Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How I price a photographic assignment

What does the pricing of photography have to do with giant frozen tuna? Well the answer should be nothing. A photograph is a one-of-a-kind individual object of art and should be priced according to its value to the end user ie how much money it will make them.

Yet many recent photography pricing models would have you believe that pictures are like frozen fish. You can buy them by the pound (or pixel size) or you can pay a photographer for a day's work and take every single piece of fish he manages to produce.

Not only that but you can take that fish and copy it as many times as you want, use it however you like and even give it away to your friends and colleagues to use as often as they like. At least that's how a lot of clients (and photographers) see the world.

Lunacy. I couldn't understand how my stock agent could license a single picture for thousands of dollars for advertising use, yet if I did an assignment for a client I was expected to quote a day rate and give them all the pictures - no matter how many I took - and they could use them however they wanted for as long as they wanted. Hand over hundreds of pictures and you're making only a few dollars per individual image. In other words you're getting Microstock rates for custom made high quality imagery. And the client never needs to come back to you because they've got enough pictures to last them a lifetime!

Not only that but as you get better as a photographer you're able to do assignments in shorter times than you can as a newbie. But if you complete the job sooner you're expected to charge less. Huh?

So at the very outset of my career I decided that quoting a day rate and then giving the client all the pictures was professional suicide - a view that is held by many in major metropolitan centres in various countries but hasn't really trickled down to small towns. Most of my competitors use the exact pricing model I've just outlined.

So how do I charge? By the picture - just like stock photography. The more pictures you decide you want to license the more it will cost you. The time it takes to create the images is only important in the sense that I need to cover my cost of doing business (CODB). Anything over and above that is icing on the cake.

So let's take a fictitious example. A client comes to me and tells me they need photos of their tourism product. The first thing I ask is how many pictures they need and how they want to use the pictures. The way in which they want to use the pictures will determine the cost of each individual image. The less usage they need the cheaper it is. The vaguer they are about what they want to use the pictures for the more expensive it is. :)

Let's say they want 10 pictures and I think I can do it in a day. I know the minimum amount of money I need to make so make sure my quote covers that, but often for commercial work it's well and truly above that. So I give them a quote for the 10 images (plus digital capture, post-processing and other production fees) and tell them that any extra images will cost them x dollars each for their requested usage.

That way the client knows how much the 10 pictures will cost and how much extra it will be if they decide to order more pictures from the shoot. They don't care how long it takes, only how much it will cost them. In fact using this model, if I manage to get the shoot done early then I'm a hero because everybody gets to go home early!

How it works in practicality is this. It has honed me into looking for new angles, new ways of shooting things and covering a lot of different types of photograph during the shoot. I create what I know we need first and then go to work to create as many variations as possible? Why? Because the more great pictures I can make the more the client will want to license.

Does it work? In 10 years of doing this I can count the number of times a client didn't order extra images on one hand. Budgets are set in concrete before you start because the client is not quite 100% sure of what they're going to get. When you put good work on the table budgets go out the window. They suddenly realise how the pictures can help them sell their product and they want to license as many as possible.

I wanted to move away from the mindset that my time is valuable. It is, but only in the sense that I have to cover my wages. The real thing of value is the images that I create and their value is not reliant on the time I take to create them. Their value lies in the money they make for my clients who use them in their adverts and brochures.

In the worst case scenario (ie the client doesn't order any extra images) I'm not worried because I've still covered my CODB and made a good day's living. In the best case scenario the client orders many times what they originally planned and I make an exceptionally good day's living.

And how do the clients feel? Well I don't do any high pressure selling. I just post the images to a web gallery and let them make their decision. They choose how much they want to spend and how badly they want the images. They're happy because they know in advance how much it's going to cost them and can pick and choose accordingly. It's a win-win for everybody.

Remember that your photographs are valuable. Your clients know that, you need to remember it too.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

If you want to go from Cairns up to the southern Atherton Tablelands - home to great attractions such as Yungaburra, Herberton, the volcanic crater lakes of Barrine and Eacham - you'll most likely go up the Gillies Highway.

A twisting, turning road that leaves even those with the sturdiest stomach feeling queasy. You have to keep your eye on the road lest you drive off and fall off a mighty big cliff.

And then a giant tree frog stops you in your tracks. As you can see this thing is about the size of a small car and painted beautifully on a roadside boulder, with a crack in the rock forming its mouth. I have no idea who painted it but it's been there for years and my boys are always craning their necks to keep an eye out for it. Just goes to show you that art doesn't have to make you money or famous. Sometimes it's just for pleasure.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

When your telephoto isn't long enough

I'm not a wildlife photographer, and even less a bird photographer. I tend to photograph critters as I run across them. In other words I never sit in a hide for weeks on end and wait for something elusive to walk in front of me.

Which makes me eminently qualified to make the next statement. Sometimes no matter how long your longest telephoto lens is it just doesn't seem to be long enough. The animal is always really small in the frame. Even when you have a 400mm lens with a 1.4x converter on a crop-sensor digital camera. That's a whopping 896mm in the ol' 35mm film parlance!

So you end up shooting a lot of environmental portraits and composition becomes all important. With a lot of animal close-ups you tend to find the subject smack bang in the middle of the frame. With environmental portraits you tend to stick the animal at one of the thirds. In this case I've put the brolgas on the bottom third.

You also need to wait for the animal to walk in front of an interesting background. I waited about twenty minutes or so until the birds walked in front of this amazing looking tree with just enough shadow behind them to make them really stand out.

The birds were walking and foraging - not a particularly interesting thing to photograph - so I had to wait for something a bit more exciting. All of a sudden they both stood up and started calling. Great opportunity. They were probably shouting 'hey stupid travel photographer, you'd better figure out a way to get closer to us or get a much longer lens!'

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Building a photo from scratch

Travel photography by its documentary nature is usually a take it as it comes kind of exercise. Apart from asking people to move a little bit, or pose this way, we rarely get the chance to direct the scene in front of us.

Commercial travel photography, on the other hand, is a completely different kettle of fish. We are the masters of our universe and get to control quite a lot in order to create an image that fits with our vision.

I thought it might be interesting for the readers to take a look at an image that I created from my commercial shoot up at the Herberton Historic Village a couple of weeks ago and just see the thought process that went into it.

So this is what I had to photograph. A replica camera shop full of old cameras behind (very reflective) glass cabinets.

I had already ruled out shooting in the shop itself because the reflections were too numerous to control (even with the miles of thick black cloth I'd brought with me) and visually it looked much better looking through the window.

Challenges: big sunlight reflections on the front of the right hand camera, a very dark inside compared to the cameras in the window and a tiny little window frame in which to shoot through.

So the first thing I did was have an assistant (slash model!) stand behind me holding a giant reflector with the black side pointed at the cameras. That got rid of the glare in the front lens element of the right hand camera. Unfortunately it also made the left hand camera quite dark so solving one problem created another.

I also put a flash in an umbrella in the very right hand corner of the frame to illuminate the background. Even though it's all natural light inside the wooden floors give it a naturally orange glow which is killed by the white light of the flash. So it's bright enough back there but the light looks horrible and cold.

So I put an orange gel over my flash (a 580 EX) to warm up the background light and make it look more appealing.

