Saturday, February 28, 2009

Futurism Yesterday

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What is futuristic in one decade is familiar in the next and downright passe as time goes by, but no less a part of the landscape. This is the Festival Plaza, behind Parliament House, Adelaide, South Australia, looking toward the smaller of the two auditoria of the Festival Theatre Complex, built in the mid-1970s. The architectural style was definitely futuristic at the time, Adelaide competing on a smaller scale with the Sydney Opera House which at that time had become an Australian landmark and icon. The Plaza with its modern art public sculptures dates from a little later in time I think, but is definitely the primary colours and abstract angles of generations gone by. Has it aged well? That's a question for art critics, but it certainly makes for an almost-surreal photograph: the unchanging nature of the primal sky above yesterday's ambition to project today into tomorrow. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic; February, 2009. Image by Mike.

Friday, February 27, 2009

Shooting Straight

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I remember standing below the incredible facade of the British Museum (Natural History), in London, and framing this shot for a long, long time. Arms get tired, eyes start to twitch, but eventually you can frame the shot in virtually perfect alignment with the symmetry of the subject matter. The organic nature of some subjects can mask alignment from the eye's perception, often optical illusions will guide how you align the camera and only become obvious in the image, divorced from its locality. Reflex shooting is especially vulnerable to this, such as all those shots of taxying aircraft in which the horizon slopes down to the left (due to the nervous tension of catching a moving subject and the pressure of the shutter release on the right side of the camera). Here the stonework forms a virtual grid pattern, a symmetry laid out for the eye, and the subject was standing still, I could take all the time I needed to balance the composition. The frame was sharpened, but otherwise minimally enhanced for publication. December 2006; Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Tower and the Trees

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There was something irresistable about this vision of a man-made structure groping skyward through the primal forest. Not so much that exact dichotomoy -- a microwave tower rising over palm trees would have fitted that discription well enough -- but it's combination with elements that speak to our social memory... A gothic-architecture tower that looks like some elaborate church steeple (though I never found out what the tower actually is), rising out of a deciduous wood at the beginning of winter, now that harks to legend. I took this shot at maximum optical telephoto across a valley, from a steep street in Sheffield, UK, looking directly over the railway station and up the far side of the valley to this forest, where this tableau echoes the past in contrast to modern Sheffield on the near side. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic; November 2007. Image by Mike.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


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Those who haven't visited London will know all about the 'Underground,' meaning the network of railways which serve as people-movers under the city streets, but there's far more to London's underground parts than that. There are subterannean walkways to get from A to B and avoid foul weather, such as the one from the nearest tube station to the corner by the Natural History Museum, and on whose length open the basements of nightclubs and bars, IIRC. This one connects Underground stations on two different lines in the East End, and this elegant marble corridor seems to be between the basements of department stores, their display windows fronting the hall. I took this photo on a Sunday afternoon in Novemeber, 2007, while wandering miles of underground passages trying to find some line that would get me where I needed to be (and finding none, scheduled works had disrupted services, I eventually resorted to a bus!) I was the only one using this passage, it was sterile, cool and lonely, and I took this shot, a simple frame and shoot in the bright, artificial light, to remind myself of the aloof creepiness a really big city can generate in its hidden holes and corners. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Islands in the Haze

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You never truly appreciate what air pollution means until you see some place that has it bad. London may be one of the biggest cities in the world but the air quality is not so different, at least visibly, to cities in Australia. Don't be fooled by the Qantas logo on the aircraft, this picture was taken in China, through the window of a Boeing 747 taxying for takeoff after a refurbishment stopover at Kai Tak Airport, Hong Kong. The pollution was like a false dusk the aircraft dived into on approach, just before dawn, and when the sun came up it lit a haze so dense the other side of the bay was barely visible, and high-rise appartment blocks are half-seen strips of light and dark through a grey nothingness. The struggle here was to not only keep the camera straight and level, or to keep dirt on the window out of the shot, but to find enough light for photos to have acceptable contrast. The 'thick' air hazes everything, buildings and aircraft less than half a mile away already show the visual effects of the pollution. This one, with the properly-lit and contrasty foreground, with the island and buildings almost lost in the haze though they're only a couple of miles away, makes a dramatic statement of this issue. October, 2007; Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Monday, February 23, 2009

The Welcoming Lights

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This is the Royal York Hotel, photographed on a chilly dusk on November, 2006. I was on my way to the station, barely a hundreds meters from these gates, and had not been having a great deal of luck capturing the twilight feel of the city. Either the camera wanted to overcompensate and brighten the picture unrealistically, or the exposure was so long things besides traffic were streaking. This was a hand-held shot as I walked past the gates, there was nothing to support the camera on, and I have always been pleased with how it balanced out. Yes the sky appears brighter than it actually was, but the lights of the hotel have registered in an amazing, homely display that feels very welcoming, in an almost Dickensian way. The texture of the shot is quite deep and the framing not bad; it has been minimally enhanced for publication, some subtle sharpening. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Halloween in the Graveyard

