Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Taronga Zoo

On a recent lightning visit to Sydney, I went to Taronga Zoo for the first time in many years. The magnificent site of this zoo, with its great views back across the harbour to Sydney, is worth the admission price alone. Someone told me that the giraffe pen had the best views in Sydney:
And by the way, this goat also has luxury accommodation in one of the most expensive cities of the world:

Generally, the animals seem to be well treated and healthy. It is always a shame to see wild animals in captivity, but these days the zoos have valuable breeding programs and research departments that contribute to animal welfare. According to Taronga Zoo, their Asian elephants were saved from a life of begging in the streets of Thailand, and so I would prefer to see them interacting with the public at the zoo, rather than continuing to live in those circumstances:
However, this Burmese tiger seemed really distressed, and was continually pacing backwards and forwards inside its glass-walled enclosure:
I guess zoos are neither good nor bad, but necessary. Animals in the wild are still poached for meat or killed for profit, and their natural habitat is continually shrinking. At least at a zoo, they are treated humanely and have the best food and medical attention available. Because of this, and because they are separated from their natural predators (including man), many animals have longer lifespans in captivity than they would experience in the wild.

But you can't help but feel some sort of empathy for them as they sometimes look so forlorn:

I certainly wish we had better communication with the animals - I'd love to know their thoughts.


Monday, September 22, 2008

Witches Falls National Park

This is Queensland's oldest national park, having been declared in 1908. It is situated on Mt Tamborine, to the south of Brisbane. Mt Tamborine is just west of the Gold Coast, and over recent years has developed its own tourist persona for those people who prefer mountains to beaches.

As part of photographing the wedding of some friends, I stayed on Mt Tamborine for a few nights and had the opportunity to explore the park. The park has views west to the Great Dividing Range, and the sunset at the end of the afternoon was sublime:

During the day in the park, the sunlight filters through tall trees to provide dappled light on the rainforest floor:

As well as trees and other rainforest vegetation, there are an enormous number of large boulders in this park. It looks like giants played marbles there back in the dreamtime:

As you can see, the boulders have become covered with liken over thousands of years. Sometimes they are taken over completely by the root system of trees, showing how hardy these rainforest specimens are:

Naturally, the rainforest is home to many birds and animals The song of the whipbird and the peacock are never too far away, and even the ravens get a look in:

Monday, June 30, 2008


After reviewing its initial six months existence, I am changing the structure of The Foto Fanatic. Posts will now be less frequent, but hopefully more meaningful. Rather than posting every weekday, I will now post only when there is a new topic or image to discuss; thus avoiding repititious subjects and less interesting topics.
The blog is certainly continuing, so keep a lookout for us!

Friday, June 27, 2008

Home builders

This spoonbill pair is busy tending to a nest in a Brisbane wetlands. Like many bird species, the male spoonbill is slightly brighter in plumage than his female mate. The elaborate plumage at the back of his head (it stands erect when he is courting) and the yellow splash on his breast have helped him attract his mate, and now they are a breeding pair. The male seems happy to stand and watch while the female does the housework - where have I heard that before?

Nature photography is quite difficult, but very rewarding. It is a challenge for the photographer to find the habitat containing the subjects to be photographed, and then to find a vantage point that will allow a reasonable opportunity to see and photograph the birds or animals. It is of paramount importance is not to harm them or disturb their environment, and the photographer has to be short on the creature comforts and long on patience to obtain usable images. Most animals and birds in the wild are easily disturbed, and unlikely to stay around for a clumsy photographer thrashing through the bush.

Thursday, June 26, 2008


This ibis seems to be balancing quite precariously on a tree stump, but probably has its eye on something in the way of food somewhere below. But the balance I wanted to talk about today has more to do with the balance of the image within the frame, rather than the balance of the subject. This picture is fairly unusual, in that there is an isolated vertical subject within the frame, which itself is in portrait format.

For a couple of reasons, the subject should not be placed centrally within the frame. It is recognised that the human eye tends to focus on certain places within the frame first. If you were to draw two imaginary lines parallel with the vertical edges of the frame, so as to divide the image into three parts; together with two more lines, this time parallel to the horizontal edges so that the image was divided into thirds along that axis, then where the vertical lines and horizontal lines intersect are the parts of the image to which the eye is drawn. This is commonly known as "the rule of thirds", but rather than a rule, it is a guide to help with composition. If the subject can be placed accordingly, it is generally more pleasing to the eye than if it was just plonked in the centre of the frame.


Wednesday, June 25, 2008

What's in the bag?

