Milford Sound is one of those locations that you owe yourself to have in your portfolio if you are a landscape photographer.
Located in the South Island of New Zealand, it is one of those iconic places that has everything you can look for: sharp mountains that dive into the water, lush vegetation, heaps of compositions and most important of all (well, for me at least) it has a huge potential for reflections!
Photo: Nico Babot
Now, while this location is fairly easy to access (by New Zealand standards…), it can be quite time consuming to get there and if you only have a few weeks in NZ, you might want to make sure you will get there when it is at its best.
Here are a few tips I wish I had known before I went there the first time, and some insights of what went into shooting this image… (above)
How do you get to Milford Sound?
There are two ways to access Milford sound: driving and flying.
While the latter will provide you some amazing views on Fiordland and the southern alps, I don’t recommend you to fly. And here is why: planes don’t run at night in that part of New Zealand, which means you will not be able to be on location at those time of the day. Set aside the obvious reason why you would want to be there at sunset, there is another one, less obvious.
This place is very popular, with 30% of the visitors coming to New Zealand visiting that remote location. This can be a very underwhelming experience to be there in the middle of the day. But don’t worry, there is a silver lining to this: if you are staying for the night, you will most likely have the place for yourself after 4pm. Well, that is if you don’t count the sandflies (more about this later…)
How did I take my Image of the Iconic Milford Sound?
The shot was taken at sunset. For me this is the best time of the day to shoot that location (as opposed to sunrise) with the most chances to get an interesting sky.
Sunrise can work too but because you are on the west side of the southern alps, you will not get any light on the mountains before late in the morning. So forget about this pink light hitting the summit, this is not the place for it.
Why did I choose this particular composition?
If you’ve looked at some of my other photos, you’ll know that I am always looking for reflections and Milford Sound is a great place to find them. This composition aims at emphasizing that reflection: there is no foreground, nothing can give you a clue of what is up or down, and the horizon line is straight in the middle, accentuating this idea of symmetry.
The other important thing I wanted to highlight from this location is Mitre peak that rises over 1,690m. The cloud is creating the perfect leading line to drive your eye to it, but I also waited for the sun to start disappearing behind it in order to create an interesting element that also drives your eye to the peak.
What gear did I use?
Most of my shots are taken with a 16-35mm lens at f8 which is the sweet spot for that lens. While I used the same lens, I did change my settings for this one in order to create a sunstar. To get this effect, I lowered my aperture to f16, with shutter speed of 1/60s.
In order to improve the dynamic range, I also used a .9 graduated filter that helped lowering the exposure of the sky.
Feeling ready to fly to NZ and take a similar shot of Milford Sound?
Wait a second, there are a few more things you might want to know before you book your flight…
With an annual rainfall of 6,412 mm each year, Milford Sound is known as the wettest inhabited place in New Zealand and one of the wettest in the world. To give you a comparison, the annual rainfall in Hanoi Vietnam is 1,680 mm… yes, it is nearly 4 times the amount… And Hanoi is not known as a dry place!
So my advice to you: take your raincoat and check the weather forecast:
Tides and mud:
The bay in Milford sound is quite shallow near the shore, which means two things: when the tide comes, it comes fast, and when the tide is low, there is a lot of mud. So my advice is to bring waterproof boots and check the tide times to avoid any bad surprises.
Remember at the beginning when I told you’d be alone if you shoot at sunrise or sunset in Milford Sound? Well, I lied. Thousands of sandflies will be keeping you company, and those little creatures are very affectionate. I personally don’t mind them but they can drive you mad if you are not use to them. So my advice: wear long sleeves and pants. Even if it is a warm evening of summer.
Also, check the front of your lens because they tend to like flying around and you might end up with black spots all over your picture if you don’t get them to move along…
Overall, I hope that the sandflies will not put you off, as Milford is definitely worth spending a little time. If you have any other advice regarding this location, don’t hesitate to share them with me in the comments.
– Nico Babot
Images: Nicolas Babot