Thursday, April 3, 2008

And the other favourite is...

this place. Nearly nine months in Africa and I hadn't seen a single drinking giraffe. And here in my final game park I was lucky enough to see six at once. With a flock of ostriches behind just to top it off. About five minutes after I took this photo three young cheetahs came down to drink and one of them ended up having a staring match with a giraffe.

And about ten minutes after that a giant herd of elephants came down to drink. And the best thing is that one of the best waterholes is right next to the campsite so you can sit on a bench with a cold beer, camera on tripod and just enjoy the view. Game viewing just doesn't get much better than this.

This country is also home to giant 500 metre tall sand dunes, one of the world's largest seal colonies and miles of spectacular coastline bordered by one of the driest deserts on the planet. It's in the southern corner of Africa, just above South Africa and if you hadn't guessed already - it's Namibia.

Sealed roads to pretty much everywhere you'd want to go. Friendly people and to crown it all the amazing Etosha National Park. This is where my giraffes made an appearance and was without a doubt one of the most amazing national parks I visited in the whole of Africa.

There's not much to say photographically in this one I'm afraid. It was taken with a 300mm lens on Kodachrome 64 slide film. The camera was on a tripod and I was sitting on top of a truck just photographing away as the sun went down. Another one of those pinch me I'm dreaming moments.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Commonly asked questions

Every profession has them I'm sure. Doctors get asked for back pain advice and recommendations for flu treatments. Lawyers get asked for legal advice and record producers get asked what Britney Spears is really like. Travel photographers...well my most commonly asked question is. "What's your favourite country?" (Hello to the Innisfail Camera Club - I hope you enjoyed the talk last night!)

I always find this a really difficult question to answer. I mean how do you compare the raucous festivals of Japan with the quiet sanctity of a Thai buddhist temple. The cacophony that is India with the majesty of the Serengeti plains. If the truth be told my favourite place, and I guess it's the same for anybody with a serious case of wanderlust, is always the next place I'm headed to.

But if I had to narrow it down I can think of two that come to mind. This is the first one.

It took me three weeks for my wife and I to walk here. We stayed in a little guesthouse in that tiny little village you can see in the bottom LH corner of the picture. It's called Gokyo and it's high up in the Himalayas in Nepal, near the border with Tibet. Just outside the left hand edge of the frame (and not in the picture) looms Mt Everest. There are a series of five aquamarine lakes that are just too beautiful for words.

This photograph was taken from the top of a little 'hill' called Gokyo Ri. It's only 400m or so above the village but it's over 5300 metres above sea level. There's so little oxygen up there that every three or four steps you have to stop and get your breath back. A lot of people in a hurry rush up to the top, see the view and race back down again. My wife and I walked up at a leisurely pace after everybody else had come down. We had nearly two hours up there without a soul in sight. There was just the sound of the wind blowing down the valley, we were surrounded by 8000 metre mountains in every direction and a series of Tibetan prayer flags blowing in the breeze. There are times in your life when you just have to pinch yourself to make sure it's all real - this was one of those times.

This image was taken with a short telephoto lens - about 80mm. I have a polarizer on there to bring out the colours and have used a small aperture to have as much in focus as possible.

As for my other favourite place? You'll have to wait for next time. :)

By the way I've changed the settings so you can make comments without having to log in to Google. Just hit the Anonymous button on the Comment Posting page and it will save you the log in hassles.

Monday, March 31, 2008

The right weather for travel photography...

doesn't really exist - or at least never seems to when you're somewhere in bloody awful light!

Very often when we're travelling we spend only a limited amount of time in our destination and have to make do with what nature provides us. There's always a friendly local to tell us, "oh you should have been here yesterday!"

The trick is to choose the right subject for the right light. The thing NOT to do is to ignore what the light is telling you and photograph the right subject in the wrong light.

