Friday, September 9, 2011

Fantastic FNQ photo Friday

People often forget that the road north doesn't stop at Cairns, or even Cooktown for that matter. In fact it goes all the 
way to the very tip of Australia. The pristine wilderness of Cape York is truly spectacular and one of the most amazing 
sights up there are these giant termite mounds on the flood plains. This beautiful mound was deep in the heart of the 
Aurukun Wetlands, on the banks of the Archer River.
Cape York is one of this country's last wild places and if you ever get a chance to drive off the bitumen north of Cooktown 
then I definitely recommend you do it. Click over to my website if you'd like to see more photographs of
the beautiful Aurukun Wetlands.
Oh and if you'd like to follow me on Have Camera Will Travel's Facebook fan page come on over! There's plenty of tidbits
that get posted there that don't make it to the blog and it's an easier place to have lots of great conversations
about photography. 

Thursday, September 8, 2011

It doesn't have to be flashy to be good.

Last week I had a couple of editorial portrait assignments for the latest edition to the Cairns' magazine world - Cairns Life magazine.

Just like the boy scouts I always like to be prepared - and when it comes to photography that usually means being able to light your images.

Often relying on natural light just isn't an option unless you happen to be blessed with some really good luck! And that rarely happens indoors.

So I come armed with a bucket-load of speedlites, light stands, umbrellas, gridspots, snoots, gobos. Lots of paraphernalia that fortunately all fits into one long sausage bag that I can fit over my shoulder.

And I'm always ready to do something dramatic with the image. Tight beams of light, dark backgrounds. Creating contrast where none exists.

And the danger in that is you can let your desire to play with your gadgets take over the purpose of the picture - which is to bring out the inner quality of your subject. As soon as I met Joann Pyne, the Director of the Tropical North Queensland TAFE I immediately knew that her gorgeous outfit and the fabulous artwork on the wall was way better than anything I could artificially create with dramatic lighting.

So this is an homage to great portrait subjects and simplicity in our lighting. One speedlite through a see-through umbrella and the rest natural light. Sometimes we don't need to be fancy to produce flattering portraits. The geek in us hates it but our clients love it.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Phottix Strato II Radio Triggers

I don't tend to do gear reviews. One because I'm not really a gear head. I tend to buy equipment and use it as it was designed, a tool to help me create images that I love. And two, I'm not particularly technically minded when it comes to that equipment. I don't read DXO charts when evaluating lenses or cameras. I give them a whirl and pick the ones I like the best.

But every so often I come across a piece of gear that intrigues me and I lay down some cold, hard cash to figure out if they're as good as they seem. Sometimes I get it right and sometimes I get it wrong.

In this particular case I definitely got it right. As long-time readers of this blog will know I fell in love with off-camera flash a couple of  years ago after being converted by David Hobby over at Strobist. Not much revolutionary there - many of us followed the same path.

But I was always a TTL guy. Before I really knew what I was doing I bought the Canon infrared trigger (known as the ST-E2) and have been using it pretty successfully for a number of years. Sure it has its limitations but Syl Arena's book  Speedliter's Handbook: Learning to Craft Light with Canon  Speedlites showed me what I could do with a long TTL cord from (Wow I think I've just mentioned more gear in one paragraph then I usually do in a whole year!)

Anyway for the most part I was managing to work around its limitations. But I had an environmental portrait shoot the other day where I needed to light the inside of an ambulance whilst the portrait subject was outside the ambulance. And I found it really difficult to get line-of-sight with that interior flash and ended up having to put it in not-quite the optimum position. It still worked OK in the end thanks to a bit of ingenuity but I thought 'there's got to be a better way'.

But I didn't want to sacrifice the advantages of TTL and run everything manually off radio triggers. And I couldn't justify spending a small fortune to have a whole series of Radio Poppers. I sat down and worked out what I really needed, and that was a TTL fired key light and fill, with the option to manually trigger background lights in awkward places. But I couldn't find anything that would let me do that.

Until I stumbled across these. Again, I'm not the most technical of photographers so forgive me if I mess up the mechanics of how these babies work but in a nutshell they have some sort of TTL pass-through system which lets you place the trigger on the hotshoe of your camera and the receiver on a remote flash. The remote flash will be fired in Manual mode by the radio signal from the trigger. No biggie there - that's how all radio triggers work.

