Friday, February 29, 2008

Another pattern

Once again, it's a pattern that has caught my eye. This isn't a maze or a puzzle, nor is it the embossing on a door or ornament. The photograph was taken in Reims, France by my friend Jon Marshall. The location should provide a clue, as does the sign towards the top of the picture.

The image is an underground cave, or cellar, used to store champagne, and it is rows of champagne bottles, tops and bottoms, carefully stacked to make up the pattern in the picture. The champagne is stored this way until the maker decides that it is ready to release to the market. These bottles are at the House of Taittinger, and the sign indicates that there are 71,610 bottles stored in this cave. As well as the terroir around Reims, it is these limestone caves that give champagne its signature quality.

My wife and I met Jon and his partner Alisha in Reims at the start of the champagne tour at
Taittinger. By an absolute coincidence they were from Brisbane, where we also live; and so we were able to share the tours of several of the champagne houses, naturally accompanied by the proprietor's product at each venue. Since landing back in Brisbane after our separate trips we have kept in contact, and still share a glass of champagne from time to time.

EXIF: Photo by Jon Marshall; Nikon CoolPix 995; ISO 100; 1/60 sec; f2.7.


Thursday, February 28, 2008

The confectionery counter

I have previously mentioned the importance of the presentation of food for photography, but I suppose that it applies equally to the presentation of food for sale. I think I am a shopper in the true sense of the word - I make a list, then I go and buy what is on my list. Most people who "go shopping" really go browsing; they look at things that they may buy at some future time, or even things that they may never buy. My "practical" gene finds that activity rather redundant, but I am probably in the minority.

However, sometimes, usually when we are on holiday, I find myself accompanying my wife while she is "shopping". I have to confess that on the odd occasion I find something interesting, like the shelves in the condiment shop on my recent post. This is what happened here. We were wandering through a department store in Paris, when I happened on their confectionery counter, which was unlike anything I had seen before. The use of colour in the counter display was wonderful, and the contents themselves looked positively yummy.

The display was lit well enough for me to take the photograph without flash, so I avoided the potential of reflections from the glass display case. All that was needed was to compose and click.

EXIF: Sony DSC70; ISO 100; 1/45 sec; f2.


Wednesday, February 27, 2008


Gardens are very popular in Japan, and exquisitely maintained. The gardens in the grounds of temples are usually exemplary, but private gardens also abound. Japanese gardeners seem to have an overwhelming fetish for orderliness and neatness, and the beauty of
their gardens is testament to the time they spend tending to them.

I know I've rattled on before about the beauty of nature and the attraction that flowers hold for me. I am not a gardener, I guess that's mainly because I have failed every patience test known to man. Well, that's not true - I can wait out a five day cricket match with the best of them - but standing in queues, waiting at traffic lights, gardening? Forget about it!

But I do recognise the result of industry and imagination when I see it, and this Japanese island garden, complete with miniature temple, was breathtaking when I came upon it in Kyoto. The water contained a fair bit of tannin from the trees in the gardens, and that enhanced the reflections so that it was like looking into a mirror. Japanese gardens seem to be places where one can relax and meditate in all the glory and beauty of nature; as well as admire the patience and skill of the gardeners.

EXIF: Unknown.


Tuesday, February 26, 2008


Food photography can be difficult. Retaining the exact colour, presenting the food in an attractive manner, removing blemishes - all the "fussy bits" that turn a sow's ear into a silk purse. Most food photographers work with a food stylist whose job is to keep the food looking fresh and appetising.

There are no stylists here, folks. Here is my unadorned picture of some vine ripened tomatoes. Why have I photographed them? Simply because tomatoes are about my most favourite vegetable. For many years I grouched about tomatoes not tasting like tomatoes any more. They are generally picked before they are fully ripe, and then stored for too long before they reach a greengrocer, let alone a kitchen.

