Objects that find other Objects

Whilst I’ve been busy upgrading my kit (ah ha you say), there hasn’t been much output photographically. There’s a big project looming, slowly the bits and pieces are falling together and that’s kept me busy. But sometimes, out on the bike doing this and that, I come across something that looks like something that I’ve photographed before, and so out comes the camera from the saddlebag (or a zippy ride back home to pick up said gear) and ‘snap’! Now an old picture has a friend and makes it nicer to view, just a bit anyway.  
How often does one see so many trucks (or buses) parked together?


Reaching up or floating away?




An exercise in surprise

How do we view ourselves? How do we think others see us? Maybe we all think in terms of how we’d like to see ourselves/others to see us, and we get the two confused.

I took a series of about 60 self portraits and learned that I utterly hated nearly all of them. This was a real surprise, I squirmed upon loading them on the screen. Who’s this guy? So there’s only one thing to it….take more…..and more and more. Why? It’s novel and unnerving, uncomfortable, and I’d rather be taking pics of lovely people or scenery. If it’s to be ugly, what about some graffiti even dirty shoes found on the street, but not me!  I don’t think anyone want’s to see these pics; and consequently the correct thing to do is what feels least natural, most polar opposite of the instinctive behaviour; to hide behind the viewfinder, or even to not take photographs at all. So I’m going to take more.

The anticipation is actually strangely exciting, both in the sense that I think the outcome will be novel, and because it’s challenging in an unexpected way. I’m expecting to find this to continue being outside of the ‘comfort zone’ and I don’t know why, it’s not like I have a poor self image or am abashed for some physical extra or missing bits. But through the lens is different to in a mirror, so much so that it felt as a rude awaking of the fact – pictures do distort reality, some realities more than others. If you don’t believe me, try it yourself! What a hoot!

Where there’s petrol, there’s fire

It’s not immediately apparent, but if you look carefully it can be seen that the ‘fire rotation thing’ in these pics we took is right smack in the middle of a diesel storage facility…..well a little to the left of smack in the middle, bit kind of close. I’d loosely group these sorts of images in a ‘contrasts’ category of pictures.

But that’s not the real purpose of this visual exercise….

I like contrast, and aside from the visual impact of such an image, I wanted to litmus test what would happen if I ‘lit a fire’ in the (sort of) middle of a fuel depot. Would security arrive? We hadn’t actually broken through any fences, or performed anything illegal as such, and there wasn’t any real danger. But I like challenging my own private notion of ‘an over regulated country’, where some uniform somehow appears right when one’s at the apogee of fun and adventure. The fire trail was clearly visible from the main road. Security cameras recorded our arrival (remember we hadn’t actually broken any laws or trespassed per se). I’m pleased to report that my feelings of said ‘over-regulation’ is slowly diminishing, and I’m warming to the feeling of fear-free-photography. This is the real reward of such an exercise.

sDocuments & Art

Anyone who fails to understand Photography,
will be one of the illiterates of the future

László MoholyNagy 

Much of my reading time has been about the technical bits of image making. Tech is easy, it’s logical, it can be learnt in customary manner and isn’t foreign. Want to achieve a particular look? Just place a light there, measure the ambient light and twist knob B. Take picture, adjust this slider in Lightroom and yeah, we get a nice picture. There will always be new technique to learn, new skills to hone. But because it can be learnt, because it can be practiced and even easily written about in blogs…..it’s not much of a challenge. But there are things I find really challenging….and that is consistently taking an image with a story, a message, an idea. Photography can record a visual, or it can record an idea or concept. Maybe I’m over simplifying, but I call the former visual documentation, the latter art.

Genius of Photography

BBC Six Part Series

Technical vs Art Rating: 100% Art

It’s not a silly name, just a bit cliché. But wow, what a fantastic six part series made by the BBC about, well…the genius of photography. This comprehensive series puts into light the artistry of taking images, and the mystery of interpreting pictures. There are things I don’t get….yet… like Joel Meyerowitz’s interpretation of Eugene Atget’s “Notre Dame”: something ‘yummy’ and ‘delicious’ – I’m sure Atget was just testing his new camera and snapped a picture of a tree in front of Notre Dame. Now the image is worth millions, but hey, that’s art!

However the series does show a glimpse into the indisputable genius of the art of image making, and begins with it’s most powerful statement: in 1928 Andre Kertesz took this series of images, the final one is entitled ‘Meudon’. The first photographs Andre took are about as unremarkable as the place itself, but something about them must have caught his eye, as he came back. The final images, the famous ones, Andre managed to change something ordinary, into something extraordinary.

With his final photograph (left), we can’t but wonder what the figure is doing, what he is carrying, where he is taking it.

“Photography always transforms what it describes, that’s the art of photography – to control that transformation”uncredited quote.

