Recent Travel Adventures

Statue at 1000 Steps Kokoda Track Memorial Walk

1000 Steps Uphill - Hiking the Kokoda Track Memorial Walk

1000 steps and I’m at the bottom of them, along with women clad in fluorescent active wear, hikers hauling weighted training packs and dads carrying kids. The Kokoda Track Memorial Walk, popularly called the 1000 Steps, is a short but steep walk in the Dandenong Ranges, Melbourne.

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Blanket Bay

Hiking the Great Ocean Walk - What You Need to Know

The Great Ocean Walk runs along the southern coast of Victoria, Australia. Despite a couple of steep sections, the short days and well-marked trail make it a scenic and relaxed hike, suitable for hikers getting their first taste of long distance walks. You’ll pass through the green forests of the Otways to the rugged coast, […]

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Writing Advice

Upcoming Appearances: Noir at the Bar and the Science for Science Fiction Conference

I am so excited to have a number of Melbourne appearances in March and April. I’ll be speaking alongside some incredible Australian authors. Whether your interest is in crime or science fiction, there’s something for everyone. 

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Header image of Genre fiction authors

28 Epic Short Story Tips from Australian Genre Writers

With the recently released And Then… anthology chock full of amazing Aussie authors, I couldn’t resist drawing on their collective writing knowledge. I asked them for their best short story tips and they delivered!

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Photography Tips

Light travel backpack and camera bag

Travelling light as a photographer (no zip-off pants allowed)

Two and a half weeks with only cabin baggage sounds terrifying to most people. And it’s exactly what I’m doing tomorrow morning. I’m flying off to the States with only a small backpack and my camera satchel.

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footscray new years eve fireworks

How to take photos of fireworks

Over the new year I always love to take photos of fireworks. Nothing says celebration like a giant fireworks explosion! It was my first new year in Melbourne, so I sought out a great spot to take pictures in Footscray, watching both the 9:30pm fireworks in Footscray and the midnight fireworks over the city. My […]

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Recent Posts

Why you need to clean your camera sensor

I’ve given my Nikon D7000 a pretty hefty beating over the last year and a half. I’ve been through deserts, canyons, rivers, beaches and in -20C weather. And of course I changed lenses in these locations. There was bound to be some dust that got into the camera. But having been on the road it was difficult to stop and take the time to find a place that would clean my sensor, so I kept going and put it at the back of my mind.

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Do I Edit My Photos?

Do I edit my photos? It was a question I got asked the other day by a friend of mine. It’s come up over the years from different people. The short answer is “yes”. The long answer is “it depends”. There’s an enormous range of editing techniques for photos, from small minor changes to massive cut and paste jobs. So I’m going to explain where I fit in on the scale of editing.

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Shinsegae Shopping Mall

Kat: We’ve encountered a number of Guinness World Record holders in Korea. We’ve been to the closest train station to a beach. Listened to Psy’s record-breaking YouTube video Gangnam Style (if you haven’t seen it yet, you must be living in the Antarctic). And now we’ve been to the world’s biggest department store. Shinsegae shopping mall.

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Photo Essay: Autumn in South Korea

Autumn in South Korea is one of the best times to visit. It’s not too hot or cold, and you’re treated to the most amazing display of colours. Over the past month I’ve visited two temples in the local region in order to shoot the autumn leaves. That’s fall for those of you who don’t speak proper English! It’s difficult to get a clear shot in Korea because of the high rise developments. There are apartment complexes even in the countryside. But temples provide a beautiful park space combined with oriental architecture.

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How to edit a novel for NaNoEdMo

I’ve always wanted to take part in NaNoWriMo. For the uninitiated it’s where you challenge yourself to write a book over the space of one month. You have to write around 3000 words per day to meet your quota, but at the end of the month you have a pile of words ready to be edited into a novel.