Thank goodness for the recent trend to these vine ripened ones - they are generally more mature when they are sold, and so are riper and tastier. When they come in a bunch, like this, where they are still attached to the vine, they can mature even further as they await their culinary fate. Yes, they are more expensive, but TPO and myself have decided that the slightly increased cost is worthwhile, because you are rewarded with a fully flavoured tomato instead of the tasteless and colourless cheaper variety.

Photographically, I like the detail of the vine,and the contrast between the green vine and the red tomatoes.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 17-55 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/250 sec; f16.


Monday, February 25, 2008

Balancing light

Everyone likes to look at a lovely sunset. I like to photograph them too, but sometimes sunset (and sunrise) photos can be a bit boring. Often all that is missing is a point of interest in the foreground to balance the image.
This picture was taken in Russell, on the north island of New Zealand, and was one of the longest-lasting and most beautiful sunsets I have ever seen. Seeing the sun set over water gives a special ambience and some clouds in the sky also add interest.

When I was taking photographs, I came across this couple sitting on a bench at the harbour, just enjoying the sunset. Although they were sitting directly under a street light, I needed some fill flash to give a bit more detail to the foreground. In hindsight, it might actually be slightly too much fill, but I am not that unhappy with the end result.

With these shots, there are actually two exposures - the ambient light, in this case the sunset, and the subject to be lit by the flash. Generally, if you set your camera to expose for the ambient light, your camera can provide the proper exposure for the flash.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 18-70 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/100 sec; f5.6

Friday, February 22, 2008


I've mentioned my affection (or "affliction", according to TPO) for cricket previously. I make no apology. I was raised on it. It was inculcated into every molecule of my body when I was a child. My father was a very good cricketer, and on my mother's side, her brothers were also excellent cricketers. I think my mother would have been pretty good too, but in her day, the ladies didn't play. When we were kids, we listened to the big matches on the wireless with our father, and then when TV arrived, there was no other program available on our set when the cricket (any cricket) was on.

Of course, with a heritage like that, I had to play; and although I was never very good, I played cricket for many years and loved every moment of it.

The picture above was taken in May 1986 in Oxford, England. It was my first visit to England, the place where I had imagined so many Test matches over the years of listening to the radio and watching TV. I stayed in Oxford for a few days and absolutely loved it. On walking the town one day, I came across this schoolboy cricket match. I was immediately enthralled - particularly as all the boys were attired in proper cricket whites, so unlike the scruffy shorts and bare feet that I played in when I was at school. Then, the picturesque quality of the very
green English field on which the match was being played and the backdrop of the old stone buildings became evident to me. This was the English cricket I had imagined over all of those years of listening to the wireless.

I stil love looking at it.

EXIF: No clue; but probably a Pentax 35mm camera with Ektachrome ASA 200 film.


Thursday, February 21, 2008

Eyes wide open

Ever since I was a youngster, I have always wanted to visit Africa. In particular, the animals of Africa were an absolute fascination. When my niece decided to get married in Africa recently, my wife and I had a perfect opportunity to go there.

Before the wedding, we visited Kruger National Park for three days to make sure that we would see some wildlife. The weather was lovely, and we did manage to catch a glimpse of elephants, giraffe, water buffalo, white rhino and many of the various types of antelope.

Of course I was in photographic nirvana, as each day we had safaris both morning and evening, and the vehicles were open 4WDs that gave great access for photographers to take pictures of the animals.

We felt quite safe in the cabins we were staying in, even though we could hear various animal noises throughout the night. The cabins were built
fairly close to a river, and one morning I saw some crocodiles that were a little too close for comfort. They lie as motionless in the water as a log most of the time, and so are only noticed when they move. It's no wonder that they are able to fool their prey.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 80-400mm VR; ISO 800; 1/100 sec; f5.6


Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Shelf space

It's interesting how certain things attract the eye. When I walked into a food shop in San Francisco, I was immediately attracted to this wall of condiments. The very neat and ordered rows of vinegars, olive oils and sauces was a real eye-catcher. The store had obviously gone to a lot of trouble to present their goods in a pleasing manner, and the use of ornaments and pot plants added to the instant appeal. It was also leading up to Christmas, so there was a spray of holly too. The lighting and colour of the display was also perfect for a photo.

