Friday, September 18, 2009

A morning's shoot

I got up at the wonderful hour of half past four this morning and took myself for a drive up to the Atherton Tablelands. Even when I don't have an assignment I try to get out and about and photograph the local area to build up my collection of Cairns stock photography images.

Anyway it turned out to be a pretty ordinary morning. Grey skies, drizzling rain and not a hint of sunrise over the two volcanic lakes of Lake Barrine and Lake Eacham. Still I managed to get a couple of nice shots, including one with my favourite model. :) I hope your weekend photography is a bit more successful.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Know what your lenses do and what you want to say

One of the aims of any aspiring travel photographer is to get to the stage where composition, exposure and focus are all instinctual. But before you get to that stage you need to become instinctual in your choice of lens.

In order of things I think about focal length is definitely first. Just by changing your lens you can completely change your image and what you want to say about the subject in front of you.

Take this image here. It was shot with a wide-angle lens. How can you tell? Because the wide-angle increases the apparent distance between objects. How far away does the tip of the peninsula look? A long way away. And that's the feeling I wanted to impart. To show how long and thin this peninsula of land extending from the coastline is. And by placing some people in the foreground I wanted to show that this is a place where people come to enjoy the view.

But if you look really closely you can see a path leading out along that peninsula all the way to the very end. And at the very end there is a lighthouse, stuck in a very precarious position all the way at the end. The wide-angle lens doesn't show either of those things very well at all. So if you wanted to say 'wow look at this amazing path that goes all the way to the end of a peninsula where there's a groovy lighthouse' well this picture has failed at that.

To do that you need to change lenses. The telephoto compresses the perspective, making things look a lot closer to each other than they really are. So our peninsula no longer looks long and thin. In fact you can't really tell it's length at all because everything is so squashed together.

What you can see now though is that meandering path and how it wanders up and down and over hill and down dale to get you to that lighthouse at the other end. So this is a photo that tells you if you want to go and see the lighthouse at the end of Kamui Peninsula in Hokkaido, Japan - well you're gonna have to be pretty darn fit and like walking a lot.

So if you imagine your pictures in a magazine layout they both have different captions. The first picture says ' Kamui Peninsula is a long, thin finger of land that extends from the rugged Hokkaido coastline and is a popular place for tourists to sit and take in the view.' The caption for the second picture reads something like 'The walk to the end of Hokkaido's Kamui Peninsula is not for the faint of heart. It's steep, long and will test even the fittest of day trippers who have to make it there and back before the tour bus leaves them behind.'

Different thing you're trying to say, totally different lens choice. Oh and did I do the walk? Unfortunately it was closed that day because of strong winds so I never got to. Would I have? I'll leave that to your imagination - but just one point about travel photography. If you want something new and original you have to go where not many people do.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Choose your subject for the lighting conditions

This one was taken on the weekend. The local Rotary club have a huge rubber ducky race down at the local Esplanade pool on Cairns' foreshore every September.

For $5 you can buy a rubber ducky, which along with 5000 others will get dropped into the pool from a net hung overhead by a giant crane. The wind blows them all down the pool (with a bit of human help) and the first ducky to make it to the other end wins themselves a prize.

Like most events of this type, they're held at a time of the day that's not particularly photography friendly. In this case it was 3 in the afternoon which might be nice and soft if you live up near the Arctic circle but this close to the equator it's pretty harsh.

So the trick in these types of circumstances is to look for compositions that avoid a lot of shadows. Because we have bright sunshine that immediately says that you've gotta have everything out in the open, or everything in the shade. So it's no use photographing the ducks when they're in the shade of a building because half the frame will be in the dark and half in the light. Too much contrast for the sensor to handle. So you gotta wait until the ducks move down to the pool into the light.

Even then the bright yellow ducks are SO bright that the rest of the frame tends to go a little bit darker than it is in real life. In this case you might need to do a bit of work in Curves (or use the Shadow/Highlight tool in Photoshop) to bring those shadows back up a bit. And keep an eye on that histogram to make sure you don't overexpose and lose the highlights.

Here I'm working with a wide-angle lens which means, compositionally, I need to get as close as I can to something. Preferably something interesting, in this case the ducks themselves. So that involved getting right up on the edge of the pool and leaning out across the ducks - all the while hoping that nobody would push me in for a laugh!

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sneaky travel photography

Here's the thing they don't tell you about travel photography. It's kind of a solo pursuit. You tend to wander around for hours on your own, getting in the zone and photographing away.

Not that you'd ever tell your closest and dearest this but they kinda get in the way. In the nicest possible way (if you're reading this dear!). It's really difficult for us photography buffs to take a holiday (ie a trip to somewhere other than the local supermarket) without a camera.

In fact we positively get withdrawal symptoms if we have to leave the hotel room in some exotic city without being loaded down with bodies and lenses galore.

Which is a bit frustrating for your travel partners who don't share your enthusiasm - especially the little ones. Which can lead to disparaging comments and general harassment every time you take more than two seconds to get a shot off - unless...

The sneaky way to get as much time as you want to photograph when on holiday is to point the lens in the right direction. The right direction according to your better half that is. And that direction would be? Anywhere your kids are. :)

In all seriousness though, photographing your own kids on holiday is great practice for children photography in general. They're already used to you sticking a big lens in their face so they basically ignore you. You get to sign the model releases yourself which means you don't have to ask complete strangers to. Your better half will give you lots of hugs and kisses for being so dedicated at preserving such precious memories. And you get to take your camera wherever you go.

The trick with photographing the kids when you travel is to let everything unfold naturally. Because they're your own you can direct them a little bit, but get too demanding and they'll get cranky, the other half will get cranky and you'll be back in camera-ban land. So as much as possible let things pan out by themselves.

Wait until the kids are doing something that they're totally engrossed in. Here my little boy has just had a Chinese seal with his name on it carved and is paying for it. He has absolutely no concept of money but knows it has some kind of value so was very proud when he handed it over like a big boy. Buying something gave me an opportunity to photograph the carver as he was working. I knew when he was finished that my son would be dying to pay so set myself up on the opposite side of the table and waited for the moment.

Digital photography means that the kids (and other half) will be dying to see how the pictures turned out and to improve on it next time. They actually suggest to you to start photographing. And while you may not want to come home with only shots of the family (ooh I didn't say that!) just by having the camera out and dedicating some time to recording the great family occasion gives you permission to photograph other stuff as well. Hell you might even get some time off to go out by yourself if you do a really good job on the kids. :)

You don't have to be sneaky to be a travel photographer but sometimes it helps!

Oh and for those who don't know you can also follow me on Twitter where I post a heap of great links to photography sites that I don't mention here.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Monday's links

First of all I thought I'd send you to the Photoshelter site to see what the folks there have to say about the fine art of travel photography.

It talks a little about the Photoshelter Collection, which was a stock agency set up by the group that no longer exists but it's a great article to give you some hints on what kind of things to look for in your own images.

Secondly I thought I'd send you over to the Livebooks site to see a great interview with Chris Rainier. Chris is a National Geographic Fellow who has some great insights into using technology to preserve ancient cultures. The imagery is amazing and will have you wanting to jump a plane to PNG. Only a tad north of me and I haven't got around to getting there yet.

Unlike my wonderful friend Susan Turner who has spent the past few decades living and photographing amongst the people. A truly remarkable women with astoundingly beautiful imagery