Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The year that was...Part 2

It's a funny thing about the photographic industry. Many professionals like to make it look glamorous, exciting and one big adventure. Sure it can be all those things, but the reality for the majority of working travel photographers is that they have a few more strings to their bow. I don't know anyone who makes a full-time living just doing travel photography. Maybe back in the day when travel stock photography was valued a lot higher, but in this day of microstock and free imagery? I have friends who were regularly making a half a million dollars a year in travel stock who would now be lucky to clear a hundred grand a year.

But there's no point complaining about the world and how it has turned. Established pros know that if they want to continue to shoot exciting travel work then they need to do other jobs that pay more money. Which is not to say that they choose any old type of photography that will pay the bills. Some lead photographic tours and workshops, some shoot weddings, some write travel articles (although there's not much money there either!) and some do like I do, specialise in a whole other genre.

One of my favourite parts of travel photography is the opportunity to meet new and interesting people. People living lives that allow them to follow their own passion, much as I have always tried to do with my photography. I love the interaction with these people and the chance to learn something new.

When I'm on the road, however, I don't usually carry much lighting equipment with me. A couple of speedlights and a trigger set is about it. So when I'm here in Cairns I like nothing more than to get on my photographic geek suit and get jiggy with the lighting!

It's a totally different mindset to the documentary style of travel work I do, where I sit around a lot and wait for things to happen. With my environmental portraiture in Cairns I make it happen. I get together with the client first and we discuss who the person is we're going to photograph, what kind of work they do, what kind of props we might use and the type of lighting that will complement the concept. I absolutely love it because it frees me to be creative at a level that often is not possible when you're at the whim of whatever situation you find yourself in.

So this year I've found myself photographing everyone from some of the foremost experts in tropical rainforests in the world, PhD students in conflict resolution and terrorism, turtle rehabilitation experts and people studying the venom of giant funnel web spiders to find a cure for breast cancer! It truly has been a fascinating year and I have learnt so much about so many fields that I knew nothing about.

So below I present to you some of my favourite images from what has been an amazing year with many incredible opportunities to meet, photograph and get to know some truly amazing people.

This is a wonderful lady by the name of Jennie Gilbert. Jennie runs a turtle rehabilitation centre here in Cairns. When I took this photograph she had a few tanks under a makeshift shade cloth in an industrial part of town. Kindly donated by local businesses but not a perfect place for either turtles or photography! I'm happy to report she now has a beautiful facility out on Fitzroy Island.

This is Lance Cochrane. We only had a few minutes to photograph Lance, who had just flown up from Sydney for his graduation from James Cook University. One of their business graduates, Lance had just opened up his own brewery.

Now this was a fun one to shoot. This young bloke is Neerim Callope and he is going to be a dead set superstar. He plays basketball, touch football, beach volleyball, netball. You name it, he does it, and really, really well. At this years National Indigenous Tertiary Education Student Games (NITESG), which I had the pleasure of photographing this year, he just about cleaned up every single award.

For this shot the lovely soft light hitting Neerim is three speedlights on a Lastolite tri-flash firing through a giant see-through umbrella, all held down with copious amounts of sandbags! I'd love to tell you that he did actually manage to throw the ball over his shoulder and get it in but the truth is that it was actually my good friend Kerry Trapnell who'd come to help me for the gig.

Here's a couple of shots from those NITESG games, hosted by James Cook University in Cairns this year. It was a really fun week and I got to shoot some great sports action. For the basketball work I actually had two speedlights on either side of the court lighting it up for me because it was so dark in there there was no other way I could have photographed it. I have to thank David Hobby for his tips on how to do that one!

Without a doubt one of the most difficult things I face is how to make a plain white laboratory look interesting. I mean, they are pretty much all alike. They have lots of white walls and shiny machines. Interesting maybe for people who work in the field, but visually pretty damn boring. In this case the screen and exercise bike were in the corner of a giant empty laboratory! Even more exciting. So what I did was get rid of all the ambient light so that everything not lit by the flash turned to pitch black. I set my exposure to give me a good rendition of the screen, which is showing a section of the Hawaiian Ironman, which my subject Glen Deakin was about to compete in. I had a key light flash on the left which was covered with an orange gel. I had another orange-gelled flash behind Glen giving some detail to his back and the underside of his forearm. And the groovy yellow light in his hair? I placed him in the direct path of the overhead projector to make things even more interesting.

And last of all probably my most exciting shoot of the year! Although a couple of bitter fruit might not look that exciting. Norelle Daly is studying a couple of things to find out if they might provide a suitable cure for breast cancer. One of the things she's studying is these here bitter fruit. Now normally labs are all white, but halfway through the shoot the guys were complaining about how they hate this one little splash of green wall - slightly wider than a person. I nearly jumped up with job when I noticed that the wall was exactly the same colour as the fruit! I know, it doesn't take much to excite me. :) This was lit with one umbrella on Norelle and the fruit, and another on the wall in the background. Not a portrait per se but I love this image.

Oh and the other thing she is studying?

Funnel web spiders if you don't mind! This is David, who works with Norelle. This was taken with a telephoto lens to make the spider look nice and big! It was also macro so it's a combination of two shots - one focussing on the spider and one of David. The spider was so co-operative it stood up like this for a good 30 minutes as we got a heap of shots. I've never had a better model!

So that was my 2012 of envrionmental portraits in Cairns. I hope you enjoyed some of my little projects and enjoyed a different side of my photography. Both an integral part of my vision as a photographer but very different in terms of execution and mindset.

