Friday, January 15, 2010

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

Welcome to the first Fantastic FNQ photo Friday for 2010. For those of you who don't know FNQ stands for Far North Queensland - an area at the very top of Australia which I call home and spend a lot of time photographing.

It extends roughly from Townsville in the south all the way to the tip of Cape York at the very northern end of the country.

One of the most beautiful parts of FNQ is the amazing Daintree National Park. A world-heritage listed tropical rainforest it truly is an incredible place.

One of the hardest things about photographing rainforests though is the mono-tones. It's all green! Luscious, beautiful green to be sure but all the one colour.

To break it up so that it looks appealing photographically we often try to break it up by creating images around rivers and waterfalls. Another option is to get up above the forest at the amazing Daintree Discovery Centre. This is an amazing interpretive centre which has a boardwalk through the tops of the trees as well as a tower that goes even higher.

Yesterday's post was all about getting your camera into unusual positions - well there's no position more unusual in the Daintree than this. And just as a disclaimer here folks I have no affiliation with the centre, they don't even know about me I'm sure. I'm just telling like it is - definitely worth a visit and fantastic photography to be had.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Getting your camera underwater

The world is awash with photos. Everybody and their dog has a digital camera and snaps away willy nilly with it.

So how do you make your images stand out from the pack? One way is to come up with a different viewpoint - to get your camera somewhere other people don't.

One option is to take your camera underwater. You don't need to have a really expensive underwater housing with lots of strobe equipment. If you've got a point and shoot digital you can often find small housings for quite a low cost.

For those shooting with DSLR's one option is the Ewa-Marine bag. I've used one of these handy bags on a few commercial photo shoots, and often take it with me on trips just in case there's an opportunity for me to get wet.

The camera fits in pretty snugly and you can put a flash on top as well. It's pretty hard to push all the buttons on a digital camera so you'll want to set everything up before you go. For these shots of my youngest playing in our pool I put the ISO on 200, turned the flash off and just let 'er rip.

One thing to keep in mind is that when you're shooting underwater things get pretty murky pretty quickly. In other words you can't use a telephoto lens and shoot stuff 50 metres away. You need to put the wide angle lens on and get as close as you can. In this case I had the Canon 10-22mm extreme wide-angle on. I tend to not zoom all the way out to 10mm because it vignettes at the corners where the edges of the glass port get in the way.

One thing I can never stress enough is always play with a new piece of kit before you take it away. Get to know it so that you can use it instinctively when you get to your destination. Playing around with it in my back yard let me see that it's pretty hard to see the LCD so I just used it to check the histogram.

I also found that even though you can go up to 50 metres down with the bag I found it easiest to use when I was floating on the surface and had the boys come up to me. It's pretty hard to stay down unless you have a weight belt on. Allen Murabayashi over at the Photoshelter blog took his Ewa-Marine bag for a surf.

These bags aren't dirt cheap but if you're looking for a great way to get your camera somewhere different then it's a great investment. Oh, and they're great for self-portraits too! :)

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Portraits with a wide angle lens

One thing that writing a blog does for you is help you to see how you view the world. When you spend a lot of time looking through your images you tend to notice patterns in terms of the way you use lenses, light and composition.

And browsing through my pictures of people the other day I was struck by something that I had never noticed before.

How I managed to miss it I have no idea but looking at these pictures all together it struck me square in the face. I don't see portraits as close-ups of people. I see them as shots taken with a wide angle lens showing the environment that surrounds people. Where they work, how they live, the world that shapes them.

It had never occured to me before but even though my all time photographer is Steve McCurry
(as I'm sure it is for many of us) his straight portraits with their shallow depth-of-field and piercing gazes aren't the pictures that move me. It's the ones where the people are smaller in the frame and are a part of the whole that surrounds them.

