Agnes Caruso Photography

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Welcome to Alice


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The Heart of Australia

Welcome to Alice

Alice Springs is the heart of Australia. A place I always wanted to visit ever since I traveled with my finger through the World Atlas. I pointed to Alice on the map and asked my father what is the name of this town. Yes, I could not read yet, but that did not stop me from browsing the atlas and dreaming of traveling around the world. When I finally stepped in Alice many years ago it was everything I expected and more.

So why is Alice special? It may have never been there if it was not for the telegraph lane being build from Indonesia via Darwin to South Australia to connect the new colony to Britain and the rest of the world. But this is history and does not explain why the place feels special. As you drive from the airport into town you pass through the Heavitree Gap. A narrow gate like opening in the mountains – the MacDonnell Ranges. The narrow pass includes, the road, railway track and the Todd River. This narrow gap is like a doorway into a different world, you step from the harsh desert outside to a green oasis of town. While the town is not really as much of an oasis as one may think, it is definitely sheltered from the desert. You have now stepped into a different reality, a town like none other.

View of Alice

View of Alice Springs from the Anzac Hill

Alice is surrounded by the MacDonnell Ranges and that limits the winds in the town making the weather this much hotter. If you think the river can cool you down, think again! Todd river bed is RFDSdry most of the year. It only fills occasionally and then it is frequently flowing way too fast for you to enjoy a quick dip. In fact, the Henley-on-Todd Regatta held in Alice is a not exactly what you may think a regatta should look like. It is a dry river regatta, the only one in the world with boats being carried by the participants. And the boats are of all shapes and forms, including bath tubs re-used as boats. Alice Springs is definitely a unique town, culturally diverse and rich in history. It even made its way to pop culture when a movie “The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert” was released. It has also been described by Nevil Shute in his book “Town like Alice”.

History of European settlement started with the building of the telegraph station. At the time the town was called Stuart and became Alice Springs in 1933. An integral part of Alice Springs and the Australian outback is the Royal Flying Doctors Service (RFDS) and School of the Air. While in Alice you can visit the RFDS museum, School of the Air and the Telegraph station, three places of great importance to this region of Australia and the entire outback area.

You also need to realize that Alice is situated nearly in the center of the continent with one road going South to North from Adelaide to Darwin. There is a train which can take you from Adelaide to Darwin – The Ghan. It is definitely an experience to travel across the continent and on the only train route crossing the desert. However, most of the commercial transport nowadays is done by using the road trains. When you leave Alice to drive to Yulara you may see a few of them pass you in the opposite direction.

So now let’s travel a little out of Alice and into the the desert out there. We will visit Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Kings Canyon.

Uluru also known as Ayers Rock is a place you are likely to have seen in images from Australia previously. The big rock monolith in the center of Australia is, however, not the only one. On the way to Yulara you will pass Mt. Ebenezer and Mt Conner. Both are very different in appearance and Mt. Conner is also known as Fool-uru as tourist traveling to see Uluru think that this is the rock.

Fool-uru or Mt. Conner Uluru

Uluru climb has been officially closed when we visited the area in October 2019. This ended up the long lasting problem the climb caused for the local Indigenous people, who consider it a sacred site.

 

There are photography restrictions around the rock aimed at protection of the sacred sites. One of the most interesting things to do around Uluru is the base walk which takes you along most of the rock. As you walk along the base trail in the morning you will witness a sunrise over the desert, amazing light on the rock as sun raises even further. Shapes of the rock are fantastic, there are also many colors visible on some of the rocks. It is an amazing place allowing you to relax but also think about how you connect with nature.

Bushfires are a part of Australian life and we have seen a lot of evidence of recent fires in the area. This was all before the huge bushfires started later in the year. Nature, unlike human settlement and agricultural sites or wildlife recovers pretty quickly. As you can see above a fire burned only along one side of the road.

While Uluru is a single rock, Kata Tjuta or Olgas is a collection of domes with interesting and sometimes strange shapes. There are walking trails leading in between the domes and also along the base of some of them. I like Kata Tjuta more than Uluru, it appears more dramatic and mysterious as you get closer to it.

This trip included a visit to Kings Canyon, a location a bit off the beaten track but extremely interesting due to it geology and very unique appearance. The different types of sandstone created a very unique appearance of the canyon. The colors are highlighted by sunlight as it reaches the bottom of the canyon towards mid-morning.

As our trip is slowly ending with a drive back to Alice, no trip into the Red Center will be complete without a picture of the red sand and the road leading across the desert to Uluru.

