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?