If there’s one thing that 2018 taught me, it’s that starting a new job REALLY diminishes your photography! I took about 75% fewer photos this year, but I’m not willing to let this stop my annual list of favourite photos. So here in no particular order are my top 18 of 2018, and as a special bonus I’ve included a music reference in every title…anyone who can guess them all wins a prize!
I know that a good photographer can manufacture almost any scene…but for the rest of us, we have to just celebrate those moments that you’re in the right place at the right time, and you’ve got your camera…and you get the shot!
You’ve gotta fight, for ya right…to PARTY!
There’s a lot to worry about when your kid’s having a party. Will the other kids come? Will they care that there are just basic party games, rather than a unicorn petting zoo or jumping castle filled with Lemurs, or whatever it is that people are paying for now? Katie and I spent the days leading up to this party wondering how we would deal with no-one turning up. This photo let me know that it was all going to be OK.
Dogs are the best people
The big addition to our family this year was this fine looking hound, our rescue Beagle ‘Marnie’. You can read about our journey to get her here but given the Beagle propensity to escape, I wanted to get a good photo we could use for the ‘Missing Dog’ posters.
Uncle John’s lament
My Mum comes from a family of 10 kids and at her Brother’s recent 80th birthday party she asked me to shoot some portraits of the siblings…I love this one because it’s somewhere between Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and ‘The Thinker’. I also know how hard it was to get a serious pose from him when all of his siblings were looking on and mocking from the sidelines.
The last splash
We had told the kids they could have one last splash in the waves at Sandy Point before we headed back for Melbourne. I was trying to get some photos of the Pacific Gulls flying low over the shallows when I saw Xavier running towards the waves. No time to compose the shot, just swing the camera, shoot and hope…and this was the result!
I had gone exploring during a stop at Binalong Bay in Tassie, and decided I would only take my 35mm, as I didn’t want to lug my whole camera bag around. When I saw this I cursed myself for not bringing a wider lens. But I did have my GoPro, and so I took the photo on that. The best camera is the one you have in your hands…not the one sitting in the boot of the car!
Treat your Mother right
I have photos of my Mum blowing out the candles on a birthday cake with my kids, and photos of Mum at family events, and even a photo of Mum dressed as Ace Frehley from KISS. But I’ve never had a shot that I think actually did her justice…and now I do.
Tasmanian still life
Metaphors for life people…metaphors for life. Don’t just be part of the dull background! You can stand strong, be vibrant and shine a light in the darkness. But just be aware, that as you do, your mate is vomiting up a gooey yellow mess in the background.
I was really proud of this photo when I took it…but now I can’t help but feel like it’s two daffodils re-enacting drunk people at the Melbourne Cup.
Put the kids upfront
There are thousands of photos of this view, so how do you make yours different? Put a kid in the foreground and let them do whatever they want. Kids don’t take direction well, but they do ‘whatever they want’ remarkably well…and you can’t fake authenticity.
Architecture in Tasmania
Sooo, that thing about putting a kid in the foreground of a shot that you really like…that works really well for architectural shots as well, especially if you’re at MONA.
Of course putting a child in MONA does come with its own consequences. One of the first things you see as you walk into MONA is a wall of plaster-cast vulvas. Our 7yo who was listening to the audio tour looked up at me and innocently said ‘This one’s called ‘C*nts and conversations‘ Dad…what’s a conversation?’
Yet another parenting highlight.
It’s a soft-box life
It’s always a bit of an effort to drag the soft-box and strobe out of the shed, but it does mean that the kids are 23% more willing to let me take their photo. It’s always worth it, plus I get to pretend I’m Zack Arias or David Hobby.
There are angels, in your angles
On the final night of our Tassie trip we went out for dinner at a pub in Evandale. There was an enormous sculpture of the word ‘RELAX’. This is Josh with his head in the A-hole…and no, I do not intend to reword that.
You better lose yourself in the music, the moment…
I always love getting a shot that captures an experience. Here ‘All the way home’ were playing a gig in their living room, to an appreciative audience and having a great time.
If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.