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An English deciduous woodland scene, with the autumn colours rich, the leaves falling in crackling carpets... Days growing short, chill winds stirring the thinning boughs. Then along comes All Hallows Eve and the time when the dead walk among us. I found myself in this 1850s cemetery on Halloween, 2007, it's Welford Rd Cemetery in Leicester, across the road from the University, and the rich colours of evening, the lowering sun full on this group of elaborate monuments from the late Gothic Revival period, had a remarkable atmosphere. The camera captured the flavour of the moment superbly, this image is barely enhanced for publication, simply sharpened. The exposure in the shadow areas is very pleasing, while the contrast areas are a perfect duplication of the warm light of the moment. It was a bit creepy to find myself wandering among the tombs as the daylight faded, and this image brings thoughts of Dickens and Victorian ghost stories, as well as memories of bonfires and fireworks: Guy Fawkes' Night was just five days later. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Days of steam remembered

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Fifty years ago, this train was a major workhorse -- "iron horse!" -- in the Barossa region of South Australia. Today, engine 217 stands in a park (from memory, it's in Tanunda) as a monument to the trains and the men who ran them. This was an easy shot to frame, but it was the exposure from hell: the noon light was so bright, it hurt your eyes and confused the camera, and making it even harder was the fact I was photographing a black object that was glaring with reflection. This was one of those occasions when you didn't trust the camera's automatics, but went to the manual exposure controls. No matter what kind of camera you're using, you need to master this skill. Photo by Mel, 2006.

Surf's up!

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Surf's up ... well, either that or the meringue exploded! One day in the spring of2006 (the downunder spring -- September or October) massive winds raised some big waves off Noarlunga. I'd needed to get digital images from which a book cover could be constructed (the book is the aptly titled Storm Tide!) and we drove down to Noarlunga speedily, while the surf was pounding. This is a crop from the middle of a much larger frame, shot at the maximum telephoto range. The hardest thing about getting this picture was picking the right moment to trip the shutter. At the software level, later, the cropped-out image was enhanced for brightness, contrast and color saturation. Photo by Mel, 2006.

Strange life forms

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As the exploration of space begins, and humans begin to travel to planets that are earthlike but still very different, especially genetically, one might expect reports to come home of strange lifeforms, unanticipated and way out of the norm. But ... what's normal anyway? These are tree fungi, and life forms don't come much more weird! The picture is an exercise in capturing depth of field -- this being the amount of the image that's in focus between the lens plane and infinity. The trick is this: the smaller the aperture you can get, the greater the depth of field you can achieve. Now, in low light conditions (like this: the glade was dim and green), to get a small aperture and keep the exposure right, you'll have a long shutter speed. If it's too long to hold the camera steady (preventing camera shake, which blurs the image), see if you can sit the camera on a level surface ... because you'll never have a tripod with you when you need one! Photo by Mel, 2008.

A Well-Travelled Craft

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A 40-year old machine that's travelled well over half a million miles, now that's photographic material you don't come across every day! This is the Command Module of Apollo 10, in which astronauts orbitted the Moon in early 1969 in a dress rehersal for the first landing in July. The vehicle is surprisingly small, and to see the charred, carbonised remains of the heat shield gives you some clue as to the blowtorch effect the craft survived on its return. I photographed this spacecraft in the London Science Museum in November, 2007, and it gives one pause to see an actual vehicle in which history was made. This was the best of three shots, with other museum patrons out of the frame, and the subject was well-enough lit to use available light and avoid the harsh edges of a flash shot. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic exposure. Image by Mike.

Friday, February 20, 2009

The Old and The New

This is the kind of thing you can see while waiting for a bus, all you have to do is bother to look up. It was a bright, clear evening at the beginning of May, 2008, I was on my way to a band shoot and happened to glance up from a city bus stop. The street was deep in shadow but the tall buildings were in sunlight, creating an exposure schism, therefore the opportunity for dramatic contrast. The thematic material was also begging to be recorded: the older building is in the massive, Classical style popular in Victorian times, complete with its Ionian columns and polished granite, an example of Colonial South Australia's pastoral and industrial expansion days. Towering over it is the financially troubled State Bank Building, the tallest building in Adelaide, a product of economic over-reaching in the 1980s. The ancient design elements hark back to the 1st Milennium BC, the Colonial style to the 19th century, while the State Bank represents modern times, the failure of the building organisation being perhaps a subtle commentary on human fortunes across the ages. The picture was subtly enhanced for publication but is substantially as it was taken. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Darkening Sea

