A Photographer’s Guide To Phillip Island – Part 1: ‘The Pinnacles’

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Phillip Island is a place for me that brings back fond memories of my childhood. Growing up our extended family had a place at Ventnor and summers were spent down at the beach house walking the dogs, sleeping in, heading to the beach at YCW and watching one day cricket on the telebox. These were just a few memories from this place, and not to mention some of the stunning natural landscapes on such a relatively small island. More on this later!

I thought I would write a bit of a blog on some of the better places I’ve been to photograph for other landscape photographers planning on heading down to ‘the island’ as I know it. This is just my personal reflection on where I think is worth checking out, there are most definitely plenty of places I haven’t seen – or can’t remember so please don’t take this as gospel on what you should do when you’re down there.

I spent from a Thursday night until Monday night at Phillip Island and faced all sorts of weather conditions, the first night I arrived I faced 60kmph+ wind gusts and on the day I left there was barely a breath of wind.

Well without further ado lets get into it!

Cape Woolamai – The Pinnacles

The Pinnacles has to be without doubt what I feel the most naturally spectacular place on the island. The rugged landscape has to be seen up close to be believed, if you are planning on coming here make sure you are prepared to walk a few kilometres in from the carpark. I’d pack a jacket, snacks and plenty of water as well as your photography equipment. In my opinion a quality DSLR and a sturdy tripod are a must. A torch would be worth packing for when you’re heading back to the car, especially during the winter months when darkness sets in quick. I think the most important thing here is a sturdy pair of hiking boots for the slippery rocks. Leave the thongs in the car people!

Notes

I’ve been here at both sunrise and sunset but I would strongly recommend a sunset visit, make sure you have some quality ND graduated filters too as the contrast between the dark rocks and the bright sky can be intense. Most of the below photos are taken with my Canon 5d mk III but there’s also a few with my mobile phone as well to show the not so exciting parts. Also please ensure you check the tides before you come here, I’d recommend visiting at low tide or when the tide is receding, also Northerly / Easterly off-shore winds would help you combat the seaspray which can be quite intense down on the rocky part of ‘the beach’.

If you’re not confident with your level of fitness, experience vertigo and are severely afraid of heights I’d maybe consider giving this place a miss and checking out of the many other beautiful parts of the island! It’s worth checking this place out with a friend too just in case you run in into any trouble. Most of the area seems to have pretty good mobile reception which is a bonus.

Pinnacles-walk

Allow a solid half hour to 40 minutes to get to the Pinnacles

The walk is a beautiful one from the Cape Woolamai surf beach carpark. You’ll make your way across the beach and then up a set of stairs before the cape and just follow the signposts around to the right to the Pinnacles. There is a sandier track that runs parallel to the beach but it’s definitely a slower walk and you won’t have the view of the beach/cape for the most part.

After a short walk along the beach you'll reach this set of stairs

After a short walk along the beach you’ll reach this set of stairs

A view of the Pinnacles from the walking track above the beach as you begin to approach them

A view of the Pinnacles from the walking track above the beach as you begin to approach them

Eventually you’ll arrive at the top of the Pinnacles! If the winds are South-Westerly as they were the first night I went then you’ll know about it, if they’re 60kmph+ I reccon you could jump towards the ocean and get blown back on the land! Don’t try it though, it’s a long way down 🙂 The view from the top can be fantastic from several different viewpoints but for the full Pinnacles experience I would recommend on heading down the little goat track to the beach. This will be on the right of you when you arrive at the top of the area.

A view of the Pinnacles just before you head down the steep track to the beach

A view of the Pinnacles just before you head down the steep track to the beach

Once down at the rocky beach make sure you watch your footing on the rocks, whilst they’ve been there for millions of years sometimes they can move if you stand on the wrong one. Also be weary if you’re walking with your tripod’s legs extended! There’s a few ripper spots to shoot the sunset once down, I like to shoot from around the right hand side in the little cove at first. It’s preferable to get to this spot at low tide, it may be achievable at high tide but you better keep those eyes on the ocean. It’s quite common to be calm one minute here and treacherous the next!

If the sun breaks through you’ll also get to experience some amazing light on that rock right in front of you, check it out below..

In the cove without direct sunlight

In the cove without direct sunlight

..and then this happens. Boom!

..and then this happens. Boom!

The time I managed to shoot from this cove the wind was blowing straight at me and there seemed to be a 10 second window in which I had time to take my filters off, wipe them down, pop them back in and shoot quick before the next round of seaspray hits! At this point I was pretty happy and decided to head back around to the other more southern side of the Pinnacle stack.

I’ve also shot at the same sort of time before sunset on the south side, on this occasion there were no clouds so I focussed instead on the beautiful rocks and used the Polariser to enhance the colours which can be most useful depending on which direction you’re facing at the time. Try and keep 90 degrees to the sun for maximum radness.

Polariser in full effect with a cloudless sky

Polariser in full effect with a cloudless sky

Mum and Rhia kicking back watching it all happen

Mum and Rhia kicking back watching it all happen

The sun will usually set right over the Pinnacles and it can be really tricky to get a good exposure here even with a 0.9 ND graduated filter. I don’t often use it but at this time a bit of manual exposure blending in Photoshop can work a treat to get a full range of detail to avoid clipping your highlights and the darkness of the shadows.

One example of the Pinnacles using exposure blending in Photoshop

One example of the Pinnacles using exposure blending in Photoshop

The shot above is an example of a night with some nice clouds about, the shot below is the kind of contrast you’ll experience with a cloudless sky.. not all that exciting! Although you will get some nice light on those rocks 🙂

Not a cloud to be seen!

Not a cloud to be seen!

Before you know it, the sun will disappear before you and it’ll be time to either hang around for hours and wait for the stars to come out and play.. or.. head back to the car and dig into some awesome pizza or fish n’ chips from the local Cape Woolamai shops! They usually close at 9pm though so if you’re shooting a summer sunset you better get your arse back to the car quick smart.

Next time I’ll take you to another popular Phillip Island location so stay tuned. Feel free to leave a comment below if you have any questions or use the contact form to get in touch with me. Thanks for reading!

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5 Comments

  1. Anthony Schnerring April 20, 2014 at 7:40pm #

    Hi Alistair,
    Thanks for such a magnificent and informative blog. I now plan to do exactly what your blog talks about.. Sou ds like a great adventure to be had.. Fantastic.. Now that summer is over, is it worth doing in the months of May or June??
    Cheers and regards Anthony.

    • Alistair May 12, 2014 at 9:14pm #

      Yeah it can be fantastic at any time of year, sunset in summer just gives you a little more time to play with though!

  2. Jenny November 17, 2014 at 7:51pm #

    Its my passion from my childhood to become a good photographer and that’s why I have been trying from a long time to take good pictures and I hope that here provided all the tips will be handy for me in future to be a good photographer. Thanks

  3. Dwarak Calayampundi April 30, 2015 at 3:17pm #

    Thanks for sharing this guide to the Pinnacles I just moved down to Melbourne from Brisbane and will be visiting this place this weekend on Saturday evening and Sunday morning as well hoping to get some good shots…..

  4. tom robins June 21, 2015 at 10:46am #

    gonna try this today… i’ll post the photos if its success

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