Sitting at work desperately pretending that you’ve got something to do? Stuck at home with the kids thinking ‘Wait…I’ve got to put up with this crap 24/7 for how many more weeks?!!!’ Holed up at a holiday destination somewhere where it’s too hot/wet/cold/windy to do anything? (if you’re in Melbourne there is every chance that it’s been all 4 of those things in the last half hour). Then fear not, relief is at hand.
No, I’m not going to distract your boss, or look after your children, or sacrifice something to whatever Gods are the controlling the weather in your local area…instead I’m going to present you with my favourite photos of 2016. A year when I adjusted to life with a new camera, shot a wedding in the country, got paid to shoot some portraits, ran some photo workshops, filmed my first ever documentary and travelled through Queensland with the family in a campervan.
Did I manage to take 17 photos that I was happy with? No! So, in no particular order, here are my top 16 photos of 2016!!!
No. 1 – A shed in Daylesford
Katie was performing at festival in Daylesford with Songrise. We had lunch in someone’s garage/workshop and just as we were about to had off I saw this beam of light coming through from the corrugated iron roof. I scampered over and did a quick shuffle-dance to raise some more dust off the ground and then asked Xavier to stand under the beam. I asked him to stare up at the roof…but as with many times when I ask a child to pose, it didn’t look like a child looking at the roof…it looked like a child who had been asked to look like a child looking at the roof. But then he decided to clap his hands in the shaft of light and I managed to capture the moment he was winding up for the clap (‘winding up for the clap’ may also have been a euphemism for consorting with prostitutes in the 1800’s…but that is not what I meant).
The big photography lesson for me was to get the shot set up…and then let the person interact with it…trying to manufacture a moment is still not a skill I have.
No.2 – Cooling down
Ok, you know how 6 words ago I was saying that manufacturing a moment is not a skill I have…well here is a case in point. Not even if the local water supply had been laced with peyote could I have said ‘What I want to do is get a shot where Xavier is in a bucket, looking cherubic while he rests his head on his big sister’s hand, who is looking lovingly at the camera, while sitting backwards on a high-chair, dangling her legs over the high-back of the chair…and ideally wearing a bandage on one knee’. But if that moment does unravel in front of me…I am getting better at capturing it.
I’ve mentioned this before, but this shot was shamelessly influenced by Alain Laboile
No. 3 – Adrift on an incoming tide
Last year I wrote a blog on how keeping fit can actually help your photography. One of the things I mentioned then was sometimes when you’re out for a run or ride you see things that you know would make a great photo, but that you would have missed if you’d been driving (or indeed at home watching YouTube videos about photography). So on an early morning run I saw these boats sitting on the sand at low-tide, and I thought it would make a great photo that could represent futility, or being stuck, or dwindling natural resources. But by the time I actually got to head back there to take the photo, it was early evening. I took a few photos of the boat from the front (or as we nautical types like to say ‘the pointy end’), but it just didn’t work. Then I swung around to the back (or ‘arse end’) and realised that it looked like it was heading out to sea. Despite the fact that my shoes were getting soaking wet…and covered in crabs…I set a long exposure, and this is what I got.
No. 4 – Making the job easy
I think my dream job would be to take candid portraits of people, where they didn’t know I was there and so I got perfect, unscripted, unprompted moments. Unfortunately, this is also pretty much a perfect description of a stalker. So for the time being, I think my dream job would be taking portraits of people who are as easy to work with as Nick. I had some ideas, he had some ideas and he was 100% willing to commit to all of them. As a result I got some of the best portraits I’ve ever shot. But I think this is my favourite as it actually captures how easy-going Nick is. There’s a genuine smile that’s also in his eyes…and of course there’s that beard…that beard. There are three certainties in life; death, taxes…and me never, ever being able to grow a beard like that.
No. 5 – Nhillbilly nights
One of the things with a long-exposure shot, is that you press the button to open the shutter and then wait 30 seconds for the camera to take the shot…then wait another 30 seconds while it gets rid of the noise, and then after a minute of sitting in the dark and cold an image appears on the screen of the camera and you see what you’ve captured. Sometimes you look and realise that you’ve got the camera slightly tilted, or that you’ve cropped something out (it’s so dark that you can’t see anything on the viewfinder while you’re looking through it) or that the camera has moved during the exposure and everything is blurry. And so you sigh, make a few adjustments and try your luck again.
But sometimes you look at the screen and you see something like this, and you know you’ve captured something special! That orange glow to the left of the frame is the moon rising. That light inside the yurt was so soft, that I could only just see it with my naked eye…but on a 30 second exposure, suddenly it looks amazing. And the fact that the milky-way is rising from the top of the yurt? Well to be honest…that was just good luck…but I’ll claim full credit for it anyway.