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There's something so primal about the sea. Any sea is primal, but it's easy to be comfortable on a bright beach, or under a clear sea with coral-grown shallows under your flippers. It's a cold, hard sea that reminds you the ocean is a very different world to the one we evolved to live in. This was Whitby harbour's breakwaters at twilight, November 2006, under a biting wind. The sun was gone and we're looking east over the North Sea. The next country beyond that horizon is Norway, and the falling dusk and restless energy of the cold sea feel hostile to humans. Yet it's where the birds live, and this shot captured that essence: the herring gulls, the big, dusky seabirds that haunt the quays waiting for the fishing fleet to return, are the survivors of the coast, and here they are seen in their evening flight before settling for the dark hours. I took audio recordings of their unique, sweet cries, and was amazed that this image registered their flight so clearly. With the falling light I expected them to blur, but they are clear as daylight. The picture was slightly digitally enhanced for publication. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic, telephoto. Image by Mike.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Lens Flare on a Winter's Day

Lens flare is an interesting phenomenon, the optical streaking created by the prismatic effect of lens coatings. Radiant flashes are an artifact of the photographic process but we have come to see them as almost reality. The visual effects for Close Encounters of the Third Kind were based entirely in the mechanism of lens flare, thousands of individual lights registering through a variety of lens coatings to create that signatory 'look.' This photo was serendipitous, a low sun coming through racing clouds soon after showers, so the ground was wet enough to reflect the sky. I took this shot in the High Street, Stockton, UK, in November 2006. The year was heading fast toward snow, you can see how low the sun was, and this was around 11 in the morning. I simply framed and shot, automatic exposure brought up the hard contrast, and there was no electronic enhancement of this photograph for publication. Image by Mike.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Home sweet home

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On, to be in England, now that April's here ... Except, it's downunder in the wintertime! How lush, how green this country can be, it only some rain would fall. You find these little hideaways all over the Adelaide Hills: a large house sitting on a hectare or two (anything up to five acres), behind dense hedges ... the "cottage in the woods" rather than the "cabin," but the principle is the same. The real magic of this image is in the framing and cropping, and later, in the enhancement, which brought up the color and flattened the contrast. The galvanized metal roof was glaring in the sun, overpowering the whole image. Photo by Mel, 2006.

Ponies on a winter's afternoon

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On the road to Victor Harbour (South Australia) you'll pass many horse properties and not a few breeders. One of the most interesting and unusual sights is the dales ponies grazing in paddocks along the highway -- small, incredibly hardy ponies which are at home in the merciless winters of the northern hemisphere. Their winter coats grow in shaggy, to protect them from cold, wind, frost and snow ... although in Australia they won't have to endure much of that! This picture was oddly difficult to capture. The lighting conditions were deeply overcast on this winter's day, and the raw image was flat, murky, absolutely colorless. To get this result, I've used software to "tweak" the brightness and contrast, resaturate the color, and also sharpen the overall frame. To get good results on the darker pony, technically, I've tweaked the contrast too far: notice that the face of the white pony, and the rock, are actually burned out. To render this image fully "publication quality," I'd need to go in and correct those areas, adding color and detail from the original (flat!) image. But it's still a very nice picture as it stands, so -- here it is. Photo by Jade, 2006.

Fangorn, By Any Other Name

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There is something symmetrical in the randomness of nature, paradoxical as that sounds, and the wild grizzling of the moss clinging to this tree creates an amazing texture. The photograph was a simple frame and shoot, in afternoon light, nothing clever in the technique, it's the subject matter that counts here. And the sense of antiquity it brings: it was a very old place and something of that infused the moment. This tree stands on the outer edge of the earthworks of Old Sarum Hillfort, above the town of Salisbury, in Wiltshire, UK, a place which has been fortified since the Bronze Age and was constantly held by one power or another into the Middle Ages. There are vestiges of Roman stonework, and the last king to spend a night there was Henry II, if I remember correctly. I found myself wondering how old this tree is, and what history has unfolded in sight of its gnarled limbs and roots... December 2006, Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Contrast and Exposure: An Exercise

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Back to our old friend, the B-17 at the RAF Museum, Hendon, in northern London. The lighting conditions were difficult enough, how would an adventurous photographer handle backlighting as well? The aircraft's belly was floodlit, the main pool of illumination striking between the landing gear, so this offered an interesting high contrast shot in which the gear was silhouetted against the flood. With a manual SLR it would be easy, simply light-meter the belly of the plane, then stand back, frame and shoot. But how to convince the automatic exposure system of the digital to do the same? It was basically a crosshairs situation: I balanced the camera against a vertical beam for stability in the low-ish light overall, and biased the centre of the frame just above the silhouetted landing gear so the system registered the light off the metal and it adjusted exposure to match. Bingo, wheel dark, belly bright! December 2006, Fuji FinePix S5600. Image by Mike.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Relics of the hunt