This was one of those shots that I didn't spend a lot of time over. I saw the display and immediately took the photo. I didn't think too much more about it until after my trip. As I started to go through the images from the trip, I found that I liked this one more each time I looked at it.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikon 17-55 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/30 sec; f5.6.


Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Life line

Occupational Health & Safety requirements have meant that high roofs have to have a safety line for any workers on the roof to clip onto - thus a slip won't result in a fall from a multi-storey building. That's what the solid black line running to the background post is.

But I was more interested in the textures and shadows produced by the morning sun in this picture. The corrugations in the roof have turned the shadow of the safety line into a pattern like a darning stitch from a sewing machine. Outside the cable and its shadow are lines of the roofing nails that have fixed the metal sheeting to the roof battens. There are now four lines leading your eye into the image, and the black & white conversion has emphasised the light and dark aspects of the photo.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 70-200 VR; ISO 200; 1/160 sec; f16.


Monday, February 18, 2008

Falling leaves

Remember the tulips from Valentine's Day? Fairly short shelf life! They looked absolutely glorious for three ar four days as they opened up, but fairly quickly after that the stems were drooping and the petals started to fall. Then on Sunday, we had quite windy weather, and before I knew it, the tulips were completely nude. As I picked up fallen petal number 1001, I wondered whether or not there could be a use for them.

I struck on the idea of trying to photograph them falling like leaves in autumn. I wish I hadn't! The idea was far more fruitful than the outcome, but in an effort to show that not all ideas can be transposed into artistic genius, my final image is shown above.

What went wrong? Well, nearly everything, really. The camera was set on a tripod, and one off-camera flash was used at 90 degrees to the lens axis. I wanted to fire the shutter as the petals passed the lens, hoping to capture a dreamy image of leaves
floating lazily towards the ground. But the petals actually fell like stones! Timing the exposure to fire while leaves were in the frame was far from easy. I have many exposures with a petal count of zero; several where there is one solitary petal of the thirty or so I dropped; some with two or three petals; and only two with the multiple petals I had envisaged.

I wonder how many blocks of marble Michelangelo destroyed before he finished his "David"?

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 17-55 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/20 sec; f22.


Friday, February 15, 2008


I don't normally rate my local supermarket all that highly. I go there almost every day, and the shelves seem to invariably be missing an item or two that I need. Not yesterday, however. It was Valentine's Day, and the place was overflowing with an amazing assortment of cut flowers.

I couldn't resist these tulips for my wife, the patient one, or TPO as she is known in these pages. I gave them to her last night when she got home from work, and they were an instant hit.

They were still looking wonderful this morning, so, as is my wont, I decided to capture them for posterity. You know, one of those days when, in search of brownie points, I can say "Do you remember those tulips I gave you on Valentine's Day? This photo really shows them off, doesn't it?"

Making the image took a bit of setting up. I wanted them to look as natural as possible, but I needed to use flash. So it was out with the tripod and the flash guns and the wireless remote. Would you believe that I took over 50 shots testing lighting and composition? I was trying to get the sort of wrap-around lighting that you can only get with multiple flashes. It gives a proper three-dimensional look to the subject. I ended up with the main flash in front of and to the left of the flowers and bounced of the ceiling, and two rear flashes at 45 degrees either side of the flowers, aimed slightly down at them. I also had to fine-tune the output of the flashes to make the lighting nice and even with no hot spots. Hence the 50+ pictures.

I am pleased with the final result, though. The colour of the flowers is shown properly, and the light falls off nicely towards the bottom of the image where those stems start. The background is just a bare wall, actually white, but once again the light falls off, leaving the softer colour.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 17-55 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/125 sec; f11.


Thursday, February 14, 2008

Black & white

The vast majority of pictures taken these days are in colour. Of course, in the very early days of photography there was no colour film, so photographers had to convey their messages using tone and contrast in black and white images. Now we are saturated with colour photos, and it is increasingly uncommon to see black and white images. Even newspapers have colour photographs now. Black and white is still used occasionally in portraiture and weddings, and by a few fine art photographers. But the average photographer rarely uses the medium.