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Tongdosa Temple in Autumn

Kat: On the weekend I visited Tongdosa Temple as another meetup with Ulsan photographers. I’ve been leaf chasing this season with the beautiful autumn colours (that’s fall, for you non-English speakers!). Temples offer a unique opportunity to photograph the seasonal changes next to oriental architecture. And it’s often difficult to get a clean landscape shot in Korea, because they’re often blocked by electrical wires, ugly apartment buildings and inconvenient town planning.

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What’s in my camera kit?

When I was looking to buy my camera I found it very useful to see what other photographers had in theirs. Here’s a little poke into my camera kit…

 

Nikon D7000

The Nikon D7000 came out just when I was looking for a new camera. It’s small and light. While it’s not a full frame camera, the DX body works great and has a decent sensor size. It also takes HD video. Of course I’d love to get a full frame camera, but my budget didn’t allow for one… which leads me to my next item.

 

Nikon 24-70mm f/2.8

Of all the advice I received when looking for a camera kit, the best was “buy the best glass you can afford and upgrade the body every few years”. I was tossing up between buying this lens and a cheaper one. I considered that if I was ever going to go professional that I would need professional glass, and that if I bought a standard lens at the time, I would still want to buy a professional lens in the future. So instead of spending money on two lenses, I bought this bad boy and have never regretted the decision. This lens is so sharp it can capture the shape of salt crystals on a table. The bokeh is as creamy as a glass of Baileys. Although it is on the heavy side (nicknamed “The Beast” by many a Nikon user), I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s my go-to lens.

 

Tack sharp with delicious bokeh…

 

Sigma 10-20mm f/4.5-5.6

While this lens doesn’t have the best optics and a fair bit of distortion on the edges, it’s a hell of a lot of fun to use. And fun is really important in being creative and discovering new angles to shoot. It’s also great for shooting enormous things like the Hoover Dam.

 

UV Filters

On both of my lenses I have B+W UV filters. Always buy a good quality filter for your good quality glass!

 

Circular Polarizing Filter

I have a circular polarizing filter in my kit, but because both of my lenses are fairly large in diameter, it produces mixed results.

 

Graduated Neutral Density Filters

If you shoot landscapes you really should have a set of these in your bag. I’ve gradually been learning how to use them over the past year, and they help a lot in creating a balanced exposure in mixed light conditions. I have a set of Cokin filters.

 

Vanguard Lens Cleaning Kit

I always use the hankie sized microfiber cloth when I am out shooting to keep dust off my lens. It’s also really helpful when doing timed exposures in wet conditions. I keep the cloth over the lens until I’m ready to take the photo. And recently it doubled as an emergency hankie, while I was struck with the sniffles outdoors. Thankfully the washing machine brings these up like new!

 

Lowepro Fastpack 250

So you have all this fancy camera gear, but where are you going to put it? I’ve had a number of Lowepro bags over the years, but the Fastpack is one of the best designed travel camera backpacks you can get. The camera is loaded on the side, which means you can get to your camera in a matter of seconds. But it doesn’t look like a camera bag, so those sneaky thieves can’t find your gear! Added to this, there is a slot for my laptop in the back. While I don’t carry around my laptop everywhere, it fits all my valuables in a cabin baggage sized bag. Added to this, there is a handy upper compartment where I store my raincoat and snacks if I am hiking. One addition I would make to the bag is an inbuilt rain cover and straps for holding in a tripod on the side.

 

 

Manfrotto 190CX and Grip Ball Head

This is the newest addition to my camera family. I’ve been using a Gorillapod for a while, but I’m moving into shooting video as well as stills. And while the Gorillapod has been great, especially in places that don’t allow tripods, it gets difficult shooting landscapes with it! Because I do a lot of hiking and travelling, I opted for the carbon fibre version. Well worth the money and very lightweight.

 

Multi-card reader

Tres useful for putting your pictures on the computer and it means you don’t need to fuss with carrying another cable.

