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Off The Radar | Hut on Mackay Downs

How big should the main subject in your photos be?

Deep in the wild heart of northern Kahurangi National Park is a subalpine tableland that rises to 870m. Mackay Downs features numerous granite tors which punctuate peat-filled valleys of tussock. Home to Powelliphanta snails and weka, this piece of paradise is truly off the radar. Tucked away up a narrow lane on the edge of this peneplain, almost out of sight, is a standard six-bunk hut – an island of candlelight in an ocean of waving red tussock.

Hard-to-find huts are a sort of holy grail for hut baggers such as myself, and a welcome refuge for those adventure seekers with competent off-track navigation skills. Fifty years old, the old hut gets visited about 3–4 times a year by trampers who penetrate the labyrinth of tussock valleys and forested hills. These parties punch through waist-high scrub for half a day from the Heaphy Track. Other parties bush-bash from a lighthouse for 12 gruelling hours.


Now, I wanted to record the hut for a magazine article. But the question was... where do I place the subject within my photo frame? The top photo had the hut smack in the middle, which is predictable and boring. In the photo below, the viewer's eye will 'tramp' along the tussock slope and down to the hut. With the hut a lot smaller in the frame, the viewer gets a sense of scale: the tiny building is hidden away in a vast wilderness, insignificant.

Camera Settings: Canon EOS 5D MkIII | 28mm | f/11 | ISO 50


To create a more original shot, my style is to shoot in the Golden Hour, leave my DSLR on the tripod, and return an hour later in the Blue Hour. Having set up two candles to illuminate the interior of the hut, I re-took the photograph. These candle-lit windows were added to the daylight shot, in Photoshop.

Camera Settings: Canon EOS 5D MkIII | f/11 | 1/20 sec | ISO 50 | Focal length: 28mm

Which photo do you prefer? Please leave a comment below this blog.


If you're an Intermediate photographer ... and want to advance further, why not enroll in my landscape masterclass, LOCATIONZ where you can fast-track your own photography journey, saving years of mucking around.

Keywords: landscape photography south island nz, new zealand landscape photography, wilderness camping, wild

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