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Storms of Summer

It's been a stormy week on Australia's Gold Coast. The term Supercell has been used to describe the nature of this week's storms and upon looking at the definition of what constitutes a Supercell, well, it's certainly fitting to what we've been experiencing here. The science behind a Supercell is technical with a lot of jargon and what not, so I'll digress, but essentially what it equates to is Mother Nature giving us an absolute, destructive ass-kicking. For those of us in the photographic community, it also means excitement beyond our wildest dreams. My blood was definitely pumping as I set myself up on Greenmount Beach this week to witness something extraordinary.

I began my afternoon driving around the southern reaches of the Gold Coast watching the dark clouds build out west in the hinterland. It was extremely humid and uncomfortable. There was a prediction of a powerful storm to hit the coastal region in the afternoon, but looking at what was building early on, it looked that it may stay out west and pass around the coast. I persevered with what was predicted and decided to set up at Greenmount Beach and simply watch. As the afternoon went by, the storm continued to build and get closer, enveloping the entire 40 kilometre length of the Gold Coast. This was going to be epic.

Sheet and fork lightning illuminated the dark sky as the clouds formed an extremely ominous presence. I very nervously monitored the distance between myself and the lightning strikes. Standing next to a metal object, my tripod, was asking for trouble. The strikes and the booming crack of thunder were getting closer and closer by the second. I fired off a few more shots until it was right above me. I grabbed everything and sprinted for cover as a deluge of rain hammered the beach where I stood only seconds before. This was one of the fiercest storms I've witnessed.

Right before the storm really took shape, the setting sun lit up the sky like a furnace. It was an unbelievable sight and it had this photographer's jaw drop in utter awe.

As I drove home in the torrential rain (fortunately and surprisingly there was no hail), I couldn't wait to see what I'd captured. Even if I didn't capture anything, I had just witnessed something truly amazing. Getting to photograph it was simply a bonus:)

Thursday Themes: Bridges of the World

The Story Bridge at the centre of Brisbane's skyline

I've always been a big fan of architecture and urban landscapes. Bridges, buildings, both new and old, parklands and quirky neighbourhoods. My zeal for photography leans heavily towards landscapes. I love putting a backpack on and disappearing into the wilderness for days, even weeks and shooting the natural world in all its glory. However, when I look through the 30,000+ photographs in my archive, cityscapes are a common theme. I've travelled to some amazing cities around the world, each with unique architectural features that contribute to their character and personality.

Within these cities, bridges are often at the centre of their collective features and landmarks. Like buildings, the style and function of a bridge is unique to that particular city, conceived through the imagination and expertise of its designer, and are often a showcase to significant events that take place - think the Sydney Harbour Bridge's amazing fireworks display on New Year's Eve.

I've walked across many bridges during my global travels both large and small, famous and obscure, historical and new. Each Thursday, I'm going to showcase a bridge that has been part of my travel experiences. Some will make you want to stand and marvel at their striking feat of engineering , and others, well, you'll question my sanity as to why I or anyone would want to cross it.

This week I'll start with a bridge that I grew up with; an iconic landmark of Brisbane in Australia - The Story Bridge. It was named after John Story, a man at the centre of the advocation for the bridge's construction. Like famous bridges of the world, the Story Bridge, heritage-listed and opened in 1940, is featured in countless photographs of its native city's skyline. And, like its more famous cousin, the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the Story Bridge is often at the centre of festivities and events that take place in Brisbane.

I revisited the Story Bridge this week. After all these years, whether driving over it, taking a ferry under it, or looking at it from a distance, I still feel awed and vulnerable by both its physical presence and its stature as one of Brisbane's most important landmarks.

The Story Bridge from the base of the New Farm cliffs

Stranger In My Homeland

Last wave of the day during a stormy late afternoon at Burleigh

It was a very hot, 42 degree summer day in Brisbane of February 2000 when Dave, my fellow Imagetramp collaborator and I left Australia as young, naive 22 year-olds. I was long-haired, freshly graduated and brimming with a sense of adventure. After a 20 hour flight, we arrived to sub zero temperatures in the middle of an English winter. This is how my 16 year adventure began living and travelling abroad. And now, after 16 years of exploring the planet and living on several continents, I've arrived back to my homeland.