 

16GB Memory Cards

Memory cards are more important that you think. Most people don’t realize why some memory cards are more expensive than others. It’s because of their speed. The number on the front tells you how fast it is. If you shoot video you need a card that is an 8 or more.

 

What was in my kit that’s not there now?

I did have a few things with me on this trip that I’ve since discarded or sent back to Australia. This includes my old kit lens 70-300mm which wasn’t good enough quality on the D7000, added to which I hardly used it except to take photos at the zoo. I’ve switched to cloud backups for my music and photography, which cut down on the three external hard drives. Everything else in the picture is still with me, except I replaced my Nalgene bottle in the states. And yes, all this fits in the backpack. Cool hey!

 

Things I would like in my kit

Ahh… so here comes my wish list of things I would like. Thanks Santa!

 

  • Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8
  • Nikon D600
  • GPS Adaptor
  • Remote shutter release

 

Why Skyfall is a masterclass in cinematography

I recently had the chance to view the new James Bond film, Skyfall. And what a film it is. Spectacular performances, brilliant direction and a chilling villain. But my highest praise is reserved for the incredible cinematography by Roger Deakins. Deakins may be a household name to cinephiles, but cinematographers often lose their recognition among the more visible stars of a film.

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Ulsan Photo Walk: Photo Essay

This year I was involved with the Ulsan Photo Walk, as part of the Scott Kelby Worldwide Photo Walk. It was organised by Jason Teale, a wonderful local photographer. We met at the Taewha Grand Park in Ulsan, just as a helicopter was coming in to practice an emergency rescue. Very dramatic.

It was great to meet up with some of the amateur and professional photographers in the area.While Jason took the beginner photographers on a guided walk,  Jason’s challenge to the more experienced photographers was to look at detail. I started by taking photos of the beautiful autumn leaves near the bridge.

I finally got out my graduated neutral density filters. I’ve carried them halfway across the world and only used them a couple of times. But the patient process of landscape photography gave me a great opportunity to use them, particularly as the sun went down. I’m really happy with the results, as you can see in the landscape at the start of the article. Unfortunately my new tripod hadn’t arrived yet, so I was stuck using my gorillapod on a rickety bridge, which shook every time someone walked across it.

As I explored the wheat fields, these joyful children running through the fields reminded me of Eva Cassidy’s classic song, Among the Fields of Barley.

Many years have passed since those summer days among the fields of barley.
See the children run as the sun goes down among the fields of gold.
You’ll remember me when the west wind moves upon the fields of barley.
You can tell the sun in his jealous sky when we walked in fields of gold.

I was entranced by the feather like aspects of the barley fields as I walked around the Taewha Grand Park. It gave me a good opportunity to play with the delicious bokeh of the Nikon 24-70. As the evening went on my photography became more experimental, until it devolved into bokeh photography and I decided that it was time to stop!

If you’re interested in photography and live in the Ulsan area, please join our Photographers in Ulsan group on Facebook.

Eonyang Bulgogi Festival

Kat: One of the greatest Korean inventions is the DIY table top BBQ. Imagine piles upon piles of beef delivered to your table with copious side servings of salad, garlic and chili sauce. That’s bulgogi. It’s my favourite Korean food, simple as it is. Mmmm… bulgogi, as Homer Simpson would say.

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Seoraksan National Park

Kat: Seoraksan National Park is the highlight of many itineraries in South Korea. It’s easy to see why, with the crystal clear waters splashing through enormous granite valleys. I always knew I wanted to go there during my time in Korea, and the opportunity came up with the 5 day Chuseok holiday.

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Oppa Gangneung Style

Travelling to Gangneung

Kat: This October we got five days off work to celebrate Chuseok. Chuseok is Korean thanksgiving, when everyone goes back to their homes to visit family, eat lots of rice cakes and for kids to mooch money off relatives. During Chuseok the trains sell out, roads are packed with traffic and buses take a long time on major highways. We booked train tickets on the day they came out, so we got seats, but other people had to stand up on the train. We used the holiday to go right up to the northernmost corner of Korea, Gangwon province. Gangwon is a coastal area which borders the East sea and the DMZ. It is the only split province in South Korea.

