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.