But here's the thing that I fell in love with - the trigger (which is on my camera) has a hotshoe on the top of it into which I can then plug a TTL flash or a TTL trigger. So I can fire my TTL flashes the same as I always have, whilst at the same time firing hidden flashes manally. A beautiful combination of TTL and radio trigger technology.

It's enabled me to pull a couple of Canon 540EZ flashes (which don't work in TTL on digital cameras) out of my cupboard and bring them into my speedlite line-up. And it works brilliantly. I've tested them successfully up to about 100 metres or so through walls not a problem. I can't wait to think of new compositions I can make now that I'm not limited to only using line-of-sight flashes but still having the convenience of using TTL for those flashes that are close to the camera.

Oh, and the triggers can also be used to remotely fire the camera. I haven't thought of a way to utilise that function yet but believe me I've got the thinking cap on!

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

The real value of beautiful photography

What is our motivation for photographing something? More importantly what is our motivation for photographing something well? I think it's all about love and respect. We want to show all those positive emotions we feel about a place, a person, an event. I'm sure there must be people who photograph things they hate but I photograph things I love.

And I'm not satisfied until I produce an image that shows my subjects in the best possible light. The kind of image that when people look at it they'll understand how wonderful I think it is.

I think that snapping a mediocre image of something is akin to showing a lack of respect for it. You don't have enough love for it that you can be bothered to make the effort to create a fantastic image. And let's not beat around the bush here. Fantastic photography takes a fantastic effort. You can't just expect to get up at 10 and pop out and take landscape photographs that are going to wow people off their seats. And you can't just walk up to a loved one standing in harsh midday sunlight, push the shutter and expect to come away with an image that does them justice.

So why are we surrounded by so much mediocrity? If you look at your own pictures and you don't well up with emotion when you remember how beautiful it was, chances are a judge looking at your pictures isn't going to be moved either. If you're a company and you look at your own advertising material and it doesn't make your heart skip a beat when you see how beautiful it looks...well I don't think your customers are going to feel anything either.

Photography has never been easier or more accessible. Point and shoot and something will turn out. But like newspapers that have a life of one day, how many of your 'snaps' will stand the test of time. How many of your cheap photos will increase your bottom line? To get the supreme photograph you need to make the supreme effort. And it might take more sweat and cost more money (though probably less sleep!) but at the end of the day you'll have created an image that truly shows the love and respect you feel for the things that you want to share with the world.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Night time festival photography - it's a breeze!

I love photographing festivals. The light, the colour,the action. And one of the great things about photographing at night is that it's often easier than shooting during the day! A lot of people think that it must be harder but using a couple of tricks can set you up to concentrate on catching the action without having to worry about your camera settings.

Because you'll be shooting with a flash the first thing you need to do is match the light coming from your flash with the surrounding ambient. Many festivals are lit by the kind of lights that show up orange under a daylight white balance. But the light coming out of our flash is a cool blue colour in comparison and looks really unnatural. So the trick is to put a little bit of orange gel (or cellophane) over your flash head to get closer to matching it to the surrounding light. That way your flash won't look so unnatural. The trick is find the right shade of orange - too strong and your subjects will look like oompah-loompahs! But find the right shade and your night time flash pictures will look great.

Speaking of that ambient light - there's nothing worse than gaping black backgrounds. As much as possible you need to let that ambient light burn into your exposure - which means that you'll need a slow enough shutter speed for the background to be bright enough, without being so slow that your subjects are blurred. To do that you'll probably need to bump your exposure up as well.

But once you've found the right settings for the lighting conditions here's the great thing - they often don't change. The same lights are used for the whole festival so, once you've found the right ISO and shutter speed to give you a nice bright background, if you then put your camera into Manual Exposure and dial those settings in they'll last you the whole night. I often dial in an ISO of 400 and an exposure of 1/60 second or so and and aperture of about f8 and that lets enough light in to capture the background.

So you've gelled your flash, your ISO shutter speed, aperture and ISO are set and you're ready to go. Unless you suddenly find yourself in a much brighter or darker place you should be able to use those settings all night and all you have to worry about is your composition and look for those great moments.

Pop over to my site to see more of my festival photographs.

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