I also handheld a flash (a 430 EX) just off to my left and pointed it at the left hand camera at a very low power (1/64th on manual) just to pop a bit of light into the black depths and lighten them up a bit.

So now I've cut out the reflections on the right hand camera, lightened up the left hand camera and brought the light levels up inside the shop and given it a nice orange glow to make it look inviting. Now it's time to bring in our models.

The first thing I tried was bringing a couple of our models - Tracy and Diana in nice and close to the cameras in the front window.

In our talks before the shoot we'd sort of worked out that the models were to be more 'accessories' to the actual displays so this wasn't exactly the shot we were going for but I wanted to try it just to see how it would look.

The first thing I noticed was that the models were pretty much in silhouette so I had Tracy hold a 430EX flash down beside her. The flash was pointing up at the ladies and fired at 1/128th power with an orange gel over it.

And here is what I had in my mind's eye for the final shot. The challenge here was to be able to get good separation between the foreground cameras and the background cameras with such a narrow angle of view. There is window frame just outside of the picture on all four sides so there really was no room for movement in any direction.

Our male model, Tim, was actually very tall so I had to get him to bend down so as I could fit him all in! So I had to hide him behind a camera so you couldn't see his bent legs.

And that's how I worked towards creating a final image that I had imagined on my scout the week before. Remember that these are all Jpegs taken from straight Raw files out of the camera - no post-processing whatsoever. I like to get things as good as possible when I push the shutter. You'll also notice that the look is natural. Anything I've added (lights, black reflectors etc) have been done to enhance the image while still showing people what they themselves would see if they visited. Even though it's a commercial shoot, and not documentary, I like to use the flexibility I have to create an image that is as natural as possible. Truth in advertising, who would have thought it?

Thursday, December 3, 2009

My travel photography workflow 5

What I need to do with my photos is pretty much what this little Siberian Chipmunk needs to do with his nuts. No, not stuff as many of them in his mouth as possible!

Just like he needs to store his nuts in special hidey holes for the winter, I need to store my pictures in various places (internal hard drives, external hard drives and DVDs) and be able to find any of them at any time.

But unlike my little stripey friend who just needs to do it for himself, I also need to be able to show these pictures to other people in a way that is quick and painless for me, and convenient for my clients.

This is the area that cataloguing software really helps you. Firstly, as I mentioned, you can catalogue any of your pictures (or video or music files if you're getting into multimedia) stored anywhere. Some people have multiple catalogues for different types of files, some have one big catalogue for everything. Just be careful that if a catalogue gets too big it gets slow and unwieldy.

I have a catalogue for every calendar year but the Search engine allows me to search for a picture across multiple catalogues, not just the one I have open at any particular time. This is a very handy feature for people who have TB of images stored in lots of different catalogues. Only being able to search in one catalogue at a time could be a major inconvenience.

Because I can catalogue anything on any hard drive it doesn't matter where I physically store the digital file. So I can have pictures of any one particular destination in different folders on different hard drives and they can still live in the same catalogue which is great for travel photographers because you can group all your pictures of one destination in a single place (a Catalog Set) while they live in totally different places on your computer.

Another really great thing about the catalogue is that you can send it to people. In other words you can create a catalogue of your stock library and send it to clients to keep on file. Because it's just a catalogue and not the images itself it will fit on a single disc (CD or DVD depending on how big it is) and the client can simply open that file up and see all your Catalog Set groupings, keywords, ratings and anything else you wish to put in. You can also set it up so that they can double click on the thumbnail and see a 1024x768 pixel version of the picture.

So every year I send an updated catalogue disc to my regular clients of my far north Queensland stock collection. It has roughly 7000 images from the area and is very in-depth. Clients can search for pictures from the area they want and just send me an email when they wish to license a picture. It couldn't be easier.

The catalogues are also great when your hard drive crashes. Huh? How so you say. Well let's say your main hard drive with all your pictures crashes. But of course you have your catalogue saved on a back-up drive, as well as back-ups of all your pictures on an external hard drive. So you restore your pictures from your back-ups but aren't sure whether you've got everything back. If you check your newly restored hard drive of images against your catalogue it will tell you if any pictures are missing. It will do a search and find any images that are listed in the catalogue but no longer appear on the hard drive. Instant back-up check.

Another feature I often use is the Search for Similar function. This is great for those of us who migrated from film. Remember when you had multiple copies of pictures - high res, low-res, web size. Hell you probably even scanned a few slides multiple times because you couldn't remember whether you'd scanned it or not. Well iView will let you do a search for similar or even exactly the same pictures. No more wasted hard drives with umpteen copies of exactly the same picture.

One thing with cataloguing software is that any changes you make to the picture will stay in the catalogue unless you actually export them back to the original file. So that means that any Catalog Sets, keywords or notes you put about the picture can stay completely private unless you choose to export them to the picture itself. So for example I have a Catalog Set for images with my stock libraries, which I don't necessarily want everybody to know. I keep all that information within the catalogue so that nobody knows what is where except for me.

So if I haven't convinced you by now that you owe it to yourself to get some cataloguing software then I give up! :) Like I said, it has literally changed my life and the way I work - for the better. I couldn't live without it now and would never got back to a Browser only photographic life.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

My travel photography workflow 4 - the difference between a browser and a catalogue

OK so we all know what a browser is. Windows Explorer is one, Adobe Bridge is one. Software that lets you see thumbnails of pictures in - and this is really important - one folder. Which is fine if you only want to look at pictures in one folder.

But what do you do if you want to look at pictures that live in different folders, maybe on different hard drives even. To put all those pictures together on the same screen you need cataloguing software. Examples include Lightroom, Aperture, Canto Cumulus and the one I use which is iView Media Pro - which has now been discontinued and is called Microsoft Expression Media.

And this little piece of software is the lynchpin of my workflow. It has probably changed my life more than any other software I have ever bought. A big statement I know but no exaggeration.

Here's how I use it. Firstly what a cataloguing software isn't - it isn't your pictures. In other words when you look at those little thumbnails you're not actually looking at the original files. You're looking at little thumbnails which contain the details of where the picture lives on your computer. So if the image file is on a hard drive that is connected to your computer you can see the full version, but if it's on an external hard drive say that isn't connected you won't be able to see it. You'll only be able to see the little thumbnail stored in the catalogue.

What this means is that the catalogue files themselves are very small. You can have tens of thousands of images catalogued and the file will be smaller than a single image file from your latest digital camera! Which means you can stick it on a USB stick and take it wherever you go.

So you can import all your pictures from any folder on any hard drive into this software and they can all be viewed on the same screen. Now here's the really cool part. In the software you can create what iView calls Catalog Sets. These are virtual groupings of your images. You can drag and drop any of your pictures from the right hand side there into a newly created Catalog Set (top left hand corner) and there it will be every time you open the software back up. So, for example, I have a Catalog Set called Japan and sub-sets of all the different places I've visited in Japan.

A picture can live in as many Catalog Sets as you want - so for example under my Japan heading I have place names but I also have sets such as festivals, people, religion etc. A picture of a person at a religious festival in Sapporo might live in four different catalog sets at once. But that only happens within the catalogue file - the real Raw file hasn't been moved or duplicated or had anything done to it at all. It's in exactly the same place. I haven't had to make duplicate Jpegs or TIFFs or anything. It's just a reference for me within the cataloguing software when I want to do a search for images.