Some images are just made for black and white reproduction. I made this photograph from a shot I took
this morning not too far from my home. I call it "Petrol Pump Prison". A company that installs and repairs pumps for use in service stations has a number of them in a storage facility surrounded by a chain wire fence. I thought that they looked like prisoners lined up for a roll-call! They might have been locked up for price gouging fuel, I suppose. A larger version of the image can be seen here.

Anyway, I only ever saw this picture in B&W. My camera captured the image in colour, and I made the conversion in Photoshop to obtain the picture that I had planned. When looking "photographically", I try to think not only in colour, but also in B&W - and sometimes black and white is better.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Wireless flash

One of the most useful things for a photographer is a flash, and one of the most useful flashes is one that can be used off-camera. Most cameras these days have an internal flash that simply pops up when needed. These flashes are usually small and because they are mounted right next to the camera lens, there is often a problem with red-eye.

Better than this system is a separate flash that can either be mounted on the camera's hot shoe (slightly better) or that can be moved around totally independently of the camera (much better). The major camera makers have this sort of system available, and the Nikon DSLR camera that I use has what they refer to as their Creative Lighting System, or CLS. This is a very flexible system that uses infra-red beams to trigger off-camera flashes. It will even calculate the proper exposure and then ensure that the duration of the flash will provide that exposure.

But there is even a step further than this. The limiting factor with infra-red signals is that they are only useful in direct line of sight situations. Any physical barrier, say a pillar, a piece of furniture or even another person, will prevent the signals from reaching their destination and doing their job. This is where a radio trigger comes in, and that is what is shown in the photo above.

It is the Elinchrom Skyport system, and the radio transmitter is shown on the bottom LHS of the image. It fits onto the camera hot shoe and interacts with the camera that way. On the top LHS is the radio receiver, which connects to the flash with a short sync cord. The flash can then be moved anywhere within the range of the radio signal and the camera can still talk to it, regardless of any of the physical barriers mentioned above. This system doesn't control the exposure though. The photographer needs to calculate the proper exposure
and the flashes must be set to fire on manual.

The transmitter can fire multiple flashes and has different frequencies that allow the flashes to be set up in groups if needed.

This system is much cheaper than the market leader in this segment, the Pocket Wizard. In fact it is half the price. The Pocket Wizard is known to be the gold standard, and though I've never used one, I am sure that it is extremely capable. But for considerably less money, the Skyport is very portable, efficient and therefore worthwhile.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 18-55 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/60 sec; f8.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Two seconds

Well, time isn't flying today. It's another wet day - we have monsoon winds and rain forecast for the next few days. I shouldn't complain because we've just had a very long drought, but it sure slows the photography efforts down.

I made the image above for an on-line photographic competition. I don't remember the theme of the competition now, but I do remember that I had to remove my entry before the judging because I inadvertently left my name in the EXIF, which is the file included in a digital image that gives the detail of the image - date, camera, exposure, etc. In this photo competition, the images had anonymous for judging, so I had sabotaged my own entry!

To set up this shot, I mounted my camera on a tripod because the image I imagined would require a time exposure.
Also, because I wanted to blur the second hand, I had to use available light, as the very short duration of a flash tends to freeze motion.

Watches are traditionally photographed with the hands in the 10 to 2 position to avoid the watch hands obscuring the brand name and any complicated dials on the watch face. Then I set the camera for a two second exposure and waited for the second hand to approach the top of the watch face. And, bingo! Photographic evidence that a two second exposure lasts for two seconds! Thanks to the slow shutter speed, we have captured the movement of the red arrowhead at the end of the second hand, which blurs across two seconds on the watch face.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Micro Nikkor 105 mm; ISO 200; 2 sec; f11.