Now we need to think about how to transport your valuable equipment around, and there are many choices to consider here. The first point to think about is whether to select a hard case or a soft case. Hard cases are more secure and provide better protection (some are even waterproof), but weigh more and are more difficult to transport, although you can find ones with wheels. On the other hand, soft cases are easier to carry, but may not hold as much or provide as much protection for your gear.

I would hazard a guess to say that most photographers, most of the time, need a camera and a couple of lenses; possibly a flash; and the usual accessories such as extra batteries and flash cards. Many manufacturers make bags of different sizes and configurations to suit. The one pictured easily holds the equipment mentioned above, and has movable soft partitioning to allow for the best protection for each item. Bags like this can be carried as a back-pack or as a shoulder bag.


Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Zoom lenses

Here we have a range of zoom lenses. Compared with prime lenses, they are much heavier and bulkier (and dearer!) but the zoom function really makes each one the equivalent of a number of prime lenses. Modern computerised optics have made the resolution of the top-end zooms every bit as good as that of prime lenses. But there is still a trade-off with the zoom lenses that cover an extra-large range of focal lengths - it is still quite difficult to obtain top image quality with these lenses.

The lenses here are 70-200mm f2.8, 18-200mm f3.5, 24-70mm f2.8 and 14-24mm f2.8. They really fall into two categories - firstly, the 18-200mm zoom is really a one-lens solution for those times when you want to carry the least amount of gear with you; what is generally called a "walk-around lens". It will cover most photographic situations reasonably well, but you can not expect the very best image quality at all focal lengths. The three other lenses cover approximately
the same total focal lengths as the 18-200mm, but do give better resolution. Obviously, you are carrying more weight and would be involved in changing the lens on the camera if you chose to carry these with you instead of the 18-200mm. However, if you are aware in advance of the photographic circumstances, you may not need to carry them all with you.


Monday, June 23, 2008

Lenses I like - primes

The advantages of prime lenses are that they are generally small and light in comparison to zoom lenses, and they are usually faster (open to wider apertures) than all but the most expensive zoom lenses. The camera I use happens to be Nikon, and that is largely because I have accumulated Nikon lenses over the years. Good quality lenses last a long time, whereas newer camera models will appear quite frequently. Most photographers build a collection of lenses that suit their particular photographic style, and change cameras as often as technology and finances allow.

The lenses in this lineup are: 105mm f2.8 (macro), 85mm f1.4, 50mm f1.4 and 10.5mm f2.8. These are all fast lenses, and if you went out on a shoot with just these in your bag, you would have a fairly light bag of equipment that would cover most eventualities except for long telephoto. Prime lenses were always the staple of photographers until relatively recently, and that was based on their image quality. Prime lenses are a lot simpler, and therefore cheaper to build, than zoom lenses. Of course, they don't offer the flexibility of a range of focal lengths like a zoom lens does, but you can use good old-fashioned foot power to frame your images.


Friday, June 20, 2008

Photographing Children #5

For the final in this series about cameras and kids, I want to discuss opportunity. Cameras usually are trotted out for Christmas and birthdays, maybe the occasional school play or sports day. But kids are such a source of valuable images that it is advisable to have your camera close at hand always. Often when I am out taking photographs I look to see if there are kids around, because if there are, it usually means photographic opportunity. For children in the family, my experience is that they love to look back on photographs of themselves when they were younger, even if they pretend that they don't. However, I once was asked by a friend to take some portraits of his two daughters, which I was only too happy to do. He loved them, but one of the girls had just lost her baby teeth, and her big smile showed that she was missing her two front teeth. She still hasn't forgiven me for taking the photo. But generally, even photographs like the one above, of my nephew Jonathan practicing his flute, are looked on fondly in later years.

A word of caution though - you do need to be careful about taking photographs of children who do not know you. If you do not know the children and they are with adults, it is wise to ask permission before taking any pictures at all. Strangers taking photographs of children can be a hazardous occupation these days. Even though photographers generally have the legal right to take photos of people in public areas, I would not take pictures of children if the adults with them objected to it.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Photographing Children #4

The best way to involve children in the photographic process is to engage them in a game or activity that they like. This removes their attention from the camera and gives them something interesting to do, rather than a static pose. The resultant image is much more interesting too. Naturally there will be times where you may need a more formal portrait, but even in those cases it is better to involve them in something that is fun for them before you take the picture.

In this photo, Britney was already on the swing, but I asked her to see how high she could swing while pre-focusing my camera on the spot where I wanted the shot. This caught her sense of fun immediately, and led to the natural-looking smile that you see. And she loves the image too, because she can recall the excitement of being on the swing when she sees the photo.


Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Photographing Children #3

Another cool thing about photos of kids is when you can compare them to photos of the adult. As an example, on the left is a photo of my niece Sarah as a child, playing croquet in her back yard in the afternoon sun. Then, on the right, Sarah, now a beautiful young woman, prior to leaving her parents' house for her wedding, just a couple of weeks ago. I must note that this image was taken by TPO (The Patient One), my spouse, who uses a camera all too infrequently.

The first image was taken on film, and the second is a digital image. I have scanned many of my older transparencies and prints to digital files, now stored on my computer's hard drive.Today's photographers might have an easier time archiving their images for posterity; although in saying that, we just don't know what technology will be around twenty years from now. Perhaps we'll be converting our digital files into a new format that will allow us to store all our images on a pin head.


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Photographing Children #2

An advantage of being "of a certain age" is that you usually have lots of childhood photographs of your younger relatives to show them as they reach maturity. You might also realise that your own photographic skills have matured as well. In my case - they need to have. Take this photo for example: viewpoint too high, bodies cut off at the knees, all that wasted space at the top, and a tree growing out of their heads! One of the biggest mistakes of my early photographs was not to reframe the image after focusing. The focusing screen is usually in the middle of the viewfinder, so if you focus on the eyes, but then do not compose the image properly, this is the effect you end up with.

Imagine the ways this image may have been improved if I had done a few simple things:
  • brought the camera down to the subjects' eye level
  • moved to the left to change the background from the next door house to the lovely garden, in the process removing the tree from directly behind the children
  • turned the camera to a vertical composition to capture the kids in full length.

Monday, June 16, 2008

Photographing Children #1

Children are such great photo subjects, aren't they? Provided you can keep them still for a nanosecond, that is. Kids that you know well are usually uninhibited around you, particularly if there are a few of them together. This picture of my godson Daniel was taken at one of his birthday celebrations many years ago (he's now at university!), right after the cake was cut. The cake was barely in his mouth before he was off for a trip on one of his birthday gifts.

Children move so quickly that auto-focus is just about essential. Manual focus just doesn't cut it - by the time you have framed and focused, the subject has moved on to the next bit of mayhem. Digital cameras are a blessing too, because reloading film used to be a necessity every 20 or 30 shots, and that takes you away from the action. So the best advice I can give is to put your camera on auto and shoot often.


Friday, June 13, 2008

Dragon's claw bowl

This beautiful bowl of my wife's has long been a photographic favourite of mine because of its rich colouring and its unusual construction. Today I put it in my light tent, and using two flashes to cross light, I took some photographs of it. Apart from the fact that the all-white surrounds of the light tent make it look a bit like the bowl is floating, I'm quite happy with the result. The colour is accurate and the detail of the fittings is also there. Because of the lighting set-up, the light has wrapped around the bowl and given it an almost three-dimensional effect.

Lighting objects for photography is usually a challenge for the professional photographer, and is more so for an amateur or enthusiast photographer. Without a studio and with portable flashes instead of umbrellas and soft boxes, we still have to be able to provide sufficient lighting in terms of quality and quality to achieve our objective. A portable light tent is an important part of a selection of cheap equipment that I use for this style of photography. It folds up like a dashboard sun reflector into a small carry bag to be ultra-portable, but when it is unfolded it is quite surprising what can be placed inside. The white sides can act as diffusers and also reflectors, thereby providing that wrap-around look.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor AF-S 24-70mm; ISO 200; 1/60 sec; f8.


Thursday, June 12, 2008

Be prepared

When I was out walking the other day, I saw a row-boat tethered to a jetty, lying on wet sand by the river bank. "Nice image", I thought, "I'll come back and photograph it". This morning I was walking past the same location, and checked to see whether or not the boat was still there. It was, so I went home and waited for some better lighting, then returned with my camera. No boat! It was decidedly unsporting of the owner to move it, really.

So, instead of a photograph of a boat, you are seeing a photograph of boat shoes. The object was to show the different
patterns in the rather worn doormat, broken up by the shoes. Rather than convert to black and white, I left a touch of colour in the image, which was composed mainly of browns in any case.

So, it's always better to be prepared. I could have been really prepared by having my camera with me when I first saw the boat, but I had to settle for being moderately prepared by being able to adapt and fashion another image when the boat was removed.


Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Moreton Bay figs

Queensland-born author Simon Cleary's first published novel is called "The Comfort of Figs", and I have just finished reading it. It is set in Brisbane, and central to the story are two inanimate objects - the Story Bridge and the Moreton Bay fig. The novel links the time of the construction of the bridge with the present through the relationship between a man and his father.

