Thursday, November 21, 2013

Travel photography and what it brings to the world.

I had a great time at the Cairns Pechakucha Night last night. There was about 100 people there and some really inspirational speakers covering all sorts of topics from cleaning up beaches of rubbish, advising the Rwandan government on how to transition their education system from French to English, to a skateboarder trying to benefit the world through his passion for his sport.

And then there was me. I spoke about one of my passions - the Japanese island of Hokkaido. Mine was a rather light-hearted affair. Being the last one up I got to watch all the other presenters do their thing. There were some amazing talks of people really changing the world. And here I was selling a destination. I felt a bit light weight I have to admit.

But after a night to think about it I'm not so sure. Yes there are lots of pressing problems that need to be solved, many of their environmental. And travel might not seem to be such an important thing in the grand scheme of things, after all it's just people enjoying themselves.

But is that all there is to it? I really believe that conflicts, racism and a lot of our misunderstandings about other people and cultures come about because we don't take the time to get to know other people. To see where they live, how they interact with each other and how their lives are not so different from ours.

My job is to help break down the doors between different cultures. To show people who might not otherwise get the opportunity, that for all our differences we all basically want the same things. That the world is full of decent, friendly people that you would have a lot in common with if you just had a chance to sit down and talk to them.

So whilst I might not be saving the world, or even a part of it, I believe I'm helping make it a better place. 

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Of big hairy spiders and blending

Now this is what I call a fun job! Not holding the pipette, photographing the spider. :)

This is another image done as a series for James Cook University here in Cairns to help them promote the amazing research their staff and students undertake. Here David Wilson is milking this pretty ferocious looking funnel web spider.

David and his colleague Norelle Daly are trying to find a way to cure breast cancer using this very toxic venom.

Photographically I thought I would have to be really quick to help freeze the motion of the spider. I needn't have worried as these guys hold that pose for upwards of half an hour - giving me plenty of time to try different set-ups. This is actually a blend of two images because I couldn't get enough depth of field with my 200mm telephoto lens.

The first shot is focused on the spider (which rendered David out of focus), and the second shot is focussed on David (which causes the spider to go blurry). The two images are then blended together in post-production to create a single image.

There are two flashes at work here. One through a see-through umbrella lighting David and the spider, and one in the background to stop the rest of the room going pitch black.

I love my job! Can you tell?

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Is a small camera in my future?

Call me crazy but I actually like carrying round a dSLR with lenses. Maybe it's the continuous paranoia of not having the right equipment for all situations. An inability to accept that you can't photograph all the great stuff you see.

I've never been much of a street photographer per se. Yes I photograph festivals quite often, and enjoy walking around with a camera, but I'm never really worried about whether my camera is inconspicuous or not. Usually just by being a foreigner you're pretty conspicuous.

Does photographing people with a big telephoto lens make them uncomfprtable? I guess that kinda depends on how comfortable you make them beforehand. If you take a look at my website you'll notice that the vast majority of my portraits are shot up close and personal. There's invariably an interaction with my subject beforehand. After I've formed some sort of rapport I will then choose whether to photograph them with a wide angle lens, to include more of their environment for a sense of story, or maybe to back off and photograph them from a distance with a telephoto.

Both lenses have different looks, neither one better or worse than the other. Different lenses for different situations I say. The important thing is that my subject knows I'm photographing them and is happy about it.

I can't imagine paying a lot of money to go half way around the world and not being prepared for as many photographic opportunities as possible. As far as I can tell (and correct me if I'm wrong!) but the smaller cameras don't seem to have the same capabilities yet.

Even though many of them have interchangeable lenses the focal lengths seem to be at the shorter end of the scale. For many of my images - particularly landscapes - I like to go really long to pull details out of the scene. Some of my most well-known images have been shot using a 400mm lens with a 1.4x and sometimes 2x converter attached.

And, to be honest, even though your shoulders might be sore at the end of the day, I actually like the feel of something hefty in my hands. I carry a point and shoot for fun family events and I never quite feel like the real deal.

So for those of you shooting with the smaller formats how do you find it? Do you get frustrated with missed photographic opportunities or do they do everything you want? Does the convenience of light gear trump any of those inconveniences? I'd love to hear your opinions, especially if you think I'm totally wrong!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Recent portrait for James Cook University


For a number of years now I have been responsible for producing a series of images for advertising use for our local university here in Cairns - James Cook University, affectionately known as JCU.

One of the main reasons I love the work is the fascinating people I get to meet. The entree into lives and fields of study I would otherwise know nothing about.

I can't profess to becoming an expert in any of these things but speaking to experts in their field certainly helps me expand my knowledge.

The other thing I love is the challenge. Very often I have a very short period of time (my subjects are always really busy people) in which to figure out how I'm going to make their portrait exciting and vibrant whilst being different from the others we've done.

And they're often in the last place you would ever choose for a photographic portrait - like inside a tiny little cubicle of a server room with a whole bunch of pretty unattractive (to the untrained eye!) wires and doodads everywhere.

In situations like this my first instinct is to reach for some coloured gels. Colour can turn bland into fun. I firstly reached for a couple of blue gels and two flashes. One pointed at the server box in the foreground and the other pointed at my subject - Postgraduate student Adam Rehn.

With only blue flashes though, the problem then becomes that Adam looks like a smurf. You can see the stripe of blue down the left hand side of his face? His whole face looked like that! So to overcome that problem I enlisted the help of a third flash to the camera right - this one gelled with a slightly orange colour to warm up the tones on his face.

The two blue flashes were sitting on top of computer doodads (the technical term I believe), whilst the orange flash was on a light stand and I was shooting through a hole in the stands filled with servers. A very tight squeeze!

Update on Pechakucha night - the other speakers announced!

Well, it's official! I'm not the only speaker, even though my ugly mug is the only one up on the page so far. The other speakers for the Pechakucha Cairns Night on the 20th November at 6.30pm at the Tanks Arts Centre are according to the email I just received:

Good Morning to all our PechaKucha Night (PKN) fans and Cairns community,
We have another real treat for you for this Wednesday evening with a wonderful line up of storytelling at the TANKS. This time we will be located in TANK 5 as the crowds keep getting bigger and bigger.
PechaKucha Nights are about people sharing their stories & passions. They have 20 slides & 20 seconds per slide, thats 6mins & 40 seconds about a subject close to their heart.

The presenters this month are from all walks of life such as printmaking, photography, conservation, teachers, travellers, skateboarders and many others coming together to celebrate their passions and stories. The presenters are:
Heidi Taylor
Lyndal Berry
Adam Garnet
Denis Walls
Pascale Gerson
Rosemary Hill
Dian Darmansjah
Adam Walker
Paul Dymond
So please come along and support them and their stories, see the information below for all the details as well as the poster attached, we would love to see you there.
DATE: Wednesday 20 November
COST: $5 | Tickets Sold on the Door ONLY
DOORS / BAR: 6.30pm
VENUE: TANK 5, TANKS Arts Centre, Edge Hill
Please spread amongst your networks
Warmest creative regards,
Sarah and Sue
PechaKucha Nights Cairns
Looks like I'm closing the event - the pressure is on! Hope to see you there. Oh and now I've figured out how to link to my blog from my website then I'll make sure I post regularly once again. Stay tuned for more irreverent commentary on the word of photography.