Beach Life

My desktop icons are floating in this deep green sea, while my reminders and sticky notes are swimming in bright umbrellas. I have set this image as the desktop background on my oversized photo-editing monitor and it makes me feel like I’m at the beach and not home in my office. I get a little spark of joy each time I close a window and think about plunging into that cool water.

I’ll let you in on a secret. This isn’t a summer scene. This is a beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil in the middle of the winter. But any day is a beach day in Rio.

I used to think that Australians invented the beach lifestyle. Growing up on the Sunshine Coast all my friends would compare tanlines, salt hairstyles and surfing injuries each Monday after spending as much time as possible at the beach on the weekend.

But even Sunny Coast locals are no comparison to the residents of Rio. They treat the beach like a backyard. Its a playground full of volleyball nets, soccer games, street food vendors and flying frisbees. The beach is a free for all. Soaking up sun in a skimpy bikini, drinking, relaxing, playing sport, swimming, eating – Brazilians take beach life to a whole new level.

ipanema sunset

Wandering among the ping pong tables, sweaty skin, flying soccer balls and frolicking teenagers is a memory I’ll never forget. But I enjoyed Ipanema in a laid back Australian way. After a busy day of sightseeing, I bought a fresh hot churros pumped full of chocolate sauce, sat on the sand and watched the sunset over the mountains. Rio won me over.


It is always a challenge to create a meaningful portrait when you don’t know the people on the other side of the lens, and they don’t know you. I only spent an hour early one Saturday morning with this gorgeous bunch, but when I sat down to process their images, I really enjoyed observing their relationships. Their natural poses, their playfulness and their friendships all shine through the finished photographs and show what makes them unique as a family.

The kids hired me as a wedding anniversary gift to their parents. They asked to have the shoot at the beach near the family home, and to make sure the landmarks were in some of the photos, especially Old Woman Island which sits just offshore. When I arrived only a couple hours after the sun rose out of the sea, they were dressed and ready in bare feet and we walked across to the beach. We packed a lot into an hour long session. It is hard work for me to get flattering shots of everyone looking relaxed and natural. A bit ironic.

Back home on my computer, as I sifted through the photographs it occurred to me how many times they must have walked this beach; together, in pairs, alone with the puppy. It seems to me that this beach is like an extra family member. It is the place where this family goes to talk deeply, run away, reconcile and play. In this way it is the perfect location for a portrait, as these simple photographs represent many hours together walking on the sand and looking out across the waves.

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You might not believe it but not everyone was keen for this photo session. Which is fair enough. They jokingly apologised for being ‘dysfunctional’, but in my opinion, being together for a photo shoot early on a Saturday morning is the very definition of a well functioning family. The fact that some didn’t like having their photo taken, but did it anyway, speaks volumes about their commitment and love for each other.

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They wanted to bring their puppy in for some shots at the end. For me, when people start to really relax is when my job really starts. My favourite shot of the morning is the one at the top of this post, a moment of real family fun.

The beach is such a beautiful place for a photographic shoot. The pale blues, the shiny shoreline and the endless blank canvas of soft yellow sand. It lends itself easily to any style of photograph. And at this time of day, I don’t have to worry about the background, wherever I point the camera it looks gorgeous.

I only wish I had photos like these of my family.

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Kaiwá Homestead

Travelling to remote parts of the world is just one of the things I love about my work as a photojournalist for an international NGO. I crave new sights, new images. But what I treasure most is the people I meet when I get there. Let me introduce you to Dorival and his wife Estela. They welcomed my impromptu visit to their home outside Dourados in western Brazil. Indigenous to this part of the world, they are Kaiwá, the second largest indigenous nation in Brazil. Dorival works as a pastor, travelling all over, his days concerned with the welfare of his people. In spite of the difficulties of this life Dorival’s face is bright and joyous. I was moved by his passionate interview in Portuguese and found it hard to tear myself away from their beautiful rustic ranch. Here is just a handful of images to serve as a portrait of Dorival, Estela and their humble home.

