Thursday, July 22, 2010

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

Here in Cairns we're right in the middle of the annual Cairns Show. Some people call it a carnival, some a fair. Whatever you call it it's a fun place filled with animals, rides, showbags and lots of sugar-filled treats.

The Friday is always a local public holiday and thousands turn out to enjoy the day. In fact it's Australia's largest regional Show and a photographer's paradise.

The hardest thing about photographing the show is having enough equipment to be able to cover all kinds of lighting conditions without weighing yourself down so much that you can't walk! This image was taken late at night using a slow shutter to give that blurred effect, followed by a short, sharp burst of flash to freeze the motion of the people on the ride. Which means that I carried a tripod around all day. No way you can get out of it I'm afraid! This image was featured in the Australian Society of Travel Writers' annual calendar a couple of years back and is one of my favourite pics from one of my favourite events.

My boys will probably be up at the crack of dawn raring to go. You see they came with me the other day to wait around while I judged the photographic competition. None of the rides or anything were set up but the show bags were being laid out and they saw the Super Mario Bros. one and that's all I've heard about every since!

I've judged the photographic competition at the Cairns Show a few times over the years and it's always a great pleasure to get together with a couple of colleagues and express our (often vocal) opinions on which images deserve a gong. This year was no different and my fellow judges Frank Harrison and John Cornwell were great fun to judge with. Frank's a nature photographer so he had strong opinions on that section, me being the travel photographer became pretty opinionated when any image was taken overseas, and John is an expert in portrait photography.

At the end of the day when it comes down to the top few places it's pretty much always subjective. It's not really the judge's job to say categorically whether one photograph is better than another, just which one appeals to them more. So just because you don't get first with one set of judges doesn't mean you won't with another set.

I noticed something about the way I viewed the photographs this year. I've always been a sucker for sharpness in photographs. For me photographers like John Shaw with his rock-solid technique and razor sharp images have always been something to aspire to. So I found it interesting this year that I tended to be attracted to those which struck an emotion with me first and foremost, and very often that was the picture that was quite soft.

I also gravitated to those taken in beautiful light, which is something that has always been appealing to me. I don't care how spectacular a beach is, if you shoot it in the middle of the day it's just not going to appeal to me. Get up before sunrise and show me some spectacular light though and I'll sit up and pay attention.

If you go along to the Cairns Show pop into the photo competition and you can see which ones we liked. It would be great to hear if you agree with us or not.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Forget about the big steps in your photography career

As artists, and I hope you all consider yourself artists no matter what stage you are in your photography learning curve, we tend to the dramatic.

Yes, no matter how sensible and calm we may seem on the outside when it comes to our photography, and in particular our desire to share our work with the world, we can tend toward the melodramatic.

By that I mean that we're often thinking about the 'what if' and letting the fear of what might happen hold us back. For example we might have a wife and kids. We'd really like to work as travel photographers but what happens when a magazine calls and wants to send us away for two weeks to Outer Mongolia. What will my family think? Will I have to give them up to follow my dream? Or will I have to abandon my dream to be with my family?

Or maybe you live in a non-capital city area - even a rural town. You'd like to submit your work to a stock library but if it takes off then will you have to move to a big city to make a proper living. What if you don't want to live in a big city? What if you're happy where you are? How will you ever choose?

Even if those two examples don't ring true I'm sure you can think of some other great drama you've created in your head that stops you doing what you really want to with your photography. Guess what. It's all in your head. I know because it's often in my head as well. That's just how we artists are.

It's that fear of who knows what that's really talking to us. By imagining some diabolical moral dilemma down the track it makes it easier to put off doing something positive today to set us on the right path. Yes some time down the track you might get a call to go to Outer Mongolia, or you might not. One thing's for sure - you'll never get the call if you don't do something today to set you on that path.

The trick is to forget the grandiose plans. The real answer is in the little details. The step-by-step progression that sees your photography improve, your confidence increase and your horizons widen. I don't know anybody doing this who one day decided to become a pro and the next day all their wildest photographic fantasties came true. Instead we all got here over a long period of time, with small boosts to our careers (along with our fair share of setbacks) and confidence that got us to a position of full-time vocation.

So instead of worrying about whether you're going to have to break up your family, move to a new city or shed your current life in some way, shape or form take a deep breath. And make one small, positive step towards where you want to go. Choose some pictures for your portfolio. Order some prints. Look at some magazines to see which ones use similar work to what you shoot. Keep your eyes out for interesting subjects in your local area. Work on your off-camera flash technique. Doesn't really matter what it is as long as it's small and doable.

Then get into the habit of doing it every single day. Don't worry about the big picture, just concentrate on the little details. And before you know it you'll be on that escalator where working towards your dream becomes a part of your persona, rather than just dreaming about what might be and being afraid of it.

Oh and why this picture? This is a sculpture on top of the Asahi beer building in Asakusa, Tokyo, Japan. It's affectionately known as the Golden Turd. I bet the sculptor in his wildest dreams never imagined something he put his heart and soul into would be named after faeces. And if he did I don't think he would have started to create it in the first place. Sometimes it's good not to know what your future holds!