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These are caribou antlers (which the animals shed every season) and a skull -- relics of the hunt -- and before anyone gets all bent out of shape, let me tell you that these are very, very old. They could conceivably date back to the shamanic days of Native Alaska ... the Great Land is a strange, sometimes almost eerie place. I can tell you stories of Alaska, even from my own small experience of this state, which might amaze. I promise myself, every time I go through the old prints, I'll find my way back there one day. There was no especial trick to getting this image; most of the work involved was in restoring the old print, which is considerably faded. A 600dpi scan, cropping and sizing ... extra contrast and color saturation, and it looks much more like it used to! Photo by Mel, 1997.

Tall Ship And Towering Sky

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This photograph I find so reminiscent of the maritime artistic tradition of the 19th century that sometimes I have to blink and remind myself I took it. It was December 2006 and the S5600 and I were in Portsmouth for a day visit, specifically Portsmouth Historic Naval Dockyard, to see HMS Victory, the Mary Rose, and this one, HMS Warrior. In many ways she is in the best condition of any of them; for one thing, she's afloat! In 1869 Warrior was the fastest, most powerful battleship in the world, and her restoration (8 million pounds, if I remember correctly) has returned her to amazing condition. I took many photos that day, but this one, with the sun pretty much gone and a towering Atlantic sky coming up over the vessel's masts and rigging, while the low tide stranded many small craft on the mud, was so powerfully evocative of the art of Turner and his ilk, that it feels like a 19th century scene. Yet within half a mile were a modern aircraft carrier and a futuristic harbour control tower: past and present can coexist in the most amazing ways. The camera was supported for a steady image, and the frame was digitally enhanced only slightly, some sharpening, some gamma correction to bring out mid-tone areas, and tweaks of contrast and colour saturation. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic exposure. Image by Mike.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Lakeside illusions

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I became interested in panoramic images some time ago, when I found I had a pile of photos where the interesting material was at top, bottom or middle, while the remaining two thirds of the pictures were so boring, there wasn't much you could do with the overall "raw" frames. This one is slightly different. You have a beautiful lakeside shot ... a magical grove, utterly perfect. The problem is, there was a concrete pathway in the top of the shot, and a handrail and standpipe in the bottom of the shot! This image was captured at Loftia Gardens (South Australia) a few years ago, and as glorious as Loftia is, it's not quite a natural environment. Paths, signs, people, park benches, cars, standpipes -- it can be tough to keep them out of the shot. So I played with radical cropping and came up with this super-panorama, which is quite striking! Photo by Jade, 2006.

As through a glass...

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Reflection fascinates me: a world contained within a world, with the possibilily of "infinite regression" between two mirror-like surfaces. Images framed within images. The slight bevel in some of the panes of glass in this window prevent the illusion from being absolutely arresting, but you still get the "portal" effect that's so common a theme in Science Fiction and Fantasy. Imagine that you could step through the mirror...! The shot was easy to get; it was actually photographed through another pane of glass, from inside a bistro. Because of the second layer of glass between camera and subject, a little enhancement was done at the software level. Don't forget that every layer of glass stops about 15% of the light, so adjustments must be made. Fortunately, in digital photography this is so easy. Photo by Mel, 2007.

History, by Evening Light

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This is opportunistic shooting: the sun came between clouds and just for a few minutes flooded the Esk Valley with warm light. I've always said the quality of light in England is entirely distinct, and here it paints a scene from history. The abbey began its fall into ruin in the 16th century, but had a long heritage, an earlier ecclesiastical building on the same site was sacked by the Vikings in the 9th century. This is the east side of Whitby Harbour, and it is known there has been constant habitation here since at least the 7th century. The marine communications tower beyond the abbey really reminds you it's the modern age! While the town as we know it has many buildings dating from the last few hundred years, it is a place rich in its own past, which very much retains its flavour, stays alive, as the town moves into the future. This was a simple photograph, catch the light, frame the composition, remember to keep the camera level, and expose the frame. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic exposure, telephoto. November, 2006. Image by Mike.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Futurism Today

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This was a deceptive exposure: an indoor shot, but in a building so huge the light is harsh. Note the burned-out areas in the background, while the subject is correctly exposed. These are British supertrains, Richard Branson's idea of playing with trains is to own a railway, and his locomotives are nothing if not instantly recognisable, like something out of Thunderbirds. I took this shot while waiting to board an express to London in the Manchester Picadilly centre, a truly amazing modern indoor rail exchange, around the beginning of December, 2006. The Fuji FinePix S5600 was on automatic all the way. Image by Mike.

