I try to photograph every ship that comes in to Hobart.

The ships include freighters, cruise liners, tankers, warships and luxury yachts.

I also include fishing boats and tugs.

This photographic mission is more than just a hobby. It’s an obsession.

Some mornings I’m out at 6am. Some evenings, depending on the light, I could be out until 9pm.

Sometimes I use a tripod after dark, for night shots of vessels alongside at Risdon or in the port of Hobart.

There are several vantage points that I use for large vessels coming in to Hobart, ranging from Taroona to Risdon.

There’s the CSIRO wharf, Alexandra Battery, end of Elizabeth Street Pier, the Cenotaph on the Domain, the base of the Tasman Bridge, Kangaroo Bluff, Rosny Hill, the Rosny foreshore, Cornelian Bay Cemetery, Self’s Point, Nyrstar zinc works car park, the hills at east Risdon, and the foreshore at east Risdon.

The spot I choose depends on where the vessel will berth and the time of day.

The rule of thumb is: eastern shore in the mornings, western shore in the afternoons.

That way, the sun is in the right position.

On overcast days, either the eastern shore or western shore are optional.

I sometimes catch the MONA ferry just in order to get shots of vessels alongside from out on the river. Being out on the river is a great vantage point and one can get spectacular close-ups of ships.

When I have a ship from most conceivable angles, I go for the final angle – directly overhead, from the top of the navigation span on the Tasman Bridge.

It’s a long way down and some of my fellow ship spotters and ship photographers refuse to go up there. Some go three-quarters of the way – which affords a very good perspective – but no higher.

It gets quite noisy up there, from the sound of the passing traffic to the howl of the wind through the bridge railings.

It’s not illegal to be up there, but there is a red ‘no walking’ sign that comes on when a ship is about 20 minutes away from transiting the bridge.

It takes about 20 minutes to walk across the bridge, so anyone already on the bridge when the sign comes on will have enough time to cross to the other side.

I make sure the green ‘walk’ sign is on, when I start to climb either of the two footpaths that cross the bridge. It’s not my fault that a ship is passing through just when I’m right at the top.

Okay, so I carry a milk crate with me to give me a little bit of extra height to look over the railings.

Walter bridge 350

Walter bridge on milk crate 350

That has led to calls to police from concerned motorists. They think I’m a ‘jumper’.

One day, a police motorcyclist stopped a whole lane of traffic to ask me if I was okay. I said I was just photographing a passing ship.

He suddenly recognised me (I used to be a teacher at the Tasmania police Academy) and said: “Oh, Mr Pless. That’s okay. Carry on.”

Three minutes before a ship is due to pass under the bridge, sirens begin to blare and all traffic is stopped at either end of the bridge.

For a few minutes, it becomes silent at the top of the bridge, except for the sound of the wind and the eerie sound of the ship cutting through the water, you can hear the gentle throb of its engines.

Walter's feet on milk crate and STOLT JASMINE (21 December 2012) 350

If there is no wind, one can sometimes hear the sound of conversations between crewmen on the deck of the vessel.

Sometimes, they look up and wave. I must look quite conspicuous standing alone on my milk crate at the very top of the bridge, looking down and taking photos.

On a few occasions, a lone police car, with lights flashing has arrived and parked beside me during the lull in traffic.

After ascertaining that I am all right and merely taking photographs, the police officer bids me farewell and races away, with the flashing lights turned off.

It’s nice to know that someone cares enough to check the situation.

Within seconds, the noise of traffic resumes as all five lanes are filled with a never-ending stream of traffic, racing impatiently to their destinations after having been inconveniently held up while the ship passes.

I have known some ship photographers to use that lull in traffic to climb down on to the roadway, run across the five lanes and climb up the other side and photograph the ship moving away from the bridge.

I’ve never been game to try that. I’m not nimble enough and it would be disastrous to be caught on the roadway as the traffic flow resumes. I have a picture in my mind of a rabbit caught in the glare of headlights and transfixed with fear.

Photos of ships from the top of the bridge as they pass underneath are unique.

They make the eight-minute walk up to the top from the eastern shore worthwhile, even if carrying a milk crate as well as camera gear makes it a little awkward and attracts the attention of passing motorists.

Another eight minutes to get back down and the job is done. And, that’s half of my daily walk for exercise, which usually entails a 35-minute walk, or eight laps of my local oval.

CHEMBULK WELLINGTON at Tasman Bridge (20 October 2013)

Walter Pless


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