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.