I'm experiencing a severe case of sensory overload as I take in everything around me that is both familiar and foreign. I was a kid when I left and have returned as an adult with a completely different set of eyes. This last month has been overwhelming, as I adjust to living back in my homeland. I've enjoyed the last 9 years living in the amazingly diverse state of Arizona, exploring its wonders as well everything that makes America great - its vibrant cities, its incredible natural beauty and its amazing people. It will always remain my adopted home and I hope to continue my relationship with the wonderful Grand Canyon State. From the dry, desert climate I now find myself enjoying the warm, sub-tropical air and the crystal blue and green water that characterises Australia's Gold Coast.

Since I arrived back here I've been on a photographic frenzy. I've been re-acquainting myself with all the wonderful elements of my home that I once took for granted when I grew up here. I've been exploring everything from the beautiful beaches to the lush hinterland rainforests, the rolling, green farmlands to the dry, interior country referred to in the Aussie vernacular as 'The Bush'. 

Below is a gallery of photographic highlights from the very short amount of time that I've spent back here. It's a testament to how easy it is to be inspired and awed by Australia's uniqueness and beauty. I'm excited to continue exploring and sharing my travels as a stranger in my homeland.

(Follow me daily on my Instagram feed by clicking our Instagram icon in the top right here on our page or go to @benny.elliott)

Tramp Spotlight : Brizzle

The Clifton Suspension Bridge plays host to the annual balloon festival.

Every now and again I feel the need to jump in and break up the incessant run of amazing natural landscapes that Ben throws on here with some urban love.

In summer our family visited Bristol and by coincidence timed the trip on the same weekend as the Bristol International Balloon Fiesta. After a long walk up to the Clifton Observatory the whole city, it seems, looks across the gorge as hundreds of hot air balloons fly over the famous Clifton Suspension Bridge. 

It's a great day out with a fun crowd atmosphere and the weather was perfect. 

Our hosts Darren (darrentakesphotos) and Naomi also took us around town to visit some of the incredible street art. Thanks guys! 

Punters enjoy the sunset on the hill as some of the balloons sail overhead.

Tramp Spotlight: Seattle Skyline

Seattle Skyline at Dusk

I believe over the two years that I've been contributing to this blog, I've made grand statements about a particular city being my favourite in the world. This has applied to Vancouver, London, Berlin, San Francisco, my home town Brisbane and probably a few more. It appears that I can't decide on just one, and after reviewing some images from a trip I took to Seattle a few years ago, I rolled my eyes and thought, "I guess this is one of my favourites too. Better add it to the list."

Of all American cities that I've visited in the 10 years that I've lived in the U.S., Seattle is the city that I have visited the most. I have a soft-spot for everything that is Pacific Northwest and Seattle is the hub of this fantastic region, sitting between two of my other favourite cities, Vancouver, B.C and Portland. I've done almost everything there is to see and do in Seattle, yet I could keep coming back. The whole Seattle music scene was an integral part of my teenage years in Australia, so that was the initial draw. However, I've learned that there are a lot more things that define this city than just being the origin of some of my all-time favourite bands.

I first visited Seattle back in 2001 and was awe-struck by the sight of Mt. Rainier hovering behind the city's skyline from a ferry I was taking back from the Olympic Peninsula. It was such a unique sight, something I'd never seen before, and it inspired me to climb the mountain itself back in 2012. When I think of just city skylines alone, Seattle is definitely my favourite.

Among many things, like taking a ferry across Puget Sound or getting lost in a book in many of it's independently owned coffee shops, Seattle is a wonderful city to simply walk and/or ride a bicycle around. On this particular day, I was blessed with a beautiful, clear, sunny summer day which progressed into an amazing evening. The image above was made from a bridge that crosses over the marina along the city's trademark waterfront. All the elements were in place to make this image - a calm, clear evening just after the sun dipped below the horizon which in turn created those nice pink and purple hues in the sky just as the lights of the buildings are being illuminated. Although I consider myself a landscape photographer, I love the opportunity to capture cityscapes like this too.

I made a few other images that evening that can be seen below as well as in our Seattle/Washington section under the 'Places' tab in the main menu. These images of the city at dusk are some of my most memorable images from any city in the world that I've visited. To keep in line with it's famous musical heritage, Seattle, you do indeed rock!

The Rugged Tramper: Trail of Ten Falls

North Falls

During my recent summer visit to Oregon and Washington, I took a day trip south from Portland to Silver Falls State Park, approximately 20 miles east of Salem. Usually when I visit Oregon and the opportunity presents itself for a day trip, like most people I almost always head for the Coast, the Gorge or the mountains. This day I thought I'd seek out something less known and travelled. 