As we pulled into Deloraine, the sun was setting through the blossom and a large family all dressed in some sort of religious clothes were walking together next to the lake. I had dreams of taking a photo of them as it was an amazing scene, but by the time we had done an elaborate U-turn and retrieved the camera from where it was packed, the moment had passed. So I settled for this.
This one goes out to the one I love
The stress of shooting a wedding is nothing compared with taking a photo of the person you love. They’ve heard all your jokes, they know all your tricks, and they will make life VERY difficult if you mess this up. There is also the challenge of breaking through 16 years of marriage, 3 kids, numerous ups and downs, and then capturing the person as you see them. So I love this shot.
There’s nothing like scrolling through all of your photos for a year to make you realise how much has happened in 12 months; 40th birthdays, 66th birthdays, weddings, first days of school, international travel, trips to the beach, rain, sunshine, surf, posed portraits, spontaneous moments, and best of all…photos that make you sit back and think ‘Man, I’m really happy with that shot!’
So of the 3,447 photos that made it through the culling process of this year, and the 192 that were given the coveted ‘5 star rating’ in Lightroom, here are my 20 favourite photos of 2017.
Josh does his Felix Baumgartner impersonation
There is a decent period after you’ve bought new camera gear, when you are absolutely terrified of getting it wet/dusty/cold/hot. So you miss shots because you’re not willing to take a risk. Then at the other end of the spectrum is when you’ve had a camera for so long that you’ll wade into the ocean and takes shots not caring what happens to it…but also knowing, that its best days are behind it, so you may not get the shot you want.
But there is also a wonderful mid-point where you a camera will take the photo you want, and that you’re willing to hang over your shoulder as you jump from one rock to another over waste deep water and then scramble up a rock tower to take a photo of your 11yo son jump from a feet-tingling height. I’m at that point with my Fuji XT-1…and it’s a very happy place.
I was also really happy with this shot, as the tide was coming in and if we stayed much longer in that spot we were going to get stranded, and so I knew I only really had one chance to get it. So no pressure…no pressure at all.
Danny Ross at the 303 Bar
My brother in law, Will, was playing drums with Danny Ross for a show at the 303 Bar in Northcote. I will never pass up an opportunity to take photos of a band, because there are always moments in a live performance that give you an insight into who the musician really is, and if you can capture them…they usually make great images. Also, guitars are cool.
Over the course of the night I shot, wide, I shot tight, and shot from up high and down low, from outside and inside (no really I did), but it was this shot that I took between two people that really worked. The two shoulders provide a perfect shadowy frame for Danny, plus the light is hitting him enough to illuminate his face under that distinctive hat…and he has an ever so slight rock n roll sneer on his face.
In truth, this photo is a mess in colour…but black and white really provides some focus!
Walkerville cave portrait
If you’re new to photography and want to try to create a quick and easy ‘arty’ portrait, get someone to stand somewhere where it’s dark but there is a single source of light (a recessed doorway, open garage door, or in this a cave with a hole in the roof), get them to look towards the light, and then expose your shot for their face (or just set your autofocus point for their face) and the resulting shot will knock out the background enough for you to make to their face really pop…but with just enough ambience to give some context.
Of course you do still have to convince someone to crawl into a dark cave that smells of rotting sea-weed…but that’s why you have kids!!
A440 (there is a prize to the first person who can explain this photo title…it’s GENIUS!)
If you have ever tried to take a photo of someone giving a speech, you will know that what looks perfectly normal in real-life can look mortifying as a still image. The blink of an eye, the movement of someones mouth, or a gesture with their hand can make them look drunk, psychotic, lecherous or constipated. The same can be said for singers, although to a lesser extent because they tend to hold facial expressions and emotions a bit longer as they hit certain notes…and because they usually want to be singing, whereas people who are making a speech would usually rather be anywhere else doing anything else. So taking a photo of a singer is easier…but then when you add another singer, the difficulty increases exponentially…now you need to capture a moment where two people look great…then you add another person…and then another…and one of them is your wife…and it’s her 40th birthday party.
No pressure…no pressure. Just capture an image in which all four people look great…and DO NOT STUFF THIS UP!
Fire twirling in North Melbourne
You know that feeling when you’re at your best mate’s 40.5th birthday and someone dressed in Polynesian attire starts doing tricks with two flaming balls…and you think to yourself ‘How am I going to get a good shot of this?’ Sure you do. It’s a predicament as old as time itself. Just go for 1/6 second, at f1.4 on a 35mm.
