Walk on the Wild Side

Darran takes photographers for a walk on the wild side

Darran Leal has locked eyes with lions in Africa and anacondas in the Amazon but facing his wife’s stare as he returned from a K’gari (Fraser Island) expedition with a salt-ridden car was more daunting.

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

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

Too late – this photojournalist was already onboard.

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

She was well rewarded for her efforts with early morning cups of tea before he headed off on more photographic adventures.

Darran and Julia own and run Safari Wise Australia, a 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.

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Walking on the Wild Side - bird with oyster

Pied Oyster Catcher on K’gari (Fraser Island).

BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Catching up with Darren on K’gari (Fraser Island) during the 9th annual Bird Week in May 2010, 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.

“My life has never been one of sitting around and waiting for things to happen,” the former Qld National Parks and Wildlife Service photographer said.

“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.”

Walking on the Wild Side - man with camera on beach

Photographer Darran Leal on K’gari (Fraser Island)


Keep it simple, says Darran

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

“I take the KISS (Keep It Simple Shooter) 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 learned 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.

(The former) group general manager at the 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 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 visit https://worldphotoadventures.com.au/

First published Fraser Coast Chronicle, May 29, 2010.
The name Fraser Island has been updated to K’gari (Fraser Island) to reflect the island’s renaming to its original name in September 2021. 

 

Walking on the Wild Side - bird on a branch

Red-browed Finch.

Where is K’gari (Fraser Island)?

You will find K’gari (Fraser Island) off the southeast coast of the Wide Bay-Burnett region, about 300 kilometres north of Queensland’s capital city, Brisbane.

The best way to get there is to take a barge from Rainbow Beach or River Heads at Hervey Bay.

You can camp on the island, or book cabins and resort accommodation through Booking.com.

Looking for inspiration?

If you are looking for your next K’gari (Fraser Island) adventure, check out my blog on discovering the island’s beauty here.

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