photograph, from the entrance to town with its large metal cut-outs to the old railway station at the racecourse, with the Yalgoo Jockey Club horseshoe. Jokers Tunnel was cut by pick and shovel, in pursuit of gold, through more than 100m of rock; the Dominican Chapel of St Hyacinth makes for good images.

The homestead of Jingemarra Station is my next stop. This was once a thriving station and owned and run, along with Twin Peaks (45km south of Murchison), by the Boddington family. Looking tired and run-down now, the stately homestead would have been an absolute oasis in its heyday.

Time is slipping by. I have covered more than 400km, with frequent stops, and it is now time to think about where I can camp for the night. After studying the map, I decide to head for the ghost town of Big Bell, taking in Walga Rock on the way. Walga Rock is on Austin Downs Station and has the biggest gallery of indigenous rock paintings in the Murchison, including snakes, emu and kangaroo tracks.

Arriving at Big Bell as the sun is setting I have to unload the gear. My camping is fairly basic, with an old metal skillet and a pot for cooking and a billy for heating water to make a cuppa. I put down a large groundsheet to throw my swag on. I'm set for the night. After a hearty meal of chicken cooked in the skillet and vegies cooked in foil on the coals, it's time to hit the swag and gaze at the array of stars our outback throws up. Simply amazing.

As a photographer, it is essential for me to catch the early light and, hopefully, a magical sunrise. When photographing a sunrise, it is best if you can have something like a windmill, a tree or a mine poppet head as a silhouette against the sky, which involves some planning the night before.

After ferreting around the ruins of Big Bell and having eggs on toast for breakfast, it is time to head off to Cue. But not more than 10km out of Big Bell, the car blows a rear tyre. I put on the spare and will have to try to find a new tyre in Cue. There are no tyres in Cue but I call Murchison Mechanical Services in Mt Magnet, which has some, and George agrees to stay open until I arrive - typical of the people in the outback. George sets me up with two new tyres at a great price and the trip is back on schedule.

After spending the next couple of days exploring between Cue and Mt Magnet, getting heaps of images, it is time to head off to Sandstone. It is like a breath of fresh air driving into Sandstone. The streets are alive with plants and flowers, there are lovely footpaths and there's a fabulous water park to cool off in.

The National Hotel is beautifully maintained. The front bar is made for great photography and there's time to chat with some of the old locals to find out more about the area. The Heritage Museum is full of memorabilia and artefacts, and I spend quite a bit of time here photographing these pieces.

London Bridge, a natural weathered basalt rock formation believed to be about 350 million years old, is the destination for tonight's camp. For more than 100 years it has been a popular lookout and picnic site. This has to be the best camp spot of the trip.

As usual, I am up before the sun and on location. There are no clouds in the sky which means the chances of something happening are pretty slim - but the early glow gives the rocks a nice golden colour.

After breakfast I head along the Heritage Trail back to town. There are some good opportunities for photographs at the State Battery (old houses and run-down machinery), Old Brewery and Contradiction Well - relics of the town's first water supply.

In town I head to the National Hotel to get some images in the early light. To my delight there is an Aboriginal family outside, soaking up the early-morning sun, and they have two of the most photogenic young girls you could imagine.

After asking the mother's permission (always do this when photographing children), the girls are the best models and totally play up to the camera, allowing me to capture some great portraits. I must have taken 30 shots in the space of 10 minutes before the girls, along with grandma, were bundled into the car and headed out bush for the school holidays.

"People shots" are my favourite and this has just made my day.

It's now time to make my way back to Perth along the Paynes Find Sandstone Road to Great Northern Highway, and home.

Don't miss Stan's practical photography tutorial here

And what was in his photographic bag?

Stan says: "I recently purchased the latest full frame camera from Nikon, the retro style Df. I have photographed art shows, weddings and now fieldwork. This camera has the best sensor by far. Its performance in low light is amazing. It is light and feels great in the hand."

The Nikon Df has a robust magnesium alloy, weather and dust resistant body, but feels light in the hand.

It has a 16.2 megapixel FX CMOS sensor and the EXPEED 3 image processing engine similar to Nikon's flagship D4.

The camera has an ISO range of 100 to 12,800 - that top end helps to give it its exceptional ability in low light.

The Df has a A 39-point Autofocus (AF) System with a variety of AF-area modes such as Single point AF, Dynamic-area AF, 3D tracking and Auto-area AF. There is quick focusing throughout the frame, even when subjects are moving fast.

Stan's other gear was a Nikon D800, Nikon 24-70mm f2.8 lens, Nikon 70-200mm f2.8 lens, Nikon 20mm f2.8 lens, polarising filter, remote control and Manfrotto carbon tripod.

The West Australian

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