Monday, March 31, 2008

The grip of the grape

Did you know that more than 70% of the world's grape production is converted into wine? Grapes and wine date back more than 7000 years, as vessels dating back to the Neolithic age, containing remnants of wine, have been found in Iran. Wine has been used for ceremonial and celebratory occasions ever since, and a moderate intake of red wine, in particular, is known to have many health benefits.

These grapes are chardonnay grapes from a vineyard near Napier in New Zealand. Australia and New Zealand are in the forefront of the so-called New World winemaking, using modern technology to wring every drop of goodness from the grapes. When I took this picture, I had to be very careful with the strong afternoon sunlight, and spent a considerable amount of time finding an area that wasn't too harshly lit.

Photographers have had a love affair with wine and its various accompaniments since the very early days, and I confess to a love of wine almost as great as my love of photography.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 18-70 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/50 sec; f5.6.


Friday, March 28, 2008

Spotted boy

On the Easter long weekend, I went to a friend's engagement party. They did a really fun thing and arranged for the guests to play lawn bowls after a very tasty lunch. To manage the large number of people, there was a system of stick-on dots in use, and this little boy wanted to collect as many dots as possible. He stuck them all over the front of his shirt in a serious fashion statement.

The fun started when he asked for his picture to be taken. A lady in his group took the photo, and the boy wanted to see it. Problem? She was using a film camera! Try as she might, she could not explain to this little boy who has obviously only ever seen digital cameras, that she was unable to show him his photo. He thought she was refusing to show him the image - he didn't realise that she couldn't show him.

Anyway, I was able to help out by offering to take his picture on my digital camera. Once he had seen how cool he looked in spots, he was as happy as Larry. Ain't technology wonderful?

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 17-55mm DX; ISO 200; 1/640 sec; F4.


Thursday, March 27, 2008

The pearl divers

When I was a kid here in Brisbane, I used to visit the "Ekka" - our nickname for the Royal National Association Exhibition. The Ekka was an annual festival that showed rural Australia to city folk. In its early years, it was all about farm produce, livestock and ring events like showjumping and woodchopping, but over time creeping commercialism provided show bags, Tasmanian potato chips and Sideshow Alley.

Sideshow Alley is an amalgam of gaudy rides, gross fast food (giant fairy floss and Dagwood Dogs to name a couple) and tent shows featuring the likes of the Bearded Lady and Jimmy Sharman's boxing troupe. One tent show that bobbed up every year was the Cultured Pearl Exhibition, where for a few bob, you could see actual Japanese women setting cultured pearls into jewellery.

Years later, I visited an area in Japan where they demonstrated the old methods of diving for pearls and the modern methods of making jewellery. Traditionally, it was females who did the diving, wearing a very practical and modest full-length white suit and goggles. The used a floating wooden tub which they towed around behind them to hold the recovered mussels they brought up from below the surface, only to then dive back underwater to search for more (above, top).

The mussels were then brought ashore to be shucked and cleaned, and examined for pearls, which were sorted and graded for quality (above right). This woman was even wearing the same uniform as I used to see at the Ekka as a kid.


Wednesday, March 26, 2008

The Great Wall of China

No visit to China would be complete without a glimpse of the Great Wall, and we were able to visit a section of the Wall just north of Beijing. Here the Wall is in quite good repair, and the difficult terrain gives some idea of the immense task that would have been involved in its construction. Wikipedia says that the Wall's construction may have commenced about the 5th century BC, and that it stretches for more than 6400 kilometres.

At its peak, it was guarded by more than 1 million soldiers, and during its construction around 2 million workers died. Wikipedia also puts to rest the urban myth that the Great Wall is the only man-made construction visible from the moon, saying that it is difficult to see even from a low orbit of the Earth.

The section that we visited was quite wide, but very steep. On the day we were there, at the end of winter, there was an extremely cold wind that forced the temperature down to around -25 degrees Celsius. All the tourists were rugged up to combat the severe cold, but the hardy locals seemed to be impervious to it. In the towers, the soldiers would have been able to build fires to warm themselves. I can only imagine the hardship that must have been endured by those workers who built the Wall.

EXIF: not available


Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Tiananmen Square

As discussed in yesterday's post, I was fortunate enough to visit China about 25 years ago, and found it to be an amazingly interesting place. I haven't been back since, and I would really like to go there again, because I think the most incredible changes would have occurred in the meantime.