 

If you enjoyed this trip into the heart of Australia, you may also enjoy “The Heart of Australia” photo book I created from this trip. You can also purchase some of the prints from this book from my Pixels website. I hope you enjoyed the trip to the center of Australia.

Not yet sure where I will take you next time, but if you have an idea what you would like to see, leave a comment here or on my Instagram account. See you again in a little bit somewhere around the world!

 


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Travel from your couch to North Stradbroke Island

As we are still mostly in our houses and definitely not traveling anywhere far right now, I will take you on a trip to my favourite place in Queensland, one of most favorite ones in Australia and the world. So sit comfortably and let’s travel. North Stradbroke Island or Straddie as we call it in Queensland is to the east of Brisbane within Moreton Bay. The only way you can get there is by ferry or on your own boat. There are vehicular ferries and water taxis. As you can see below the big vehicular ferry is making its way across the bay.

 

Imagine yourself getting on ferry in Cleveland, there is a vehicular ferry, which can take you and your car across the bay or one of the passenger ferries that will take just you. The ferry will drop you off in Dunwich, one of the three main settlements on the island. My first visit to the island was many years ago when there were just two buses running on the island, one from Dunwich across the island to Point Lookout and a second to Amity point. And to get to Amity point you had to change buses at one of the intersections not that far from Dunwich. Things have changed now. There are more buses and they are now not mini buses but actual real buses.

Straddie became a bigger travel destination over the years and services increased and improved. There are a lot more rental properties, small resorts and just regular residents who moved here from the mainland. Sunrise on Straddie is special and soon after when you walk along the beach it is pretty amazing to just hear the ocean and enjoy the waves. It is nice that there are more places to stay on the island but the fact that it is changing by being developed is also sad. The beauty and emptiness of the Pacific beach is something that we do not want to see go.

  

  

So what is drawing people to the island, both residents and visitors? Let me show you how it looks and you can judge for yourself. From my perspective, it is quiet, not remote but also not in a city so you have to make an effort to get here. There are miles of open beaches, with not crowds, fresh water lakes, hiking trails, breathtaking views and fantastic food. One minute you can be close to people in a community center or a restaurant, and the next minute you can be the only person on a beach taking a walk or surfing. It is this ability to truly relax on your own that makes it special.

One of the special hikes is along the North Gorge. Rocky cliffs offer amazing views of the ocean and the beaches. You can also observe wildlife from the trail, you can see whales, dolphins, turtles, birds. It is truly a different experience each time you walk there. Rocks are volcanic and crumbly, so staying away from the edges is important. There are occasional benches you can rest on and just look at the ocean.

 

 

The beautiful tree next to the trail is unfortunately gone. The view has changed, but it is still stunning. You can walk down to the beach you see above and have a swim or surf, or just sit or walk and enjoy the views. Some of the strong storms we had damaged some of the beach as water got close to the dunes.

 

 

One of the features at the Pacific Beach is the Surf Club. Lifeguards and surf rescue make sure that you swim between the flags so they can help you in case you get into trouble. Surfing is pretty good on the main beach. However, you do need to stay alert in case there are stingers around. We do have occasional oceanic wildlife that can be a little nasty in close contact, like the bluebottle shown above. And these are not the only dangers on Straddie, Amity point beach is even more interesting with signs like those:

 

As beautiful the ocean is, Straddie is not just about the ocean. There are also fresh water lakes: Brown lake and Blue lake. Brown lake has a small beach where you can rest and enjoy a day. Blue lake on the other hand is by a walking trail with just tiny little sand strips.

In order to visit the lakes and an amazing Neembeemba overlook, you do need to bring a car or at least a bike with you to the island. Brown lake is just within a walking distance but Blue lake as well as the overlook are too far. Maybe in a cold climate you could make the walk but remember Straddie is in Queensland and it is pretty hot for most of the year.

I will leave you with a view towards the Main Beach from the Neembeemba lookout. It is a beautiful, far reaching view. If you are asking what is next, we may just visit the heart of Australia – Alice Springs and the Northern Territory. So until the next time.


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Australian places – Brisbane

My city – Brisbane, the capital of the South-East Queensland is one of my favorite places. While you may think that its being so close to the ocean makes it a coastal city, that is not quite true. For the most part Brisbane is not really on the coast, although some of its suburbs are quite close. Brisbane is cut nearly in half by the Brisbane River, which starts at Mount Stanley in Queensland and ends in Moreton Bay.

