About Me

My photo

I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

A slight vacation

Hi there everybody,

sorry for the lack of regular posts over the last couple of weeks but the reason is right here. Well not specifically the ladies in the picture but the two little cherubs on Mum's knee.

You see it's school holidays here in this part of the world and that means my two little munchkins are at home keeping Dad amused. Well least ways Dad is trying to keep them amused.

Movies, skateboard parks, the pool. You name it I've been doing it - all except photography and blogging that is! So I'll be taking some time off from the blog over the next couple of weeks and will be back fresh and full of ideas in 2009. I've got some ideas of where I'd like to take the blog but would love some suggestions on things you would like to learn more about. I really did set this thing up to be a resource for you the readers so if you have any questions please stick them in the comments section and I will try and help out.

So until next year have a great break and happy snapping!

Friday, December 19, 2008

Model releases and travel photography

Now I'm going to preface this post with a little disclaimer. I am by no means a lawyer, don't really know any and you should check anything I write here with a local authority. It's a bit of a can of worms is the old subject of model releases and the rules change according to which part of the world you live in.

As a general rule though you don't need permission to take somebody's photo in a public place. It's not the taking of the photo that is the problem - it's what you do with the picture that can get you into hot water.

Take this picture of a little girl taking a break at a festival in Japan. There's no problem if I publish this picture in a magazine with a caption that explains what's happening. But if this picture runs on the front cover of the magazine it could be considered advertising and I would most likely need a model release for that.

Likewise if I was to use it in a billboard which said that this little girl loves the taste of Coke I would get into trouble. Or at least the person who published it would get into trouble. Remember the taking of the photograph is not the issue when you are in a public place, the publishing of it is. So if somebody uses it to advertise something and they know it doesn't have a release (because you the photographer told them) then they would be in trouble not you.

So do I carry a whole bunch of model releases around with me? You bet. Do I ever use them? Hardly ever. I mostly work in the editorial sector of the industry - books, magazines, newspapers. So I hardly ever need a release. If I think I have a cover shot I often give my subject a release form to fill out and promise to send them copies of the pictures and the cover of the magazine if I make it. Otherwise those pieces of paper stay in my bag.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Blurry models

As I mentioned on Tuesday, one of the main times I sit and wait for people to walk into my picture is when I'm using the telephoto lens.

I'm often focussed on something a long way away and it would be impossible for me to get into the frame after setting the self-timer off.

Take this image here. It was taken at the Daintree Discovery Centre which has this amazing walkway through the canopy of World Heritage rainforest.

I took this shot from high up an observation tower, pointing a telephoto lens down below and waiting for people to walk along the path. I was up there for a couple of reasons. Firstly a telephoto lens compresses the already thick rainforest making it look really impenetrable so I needed to be a long way away to get that viewpoint. Secondly it's quite dark in the rainforest and you need to use quite slow shutter speeds and a tripod. People stomping along the walkway makes it vibrate like you wouldn't believe rendering a tripod useless so I couldn't be on the walkway with a wide angle lens or else I'd have a blurry photo.

But a slow shutter speed is what I wanted for another reason. A technique I often use when letting people wander into my frame is to deliberately slow that shutter down so any moving people are blurred.

The main reason I do this is to give my unsuspecting models a sense of anonymity. As I have said on many an occasion, I always like to let people know I'm photographing them. It helps me build a sense of rapport with my portrait subjects. But when people are just props for my landscape shots it's not always possible to let them know. So in order to give them some privacy I tend to blur them.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Even gorgeous beaches can use some people

Here's another example of waiting for a model. I was photographing this iconic north Queensland scene at Four Mile Beach in Port Douglas.

What makes it a north Queensland beach? Surely not the bright yellow surf lifesaving surfski. They can be found all over Australia.

No the hint is the bottles of vinegar sitting next to them. They immediately scream - jellyfish! We get lots of jellyfish in the water during summer and the vinegar is there to take away some of the effect of the sting before you get rushed to hospital.

But that's a topic for another day. As I was photographing this gorgeous scene I noticed behind me a little boy on what appeared to be a brand new bike and helmet. He was just walking with his family but you could tell he was dying to go for a spin. I couldn't photograph him where he was because the sun was coming from right behind him so I had to wait and hope.

And sure he enough he rode up the beach towards me and did a big loop around the surfski. I was already in position before he was even half way towards me, looking through the viewfinder and hoping. Snap went the shutter and he went back to his family and decided he'd had enough riding for one day. One shot was all I got but it was the one I wanted.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Waiting for models

Yesterday I talked about getting yourself in the picture to add a bit of human touch. But sometimes that's not always possible. You mostly find that you're limited to using a wide-angle lens.

The reason for this is that the foreground is the most emphasised part of the frame and this is where you end up standing. So in the 10 seconds or so you have to get into the picture you don't have to go too far.

When you use a telephoto lens you're usually focussed a long way away. Too far for you to run and pose in 10 seconds or so. Take this shot above. I'm about 200 metres away from the palm trees and I don't think even UsainBolt could make that in 10 seconds!

So sometimes you have to wait. I had already taken a couple of landscape (ie no people) shots of these palm trees at sunrise when I noticed a young woman walking along the foreshore.

It took her about twenty minutes to get to this point as she sat down to enjoy the view, looked at this and that and just generally enjoyed an early morning walk. Meanwhile I was sitting there with all my fingers crossed wishing her silently to walk into my frame.

Eventually she did but the task wasn't complete. As I have spoken about before, when you have a silhouette it needs to be instantly recognisable. A profile shot usually works best so I sat and waited for her to turn side on to the camera. And then she decided to really help me out by lifting a bottle of water up to her mouth and taking a drink, so the sun shone through the bottle as well as giving me a great profile silhouette.

It doesn't always work this well. Sometimes you just never get the right person into the frame, and even when you do they're never quite facing the right way. Them's the breaks. If I had a dollar for every potentially great shot I've missed...well you know the ending.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Putting some life into your photos

When I first started photographing seriously my main interest was in nature and landscapes. I would sit patiently at popular places waiting for other people to disappear before I took any pictures.

When I was off the beaten track it wasn't a problem but when I visited a popular tourist spot it sometimes meant waiting for a long time.

Then I discovered a truth about travel photography. As opposed to landscape photography, travel clients actually prefer to have people in the picture. Something about making the viewer feel like they could be there too.

Once I discovered that I seemed to be cursed with the opposite problem. Now suddenly there weren't any people. What's a poor photographer to do? Put the self-timer on and get in the picture yourself.

It's very easy to do of course. You set up the camera on a tripod and compose the image. Once you have it set you put the camera on self-timer and make a mad dash into the frame to stand at the right position.

In reality it often involves lots of pictures of the back of the photographer running into position, or the photographer looking at the camera wondering if the shutter has gone off yet!

Another thing to be careful of is that if you're as camera-breakingly ugly as me make sure you use a wide-angle lens and get a long way away. :) And plan on taking a couple of changes of clothes with you so you don't end up in the same t-shirt for 400 photographs. You'd be amazed at how many photos of myself I've seen floating around. I might have to start charging myself a modelling fee. :)

Friday, December 5, 2008

Watching and waiting

Even when you only have a short period of time it's worth waiting a couple of minutes here and there to complete a picture.