I wish everybody a great 2013 and hope you continue to come back here to see what I get up to over the next 12 months.

Monday, December 31, 2012

The year that was....Part1

Well another year has gone. So long 2012, hello 2013. As I'm sure it was for many photographers, this past year has been one of challenge, change, great photographic opportunities and a lot of fun. I thought I would share with you some of my favourite images from the past 12 months. Some of it travel, some of it editorial portraiture, and some from my private vault of family pics. Because my family are the people who allow me to do what I do. They give me the inspiration to come up with new ways of seeing the world, the encouragement to keep going when things are tough, and the pats on the back when I score a home run or two.


What can I say about this tropical paradise? It was one part of Japan I'd never been to before and when my wife suggested we go and take a look I was jumping up and down. The top image is from the Churaumi Aquarium and is definitely one of my favourite shots of the year. Three fully grown whale sharks in the world's largest tank? Pretty hard to top. Below are some more of my favourites from that trip.

Churaumi Aquarium backs on to the ocean, and much of its sea water is pumped into the park and then out again in a giant recycling system. Many of the tanks are open to sunlight above as well, which means that gorgeous rays slice down into the water to create beautiful natural effects.

This is another favourite from that day. Next to the giant Kuroshio Tank (where the whale sharks live) is a cafe where you can sit and have your lunch and watch giant grouper, Manta Rays and giant tuna swim by. A truly amazing sight.

Another wonderful attraction on the main island of Okinawa is Ryukyu Mura (Village), a historical museum/theme park set up to show what life was like in the Ryukyu Islands centuries ago. Many of the houses are original dwellings brought from the surrounding countryside brick by brick. This man is a wandering minstrel who entertains the crowds.

This lady performed a traditonal Rykyu dance on stage for visitors. Afterwards my ham of a son got a chance to go up and show his skills!


My second big trip to Japan this year was Kyoto, Nara and then up to Hokkaido for 3 weeks or so. As regular readers of my blog will know, my wife's family lives in Sapporo so we visit every year. This year we timed our visit for Summer and my eldest son went to school over there for a couple of weeks - which he absolutely loved.

But before we flew up to Sapporo we spent a week travelling around Kyoto and Nara, somewhere I hadn't been since I was an exchange student 23 years ago! Wow, I feel old now. :)

You could almost call this trip the Buddha Tour! We saw a lot of Buddhist temples and Shinto Shrines. This statue is in the grounds of one of my favourite temples - Ryoan-Ji Temple. Buddhism was imported from China centuries ago and lives comfortably alongside the native Japanese religion of Shinto.

The other big theme this year was green! What amazing colours. The greens really are luminescent, and with all the rain we had the whole world was just glistening. This beautiful yellow leaf and moss is also in the Ryoan-Ji Temple.

These beautiful maple leaves are in the grounds of the Golden Temple or Kinkaku-Ji. Unfortunately (or not depending on how you look at it) it was pouring with rain so most of my shots were taken from beneath a protective umbrella and I hardly got anything worth showing of the actual temple itself. But what the weather lacked in blue skies it made up for in soft, overcast conditions perfect for details shots and bringing out the brilliant greens.

This is a small waterfall just behind the main Golden Temple. Without soft, cloudy light there is no way I could have held details in the highlights and the shadows.

Next stop was Nara and my favourite place was the divine Kasuga-Taisha Shrine, a Shinto Shrine. You are greeted at the door by lots of wild deer looking for a feed, giant barrels of sake (donations to the shrine) and hundreds upon hundreds of stone lanterns, probably the most famous sight of all.

These are the stone lanterns - or Ishidoro - leading up to the main Shrine. Simply stunning and a telephoto lens brings them really close together to give a sense of how many there are.

Another favourite from the Kasuga-Taisha. Usually I prefer portraits where there is obviously interaction between the photographer and their subject. In the case of shrine attendants that is often very difficult because many of them are quite reluctant to be photographed. So instead I tried to create a type of envrionmental portrait showing their relationship to their chose profession.

Of course no trip to Nara would be complete without getting up nice and close with some deer! This one fellow was lying beside the main entrance path to the home of the Giant Buddha - Daimonji Temple. He had obviously had his fill of deer crackers, patting tourists and crowds and was just taking it easy by the side of the road, watching the world go by. Needless to say he had to have his portrait taken. After Nara we headed back up to Sapporo. Most of the time was spent doing family things - which often involves a lot of baseball, playing in the park and eating yummy food! But I did also get to spend a day climbing the local Mt Maruyama with my father-in-law, a man in his late 70's and still fit as a fiddle. Here are a couple of my faves from that day's hike.

A local squirrel - the Ezo squirrel - half way up the mountain. They are quite tame and a local photographer had been feeding it some sunflower seeds in just the right position for a nice backlit shot. The elderly lady photographer kindly showed me the best position to be in. That's what I love about photographing in Japan - people just respect what you do and try to be as helpful as possible.

To be honest I can't really tell you why this one appeals so much. I think it might be the deep green, and the naturally vignetting darker leaves in the corners. As soon as I walked past this spot I just had to grab a photo.

Of course my trip wasn't a solo effort. I had my wife, two sons and father-in-law along as well so my favourite images of 2012 wouldn't be complete without some of them!

I bet you never knew I had an afro! Rocking the funky look here. :)

Stay tuned for Part 2! This time I'll move on to the great fun I've had creating memorable environmental portraits here in Cairns over the past year.