I found the novel interesting on a few levels. Firstly, the Story Bridge and the men who built it. I have previously confessed an interest in bridges, and this novel interleaves the factual design and construction of the bridge and its iconic status in Brisbane with the fictional story-line.

Then there is the Moreton Bay fig, ubiquitous in Brisbane, and famous for tales of the destruction and the rescue of various fig trees around the city, usually headlined by the amount of money involved in each venture. The novel links a group protesting the removal of trees for a highway and the protagonist via a romantic association with one of the protesters. And lastly, the father-son relationship is explored in all its complexity, with the bridge and the tree both playing important roles in the development of that story.

Photo 1: Workers on the Bridge; Brisbane's Story Bridge, 17/06/2006.

Photo 2: Under the Trees; Moreton Bay fig trees at New Farm, 15/11/2007.


Tuesday, June 10, 2008


Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has just visited the Peace Memorial in Hiroshima, and has immediately come away calling for an end to nuclear armament. I can well understand his feelings - the Hiroshima memorials had exactly the same effect on me when I visited there some years ago. The stark evidence of mass destruction and loss of human life are almost too horrific to comprehend, and the fact that some countries might be still prepared to visit such a holocaust on others today doesn't speak too highly of our ability to learn from our past.

Did it shorten the war? Almost certainly. Was it justifiable to kill so many civilians to achieve that end? I was born after the war, and I can't answer that question. Was it immoral? Yes, in my opinion. Lots of immoral things happen during wars, and being the "winner" doesn't make your acts any more moral than if you "lost". We all lost.

Many of the places that I have been to and photographed have touched me - Stonehenge, Macchu Picchu, the Great Wall of China. But Hiroshima touched me in a way that no other place has. Not even the Bridge on the River Quai, that I have written about before. Perhaps it is the total devastation of the place that resulted in such indiscriminate loss of life, but I found Hiroshima to be absolutely chilling.

It can't ever happen again.


Monday, June 9, 2008

A dozen eggs

There's the old joke about the toffee-nosed diner being served by a bored waiter at a hotel:

Waiter: Would madam like the ox tongue for her lunch today?
Diner: Ooh, goodness me, no! I couldn't eat anything that came out of an animal's mouth!
Waiter: Then perhaps madam would prefer an egg?

Boom boom.

As foods go, eggs are quite high on my list of preferred ingredients. Very versatile, they can be anything from a humble boiled egg at the breakfast table to an exotic meringue dessert at an up-market restaurant, with lots of other great things in between.

As photographic subjects go, they are fairly difficult things to shoot. For one thing, they roll around a lot, and unless you are taking action pix (say someone egging Microsoft bigwig Steve Ballmer, as happened just recently), movement is not normally what you want in an egg photograph. Today I have gone for the plain vanilla photograph of a dozen eggs sitting in a plastic tray to keep them still ready for storage in the fridge.

The remarkable egg - great to eat, difficult to photograph.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 24-70mm; ISO 200; 1/60sec; f4.


Friday, June 6, 2008


Cats seem to polarise opinion. Many people love them, and at least as many hate them. I don't think other household pets have the same opinion-splitting ability that cats have. We always had dogs when I was a kid, and as a result, I have always loved dogs. On the other hand, I didn't ever have anything to do with cats and therefore I was ambivalent about them at best. That is, until we finally had one of our own. Or, more properly expressed, until one consented to live with us.

The day before we were due to move into our first house, a little flea-bitten bundle turned up on the doorstep of the unit we were renting. We made the basic mistake of feeding him, and the rest is history. He moved to our new house with us, and then to the house after that. We had him as our companion for seventeen years, until a tumour in his jaw prevented him form being able to eat, and we had to have him put to sleep.

That's him above, in the garden of our first house, where he was king of the neighbourhood. Now we are back living in an apartment with no room for pets, which is a shame really.


Thursday, June 5, 2008

Cooking a casserole

Some friends are coming for dinner tomorrow night, and tomorrow I am helping my niece Elizabeth and her husband Aidan move into their new townhouse. So, I decided to do most of the preparation in advance - shopping for the ingredients while I have the use of the car today (I won't have it tomorrow), then doing all the cutting and chopping that takes so much time. I am preparing a "Hearty Beef Casserole", which is just my type of food, really. I like the peasant-style cooking, where the ingredients that are in season are used. The food I like generally has robust flavours and chunky ingredients, rather than your delicate finely-chopped offerings.

Anyway, blade steak (it is always in season at the local butcher *grin*), together with some fresh carrots, mushrooms, celery, some red wine and tomatoes - and voila! It looked reasonably edible sitting on the stove, and with a day for the various flavours to come together, we should enjoy it tomorrow with some crisply-cooked green beans, some mashed potato to soak up the gravy, and the left-over red wine to drink. Sorry, but I am keeping my address a secret!