Immersed in shades of blue

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The shot is iconic: Australia. Summer. Ocean. Sport. Swimming. What else can you say about it? This was a glorious day ... Christmas morning, in fact, if memory serves me. Calm and hot even at the beach, with the sea like a pond and a perfect, burnished sky. Adelaide's metropolitan beaches are perfect -- shhh! Don't tell anyone, they'll all be here! The colors really looked like this -- I haven't done anything to the image. The Fuji Finepix 6500 relishes these conditions and rarely needs to be taken off automatic ... which gives the photographer a break, too. Photo by Mel, 2007.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Kangaroo daydreams

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It's a good thing this guy is in a mood to snooze, because when he stands up, he's over six feet fall, and he has claws that could tear down a house! Fortunately, they're peaceable vegetarians, and also nocturnal. In fact, you don't often see kangaroos or wallabies in the daylight! This one is a red kangaroo, one of the larger species, and lives at the Cleland Wildlife Park. The roos and wallabies there are tremendously habituated to humans. The kiosk sells bags of feed for them, but in lieu of the real thing ... a sandwich will do! If you have food in your pocket, be prepared to have a kangaroo's nose in your pocket, looking for it! Photo by Jade, 2006.

Colonial Memories

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The Adelaide Hills are dotted with little sites like this, reminders of the colonial past are everywhere. These farm houses were built between the late 1830s and the turn of the twentieth century, and some of them were still inhabited in the 1960s, even though there was no electricity wired in, and you carried water from your well! (A friend of mine raised five kids in a house just like this, near Victor Harbor! They were a sturdier breed in those days.) These structures were built to last, and will be around a great deal longer, even though they're now derelict and some, like this one, are no more than ruins. This farmer's cottage stands at the edge of the Scott Creek Conservation Park, South Australia, and this image was captured in the fall of 2007. The grass is green ... we've clearly had some rain! Photo by Mel, 2007.

Grey Day at the Stones

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The light was poor because the weather was bad: the weather report for that day said there were waterspouts along the Channel coast of England, and up in Wiltshire patchy rain was going through all morning under a solid grey Atlantic sky. The rain doesn't really copy in the image, though by the end of the shoot I couldn't protect the lens from collecting raindrops any longer. Shutter speeds were slow to catch the light so the rain blurred and disappeared, which was just as well as at times there was a 45-degree slant on it. The conditions were pretty miserable for my only visit so far to the Neolithic national monument of Stonehenge, in December 2006, but even that couldn't damped the wonder of actually being there and seeing the world-famous proto-historic astronomical site. Of course, the sun came out ten minutes after the bus left... Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Steel and Hot Sun

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If there's one thing that characterises all modern cities it's that they can't exist without the industrial systems that put them up, and the tower crane is probably the most recognisable of them all. Besides their mechanical fascination, they appear and disappear like mushrooms: one day there's a vacant block and it seems the next time you look the cranes have sprouted and begun their march skyward. Then one day they simply disappear again, leaving a new building in their wake. This was a simple telephoto shot from street level while I was waiting for a bus one Sunday morning at the beginning of February, 2008, on King William St, Adelaide, and the hot day with its hard blue sky framed the industrial interest of cranes, antenna complexes and high-rise buildings in a way that just begged to be photographed. Fuji FinePix S5600, optical zoom, automatic exposure. Image by Mike.

Seward, Alaska: where the boats come in

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The Small Boat Harbor, Seward, Alaska, welcomes you ... on (believe it or not!) a fine day in the late summer of 1997! I was staying aboard the yach Ghost Rider, which is berthed to the right of the frame (the picture is clear enough for you to read her name). Seward is notorious for the gray skies and rain of the Gulf of Alaska, but in this shot it's not raining -- nor was it actually cold. Until you got out onto the water, of course! The harbor is incredibly busy, with commercial trawlers, fishing charters, tour boats, passenger liners and the coast guard. This old photo was just scanned at 720dpi and given a few nips, tucks and tweaks to bring it up to snuff, since the print is starting to fade. Photo by Mel, 1997.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Alien beauty

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It has the look of an alien species ... perhaps a specimen brought back to earth from a distant and very different planet. The impression is powerful, and gives you a little taste of what the reaction of Captain Cook's crew must have been to the flora and fauna they encountered in Australia. This was indeed an alien world. You're viewing the whole image here, the full frame -- no cropping was needed; and I haven't done anything to the colors, brightness or contrast. This is that rare photo -- perfect as it is. This Australian native flowering shrub (apologies -- I can't identify it for you; not a warratah ... Banksia of some kind?) was photographed at Wittunga Botanical Gardens, in South Australia, in 2007. Photo by Jade.