You can create and delete Catalog Sets really quickly and easily (again without affecting the original files at all) which means that I often create what I call Utility Sets - temporary sets that I use when I need to group some pictures to submit or show to somebody. So if I'm say putting a submission together for a magazine and I need to group a bunch of pictures taken over a long period of time and many hard drives - no problem. I just create a temporary Catalog Set and drag and drop the pictures I want.

When those pictures are all together in my 'Magazine Submission' Set I can then create a web page, email them to a client or burn a DVD. The software will do it all automatically for me. For sending email the software will automatically pull those Raw files (remember I'm talking DNGs here) together from the various hard drives, convert them to Jpegs and stick them into an email. They won't change the Raw files or save those Jpegs somewhere, they'll just be attached to the email.

When I want to burn a DVD it's just as easy. I just select all the pictures within that Magazine Submission set and tell the software to burn me a DVD and again it will pull all the files off their respective hard drives and burn them all to the same DVD for me. No more running around trying to find pictures, duplicate them, stick them all into the same folder and then burn a disc. This function alone saves me so much time it's not funny!

The ability to show clients a wide selection of images so quickly and easily means that I no longer have to have different versions of the same picture. In the old days I would have the original Raw file, a high-res TIFF and a low-res jpeg all used for different purposes. Now I only store the Raw file (DNG) and never convert and store low-res jpegs. And the only time I convert to high resolution TIFF is when the client requests an image or I send the image to one of my stock libraries. It saves me hours in conversion time and Terabytes in storage space.

Tomorrow I'll show you some more cool things you can do with cataloguing software. Don't worry before the week's out I'll have you rushing out to get some if you don't already!

Monday, November 30, 2009

My travel photography workflow 3

OK so now we come to the heart and soul of my workflow. As you'll have noticed I don't really mention anything about working on the actual images myself.

It's just not a big part of how I work as a photographer. I work with natural light a lot, and when I do use flash (either on or off camera) I'm always trying to get everything as good in-camera as I can.

The reason for that is one of presentation. For me the most important part of my workflow is making it easy for clients to see my work as quickly (after an assignment) and as easily as possible. With an assignment the client will usually only choose a few frames and those are the ones I may need to work on afterwards, but for an initial presentation I find no need to work extensively on every single picture.

On the stock photography front I often have to make submissions of pictures that were taken over a period of many years, in many different parts of the world and with no seeming connection. Take the image above which is a screen capture of pictures used in this blog. If somebody were to request to see a lightbox of pictures used in this blog those pictures would span a wide range of countries, styles, times and (physically) hard drives.

So my style of work is really suited to one where I don't do a lot of post-processing work on every single picture. But I do make changes in Camera Raw like saturation, brightening and darkening, dust removal and curves etc and I need clients to be able to see those changes. The easiest way I've found to do that is by using a cataloguing software. The only problem with third party cataloguing software is that it can't see changes to Raw files you've made in Adobe Camera Raw unless you first convert them to DNG format. Which is exactly what I do.

(The reason it can't see the changes is because they are written to a little text file called an XMP file that lives alongside your Raw file. Move your raw file out of this folder without the XMP file and all your changes get lost. Third party softare can't read the information written to these XMP files)

After I've made my adjustments I then save all my CR2 files as DNG files and put them in a different folder. I then import them into my Cataloguing software. What do I do with the original CR2 files? I keep a copy of them on DVD only. If I lose them I'm not too worried. I probably don't need to but I do just because I do.

Tomorrow I'll talk about the nitty gritty of cataloguing software and if you don't have any - why you need it!

Friday, November 27, 2009

My travel photography workflow 2

So now all my pictures are in Bridge. Why not Aperture or Lightroom you say? Well firstly I'll admit to being a PC guy so Aperture is out for me, and why not Lightroom will be revealed. Needless to say it has nothing to do with Lightroom being either a good or bad programme (I've never used it so wouldn't know) but more the fact that I'm happy where I am and if it ain't broke...

Anyway, as I mentioned in my last post as my images get imported into Bridge they get renamed and have metadata added. I use a naming protocol suggested in Peter Krogh's great DAM book, which is now in its second edition.

When I was shooting transparencies I used to name my images according to subject matter. So mammals was M followed by a three digit number. So starting at M001 and going up. I then had a Microsoft Access database which required me putting all the details of every picture in by hand. As you can imagine it was pretty arduous.

Anyway the naming was pretty irrelevant in terms of finding specific images and only really useful for locating their physical position in the filing cabinet. Using slide sheets you used to get 20 slides per sheet so M82 was on sheet 5 in the Mammals folder. But sometimes I would have elephants in the mammals category (if they were wild) and sometimes in the transport category (when they were carrying people). It didn't really matter where the slides were physically because there was a description category in my database and if I just typed in elephant it would tell me where every single one of my elephant pictures was.

And I went with this principle for my digital cataloguing. I wanted a situation where I could find a picture no matter what hard drive, folder or disc it lived on. I also realised that the name of the file wasn't important in locating it. Searching for images required good keywording. So again I followed Peter Krogh's advice and went with a naming system of Surname_date taken_camera file number. Makes no sense at all to a client but it does the important task of telling them straight away who took the picture.

The other important metadata I put into every single file at the time of import is my contact and copyright information. I make sure that my name, address, website, email, phone number and contact details are attached to everything I shoot - even the stuff I delete. You never know where your pictures are going to end up sometime so you want to have that information embedded in all your pictures. This metadata plus the naming of the files makes it pretty easy for an honest client to find me if they want to license my pictures. Does it stop people stealing my stuff? Does anything?

Now my workflow is based around shooting Raw. I only shoot jpeg on my little point-and-shoot, everything that gets shot on my dSLR (whether it be personal or work) gets shot in Raw. I just like to know I have the best quality every time. So that means all my files are in the Canon CR2 format.

Now making changes to Raw files in Adobe is all fine and dandy when you're using Adobe products. Any changes you make to the file in Camera Raw are there to see, but as soon as you take that file out of the Adobe environment you hit a wall because other software can't read the changes you make to your file. Make lots of glorious changes to a file in Bridge and then try and open the file in your Canon software.

While your file might have been adjusted in Camera Raw to increase saturation, contrast, brightness - whatever it is you do - as soon as that file comes out of its nice little Adobe nest the other software just sees the boring Raw file that came out of your camera. So I don't stay with CR2 for long. All I do is make basic changes to my images - enough so that I can show them to a client for them to make a final selection.

But to show them to a client I have to take them out of the CR2 format into....more on that next time and what I use to catalogue my work.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

My travel photography workflow

Alrighty, so here I am back in the world of blogging after a week or so of running around like a headless chicken. Firstly let me preface this series of blog entries on my workflow by stressing that word MY.

I love learning new things but once I find a way of doing things that works for me I tend to stick with it until it doesn't suit my needs any more. Or until I see something that absolutely hands down beats the way I'm doing things at the moment. So if it seems a bit out of date - well you should see my wardrobe. :)

Secondly this is a workflow that is going to work better for those of you who don't do a lot of post-processing. I find that I hardly ever open up Photoshop any more. In fact working on the scans for my entry into the Travel Photographer of the Year awards was the first time I've had the programme open in quite a long time.

