As a weekend photographer and keen explorer of our natural spaces, I recently(ish) set myself a photo project of capturing every land-based national park in my home state of Victoria, located in the south-east corner of Australia. Visiting all 45 of them took two years of regular trips, outside work and other travels.

The largest park is Alpine NP at 646,000ha (1.6 million acres) – an area that you could devote a lifetime of exploration to and barely touch the surface. At the other end of the scale is Lind NP at 1370ha with no tracks passing through it at all.

Many of these parks are within three hours’ drive of Melbourne and, as you can see, comprise a wide range of environments from snow, beach, desert, rainforest to dry eucalyptus bushland. Many areas are accessible by a family car, but you’ll need to hike for the best locations. If you’re planning a trip to Australia, I hope you’ll consider looking up a few of these spots – but if you’re not, hopefully you’ll be inspired to take up a similar photo project in your home area.

If you’ve been to a few of these places, I’d love to hear about your favourite spots!

In terms of gear, I’m currently using a Nikon D610 DSLR, which gives me full frame quality in a package that’s not too heavy or bulky – something you appreciate when hiking up steep hills with it. When not multi-day hiking, I’ll usually use a lightweight travel tripod – a Benro GoPlus Travel FGP18C CF with a RRS BH30 ball head. Although the tripod limits the spontaneity, I find it lets you evaluate the composition more precisely, allowing small adjustments for more impact.

For the glassware, my Nikkor 16-35mm f4 VR and Nikkor 50mm 1.4 lenses do most of the heavy lifting, often with a polarizing filter. I almost always shoot with manual exposure and 14-bit uncompressed RAW files and use a di-GPS Eco ProSumer M unit to encode location metadata. Processing is generally kept to a minimum.

Here’s a quick glimpse of every Victorian national park – sometimes a wide vista, sometimes the native residents or just the small details. Each location has its own unique charm…

Alpine NP

Alpine Peak Storm – Summer rain and lightning approach Mt Feathertop after sunset. This is a composite of two sequential shots, combining two lightning strikes. The lightning was infrequent, so I used the intervalometer mode of 10s shooting and 1s gap.

Nikon D600, 16-35 mm f/4 at 32 mm, 10.0 sec at f/5.6, ISO 100, tripod

Croajingolong NP

Nature’s Mirror – Thurra River mouth in late afternoon light. A simple shot, using the natural look of the 50mm prime. No need for any fancy techniques with light like this!

Nikon D600, 50 mm f/1.4, 1/10 sec at f/16, ISO 100, tripod

Grampians NP

Timber Frame – Sunrise over Mt Abrupt from The Picanninny. A long exposure to capture the breezy conditions and add some life to an otherwise static scene. Stopping down and focussing at hyperfocal distance allowed good depth of field throughout. A focus stack could have been used, at a sharper aperture, but the moving objects may not have blended well.

Nikon D300, 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 18 mm, 4.0 sec at f/22, ISO 100, tripod

Hattah-Kulkyne NP

Mournpall Morning – Painterly sunrise textures of flooded trees on Lake Mournpall. HDR composite of three frames, with a 2-stop spread.

Nikon D600, 16-35 mm f/4 at 30 mm, 1.0 sec at f/8.0, ISO 100, tripod

Lower Glenelg NP

Twisted Reality – Australian grass trees in flower. The tripod helped a difficult composition here, with a busy background and competing subject elements.

Nikon D600, 16-35 mm f/4 at 16 mm, 1/500 sec at f/8.0, ISO 800, tripod

Mornington Peninsula NP

Sunrise On The Pulpit – First light of day illuminates Pulpit Rock, Cape Schanck. Leaving home at 4am to catch sunrise here was well worth it, with only a few surfers nearby, I otherwise had the place to myself.

Nikon D610, 50 mm f/1.4, 30.0 sec at f/2.8, ISO 100, tripod

Mount Buffalo NP

Vertical Limits – Two climbers on Ozymandias (grade 22 M4), Australia’s most popular aid climbing route.

Nikon D300, 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 200 mm, 1/250 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, handheld

Port Campbell NP

Apostle Dreaming – With waves smoothed out by a long exposure the scene takes on a softer and calmer appearance, hiding the turbulent, eroding waves. The promontory in the distance was packed with tourists, all shooting into the sun. I went 1km further up and had this spot to myself, with a striking front light.

Nikon D610, 16-35 mm f/4 at 22 mm, 8.0 sec at f/16, ISO 100, tripod

Wilsons Promontory NP

Beach For Two – View from Mt Oberon of Norman Beach. With drone use restricted in Victorian national parks, you need to climb a mountain for these sort of views. The 1-hour slog was worth it and the crowds left at sunset, missing a great afterglow and starry sky with green airglow. Bring a torch for your return journey and drive slowly – I had to avoid 14 wombats on the road home at 1am!

Nikon D300, 18-200 mm f/3.5-5.6 at 200 mm, 1/750 sec at f/5.6, ISO 200, tripod

And here is a glimpse of the other 36 parks. For more details on these, click here.

Clockwise from top-left: Budj Bim NP, Snowy River NP, Point Nepean NP, French Island NP
Clockwise from top-left: Baw Baw NP, Yarra Ranges NP, Kara Kara NP, Greater Bendigo NP
Clockwise from top-left: Burrowa-Pine Mountain NP, Barmah NP, Alfred NP, Lind NP
Clockwise from top-left: Brisbane Ranges NP, Coopracambra NP, Tarra-Bulga NP, Cobboboonee NP
Clockwise from top-left: Errinundra NP, Wyperfeld NP, Little Desert NP, Mitchell River NP
Clockwise from top-left: Kinglake NP, Warby-Ovens NP, Churchill NP, Morwell NP
Mount Richmond NP, Heathcote-Graytown NP, Great Otway NP, Dandenong Ranges NP
Clockwise from top-left: Murray-Sunset NP, Terrick Terrick NP, Gunbower NP, The Lakes NP
Clockwise from top-left: Organ Pipes NP, Lower Goulburn NP, Chiltern-Mount Pilot NP, Lake Eildon NP

And now that it’s “complete”? I’ll keep going back to get the best light, the best season, those fleeting moments with wildlife… The project will always be a “work in progress” and I wouldn’t have it any other way!

Having been restricted to 5km essential travel since July, I’m keen to get back out there soon.

About the author: Jason Freeman is a graphic designer based in Melbourne, Australia. After completing a Bachelor of Applied Science in Photography, he began work in aerial surveying, transitioning to creative roles in multimedia, video and print. He is an Adobe Certified Expert in InDesign, Photoshop & Lightroom. As a keen hiker and traveller, the camera is always close at hand.

To view his latest images, or for comments or questions, visit his folio site GoWild Images.