 

One of the most amazing views from the river is the sight of flowering jacarandas and flame trees in the spring time. Purple and red flowers adore the riverbanks. This is probably the best time to take a cruise up the river to the Koala Sanctuary at Lone Pine, or one of other river cruises and view the beautiful colors. Jacarandas are in fact in many places in Brisbane, for example at the University of Queensland St. Lucia campus. A Jacaranda lane was created specially for people to come and see the amazing purple sea of flowers. It became the place to go just as azaleas in the National Arboretum in DC or lilacs in Boston. As soon as jacarandas flower, you know the summer is just around the corner.

Brisbane used to have very few bridges but in the last few years a few more were build in the CBD, with two of them only for pedestrians and cyclists, who seem to rule in the city center and not only. While we have our share of bad traffic jams, the improvements in public transport – both buses, ferries and rail, together with lots of cycling only roads make it all manageable. In fact you can walk or cycle along the river from the University of Queensland to the Queensland University of Technology at Garden Point, near the city, and beyond. In fact a few times this was the fastest way for me to get home from the city center.

A feature on the Goodwill Bridge is a Merlo Coffee cart stand so you can refuel while walking, jogging, running or cycling between the city and the Southbank. If I was to name one area in the city that I like to hang around it is the Southbank. And if you remember, after the World Expo Southbank was an empty deserted area with only wind and sand roaming around. The area got converted into beautiful parklands complete with an open beach and pools. A great place to go out, relax, have a meal, a drink, sit by the river. You can catch a ferry, train, bus or a theater performance.

If you are visiting the Southbank on a bike, there are public and free service stations, like the one above, where you can fix your bike or add extra air. Yes, it is new and it is convenient.

Yet I expect that a lot will change now after the coronavirus pandemic. And it will be quite a while before we can all go back to the normality we know. Hopefully, we will be able to continue enjoying the beauty and relaxation of the Southbank. Many of the above images come from my morning walk through the Southbank. It was quiet but it picked up later with people going to work, it got busy on the bridges but not so much along the river.

Early morning can be very beautiful, with the sun coming up above the horizon, raising from the ocean. While it is not so spectacular in the city it really is on the beaches and islands in Moreton Bay. So in the next post I will take you to my favorite place in the South-East Queensland – North Stradbroke Island. Place that offers peace and quiet, even in the summer time.

 

 


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The best landscape images of 2018

Every year as the old year ends and new one starts we trying to summarize what we achieved. This first summary chapter of 2018 is focused on landscapes. Some of the travels this year were spectacular and images are amazing. Enjoy the selection of some of the best.

Sunsets in California

Cherry Blossom Festival, Washington DC

Iceland, Europe

 

 

Raging waters of the Potomac River in Maryland

La Jolla, California

Bombay Hook National Wildlife Refuge, Delaware


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Renaissance Festival 2018

If you come in the morning, you are likely to run into the King and the royal court at the entrance.

In the morning a bridge can be enchanted, just imagine your picture on this bridge with sunlight coming through the trees.

The morning is so beautiful at the festival, just walk around and find a quiet spot, not so difficult when you come early and you can just sit down, observe and rest.

 

Throwing axes in the Stupid Hat Area is pretty popular. And it is not just for the fellows! If you like music, there is plenty live music, just take your pick.

Giant soap bubbles are plenty fun for everyone and you can take quite spectacular images through the bubbles.

Once you have seen acrobats, plays and all the other fun, you can just sit some more and relax.


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10 tips to help you take pictures on the move

Taking pictures, especially great ones requires time, patience, great eye but also some luck. However, when traveling luck may not always be on your side. When you are driving in a car, you see this amazing view but there is nowhere to stop a car, if you are on a train it will definitely not stop for you. What should you do? Be prepared for unexpected. This way , when you see a great view or wildlife in the distance or by the road, on the road you can be ready to take a picture.

You ask how to do that? Here are some pointers from my trips around Ireland and Iceland:

  1. Always have a camera with you and ready for taking pictures. Obviously, not possible if you are driving, so…
  2. Explore a place with someone, who will be happy to do the driving
  3. Clean the windshield, dirt can make it hard to autofocus

In many places in Ireland and Iceland it was impossible to pull over and stop. Mostly because the roads are narrow, they have no shoulder and traffic is unpredictable so stopping is not an option. Just check out the images below, both from Ireland. Even if the road seems clear do not stop to take pictures if there is no space to pull over.

Now, how can you prepare and what should you do to make those images look the best you can?