When I was in Beijing, for example, cars were relatively few in numbers, while bicycles were in plentiful supply. Hordes of bicycles would clog the streets in the mornings and afternoons, riders well protected against the freezing winter weather.

I don't know what the rules are now, but back then, all tourists had to be escorted by someone from the Tourist Bureau. The person we had was really excellent, but you had the feeling that you were only to go to certain places. In Beijing, one of the most fascinating areas was Tiananmen Square, where there are many monuments and statues to the People's Revolution and Chairman Mao. I was able to photograph this marvellous statue at the right time of the day for the sun to provide shadow detail, emphasising the depth of the figures. Note the detail in the hands, faces and weapons. (A larger image can be seen here.)

EXIF: sorry!


Monday, March 24, 2008

Feeding the pigeons

Today's image is from China, where this young boy was feeding the pigeons at a temple. Feeding birds of all varieties is popular with the Chinese, whereas in Australia we regard some species as pests. Most of us wouldn't feed pigeons or sparrows because they are rather messy to have around.

I probably took this image more than 25 years ago using film, the scan to digital is probably more than 5 years old, and the most recent post processing occurred today. so we have an amalgam of three generations of technology. I still have the original slide, so I may rescan it to see if I can improve the resolution.

The things I like about this photo are the body language of the boy (half-excited; half-frightened),
the indulgent look on the boy's father, and the blur of the pigeons fluttering around the feed in the boy's hand. By getting down low and having the camera at the boy's eye level, I was also able to fill the foreground space with pigeons, giving greater depth to the image.

EXIF: unknown


Friday, March 21, 2008

Running for the ferry

It's getting harder and harder to take candid images. In many places, photographers are treated with suspicion, and in some cases harassed by police and security workers. Unfortunately, this sort of activity has rubbed off on the general public, who are increasingly wary of anyone who points a camera in their direction. Some of the professed reasons for this are understandable, while some are downright ludicrous. I can follow that it is not acceptable to photograph things like atomic power stations and water treatment plants without authorisation. But there was a recent case where a photographer was prevented from shooting in a public mall (not a shopping centre, but an outdoor general use area) because the resultant images would reveal the positioning of the CCTV cameras. The same logic should therefore prevent anyone from taking notes using a pencil and paper!

Anyway, this image is from a local park. The couple in the picture are making a run for a ferry that is just about to depart. They were having fun, as can be seen from the expressions on their faces. Because it was a public place, I am allowed to take their photograph, and because they are not doing anything illegal or even out of the ordinary, I felt entitled to do that. Naturally, if anyone that I photographed asked me not to do so, I would accede to their request - people are entitled to ask for privacy. But generally, when in public spaces, I feel justified in taking photographs of the buildings and the people that happen to be in that space at that time.

I like this picture because it shows people behaving in an ordinary, everyday way, and enjoying doing so. It would be a shame to lose the right to record such activity.

PS - They caught the ferry!

EXIF: Nikon D300; Nikkor 18-200mm VR; ISO 200; 1/100 sec; f5.6


Thursday, March 20, 2008

The one that didn't get away

The angling arts have never been familiar to me. Once, after a morning's fishing from a friend's boat, I reeled in my line to head home only to find a dead fish on the end of it. I knew blokes who would come to work after a weekend spent fishing and recount their catches. It seemed that most of these fishermen caught far more than were needed for a family feed.

Needless to say then, the world of deep-sea fishing was entirely foreign to me until I visited the town of Russell, in the north island of New Zealand. The local sports fishing club was having a competition, and a boat brought in this catch one afternoon when I was on the jetty. The normal catch and release policy had been suspended for the week of the competition, hence this huge (dead) blue marlin being displayed. Note the blackboard - 282kg. That's some fish.

Because I saw this as being a type of photojournalism shot, I left the onlookers in the shot, and included the successful female angler and the blackboard with all the details.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 18-70mm DX; ISO 200; 1/160 sec; f11.


Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Knights of old

It's not every day that you come across a knight in full armour, including a sword, on a horse with livery from the middle ages, so when you do, it is best to make sure that you capture a photograph - otherwise people might tend not to believe you.