I was in the middle of a mad rush around the Japanese countryside on assignment for a magazine. Because it was a writing as well as photography assignment it meant I had to cover quite a few things in a few short days.

I also had my wife and two young boys along for the ride so it was bedlam all round! One place we visited was an aquarium called Marine Park Nixe. It was a cloudy old day and not much good for outdoor photography but the inside of the aquarium provided some interesting compositions.

I really liked this tank and the contrast between it and the bright blue tanks in the background. I took this shot but one look and I knew without any people in it there wasn't that much life in the image, or any point in having the background tanks. By themselves they weren't much of interest because you can't rally see any fish in them from this distance.

So I hung around for five minutes or so and waited. Sure enough a couple of people started walking through. I already had my aperture, zoom settings and composition set so as soon as this woman walked into the frame I quietly lifted the camera up to my eye and clicked.

When you have people (or any object really) in a silhouette you need to make sure that it's really clear what the object is, otherwise it's just a big black lump.

With people you need to have them in profile so you can see the outline of a human face clearly.

What do you think? I think the second shot is a much better travel image with a person in it. The first one is more a shot of the tanks themselves, whereas the second one is a picture of people interacting with the tanks. A subtle difference that's worth waiting a couple of minutes for.

Oh and in case you're wondering why I didn't use my family as models. If you think they're gonna sit around and wait while Dad takes pictures you've got another think coming! They head off to do their own thing. Saves a lot of tears and arguments. :)

Have a great weekend and don't forget to get your entries in for the photo comp. Scroll down to the kookaburra for details.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Guest Blogging

Here at Have Camera Will Travel I try to firmly place the emphasis on photography and the subject. I'm a hushed voice in the background and I try to give insights into how I work but I'm not the main subject. Well I wasn't until today. I was asked to do a guest blog over at PSI Tutor on how one goes about following a passion to make it a career and this is my effort. Enjoy!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Markets

Over the past few months I've made quite a few posts about photographing people in foreign countries, and usually I recommend that you approach people to form some kind of rapport with them first. I find that this often leads to the most pleasing portraits.

But not always. As with everything in photography there's no hard and fast rule. That's why whenever I'm out photographing people I always tend to have a telephoto lens on the camera. It enables you to quickly grab something that catches your eye.

I find that most photographs that require a wide-angle are slower happening, giving me time to change lenses if I need to. The things that require a longer lens are usually fleeting moments where you need to have the camera up to your eye in an instant. That's why I always have a telephoto attached to my camera when it's in the bag as well - so I can quickly pull it out and snap.

Take these guys counting money. Now I could just as easily have walked up to them, had a chat and totally ruined their count! You know how hard it is to count money when somebody's yabbering at you? I decided that his income was more important than my photo and sat back.

It's pretty hard to be inconspicuous in these sorts of situations so they knew I was there but weren't perturbed in any way. As I usually do I gave a quick smile and asked with my eyes whether it was OK to take a shot and they were fine. Originally I thought about focussing in tightly on the three bean counters but then pulled back to include their surroundings, including the two guys at the top of the frame - one fast asleep and the other watching the world go by. I like the contrast between the three so intent on commerce and the other two just lazing a Saturday morning away.

This was taken at the Saturday bazaar in the Nepalese town of Namche, high in the Himalayas. It's a wonderful place to find colourful characters selling everything from chillies to yak's heads. It's quite touristy these days but in some ways that makes it even easier to photograph because the locals are used to crazy foreigners with big lenses.

The main thing you have to be careful of when using the telephoto lens is your shutter speed. If it's quite dark your shutter speed will drop dramatically and you'll end up with camera shake. Keep an eye that you're not going too slow and if necessary bump up the ISO. Photography like this really calls for natural light so you want to avoid flash if you possibly can. It's hard enough to count the day's takings when you've got a foreigner yabbering at you, but even harder if you've just been blinded by the light!

And if you missed yesterday's post we've got a photography competition going - scroll down for details!

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

An early Christmas present!

I'm actually surprised I haven't posted this pic before now. It's one of my all-time favourites, and one of my most popular prints. I love the cheeky grin on this kookaburra's face and the lovely blue sky.

When I started this blog just a few short months ago I had no idea it would be so well received. I am truly grateful for all those who have taken the time to comment, email me and even stop me in the street to tell me they love the blog. It truly is humbling and, time and health permitting, I certainly plan to keep on blogging away.

As a thankyou to all my readers I want to give you something. Well unfortunately not all of you because that would be a little bit impossible. I've got a gorgeous 8x12 inch print of this beautiful little guy that I would like to give away as a thankyou and early Christmas present.

I figured the fairest way to choose the recipient would be to have a little competition. A travel photography competition. I want you to hit me with your best photos and show me how you've used a technique or an idea you got from the blog. Show me that all my waffling on about the difference between a telephoto and wide-angle lens has sunk in, that you've discovered how to approach strangers for a photograph.

When you've got your masterpiece you can stick it up on the Flickr group (tag your entries kookaburra photo comp) for others to see and enjoy, or if you're feeling shy just email it to me at info at dymond dot com dot au. If you decide to email it to me keep it reasonably small - say full screen (1024x768) size and make your Subject Header Kookaburra Photo Comp.The competition will be open until the 24th Decemeber when I will make a decision and send the lucky winner their print. I'll even sign it if you'd like!

Unlike other onerous photo competitions I'm certainly not going to use your photograph for anything, take away your copyright or otherwise do anything nasty. :) So come on all you 1000 or so readers - hit me with your best travel pics.

Friday, November 28, 2008

It's raining, it's pouring...

and the photographer better not be snoring! Just because it's raining doesn't mean you should put your cameras away.

This post is inspired by the tropical downpour that turned my back yard into a swimming pool this morning. Here in far north Queensland we're headed into the wet season. This means thunderstorms, torrential rain and the possibility of cyclones (hurricanes or tornadoes depending on where you're from.)

Now all of this sounds rather gloomy for the outdoors photographer but it's actually really good news. Wet weather is a great chance to get out and get shots that nobody else has - because they're all hiding indoors in the dry!

Take this photo here. Taken during some recent flooding, there's actually a bike path next to that sign which is completely underwater. I was sitting on top of a bridge looking down and watching as cars tried to make their way through the floodwaters. A car and a bike sign - not so interesting.

Then I noticed a couple of likely lads come under the bridge and, lucky for me, they were on bikes. I held my breath as I watched to see if they would go anywhere near the sign and they did. Hooray. Now we have a great shot with a bit of humour and a lot of insight into what life in Cairns is like during the wet season.

Now of course you need to be prepared. It sounds pretty obvious but firstly you need to keep yourself reasonably dry so you don't catch a cold. But keeping your camera gear dry is just as important. Rather than be changing lenses all the time I actually find it easier to have the camera out and around my neck with a short telephoto zoom on. How do I keep the camera dry if it's out? With a plastic bag.

It sounds silly I know but bear with me. Get a big ziploc plastic bag - one that will fit your camera and lens inside it. Cut a whole (for the front of the lens to stick through) at the bottom of the bag. Put your camera in the bag lens first and poke the front of the lens through that hole then get a rubber band and wrap it around the front of your lens, sealing the plastic bag to your camera. Now your camera is fully rain proof and you can put your hands up through the mouth of the ziploc plastic bag to operate it.