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Dreaming in Austria

Photographers adore cliques  It’s true. A real living clique is like a stumbling on a movie set, or a dream crossing into reality. Majestic swans gliding on glassy mountain lakes, red flowers growing on windowsills, old skis stored above doorways, whimsical red balloons floating about for no reason – I never thought such things existed. At least, not all in the same place. Let me introduce you to Hallstatt, Austria, a ridiculously picturesque village in the Austrian Alps.

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Photography is often a quest to find order and harmony in the mis-matched mess of the real world. We strive for a carefully framed perspective with one central idea. But Hallstatt takes away all the hard word of avoiding gaudy billboards and neon signs. For a lover of classic European architecture, it is, more or less, visual perfection.

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This place so won the heart of a Chinese businessman that he sent a group  with measuring tapes and the charge to completely recreate this town in China. Believe it. And they’ve done incredibly well. But as with all Chinese knock-offs, it isn’t quite as good as the original. They can’t recreate the theatrical backdrop of alpine cliffs, the nearby salt mine and the very real history and culture of the people who are indigenous to this unique part of the world. 


Needless to say, I loved Hallstatt, but I couldn’t help thinking.. is this place for real? Is this where cliques are born?
Enjoy these images and trust me, no photoshop tricks necessary.

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A Love Story

Ten years ago today I saw this beautiful face for the first time. I’ll never forget that moment. I was swaying on a tree swing, people nearby chatting, he was brought over to be introduced. “Elyse! This is my friend Brad.” “Hi Brad.” I said as my body swung forward and my long hair flew back. “Hi…” He responded breathlessly with wide wondrous eyes. I turned my face up into the night sky and smiled to myself. This will be something.

My flatmate and I were awkwardly attending a 21st birthday party ninety minutes away from where we lived and knew only the birthday boy. I’d met Birthday Boy a few weeks earlier at another 21st party and though we quickly became friends I couldn’t convince him that we didn’t have a future together. Little did I know that he introduced me as, “The girl I like so please stay away from her.” One moment too late.

Love like the Ocean

My bounty is as boundless as the sea, my love as deep; the more I give to thee, the more I have, for both are infinite. – Shakespeare

Many people describe their wedding day as a blur. A blur of smiling faces, teary eyes, momentous promises, glamour, celebration, family and passion. A good photographer can return to you those memories that have tangled together by the end of the day.

Yet squashed in there somewhere you also want a photo shoot that is dramatic, passionate, romantic, relaxed, creative, fun and memorable in its own way. But you don’t want to get your dress dirty or your hair messy. And, let’s face it, you probably aren’t your most relaxed and natural while fretting over your dress, your family, and not being late for your reception.

What if you could set aside a special day just for taking these kinds of photos, and it didn’t matter how you looked at the end of it all. Many couples are doing just that and calling it a ‘Trash the Dress’ photo shoot. While the internet abounds with images of brides covered in mud or paint (!?) my humble opinion is that such an opportunity should be used to pursue the most dramatic and romantic images possible, where all concern for the dress is gleefully abandoned.

It is with this in mind that I made plans for a ‘Trash the Dress’ shoot with the lovely, and newly married Lisa and Clay. Their wedding photos are stunning and wedded almost a year ago they’ve got frames all over the house and a gorgeous baby blue leather-bound album under the coffee table. But Lisa wasn’t happy with her custom-made dress, decided it was taking up too much space in the wardrobe, and wanted to make the most of it before throwing it out.

Lisa knew what I did: if you didn’t care about the dress, well, imagine the possibilities.

Four of us drove to a beach north of Sydney on a stormy February day with a bridal gown in a garbage bag. …Continue Reading →

Selena & Steph’s Commitment Ceremony

Selena met Steph seven years ago and fell in love. They’ve been looking after each other ever since and even though their vows aren’t recognised by the state they made them anyway on a stormy day last November. They wanted to make their dedication to each other official.

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I love these individual portrait shots because before taking each of them I asked the bride to look over at her other half chatting with friends nearby. Don’t they look beautiful!