I suppose a psychiatrist would give some reason why this would be so but for the moment I'm taking it as a bit of a challenge. I'll continue to photograph people with a wide-angle lens but once I have the picture I envisioned I'm going to stick a telephoto lens on and practice at making close-up portraits. I don't know whether I'll enjoy it or not but figure it could be an opportunity to expand my vision. It's one thing to know how to do it, it's a completely different ballgame to produce something that you feel proud of, and something that resonates with you.

How about you? If you went back and looked over your pictures - particularly those that were of a common subject - do you think you'd come up with a common way of shooting them? Maybe it's time to break the mould a little bit and try shooting that subject in a different way. If you're in a rut it could be a great way to get the juices flowing again.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Telling a story at the theatre

If you're on assignment for either a magazine, or a commercial client, you can often tee it up so that you can photograph backstage, at dress rehearsals etc.

But when you're travelling by yourself, or with say a tour group, you won't usually get the same opportunity. So you have to photograph what everybody else sees.

The challenge then becomes to tell a complete story of the experience that goes beyond just a snap shot. As photographers we tend to concentrate on the main event - the performers on stage. But just photographing the pretty costumes and close-up portraits of the actors doesn't show what the experience is like as an audience member.

To do that you need to take the telephoto lens off and switch to the wide-angle. Because you won't be allowed to get up on stage you will need a way of fitting both the audience and the stage into the same frame and the wider the lens the easier this is to do.

One of the problems you encounter when you get both the stage and the audience in the same frame is the difference in light levels. The stage is hit by all sorts of lights, whereas the audience basically gets no direct lighting. It's all spill from the stage meaning that the first few rows are reasonably well lit, gradually fading to black the farther back you go.

By having both well-lit members of the audience, as well as darker areas behind them, you can give a feeling of intimacy and what it's like to sit in a darkened room and watch a performance so don't feel that you should only include the first few rows in your composition.

Keep an eye on your histogram to make sure that the stage isn't too bright too. Let your blacks fade to black rather than blow out the actors on stage. If you time these wide angle shot for quieter parts of the performance (helps if you have a programme of events) then you can get back to your long lens close-ups when the action is in full swing.

Monday, January 11, 2010

My blog plans for the year...

Well dear blog readers, if you're still here after such a long period of sporadic posts then I truly thank you.

Christmas and New Years is always pretty hectic and finding the time and motivation to sit down and blog proved to be more difficult than I thought it would be.

For the past two years I have pretty much posted a picture every single week day of the year! That's a lot of posts and I think it all just caught up with me.

Anyway I'm back on track and looking forward to another year of travel photography and adventures.

As far as my plans for the blog go for the next 12 months, I'm hoping to get a bit more back to my roots. The reason I started the blog in the first place. To post images that I like and talk a little bit about them. The technical stuff certainly, but just as importantly the feeling behind the image and what I wanted to convey.

On the technical side of things I'll be assuming that people are pretty familiar with terms like aperture, shutter speed, focal length, wide angle, telephoto. So the posts will be for an intermediate audience predominantly but that doesn't mean if you're a beginner you're not going to get a lot out of it - just that you might need to reach for your instruction manual every so often. :)

Mostly when I find other interesting websites and snippets of interest I tend to post that on my Twitter feed. I just find it easier to hit that old Retweet button and it means I can post a few in one day rather than save a week's worth up and post them all in one hit. Having said that I'll still stick lots of link in my general posts so you can go and find other sources of information.

I'll also do posts every now and again on how the profession of a travel photographer works. This one is a constantly moving target with many of our traditional markets drying up. Magazines are folding, newspapers are becoming giant corporation-run behemoths and the stock industry has seen an incredible increase in the supply of travel images but not such an increase in the demand. So of course that means a depression in prices. So I'll try to keep you all linked in to how things seem to be going.

But the essence of the next 12 months will be on travel photography and how it enriches all our lives. Hopefully I'll have some pictures to inspire you and some comments and we'll continue to grow this little community of ours.

So if you know of anybody who loves travel photography send them our way. Here's to a great 2010 and I look forward to getting to know as many of you as possible.