If you have a lens hood you can put that on the lens over the plastic bag to further protect the front lens element.

Works like a charm. Ziplocs work really well but any old plastic bag will do. If you're not really familiar with the controls of your camera you'll want a clear bag so you can see what you're doing, if you know your camera inside out then the bag can be any colour you want.

Doing it this way saves you having to hold up an umbrella every time you get your camera out. For my camera backpack I have a rain cover over it that protects the gear inside. It came with the bag but if you don't have one just go to a camping store and get one for a regular backpack - or for those who like to DIY another big garbage bag should do the trick.

Always wear either big gumboots or beach sandals so that you can wade through water to get to the best position for a photo. Don't worry too much about getting wet and get out there and get some shots that nobody else will have. Just remember that these are all going to be travel shots, not commercial tourism shots. It never rains in tourism ads so don't expect the local government tourism body to come knocking down your door to license the photos!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Using your family as models

No doubt about it - photography is a pretty solo pursuit. We get up at horrible hours of the morning, have our eyes stuck in a viewfinder all day and can be heard to emit incomprehensible rumblings about f stops and shutter speeds.

Which is great if we're on our own, but often when we go on holiday we take the whole family with us. And their idea of fun is not to sit around while Mum or Dad spend twenty minutes setting up a tripod and waiting for the light to change.

So how do you balance the needs of your family with your need to take photos? Bribery is the answer! You need to photograph your kids as much as possible because your other half will never complain that you're taking too many pictures of the precious little tykes. :)

Seriously though, how your children react when on holiday is a story in itself and one that needs to be told. From a commercial point of view kids on holidays are popular sellers, and more importantly from a personal point of view you'll have lots of great memories for the future.

My son is quite used to being Dad's lackey. Stand here, look that way, smile, wave. You get the picture. I really liked the way the fence led off into the distance so used a telephoto lens to compress the perspective. The shallow depth of field from the telephoto also means that my son Mirai is very sharply in focus and everything behind him is blurred. That combined with the lovely backlight putting a halo around his head and you've got instant Mum-pleasing portrait shot. Which then gives you some leeway when you want to go off on your own and photograph.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Don't lose the dreams

Travel is a dream for all of us. Although I don't look like it here as I struggle to breathe in the rarified atmosphere of the summit of Mt Kilimanjaro - I'm loving it!

Not only is this my job, it's my passion. It was my love long before it was my profession. Before I even had half a thought of making it a living. If I had to give up either photography or travel I would chuck the cameras in the bin and keep that passport full of visa stamps! Actually I'd sell the cameras on eBay to pay for another trip. :)

Heresy on a photography blog I know. Having said that though, my photographs aren't just examples of what I did and saw, they are records of a fantastic time. They are pictures of wonderful experiences in my life - as are all of our travel photographs.

Where I'm going with this is....the other day my son's teacher's computer crashed. She lost all the images she'd taken of the children in their first year of school. Hundreds of pictures which are such an important record of the life of our kids. She was devastated. As would any of us be losing a hard drive of images.

Which begs the question, are you prepared for your computer crashing? Do you have a second copy of all of your pictures? Do you regularly back up your memories. If you lose all your pictures of Africa could you afford to go back and take them all again? Not if you make as much (little?) money as me!

So I am imploring you to not lose your precious photographs - both travel and otherwise. Have at least 3 copies of all your pictures. One on the hard drive of your computer, one on an external hard drive and one on a DVD. Send the DVDs to a trusted relative so that if your house burns down (these things do happen!) you will still have copies of all your pictures.

Computers can and do fail all the time. I lost 4 laptop hard drives in two years. If I hadn't had a backup I would have lost everything. Even though if I had to choose between photography and travel I would choose travel, the images I've already taken are my babies. Precious as images yes, but even more important as memories of the experiences I've had. Do everything you can to make sure you don't lose that.

If you're searching for a good way to categorise and keep track of your digital pictures I would highly recommend Peter Krogh's book DAM: Digital Asset Management for Photographers. It will change your life - literally. I have no affiliation with the guy, just loved the book.

Friday, November 21, 2008

The hippo equivalent of an elephant's flapping ears...

is a big, wide open mouth showing lots of teeth. Which is just what this guy is doing here. I was on the edge of a pool in the Serengeti National Park.

The Seregengeti was one of those places from my childhood. I'd spent most of my formative years watching David Attenborough and others traipse across the plains filled with wildebeest and zebra.

When I finally got there I was very excited and almost forgot myself in my attempt to get a photo of a hippo. I knew that the wide opening of a mouth was a threatening pose but I just assumed it was made towards other hippos. So I kept on photographing.

I later found out that hippos are the most dangerous animals in Africa and kill more people annually than any other beastie. Probably a good thing I didn't know this at the time or else I wouldn't have tried to get so close for a photo.

This was taken with a 300mm lens so I'm still quite a way away but close enough that this guy felt threatened. Moments after snapping the shutter he started moving towards me and my friend Richard (who had a 500mm so got quite a bit of a closer shot the bugger) so we hurriedly made an exit.

Often when we would camp out we would wake up to find hippo footprints all around the campsite where they had been wandering around foraging at night. Reminds me of another morning when we woke up to find elephant footprints all around us...but that's a story for another day. :)

It's the little things that get you

21This picture doesn't look particularly dangerous does it? Only the front of the pirogue there (the canoe). Where that big hole has been bitten out. That was done by a hippo! Lucky for my friend Andreus he wasn't in it at the time.

He's out in the middle of the river there trying to make sure he doesn't get sick. A few friends and I were on a day walk through the jungle in the heart of the Democratic Rebublic of Congo. The boy at the front there is the son of the chief of a village we were staying in. Chief Panga Panga his name was. What a great name!

Anyway we reached this river and Andreus had run out of water on a blisteringly hot day. We had purified water back at camp but hadn't brought any purifying tablets with us on this day walk. So he's out in the middle of the river filling his water bottle because that's where the water flows the fastest and is less likely to contain bugs!

Little things can often be the biggest cause for concern when you're travelling. In fact we were held up in Panga Panga's village for a few days because of one of the smallest of bugs - a mosquito. It had given our buddy Paddy a nasty case of malaria and he was lying on a camp bed under a net with a drip in his arm.

He made a full recovery but it goes to show you just how a little thing can turn your trip into a nightmare. Which doesn't have much to do with photography but has a hell of a lot to do with being a travel photographer. Anything that makes you ill take away your ability to take photos so it's best to prevent things as much as you can. Before I spent 9 months in Africa I felt like a pin cushion with all the jabs I had to get, and to this day I can't stand the taste of malaria medicine or Iodine tablets in water. But you do what you do to make sure you can get the pictures.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

The mining boom - or is that kaboom?

Now don't berate me about the wonky horizon! I know I'm terrible with horizons. I even have a little doodad that fits into my flash hot shoe to let me know when my horizon's crooked. Doesn't seem to work unless I look at it first. :)

But that's not the topic of today's post. We're still talking about dodgy situations and this is one of the dodgiest.

