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Events, photo walks, talks from the masters, in-depth workshops. Expand your horizons with one of our many events across Australia.

Starting Never Ends is the one place for all Sony camera mini-sites. Learn about all new Sony camera products in a fun interactive way.

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Rock Wren at Milford Sound by Douglas Thorne
Sony New Zealand
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Event Host

Behind the Shot: Rock Wren at Milford Sound by Douglas Thorne

Sony New Zealand
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Event Host
Image: Rock Wren at Milford Sound by Douglas Thorne

Photographer Doug Thorne still lives in the picturesque South Island town where he grew up, continually inspired by the natural beauty of Te Anau, “gateway to Milford Sound”. He primarily shoots real estate, weddings, and events as a full-time commercial photographer, but Doug’s free time is given over to exploring his wild backyard and creating spectacular landscape, astro, and wildlife imagery. It was on one of these personal shoots that Doug shot the frame that would win him the Ockham Residential People’s Choice accolade at the 2022 New Zealand Geographic Photographer of the Year Awards.

 

Rock Wren with Milford Sound. Photo by Douglas Thorne
Sony Alpha 7 IV with Tamron 17-28mm F2.8 lens.1/320 sec, f/10, ISO 160

 

 

Setting the Scene

It’s early evening when Doug, his brother, and a friend begin their trek up the demanding Gertrude Saddle alpine hiking track in Fiordland National Park. The photographer used to work as a nature guide leading hikes through the area, but even for an experienced back-country tramper the tricky terrain and hot weather make it tough going — especially with a deadline to meet:

“We were going up the snowfield and had to put crampons on, and I remember thinking, oh man, we’re losing the light!” Doug recalls.

The party pushed hard and made it up the near-vertical climb to Barrier Knob three hours after setting out. They were rewarded with a stunning view looking down on the stately peaks and snaking water of Milford Sound. But Doug wanted more than just beautiful scenery.

While rock-hopping down a ridge, the photographer heard the quick high-pitched chirping he recognised as the song of the rock wren, a tiny alpine bird native to the Southern Alps. He spied a group of the birds jumping and flitting among the boulders, making their way up the incline towards him.

Doug dropped to the rocky ground so as not to disturb the excitable birds and began to mimic their tweeting call. Familiar with the wren’s behaviour, the photographer positioned one of the taller rocks in the centre of his frame, knowing that the rock wren — much like kea — typically enjoys a higher perch.

His hunch paid off and the scene was set to capture a portrait of one of the country’s smallest birds surrounded by the rugged majesty of its alpine home.

 

Gear and Camera Settings

Doug shot the award-winning image with his Sony Alpha 7 IV, paired with a Tamron 17-28mm f/2.8 wide-angle zoom lens. He used a fairly deep aperture of f/10 to ensure the background was in focus, with ISO at 160, and a shutter speed of 1/320s to freeze his twitchy subject.

Literally going to great heights to get the shot, the photographer appreciates how little weight the Alpha 7 IV adds to his gear. He is also impressed with its dynamic range, ideal for managing the highlights and shadows of landscape scenes without resorting to bracketing.

Doug attributes some of the shot’s success to “the luck of the draw”, having been on a number of previous trips to photograph rock wren that didn’t result in the image he was after. But getting in the right position, with the right gear, using the right settings when the right time finally comes — that’s the sort of hustle that makes you the People’s Choice. 

To see more of Doug’s work, visit www.douglasthorne.photo or find him on Instagram at @douglasthornephotography.

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