Monday, February 11, 2008

Aerial gymnastics

Just after dawn this morning I heard a familiar sound. A fairly loud, fairly frequent "whoosh", echoing off the walls of the nearby buildings. We hear it a bit down my way, more often between March and September. Hot air balloons. They usually fly in the early mornings when the air is cooler so that the hot air that provides the lift is more effective.

It seems that the prevailing breezes push them down the river, and the pilots are quite skilled at keeping them just high enough to avoid trouble, and yet low enough to give their passengers a great view of the city. The "whooshing" noise comes from the gas burner which heats the air in the balloon. The air wants to cool and contract, which doesn't make for long and happy flights, so the pilot has to heat the air in the balloon to keep it afloat. They are masters of elevation, but direction isn't totally in their control!

Still, it looks like great fun. The one time I tried it, I was amazed at how quiet it is, and how close to the ground you really are.

In terms of matters photographic, I used the spot metering function of my camera to ensure that the balloon itself was properly exposed. I waited for the flame from the burner to be visible before pressing the shutter, because it gives the images more impact. The VR function of my lens was invaluable, because even though I was using 400 ISO, the shutter speeds were still rather low. In truth, I made a slight error in the rush to get my equipment ready quickly - I selected an aperture of f8; slightly too much for this shot where DOF isn't important. If I had selected f4 then I would have had more manageable shutter speeds for hand-holding the telephoto lens.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 80-400 mm VR; ISO 400; 1/80 sec (1), 1/50 sec (2).

Friday, February 8, 2008

The snooker lesson

Finishing our "People" theme for the week is this photo that I took at the wedding of some friends. The little boy is part of the official wedding party, and the wedding photographer is setting up pictures with the groom and groomsmen prior to the ceremony.

Although I had my flash with me (in fact I had it mounted on the camera, but not switched on), I thought this photo would have some potential using only the available light from the large window at the left. The afternoon light has rendered nice skin tones, and the snooker table, dark suits and furnishings have given the picture a terrific "boys' club" feel.

Although a flash is an important part of a photographer's kit, it is a mistake to use it indiscriminately. Sometimes available light, even when it is dim, can give a better mood to a photograph than artificial light. I try to assess every shot on its merits, even at night, and decide whether the situation would be better lit by flash or otherwise. You could even so both - flash and ambient lighting - and decide later which gives better results. You can bet that they will be different.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 17-55 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/60 sec; f2.8.


Thursday, February 7, 2008

The high school formal

One of the tried-and-true methods of enhancing a photograph is to change the position of the photographer. Not the subject, the photographer.

Why? Well, the majority of images that we see repeat the usual perspective of a
standing photographer. For example, most portraits are taken with the camera at the eye level of the subject, because that's generally eye level for the photographer too. Most pictures of pets are taken from above, because pets are generally smaller than people.

To achieve something different as a photographer can therefore be as easy as standing on a ladder to create a higher viewpoint, or crouching down to find a lower one. It creates a whole new perspective. Many press photographers keep a small step-ladder in the boot of the car for just this reason. It helps with crowd shots too.

For the picture above, taken before a high school formal, I stood on a landing half-way up a staircase, and asked the excited young women to look up at me from below. The result is a different perspective on the standard group portrait. I eliminated some distracting background elements with some blur, and that also added a dreamy quality to the shot.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 18-70 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/25 sec; f4.5.


Wednesday, February 6, 2008

The artist and the jockey

We seem to have started on a "people" theme this week, so I see no reason not to continue with it.

I took this image in a museum. The museum was quite busy, and there were more than a few people gathered near this bronze statue, so I figured it might be important. When looking for an opportunity to photograph it, I noticed this art student making a pencil drawing of the statue. She was all set up with an easel, and her work was really quite good, so I thought that I should include her in the picture.

The museum was the Athens Museum in Greece. The statue is "The Jockey of Artemision", which was probably made in the third century BC. The jockey was discovered by fishermen in an ancient shipwreck off the Greek coast in 1927. The statue was only completely restored in 1972 after the recovery of the horse. It seems that the jockey would have originally been holding the reins in his left hand, and a whip in his right. The detail in the figure of the horse and the body of the jockey was really quite extraordinary. I took the original photo in 1986 and it remains one of my favourite images.