This is an actual castle, once protecting a town and dating back over a thousand years. It has over two miles of fortified walls and more than 50 spires. It is believed to have been the inspiration for the castle in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty, and some of the scenes for Kevin Costner's Robin Hood movie were filmed here. There are daily jousting tournaments, and other medieval entertainment can also be found readily. Can you guess where it is?

It is the largest fort in Europe, situated at Carcassonne, which is in the Languedoc region of southern France. When I took this picture, I was keen to include the lush green grass and some aspects of the castle as well as the armoured knight and his horse. I normally would prefer not to have the horse facing out of the image, but in this photo the more serious faults are having cropped the horse's hooves and the top of the tower out of the frame.

But the golden rule of photography is "first, get an image", so I console myself that as I have only this one shot of the occasion, it is the best shot I have.

EXIF: film; unknown


Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Textured wood

One of the aspects of photography that really interests me is the ability to show texture in images. Of course, just as it is with most aspects of photography, lighting is the key to being able to illustrate texture. Flat lighting removes texture - you need side lighting to be able to show things like grain and surface texture.

This wooden walkway in Rotorua, New Zealand, interested me when I saw it. It was laid out around a lake, and therefore obviously exposed to the elements. The weathered mixture of swirls and lines looked interesting, and, fortunately for me, the late afternoon sun allowed the camera to be able to see all of that texture.

I composed the shot with the timber running across the long diagonal for aesthetic reasons, and made sure that I had included a couple of the more interesting knots. Post processing consisted of a slight increase in contrast, and then a conversion to black and white.

EXIF: Nikon D200; Nikkor 18-70mm DX; ISO 200; 1/640 sec; f8.


Monday, March 17, 2008


You get unintended consequences in photography sometimes. I cannot lie - mostly the unintended consequences are bad news. The type of thing that happens when you haven't reset the ISO after shooting in the dark the previous night, or when the auto white balance setting decides that skin tones are green today.

But sometimes whatever gremlin that has infected your camera (or, more likely, your brain!) actually gives you a free kick and you end up with something better than you imagined.

This is what happened here. I took this picture using film one
winter day in Europe. I knew that the trees would be silhouetted against the sky, which, although overcast, was quite a deal brighter than the foreground. What I didn't expect was that the image would end up looking like some sort of charcoal sketch. The swirling clouds and the bare trees had a desolate quality that I hadn't seen before I took the photo. Sometimes the camera just enhances the subject - they say that's what happened when Marilyn Monroe was photographed.

EXIF: not known


Friday, March 14, 2008


Our final look at Greece is the island of Corfu, situated off Greece's western coast. Corfu, now recognised as part pf Greece, has a long and colourful history. The forts on the island bear testimony to the struggles between Greece, Italy and Albania over the years. The largest town on the island is also called Kerkyra or Corfu Town, it has been around since the 7th century BC, and it is an extremely pleasant place to visit.

Corfu Town looks more like an Italian or French town, rather than Greek, resulting from the various influences over the years. It seems to be a shoppers paradise. There are lots of jewellery shops especially, and they seem to have reasonable prices if you are up for a bit of haggling. The old town is quite well preserved, and is made for walking, as the narrow and winding streets are too tight for vehicles.

Outdoor restaurants abound, and the food we had in Corfu, as in the rest of Greece, was very good and quite cheap. Seafood is plentiful, and the fresh fruit and vegetables are of high quality.
EXIF: Canon A620; auto.


Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Parga harbour

The reason for my visit to Greece was for the wedding of friends, who although are from Brisbane, had decided to get married in Parga (above), on the north-western coast of Greece. The bride's father had lived in this area as a boy, and still had family there, so at the wedding were plenty of Aussies who had travelled to Parga from various parts of the world, and also lots of locals. The wedding was held in a tiny Greek Orthodox church situated on a little island in the harbour, seen in the picture below. The church was built over 200 years ago.

Parga is a beautiful town, with buildings stretching up the hills that surround the sheltered harbour. It gets quite touristy in summer, with many visitors from Britain and Europe, attracted to the
Greek hospitality, the blue sea and the beaches.

EXIF: Canon A620; auto.



A couple of hours north-west of Athens is Delphi, chiefly famous as the home of the Oracle of Delphi. Delphi is situated on Mt Parnassus, and was also a major site for the worship of the god Apollo. The picture above shows columns remaining from the Temple of Apollo, and gives some idea of the surrounding mountains and valleys.

