Photographing Devils Marbles, Australia

A tiny human figure on top of a huge bolder backlit by a wondrous sunset at Devils Marbles in Northern Australia.

Silhouettes are extremely powerful and emotive ways by which photographers can communicate a mood or message through their images. This is a very old picture, from my days as a film-based photographer, made at Devils Marbles in Australia’s Northern Territory.

Want To Be Spooked?

Devils Marbles, also known as Karlu Karlu in the local indigenous languages, is an extremely isolated and harsh landscape. In fact not far away is the tiny hamlet of Wycliffe Well, famous for UFO sightings.

For most folks Devils Marbles is little more than an impressive pit stop on the long drive from Darwin to Alice Springs. While it’s possible to camp there most folk would problem stop simply to stretch their legs and take a break from what’s a pretty monotonous and grueling journey.

Travel Only By Day

The problem is that you don’t drive at night in this part of the world. It’s just not safe as large wildlife (e.g., kangaroos, cattle) tend to find their way onto the road at night. By the time you car lights hit them it’s likely too late for all concerned.

What this means is that most folks only experience Devils Marbles during the harsh midday sun. And that’s likely to be extremely uncomfortable for tourist and camera alike. The dynamic range you’d find yourself photographing under will be extreme and textures and surface color will be subdued by the harsh, direct light.

I’ve driven up to Devils Marbles twice before. The first time was on a quick overnight dash from Alice Springs where I was holidaying. I drove all day to get there, arriving just in time to make the above photo, slept in the back of the ute prior to getting up for a windy and cloudy dawn. Sadly, there was no sunrise to speak of. I then had to make the dash back to Alice for my return flight to Melbourne.

My second encounter with Karlu Karlu was during an extended 3-month stay in Alice Springs. A former love interest of mine, whom I had an 8-year long distance relationship with, came to visit. We met up in Alice Springs, from where I showed her much of Central Australia, prior to heading up to Darwin and Kakadu before making the long drive all the way back to Melbourne.

Our visit to Devils Marbles was on a dreadfully hot late December (e.g., middle of summer) afternoon where we clambered around the rocks for a while prior to heading onto really poor and even more oppressive accommodation in Wycliffe Well. Now, in fairness, that was more than 10 years ago. I have no idea of what the accommodation is like these days.

The Great Lesson

Have no doubt Karlu Karlu is a surreal site that does lend itself to photography. But photographing too far outside of the edges of the day is going to be very challenging indeed.

My best memory of Devils Marbles is associated with the above photo made, I think, in the early 90’s. I made the photo with a Leica M6 camera and a Leica-M Summicron 35mm f2 lens. It was a wonderful, though short lived sunset. I love the scale introduced by the tiny figure on top of the rock which really brings home the scale of the location and, as a result, suggests the immense majesty of nature.

Glenn Guy, Travel Photography Guru