If you’re still saying ‘Wait. WTF is a 40.5th birthday!’ Then I think you and I can be friends.
Can you just sit there while I test the flash?
Any time I set up the flash for a portrait I ask one of the kids to sit in so that I can make sure it’s going to work, my brief is always ‘Just sit there, you don’t even have to look at the camera’. The combo of a photographer who isn’t telling someone what to do, and a subject who isn’t trying to be anything but themselves…invariably leads to some of my favourite photos.
Channeling Alain Laboile
I shamelessly stole this from Alain Laboile’s ‘Reflexion autour du bassin‘ series where he took photos of the reflection in a pool of water, and then turned them upside down so that the photo looked like a distorted version of the real world. After a hefty downpour here in Melbourne, the lane out the back had some massive puddles…and the kids were dressed in rain jackets and gumboots. So I got may chance to create my own ‘Reflection around the puddle’ series.
While I’m really happy with this photo, this one made the cut because I only got it by having the chutzpah to call a festival promoter and ask for a press pass so that I could shoot it. So I got to spend the first three songs right at the front taking photos of one of my favourite bands…and this shot further assuaged my guilt about buying the Fuji 56mm f1.2 lens.
In the surf with Josh
There are few places I love being more than in the surf. But with young kids, going to the beach becomes more of a ‘let’s build sandcastles and wade in the knee-deep water’ than ‘let’s head out the back and try to catch some decent waves’ experience.
But the body-boarding bug has bitten Josh, and he’s now strong enough to venture out into the surf with me. In this shot we had made the decision to paddle furiously over a wave, rather then trying to duck under it after it had broken. It had been a close run thing, and we very nearly had the wave break right on top of us, but we’d made it and we were both very happy with ourselves…and the GoPro captured it.
Kids, France and trampolines
It took about 30 hours to get from Melbourne to Paris, and then a terrifying drive for 2 hours in the dark to get to our accom in Normandy. But when we woke up the next morning the kids discovered that there was a trampoline and took to it immediately. So this was among the first photos I took for our trip…and it was probably my favourite! Even though you can’t really see either of their faces…you just know they’re smiling from ear to ear. Because…well…tramampoline!
I would love to claim that I saw this scene and said “Holly, quickly go over there and climb that ladder and then hang off the handle at the top as if you’re in a musical from the 1960’s!” But in truth, I was pretty much waiting for her to get down so that I could take a landscape shot…and stop worrying about her falling off!
But as is so often the case, a landscape looks a whole lot better with a person in it, especially someone who can inadvertently strike a pose like this.
It’s a man in a top hat, playing the tuba, with flames coming out of the top, in London…of course it made my top 20!
The test shot
The plan was to get Katie to walk towards me and I would get the shot just as she came through the doorway, so I was just doing a test shot to make sure my focus was going to be right…and it turned out to be a much better photo than the one I had planned.
Mont St Michel
It’s pretty hard to get a shot of Mont St Michel that hasn’t been taken a thousand times, so here’s one that hopefully only been taken 995 times. A friend of mine showed me this trick of holding a lens in front of the the camera and then taking a shot of what the lens can see.
A bird and an old man
We all got up early and made our way to the Old Man of Storr. When we got there we were one of 3 cars in the car park, so we knew we wouldn’t be fighting off the crowds. We were however fighting one 6yo who wanted to make it very clear, that he didn’t want to be there. The weather was also ranging wildly from foggy, to drizzling, to raining and all points in between. I only have one weather-proof lens and that’s the 50-140mm, and I was having to stop pretty regularly to explain to the angry 6yo that ‘No, this wasn’t a stupid idea. No, I’m not stupid. No, everyone isn’t stupid. No, we can’t turn around and head back. No, that’s not stupid.’
So this is a long way of saying that my photo options were limited…but when I saw this burn circling in the mist, I had a vision of a Tolkienesque image and was really happy with how it came up.