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 24-70mm; ISO 200; 1/60 sec; f2.8.


Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Red and green

We have a colour post today - the juxtaposed colours of red and green in this lovely plant. I have used selective focus to isolate the two smaller internal petals from the rest of the plant. The areas surrounding the centre have a different texture, although the same colours are repeated. I kept these parts of the plant out of focus so that attention would return to the smoother centre. Red and green seem to be very complementary colours, and certainly look good together here.

I was able to achieve the shallow depth of field by opening the lens all the way to its maximum aperture, and then focusing the lens on that central part of the plant. Being very close to the subject also shortens DOF, and the beauty of a specialised macro lens is that it allows the photographer to focus to a point
very close to the front of the lens.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Micro Nikkor 105mm; ISO 200; 1/25 sec; f2.8.


Tuesday, June 3, 2008


One of the fringe benefits in photographing weddings is that there is no shortage of pretty girls - the bride herself, the bridesmaids, the bride's friends, the groom's sisters and friends - it is almost an endless list. Because of the importance of the occasion, they are made up and dressed up, and they actually want to get their photographs taken.

In my final post in the "weddings" series, I have a picture of my niece Sarah and her bridesmaids from Sarah's wedding last Saturday. These girls were real troupers, too - it was cold and windy, yet they stood uncomplainingly during the outdoors ceremony and for the registry signing, then while all the wedding photos were taken.

Even with all of this abundant natural talent surrounding him, the wedding photographer has to position them and pose them; checking backgrounds, placement of props and also facial expressions of the subjects. All of that before he can even squeeze the shutter.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 24-70mm; ISO 200; 1/200 sec; f5.6.


Monday, June 2, 2008

Sarah's wedding

Here is a picture of the happy couple signing the marriage certificate after Saturday's ceremony. The forecast was for rain and strong winds, but fortunately the weather bureau's timing was a little awry. There was no rain on Saturday to disrupt the wedding, but today it is absolutely teeming down. News reports indicate that 130mm fell around the location of the wedding today, but Sarah and Rob had a window of almost perfect weather for their big occasion.

My admiration for professional wedding photographers remains undiminished. I shot for about seven hours through the pre-wedding gathering, wedding ceremony, post-wedding cocktails and the reception. Phew! Then there is the post-processing to be done!

But there is certainly a wonderful sense of achievement when you see the finished images, and then an even greater feeling of reward when you receive the heartfelt thanks of the bride and groom.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 24-70mm; ISO 200; 1/160 sec; f5.6; B&W conversion.


Friday, May 30, 2008

The reception

After the ceremony there is the reception, with its mix of formality and informality. The traditional speeches from the bridal party, the cutting of the cake and the bridal waltz are excellent sources for photographs; as well as the relaxing and mingling of the guests.

So the photographer is still busy during this part of the wedding too. This cake cutting photo is from the wedding of Elizabeth (Sarah's sister) and Aidan about 18 months ago. There was a professional photographer employed for this wedding, so I was conscious of not getting in his way. It is important to remember that the pro is making his living, and therefore deserves to have the key positions for taking his pictures.

If I were taking this photo again, I would be more conscious of the harsh shadows behind the bride and groom. Even if I were not able to move to a different position, I should have been able to take the flash off camera to a higher position so that the shadows were hidden behind the subjects.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 17-55mm DX; ISO 200; 1/60 sec; f4.5.


Thursday, May 29, 2008

The rehearsal

Yesterday we had the rehearsal for Sarah's wedding, which is happening on Saturday. That's Sarah above, with her father Michael, practicing their entrance to the wedding venue. She looks very relaxed and happy, doesn't she?

I used the rehearsal to decide on the best positions for me to be in for the ceremony, the signing of the register and the immediate aftermath. Father Peter, who is performing the ceremony, pre-empted my questions from yesterday's post by telling me that he didn't mind where I stood or whether I used flash or not. He even offered to "stage manage" the register signing for me to make sure that we had the best possible results. He was terrific actually - very down-to-earth, and fully aware that the day is all about the couple and what they want, rather than what he might want.

I was also able to have another look around the site for photo vantage points, as well as being able to check the lighting. Yesterday's lighting was quite flat, rather than the afternoon sunlight I was expecting. This was a result of overcast conditions, and it appears likely that we will have similar lighting on the day, so it was good to have a preview.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 24-70mm; ISO 200; 1/200 sec; f4.


Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The ceremony

The ceremony itself is also a possible source of wedding photos, and that is particularly true if the ceremony has something unusual about it. When my friends Matt and Vicki were married in Greece, the ceremony was conducted by a Greek Orthodox priest in a 200-year old church on an island. The Greek Orthodox ceremony is full of tradition and symbolism, including fixing crowns on the heads of the newlyweds, then showering them with sugared almonds as they are led ceremonially around the church by the priest. The sense of fun and joy in this part of the wedding was a counterpoint to the quite formal parts of the ceremony.

However, the photographer has to be mindful of when it is acceptable to take pictures, particularly when using flash. It may not be appropriate in certain circumstances, and it is always advisable to find out from the priest or celebrant before the ceremony whether there are any times when photographs aren't welcome.

EXIF: Canon A620; ISO 100; 1/60 sec; f3.5.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

More on weddings

Although, at a wedding, all the focus is on the bride and groom, there are also other stories to be told. The bridal party, the parents, the extended families - all of these people are connected to the event in some way. When looking back at the wedding day in years to come, the bride and groom will want to remember them too.

When my friends Sarah and Patrick were married, Patrick's nephew was one of the groomsman. He has appeared in TFF before, playing pool with the boys before the ceremony. He was a real scene stealer, dressed up in his min-tux; a smaller version of the other groomsmen. Like the others, he was a little excited and nervous, and here his grandfather has a quiet word of reassurance for the little man just before the wedding was to begin.

The wedding photographer has to have an eye out for these ancillary events while concentrating mainly on the bride and groom. Professional wedding photographers sometimes have a second shooter for just this type of picture. The solo photographer doesn't have the same luxury, so they must make sure not to forget to look for the other stories.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 70-200mm VR; ISO 200; 1/125 sec; f5.6


Monday, May 26, 2008

Wedding photography

It's wedding week here at TFF. As I mentioned last week, my niece is to be married on Saturday, and I will be taking the photos for her. I have the utmost respect for wedding photographers, who have to handle nervous bridegrooms, beautiful brides and proud mothers all the while trying to make images that the happy couple will cherish for years.

So, this week we'll be taking a glimpse at some of the weddings I've taken pictures at
over the years, starting with this one of my nephew Max and his lovely bride Lisa. The wedding was in autumn in Tasmania, where the couple live, and the ceremony was held in the grounds of a wedding reception lounge just outside Hobart. The autumn colours are very evident in this photo, taken right at the end of the ceremony, and a smiling bridesmaid looks on as they have the traditional first kiss as a married couple. Although the afternoon light is quite good, I have used fill flash for this picture to ensure that there is sufficient lighting on the faces.

The correct exposure is always a challenge at weddings, because of the range of contrast between the usual white wedding dress worn by the bride, and the equally traditional dark suit worn by the groom.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 17-55mm DX; ISO 200; 1/60 sec; f6.3.


Friday, May 23, 2008

Tulip bowl

Following on from yesterday's post about tulips, here is a picture of a tulip flower taken from vertically above, showing the stamen. You can also see how the shape of the flower is reminiscent of a wine glass. Nature certainly has provided us with the blueprints for lots of handy things. This flower didn't come from the nursery we saw yesterday (to my knowledge, anyway!) as the photos were taken some years apart.

Apart from that, the outstanding colour of the bloom and the terrific contrast with the foliage look very attractive. This bloom was part of a bunch of cut flowers, so the picture was taken indoors with a couple of flashes for lighting.

Tulips seem to bloom very quickly - they open, and then, within a couple of days, the petals are dropping off. But, they are beautiful while they last.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Micro Nikkor 105mm; ISO 200; 6/10 sec; f22.


Thursday, May 22, 2008

Spring tulips

It's not spring here, where I live. It's the start of winter actually, the days are shorter and cooler, and the football season is well underway. Sometimes it does you good to look for images that remind you of a different season, and that's what I have done here.

Each year in Melbourne they have a Tulip Festival, and I happened to be there one year when the festival was in full swing. This photo was taken at a commercial tulip nursery that had lots of interesting Dutch food and drinks, not to mention a plethora of tulips. Tulips, of course, are very colourful and when planted in long rows in their varying hues, they are almost irresistible from a photographic standpoint.

Holland is famous for its tulips, and in fact at one time tulips were almost a form of currency in that country. I believe there was even a secondary tulip market on the stock exchange, such was their economic power at the time. Tulips are not native to the Netherlands, however - tulips originated in Asia, being found natively in Turkey and Afghanistan. In any case, they are now a very popular flower world-wide, and a delight to look at.