No. 6 – Shaz and Lofty
This the the shower block on Sharon and Lofty’s farm. It’s all exposed timber and corrugated iron, and as soon as I walked in I knew I wanted to get a shot here. It had textures and colours and light and shadows…in other words, it had everything a photographer could want. Yet my favourite thing about this photo is that the setting plays second fiddle to the bride and groom. Your eye can look almost anywhere in this photo and pick up little details…but it will always return to how naturally happy and excited the newlyweds look.
No. 7 – The country wedding
I think that this is my favourite photo of the year. I love how Australian it looks. I love the story it tells. I love the lights and the shadows. I love the lady resting her arm on the pram, the boy listening to the speeches but also putting a reassuring hand on the dog. I also love that by this stage I had taken photos of the bride and groom, I had taken photos of people watching the bride and groom, but taking photos of people looking at the people watching the bride and groom…that’s pretty meta.
Upgrading to the Fuji X-T1 was a really big decision. But I simply couldn’t have got this shot on my old gear. So this photo reminds me that sometimes taking the plunge pays off.
No. 8 – Water torture
I’m sure that if I had simply gone outside and snapped a quick photo of a raindrop falling and it looked like this…it probably wouldn’t have made the cut. But I know that I spent at least an hour in the drizzle just waiting to capture the moment one of these drops fell. As you can see from this shot, there were plenty of raindrops to choose from, but by the time you had the tripod set up and you had got the focus dialled in…it would have dropped, so then you would choose another one, but then while you were waiting for that one, three other ones would drop and you would curse yourself for not choosing one of them…then the wind would blow, moving the vine and getting the raindrop out of focus…or it would drop and you were just a split second too late.
Needless to say, I did a lot swearing at rain-drops on that day.
Now let’s never mention it again.
No. 9 – Solar plexus
OK this is going to get a tad technical. But on my first attempt at getting this shot I had the camera on autofocus. I got myself in position, pressed the button halfway to arm the autofocus in the middle of the shot, and then got Josh to run and jump off a ledge across in front of the Sun. He was wearing a hat, and he was doing this awesome ‘airwalk’ with his legs…so he looked like something halfway between Michael Jackson and a skater. Brilliant!
Except of course that I’d set the focus before he was in shot…and so the camera had focussed on whatever was in the middle of the shot then…at best it was that boat travelling through…at worst the horizon. Either way, Josh was completely out of focus and the shot looked pretty crap. So this time I got Josh to stand exactly where I wanted him to be for the shot, I focussed on him manually then got him to run and jump off the embankment again. This time he was in focus…and I was pretty happy with my timing as I managed to get him just as passed the sun. Admittedly I was trying to get him as he blocked the sun…but I think this actually looks better!
No. 10 – The pier at Hervey Bay
As part of my Lightroom workflow I will add a star rating to all of my photos. Basically a ‘5’ is a photo that I am over the moon about (I probably shoot about 10 of these over the year), a ‘4’ is one that I am really happy with and I know will be a solid photo once I’ve worked on it, a ‘3’ is one that I need to look at again, and if I don’t like it on the second viewing, I’ll delete it…I don’t do ‘1’ or ‘2’ stars as they are automatically deleted.
This photo was a ‘3’. Even on a second viewing I couldn’t decide if I liked it. I took quite a few similar photos, and on this evening the sunset had set the sky ablaze with colour. In this shot the colours were just a bit washed out as I had gone for a 2 second exposure and it was all a bit bright…but I really liked the framing, and I really liked the people on the pier, the footprints in the sand. So this photo lived on my computer as a rare ‘3’ star photo. When I got back home from the trip I looked at the photo again and decided to try it as a black and white…it worked so well that it now adorns one of our walls.
You really need to have some rules about how you cull your photos, or you will end up with a hard-drive full of average photos…but you also need to be able to bend those rules occasionally so that you have time to give photos a second chance.
No. 11 – Family photo
I’m quietly confident that there are more photos of Yeti’s than there are of our family together. I also took a photo earlier in the trip, but I feel that in this shot you can see that we had bonded as a family over the two weeks of camper van life…and our tans are a lot better.
Take that Yetis!
No. 12 – Black and White beauty
I can boss relative strangers around in order to get a shot that I want, I can tell clients to do whatever they want and I’ll usually be pleasantly surprised by their response, I can tell myself that a photo of a friend or family member doesn’t have to be perfect…after all, it’s just a photo that you’re doing for them.
But I can’t do any of that with Katie. Every direction, every gesture, every request and every reply carries with it the weight of a near 20yr relationship, a 14yr marriage, ups, downs, trials & tribulations, kids, jobs, wins and losses. So getting a photo that captures everything that you love about someone that has been an integral part of nearly half your life, with all of that history between you is no mean feat. But I reckon this one does it, and does it well.
