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Fraser Island Photography Expedition

Walking on the wild side of Fraser Island

By Jocelyn Watts

He has locked eyes with lions in Africa and anacondas in the Amazon but facing his wife’s stare as he returns from a Fraser Island beach tour with a salt-ridden car is more daunting.

“Don’t tell Julia,” Darran Leal calls out as the tyres of their 4WD sink lower into the sand.

Ruing his decision to stop five seconds too long on Fraser Island’s boggy beach, for the sake of a better photo, Darran asks his passengers to honour the old adage “What happens on tour, stays on tour.”

Too late – this photojournalist is onboard.

Darran has Buckley’s chance of escaping Julia’s salt patrol anyway. The self-confessed clean fanatic is wise to her husband’s ways, and waits with fresh water and towels in hand for his return.

And she is well rewarded for her efforts with early morning cups of tea – before he heads off on more photographic adventures.

Based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Darran and Julia own and run Safari Wise Australia, the county’s only licensed travel agency specialising in photography tours and workshops in areas as far away as USA, Africa, South America and beyond.

Since February alone Darran has been to Norfolk Island, Tasmania, Kimberley and Fraser Island. Cape Town (South Africa) and Namibia (South-west Africa), Bhutan (Mountain Kingdom), Wild West (USA) and Yellowstone National Park (USA) will fill the remainder of the year.

BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Catching up with Darren on Fraser Island during the 9th annual Bird Week in May, the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year said his work had been published around the world and used in books, magazines and commercial products.

He has appeared on television several times and has been commissioned by Qantas, Warner Brothers, the Qld Government, Australia Post, Steve Parish Publishing and many other companies … and published six of his own books.

The former Qld National Parks and Wildlife Service photographer said “My life has never been one of sitting around and waiting for things to happen. Rather, I get out and explore, touch, catch, view, experience and savour every unique moment. I don’t specialise in one area but shoot everything from the smallest insect to the grandest landscape or unique culture.”

Darran’s widespread success suggests complex techniques are at work but they are surprisingly simple.

Keep it simple, says Darran

“I take the KISS (Keep It Simple) principle seriously,” he told shutterbugs attending his week-long workshop on Fraser Island. “We have the technology now – just understand light and metering and let the camera do work.”

Darran said most of his stunning images had been taken with hand-held cameras, using the same techniques he learnt 30 years ago. The limited use of tripods frees him to capture fleeting moments at the blink of an eye.

Getting the images from idea to print or canvas doesn’t happen overnight, however. He and Julia, a travel consultant of 28 years, spend months or sometimes years researching remote regions for possible images before Darran takes to the field and returns to process, catalogue and print the results.

“The most gratifying aspect of my work – after all of the expense of equipment and travel and the many hours in the field – is to hear someone else enjoying that same split second with me.”

Darran’s passion for photography is infectious.

Group general manager at Fraser Island’s Kingfisher Bay and Eurong resorts, Ivor Davies, is one of his converts.

Ivor said he had little photography experience until Darran started running workshops during the annual Fraser Island Bird Week, attended by bird watchers from throughout Australia.

The artist and former military chef bought some of Darran’s “hand-me-down” camera gear and has become an expert in the field. He now presents photography sessions for birdwatchers and joins Darran’s excursions, driving a 4WD and helping students with their work … and serving up tea, coffee, biscuits and muffins during the breaks.

Every year Darran and Ivor devote their time throughout the week to presenting theory sessions, helping camera buffs spot birds and wildlife at the Kingfisher resort and leading tours through the island’s rainforests and along beaches where opportunities to capture unique and creative images abound.

Travelling in teams was certainly handy at this year’s event – particularly when one driver, despite his vast experience trekking through the world’s most remote wilderness areas, stopped five seconds too long on wet beach sand.

Watching the towing was all part of the island’s 4WD experience and offered Darran’s students yet another great photo opportunity – not to be used as evidence, of course.

For more information on Darran Leal’s World Photo Adventures and workshops log into

Kingfisher Bay Resort details can be found at

By Jocelyn Watts. Click here to view the Published article
Fraser Island

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