Friday, June 11, 2010

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

It must be that time of the week again. The time where I do my bit for tourism in far north Queensland and show you what an amazing place it is. This week I thought we'd head a bit south to Townsville.

An easy half day's drive from Cairns, Townsville is a world away. Boasting some great tourist attractions and a drier climate than its northerly neighbour, the city is a must-see if you come up this way.

In this gallery I've included some images from my favourite attractions - among them the Reef HQ Aquarium with the world's largest living coral reef exhibit. That's my little boy looking wide-eyed and amazed at the scuba diver cleaning the tank.

And the Museum of Tropical Queensland is another must-see attraction - the kids will love the entrance dinosaur breaking through the wall and the interactive exhibits are great for the whole family.

So enjoy the gallery and remember if you'd like to see any of the pictures larger just click on the slideshow above and it will take you to my home page.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

To make more interesting photos be a more interested photographer.

I was flicking through Rolling Stone magazine today. Like many photographers one of my other great passions is music. I have a pretty eclectic mix of stuff in my iPod and my two young sons walk around singing everything from the Village People to Bollywood to Japanese pop songs!

Anyway the latest edition of the Australian magazine has an interview with the newly re-formed Crowded House. When I was a kid growing up in Melbourne in the 80's I lived for this incredibly talented trio. I used to see the guys regularly around town, particularly the bass player Nick Seymour who used to roller blade near where I used to go windsurfing every weekend.

Anyway it got me thinking about their music and how I could remember and sing (admittedly rather terribly) the lyrics to many of their songs nearly 30 years later. I'm sure we all have songs like that we can relate to. Of course there are the ditties with lyrics like "oo mow ma mow papa oo mow ma mow' that you remember (Surfing Bird for those of you who don't!), but for the most part you remember lyrics because they say something meaningful, something that resonates with you.

And for me this is one of the vital ingredients for a memorable photograph as well. You have to say something memorable beyond this is a nice moment in time. I think to really create images that resonate with people the subject has to resonate with the photographer first and foremost. You have to be interested in what it is you're photographing. To have an opinion about it. Feelings, emotions. Something to convey to the viewer.

And to be able to do that you have to be interested in more than just photography. I know quite a few photographers, both professional and keen amateurs, who are merely interested in creating images. They love the cameras, the technology, the post-processing techniques and plug-ins. But they aren't necessarily enamoured with their subjects. So when they talk about their pictures they tell you about the making of it in terms of the equipment, the lighting position, the f-stop and shutter speed.

I want to hear about the subject. Who was the person? Why are they wearing that amazing costume? What is that building and what is it's history? And that's what I want people to think about when they see my pictures. Of course having a great composition, nice light and a great subject are the objects of any photographer but to move to the next level you need to have that interest factor. That something that moves you so that you can then use your skills to create an image to move other people.

And how do you do this? Be interested. Be passionate. Don't just love photography for photography's sake. Revel in the amazing things in this world and really explore them so that you know what you want to say about them. There's a whole big wide world outside of photography books, blogs and instructional videos. Go and explore it - your photography will thank you for it.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

Are you a cameraman or a photographer?

In Japan they have about a hundred different words for seaweed. Which I guess shows how much they like seaweed. Which is pretty much irrelevant to this post but I thought it was interesting!

But what is interesting is that they also have a couple of different words for somebody who takes photos professionally. They call them either a cameraman or a photographer.

The cameraman is somebody who is technically very proficient at taking photographs. So is the photographer. The cameraman is someone who knows their f-stops, shutter speeds and rule of thirds guidelines off by heart. So is the photographer. So what's the difference?

The cameraman can follow a client's guidelines to the letter and produce a technically perfect image according to what the client says they want. The photographer can most likely do this as well but they're not expected to do just that. You see the cameraman is seen as somebody who is technically very proficient and the kind of person you can rely on to create your dream picture according to your specifications.