So here is my (possibly) ancient, straight out of the box (ie camera) workflow. Firstly I try and make sure I have enough CF cards to last me for at least a day's shooting. I carry a portable hard drive with me just in case, but in general terms I prefer to be able to shoot all day and back up at night. So this has meant going from 1GB to 4GB to 8GB and now 16GB cards! I never delete anything directly in the camera but keep absolutely everything so that I can go over it later with a fine tooth comb and make sure I don't throw anything out that I wanted to keep. Even shots you thought were terrible sometimes have their uses later down the track.

When I get back to the office if I've only shot one or two cards (which often happens on commercial shots where setting up takes more time than shooting!) I just upload them straight from the camera. Slow I know but I just let it do its thing while I'm in the shower or catching up with the kids or whatever. I'm a pretty relaxed kind of guy - no need to rush these things. :)

If it's a whole day of documentary travel shooting then there's usually a lot of full cards so I download them all to a portable card reader/ hard drive. I won't mention brands because then I'll be really dated. But I will say that I've had it for about 4 years, it's 80GB, downloads 1GB in about a minute, runs on rechargable AA's and has never let me down (touch wood). It doesn't have a screen but I never was the type to want to look at my pictures during the day. I think that comes from all those years of shooting slide film - sometimes you just know when you've got it and when you haven't.

When I have them in the portable hard drive I use a little script I got from Peter Krogh's site called Import from Camera. It's a bit old now and I believe Peter recommends a programme called Image Ingester. Anyway IFC is a great little script that when I point it to my hard drive will scan it and detect all the image files there.

It will then import them into a folder on my hard drive called "Unprocessed Raws" and I have the choice of keeping the original folder structure (as in separate all the pictures according to CF cards) or I can flatten the structure so they all appear together. I usually choose the latter. I can also rename all the files and add metadata. I can also choose to create a back-up copy of all my images in a different destination at the same time.

Tomorrow I'll talk a little bit about my re-naming structure, the importance of metadata and how I begin to work on my files.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Still alive and photographing!

Hi there everybody,

sorry for being so slack on the blogging front. I've had a couple of big projects on that have taken me away.

Firstly in some pretty exciting news I found out that I'm a finalist in the Homeland portfolio section of this year's Travel Photographer of the Year contest. I've never entered before so wasn't really sure what was involved or if I'd get anywhere but I'm really excited to have made it this far.

Anyway I've been busy organising A4 prints of the entries, which I had to get printed in England because I wouldn't have time to get them done here and then send them over. I then had to upload the entries for possible inclusion in the book of the awards as well as fill out various forms. You can see the finalist images in the Gallery section here.

Last week I also had a commercial shoot which involved a lot of organisation and then post-shoot editing and processing. Seeing as it's something I've been so preoccupied with the last few days I thought I might go over my workflow in the next few posts.

Anway just to let you know that I'm still alive and kicking and will be back to blogging as usual.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

Up over the mountains behind Cairns is an area called the Atherton Tablelands. Some marketing genius has decided it should be called the Cairns Highlands, but I think most people still know it by its original name.

It's a lush area of rolling hills, dairy cattle and one giant tree that takes your breath away. Just outside the tiny town of Yungaburra is the Curtain Fig Tree.

To give you an idea of how big it is I used the time old photographer's trick of putting a person in the frame - in this case me. I put the camera on the tripod and the self-timer and then ran like a madman round to the other side of the tree and hoped I'd make it in time. You can see me as a tiny speck just to the right of the tree, on the boardwalk.

Because the tree is in such deep rainforest, and the top of the tree is so much brighter than the bottom half, you really have to photograph in here before the sun comes up in the morning. A check of the EXIF info tells me that I tripped the shutter at 6.29 am. Considering it's a couple of hours away from my house this means that I got up really early!

But I knew I'd have to get there in the dark to shoot it properly. If you wait until the sun comes up too far the rainforest just gets too contrasty. Anyway seeing as I'm heading back up the Tablelands next week for a commercial shoot I thought it might be timely to post an image from the local area.

Have a great weekend! I'm off to figure out how to programme my new fangled washing machine to start washing the clothes while I'm still fast asleep. Exciting stuff I know. :)

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Commercial travel photography

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the weekend out and about doing some scouting for an upcoming commercial photo shoot. Travel photography comes in two flavours - editorial and commercial. And they can be very different, or they can be pretty much the same thing.

With editorial travel photography the style is very much dependent on the type of publication. Upmarket travel magazines tend to run tight, close-up shots of wine glasses, crumpled bedsheets and salt and pepper shakers. You've all seen those I'm sure.

Other travel magazines tend to run pictures of travellers interacting with locals and enjoying themselves in the location. And yet others will only feature images of local people, scenics and food taken in a more 'general' style for want of a better word.

My photography tends to naturally lean towards the 'general' storytelling style. When I'm out photographing I don't tend to notice the salt and pepper shakers! And I'm usually too busy stuffing the food in my throat to remember to photograph it. :) Which doesn't mean I don't photograph that stuff when the assignment calls for it, but it's not in my general nature to photograph that stuff otherwise. In other words it's not my passion.

When it comes to the commercial side of things that passion translates really well to the world of travel and tourism. I'm big on being as natural as possible. I like to get the models out and about and really doing the stuff that they're supposed to be selling. So if it means me getting out on a kayak (and destroying my mobile phone in the process!) then I'm all for it.

I usually find that local clients tend to want to hire me without seeing any of my work and the first thing I do is send them to my website. Why? Because I'm certainly not the photographer for every job and not every client is for me. It sounds crazy to turn down work if people want to hire you, but in order to follow that passion and stay true to your vision you're often best to pass on some jobs.

When I know that there are other people who would do a better job than me I always recommend them to the client. I would rather do this and have the client be 110% happy with the job then have me do it and not have the images live up to their expectations. I know some photographers like to accept more than they can handle and work like crazy to do a good job but I prefer to work on projects that I know I can knock out of the park.

One of the biggest differences I find between commercial and editorial clients is what they want to show. Commercial clients (particularly those who don't have a lot of experience hiring photographers) want to show everything literally. If they have nice rooms they want to show the whole room exactly how it is.

Editorial clients often want you to take more of an approach of showing what it feels like to visit a place. So you might concentrate and focus in on a small part of a place to give a feeling of the whole, as opposed to showing everything. Editorial often likes to leave a bit to the imagination, whereas commercial often tends to hit you over the head with a big, blunt object telling you that this is exactly what it looks like and what you'll see when you visit.

Which is why I often advise my commercial clients to think a bit laterally and aim for images that tell a story. Give the viewer a feeling. Leave a little bit to the imagination. And in that way my commercial travel photography often looks just like my editorial travel photography. Which fuels my passion and helps me stay true to my artistic vision.

Monday, November 9, 2009


I've got a commercial shoot happening next week. Although a lot of my work is editorial assignment and stock photography I find that my style of imagery tends to work well for commercial clients in the travel industry.

Anyway I hate to go into a photo shoot blind, whether it's one for myself or a client, so yesterday I took a 3 hour round trip to check out the site and just work out my bearings.

