Its hard to believe it has already been five months since I got back from twelve days dedicated photography in the South Island of New Zealand in July this year 2009. The time just seems to have slipped away – meaning its high time I gave a shout out to Phillip of Capture New Zealand and wrote a bit of a review of sorts on the trip.First.. a little back end history…New Zealand’s South Island had been on my radar for a long time for photography – and thanks to the world economic crisis and work opportunities it went from being on the radar to fruition. I had been considering organising a workshop in Iceland during this time in 2009, but when the Australian dollar took an almighty nose dive this become uneconomically viable and I had to make the decision to postpone Iceland (now organised for 2010). So I started looking into NZ (specifically the South Island).
As a dedicated landscape photographer who takes his work seriously I am always extremely gun shy of any guide service that includes the word ‘tours’ – even ones that label themselves as Photographic in nature. To often they purport to be for the serious photographer – but really cater to the general tourist (I really dislike tourists 🙂 ). Several emails back and forth with Phillip and I quickly came to the conclusion this was not the case and that Capture New Zealand was indeed all about being in the best locations at the best time to get the best light. In other words.. it was all about the Photography. We quickly partnered and in short order we had a trip planned to take in the very best of the South Island of New Zealand.
As it turned out a fellow landscape photographer from Texas (John) had planned a custom tour in the South Island with Phillip for the same time I wanted to be there and was kind enough to extend an invitation through Phillip for me to join. So it was set – we would meet up in Christchurch for twelve days solid photography in the spectacular South Island.
From the moment I walked through the New Zealand customs gate (wash your trekking boots before you go to NZ – customs don’t like dirty boots!) and met Phillip to the very moment we parted company back at the airport he was the perfect gentleman and guide. Nothing was ever to hard or to much trouble and Phillip consistently went out of his way to make sure John and I were comfortable and more importantly (to me anyway) made sure we were in the right spot at the right time to get the shot we wanted.Sometimes its the little things that make the difference between a truly great experience and just a good one – and Phillip’s guide service was packed full of those little things. In fact, I got so used to having the door of the 4X4 opened and closed for me I stood next to my car waiting for my wife to open the door for me as a bit of a joke when I got back. 🙂
Everything from the accommodation, to the restaurants we ate in, to the timing of photo shoots was meticulously organized and attended to by Phillip – which meant we could focus solely on our photography. Even when I threw a few last minute curve balls at him (In Milford Sound I wanted to upgrade to one of the new luxury cabins looking over the river, which he took care of and then go and photograph the whales when we were booked to do Dolphins). None of it was too difficult or to much trouble and all of it was handled professionally and with utmost courtesy.
I am almost convinved Phillip has a pact with the NZ weather gods – because we totally nailed the weather the entire trip – which considering we were there in the dead of winter when anything can happen was amazing. When we were on the west coast the east cost was totally socked in and vice verca. I could not have asked for better weather or light for photography – or for a better guide to make sure I was in the right location at the right time.
Our trip included three helicopter flights including two custom flights over the glaciers and Southern Alps with the doors off (totally amazing experience), whales, New Zealand Sea Lions, The Remarkables, Punakaiki, The Southern Alps, Lake Matheson, Milford Sound, Kaikora (amazing sun rises), Fox Glacier and Glacier heli-hike, Franz Josef Glacier, Glenorchy, Queenstown, Castle Hill and the much more.A couple of items I want to make special note of: The first of which is that Phillip’s first concern was making sure John and I got the photograph we wanted – his own photography was a distant last. He always put us first and foremost – including taking us to several well off the track locations that there is no way I would have known about or ever found – but yielded spectacular photographs. The second is that he gave us room to work, but was always on hand for questions or queries. I like to work at my own methodical pace and don’t require photographic instruction – but I often did want to know how Phillip as a local saw the shot in his minds eye and where he felt it worked best based on his experience with the area. To this end he was extremely helpful and I owe him a debt of gratitude in this respect as it has contributed to the quality of shots I was able to get.
The last item I want to touch on is time. With two young kids, a business etc. the luxury of time is something I dont have a lot of. This was a contributing factor in my decision to book a guide rather than go it alone. Many photographers often think the best way to shoot a new location is on their own, but those of us who have been to a new area with a good guide know that there is no substitute for local knowledge. And that local knowledge saves a huge amount of time (and time is money) and contributes to images of far greater quality. To this end Phillip was nothing short of excellent.The trip exceeded my expectations in many many ways and I would have no hesitation in reccomending Phillip and Capture New Zealand to any photographer here or anywhere. A month after the trip I am still furiously processing images (I shot more than 3300 frames in the twelve days I was there). I should have the bulk of the processing finished within the month and will put up a website of the trip as soon as possible. [Edit – my own website has now been updated with photographs from the trip.
I am most likely heading back to NZ earlish 2010 for family prior to heading off to Iceland later in the year, but will likely partner again with Phillip – and that is the highest recommendation I can give.