It’s just this understanding of how to control the transformation, how to plan for telling a story which intrigues me the most. Whilst this series doesn’t provide you with an answer in the traditional sense, like you’d expect from an instruction manual or textbook, it does undeniably prove (to me at least) that there is logic to art, even if there’s unpredictable and chaotic reasons why certain images evoke more emotions.

Blur/Bulb Magazine

Technical vs Art Rating: 101% Art

I stumbled upon this amazing magazine from the Czech Republic (I think originally) but now is run by volunteers in Croatia, USA, Canada and Germany. Photographic works seem to be from all the world (recently), and particularly from east europe. And let’s remember that some of the world best creative art comes from east europe!

There is a certain fluff factor with some of the work chosen to be featured, and a slight focus on non-erotic nudity. However aside from this, which may just be my subjective prejudice, there are no creative limits in the works exhibited in this collection. Non at all, intact some images have been jaw-droppers for me, and that’s a good thing!

What can you expect to take out of reading these magazines? A full frontal, in-your-face, sometimes confrontational look at creative photography. There are no guides on portraiture or journalistic technique, no fluff on landscape or HDR, just images which make one realise there are no limits, at least with some props and costumes.

Within the Frame – Journey of Photographic Vision

David deChemin

Technical vs Art Rating: 20% Science 80% Art

David deChemin is a travel photographer who I think excels most with his affinity towards people and cultures. Throughout the book are his images which I think are wonderful, and to a degree bring out the wanderlust is most readers. David explains some of the technical aspects of each shot, but what distinguishes the text and the writer, is the in in depth look at how David interacted with the very people he was photographic, before, during and after the fact.

I find taking candid photos abroad easier than back home. Perhaps it’s because as a tourist it is almost expected we wield a camera and therefore we feel less conscious of the fact. But some of this is ‘guerilla’ photography, taking images without implied or expressed permission, and indeed I’m sure some of the time we do deliberately in indirectly take ‘guerilla’ pictures of people, we cause some sort of offence and increase cultural barriers.

In ‘Within the Frame’ David details how to approach people, engage them, make them feel that photography isn’t evil. And all that without speaking more than two or three words of the same language.

The stormy shallows at sunset

Hmmm, thousands of misspent dollars of photographic gear, a crappy trolley, some bungee straps, a beautiful model and lots of sticky sulphurous mud made for a pleasant evening at the old oyster farm. Sadly a vicious storm prevented us from taking the necessary time to enjoy the place to its fullest….for example the thousands, no; hundreds of thousands of blue soldier crabs that seemed almost curious about their bipedal overlords doing silly things with light boxes. But there’s always a next time if, that is, we’d risk the mud, sand, and salt that can turn a nice bit of gear into something nasty very quickly…..

Wee bit contemplative: what drew us to the location was, well… the location. Also a desire to show something pretty in a place where prettiness doesn’t usually belong. That’s one of my minor inspirations for shooting, to show contrasts, sometimes even quite pronounced contrasts. The model was quite exploratory which suited the feel I was looking for. Shallows remind me of my favourite  times as a child; being left to explore rock pools away from the blabbering adults. The hermit crabs, squishy squirmy things are a glorious delight for children, and exploratory people. Perhaps if we didn’t have the pressure of an impending storm I would have loved to focus a bit more on ground level where all the delights are. Sometimes we learn more about story telling by realising what we missed telling!

Wee bit technical: I was a bit surprised at how underexposed the outcome was, almost a bit perplexed. Personally I don’t like to fix exposure too much in post, my camera although sensitive, is quite prone to blowing out highlights. It’s a downside of a limited dynamic range sensor (though it does force one to think about these things, consequently and hopefully become a better photographer). I’m not sure if it was the feeling of overcast weather or some technical trick (like forgetting to rely on the histogram under changing lighting conditions), but the result was a bit darker and more sinister than planned. There was a storm however, a killer that dumped half an oceans worth of water in a few minutes. So it kind of fits.

A place to sit and watch the petroleum flow

There’s I place I keep coming to, not only for the photographic privacy, but also because one never knows what the ‘tide’ washes in each day. Like a near new chair to sit on and keep dry as you watch the trains go by.

SB900 Modification

The good guys at Nikon Rumours recently tested an SB900 and SB910, to evaluate the improvements in the later on the overheating problem the original model had. There’s a simple solution to the whole problem of overheating, and that’s to 1) remove the power source to outside the flash unit 2) provide a high current (capable) power source. And this can all be done for AU$30, with a connection of an external Sealed Lead Acid battery.

Modify you flash at your own risk, but it works well!

Under the Bridges

Sir Leo Hielscher lived for the sole purpose of having lovely models photographed under his bridges. We just missed the Sun Princess as she steamed under the bridge. I kicking the sand for having missed a big ship, and waited for the sunset to used a 43-inch shoot-through umbrella to create another lovely rendition of my favourite model. A second speedlight was used from the rear left as a rim-light, and a third provided much-needed fill on the grass in the ‘foreground’.