Ancient Greeks thought that Apollo spoke through the Oracle, and so the Oracle was consulted before any major event in order to determine whether the Gods would be favourably disposed or not. The Oracle spoke in gibberish and thus had to be interpreted by the local priests.
It was felt that an offering to the Gods was required, and storehouses were erected nearby to house future offerings. One of the buildings still visible here is the Treasury of the Athenians, below.

There is also a very interesting museum at Delphi, not too far from the archaeological site. One of the most famous pieces there is "The Charioteer", pictured below. The museum has carefully arranged the recovered pieces of the work next to an artist's illustration of what the original may have looked like.

EXIF: Canon A620; full auto.


Tuesday, March 11, 2008

The changing of the guard

We're still in Athens, this time outside the Presidential Mansion, near Constitution Square, at the changing of the guards. Similar to the ceremonies that occur in London at Buckingham Palace, these guards are hand-picked and trained in the formal and traditional marching style shown here. We were told, in Athens, that there was a minimum height requirement for these soldiers, and that the training is lengthy and exacting.

Inevitably, there is something about tradition that causes some people to sneer. "The ministry of silly walks" was a comment we heard about this ceremonial changing of the guard, but I, for one, don't mind the continuance of some traditional rituals; the same as I admire an old building. Once you get rid of it, it's gone forever.

The Presidential Mansion was originally the Royal Palace, and it was completed in 1897 for Prince Constantine and his bride. There seems to have been a rather chequered history after that, as I quote from Wikipedia:

The use of the building as a Palace was interrupted in 1924 when the monarchy was overthrown and a Republic was declared. It was then used as the Presidential Mansion until 1935 when the monarchy was restored and the King returned. Since 1974, when democracy was restored after a seven year military dictatorship, the building has been used as the Presidential Mansion and the residence of the President of the day."

I'm certainly not in a position to comment on the politics of Greece, so I can only remark that the palace and nearby gardens are well worth a visit if you are in Athens; and that the changing of the guard is a bit of pomp and ceremony that does not seem out of place, even in today's bustling Athens.

EXIF: Canon A620; auto everything.


Monday, March 10, 2008

The Acropolis

After last week's tour of inner-city Brisbane, this week we will be visiting Greece. I've been to Greece a couple of times, and I have to say that I really love it. The people are very friendly and hospitable, and the food is very much to my taste too. Not even the experience of losing a suitcase at Athens airport on the day of my arrival of my most recent trip (for the wedding of friends) has spoiled my opinion of Greece.

On my first visit to Greece, in 1986, we landed at Athens before dawn, and then climbed aboard a bus for the journey into the centre of town. As the sun rose, we had the most superb view of the
Acropolis that overlooks Athens. To this day, that remains one of my most cherished travel memories. The Parthenon (pictured above) was built on the hill in around the 5th century BC as a temple for the goddess Athena, and remains one of the architechtural wonders of the world. Visiting the Acropolis is awe inspiring, and even competing with the busloads of other tourists for the few shady spots does not interfere with the experience.

The buildings on the Acropolis have suffered badly from many threats: modern pollution, too many tourists, and improper reconstruction techniques. The site is much better managed these days, and tourists are prevented from wandering at will over the marble and limestone that remains, unlike previous times when there was very little supervison. When I was there in 2006, there was another large restoration project underway, and there were workmen and scaffolding all over the hill. However, one can hardly complain if this activity prolongs these antiquities for future generations.

EXIF: Canon A620; full auto.


Friday, March 7, 2008

Gothic church

The Albert Street Uniting Church stands opposite King George Square on the corner of Ann and Albert Streets, and is described as "an excellent example of a Victorian Gothic Revival church, climatically adapted with side colonnades and front porch; and internally a good example of the major attributes of the Methodist tradition."

Completed in 1889, this church replaced the original Methodist church of Brisbane which was further down Albert Street towards the river. It was built using red brick, and it has a slate roof and quite an attractive spire. It has the traditional cruciform shape, and the interior contains a large pipe organ. This church is now very heavily booked for weddings, including many for overseas couples.

The church is also quite frequently photographed, and now that it is surrounded by tall office towers, it is a lovely contrast to those more modern buildings.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 12-24 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/160 sec; f9.


