Friday, August 21, 2009

Timing can make all the difference

If you live in a part of the world that's pretty monotone - think white snow, red sand, yellow canola fields - the challenge can be to introduce some contrast into the image.

Here in far north Queensland our colour of choice is green. As you can see from this image we have no problem finding green things to put in our pictures. What we do have though, is trouble finding other colours to put into our compositions to jazz things up a bit.

This is where a bit of patience comes in handy. I took this picture at a place called the Daintree Discovery Centre. I was on assignment for Lonely Planet working on a project to photograph various places in this part of the world for a Qantas in-flight touch screen guidebook.

The centre is in the heart of the beautiful Daintree rainforest and has an amazing walkway through the treetops as well as a tower that looks down from above the rainforest canopy to the walking tracks below.

The problem though is that from up above everything is pretty much the same colour. Impressive with the naked eye, not so good in a tiny picture. Added to that, even on a cloudy day the light levels on the ground are a lot lower than the treetops. So if you expose properly for the upper leaves the ground - and the wooden walking trails - are too dark to register properly. So to show that there's a place where you can walk you need some people. Not just any people mind you - people that stand out enough that you can see straight away what they are. Tiny, dark pin pricks in a corner of a wide-angle shot that you can hardly notice won't do it.

This is where a rainy day comes in handy because the tourists grab their umbrellas. Not everyone mind you. It took fifteen minutes of waiting before somebody (not 1 but 2 people at the same time!) came along with the right paraphernalia. Thank goodness one was yellow because if they'd both had green in them the shot would have been a dud. I kind of wish one had been red but when you leave everything to chance you have to take what you can get.

So when you have a lot of only one colour and you've exhausted your monotone photographs wait around for something different to come into view. How long will you have to wait? That's anybody's guess. Maybe it's time to work on that Law of Attraction theory. :)

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Twittering and stage shows

Alright so the first thing you'll notice is this little button to the right here. It's a Twitter tweet button and a bit of experiment in a way to let you all keep track of when new posts turn up.

Which has nothing much at all to do with today's post but I always get a little bit excited when I try something new! Let me know if it works for you.

Speaking of new, how many of you have tried the challenge of shooting a stage production? They really are great fun to photograph although they can be a little challenging.

The first challenge is the light - or more importantly, the lack thereof. It's usually pretty dark inside so you need to bump up your ISO to get fast enough shutter speeds to stop the action. Here I used an ISO of 400 and was getting shutter speeds of about 1/100th second.

To make sure that you don't get too much noise at the higher ISOs you want to make sure to keep an eye on the histogram. You need to keep your pictures as bright as possible. The darker they are the more noise you're going to see. It's a lot better to darken a bright picture in the computer afterwards than it is to try and lighten up a dark picture.

The lights are usually tungsten or halogen as well which means they'll turn up as bright orange if you're in the Daylight setting on your camera. You can try the Tungsten setting but if that doesn't work shoot Raw and fix it later in the computer.

In terms of metering often stage productions use spot lights. So if you have a large area of black in the frame the camera is going to overexpose the image. You can compensate for this a couple of ways. If you have spot metering on your camera you can put your camera in that mode and spot meter off the people in the spotlight. If you don't then keep an eye on your histogram and dial in some minus exposure compensation if you find your camera over-compensating for all that darkness.

Often photography during a performance can be severely limited or even prohibited. If you get a chance give the theatre a call and ask if you can come and take some shots during a full dress rehearsal. Or if it's a show put on for tourists then you're sure to be allowed to photograph it. Just make sure to use a longer lens so that you can stand far back enough that you're not getting in everybody's way. The front row might look the most attractive but if the stage is raised up you'll be staring up the performers' noses and not getting very good eye-level shots.

For this shot here I was standing up the back of the stage and shooting with a 200mm telephoto zoom. This meant that I was at the same level as the woman on stage, and because I was standing up I wasn't in the way of the other tourists.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Photographing other people's kids

Is it just me or are we getting paranoid about photography and kids in the Western world. Whenever I travel overseas I find photographing kids to be no hassle whatsoever. The kids themselves love the game and their parents seem to love it too. Or maybe it's the way I approach it.

Being a father of two young boys myself I can understand the sensitivity around having a stranger point a camera at the people in this world you most want to protect.

But honestly, some photographers just aren't helping their own cause. I was at a birthday party down on the Cairns foreshore the other day. My 4 year old was playing with a couple of his mates down on the beach and I was keeping half an eye on them from a distance. All of a sudden an elderly lady who was walking away from me comes jogging back to tell me that some pervert is taking photos of my son. Here we go again, I thought, public paranoia about photographers. But although her suspicions were mis-directed in my opinion she was just trying to look out for the safety of young children in a world where the media loves to jump on us 'dodgy photographers'.

Sure enough down the way a bit I could see a young backpacker-type with a long zoom lens pointing in the general direction of my kids. He saw her talking to me and then quickly walked away. Now seriously, I'm a professional travel photographer and understand the joy of photographing kids when you're travelling. There's an unbridled joy in their play that is great to capture in an image and makes a great memory of your trip. But if you don't get permission from the parents beforehand what are they supposed to think?

Now I don't know if paedophiles carry zoom lenses. Everything I've read says that they seem to have camera phones held low but how the hell would I know? If you want to photograph children (and why not I say?) then find out who's looking after them, go up and explain what you want to do and get their permission. Offer to show them the pictures afterwards and send them some copies. Give them a card with your details on it so they can email you for copies.

The world is ganging up against photographers for no sensible reason whatsoever. Don't contribute to the problem by making us all seem suspicious. Be open and proud of what you do as a hobby. Take joy in the art of photography. But, most importantly, go and find their guardian and get permission. If that guy down the beach the other day had just come up to me and asked I wouldn't have minded whatsoever and I'm betting that many parents will be just as cool about it if they know what you're doing.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Monday's Links

Here's a great little piece on 20+ non-photographic essentials for location photography. Not all of them are going to be relevant if you're a documentary-style travel photographer, but if you have any aspirations on entering the commercial travel world then there's some great tips here.

And if you ever wanted to know how to be a really bad travel writer then head over here! I love the one about not reading good travel writing. 'It’s true that reading good writing can make you a better writer, but it will only serve to make you frustrated.' Priceless. Likewise never look at good photography - tongue firmly in cheek here. :)

And here's a great post about giving back to other photographers. The main reason I started the blog is to give back to a great photographic community. There are no secrets here folks. Ask me and I'll tell you - if I know the answer. If I don't I'll just make it up. :) Seriously though, there's nothing as rewarding for me as helping a fellow photographer out. Whether it be with a technique, or advice on launching a career. I certainly don't profess to have all the answers (or even half of them!) but when I do have a bit of experience in certain areas I'm more than happy to pass it on and would encourage you all to do the same.