The picture at left is a perfect example. It was taken at the beautiful Shiretoko Five Lakes, in the far eastern side of Hokkaido, Japan. This is a glorious natural reserve, World-Heritage listed and full of bears and deer. I was on a pretty rushed trip through eastern Hokkaido on assignment for a magazine and I had my wife, 2 year old son and father-in-law for company. My father-in-law had my son in a backpack on his back, my wife Chiharu carried the supplies (nappies, bottles etc you get the drill!) and I had the cameras.

Before I arrived I had seen all these wonderful images of snowy mountains lit up by afternoon sun, bathed in golden light with gloriously green forests and crystal blue lakes in the foreground. As you can see that ain't what I got! So how could I turn this horribly cloudy, tourist-filled day into something memorable? By forgetting about any pre-conveived ideas of what a place should look like and really opening my eyes.

I noticed the way the grey sky by itself was pretty boring, but was reflecting beautifully in the lake, as were the mountains. Not quite enough by itself but getting there. There was still the problem of the busloads of tourists. Did you notice them in the picture? Pretty hard to because I pretty much got rid of them with a really wide-angle lens - which has the effect of shrinking the apparent size of things far away from the camera. The only other thing I needed was something to provide a bit of foreground interest. Voila - a pyramid-shaped rock and silhouetted tree branches. I deliberately underexposed the picture to almost silhouette all the details and bring out the reflections in the water and produced an image that I'm really proud of.

It might not be golden light, or bright and colourful. But it's a personal interpretation of a well-known site and possibly more individualistic than what I would have got with perfect lighting conditions.

So don't blame the weather for ruining your travel photos - work your way around the heavens and point your camera at an appropriate subject for the light.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

Photographing in the rainforest...

is hard. Not only is it physically challenging - humidity and sweat, mosquitoes and leeches all make it so enjoyable - but photographically it is very difficult as well.

Taking a nice photograph in the rainforest isn't simply a matter of heading in at any time of the day at any time of the year and coming back with the goods. You need very specific lighting conditions and your biggest enemy is the sun.

When the sun is out on a nice clear day there is just too much contrast to take a photograph. Think of how a tiger uses its stripes to blend into the forest and you can imagine what your pictures will look like. Inky black shadows combined with pure white, burnt out highlights.

In really contrasty situations to get an idea of what your picture will look like try squinting at the scene. You'll see areas of shade turn to black. This can be a good way of getting used to the difference in the way that you see the picture and your camera records the scene.

To retain all the detail you can see with your eye you actually need a really cloudy day. If you have no choice but to be in the forest on a sunny day you need to be out photographing before the sun comes out in the morning, get a book out until late afternoon, and start again when the sun has gone away.

But just timing your photo shoot for a cloudy day won't be enough to ensure rich, vibrant colours. Rainforest leaves are permanently shiny and that shine will take away all the colour in your pictures unless you neutralise it with a polarizing filter. Think of it like a pair of sunglasses for your camera. It cuts down on reflections and brings back the brilliant colours to your images.

The other thing about rainforests is that they're green. Monotonously so. I mean really, really boringly so. To break up your photographs you need to put something in the picture that isn't green. This is a pretty hard thing to do in a place where literally everything is the colour of a tree frog. That's why you usually see a stream or river in rainforest photos. To break up the monotony. If you come across a red or yellow leaf - use it! Get up close to brown-trunked trees. Stock standard point that camera at a rainforest scene photos don't work.

The photo above was taken at the beautiful Daintree Eco Lodge in far north Queensland. I have a polarizing filter on there to bring out the green in the leaves. I used a slow shutter speed to get that lovely cotton candy effect on the water. I took the shot with a wide-angle lens so I made sure to have something nice and prominent in the foreground to give me a foreground, middle ground and background to the image - thus creating a 3D effect. And although it looks like a really sunny day it was actually quite cloudy and little bits of light were filtering down between the trees to provide highlights on the water.

I was there on assignment for a great magazine called Destinasian. You can get it in Cairns for those of you who live there. It's published in Indonesia and I shot the assignment on medium format print film. You can see the images from this shoot in the May 1st issue.