You see that little track that all those people and that truck are on? That goat track leads from the Moroccan town of Dakhla down through the disputed territory of the Western Sahara to Mauritania.

Nothing particularly remarkable about the road except you can only travel along it one day a week, and even then you have to have a military escort.

The reason is that there's a war going on over this little corner of desert and either side of this little track is heavily mined. Now I'm not talking about looking for gold here, I'm talking real exploding landmines! Nobody wander to far to go to the toilet.

It's a two day trip and on the night of the first day we camped in the middle of the minefield, outside an old abandoned fort. We sat very close to the fire when out of nowhere a Moroccan army guard took a seat, machine gun and all. He looked at all of us and said with a very stern face, "Any of you have hash?". No, no we replied. Nothing like that. "Well I do!", he cheered and brought out a huge hunk of decidedly illegal substance and started rolling his own.

The next day we reached the border of Mauritania. At least it was supposed to be the border but it was like no crossing I'd ever seen. There was no guards, border post shack or any sort of security to be seen. Weren't we in a DMZ?

Then all of a sudden black-clad men with machine guns started crawling out of the ground. Literally popping up left, right and centre out of trapdoors in the sand dunes. This was our border crossing. We made it through no worries but on the truck behind us there was a lady with a t-shirt of a cartoon character with spinning eyes that said 'Stoned in Africa' or something like that. Our Moroccan army friend from the night before probably thought it was great but they got searched from top to tail and were there for hours!

Stay tuned for more dodgy photography adventures!

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Nice elephant, don't wave your ears at me!

In keeping with the theme of yesterday's post on safety while photographing I thought I'd post a couple of pics taken in decidedly dodgy situations.

This is the Okavango Delta in Botswana and I went on a walking safari with some friends. Our campsite was a place called Oddballs. This place is elephant city. They're kind of like the cockroaches of Cairns - only a lot bigger!

A friend and I would have competitions to see how close we could get to them before they started flapping their ears. The intent was to get them to charge us which was really stupid but we never got close enough to get them that angry anyway!

This shot was taken on one of our walking safaris. I was with a small group of friends and we were standing there photographing this giant bull elephant knock fruit out of a tall palm tree. I had a 75-300mm zoom on and was happily snapping away.

After a few minutes I noticed that I was continually having to zoom back to get him all in until I got to the 75mm end of the zoom and he was only just squeezing in the frame! Somewhere in the back of my mind I was thinking this is pretty close but if it was dangerous the guide would have said something.

So I turned around to ask the guide and, to my utter horror, discovered that the rest of the group were hiding behind an ant hill 500 metres behind me, frantically trying to motion me to join them. Here I was, so intent on getting the shot that I hadn't even noticed that everybody else had buggered off. Suddenly I was very,very close to a very, very big elephant who had just noticed me and was flapping his ears.

For those of you who don't speak elephant, ear flapping means that they're not very happy to see you and are about to charge. Well I had to get a shot of that as all my efforts to get ear flapping around camp had failed. Click, click. Oops, he doesn't seem to like that. And then I just about jumped the 500 metres to that ant hill.

I thought elephants never forget but dumbo seemed to forget about me pretty quick because as soon as I was gone he went back to happily munching away.

Another photographic adventure brought to you by dodgy brothers travel photography!

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Playing it safe

A package showed up on my door yesterday. Well it didn't just show up - I knew it was coming. I just didn't realise it was going to be that big. I bought a brand new camera backpack. It's called the Photo Trekker AW II and it's made by Lowepro.

I needed something that fit all my gear without me having to put half of it in a photo vest. I also wanted something that I can attach my tripod to and this was the smallest bag that was still airline regulation.

So last night I put all my gear in it and put it on and man it's heavy! 13 kilograms to be exact. But it will fit all my stuff in it plus lunch and whatever I need when hiking out somewhere to get some photos. Which got me thinking about the safety aspect of what we do. Photography is very often a solo pursuit. We head out to the middle of nowhere looking for the perfect light, and for us travel photographers that means that we're often doing it in a foreign country to boot.

Take this image here. It was taken in the high Himalayas of Nepal. We were staying in a little lodge which was on the spot where a whole group of Japanese trekkers had been killed in an avalanche a few years beforehand. My wife and I photographed the memorial and then decided to climb the hill above the lodge for a better view of the mountains.

And this is what we found. Spectacular scenery with a crystal clear view of the surrounding mountains and the valley below. All until the afternoon clouds started rolling up that same valley. And suddenly our lodge was hidden in the middle of all that cloud! Which meant we had to pick our way down without being able to see two feet in front of our faces.

When you travel in foreign countries you obviously don't have much of an idea of local conditions. So it's a really good idea to find out as much as possible in advance. The internet is a great tool to find stuff out (guidebooks are often out of date by the time they're published so try on-line forums such as Lonely Planet's Thorn Tree) but you can't beat local information on the ground. Speak to your hotel concierge, the taxi driver, locals you photograph.

Find out where it is and isn't safe to photograph. Whether you can get your camera out comfortably without having to worry about being mugged. What environmental conditions might make photographing unpleasant or downright dangerous. And let people know when you're heading off into the wilds by yourself. Let somebody know when you expect to be back and exactly where you're going.

I've had my fair share of dodgy situations but thankfully (touch wood) have never been mugged or threatened or anything like that. In my younger days I certainly did some silly things and went some places I shouldn't have, and I'm certainly not saying don't do it, but take precautions. Even the best photograph isn't worth getting hurt, lost or killed for!

Oh and we eventually found our way back to the lodge for dinner!

Friday, November 14, 2008

When reality gets in the way

When you're planning your holiday you tend to get lots of glossy brochures with stunning images of your potential destination. And they all purport to show reality. The reality of the place when the photographer visited.

What they don't tell you is that the photographer had to be there at the right time of day, at the right time of year, when the weather gods were smiling on them and the stars were all aligned.

Living in a destination means that you can pick and choose when you photograph something. But for the majority of us the reality is a lot different. We often only have a week or two in a country and only a night or two in any particular town. That means that you often show up somewhere and it looks nothing like the brochures.

This is Wat Si Chum in the Thai city of Sukhothai. I pedalled my little rental bicycle for miles in the blistering heat only to find this. It was all hidden behind scaffolding. The joys of restoration. What can you do? Travel photographer Susan McCartney in her fantastic book on travel photography talks about going on assignment to Europe for a client and finding every major monument behind scaffolding! Ouch.

When I first rode up I was bitterly disappointed. I got up close to see if I could get a photograph in nice and close but the scaffolding almost completely hid the statue. I took a couple of shots but they didn't really work.

So I left rather dejectedly, but as I was riding away I turned around. And this is the sight that I saw. With a telephoto lens compressing the perspective the giant face of the statue looks so serene behind what looks like the bars of a prison! I'm sure this will never make the brochure but it shows reality in a photographically interesting way. Sure reality gets in the way sometimes but reality can be just as interesting as the fantasy. And don't forget to buy a postcard on your way out the door. :)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Home Studio

I don't have a studio. In fact, truth be known, I've never actually been in a studio except for a couple of fleeting visits to friends' work places.

