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.