The highlight of the park is the 7-mile Trail of Ten Falls Loop. This loop hike took me through a beautiful, dense forest of cedars, firs and pines. Ten falls in total at regular intervals punch through the forest at varying heights and flows each with a different way in which to negotiate getting around them. 

North Falls above, around the half-way point of the loop hike, was my favourite of the silver falls. A massive grotto curved around behind the falls giving me chances to photograph from all angles. The hike was a wonderful way to begin a sunny, summer morning in Oregon. That's the beauty of this state, with a lifetime of things to see and do, there's always something new to explore.

South Falls

Lower South Falls

Tramp Spotlight: Diablo Lake

Diablo Lake Overlook, North Cascades National Park

During my travels over the years, I've seen many wonderful displays of colour in the great outdoors. I think of the deep, cobalt blue water of Crater Lake in Oregon, the brilliant, layered colours in Yellowstone's thermal pools, the tropical blue waters off the coast of the African isle of Zanzibar. Recently, I had the pleasure of seeing the milky, turquoise colours of North Cascades National Park's Diablo Lake.

Fortunately, anyone who visits the park can enjoy the brilliant vista in the image above. No strenuous hiking required, just a simple walk from one's car to the viewpoint. In this image, I was returning from the backcountry and pulled off the road to check out the Park's premier overlook. As you can see, it doesn't disappoint. My image was further enhanced by the puffy clouds crossing the sky and casting their shadows across the lake and the surrounding forest. The unique, intense hue of the lake's water is attributed to the surrounding glaciers that grind rocks into a fine powder that is carried into the lake by creeks. That fine powder stays suspended in the lake giving the water its brilliant colour when sunlight passes through it. From a photographic standpoint, photographing Diablo Lake outside of the 'golden hour' seems to be best and breaks those traditional rules. Direct sunlight is required to make the lake's brilliant colour really pop. 

For more images from this beautiful region, click here to check out my blog post with accompanying images such as this one from my recent trip to the Pacific Northwest.

The Rugged Tramper: Cascadian Delight

Epic views from the foot of Sahale Glacier overlooking Doubtful Lake and the jagged peaks of the North Cascades. We camped here at 7,500 feet. It was a chilly night but the view was worth it.

The Pacific Northwest. A wonderful region of the United States and Canada that is filled with a lifetime of adventure. Its densely packed evergreen forests, its chilly, crystal clear rivers and lakes, its jagged, glacier-clad peaks and hulking volcanoes, its community of animals great and small and its kaleidoscope of brilliant colours all play host to your adventure. As for me, this is my fourth trip in the last five years. Why? This region fulfills every desire I have for epic landscapes. I've been fortunate in my life to experience many of the world's beautiful natural playgrounds - the Swiss Alps, the Norwegian fjords, the Himalaya just to name a few. The Pacific Northwest - Oregon, Washington and British Columbia - it's one of my favourite playgrounds.

This year I visited Washington's North Cascades National Park, where I received a thigh-busting, ass-kicking lesson in what really constitutes a mountain switchback. I also re-visited one of my favourite places in the world, Mt. Rainier National Park, whose namesake mountain introduced me into the thrilling and sometimes terrifying world of mountaineering several years ago. (Click here to view my blog post of my climb of Mt. Rainier back in 2012)

Between the two parks, I covered close to one hundred backpacking and hiking miles and gained nearly 20,000 feet in elevation. North Cascades was responsible for most of this elevation gain where three days alone saw myself and my good friend from Portland, Michael, gain over 5,000 feet per day in as little as 1,000 feet per mile. Brutal. We trekked through mystical forests of Douglas Fir, Sitka Spruce and Western Red Cedar to wildflower and huckleberry-dense sub-alpine meadows. We scaled exposed mountain slopes scoured with rocky scree and snow to the foot of melting glaciers bursting forth torrents of cold, crystal clear water. And of course, all of our lung-bursting efforts were rewarded with absolute epic views of the craggy, sharp peaks of the North Cascades and the powerful, overwhelming volcanic mass that is Mt. Rainier. 

Below is a collection of images from my Cascadian adventure. It's a place that really needs to be seen and experienced to believe. It certainly won't be my last time.