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Publications update: Literary Traveler, Weird Fiction Review and a LOT of book editing

I just wanted to share a few things going on with my writing these days. Literary Traveler has published one of my articles called Jack Kerouac, John Steinbeck and the Californian Coast. It talks about the spiritual aspects of travelling, particularly finding yourself in quiet places. I’m rather proud of it, I put a lot of work into it and the experience of driving Highway 1 meant a lot to me. Go read it now!

I have a few publications coming up on Weird Fiction Review, which is a wonderful resource of articles, stories and features on weird fiction. I’m writing a series of essays as part of their 101 Weird Writers section, based on the epic anthology The Weird . I’ve written about Charles Beaumont, an under-appreciated short story writer from the 60s, and just finished an essay on Margo Lanagan, one of my favourite Australian writers.

Finally I’ve almost finished editing my YA novel, which has been sitting around for a long time. It was one of the first long form pieces I wrote, so it needed a lot of editing, including a tense and narrator change! But it’s shaping into a better story. I’m amazed that I can now look at my work far more analytically than when I started writing. It’s encouraging for me to see how far I’ve come as a writer and to keep on doing it!

Bulguksa and Seokguram Temples in Gyeongju

Kat: It’s been an exciting week at Monkey HQ! We hosted our very first Couch Surfer. Couch Surfing is an international community of travellers who practice hospitality by putting people up in their homes for a couple of nights. It might seem somewhat scary to invite a stranger into your house, especially off the internet, but Couch Surfing has a great system of vouching and feedback (a bit like ebay). So we met Edgar, a lovely guy from the Philippines who is also a travel writer and photographer. Edgar blogs at Eazytraveler, which really captures his chilled out nature.

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Seoul Vacation

Meeting the folks

Justin: This week we entertained my parents, the two orangutans from Sydney, Australia. It was a welcome visit as the past couple of weeks have been kinda tough for me, with homesickness, culture shock and feeling really tired every day. I needed a fresh blast from Australia.

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How to take an Impressionist Photo

My favourite artistic period is the Impressionist movement. I adore Renoir and Monet, Pissarro and Cezanne.

I’ve experimented over the years with creating impressionist images in my photography. Impressionist photography is quite broad; some people simply blur images or take photographs of bokeh. I think it’s important to still anchor the viewer in the landscape, having an awareness of place, which means the picture isn’t just mistaken for camera shake.

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Capture the Colour

Travelsupermarket.com is running a photo competition called Capture the Colour, where you pick five photographs that represent blue, green, yellow, white and red. I think it’s a pretty interesting idea, as using colour in an image is an essential part of travel photography. There’s a whopping first prize of 2000 pounds and iPads for category winners. You can enter the competition here. Here are my entries in the competition.

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Funny Singapore signs

Kat: I recently travelled to Singapore to meet my mum and my sister for a week’s holiday. Singapore is known worldwide as a clean, safe and friendly country, albeit only 20kms wide. The reason for this cleanliness? Signs and fines.

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Bumming in Busan

Kat: Having lived in Ulsan for just over three months now it was weird that we’d never travelled to Busan before. Busan is Korea’s second largest city, right on the coast, and a big shipping town. It’s only 40 minutes by bus from our place, 20 on the train. But friends of ours were having a birthday party and I was flying out from Busan airport the next day to Singapore, so it was a good excuse to go down an explore the city.

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How to Make Money as a Travel Writer

So you want to be a travel writer… oh, and you want to get paid? It’s the dilemma I’m facing as I look at travel writing and photography as a viable long-term career. Dreaming about tropical islands and six figure advances won’t feed the dog. But making a business plan and realistically assessing my income will go a long way to making me financially solvent. A budget is the first step to making money as a travel writer. I’m going to use my situation as an example.

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