I love these cows. The look like the bovine version of the guitarist from a 90’s shoe-gazer band. One of my goals for our trip up to the North of Scotland was to get a shot of one these fine beasts. But our drive from Glasgow to Skye, while offering some amazing potential cow action, was so fraught with traffic issues that the opportunity to just pull over and take a photo just didn’t present itself. Having done a lap of the Isle of Skye and still not got a photo of a Highland Cow, I had pretty much given up all hope. Then on our way to our final stop on the Isle of Skye we came across this fine specimen just next to the road. So I hopped out and grabbed this shot, and all was right with the world.
There is something magical about trains, and I can see why they fascinate people young and old (by which I mean, very young and very old). From a photography perspective they are a dream. Everything is on a massive scale, there is polished metal, steam, light & shade, history, and some amazing faces. This is my attempt at capturing all of that in one shot.
The headless bass player of York
After pouncing on the first coffee place we found at 9am in the morning, we had been traipsing around York all day and by 4pm we were pretty keen on finding another coffee emporium. But despite having seen quite a few in the preceding hours, suddenly there were none to be found. As we left the market in the centre of town we could hear a band playing the opening bars of Franz Ferdinand’s ‘Take me out’. It’s a testament to how good these guys were that I actually chose taking photos of them, over getting a coffee (and people who know me, will know that I very rarely choose anything over coffee…least of all complete strangers). But with that late afternoon sun acting as a backlight, and their energy & enthusiasm, I knew I would get something memorable.
The Mae Trio
The Mae Trio’s ‘Take care, take cover’ was my favourite album for 2017…and that’s really saying something when this year saw new albums from The War on Drugs, The National and Iron and Wine. So I was pretty excited about snapping some shots of them when they played at the Wesley Anne in Northcote. Sadly the gig was actually a farewell for one of the band (Anita) and so there was a mix of celebration and melancholy on the night. I feel that this shot captured that. I also know that I manually set the focus and waited for a long time to capture capture Maggie looking up and getting that little bit of light in her eyes.
I got some photos from the night that I was really happy with, and deep down hoped that they might see them and feel so inspired by them that they immediately wrote a modern-day folk anthem called ‘Chris the remarkably good photographer’…but this hasn’t happened…yet…probably because ‘photographer’ is a really hard word to rhyme with.
So there we go. I’ve travelled the world, but taken some of my favourite photos really close to home. I’ve shot a fair bit of music, and clearly love converting them to black and white. I’ve tried new things, and refined some other things. I’ve shot three weddings, and quite a few corporate jobs. I’ve left my day job of 11 years, gone back to working 5-days a week in a new job, and started a podcast project.
So it’s been a big year, and I’d like to thank you all for your support…rest assured, I’ll be back in 2018.
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.
There’s a great moment in an episode of the Simpsons where Groundskeeper Willie solemnly whispers to his tractor ‘Were it not a violation of God’s law, I’d make you my wife’. Such is his love for this inanimate object.
Without wanting to scare you too much…I’m starting to feel the same way about my Fuji 35mm f1.4 lens.
But why?! I hear absolutely none of you ask. Well here are a few of my reasons.
I am quietly confident that whoever designed the X-T1 was doing it with the 35mm lens in mind. It just looks like it’s meant to be there. Whenever I have another lens on the body, it looks like exactly that, a lens on a body. But with the 35mm it just looks like a perfectly balanced camera.
It’s also wonderfully unobtrusive. If you want to swan around announcing to the world that you’re a photographer and quite a big-deal, then a 5D with a 70-200mm does a wonderful job. But if you want to just blend in with your surroundings and keep people at ease, the 35mm is sublime.
It also lets me live out the fantasy that I’m James Nachtwey or some other old-school photo journalist, trying to take that critical once in a lifetime shot, with only a few frames of film left on the roll…when in fact I’m just another Dad taking a photo of his son riding a BMX down some stairs, and if any of the 38 photos I took didn’t work…I’ll just make him do it again.
Want to shoot some portraits? The 35mm will knock them out of the park.
Want to shoot some landscapes? Again the 35mm will do the job.
Want to take a photo of your wife and son running on a giant hamster wheel at night time? Ok…that seems a bit left of centre…but sure!
If you are after a travel lens, it is the one lens that I would take with me anywhere. If there’s such a thing as a ‘desert island lens’, this is it for me.