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The architecture is pretending it's an era in which chariots were rolling down the Via Apia and Caesar was toying with the notion of invading Gaul (if the weather was fine for it). 50BC? No! 2008, on North Terrace ... Parliament House, Adelaide! The magic is in the cropping. Very few "raw shots" are ever perfect, and the beauty of digital photography is that you're not locked into the old frame. As a professional photographer shooting 35mm transparencies, I was always hyper-aware of what was in the edges and corners of the shot. You can frame the perfect image of a building, statue, fountain, whatever ... but that garbage bin in the bottom of the shot, the overhanging eaves in the top -- the ice cream cone that was just waved into your angle of view by the kid who's been trying to jump into the shot, making faces ...! Working digitally, you can crop what you want and, using trustworthy software you can resize the image without loss of quality. Photo by Mel, 2008.

Aim to Expose

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Automatic exposure takes care of everything, right? Of course not, the quality of the image depends on the information you feed the computer in your camera, and that depends exactly where you point the lens. The auotmatic system light meters on what is in the crosshairs, same place the sonic beam rangefinder is targetted for focus, so if you align the camera on a bright object exposure will be adjusted accordingly, even if it blacks out the rest of the image as a result. This picture was an exercise in compromise, and deciding what's most important. I took this shot from the top front window of a London bus in December 2006, and the subject matter was the busy street before me, most of which is deep in shadow due to the buildings being very tall. Note how the shop lights are exposed: this is a much more interesting element in the image than the bright faces of the buildings further up, which are burned out. I kept the point of focus well inside the shadowed subject matter and the system did the rest. In the manual days I could have light-metered on the shadows, set the camera then pointed into the sun if I liked, to create a particular effect of burnout, with perhaps only a small part of the frame exposed correctly for drama, and you can still do this with digital cameras. But with less creative images the automatics will do an excellent job if you help them along a tiny bit. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Black swans cruising

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Australia -- being on the other side of the globe (and therefore upside down, from the standpoint of, say, London or new York!) tends to do things backwards. For instance, the trees don't shed their leaves ... they shed their bark. The flowers don't bloom in summer ... they bloom in winter. And the swans aren't white -- you guessed. They're black. These particular swans are cruising the somewhat murky waters of a natural lake at a campsite in the Barossa, and were photographed early one morning in 2006. They're a mated pair, and their cygnet is just out of the shot, to your right. The signs were up: beware of swans. They can be violent and quite dangerous in the breeding season, if they perceive their offspring to be under threat. These birds seemed peaceable enough. Photo by Mel, 2006.

Past Meets Present

This is a fairly simple shot, low light as it was approaching dusk and amongst high, narrow streets the light was dim enough for the shop lights to really stand out, yet there was enough light for passers-by to not be blurred. The amazing thing is the medieval architecture, the overhang of the buildings as the floors go up. This is not a movie set: it's the old town on the hill at York, in Yorkshire, England, within the ancient city walls and a few hundred yards from the 13th-century cathedral. There are courses of stone on that hill laid by Romans when the town was called Eboracum. You can feel history all around you, even the street market is an institution from the Middle Ages. You have to blink and remember that these narrow streets have been walked for maybe a thousand years, even more. November, 2006; Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Sometimes you get lucky

lorikeet landing

I do apologise for the grainyness of this shot, but what a pose! I had just started playing with the "sport" mode on the Fuji S6500fd so I wasn't sure how well it would work in low light conditions. It was a cloudy morning and the sun was just up. The rainbow lorikeets were being very active on the feeder so I zoomed in on the feeder, pre-focused on it, set the camera to "sport" mode in the scene select, and then held down the shutter on continuous mode for about 30 seconds while holding the camera steady. Photo by dave

Like a fire in the sky

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My brother said, "Grab the camera and get outside, NOW!" He'd seen this sunset brightening, shade by shade, and he knew how I love to capture sunset shots. I started doing this kind of work in optical cameras, and the switch to digital was not so easy. The digitals love to "correct" your exposure, if/when you leave them on their automatic settings ... and your sunset colors (or other effects) vanish. They just switch right back to normal, ordinary shots that look, well, blah. You need to find the manual (M) settings, and learn how to adjust shutter speeds and apertures. These may be "virtual" on digital cameras, but the settings are shere; you just need to find them! The colors really looked like this. All I had to do was trim the shot to get the edge of a roof out of it, and then resize it. Photo by Jade, 2006.

