The story behind the photo: ‘Mungo’ by Jason Perry

By AG STAFF 1 November 2023
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This forms part of a series of Q&As with winning photographers from this year’s Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year awards.

Jason Perry was recently crowned winner of the Astrophotography category in the 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year (AGNPOTY) competition.

His winning image, titled Mungo, captures crescent-shaped landforms called lunettes under the light of the cosmos.

Can you tell us the back story of this photo? 

I had planned to camp at Mungo National Park for four nights and had some cloudy first couple of days. When I found this group of lunettes, I turned off my headlamp to see what I could actually see under the ambient light and at first it was completely pitch black. After about 30 minutes of waiting, the heavens finally opened up for me. The stars were so bright that I could see the landscape in front of me quite well. The curves and textures led me right to the MIlky Way core and the brightness of Venus as it started to rise up over the far lunettes. Because of the width and pure enormity of the scene, I opted to take a multi-row panorama to fit it all in.

What is your connection to the subject matter? 

I have no connection to the subject matter other than just the love of being surrounded by the natural beauty of this place.

Where is it taken, and what led you to this site? 

Mungo National Park is important for three reasons: It has “one of the longest continual records of Aboriginal life in Australia” having been occupied for over 50,000 years; the skeletons found in the sands of the lunette are the “oldest known fully modern humans outside Africa”; and the skeleton of Mungo Woman (or Mungo I as she is officially known), has been radiocarbon dated to around 40,000 years ago and “has provided the oldest evidence of ritual cremation in the world.” Mungo is listed in the World Heritage List for both its cultural and natural values. 

It is one of those places that’s incredibly beautiful in daylight but there is something about seeing it under the light of the stars that makes it even more special.

Were you unexpectedly there or had you planned to cover this moment? 

It was unexpected as the weather had been so cloudy, but as soon as things cleared, I knew I wanted to capture this spectacular scene.

Photographer Jason Perry. Image credit: supplied by Jason Perry

What are the technical challenges of photographing this kind of scene?

The biggest technical challenges were the framing and what I wanted to be in the image. For this, I had to do a panorama. Plus, doing a multi-row panorama can be quite challenging in itself along with the post processing of it. 

How did you prepare to take this image? 

When shooting a panorama there are several things that you must be sure to do in order to make the stitching process later much easier. One is to level the tripod. Then I make sure the lens is centered over the tripod head to help with parallax. Lastly I had to make sure I had about a 30% overlap of each image.  

Did you have special equipment? 

The only special equipment I’d say would be a nodal rail to center the lens over the ball head and also an indexing rotator that clicks at each 30% overlap, making that process much easier. 

Have you covered this topic/subject before?

I am always looking for new and exciting places to photograph the Milky Way and the one thing that stands out from this place is how dark it is. There is absolutely no light pollution and everything is lit by starlight at night. 

Why is this form of photography important to you?

It is truly just pure love for astrophotography. There is no better therapy for the soul than being out under the stars, and in a place like Mungo, it makes it even more special. 

Related: Winners: 2023 Australian Geographic Nature Photographer of the Year