Yet there are times in travel photography when you need the controlled conditions of a studio. This image of Japanese New Year's food -called Osechi - is the perfect example.

I needed to show the beautiful cuisine laid out in the boxes but just photographing it on the street wasn't an option.

So I used a home studio - literally a home! My in-laws' place. This was the food for that night's dinner. Because I don't carry studio flashes with me I needed to find a nice soft light. Taking a leaf out of the painter's handbook I used a lovely north facing window to camera right. This provides lovely side lighting which highlights the texture on the lobster. The shadows are a little dark on the other side of the boxes and I could have used a reflector to lighten them up a bit but decided to leave it as it was.

The boxes are sitting on a wooden table which I felt was a bit plain for the glamorous display so I got a nice piece of coloured cloth (which the boxes came wrapped in) and put it underneath. Then I set the camera up on a tripod with a 28-70mm zoom and organised the boxes until I liked the composition.

If you don't have a north facing window and you only have direct sunlight streaming through a window then you can always put a big white sheet over the window, which will soften the light and make it less directional. If you don't have a reflector then a piece of crumpled up foil or a sheet of white paper will often do the trick.

Many of us don't have any desire to work in the studio but a little thought can mean that those times where you want to photograph something in a studio-like environment you can jury rig something in your hotel room. It's also a great technique to use when you want to advertise something on eBay! And if you want to get really technical head here to see how Strobist does it.

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

To change or not to change

This photo is a great example of the slippery slope photographers can sometimes find themselves on. The digital darkroom makes things really easy. We can add things, take things out. Put a smile on Aunt Sally's frowning face! You name it and if you've got the skill you can do it.

Many of us wouldn't even think about doing something like that and still call it a photograph. For all documentary work there's an unwritten code of ethics which prohibits us from adding stuff that wasn't there when we pushed the shutter.

But what about colour. This photo of a giraffe was taken very early in the morning in the Maasai Mara National Park in Kenya. It's a nice enough silhouette but it sure would look a lot more spectacular with a bright orange sky behind. A quick slide of the white balance slider in a raw converter or a bit of fiddling in Photoshop and we could have a fantastically orange sky.

I have a friend who is a great Photoshop artist and proponent of digital manipulation. I remember one conversation where he tried to convince me that I should get in and enhance some of my travel images to make them really saleable. Now I really admire what he does but I honestly don't consider it photography. It's art but not photography as far as I'm concerned. And I'd rather be a photographer.

So I have chosen to leave this picture as it is for personal reasons. When you're creating art for yourself though there's no particular reason to do this. You can play to your heart's content and I would definitely encourage you to do so. It's a new, fun part of what we do. But should you call your final product a photo? Most magazines call it a Photo Illustration if there's been any manipulation done and I think this is a great alternative.

If you've done some fancy work in the darkroom to create your masterpiece then be proud of that. Don't try to pass it off as something you actually saw but call it a Photo Illustration and stand up and be proud of the new skills you've achieved in the digital darkroom.

Now in keeping with yesterday's post let's reverse engineer this picture. Firstly let's think about the focal length of the lens. Do the clouds look big and close or small and far away? Big and close which means that it was a telephoto lens. What focal length? Doesn't matter. It was a telephoto, that's enough information.

How about aperture? Do those clouds look blurry or clear? They're not really either. They're not pin-sharp but they're not so blurry that you can't tell the shape of them. That tells you that it was a middle-of-the-road aperture - say around f5.6 or so. Which in itself gives you a bit of a hint of the lens used. In such a low light situation you want to open up the aperture as much as possible. So why didn't I open up to f2.8? Because when I took this photo I only had a standard zoom on me and it's maximum aperture was f5.6!

How about shutter speed then? Well that giraffe is pretty still so that tells you that it's a fast enough shutter speed to stop any movement - both of the giraffe and camera shake. So that tells you that it was probably reasonably fast. Either that or the camera was on some kind of a support and the giraffe was a statue! :)

Another thing you can guess at is where I took the exposure from. A silhouette is caused when the exposure lock has been taken from a really bright part of the frame, causing everything not so bright to go black. So looking at this picture you can see that I've taken an exposure reading from somewhere in that bright, not very orange sky.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hung up on the numbers

One thing I notice about a lot of beginning photographers is that they tend to get hung up on the numbers. When they start using cameras which allow them to set apertures and shutter speeds they tend to let those parameters dictate their photographic lives.

One of the most common questions I get asked when out in the field is ' should I shoot this at f5.6 or f8' or something along those lines.

Other students tell me how they like to look at all the technical data printed next to photos in books and in galleries. As if knowing whether a photographer used a one second exposure or a two second exposure is going to help you take a better photo.

I say that it's much better to look at photos without that information printed and work it out for yourself. The actual aperture or shutter speed used is irrelevant, it's what the numbers represent that's important.

Take this photo above. It was taken at the Gokyo Lakes in the upper reaches of the Himalayas in Nepal. A simply stunning part of the world. Just before I headed up there the autofocus on my camera died and I was shooting everything manual focus praying like hell that everything else was working! But I digress.

A quick scan of this picture will tell you a lot about photography. The first thing you can ascertain is the focal length of the lens. Do the mountains in the background look a long way away or do they look really close to the rock in the foreground? Reasonably far away but not really tiny. That immediately tell you it was taken with a medium wide-angle lens. What focal length exactly? It doesn't matter. All that matters is that you recognise it was a medium wide-angle lens and if you want to get that same spacious effect you have to put the wide-angle on and experiment.

Next you can tell the aperture pretty quickly. Is everything in focus or is only the rock in the foreground in focus? The whole frame is pretty much in focus. That immediately tells you that I used a small aperture. Exactly what aperture did I use? You already know my answer to that.

What about the shutter speed? Well is anything in this picture moving? How do you tell? Have a look and see if anything is blurred from movement? Those rocks and mountains haven't moved in a few million years so shutter speed is basically irrelevant. Set your aperture and let the camera do the rest.

What else can you tell about this picture? If you have a look at the sky you can see an unnatural darkening near the top of the picture. That's caused by using a polarising filter, which also increases the contrast between the sky and the white mountains.

So just by looking at pictures you can pretty much figure out how the photographer took it and go out and practice the same thing yourself. Five seconds look at this picture and we figured out that I used a wide-angle lens, a small aperture and a polarising filter.

Exactly how wide a wide-angle, what focal length lens and what angle I had my polarising filter on is for you to get out and experiment and find out. The best photographic education you can get is by looking at the pictures you admire and reverse engineering them. Once you figure out how to do that you'll never need that technical mumbo-jumbo in your captions again.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Cherry Blossom book project 5

As I was thinking about what I'd photographed that night I came to realise that I didn't really have much in the way of the girls interacting with the flowers.

Seeing as it was the cherry blossom festival I knew we needed some close-ups of the blossoms themselves. Shiori was busy with school stuff so I stole Haruna for a couple of hours and we took a walk along a river near her house where there was a long grove of cherry blossom trees.

I wanted to photograph her up close and personal with the trees. I started with a wide-angle lens so that I could get in nice and close for a sense of intimacy. As you can see it gives a sense of being up close with the flowers, but the trees in themselves don't look so spectacular.