No. 13 – Uncle Jack Charles
To be brutally honest, I think it would be pretty hard to take a bad photo of Uncle Jack Charles. The hair, the beard, the boundless energy, the infectious laugh, the incredible story, the stagecraft…it’s all a photographers dream. So the challenges become; manufacturing an opportunity and trying to come up with something original. I know I took some photos that were better, but they were photos I felt I’d seen of him before.
This one felt original.
I know this is insanely trainspottery…but it’s actually that tiny reflection in his right eye that I love the most.
14 – Django and the Spotted Mallard
One of things I’ve been trying really hard to do this year is to look at the whole frame and make sure everything works. It’s often really easy to see what you want to shoot and simply take a photo of it, then when you look at it later you realise that you’ve cropped out half of a person, or you’ve got a whole lot of unnecessary space at the top of the picture when there was stuff happening at the bottom that would have really added to the story that you were trying to tell. So in this shot, obviously Django is the star. But I also wanted to show the audience watching on (I love the guys hand on the back of the person next to him…it speaks volumes about how relaxed and supportive the room was), and I wanted to show the incredible ambience of the Spotted Mallard (the mirrors reflecting the natural light, the candelabras, the myriad lamp-shades), and I wanted to get all of those sodding ducks on the curtain behind him in the shot. In the end I had to position myself pretty much behind the bar to get the shot…but I was so happy when I got this shot.
No. 15 – BMX bandit
If nothing else, I want my photos to be a document of our family. Right now, Josh rides his BMX pretty much every day. In a year’s time he may shooting his own YouTube videos about BMX, or he may have moved on to something else entirely, but I would hate for this year of obsession to have gone undocumented. So Josh and I headed into Melbourne to take some photos of him in action. I really love this photo for a few reasons. One, I realised that the sunlight reflecting off the windows of a nearby building and illuminating the set of stairs would be enough to shoot a fast shutter speed and capture him mid-descent. Two, in order to capture this I had to break with my usual approach of ‘don’t draw attention to yourself’. If the the 10yr old on the BMX doesn’t care who’s watching…then the 40yr old taking photos shouldn’t either. Three, I love that despite being in the city there is only one other person in the shot…and they are looking at Josh. Four, and this is probably most important, we printed this picture onto a large canvas, and Josh has it beside his bed.
No. 16 – The turning point of the 8in8in8
I’ve written about this photo before…but for those late to the party. The man on the left is Craig Percival. He was my coach for the Melbourne Ironman, and had brought me onboard to document his attempt to become the first person ever to compete an Ironman (3.8km swim/180 bike ride/ 42.2km run) in all 8 Australian States and Territories, in 8 consecutive days (the 8in8in8). The man on the right is John Maclean. John was a triathlete who was hit by a truck while out training and became a paraplegic. He went on to become the first ever wheelchair athlete to complete the Kona Ironman (the world championship race in Hawaii) and was a massive inspiration to Craig.
This was day 6 of the 8in8in8, and Craig had finished the previous day’s Ironman in Canberra so late that his crew had driven through the night to get him to Sydney to start his 6th Ironman. I’m not sure what someone who has done 5 Ironman’s in 5 days and has slept for about 1.5 hours in the car is meant to look like as they stare down the barrel of having to do it all again…but Craig looked like it. He looked broken.
His crew had let me know that they were going to pull the pin on the event, he simply couldn’t go on. But then Craig saw John, and saw that 3 x World Ironman Champion Craig Alexander had come down to join him for the swim…so he reluctantly agreed to do the swim (from memory his words were ‘Ah shit…how can I say ‘no’?’)
This photo was taken just after the swim, when Craig was getting a massage and having his battered feet attended to. John had basically come over to tell Craig that it was OK it he wanted to pull the pin, people would understand…but by the same token ‘the pain won’t last, but the memories will’. I honestly believe this was a turning point for the whole 8in8in8.
I love this shot because you can see the steely determination in John’s eyes, the full eye-contact with Craig, you can see that he was learning to walk again and had left his wheelchair behind to come and show Craig that anything is possible, there’s nothing staged or fake, it is just a moment of honesty.
Tragically Craig died from complications after knee surgery in December, if you’d like to learn more about him and possibly give a donation to help his family, please head to https://www.gofundme.com/helpcraigpercivalsfamily
So there you go…my top 16 photos for 2016. If I could draw any overarching themes they would be; I sure am a sucker for black and white, I take better photos when I’m travelling and putting myself out of my comfort zone, and thank god for kids who are still willing to have their photo taken.
Now onwards to 2017!