EXIF: Sony Cybershot; ISO 100; 1/500 sec; f4.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Rainbow lorikeet

Luck's a fortune, as the old saying goes. Today I went to the venue where my niece's wedding will be held next week, just to scope out the site. I wanted to see where the light was coming from, and what strength of light there would be at the time of the ceremony. The location is a golf course, perched on a hill overlooking the city, and it is quite picturesque. Naturally, being a golf course, there are a lot of trees, and the trees around the area that will be used for the wedding ceremony were full of native birds. They were in full song this afternoon, and being such a perfect day, the ambiance was quite beautiful.

This is a rainbow lorikeet. The blogger image above is showing some artifacts as a result of the compression they use on this site, but you can view a larger image here.

So, as well as doing the forward planning that I needed to do, I had a chance to photograph some birds while I was there. The setting for the wedding is lovely, and we may be serenaded by birds as well.

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 80-400mm VR; ISO 800; 1/1250 sec; f5.6.


Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Wedding

My niece Sarah (that's her, above, when she was about 4) is getting married next week. The whole family is looking forward to the wedding. We all approve of her fiance, who has virtually been part of the family for a few years in any case, and Sarah is so excited about the big day. She is a master organiser, and the preparations are well in hand.

Sarah has asked me to photograph the wedding. Although I have taken photographs at many weddings, I have never been the wedding photographer before. Nervous - me? Yup.

But I am looking forward to the challenge; and certainly, sharing the successful images that result will be wonderful. I am in preparation mode as we speak: making sure the equipment is in tip-top working condition, charging batteries, working out a plan for the shoot. I have the running sheet for the day and a map of the venue, together with some ideas from the bride-to-be on the type of shots she would like.

Tomorrow I will be going to the venue to see the layout for myself, and I'm going to be there at the same time that the events are scheduled to unfold next week. That way I can judge the lighting as well as plan some scenic spots for the photographs. There will also be a rehearsal a couple of days out from the ceremony, so that will give me more opportunity to scout the venue and prepare.


Monday, May 19, 2008

White balance

Although most cameras have an Auto White Balance function, I have always felt that better results were available with a little manual intervention. If your camera lets you select a white balance setting, then this usually provides a more successful outcome than letting your camera decide for you. If you are taking a series of shots, then Auto White Balance has the potential to give you inconsistent results; whereas, if you set your camera yourself (to say, "Outdoors", for example) then all your photos will have the same white balance.

A few years ago, I wrote a tutorial on White Balance Technique for the on-line camera group that I belong to. If you are interested in getting more out of your camera, or just interested in photography generally, why not visit the site - just click on the link to to right of this column.

A couple of points about white balance three years on from when I wrote the tutorial. Camera functions have generally improved, and I am sure that Auto White Balance has too, but I still don't use it. The instruction manual with my Nikon camera still indicates that there are colour temperatures where Auto White Balance is not effective, so I choose to set the WB myself. I shoot Raw images, and then fine tune WB in post processing.

I have a new favourite method of selecting white balance, and that is by using a WhiBal reference card to provide a WB point that I can use in post processing. I find this an easier and more consistent process than anything I have used before, and it takes virtually no time at all. You just include the WhiBal in at least one photograph taken under each relevant lighting temperature, and then use the White Balance tool in your photo editing software to adjust the all the images taken under those conditions. Simple!

In my examples at the top, the image in the left was exposed using the camera's daylight WB setting. You can see that I have included the WhiBal card in the picture, so I opened the image in Photoshop and used the white balance tool to click on the gray area of the WhiBal. The result is in the image in the right. The image is a bit cooler overall, and you'll notice that the WhiBal is showing its actual neutral gray colour instead of the brown/grey tones in the first image.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Non-rolling stones

These stones obviously haven't rolled for some time. The very bright green and very slippery moss was attached securely to the rocks along this shore-line. The water is sparkling clean, but nonetheless plenty of algae has formed, and it seems to have been there for a while. It looks like the algae only exists to the water line, as the parts of rock that are above that have no algae at all, while it is fairly abundant below. I know absolutely nothing about marine fungus, so everything that I have just written is opinion only!

I took the photo because I liked the bright colour of the algae and the contrast with the bland rocks and the blue water. In fact, the exposure was quite tricky, because the bright sun was playing havoc with the pale rocks. I have had to adjust the exposure of some of the rocks in post processing so that there were no hotspots in the final image.

EXIF: Canon A620; ISO 200; 1/500 sec; f4.


Thursday, May 15, 2008

IT 103

The one thing about reconfiguring a computer is the time factor - it just takes so much time to back up, reinstall and then reload. You can only go as fast as your computer allows, and sometimes even slower than that to make sure that the machine and software both cope with the changes. Past experience has taught me that the OS does better if you give it time to think between all that loading of programs and files.