Scouting is a really good use for those times of the day when the light is no good for photography, or on the days when the weather isn't co-operating. Rather than feeling you have to get out to take a photograph, cut yourself some slack and consider this scouting time. You can leave the camera behind if you like, or if you feel compelled then just take a minimum amount of gear.

When you are scouting there are a few things you want to be looking for. The first thing is direction. I have a compass built into my watch so the very first thing I do is check out which direction East (for sunrise) is and West (for sunset) is. This helps me plan a schedule. There's no point getting up early to photograph a famous building if it faces West.

Another thing you want to look out for is unusual vantage points. Anybody can shoot a scene from tripod height standing in the middle of a tourist lookout. See if you can find somewhere unusual to place your camera - think up high, down low, off to the side. I often look for hills that look down on the scene I want to photograph.

For landscapes you might want to look for the best place to be for an interesting composition, keeping an eye out for leading lines, trees etc that you can use as frames. Resist the temptation to shoot anything during the scouting trip unless the light is fantastic. Remind yourself that you're just here to find a good place to come back to when the light is wonderful.

Especially with landscape photography scouting really helps because often when you're up to photograph sunrise you're wandering around in the dark. If you've been there during the day you'll have a much better idea of where you want to be and won't have to stumble around in the pitch black wondering if you're in a good spot or not.

Anyway the scouting trip was really useful. I was able to work out that there's no point getting my models out there early because everything faces west so they'd all be backlit in the morning. There's also a lot of reflections inside the buildings so I'm going to need to bring some black cloth to darken everything. And I managed to work out a time line to keep everything going smoothly during the day.

Oh and the shot at the top is an example of the result of scouting. The canal in Otaru is one of the city's most famous sites. I had been there at high noon to take a look and just see where might be a nice place to take a shot from. The blue time of day is over very quickly, sometimes you only get 10 or so minutes, so I knew I needed to be in exactly the right place before the beautiful light appeared. Scouting gave me the reassurance that I could walk straight to a good position and just wait for the light to do its thing.

So if you're ever wondering what to do when the light is no good for photography, go and scout some good places to put yourself when the light will be fantastic.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

One of the things I love about travel photography is the fact that it lets me get out into pristine areas of wilderness all by myself. Photography's a pretty solo pursuit a lot of the time and being out in nature by myself in the peace and quiet is something I really enjoy.

A lot of people know that Cairns is on the doorstep of the World Heritage Listed Daintree National Park, but what many people might not realise is that there's a lot of beautiful rainforest within a few minutes of the centre of the city.

One of my favourite little places to get away from it all is a section of rainforest called Crystal Cascades. About half an hour out of the centre of town by car and you're a world away.

The main river just inside the entrance is where everybody goes to swim, picnic and generally lay about and enjoy the atmosphere. But if you do the full walk all the way to the end you'll find a gorgeous waterfall.

And if you don't get that far, about half way along on the left hand side there's a gorgeous little rainforest stream. You'll have to scramble up some boulders to get the best view but it's only a couple of feet off the sealed walking path.

For rainforest shots I always have my polarising filter on. It cuts down the glare from the wet, tropical leaves and brings out the vivid green in them. I also make sure I have my tripod because it's pretty dark in there. Closing down to f16 for a large depth of field gave me a shutter speed of 2 seconds at ISO 100. No point trying to hand hold that!

It's best to get there early in the morning before the sun comes up and makes it too contrasty, or aim for a day when there's a lot of cloud cover. It's a beautiful place and definitely worth a visit if you get the chance. And no I didn't put the leaves there. :)

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Following the travel photography passion - a personal story

I ummed and aahed about where to take this series of posts on the passion for travel photography. Because I don't want to be preaching here. That's not my aim for the blog. My aim is to hopefully throw out some ideas that I think are important and hopefully give you all a few good tips on things that I think work and don't work.

So to continue on with the whole thing about following that passion for travel photography I figured the logical next step would be to talk about my journey to this point as honestly (and passionately!) as I can. And hopefully there'll be a few tidbits in there to take away on your own journey.

Like many of us who love the sound of that shutter button, I didn't choose photography, it chose me. Nothing unusual there, we're all in the same boat I'm sure. But I quickly realised that still lifes, portraits of CEOs and fancy Photoshop techniques wasn't where my heart lied.

Nine months in Africa, followed by a year traipsing around SE Asia, India and Nepal had me obsessed with travel photography. It was all I could think about day and night. A couple of years is a long time to be on the road and as fun as it was, towards the end I was really looking forward to putting down some roots and sorting my images out with the dream of making it into a profession.

Of course the best way to kill a passion (and one I forgot to mention yesterday) is to turn it into your job! I'm happy to say, though, in my case that definitely isn't the case. I couldn't imagine doing anything else. I've tried, believe me. I've actually sat down and thought about what I would possibly do if I wasn't a travel photographer - sad I know. And nothing at all came into my head. So I guess I'm stuck with this career.

But following a passion like this is a constant struggle. I meet so many professional photographers who, when they hear what area of photography I work in, the first thing out of their mouths is "Oh I wanted to be a travel photographer but it was too hard (financially unrewarding, competitive...insert your own excuse here) so I turned to weddings."

Good on them I say. They've chosen a path that makes them a good living in a constantly renewable market and I salute them for it. But I just couldn't do it. Even when things were tight financially I couldn't make myself photograph stuff that wasn't my passion. You see I'm also a stubborn bastard sometimes. Cutting off my nose despite my face is my constant motto and thorn in my side. :)

Whether I did the right thing or not I always wonder. Turning down paying jobs because they're not your field of expertise is always a risky proposition. But for me that little nag in the back of my mind telling me that this isn't the path I really want to head down always kept me back.

Following the passion led to another major decision quite recently. For the last ten years I have combined travel photography with writing. In Australia it makes a lot of sense to do this. The best way to travel for free is to get sponsored trips, and the only way to get invited on those is to write. So that's what I did. But a comment by a travel photographer/writer friend a year or so ago got me to thinking.

He mentioned that he was working hard on improving his writing. And it suddenly hit me. I had no passion or drive to become a better writer - at least not in the traditional feature travel article sense.

More importantly I felt that when I was on a travel writer's trip my photography lacked quality. Yes I got some nice images but not much that was spectacular because I didn't have that same intensity that I had when I was just concentrating on the photography. They say men can't multi-task and I guess I was living proof of that.

So I decided to give up the writing side of things. And have turned down quite a few jobs over the last year. Again, probably not a wise move financially but spiritually it's been great. Kind of ironic that I write more now every day than I ever did before but now it's writing about my passion - travel photography.

The other thing I've found about following your passion is that you need to listen to yourself more and those around you less. I'm sure all of us who have blogs log in to the Google Analytics page and check whether people are actually tuning in or not. And cheer when the graph goes up, and sob when it goes down. Feel elated when somebody tells us they like our pictures, and terrible when somebody says they don't really.

As artists I think we're all kind of struggling to have our art liked by other people. But, for me at least, following your passion means doing what you believe and not relying on other people's beliefs to shape how you create your art. Hell if I followed the Google Analytics graph I'd just turn it into the Wide Angle vs Telephoto Lens blog 'cause that's what the most people seem to be interested in. :)

So in the spirit of encouraging you all to follow your passion for travel photography I'd like to offer a few words of advice. Remeber that you can make travel photographs at home. Take the time to really work out what you're passionate about and concentrate on photographing that as well as you possibly can and give up photographing everything else just because you can. Don't worry about what other people say, listen to your own inner voice - it will tell you if you're on the right track. And finally get used to baked beans on toast if you want to make it your career!

