Without doubt, 2017 has been the year of the drone – though there’s been some appealing images captured on the ground and underwater as well.

Following is a short preview of some of the photographs that stood out from last year’s assignments.

Click on the panel below to see some of the pics that made the cut in 2017.


A few tips for photographers to start the new year: Part of the reason I produce this selection of images at the end of each year is to review my work over the past 12 months and consider ways to improve my photography. To this end, I run through the photos posted on my blog to look for what’s worth repeating and –  importantly – consider what I could do better or differently in future.

Here’s five important things I do to prepare myself for the year ahead:

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It’s a testament to the beauty and appeal of the Cook Islands that, even during the rainy season (when 23 out of the 26 days I’ve just spent photographing them have been either raining or overcast), the destination can still gift you with a portfolio of images like these (below).

This is my last assignment for what has been a particularly turbulent year (with Saturn returning and Donald Trump still at the helm), but it ends with me rejuvenated and excited by my plans to build the largest commercial photo library on the entire South Pacific (www.davidkirklandphotography.com).

There is much that will come from the library which I am confident will benefit the region,  including a shared commitment with national tourism authorities to my long-held passion to record the region’s disappearing traditional cultures.

To my family and friends who are familiar with my travails, and to those I don’t know who have begun following me on my new Facebook page at David Kirkland Photography, let me take this opportunity to wish you and yours all the best over the festive period and for the year ahead.

There are many great photographs still to be captured in this most fascinating part of the world ……..and I look forward to returning mid February to try and lay claim to at least a few of them.

My three week assignment in the Cook Islands combined a destination shoot for the national tourism authority with a shoot of the island nation’s premier resort property – Pacific Resort, Aitutaki.
Following is a short preview of some of the photographs captured of the later (I’ll post a preview of the tourism shoot to end the year).

Resort drawcards: Generous, well appointed rooms, tropical gardens, friendly staff, a Belgium chocolate drink infused with chilli and coconut oil to die for, and its vicinity to one of the most amazing lagoons on the planet (which, for those who are curious, will cost you upwards of AUS$1,000 a night).

Photographer’s Tip: While it’s important to shoot a range of what I call “inventory shots” of a resort property (necessary shots that tell a story about the standard of the resort, its rooms, its facilities, the staff and the food etc), it’s also important to identify the singular reason people are likely to want to come to the property in the first place, and strongly associate it with that feature. In this case, it’s the fact that the property sits as close as you can get to stunning Aitutaki Lagoon.
While the aerial photographs of the lagoon’s islands captured with the drone will undoubtedly warrant attention, I think some of the strongest pictures to promote the property are those shot from directly above it which show the vicinity of the villas you’ll be staying in to the white, sand-beach and the incredible water you’ll be stepping in to.

All of the ariel photographs were shot on the Phantom 4 Pro. Iso 100,F4.5 @1/120).

For some candid insights into the seemingly glamorous, often challenging but generally rewarding life of a world-wandering tourism photographer, visit my Facebook page at David Kirkland Photography.

It doesn’t get much better than this – Aitutaki Lagoon in The Cook Islands.

Here’s a few pictures we captured today (yes, after six straight days of rain and overcast skies, I promise I’ll go to church over Christmas), featuring the jewels in the crown – One Foot Island, Maina Island and Honeymoon Island.

Just stunning.

Photographer’s Tip: If you want the shots that will make a difference, hire a fast boat  (150 horsepower) for the morning to get you around the lagoon at speed. If you haven’t got clear skies to start, forget it because – no matter what you’re packing – it ain’t gonna make a shred of difference if there’s cloud cover or its windy. Head straight to One Foot (that’s the closest) to get there before the crowd, then Honeymoon and Maina islands. The only way I think I could have improved on these aerial shots would have been by spending a day there earlier to work out when the sand bars are more prominent in terms of the tide as I’m sure the fingers of white sand can be even more spectacular when they are exposed. Of course, the drone’s handy but, I can assure you, there’s plenty to shoot on the ground, combining that incredible blue, the white sand and the palm trees. Best month, I’m told, is August (not December!). Oh, and don’t forget the polarising filter.

For some more candid insights into the seemingly glamorous, often challenging but generally rewarding life of a tourism photographer, visit my Facebook page at David Kirkland Photography.

Ok, so I’m tearing my hair out and my clients are looking at the rain and thinking it’s all money down the drain but – truth be told – I’d prefer at least a third of my shoot to be done in overcast conditions (maybe even a little rain).

I’m here at Pacific Resort, Aitutaki in the Cook Islands where it’s been either pouring or overcast for five days straight so we’re all getting a touch anxious. But it’s been a productive shoot – so far.

Overcast conditions are an opportunity to slow everything down a bit and study the resort from a different perspective  (as you’re not so focused on the “big sunny shots”). And, importantly, there’s that beautiful, soft, even light to work with which lends itself to a range of appealing images including food, room interiors, public spaces and welcoming staff shots……….like these.

That said, if I don’t get at least two days of sunshine to do justice to the colour of the surrounding water, the 23 kilo camera bag goes on the back and I’m wandering off into the lagoon – never to be seen again.

Photography Tip: As soon as I get to a resort, I look at the staff to see who I think is likely to work in a photograph, before liaising with management to ensure their availability. Key criteria: Their smile or laugh, a sense that they may be prepared to have a bit of fun, and a complimentary association (i.e. that they are likely to be relaxed together and engage happily). I generally choose three people for a single session so I can concentrate on just two if the chemistry’s not right. The direction is to simply do what they always do – make the bed, serve a customer etc – though I’ll generally look to surprise or entertain them and keep shooting to add an extra bit of spontaneity to the picture.

For some more candid insights into the seemingly glamorous, often challenging but generally rewarding life of a tourism photographer, visit the Facebook page I’m struggling to come to terms with at David Kirkland Photography.

You would not believe the luck we had getting this shot.

The forecast was for storms, my drone decided to inexplicably cease transmission every five minutes and needed to be landed, an annual paddling race was to see the pristine lagoon we’d come to shoot overrun with bodies and vessels on the same day we were there, and this one morning was the only window we had to get the shot.

Stressful? Just a bit.

Yet, despite all of this, for just one near-perfect half hour, the Gods decided to smile on the assignment and we managed to get the shots we came for (above).

……I figure it was just reward for the trauma we all suffered getting there (I say “we” because, I’m sure that Maya, Tom and Daniel will never share a lagoon journey again with an impatient photographer who can’t shut up about the light, the weather and the glacial movement of the tiny vessel we were traveling on.

Photography Tip: In my opinion, Aitutaki Lagoon – and particularly the sand bars surrounding One Foot Island – is one of the most photogenic locations in the world. The white sand fringed with palm trees, that spectacular water colour and those curling white sand bars, make it special. But timing (and weather) is critical if you want to shoot an above average photograph.  While it’s an afternoon shot in terms of lighting the island, the morning produces a much crisper light and the likelihood of less wind and clearer water. Importantly, you need to plan for low tide if you want to see more of those spectacular sandbars in your shot.