Echoes of colonial days

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The architecture is still pretending this is the nineteenth century, and with those colors, that tropical brilliance, this would have to be a scene in "the colonies" -- right? Actually, it's the South Australian Museum building on a hot, bright day in February, but almost every part of this shot could just as easily be some location in India, circa 1890! The shot was easy to get, tricky to enhance: the challenge was to get detail to show through in the darker areas and yet not wash out the brilliant blue of the sky. Photo by Mel, 2008.

The Right Size for Flash

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Probably the one significant shortcoming of the Fuji FinePix S5600 is the limited power and range of its flash. Any more than eight feet back from a subject and you're in trouble, and as for snapping a group shot at a concert, be ready to do digital enhancement to bring up the mid-tones and generally brighten the pic. Therefore, when you're shooting something as large as an aircraft in conditions of low light, flash is essentially not an option. This is the Phantom FGR.2 in the RAF Museum, Hendon, on the north side of London, and I was frustrated by the conditions: in the cracks between light too low for my filmspeed and subject too big for the flash. (Change filmspeed, duhhh, but I was worried about 'digital grain' at the time and prefered to practice the art of holding the camera steady.) But detail closeups are another matter, and the cockpit was just the right size to floodlight with flash. Harsh contrast, of course, but the flash found the details of the grey and black instrument panels, and for those interested in the F-4 cockpit for its own sake, this is the right sort of picture to take. December 2006; image by Mike.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Waiting for rain

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The Adelaide heatwave is due to break, even as I write this. After an eon of scorching temperatures -- after scores of people have perished, and the state has been on alert in the fear of a firestorm today -- the sky is at last darkening, the wind is shifting direction, the temperature is falling. It's going to be cool ... but there's no rain in these clouds. And what this state needs more than anything, now, is rain. The title of this image is "waiting for rain," but it could just as easily be called "praying for rain!" In the stone age, cave artists would paint the animal they wished to hunt, to capture its magic. I wonder if it works for the weather? It's worth a try! So -- here's an image shot through the windscreen a couple of winters ago, on a road somewhere in the Adelaide Hills. Oh, for this kind of weather right now, right here! Photo by Jade, 2006.

The Lighthorseman

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The Lighthorseman is one of many war memorials around Adelaide -- and one of the better known ones. More than any other memorial, this statue recalls and honors Australia's cavalry tradition, which is quite the equivalent of that celebrated by the United States. (There's actually another memorial, about a half mile away, on the corner of the Adelaide parklands, where green fields stretch away from the city: it's a plain, solid stone horse trough, and it's the memorial to the horses who served, and died -- it's not so well-known, nor so photogenic, but that's the one which brings a lump to the throat of horse-lovers, like myself.) This image was very difficult to capture, because of the sun angle: the challenge was to get detail from the soldier's face to appear, at the same time as correctly exposing the rest of the shot. The photo was then cropped and sized -- you may not realize there's a set of traffic lights just out of frame at bottom left! And quite a lot of enhancement was done at the software stage, to make the most of this dramatic picture. Photo by Mel, 2007.

Street Scene at Dusk

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The performance of digital cameras never ceases to amaze me, the way they can adjust and compensate for all sorts of conditions -- harsh light, soft light, too much, too little, direct, diffuse... They do electronically what the old 'variable response' filmstocks used to do chemically, and they do it more efficiently. This would have been an unremarkable photograph if taken in full daylight, but what elevates it above a simple travel snap is the fact it's close enough to the end of day for the streetlights to be on. The latitude of the camera is enough to register fine details (on only a 2mp frame!) and expose the general scene as well as the lights. An element of luck was involved, as both the car and pedestrian are far enough from the POV at the moment of shutter release for their motion to be slow enough to not streak all over the frame. That would have been artistic, sure, but this is natural. The location was New Quay Rd., Whitby, North Yorkshire, in late November, 2006 (note the Christmas decorations already up). Enhancements for publication include a little sharpening, and the usual minor tweaks to brightness, contrast and colour saturation. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Image by Mike.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Tales of the riverbank

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This image was taken in 2007, before the river really began to die in the South Australian drought. At this time it was still viable, full of fish, and a way of life for countless thousands of people who live in the small communities scattered along its length. It's the mighty Murray, which is ... or was ... the life's blood of South Australia. In 2009, the river is crying out to be rescued, and the people of Adelaide are still waiting to see who's going to do the job, and what they're going to do. The image was easy to capture: bright conditions saturated the colors, and the landscape was naturally photogenic. The only work done on it subsequently was cropping to frame exactly the picture I wanted. Photo by Mel, 2007.