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

How to kill the travel photography passion

There are a few things you can do to kill your passion for travel photography - some at home and some while out on the road.

But why would I want to kill the passion you say. Well you don't, I'm just saying you might be inadvertently doing some things that are heading you down that path.

Back in the days when we shot film you tended to put a roll of 36 exposures in at Christmas, take a few shots here and there and maybe finish it up by the following Christmas. Alright maybe the keen shutter bugs did a bit more but those were different days.

Why? Part of it was certainly the expense of film but I think another part of it was that keen photographers really concentrated on what they wanted to photograph and stuck to it. In other words they knew it was costing them money so they didn't bother to photograph things that didn't interest them.

Now that we have digital it almost seems to be compulsory to photograph anything and everything just because you can. And that's a sure way to kill the passion. Once you start seeing photography as something you should or have to do then it becomes a chore like any other. You're thinking more about the camera side of the equation and not the subject. So the first way to kill your passion is to just go out photographing anything willy-nilly without thinking about whether it really fires you up or not. Not just interests you slightly but really gets your heart racing. To get back on track you really need to hone in on what you're passionate about before photography in general becomes a chore.

If you're not moved to photograph it you're not going to be moved by the pictures.

As I mentioned yesterday, unless you do this for a job you're not going to be travelling every day of the year (and even pros only travel for a maximum of about 6 months of the year mostly). So you spend the majority of the year at home base. If you're not allowed to photograph willy-nilly then be sure you don't go the other way and not photograph anything until you go overseas.

Yes you can have a dormant passion but the more you exercise it before you go somewhere the more fired up you will be about your trip and the subjects you're going to explore. So be sure to find something travel-related at home base that you could get out and make wonderful images of.

When you're out on the road there are a couple of things that can make travel photography less than enjoyable and point you in the direction of feeling that it's not worth it.

The first one I find is to not really dedicate yourself to it. You don't need to go from sunrise to sunset every day, but when you are out photographing you really need to be in the zone. Thinking about nothing else. Doesn't matter if it's five minutes or five hours, you have to do what's really necessary to get a great image to the sacrifice of everything else.

A lot of people may lack that intensity and then get disappointed because their pictures aren't as nice as they hoped for. It's really hard to take great pictures if you're trying to have a conversation with your better half, keep an eye on the kids and check the email on your iPhone at the same time. Dedicate a set period of time to really work on the craft of photography. If you're on a family vacation get up hours before everybody else and go out alone. Beg, borrow or steal that time away from other commitments. Make sure that you're at your most prepared when lady luck comes along with a great scene to photograph.

Resign yourself to the fact that your best pictures probably aren't going to come when you're 'holidaying' but if you have a certain amount of time to really brush off the cobwebs and explore then that should be enough to keep that passion burning.

And make it fun. If you're out on your own photographing away but nothing is really striking you, don't sweat it. It gets back to that feeling of having to photograph because you've come so far. If it isn't working for you, it isn't working. You need to sit down with a cup of coffee at a cafe and watch the world go by. Wait for some inspiration to strike. Even if it doesn't at least you've taken a moment out to watch the world go by.

Some people swear by learning a new technique to get your passion fired up again. While I can understand that I prefer to look for new subjects. I like to learn something new when I'm at home and use those techniques when I'm out and about. Maybe it's just me but I find it more fun to learn in the comfort of familiar surroundings and then feel confident about using those techniques overseas. When I'm out photographing I like to be totally in the moment and know exactly how I want a picture to look without having to wonder if something will work or not. Not that I don't experiment mind you, I just don't like to use that as a crux to re-ignite passion.

Don't take stuff you don't ever use. When I go away I always carry a tripod and a couple of flashes. Why? Because I use it. I like the effect of using slow shutter speeds with flash for ghosting effects. I also like to shoot at the edges of the day in the darker hours when you need long shutter speeds.

But some photographers hate both those things, feeling they tie them down. Do whatever works for you. If a tripod holds you up and makes photography hard then leave it at home. If you don't like the look of flash don't get one out. In other words keep it fun for you and avoid anything that makes your travel photography less than the best thing you've ever done.

So there's a couple of tips to help you avoid losing that passion for travel photography. If you've got any others feel free to post them in the comments below.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Releasing your inner travel photographer passion

You'll have to excuse the hairy legs - natural sun protection! This is the pose of your typical travel photography junkie- here working hard in the Okavango Delta in Botswana.

Yesterday I spoke about passion, and how you need it to produce great photography (or art of any nature for that matter.)

Now if your passion is photographing weddings, babies or still lifes then I'm afraid I'm not much good to you. You see while I am married, do have a couple of babies and a collection of vases I'm not really passionate about photographing any of them.

You know the architect who never finishes his or her kitchen? Well I'm the photographer who never really photographs his kids - seriously with the intent of creating art anyway. A waste I know but there you have it.

If your passion is travel photography however, then that I know a little something about. There is a myth about having a passion for travel photography - and here I'm not going to differentiate between amateur or pro because in the creation of art it makes no difference whatsoever.

That myth is that your pictures will suddenly get a lot better if you could get on a plane and visit somewhere much more exciting, interesting, stimulating (insert your own adjective here) than the current 'boredom city' place you call home. Rubbish, rubbish, rubbish. If anything you're more likely to create nothing but cliches and seen-it-all-before type pictures when you go somewhere exotic because you're not really following your passion.

Travel itself isn't your passion. Your passion lies within the travel genre. It might be architecture, it might be markets, it might be culture, it might just be the lure of the exotic. But the act of travel alone won't bring those passions on. Your passions lie inside. They're the kind of things you enjoy not just photographing, but reading about, watching documentaries on. It might be forms of transport, festivals and ceremonies, wildlife, spectacular landscapes.

But unless you've got a trust fund, the chances are you can't spend 365 days a year traipsing around the world looking for exotic examples of your passion. Maybe you get a couple of weeks a year, maybe a month or more, but your time available to take 'travel' pictures is pretty limited. So you really need to explore those passions to see if there isn't some way you can photograph them closer to home.

Let's say you're fascinated with India. The colours, the religions, the people. Do you need to go all the way to New Delhi to give in to your passion. I live in a small rural community at the end of the earth and we have a couple of Sikh temples and quite a large Indian community. We also have people from Indonesia, Nepal, Bhutan, Laos...you name it we have them. So if my passion was portraits of people from different cultures I would be set. (Now I know we have a lot of readers from India on the blog so you'll have to swap another country in here!)

At the end of the day I'm interested in stories. Many of those stories revolve around travel because I love the exotic. But, realistically speaking, unless you're getting paid to do this you can find lots of exotic things to photograph close to home. You just need to look inside you to find out what might interest you.

Sit yourself down for half an hour or so and write out a list of things that you absolutely love to find out about. Not necessarily do, or watch, but just learn about. Now which of those things could you get access to and photograph? And do you think you would enjoy photographing them? Have you thought about photographing them before? Does your pulse race a bit when you think about the great ways you could bring your own vision to this subject? That's when you know you're getting close to your passion.