My clean install project has gone relatively well, and now I'm reinstalling backed-up documents. Tomorrow I'll start on the programs. I have decided that I will make a snapshot image of the hard drive when all the programs and files have loaded. That way, when I next need to go through this torture, I can simply load the image onto the formatted hard drive, saving a whole bunch of time.

Something I haven't done before is reinstall Adobe Lightroom. Lightroom acts like a data base. It doesn't store photos, it captures information on all of your images, including any post processing that you have done in Lightroom. The data base is backed up, but I am nervously waiting to see whether the program is just as it was before I reformatted. I am at least expecting to find that the program has lost its link to each image, but I am also hoping that I am wrong on that count, as that outcome means a whole new bunch of required time.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

IT 102

My computer, being slow and downright unco-operating, needed to have a makeover. Yesterday, I started on the task of reinstalling Windows Vista. I wanted to format my hard drive and start again from a blank canvas in order to get rid of all the accumulated detritus. That's a pretty easy task with Windows XP, and one I have successfully completed a few times before. But it is much harder with Vista.

Vista is happy enough to do a repair install, but a clean install (where the hard drive is reformatted) - no way. On my computer, the OS had been upgraded from Windows XP, and then I had done a repair install over the top of that about twelve months back. You can imagine the crapola (technical computer jargon) that had piled up as a result.

I finally found an article on the web that gave me some encouragement that it could be done. Brian Livingston's method mirrored my circumstances exactly - how to do a clean install with an upgrade version of Vista. However, as usual, there was a glitch when I misunderstood one section of the piece and went down a dry gully (more jargon!) that cost me two hours. Since I recognised
the error and revisited the installation though, things have gone rather smoothly... so far.

Now I have internet access again; today I hope to restore my email settings, and with any luck, I'll have my images and music back on my hard drive pretty soon. There is no doubt that my computer is running more quickly, but I have yet to reinstall my programs, so I'll reserve judgement until then.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

IT 101

Computers - don't you love 'em? For example, without today's electronic wizardry this blog would be a daydream. My photos, spanning over 40 years, are stored on my computer; so is my music. But there is an inherent danger involved in this increasing reliance on the digital tools (and toys!) we so take for granted. What if something goes wrong?

I suppose that we all have had the backup mantra stuffed down our throats until we are heartily sick of it. But when you come to the day that it is needed, and you know that you have a current, accessible backup, you can pat yourself on the back for all the hours you have spent maintaining it.

I am at that point. I haven't had a hard drive failure or a complete system meltdown (thank goodness!) but my Windows Vista OS has been slowly deteriorating in performance until my patience has been tested to its absolute limit. I could take a short holiday while my computer boots up, and waiting for Outlook to access and deliver my email is slower than the days of mail being delivered on foot by the local mail man who knew everybody's name and business.

Solution: I am going to reinstall the OS. That means a complete dump of my files, reformatting the hard drive and then a clean install of Vista including SP1. Am I nervous - absolutely petrified! I've done this before with previous versions of Windows, and it doesn't seem to matter how careful you are, there is always some hidden gotcha or "Factor X" that prevents your computer from being exactly the way it was before you started, only much, much quicker.

Anyway, I've reached the stage where the fear of losing something is less than the annoyance factor of using this clunking monstrosity, so wish me luck. I'll report back in due course.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Useful flash accessories

One of my favourite photo sites is Strobist, a collection of helpful hints, strategies and demonstrations of the imaginative use of small flash guns as opposed to large studio lighting setups. Most amateur photographers have a flash, whether it is the small internal flash that comes with the camera, or a slightly larger flash on a hot shoe. The Strobist site is well worth a visit (click on the Strobist link beside this blog) - you'll find useful tutorials that will improve your use of artificial light.

A recent article there previewed the range of flash accessories currently being marketed by Dave Honl, a professional photographer. Like many before him, Dave is supplementing his photographic gigs by selling some useful tools that have grown out of his own DIY accessories. Click here to visit his web site.

As one who has made snoots out of paper and gobos out of anything handy, like most photographers, I was impressed by this range of easily transported and relatively low-cost flash add-ons. Whilst I can see the usefulness of studio lighting, I have neither the room nor the budget to set up multiple lights, seamless backdrops and power packs. If I can modify my OEM flashes with useful accessories, then I am a happy photographer.

I have bought Dave's snoot, pictured above, to give me a way of narrowing the light that falls on the subject, allowing for some cool effects when coupled with the ambient lighting. You can see that it can also double as a bounce card, thanks to its unique construction and velcro tabs. It arrived from the US in about a week, and I can already see that it will become a fixture in my camera bag.