When I went back to Athens twenty years later, I was pleased to see "The Jockey" was still there (left).
I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, since it had already survived for over 2300 years, many of those underwater.

EXIF: Sorry, unknown (main image). Canon A620; ISO 200; 1/100 sec; f2.8 (small image).


Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Umbrella girl

In Bangkok, the Chao Phraya River is a thriving entity in its own right. All day long, barges, ferries and pleasure craft chug along this river. Crossing the river by ferry is like a ride on the dodgems at a carnival - no rules, plenty of fun. Large multi-hull transports shepherded by a tug seem to have right of way because they aren't terribly manouvrable. Frail-looking long-tail boats, propelled by impossibly powerful and loud motors, dart through any available opening and dock in a shower of spray and frantic revving of their engines, usually disgorging a bunch of farang tourists.

Off the main part of the river, there is a series of klongs, or canals. Much narrower than the river, these canals are still very busy. There are floating markets and all sorts of food and drink stalls, both floating and land based. One tourist attraction consists of feeding a huge school of enormous catfish with bread bought from the side of the canal. The exchange of money and fish food takes place by using a plastic bucket that is passed to your boat via a specially rigged flying fox.

The klongs also contain a series of locks which enable boats to change elevation, and when you reach one of these there is inevitably a queue of boats waiting for the lock to be operated. It was while waiting in the queue that I saw this girl on an adjoining long-tail boat, resting in the shade of an ornately-decorated umbrella probably just bought from one of the floating souvenir vendors. Bangkok is very hot and humid, and the expression on this girl's face reflected the way we were all feeling as the boats queued in the sun waiting for the lock to open.

EXIF: Canon A620; ISO 200; 1/250 sec; f4.


Monday, February 4, 2008

Morning at the Farmers' Market

It seems that fresh food markets have become very popular over the last few years, I guess in part because our farmers feel as though they are being ripped off by the large chain stores that buy the farmers' produce for a low price and then sell it to their retail customers after a significant markup.

From the end user's perspective, the markets became a place to buy farm-fresh produce at a lower price. I'm not sure that the lower prices are still apparent, but if that means that more money is going to the producer, I'm all for it.

Most of the markets around Brisbane have become trendy places,
not only for shopping, but also for breakfast and the opportunity to catch up with other locals. Many of the stalls are manned by real characters - the fishmonger with a joke for every customer, the chilli vendor who supports global warming, not to mention the jazz group dressed like priests and nuns.

At our last local market, I saw this real Aussie peach farmer with his goods, standing in the morning sun. His face looked as though he had seen a tough season or two, but the smile and friendly banter were genuine. The lovely colours of the peaches and the light from the early sun indicated that a picture would be in order, and I am quite pleased with the result.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 17-55 mm DX; ISO 400; 1/320 sec; f8.


Friday, February 1, 2008

The beauty of nature

We are fortunate that nature provides us with so much photographic material. I like to photograph flowers particularly, because there is such a diverse range of shapes and colours.

This iris had such lovely shades that I just had to take a picture of it. It was in a bunch of flowers I bought home for my wife, but I think I got just as much enjoyment from them as she did.

With subtle tones like these, I generally avoid using flash, because the harsh lighting can overpower the subject so easily. But with this shot, I wanted a reasonable DOF so that I could show the fine detail of the flower. That would normally mean using a small aperture, which then leads to a slower shutter speed, which can then produce blur due to camera shake. So, for this shot,
I used a flash with a large diffuser to soften the light, and I also set my camera and lens on a tripod to ensure a stable platform. I then had enough light from the flash to shoot at the smallest aperture possible, and no possibility of a lack of sharpness in the flower.

To give the iris the prominence it deserves, the background has been slightly blurred and slightly darkened. The delicate shape of the iris, and its attractive colouring, are now the feature of the image.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Micro Nikkor 105 mm; ISO 200; 1/30 sec; f22; Nikon SB-800 flash, Lightsphere II.