When you've worked out a few things you think would be fun to photograph go and find out who you can contact to get permission. And then when you've done a few photo shoots and, if you really enjoyed it, see if that group of people has an affiliate group in an interstate or overseas destination. See where I'm going with this. If you don't want to make this a career but love travel photography with all your heart, then look for places close to home to feed that passion and try and tie it in to your annual overseas trip.

Think locally to follow your passions and use that knowledge as a springboard to help you find your passion when you hop on a plane next. Remember that the act of travel itself most likely isn't the passion, it's certain things that excite you at your destination. Try and find an equivalent subject at home and you can feed your passion every weekend, not just for a couple of weeks a year.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

When you have to pinch yourself...

Photography's a funny thing. When you think about it anybody can do it. Hell my 4 year old manages to do a pretty good job of grasping the camera in his little hands and snapping away. And therein lies the problem.

If anybody can do it how are we supposed to be different as image makers than any other of the billions of photographers out there?

You need to find the stuff that makes you want to pinch yourself. For me it's travel and nature, but just hopping on a plane or going bush isn't enough to excite me. That's just like photography - if you've got the money anybody can do it.

Those rare moments where you're in the zone, totally concentrated on getting an image. When you're not thinking of anything else but the scene playing out in front of your lens. When you can scarcely believe your own eyes at how beautiful something is and you just know that you have to take a fantastic photo to do it justice. That's how you differentiate yourself. Because for every one of us that pinch yourself moment is going to be different.

This image was taken from halfway up Dune 45 in Sossusvlei, Namibia, Southern Africa. Why half way up? Because as I struggled up the dune I could see lots of other people already on the summit waiting for the sunrise. And there I was in this eerie silence, just the sand blowing around my feet in the cool morning breeze before dawn. And I looked out and I could see the mist on the valley floor and tell where the sun was going to come up by the way the sky was getting lighter behind the distant mountains.

And at that instant I knew that I had to experience this alone. That being surrounded by twenty other people was going to take away from the feelings I was having. So I sat down and set my tripod up and waited as nature put on her performance. And it felt like it was just for me. And it moved me incredibly. And I hope that this photograph shows you all just how much it moved me.

Remember just because you can point the camera at anything and take a photo doesn't mean you should. Show me the passion. Show me the love. I don't care whether the focus is perfect, you've got the right shutter speed or aperture. All I care about is the subject and how it moved you. When you can figure that out you're on your way to creating images that move other people as well. Just remember if it doesn't move you it sure as hell isn't going to move anybody else.

Friday, October 30, 2009

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

When people think of Cairns and far north Queensland they often think of tropical rainforests and the Great Barrier Reef.

But just to the north of Cairns is a huge, practically empty peninsula of land the size of a small European country. It's called Cape York and is one of this country's last untouched wildernesses.

And one of the most amazing things you can do up on Cape York is to help wild turtles survive threats from wild dogs, pigs and man-made rubbish.

This was taken on a trip up to the Cape York Turtle Rescue camp at Mapoon. You go out at night to find laying mothers and watch them as they deposit their eggs in the sand. Then as they make their way silently back down to the water you cover the nest with large plastic devices designed to keep pigs and dogs from digging the eggs up.

Because a lot of the activity happens in the middle of the night you would think photography would be quite difficult but it's actually not so. I took a tripod along with me just to stop too much shake but this image was taken with natural light. No flash whatsoever, as you can tell because the people standing up are silhouetted against the sky.

I'm shooting at ISO400 and had a shutter speed of 4 seconds. To be sure there's a bit of movement - particularly of the turtle flippers. But I think it's a picture that gives a real sense of what it's like to be out on a clear night, surrounded by inky blackness, and in a small group of people helping native wildlife.

You don't always need to reach for the flash when photographing at night - even in the middle of nowhere. Have a bit of an experiment with the tripod and slower shutter speeds. With modern digital SLRs as good as they are you can safely boost your ISO a lot higher than I did and get a faster shutter speed. Just remember that if you have your camera in Automatic mode it might pop up your flash automatically so you'll need to be in Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority or Manual. Either that or push your flash back down again.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hiding things in your pictures

One way to keep the viewers of your photos interested is to hide things within the frame that they might not notice on a quick glance.

The eye automatically looks to the lightest part of the frame first - in this case the sky. So the first thing you notice is a hot air balloon flying over the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania.

What else can you see? A few camelthorn acacia trees and, wait a minute, there's something hiding there amongst the trees.

A giraffe? Now this is how the transparency looked straight out of the camera. To emphasise the giraffe more it would be quite easy to go into Photoshop and lighten up the animal's body and head to help it stand out a bit more against the dark green foliage.

In this case, however, I decided to leave it how it is just so that the picture take on a bit more depth when you look closer. Of course it's a bit hard to tell from such a small thumbnail. You can see a larger picture here. What do you think? Should I lighten the giraffe and make it easier to see or leave it how it is? I'm of two minds but quite like the fact that it's a little bit hidden.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Choosing your background with a telephoto lens

Something really important to understand about telephoto lenses is that they really bring the background in nice and close.

Take this shot here. Now the train tracks and the city are about a half a kilometre behind the cherry blossom tree. But you can see that when you use a 200mm lens they appear to be a lot closer.

So an image like this is great if the theme of your image is how nature in Japan lives side by side with the concrete jungle of the modern city.

But what if you're doing a piece on the beautiful nature that can be found in Hokkaido. Beautiful nature that is not as hemmed in by the modern world as it is on the other Japanese islands. Well in that case this picture isn't going to cut it.

But this picture will. In fact it was taken from exactly the same place - remember I'm pretty lazy and don't like to move too much if I can possibly help it!

This is the same tree taken from the other side. And this time we have a field of bright yellow rapeseed backing on to a forest. No ugly buildings to be seen.

Now if I had made this image with a wide-angle lens you would have seen buildings all around because the wide angle lens has such a vast angle of view. The telephoto, on the other hand, has a very narrow angle of view. It gets rid of everything on the left and right of the subject. Which is a very handy thing when you have ugly stuff all around and just want to concentrate on the pretty stuff.

Just remember that with the telephoto lens even things that are a few kilometres away will be very prominent in the frame so you need to walk around your subject (in this case the Sakura cherry blossom tree) until you get a background you like.

Monday, October 26, 2009

What is travel photography?

Seems like a pretty simple question really? The obvious answer would be it's the kind of pictures a photographer takes when they get on a plane and go somewhere. For most people it means going somewhere exotic, out-of-the-ordinary and completely different from the world they live in.

And this was always my assumption as well. My beginnings as a travel photographer started long before anybody actually paid me to print my pictures. I started as a wanderer. From Morocco down through the Sahara desert, through West and Central Africa, and then down to East and Southern Africa. Nine months travelling through Africa that changed my life. Then followed by Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand, India, Nepal. You get the picture. For me travel photography meant going somewhere that wasn't descended from the British Empire, where nobody spoke English and the food didn't look like steak and three veg.

This is one of the first photos I ever took somewhere I considered 'exotic' This is Asilah in Morocco and, as you can see, even the thrill of exoticism can't save this photo! Oh and there's an old guy in a djellabah standing in the doorway but it's too dark to see him and I was too shy to ask him if I could photograph him. We all start somewhere.