I then got Haruna to hold a blossom up for me so I could grab a portrait. Again you can see the flash here - look at the reflection off her glasses. If I had a chance to shoot this again I would have taken my flash off camera and lit her from the side but that's OK.

It's a nice cheery portrait with a lovely blue sky. The hair sticking up actually looks like a real portrait of a kid rather than a carefully manicured image and this ended up being the front cover!

I had the extra images I needed and we were headed off when I looked back over my shoulder.

And this was the view that greeted me. Have a look at the image at the top of the page. That's what happens when you shoot a row of trees with a wide-angle lens. This is what happens when you shoot it with a telephoto.

Even though they're quite far apart from each other they look really bunched up and as a result you get a blur of bright pink. A narrow field of view means that you don't see the sky above, the apartments on the left or the river on the right. The whole viewfinder is full of blossoms. So I had Haruna run back down and then walk back along the path we'd just come.

And as they say in the movie business, that was a wrap. The publisher loved the images and they came out as I'd hoped. Bright, airy, full of life and very colourful. Every photographer has a certain style whether they know it or not. It influences not only what you photograph but how you photograph it. I tend to be pretty happy-go-lucky and the eternal optimist. Hence my pictures are often very bright and happy. Lots of blues and greens and happy colours. And that's how the book turned out as well.

Like I said it was one of my most fun jobs ever and I am eternally indebted to my family for helping me out so much. Not only did Terumi cook all the food, Mr N do all the driving and the girls do all that posing for me but they did it with a smile on their face and for that I say thankyou.

See you when we come up next year!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

Cherry Blossom book project 4

Once I had a few shots of them all eating and drinking I gave them some breathing space and we all sat down and enjoyed the fabulous meal Terumi had prepared.

The festival part of the coverage was pretty much over and now we had to concentrate on the 'modern' things young Japanese girls do.

This is where Haruna and Shiori really helped by coming up with suggestions for things they liked to do in their free time.

The one thing that they could both agree on was game centres - or video arcades as we call them. And their favourite thing to do was the print club. They have these all over the world now but Japan invented them and they have the most elaborate ones you've ever seen.

Print club is a major fad amongst the Japanese and is a machine that creates stickers with your photo on it. You can print different borders and backgrounds on the pictures, write on them using a touch screen. Pretty much manipulate the pictures any way you like before you print them out. Then you give them to all your friends and share them round. Kind of like facebook for your folders.

The only problem is that photographically they're not actually very interesting. Two girls inside a tiny little booth drawing on a screen with pens. Not much to do here except bounce some flash off the roof and hope for the best. This shot ended up running in the book. Go figure.

Next it was on to the video games themselves. For this part I directed things a little bit. There were lots of games to choose from and I wanted something that was visually interesting.

What could be better than a giant drum that you had to bang in time to the music and the little characters on the screen. Little girls, big sticks and even bigger Taiko drums - photographic heaven!

I started off photographing the side of the game so that I could show the surroundings. I had to use a very wide-angle lens to get both Haruna and the screen in view.


Then when I'd done that I moved around to the back of the girls and photographed looking down on them so that I could show both drums and how it was a competitive game between two people.

Again it's a very wide-angle lens so things look a little distorted. There's no flash here and a slight green cast from the fluorescent lighting, which again you can neutralise in the computer but I kept to give that electronic, artificial look.



And once I'd photographed the girls doing their thing I decided to show them how it was really done!

And that was pretty much the modern part done. The girls were pretty much photographed out so I decided to leave the remaining shots for another day.

When you're photographing strangers the last thing you want to do is put people out, when it's your family that's even more the case. I was happy we'd managed to photograph something natural that the girls would do in their free time without having to make something up.

It was a challenging shooting environment being indoors underneath fluro lights. Modern digital cameras help solve the problem with the white balance but this job was shot on all slide film so it made it quite difficult.

Tomorrow on the final day I'll show you how I went local to grab a few shots that I felt were missing and complete our visual story.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

Cherry Blossom book project 3

Lucky for me every Japanese festival comes with its very own amusement area with food, games and plenty of things to entice young children to beg for money from their parents!

So we left Mr N like a guard dog over our spot under the cherry trees and headed off to see the sights.

I ran ahead with a wide-angle lens and waited until the girls came into view. Obviously here the family is too far away for the flash and you can see just how contrasty it is. Look how darkit is under the food stalls in the background. Pitch black even though I could see it fine with my eyes. That's just the reality of how our cameras see the world and you have to work around it when you're a natural light travel photographer.

One of the best ways to get around the problem is to put your subjects in the shade and avoid that harsh, contrasty light. Lucky for me all the action was under tents so that gave me that nice soft light that you can see here.

This is a game where you're given a little paper net. Actually you're given three (or maybe five) of them. Your job is to catch the goldfish without breaking the net. It's pretty much impossible to do because the nets are so flimsy and pretty much break at the slightest touch.

But if you do manage to capture a fish you can take it home. Just what every parent wants! For this shot I got on the other side of the fish tank, just about sitting on the knee of the stall operator who though it was a great laugh! I used the vertical format to show all the fish. You can see how white and burnt out the background is so I tried to keep it to a minimum by waiting until other people were standing behind.

There is a slight orange cast to the girls' faces caused by the orange tent which of course you could correct in the computer but I prefer to leave it there because, for me, it emphasises the fact that they're under a tent.

Now what would a day out be without a good sugar fix! So off to the fairy floss we went. By this stage I had noticed that the older sister (just becoming a teenager) was getting a bit tired of the whole photograph thing whereas the younger sister was still enjoying it so I switched focus a little.

Whereas before I was trying to get both of them in all the shots I decided to focus more on Haruna and let Shiori have some time off. The major part of photographing people is sensing when they've had enough and want to be left alone - especially when it's family!

For this shot of feasting on fairy floss I again used a touch of fill flash to open up the shadows on Haruna's face. It really is such harsh light that I probably could have pumped a bit more in but then it would have lit that hand as well and looked unnatural. The trick is to use just enough flash to lighten the shadows but not so much that it just screams 'flash'!

And look at our watches we decided it was definitely time to head back and crack open those lunch boxes and a couple of cold brews at the same time!

Of course the walk back is just as much a part of the whole story so I ran ahead so that I could look back over my shoulder at any interesting places they might walk.

I noticed that part of the path wound under a great strand of cherry blossoms. The trees were quite far apart from each other and I knew that using a wide-angle lens would increase the apparent distance and they wouldn't look as impressive. So I got farther away and photographed it with a telephoto lens, which then compressed the perspective and made the trees look like a big, swarming mass of blossoms.

And then I let them eat!

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Cherry Blossom book project 2

One mistake I see a lot of beginner photographers make is to use their cameras as something to capture only the final image. They sit and wait for things to happen and then take a photograph when they think the peak moment happens.

When you're telling a story you need to use your camera like a sketch pad. A warm-up exercise. Looking through the viewfinder and pushing the shutter button actually gets you in the mood and prepares you for when the action starts happening.

Taking a series of shots helps refine your visual sense and work out your composition. This shot here is a kind of warm-up. It shows the girls preparing the spot for the picnic.