Thursday, March 6, 2008

Customs House

When the main traffic into Brisbane was by boat, it made sense for Customs to be on the river near the wharves. Customs House was completed in 1889, and served as the main Customs office for a hundred years. The exterior of the building is sandstone from Helidon, and the roof has a large copper dome that once was a landmark visible through the city streets, but is now surrounded by office blocks. Now, after being renovated, it is operated by the University of Queensland, and hosts many cultural events and private functions.

I have a strong family connection to the Customs House - both my grandfather and uncle worked there. Unfortunately, there is also a link to one of Australia's worst rail disasters. In 1947 a special train carrying Customs House staff members and their families to a picnic at Samford crashed, causing the death of 16 people, with a further 38 being injured. Both of my grandparents and their youngest son, aged 9, were amongst those who perished that day.

The photo was taken from Queen Street, near the Adelaide Street corner.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 12-24 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/800 sec; f8.


Wednesday, March 5, 2008

City Hall

This is Brisbane's King George Square, with City Hall and its clock tower in the background. City Hall was officially opened in 1930, although some Council staff had been working in the building since 1927. City Hall is constructed of local materials, including sandstone blocks sourced from Helidon. The clock tower was the city's tallest building until the 1960s, when it was overtaken by modern office towers; the first one being the MLC Building on the corner of Adelaide and Edward Streets.

King George Square wasn't opened until 1975, but it is currently undergoing a complete redevelopment in conjunction with the new Northern busway. Unfortunately, the Square will lose all its fountains as a result of the recent severe drought which has made water features very un-PC. I passed the new Square today, and it is apparent that the redeveloped area is going to look entirely different from this picture.

The photo was taken with a 12mm wide-angle (18mm equivalent at full sensor size) lens, and has been corrected for perspective distortion.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 12-24 mm DX; ISO 200; 1/640 sec; f9.


Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Bridge workers

In yesterday's post, I mentioned the iconic status of the Brisbane River as far as the local inhabitants are concerned. The premier bridge across the river is this one, the Story Bridge, which links Kangaroo Point on the southern side with Fortitude Valley to the north. The bridge was designed by Queensland engineer Dr John Bradfield, who also designed the Sydney Harbour Bridge. The Story Bridge was built downstream from the city's first bridge, the Victoria Bridge, which runs from the end of Queen Street to West End.

The Story Bridge was completed in 1940 as a result of a public works program that commenced during the depression to provide work for Australians in those harsh economic times. The capital funds to build the bridge were lent to the city by the financial services sector, with AMP being one of the larger contributors, and repaid by the collection of a toll.

More recognition of the river being an integral part of the city has led to the bridge being lit at night and used as a launching pad for fireworks during celebrations. There is now a bridge climbing tour that takes its customers up to the top of the bridge for morning, daytime and evening tours.

The photo was taken from a newer city icon, the CityCat, and shows some workmen doing some welding on the bridge structure. As with all bridges, maintenance is ongoing, and the Story Bridge is repainted every seven years.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 70-200 mm VR; ISO 200; 1/200 sec; f11.


Monday, March 3, 2008

Morning skyline

This week we're going to take a look around my home town, Brisbane. Brisbane is in the south-east corner of the Queensland coast line, built around the Brisbane River which flows into Moreton Bay. John Oxley, after establishing a penal settlement at Redcliffe on the Bay, sailed up the river and landed at North Quay, situated at the western end of the present CBD. The Brisbane River is a key focus of Brisbane, which is now known locally as the River City, and houses on the river or on Moreton Bay are extremely sought after.

This picture was taken from the southern side of the river at Kangaroo Point. There are high cliff faces there that are used for abseiling, and they also provide good views back over the city. Brisbane was once viewed as a big country town, but, as the high-rise buildings in this picture show, it is now a thriving commercial and business centre. A lot of the recent development has come at a price though, as many of the older and more historic buildings have now been lost.

By coincidence, this image was the first image ever taken with my first digital SLR camera, on 2nd April 2004. It was taken as the sun was rising over the city,
just before 6 am. The cranes visible at the top of the building are gone now, as the building has long been completed. The cross-river ferry (visible in the lower RHS) that I used to catch to work in the mornings back in the mid-60s is still running, but is soon to be replaced by the newer, bigger CityCats. The sailing craft in the lower LHS are moored near the Botanic Gardens, and those moorings soon fill up during our mild winters.

EXIF: Nikon D70; Nikkor 18-70 mm DX; ISO 100; 1/2 sec; f22.