As a photographer I approached this event differently to other weddings. Rather than the usual male-female complementary poses I aimed to show them for what they are: two equal halves, twins, love birds. Running from one dressing room to another to capture the story of each bride preparing for her wedding was a challenge. But visually I enjoyed the lack of an awkward groom in a dark suit. This ceremony was all girl – light, pretty, feminine, soft, beautiful.

This post is a visual story of their day of love, commitment and family. More photos →

Father of the Bride

One year ago today my little sister married her sweetheart. She was surprisingly calm that morning, patiently handling the three generations of women that had gathered to help prepare her for the wedding. Our grandmother was there putting together bouquets of white flowers. Our mother was in and out, running errands for coffee, bobby pins and nail polish remover. I was helping Grandma with the flowers and joined the three other bridesmaids in swanning around in between hair and make-up sessions. My husband cooked us all a brunch of pesto scrambled eggs. The photographer had been and gone and with still an hour to spare my sister decided she wanted her dress altered. The matriarch went to ‘put my face on’ as she calls it, our mother did the same and our Dad turned up to entertain us all while last minute changes were being made to the dress. I adore this image of my baby sister delighting in the playful humour of our father.

A wedding is a special occasion for any family. It is one of the few times when everyone comes together and, in spite of past spats, gives their full support to the one whose life will be changed forever that day. It is a rare occasion when warring factions declare peace, bossy older sisters are on their best behaviour and everyone pulls together. As a photographer there is no higher honour than to be involved in this intimate family affair from the nervous start of the day to its triumphant end. And it is always my goal to capture special family moments like this one. Anyone can make a gorgeous portrait of the wedding couple, or a fun photo of the bridal party, or a formal group shot. But, I believe, the whole point of hiring a wedding photographer is to immortalise the emotion of the day. Otherwise, we’d just get dressed up on another convenient day to spend a few hours with a photographer. Which is a great idea, but that’s not the point of it all, is it. You want a photographer to be there when your mother holds a tissue up to her eye, when your father kisses you on the forehead before he steps aside and your bridesmaids grin from ear to ear when your union is announced. These are the precious moments that a skilled photographer watches and waits for.

Cape Point Wildflowers

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Aren’t these the most beautiful wildflowers you’ve ever seen? One cold foggy Friday last December I visited the Cape Point National Park, at the south-western tip of Africa not far out of Cape Town. The rugged terrain of the cape was covered in these gorgeous white paper daisies marking the beginning of summer. I had also visited the weekend before for a hike and took plenty of photos of their everlasting beauty under a shimmering blue sky. So I was shocked to see them all bundled up for a rainy day. So tightly closed for business, I wouldn’t have believed that these beauties had yet bloomed if I hadn’t seen the fields filled with open flowers with my own eyes less than a week before.

I spied the scene of this windswept tree giving way to the misty mountains on our drive down to the beach and asked to stop right here on our way back. Myself and a few other photographers with the WNN team spent quite a while here, captivated by the gentle light and magic of the mist. I’ve set this first image as my desktop background and I delight in the bright speckles of wildflowers, the purple haze and the memory of this beautiful place.

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calm perfection

queensland beach winter

Right now the ocean is angry. Whipped by fierce winds and dirtied by the muddy rivers spewing into it. It’s summer: rainy season. We’ve had vicious tropical storms, floods, king tides and angry waves that have swallowed all the sand exposing ancient lava rocks. Too dangerous to swim most days I stay in looking over images from seasons past. Those visiting the glorious Sunshine Coast during the peak holiday season might find it hard to believe how this same ocean behaves in winter. See for yourself.

Wandering through my archive recently my eyes dove into these vibrant memories of my beach last August: crystal clear, clean and impossibly calm. The ocean was like an enormous lake with just one small wave gently greeting the shore. Children delighted in the soft winter sun and everyone marvelled at the deep aqua reflection of the wave at the moment it folded in on itself. These images make me long for winter.