The two bridges are so high and expansive, I found that a 14mm lens was a lot more pleasing than 35mm, though as I often find with this focal length, several shots distorted the models face. 14mm (on full-frame) is challenging to use just for that fact that it distorts so much in the edges of the frame. As a developing photographer, the hardest lesson I learnt was that people don’t like having their body parts (or wholes) distorted. What looks novel and artistic to the photographer can look disturbing to the subject! So the lesson with ultra wide is; distort objects not people so place models close to the centre if they’re close, and point body bits inward. Then just enjoy the lovely results your models give.

Poor Man’s Flash Meter

What’s this all about? This article is about setting remote flash exposure correctly using a seldom utilised method: distance priority. It works when you can’t use a hand-held flash meter and the flash is off-camera. It’s also my preferred method for ‘metering’ a single flash with or without an umbrella.

First, the equipment

To use a flash without metering (i.e. TTL, or a hand held flash meter) or chimping (taking a photo, reviewing and adjusting manually), we need to be able to measure distances and calculate flash power. All adjustable flashes come with a table of distance vs power for a correct exposure, either in the manual (boo) or digitally stored in the flash computer itself as a lookup table (hooray). In the later instance, this is called the distance priority mode – dialing in the measured distance, along with ISO and f/stop, automatically sets the flash power for the correct exposure. Magic!

Most people measure distance mentally, and quite well. But I completely suck at this. In fact, I recently had several conversations with some work collegues about this. I asked them to guess the distance of certain walls in our work place. Most were close, some were uncannily accurate, but some, like me, had not even an inkling. So this is why I bought a laser distance meter, and have never looked back. Simply point at the subject and I know exactly how far they are from the flash.

So here’s the workflow:

1: Visualise your photo, subject and flash placement, and set everything up as you wish. It can’t be neglected to mention that this part is the actual art of photography, and therefore the most important bit. The rest is just technical stuff which usually detracts from the ‘art’ if you like.

2: Visualise and set the desired ISO, apeture and shutter speed. This is normal stuff, shutter affect ambient, f/stop affects the depth of field (at this stage it actually doesn’t affect flash power as that hasn’t been set yet) and ISO affects the exposure range as always. Note all the settings and we now switch out of ‘art mode’ to ‘lighting engineer mode’.

a quick note: If you’re using a shoot thru umbrella, and who wouldn’t, take all measurements from the flash head as if the umbrella didn’t exist.A good umbrella will only loose 1 stop of light as it passes through it. Take note of this, though it’s a good idea to test yours. Set the flash to distance priority mode, or manual flash power and

3: Measure the flash to subject distance. I use a laser distance meter as I’m hopeless at guessing and tape measures are too time consuming.

4: Dial in the distance, ISO and f/stop chosen in step 2.

5: Set the compensation for the flash power. Here is where you add your personal flash power compensation to that which you need to compensate for your umbrella. So I usually like a -0.5 compensation to darken the flash a little, and I add the  1 compensation required due to the loss through the umbrella, resulting in a  0.5 compensation.

Shoot and enjoy the fruits of correctly exposed flash! Hooray!


The benefits of this system are many, and there are a few drawbacks. Firstly, the smarts in the ditance priority mode of my flashes show not only the dialed in distance, but also the flash range of power of the particular unit. This changes based on the f/stop, ISO and zoom of the head, and is expressed as a dark line on the LCD with the min and max distance displayed. You can see this in the left diagram with the flash ‘zone’ being between 0.9 mtrs and 1.1 mtrs. Remember this will change according to the other settings I’ve dialed in, but it is extremely useful to know that my desired distance (expressed as the big 1.0 mtrs in the left example) is within the range. If I was below the range, the image would be over exposed as the lowest power the flash is capable of firing would still be too high. Conversely, if I was beyond the 1.1 mtr distance, the flash would underexpose no matter high much positive compensation I dialed in, as the flash would simply not have the power. So as you can see, a lot is happening automatically, freeing me up to not focus on the technical too much, as it’s all just calculated for me.

A drawback is the need to choose f/stop and ISO before setting up the flash. This means if you’re changing setting  at the camera, you’ll need to walk to the flash again to reset. There’s no way of getting past this unless you have an assistant, use iTTL remote flash units (very expensive) or TTL cables (very limiting in distance). One thing to remember is that most situaltions dictate certain ranges of f/stop. For example, I mostly shoot in f/2 for portraits in umbrella photography, so this problem is not so pronounced. And don’t forget, shutter speed (within the sync speed range) does not affect the flash exposure, only ambient. This gives you further latitude in selecting settings without affecting the flash exposure.

Lastly, and this brings me onto the promise of my next post, is the issue of using this rig for multiple flashes. I’ve yet to work out a ‘rule of thumb’ for adding a second or third flash. Stay tuned!