I remember years ago reading a book on travel photography that recommended that photographers practice with their gear while at home so that they could be prepared for the 'real event' when they got on a plane.

And I've been thinking lately that we might have things the wrong way round. Travel photography doesn't have to be about the photographer travelling huge distances to take pictures. It's the reader that needs to be taken on the journey. And it's the travel photographer's job to show them a world that they've never seen before. Or, more difficult to do, show them somewhere that they think they know pretty well but in a totally new light.

And once you change this way of thinking about your own travel photography then I think your pictures will change as well. You'll start to imagine what a visitor to your home town would find interesting, unusual, photogenic. You see it really used to be quite easy to make the exotic look exotic. The subject alone was enough.

But heading towards 2010 we've all seen a million photos of the long-necked Karen tribes in northern Thailand, or the body-piercing festivals in Malaysia. Where once a photo of something exotic was guaranteed to wow your audience it isn't the case any more. So going beyond that requires a deep knowledge and understanding of a place. And what better place to start than your own local area. Sure it may not be the glamorous travel photography you've always envisioned but it will hone your vision to make pictures of something that is really familiar to you in a way that will surprise and delight your viewers.

So when you think of what travel photography is take yourself out of the equation for a minute. Imagine that you're taking your viewers on the journey with you. They don't care whether you've travelled 5000 metres or 5000 kilometres, they want to know what you saw, how it moved you and be shown something that they want to know more about. They want to see it in beautiful light, with interesting interactions with local people and with a story teller's sensibility. And that's the real event whether it's down the road or on the other side of the world - it's a travel destination for somebody.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

How's that for a bit of alliteration? One trend that I've really noticed lately in the travel photography world is specialisation. I guess it's happening throughout the photography world but with travel photography it seems to be happening in a geographic sense, as opposed to a style. And economic times being as they are travel photographers and writers seem to be more and more turning to their own backyards to discover the wonders on their own doorstep.

It's quite ironic really considering many of us got into this profession because we love the adventure of hopping on a plane and going somewhere exotic. But I certainly am lucky in that I chose to live in a part of Australia that is simply spectacular. And so I've decided to introduce a different part of my local area every Friday. Hopefully it'll give local Australian photographers some ideas of the next place for a photo shoot, and also encourage those of you who've always wanted to visit Cairns to think beyond the Great Barrier Reef.

So hold my hand as every Friday we take a look at fantastic FNQ - or Far North Queensland. FNQ stretches from Townsville in the south all the way to the tip of Australia at Cape York in the north. It encompasses beaches, rainforests, dry savanna country, urban areas, And it's all amazingly photogenic. Dry for much of the year, the landscape is shaped by the huge floods and cyclones we get in the wet season, which we're just heading into now.

They don't like to tell you about this little fact in all the tourism brochures featuring shiny, happy people frolicking in the sunshine.

But our annual rainy season is what makes this place so beautiful, and the cyclones that come along with it are just a part of life.

This image was taken after one of the biggest - Cyclone Larry - went through. Contrary to what CNN in the US reported the entire state wasn't evacuated, although the small town of Innisfail just down the road from us got walloped pretty horribly. Here in Cairns we all bunkered down in our house until it was over, trying to make it as non-scary as possible for our little boys. After it had gone through we went outside to see the destruction and get on with life again. They're a pretty resilient bunch up this way!

The first thing we noticed was the incredible amount of leaves that were just covering the road in front of our house. I used a wide angle lens to get the whole sweep of the street in and show just how green it all was. I placed my little boy Mirai in the foreground and my wife with her colourful umbrella a bit behind him to add some interest. I love the way the colourful raincoat and umbrella contrast against the green and black of the road.

Not that I would suggest visiting here just to see a cyclone but if you happen to be in town when one hits remember to keep your camera with you because there can be beauty in even the most destructively powerful of events.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How safe is your film?

I've been doing some scanning lately. Getting some of my favourite film images up on my new website. And I've discovered something pretty scary - many of them aren't in as good a condition as I hoped.

In this digital age we're always told to back up up the wazoo in case of terminal hard drive/DVD/CD/Blu-Ray failure. But how many of us are looking after our film archive?

After all many of us were shooting film for a lot longer than we've been shooting digital and have some pretty precious stuff in there. Whether it be pictures of family and friends, treasured moments or just holiday snaps.

Now if you live in the Sahara Desert you're probably doing OK but if you live anywhere that's got a bit of moisture in it you could be breeding fungus. Fungus doesn't just grow in the lunchbox of your kids when you forget to clean it out for a couple of weeks. It also lives in camera lenses and eats film. You can see its fine tendrils stretching out over your trannie like an evil spider web.

And that's what I found on this image above and it took a lot of work in Photoshop to clean it up. Now granted I live in a pretty hot and humid part of the world but I take precautions like putting moisture zapping buckets in the filing cabinet etc. I have a friend who has all his film in an air-conditioned, dehumidified room and he still gets fungus in his slides!

So if you're reading this and thinking you could have a problem I urge you to go and pull out those precious film memories and take a look. And if there are any that are looking suspicious take the time to get them scanned straight away. After all you can always back up your scans on 100 different types of media if you want but once that one film image is gone it's gone forever.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Quality over quantity - the bad photo tax

One thing about digital is it has led us to take ALOT more photos. I mean when you think about it we used to put a roll of film in the camera with a finite 36 exposures in it. And each one of those pictures was costing us money. So we took it easy on the shutter finger. Not any more.

Digital isn't costing us as much to take photographs. Yeah we have to add hard drives and update computers and buy a new camera every couple of years or so, but leave that all aside. If you're happy chugging along on your current camera with your current computer then it really is pretty cheap.

Which means that we tend to take a lot of pictures just because we can but what do we do with all the duds? In the film days we used to edit them all ruthlessly and bin any pictures which didn't make the grade. Experiments that went wrong, camera firing while in the bag, lens cap on! We used to hope we didn't bin too much because....well it was costing us money.

But now with digital we have a tendency to keep everything and photograph everything whether it's a good idea or not. After all we made such an effort to get up early to go out and photograph so we have to shoot something right? What if I charged you money every time you pressed the shutter? Think of it as a bad photo tax. Or more to the point a lack of a good photo idea but let's shoot it anway tax. Would that cut down the number of photos you take? Maybe force you to really think about the photo you're about to take before you press the shutter?

I was thinking this the other day when I went out to photograph sunrise with a friend and former student Warwick. We headed up to the rocky point at the end of Four Mile Beach in sunny Port Douglas. Only it wasn't sunny. It was cloudy, grey and spitting rain. But rather than running around blindly photographing everything we mainly spent time talking and enjoying the view without feeling the need to push the shutter button.

And at the end of a couple of hours what did I come away with? Some OK pics and only one that really made the cut, which is the one above. One of the beauties of digital is that it allows us to experiment and really push the limits of our photography for exactly the reasons that film made it difficult. It doesn't cost us anything. But at the same time that isn't an excuse to just photograph willy-nilly without thinking about what we're doing. Getting one shot that you're really happy with and want to show people is always a lot better than 100 mediocre pics that will just live in the bowels of your heard drive. Quality over quantity.

Oh and if you think the bad photo tax is a good idea please fell free to send me your tax payments. :)