Steel Gossamer

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It's truly amazing when the new and the old blend in a new synthesis for the new century. This is the inner courtyard of the British Museum in London, a 19th century structure, but which now contains the 'reading room,' almost a euphemism as it is a towering oval structure whose design seems to be an homage to the Library of Congress in Washington. The space between has been domed over with an incredible geodesic lattice of steel and glass, and the stonework of the old buildings has been cleaned to reflect the polished marble of the new. Set Roman, Egyptian and Sumerian relics against this backdrop and you have a very strong statement about social and political power bound up with custodianship of some of the most famous of antiquities. December 2006, Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic exposure. Image by Mike.

Frozen Lightning

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This tree is almost creepy... Heavily cut-back long ago, 'polarded' is the term, the tree has regrown much of its mass from the truncated stumps of its main stems, which remain like severed limbs amongst the tracery of new boughs. And winter turns those new boughs into a pattern like the fans of lace coral, or lightning suspended and rendered in negative. Add a stormy sky and you have an image of the ability of life to transcend even radical attempts to defeat it. This was a simple telephoto image taken at the village of Avebury, Wiltshire, in December 2006. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic exposure. Image by Mike.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Adrift on a blue-green tropical ocean...

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In the previous post, "Mush -- as they say in the movies!," Mel escapes the heat by thinking back on Fairbanks. I'm going to escape it by jumping into a green tropical sea ... calm as a pond, warm enough to feel "ambient" when the air temperature is about 140 degrees F when you're standing in thr sun, and the pavement is not enough to blister your soles. Ahhhhh... This is a crop-down of part of a 6MP image of the ocean, photographed from the clifftop at Noarlunga. I love the patterns on the surface of the water, and the blue-green hue. The picture was serendipitous ... it was just there, and easy to get. The only "trick" is in seeing it. Believe it or not, many people just don't "see" potential pictures which are right before them. Photo by Jade, February 2008.

Mush -- as they say in the movies!

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With the Adelaide heatwave extending until all we're dreaming of it winter, I thought -- "Let's go back to Fairbanks with today's photo. Snow. Ice. Sub-zero temperatures ... dog mushing. For Fairbanks in March, it was a bautiful day. In fact, this is the very tail-end of winter, where spring ("breakup" as they call it in Alaska, because it's when the ice breaks up) is right around the corner. Needless to say, it was extremely cold! It was also quite bright on this day in 1999. I'm standing on the edge of the road, just outside downtown, and the mushers' starting line is about a hundred yards out of picture to the left. I actually misjudged the lighting conditions, and was shooting on 200ASA film; I should have been shooting on 400ASA -- I'd forgotten that even on a brilliant day, Alaska is comparatively dim because the sun never gets very high, so far north. This is a 600dpi scan from the old print, color corrected to rebalance it after considerable fading. It sure brings back memories! Photo by Mel, 1999.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Such fragile beauty

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Very occasionally a wonderful photo presents itself as you walk out your front door. There's a hibiscus bush growning there, and when the sun is at just the right angle the results are ... superb. This photo was taken just outside the macro range. The Fuji 6500 is versatile enough to get right in on the flower without resorting to the macro and super-macro settings. This shot also it's cropped at all -- you're looking at the full frame. I adjusted it for brightess and contrast, otherwise you're seeing the shot just as it was taken. Photo by Jade, 2007.

In a patch of winter sun

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This is a rare image, and sadly is going to get even more rare as the countryside that was friendly to these litte creates disappeares into desert. He's a yellow footed rock wallaby -- they're absolutely beautiful, with their gazelle-like faces and ringed tails. Getting this shot was utter luck because wallabies, like kangaroos and koalas, are mostly nocturnal. This one is sunning himself to warm him. You might not believe it, but the day was extremely cold! The shot was staken at the maximum end of the optical zoom range -- 10:1 -- and brilliant winter sun naturally saturates the colors. The camera would have been the Fuji FinePix S5500fd. Photo by Mel, 2006.

Turner or Constable?

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Sometimes the light does strange things: it can ruin your shot or make it. This was the latter, the fine, soft light of evening with the sun low enough to throw much of the harbour into shadow, and flooding the image with short wavelengths. This is Whitby Harbour, photographed from the end of the west quay, about the base of the breakwater, on a cold and windy evening in mid-November 2006. The scene just begged to be photographed but it was not until I saw the image on a screen weeks later that the patterning of the clouds and water brought home the feeling of a seascape by Turner or a landscape by Constable. I've always said there's something unique and beautiful about the quality of the very light in England, perhaps the latitude has a lot to do with it, but here it shows how special it can make an everyday scene. Fuji FinePix S5600, automatic. Photo by Mike.