As you can see it's all bare dirt and surrounded by other tarpaulins and bare trees. I didn't think it would make the book but it helped me warm up and get a sense of how I wanted to photograph what was to come. It also helped me to look through the viewfinder and see how the background cherry trees looked in the picture - not good from this angle.

Again luck was on our side because it was already pretty crowded at Maruyama Park (people get their at first light to reserve a spot) but we managed to get a spot under one of the fullest blooms in the whole park. Only one though as the other trees were fairly bare so it really limited the angle I could shoot from.

Being a first-timer at the cherry blossoms with a family I wasn't really sure about how things went so I talked to the girls and they decided that making traditional samurai hats and swords out of newspaper was a traditional cherry blossom festival activity.

They kind of thought that it was more of a boy thing but also agreed that it sounded like a lot of fun so they made them for me and I got Haruna to pose underneath the lovely blossoms. As well as action shots I was looking for some nice portrait shots so this one fit the bill nicely.


Of course when the photos were over they couldn't resist beating the hell out of each other! Of course it wasn't a book on wrestling so I knew it wouldn't make the cut but, again more visual exercises. Photographing it helped get me in the mood for photographing fast action when I needed to.





Now in case you're wondering, of course there is a Dad! Mr N was helpfully parking the car in some obscure carpark a million miles away - because Japan is known for its traffic.

He was able to join us a bit later and I did some group shots of the family to set the scene. You'll notice that we haven't seen any food yet. That's because in order to get a spot under the trees we'd had to get there way too early for anybody to even think about eating!

So we had some time to kill and tomorrow you'll see how we did it.

Photographically what I'd like you to notice is the light. It's really harsh and contrasty. Not as bad as you get out here in Australia but still very strong. You can see big shadows everywhere and I had to be very careful with my exposures.

When you have such strong contrast you tend to either lose details in the highlights or the shadows. Mostly because I wanted to retain that lovely blue sky and the pink of the cherry blossoms I decided to keep my exposure darker and lose details in the shadows. In any of the pics you can see big, dark inky parts.

But you'll also notice that the faces are quite bright. The answer here is flash. I have my flash pretty much permanently on during bright sunny days. That's right - leave the flash on on a sunny day. Flash will help lighten those shadows. It actually fills them with light and that's why we call it fill flash. You have to be reasonably close to your subject for it to work but, even with a little point and shoot, the flash can be quite powerful and you always want to have it on on a bright sunny day when photographing people.

The other thing you'll notice is that I've pretty much kept myself low for a lot of the photographs. The first set-up shot shows what happened when I was standing - shooting down meant lots of ugly dirt and not many pretty trees. So I kept myself either sitting or lying on the ground so that I could shoot up, avoid the dirt and get more trees and beautiful blue sky in.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Cherry Blossom book project

One of the most fun projects I've ever worked on was a book project for Weldon-Owen Publishers in New Zealand. They were putting together a series of books for schoolchildren on different festivals around the world. I was contracted to do the Japan book and to organise to photograph a suitable festival and arrange people to appear in it.

The subjects of the book needed to be young children around 11 years old and my two nieces fit the bill perfectly. All I needed was a festival and it was fast approaching May, when you have both the cherry blossom festival and children's day.

The theme of the book was to show them enjoying the festival, but also to show them enjoying a modern life after the festivities. We wanted to compare the traditional with the contemporary and show the way that modern Japanese children interact with both their past and their future in an urban environment.

And I thought it would just be some pretty pics! As with most professional travel photography assignments the hard work starts before you go, although in this case the girls (including Mum!) did most of the work for me.

The first part of the shoot started in the morning in the apartment of my sister-in-law's family. Here are Shiori, Haruna and their mum Terumi. They had cooked up this incredibly delicious (and photogenic) feast of traditional foods for the lunch.





Most of the hard work was done by the time I got there so I posed the family around the bento box and had the girls put the last finishing touches to it. Being such a small apartment meant that a wide-angle lens of about 20mm was needed.


Photographing the food under such soft lighting meant that I could do it all pretty much by natural light. I bounced a bit of flash off the roof but that's about it. It was a beautiful sunny day outside (the photo Gods were smiling on me!) and I knew the light would be too harsh outside to photograph the food so decided to do those shots inside.

The most important part of telling a visual story is to show the lead-up to the main event. Even though the most 'important' part is the festival itself, showing how people prepare to take part in the event is an important part of the visuals.

Tomorrow we head to the park to lunch under the cherry blossoms!

Friday, October 31, 2008

The quiet pictures

Maybe it's because I have two rambunctious little boys that never give me a moment's peace and quiet! But whatever it is I often try to capture quiet little moments.

In photography we're often encouraged to go for the 'hero shots', the ones that make everybody gasp. But often you find that quiet little moments can tell more of a story.

Take this shot here. Nothing particularly 'wow that's amazing' about it whatsoever. But for me it's quite a poignant moment.

I was on a trek through the hills of northern Thailand and we had just spent the night in a tiny village of the Lhisu people. A minority tribe who had escaped persecution from Burma and now lived in the northern hills of Thailand, part of their economy was to put on dance shows for the visitors.

The previous night we had sat and danced and sang around a big bonfire and the local men and women had worn traditional clothing for the show. It was a great time and I'd show you some pictures only I stupidly had my flash pointed upwards into the sky and didn't get a single shot!

Anyway when I woke up the next morning I stumbled out to find the beautiful dance clothes from the night before thrown haphazardly across this pole. The owners were walking around in shorts and t-shirts, their traditional clothes discarded with the night's performance.

For me, more than photographing the dance the night before, this shot of their discarded tradition said more about what had happened and the way these people lived than anything else.

Definitely not a 'hero shot'. It definitely does not scream 'wow look at me, I'm amazing'. But it's a quiet little moment that to me tells a story and has a lot of personal meaning. Don't get so caught up in trying to catch the big moment that you miss the little details that tell the stories of our lives.

Here's hoping you have a quiet weekend. :)

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Vertical or horizontal, wide-angle or telephoto?

In yesterday's post, and in quite a few posts I've made over the last year, I've talked about having an image in your head before you take the shot, and then choosing the lens and the composition before you take the photograph.

I realise that that's not always possible, or desirable, in every situation. It's a technique most often used in fast moving situations where you have no control over the elements - such as documentary street photography.

But when it comes to landscape photography that all goes out the window. Sure you'll have an idea of the way in which you want to portray something but once you look through the viewfinder you might find that it isn't quite what you had in mind. Or if you pack up after one shot you might not get the best composition. And sometimes more than one way can work. That's when I'd encourage you to work the subject.

Take the shot above. The foreground is a sand dune that I am sitting halfway up. The top of the frame is the desert floor and in between the two is an old, dead tree. I first spotted this scenario from where I was sitting and used the wide-angle lens.

Just a quick tip about photographing on sand, or snow, or anything else that records footprints - never walk anywhere you think might be in your photograph afterwards! Sure it's easy enough to Photoshop out afterwards but it's a lot easier if you don't have to. :)

Anyway I did this one with the wide-angle lens but I didn't feel that I had covered everything I could so I stuck a longer lens on for a closer look.

What I saw when I looked through the viewfinder is that, unlike the wide-angle shot, it didn't so much emphasise the wide expanse of the desert and sand dune.

