Why Sarah Pannell Packs a Variable ND on Every TripWhy Sarah Pannell Packs a Variable ND on Every Trip

Why Sarah Pannell Packs a Variable ND on Every Trip

When on the road, photographer Sarah Pannell has a simple approach: use less and stay nimble. Here, Sarah shares how a Variable ND gives her the flexibility and creative control to shoot with a single camera in one of the most extreme landscapes on Earth.

Growing up in Australia but living in the south-east state of Victoria, it’s hard to be aware of how diverse our country is; and the extremes of our natural environment. So when I landed in the middle of the continent for the first time, surrounded by red dirt and the biggest blue sky, it was such a shift in perspective.
Travelling with my friend Anne, I landed at Alice Springs Airport in mid-July after a stunning, clear flight over the central desert. Safely 2,200km away from a very-soon-to-be-locked-down Melbourne, we were so relieved to break out of our home state and have several weeks ahead of us to explore the desert.
Coming from a chilly winter, the immediate shock to the system was the warm, dry desert air and the vibrant golden light that filters through in the early evening in Alice Springs or Mparntwe (the local Arrente name). Having experienced a rainy autumn, the landscape was particularly green and thriving; there was a buzz in the air.
I brought just one film camera on my trip; my Leica rangefinder with a 50mm lens. At this stage, it’s the only lens I have, so I make it work for each scenario. When shooting film on a rangefinder, it can be limiting in how you shoot when the fastest shutter speed is 1/1000th of a second. This is where ND filters become a very important aspect of my photography, and in this case, a very flexible and forgiving Variable ND Filter. It stacks fine with other filters, and I can rotate depending on my source of light and chosen depth of field.
We spent several weeks visiting friends in Mparntwe and camping in various spots around East and West MacDonnell Ranges (Tjoritja), followed by a campervan trip to Uluru, Kata Tjuta and Watarrka National Park, commonly known as Kings Canyon.
Shooting in the desert poses many challenges, but being able to control my images with a single filter really streamlines things. Having a set ISO (in this case, 400), I can pivot between ND filter on and off depending on the quality of natural light and the intended style of the images. I love being able to shoot on a wider aperture during the middle of the day when the sun is high and bright.
This was my first time in the Northern Territory and everything about this central desert landscape completely blew me away. The colours, the light, the energy of the natural landscape and the native creatures which inhabit it. These images are my first impressions of a very sacred and unique landscape that is both confronting and thought-provoking.