Friday, August 8, 2008

An Instant..

is sometimes all the time you get to make a portrait. A fleeting glance of an elegant woman dressed in red and white as she flitters through your peripheral vision.

I was actually looking in the complete opposite direction, photographing cherry blossom trees. In the corner of my eye I saw a flash of colour and whirled around.

A female shrine attendant at Hokkaido Jingu (Hokkaido's main shrine) had just come out the main entrance and was heading down the stairs to do something.

I had missed her, but wait, she's turning around to go back again. I think she must have been quite startled to see this foreigner bundled up in warm clothes and photo vest come bounding up to her for a photo.

She politely agreed and posed on the steps for me. When somebody is this co-operative and obviously in a hurry how long can you hold them up? All my bravery was eaten up by asking her to pose and I took just one shot. I think it's a lovely portrait but when I got back home a colleague rightly pointed out the top step running through her head. Oh well, try again another day. I still like the shot.

It was taken with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens on Fuji Velvia with the camera on a tripod.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

Crocodiles like warm water...or do they?

There can often be danger associated with getting photos and you don't have to be in a war zone. Cape York is notorious crocodile territory. They're everywhere up here and it's a pretty brave (or stupid!) photographer who would even think about getting in the water.

OK, so I've been known to throw common sense out the window every so often in the search for a great shot. And when an aboriginal elder of the Wik tribe tells you he's going to go out and spear a stingray...well who am I to say no?

So there I was standing next to him with a wide-angle lens on so as I could really show the environment we were in. And the whole scene was so amazing and primordial and very photogenic. When I got back to shore I asked about the chances of being chomped on (probably would have been a good idea to ask beforehand!)

One of the local girls said to me, "You know if there's crocodiles near when the water's warm. If the water's cold there's no crocs". I just assumed she meant that crocodiles didn't like cold water. "No", she corrected me," if you're standing in the water and it suddenly goes warm it means that crocodile take a piss." And she broke into hysterical laughter. Thoughts of being so close to a giant dinosaur that I could feel it weeing on my leg made my knees tremble.

Oh well, at least I got the shot without getting eaten. :)

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Monday, August 4, 2008

Frogs, flash and frivolity

As I've mentioned before, the last six months or so I've been working on a big project for Lonely Planet Images photographing all of north Queensland.

One of the places on my list was the Iron Bar in beautiful Port Douglas. The Iron Bar is famous for its nightly cane toad races.

Competitors are each allocated a toad, which they can choose to kiss (or not!) for good luck. They place the toads in the middle of the table and then blow on them with straws in order to get the little beasties to jump to the edge of the table.

A competition can be over in less than ten seconds so you have to be really quick. The first thing is to get yourself in an empty space with no competitors in front of you. The second thing is that it's really dark in there so natural light isn't going to work. So you have to use flash and direct flash is really, really ugly! We're talking turning Miss Universe into Godzilla here.

So to make your flash nice and soft you need to bounce it off something (assuming you have an accessory flash on top of your camera). In this particular case I pointed my flash up at the roof which was a convenient shade of white and not too high. This meant that my ugly flash light hit the roof, which acted like a giant soft box and spread lovely soft light down below over my scene.

If you don't have a convenient roof then you can rubber band a piece of white card to the top of your flash head and bounce your flash off that. Or if you only have a little camera with a built-in flash you could also try putting a bit of tissue in front of the flash to diffuse the light from it. Just be warned that all of these techniques reduce the power of your flash so you'll need to be nice and close to your subject.

Anything you can do to soften the harsh, horrible light put out from your camera's flash is a bonus. If you really want to learn about the intricacies of using your flash head here.

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