What it did do, however, was show the beautiful patterns in the sand at the base of the sand dune. So it became more of an abstract sand pattern shot. The dune is hardly noticeable in the bottom of the frame but still forms a differentiation point between the textures of the two surfaces.

As soon as I'd done that, and was quite happy with the effect and what the photograph was saying, I turned the camera vertically. You often find that many photographers tend to shoot everything in a horizontal format - it's easier to handhold the camera that way and the hand just falls to that position naturally.

So it can often be a good idea to deliberately turn the camera on its side to see what a vertical composition would look like. In this case I was able to get in more of the dune at the bottom of the frame, giving it more emphasis in the composition. It also opened up more of the unusual patterns of the desert floor at the top of the frame.

Which one works best? All 3 have their merits and emphasise slightly different things. There's no particular right or wrong in this case. Which do you like best? I probably still like the first one but if I hadn't shot the other two I wouldn't know. Ask me tomorrow and I'll choose a different picture anyway.

By working the subject and really capturing it from a few different angles with different lenses you have a choice of favourites.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Photographic religion

They say in polite circles you should never talk about politics or religion. Politicians don't do much for me but I love photographing religion in all its forms.

I find it fascinating to be a witness to ceremonies and beliefs that have been a part of a culture for thousands of years. For me it really helps to establish a certain people and tie them to a way of life and tradition, something that I never really had in my own upbringing.

One of the biggest challenges about photographing religious events is being respectful, and overcoming the inherent shyness of photographing people. If your knees quiver at the thought of pointing your camera at a living, breathing person then the thought is probably multiplied tenfold when that person is involved in something so serious and important.

You know what the trick is? To be seen. Let people know that you're there and photographing. Have that camera wide out and in the open. Sit for a while and observe what's going on. Show an interest. When people can see that you are honestly interested in what's going on, they then understand that you would like to make an honest picture of them.

If you rush in like a bull at a gate and just start snapping away well...put yourself in the reverse situation. How would you like it if somebody rushed into your place of worship and just started photographing willy-nilly?

I had been sitting in front of this cauldron for about 10 minutes or so just waiting and watching as people came and went. I wanted to see what they did and to understand a little bit about the significance of the actions. I could see that they would place themselves in line of the smoke and then use their hands to wave the smoke over themselves, before heading off to pray at the temple.

So I knew my photo was going to need to show the hands in a reverent position with a hint of temple in the background to give a sense of place. So I had the correct lens on, the right aperture set and all I needed was the right subject and to bring the camera up quietly to my eye and take a photo. This gentleman came up to the cauldron and we made eye contact and smiled - a very important people photography tool and not as expensive as a new lens! He knew I was going to take a photo because he could see the great big camera around my neck, and his smile meant that he was OK with it.

And that's how an image taken in the blink of an eye actually takes quite a bit of time to set up. Time to digest what's happening. Time to work out what you want to convey. Time to work out how you're going to convey it. And then time to give a smile, a nod or a hand wave just to let everybody know your intentions.

Try these simple tricks and you'll find photographing religious events one of the most interesting and rewarding subjects in the world.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

The early bird...

catches the photographic opportunity. This image was featured in the Australian Society of Travel Writers' book One Foot Forward.

It was taken with quite a bit of reluctance on my part. I wasn't reluctant to push the shutter, it was nearly impossible to get me out of the door in the first place.

You see it was early, and I'm really not a morning person by nature. In fact I'd probably be a lot happier soul if the best light happened between 10 in the morning and 2 in the afternoon!

It was my last day in Nepal, my flight was due to leave Kathmandu that afternoon and I was planning to spend the morning sleeping in, maybe a leisurely breakfast, a stroll down to my favourite bookstore. You get the picture.

Well my wife had other ideas as she forced me out of bed at some ungodly hour to go and have a look at the city of Patan, on the other side of the Kathmandu Valley. In particular she wanted to go to Durbar Square. When we got there there was this gorgeous mist covering the whole square and locals were out and about doing their shopping, taking a walk and just going about their business.

It was literally photographic paradise. There were no other tourists there (one of my favoured ways of getting unique images as you know), life was going on as it had for thousands of years and there was this gorgeous mist over everything. These women above were doing their fruit and vegetable shopping and putting the produce in these large wicker baskets. The blue cast is caused by the pre-dawn light and the mist combined.

I always knew that getting up early led to better pictures but this case just reinforced that belief. That and the fact that your travel photography is never over until you're actually on the plane! And even then there might be a nice view out the window. :) I can thank my wife Chiharu for this pic.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Waiting, waiting, waiting...

This is one of those situations where I already had the image in my head and just had to wait a little while for it to happen in reality.

This combines a few of the things we've been talking about over the last few weeks. The first is to always look back. This scene was behind me and I wouldn't have noticed how amazing it was if I hadn't bothered to turn around every so often while trudging along the path.

When I did turn around this view took my breath away. As anybody who's been up high in the Himalayas will tell you, everything about it takes your breath away.

What it was about this scene that really inspired me was the way this path was so close to the edge of a huge cliff, with the towering mountains in the background. I firstly chose the telephoto lens to compress the perspective and have the background mountains appear nice and big and close.

Once I had my composition all sorted out I just had to wait for somebody to walk around the corner. I know it's hard to sit in one place and wait for any length of time when you're with other people. I've lost a fair few shots because I just couldn't sit around and wait for a good shot to present itself but if you can increase the number of times you wait for something special to happen you'll increase the number of memorable shots you come back with.

Put your finger over the man in the picture and see how boring it is without him in it. Anyway, as luck would happen, he actually walked along a few minutes after I turned around. To tell you the truth I have no idea if he noticed me standing there with a long lens on but he stopped right in the perfect place and posed brilliantly. Luck or a willing participant? I'm not sure but if I hadn't waited around to find out I never would have got the shot.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Absences and apologies

Apologies for the lack of posts this week. I've been flat out trying to get new images up on the web as well as look after my two young boys - who take great delight in making a huge mess straight after I've cleaned everything up!

Maybe I need to be stuck in one of these. This is a bona fide homemade electric chair! I found it for sale at a flea market in Japan.

Not any old flea market mind you but the biggest flea market in the whole of Hokkaido. And, for someone who's not the biggest shopper in the world, I was very tempted to go home with this little beauty. It would sure come in handy for those little brats of mine. :)



A good tip when you're travelling is to try and get yourself a copy of the local English newspaper. You can often find them at embassies and English language schools. The great thing about local newspapers is that they point you in the direction of events that may be great to photograph, but which the tourism people don't tell you about.

Tourism bodies often have an agenda to send you information about the products that pay to be members of their societies. As a result they often have a great knowledge of the major events and products but might not be up to date on the little things happening in town. By getting your information locally you can bypass this little problem and find some not often visited events to take pictures of.

This is the entire flea market inside the dome of a giant indoor sports stadium. I shot it from up high in the seating stands with a very wide-angle lens. There was such an exposure difference between the roof and the floor below that I had to choose which part I wanted to expose properly. I ended up deciding to let the market go a little bit dark and retain the detail in the roof.

Anyway I hope to be posting as normal real soon. The weather is gorgeous here in Cairns at the moment and it's just too tempting to be outside! :)