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Two Photographers and Three Sisters Beach

Two Photographers and Three Sisters Beach

In The Subjects We Share, we celebrate the places where our experiences converge, dismantle competition among photographers, and honor the uniqueness of each distinct moment. 

You don’t know what you’ve got, until it’s gone. The statement is a cliché, but the sentiment is something we have all connected with in one way or another. It can be difficult to appreciate all the good and beautiful things in our lives and our environment. We often assume that opportunities we have today will still be there tomorrow, a mentality which can lead to inaction and postponement of things that may bring us joy. Then there are moments when life reminds us that it is transient and that opportunities can expire; that if you wait too long you may miss your shot.  

Upon hearing of Archway Rock’s collapse, I immediately felt a deep sense of gratefulness for being one of the lucky ones who experienced the beach and photographed the arch still standing.

A few days ago, I learned through social media that the Archway Rock at Three Sisters Beach on the Tongapōrutu coast of New Zealand has recently collapsed. Having separated from the cliff in 2015, it had managed to become a very popular photo subject during its brief life span. Another very popular rock formation a few steps away, Elephant Rock, lost its trunk in 2016. This is a constantly changing erosion zone, and rising sea levels will likely continue to accelerate the speed of change. Upon hearing of Archway Rock’s collapse, I immediately felt a deep sense of gratefulness for being one of the lucky ones who experienced the beach and photographed the arch still standing. It also made me think about the others who visited this place, before time and the forces of nature changed it forever.

This beach was one of many photographic destinations that my wife and I targeted during our 23-day road trip in New Zealand in late 2017. We hit it near the end of our trip, as we worked our way back from Wellington (after ferrying back from the South Island) towards Auckland. On this day, we woke up at the Himatangi Beach Holiday Park and did some sightseeing along the way, setting up camp at Seaview Holiday Park, just 17 minutes from Three Sisters Beach. We drove back to the beach about an hour before sunset, and luckily for us it was low tide (sometimes you do your research, sometimes you don’t – but sometimes even if you don’t, you get lucky!). As you often realize upon arriving in person, there is just so much more to a place than what you have seen in pictures. You walk out to the beach through a broad, black, tidal sand bed, which widens as you approach the ocean. The dark sand, dense and wet, creates interesting patterns with the retreating tide, and provides a stark contrast to the various tan and red freestanding rock formations.

 Black Sand Silhouette / Ernesto Ruiz

Black Sand Silhouette / Ernesto Ruiz

At such a beautiful location at sunset, I was surprised to find just one other photographer. On the spacious beach we didn’t even cross paths, but my wife and I spent some time discussing how they might capture or remember this evening similarly or differently than we would. We spent a couple of hours watching the sun setting, exploring different angles, and capturing images. While I did not get dramatic sunset colors for photographic purposes, I brought back a handful of beautiful images and a rich memory of this impressive landscape. By the time we left it had gotten really dark and we were the last people to leave the beach, squelching and sinking our way through the sandy pools. (Not pictured: an unfortunate dead sheep, laying at the base of the cliff that you walk along to and from the beach to the parking lot. Did it just fall off the cliff? I guess we’ll never know!).

This is a place where I could stay and shoot forever and never get bored.
— Luc Stadnik

Somewhat unintentionally, I stumbled upon another photographer’s images of the same beach not long after I’d visited it, and found a distinct perspective of the same place shared through a few beautiful images. Luc Stadnik’s photos of the Three Sisters beach, captured in April of this year, convey a very different mood than mine, capturing this landscape in a completely different light. I was intrigued by the overlap of our experiences; by how someone who I have never met, coming from a completely different place, had recently experienced the same beach with the same goal of photographing it and sharing it with others.

 Expelled by the Tide / Luc Stadnik

Expelled by the Tide / Luc Stadnik

To learn more, I reached out to Luc for some context behind his visit. Below are his thoughts:

“I visited the Three Sisters Beach in April 2018. As I did research for my trip, I was already enchanted and full of expectations about shooting there ... Since it is away from the main tourist route, and not as exhaustively photographed as other locations in New Zealand, the challenge was even more exciting. I planned my New Zealand trip around the days that I would spend there (days when sunrises and sunsets coincided with the low tide - the only time you can access this beach).

 Moonset Before Sunrise / Luc Stadnik

Moonset Before Sunrise / Luc Stadnik

After a first afternoon of exploration under very poor light, the following day was amazing: since the moment I arrived at dawn, I did not stop shooting until the tide expelled me in the midmorning. There are infinite composition possibilities and the unpredictable weather can always surprise you with great conditions, as well as some difficulties. Wind, cold, mist, a humidity blurred my lens for each photo, waves echoing like thunder while hitting the "sisters" and the cliffs, the increasing tide making me move shot after shot, the moon setting and the sun rising were some conditions I met that morning. In the afternoon, I explored the 2 km beach, finding amazing rock formations, caves, and waterfalls - all under the light of the setting sun. This is a place where I could stay and shoot forever and never get bored. It is nature in its pure and most intense form, a delight for the lenses, for my eyes, my mind, and my memories.”

 Selfie at Three Sisters Beach / Luc Stadnik

Selfie at Three Sisters Beach / Luc Stadnik

You can follow Luc on Instagram by clicking here, and we hope to share more of his contributions in the future.

Our photos recognizably show the same place, but there are obvious differences between our experiences and the resulting images. Some of these are weather related, but most relate to our personal decisions, from deciding when to visit to prioritizing certain shots and compositions. It’s easy to feel at times like sharing a location diminishes its value; we are attracted to the idea of being the only one and can get irritated when others shatter that illusion. By engaging with another person about areas of overlap, we can reconcile the fact that experiencing something is not a zero sum game, that ultimately our experiences are still our own, and no two images are the same. 

I’ll wrap up this entry with this fun picture in the spirit of not missing opportunities, appreciating the beauty in our lives, and maximizing our experiences. “I am not throwing away my shot” is a memorable quote from Hamilton, the musical, which perfectly embodies the philosophy I have been discussing. The person in the photo is my wife, Becca, improvising her best Hamilton pose after listening to the musical a few too many times. Do not throw away your shot! 

 Archway Rock Silhouette / Ernesto Ruiz

Archway Rock Silhouette / Ernesto Ruiz

Early Morning at Hot Creek

Early Morning at Hot Creek

Big Sky Country

Big Sky Country