  1. Mount a fast lens on your camera, it could be your primary or secondary camera
  2. Using a zoom lens is preferred as you can end up with nice pictures of the dashboard, also being able to zoom in on objects further away can actually get you a nice image
  3. While sitting in a car test the light you get through the windshield and remember that you may be going in different directions or light can change, so adjustment may be needed
  4. You want to use high shutter speed, settings above 1/800 will be preferable, but you could get away with slightly slower speeds too
  5. Use high ISO, that can cause some noise in the images but using ISO 100 is just not a viable option when taking pictures from a moving car or train
  6. You have to use autofocus, manual focus is just not going to do it and best setting is AI Servo setting allowing you to photograph moving objects
  7. In order to make your life easier, you can use Shutter-Priority AE mode if you wish and set your shutter speed to upwards of 1/800 and your camera will adjust the rest when you are taking a picture

Here are some examples of pictures taken through the front windshield of a road ahead. Probably the most classic images you may see also probably the easiest to take. I use a manual mode only, which is a bit more challenging but gives me more control over how I want the image to look.

In most cases if you are driving in a car, you will be in a front seat with your seat belt on and with your primary view being forward. Technically, you can also take pictures to your side, through an open or closed window. Those can be a bit more challenging to get the speed correctly set for the photographing an object of interest. The closer the object is to the car the more likely it will be fuzzy. You can see that effect in the image below, with flowers closest to the road are fuzzy. If you do not get shots you want the first time just keep trying. It is worth it to just practice so next time you can get a great photo.

One other interesting point is that when you taking pictures from a car your horizon can get skewed, so more than likely you will need to do a little bit of rotation of your images.

 

 

This last image was actually taken with a Zeiss camera on my Lumia 950, amazingly sharp and beautiful picture of the clouds clearing up. With a phone camera the rules are the same as with a real camera. Do not be afraid to take photos out of a car or train, just remember to set up your camera correctly and practice. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

 


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Waterfalls of Iceland

If any of you were waiting for my continuation of my Icelandic adventures, here is the next installment – waterfalls. Pretty much everywhere you have rocks, hills you see waterfalls from very tiny to huge ones. Iceland has lots of waterfalls and I mean a lot. Some like Gullfoss or Dettifoss are extremely popular with tourists, some a little less and others are not seen much at all. The biggest correlation I found was an accessibility of the site to large tour buses. So if you want to see some less traveled part of Iceland be prepared to take some side roads and add some time to your trip. It is worth it as you will see.

So let’s start with the most popular waterfalls – Gullfoss. The popularity is increased by the fact that these waterfalls are easy to reach by bus from Reykjavik, making it a nice day trip. The waterfalls are located on Hvítá river, span two tiers and flow into a deep canyon. The size of waterfalls is frequently measured in volume of water flowing through them per second. Gullfoss in summer has an average flow of 140 cubic meters per second. Just imagine that the biggest flow rate recorded is on Boyoma Falls in Democratic Republic of Congo with 17000 cubic meters per second. Three other well known waterfalls – Niagara, Iguazu and Victoria falls have flow rates of 2400, 1700 and 1088 cubic meters per second on average. This gives you some comparison scale if you have seen any of those waterfalls.

Here are some of the images from Gullfoss. Starting with one of the more iconic views showing the tiers of the falls.

When you continue on route 1 around Iceland, you will be able to see a lot more waterfalls, the next one is located close by the road and it is called Seljalandsfoss waterfall. This one is pretty amazing as you can walk around it, just ensure you have a raincoat with you and your camera is well protected. You will get wet! This waterfall originates from the volcano glacier Eyjafjallajökull and drops some 60 meters down.

Not that far from Seljalandsfoss is Skógafoss. Waterfall is visible well from the road and it does not take long to get there. A diversion well worth it just as it was for Seljalandsfoss. This waterfall is located on Skógá River and you can walk on the river bed if the flow is not too big. The cliffs on which the waterfall is located, used to be coastal cliffs, now located some five kilometers or three miles away.

Weather in Iceland does not always oblige and pouring rain has made some of the picture taking a little challenging. When we arrived at Godafoss or Waterfall of the Gods, the rain was pouring as much from the sky as it was from the waterfalls. OK, not quite but very close, combined with strong wind, it was not fun to walk a short distance to the falls and back. When you stop to see Godafoss, you should walk across the little pedestrian bridge and see both sides of the waterfalls. The view is completely different and amazing from both sides.

All of those waterfalls are pretty popular and you will find lots of tourists stopping by, hiking and taking pictures. The reason is that all of them are very close to the main road and buses can easily stop to drop people off. I found that at least one of the sites away from the main road is definitely worth visiting. Kolufossar falls on Víðidalsá river are spectacular and while there will be visitors the numbers are nothing compare to Gullfoss. Views are just as breathtaking but judge for yourselves.

The last waterfalls I will show you are Hraunfossar waterfalls. They appear from under the lava rocks and are springwater in origin. It is a spectacular view and really different from any other waterfalls you will see.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter of Iceland adventures. There is still more to come. Iceland has amazing places to see and even if the weather is not the best, you can still enjoy the trip and take some pretty great pictures.