The photographer is the person you turn to when you want to be surprised and amazed. The photographer is skilled enough to produce an image to your exact specifications but their real talent only comes out when they're left to their own devices. To create photographs that come from their soul, not from the orders of others.

So which do you want to be? The cameraman who has the technical know-how to replicate any picture you see on Flickr or are asked to create by your clients? Or the photographer who can create something from the bottom of their hearts that will go beyond the wildest expectations of what anybody thought you were possible of imagining.

The real world of commercial travel photography dictates that to a certain extent you need to be able to create pictures that conform to a certain standard. And sometimes you might need to follow the layout or directions of a client. But if you stop there without going beyond and listening to your soul then you'll never get a chance to be a photographer. You'll always be stuck at cameraman. So you need to balance the two.

Just because you're currently really into blurry panning shots doesn't mean that you'll be able to come away from an assignment only shooting that. Or just HDR. Or just images using the wrong white balance. Or whatever your creative juices tell you you should try. But that doesn't mean that you shouldn't shoot that stuff as well. And show it as much as possible. Because chances are if it comes from your heart it will resonate with other people as well. And hopefully you'll get to the stage where people are calling you looking for your personal style. And when that happens you've graduated from cameraman to photographer.

Oh and the reason I posted this image? This was part of a shoot I did for the beautiful Mareeba Wetlands - a manmade haven for birds about an hour out of Cairns. And the client had ideas about the type of images they wanted - and we got those. But I also knew that I wanted a POV shot from one of the canoes because when I had done it for myself I thought it was the most magical thing ever. So during a break I took a canoe out and took this image and it was one of the client's favourites. Trust your instincts, shoot what you love and work towards saying good bye to Cameraman.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Creating motion in a still photograph

There are a few different ways to create a sense of motion in a still photography - most of them using a creative use of shutter speed.

A method that I've been using a bit lately with my young son is using fast shutter speeds to create a series of pictures, and then blending them in post-production to create a still 'video' of his crazy antics.

Now bear in mind that he's just turned 7 and that wall is about 30 feet off the ground and you'll understand why we don't invite his mother down for a look! It was taken yesterday at the Esplanade skateboard park down on the foreshore here in Cairns.

Being a morning shot the bowl is certainly a bit darker than I would like - so I'm planning on coming here in the afternoon one day. Anyway how I do this one.

The first thing is to shoot the entire sequence from drop-in to finish with a really fast shutter speed and a high frame rate - in my case about 7 photos per second. Then you end up with 20 to 30 pictures. You need to have the camera either on a tripod, or held very steady, because everything else in the picture apart from the moving subject has to remain the same in each picture. So no moving! Also it's best to have your camera on Manual exposure so that your exposure will be the same for each image in the sequence. And if you're shooting Jpeg make sure you put it on a preset white balance (not automatic) so the White Balances are the same across all the pictures.

I bring the photos into Bridge and, after re-naming and adding Copyright metadata I open up the images one at a time in Photoshop to start the blending process.

I start with my bottom image - which for convenience sake I always make the last image in the frame. Then I gradually add more images on top of this base to create a multi-layered PSD file. Now you have lots of pictures on top of one another, with only the top one visible.

So to get the multi-sons to all appear in the bottom layer I just have to rub out certain parts of the top layers. And because I've got the camera rock steady the only parts I need to rub through are the bits where my son is. You could use the eraser tool I guess but I tend to use a Layers Mask and paint it black. That way if I mess up I can change my brush colour to white and then paint back the mistake.

Because the background of the picture is exactly the same in each shot you only have to erase the bits where my son is. So that's a tiny little bit of painting each time and you don't have to be too exact because everything around him is exactly the same. Even if you erase an area of the background, because it doesn't change from one layer to the next you'll never notice. Give it a go - it's great fun. You can also use this technique to create a picture with multiple versions of yourself doing funny things all in the one frame. Just put the camera on a tripod and use the self-timer. The only limit is your imagination.