 

 

 

 

 

 


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45th Virginia Scottish Games

Virginia Scottish Games take place every year in The Plains, VA. This year was 45th Anniversary of the games. It was packed with entertainment, competitions and fun for two days. There were athletic events, music and dancing competitions, Clan Parade, Band Parade, and lots more. The day was filled with lots to do, with special events for children to keep the youngsters occupied.

However, some kids were proudly taking part in the main events. This little fellow in the picture on the left, marched proudly with the bands across the big field.

Opening Ceremony was preceded by the Clan Parade. This year it looked a little different than in previous years as the narrow entrance to the athletic field became even narrower with bands gathering to enter the field after the Clan Parade. However, nobody seemed to mind and everyone found their way.

As the clans were leaving the athletics field, the bands entered marching up to the top of the field.

The bagpipers and drummers marched up and then down the field  after doing an elaborate turn in the middle of the field. And as you can see above, the little bagpiper is marching on with the band! Keeping up with the grownups could not have been easy but he did not seem concerned or distracted.

Music was all around even after the Band Parade finished. There were bagpipers practicing, playing, bands were practicing some more for the competition.

There were also live music performances and included Glengarry Bhoys, Chambless & Muse and Glencoe Lads and Friends. For the lovers of fiddling, there were fiddling performances as well in a fiddling tent not far from the Highland dance competition.

Dance competition was tough with the sky clearing, and temperatures increasing, it got very hot very quickly. Dancers were sweating it out on and off the competition floor. Below are just some of the images from the competition. While waiting for their turn come competitors were going over the steps in their heads and moved hands in the air as if they were the feet.

I tried to capture dancing action from the competition. These are just some of the shots I took, trying to illustrate a range of movements on the dance floor.

As Athletics is an integral part of the games there was lots of action on the field: heavy weight toss, light weight toss, caber toss and sheaf toss. With so many events going on, I did not get around to all of them but here are some of the images from the weight toss events.

You can see more images from the Virginia Scottish Games on my website. If you are interested in using any of the images or if you like your own photos please contact me.

 

 


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Jökulsárlón – Glacier Lagoon and the Diamond Beach

There are many amazing places in Iceland but none like the Glacier Lagoon near Höfn just off route 1. It is a place impossible to miss as you drive on route 1 and only about an hour away from Höfn. The lagoon got created when the glacier receded from the ocean. Currently, the icebergs breaking off the glacier fall into this glacial lake. Most of the large ones stay in place till they get small enough to move freely in water. Smaller icebergs slowly drift out into the ocean. As they travel, icebergs break up and smaller pieces wash out on the black sand beach in Jökulsárlón, known as Diamond Beach. So when you are visiting the lagoon, you also have to take a short trip across the bridge to the beach.

In the images below you will see amazing blue ice. This is the natural color of the ice from the Breiðamerkurjökull, which is an outlet of the Vatnajökull glacier. The first time you see it, the blue hues are amazing and it feels a little surreal but soon you start seeing the different colors of blue, as well as white and grey.

The icebergs are dynamic and they break occasionally into smaller fragments. We witnessed the arch in the photo blow to collapse with a loud bang into the two floating blue pieces above.

One of the attractions in the lagoon is a boat ride. This will take you close to the icebergs and you can admire them from a completely different perspective.

If you do not feel like taking a boat ride, there are two trails, one close to the water and one higher up. They both give you a different view of the lagoon and both are beautiful. So take your time and walk around a little enjoy the views.

Diamond Beach is a black sand beach with ice crystals washed on it. These crystals melt slowly once they wash on shore. Everyday they will be changing and never be quite the same, so pictures taken on any day will be unique. We have seen mostly smaller pieces but occasionally there will be quite big chunks of ice on black sand.

And this is how you get to take those photos, I am the one in purple vest, lying on the beach. Thanks to my husband, Tom for taking this picture.

The spectacular beauty of the lagoon inspired some of the Hollywood directors to use it as a backdrop in their productions. Four movies have been shot on location and those are”A view to a kill”, Lara Croft: Tomb Rider”, “Batman begins” and James Bond “Die another day”.

If you are intending to take pictures in the lagoon, it is good to have a tripod, ND filter, and lots of time. Summertime is great for visiting Iceland but may not be the best for taking images with low setting sun, at sunrise or sunset, so depending on your preferences and plans this could be a factor for you to consider. No matter what, you will enjoy the spectacular views in the lagoon.

To leave you with something special here are the two short videos.

Diamond Beach

Boat ride