But what about the 35mm f2 with weather sealing?
Good question. If Fuji would like to send me one I’m happy to run a comparison…but until then, I’m happy as a clam with my f1.4. As Zack Arias says ‘There’s a little bit of magic in this lens!’
If you’re looking to make the move to Fuji, then this lens should be on your list of initial purchases. If you’re already a Fuji shooter and you have this lens, set yourself a challenge of shooting on it all day (you won’t be disappointed), and if you’re a Fuji shooter who doesn’t own this lens…well you need to take a long hard look at yourself…ideally through the glass of a 35mm f1.4 lens…that you’ve just purchased.
I was once taking photos in a bar in Melbourne and the guy next to me started asking a few questions about my camera. We chatted for a few minutes about the relative pros and cons of Canon, and then he said ‘Well, no prizes for guessing what I shoot with’ at which point he lifted his suit pants up to his knee to reveal a tattoo running the length of his calf saying ‘Pentax’. Up until that point, I didn’t even realise that Pentax still existed, and yet here was a businessman who had their logo permanently etched into his skin. It really brought home the fact that photographers do tend to invest themselves in their photo brand. You learn the form of the camera, you know how to quickly navigate settings, you know what the capabilities of your camera are, and most importantly, you’ve probably dropped a sizeable amount of money on lenses and other gear… so when you make the jump from one brand to another it can be a scary and cathartic experience. I should know, as I’ve just moved from a Canon 550D to a Fuji X-T1. So if you’re thinking about jumping ship, here are some things to consider.
Do I really need a new camera?
New gear is awesome. It can be smaller, lighter, faster, have a bigger sensor, make us look more pro…and in truth, it can help us take better photos. But it can also cost a shirtload of cash, and can sometimes be used to hide our inadequacies. So I reckon you need to be confident that you’ve learnt everything that you can from your current camera. You need to make sure that the new camera will make you a better photographer…not just give you nicer photos.
I’ve been shooting on the 550D for five years now. In five years the technology in cameras has come a long way. Things like ‘face detection’ and built-in wifi, just weren’t on the table when I bought my 550D…and the thought of taking a decent photo at ISO800 was fanciful. So any new camera was going to make life easier right away. But I also felt that I had pushed the camera as far as I could. I had learnt a hell of a lot on a great entry level DSLR, and now it was time to upgrade to a few bells and whistles.
How deep is your love?
If you’re not really into photography and you’ve made it this far, then well done…or commiserations on your lack of alternative things to do with your time. But you should probably know that a lot of information is sent from the lens to the camera, not just the image, but a whole lot of information about the image. For example, autofocus is sent as a message from the lens to the camera. So, while you can always buy adaptors, it makes sense that Canon lenses talk better to Canon cameras, than say a Sony lens talking to a Canon camera, or Fuji lens talking to a Nikon. So while you may be able to mount the lens on your camera, you may find that it doesn’t autofocus because the lens and the camera work on different systems. The long and the short of it is, if you’re looking to change to a new brand of camera, you may find that a number of your lenses will not make the transition. So your new purchase of a camera may require additional lens purchases as well. Which can make for a pretty expensive exercise.
For better or worse, I was pretty lucky that I only had the two Canon lenses (a 50mm f1.4 and the 17-55mm f2.8). But if I was to move to Fuji, then I was pretty much writing them off. I had come to terms with this…until a friend offered a 2nd hand Canon 5Dmk3 with some really nice lenses. Which leads nicely to my next point…
Dollars and sense.
There is no shortage of really good cameras out there. By the time I’d done all of my research I had reduced my list to; the Fuji XT-1, the Sony A7r2, the Lumix GH4 and the Canon 5Dmk3. Should the Olympus OM-D been on that list?…yep. But was I having so much trouble choosing between 4 cameras that adding a 5th camera was just going to make me cry?…also, ‘yep’.
They all had different pros and cons, the 5D would let me stay in the Canon ecosystem and let me go full-frame…but then it’s a big camera, and the lure of the mirrorless was strong. The GH4 shoots beautiful video and I could get the body with a good range of lenses for the same price as the body of some of the other cameras…but it wasn’t a considered a great stills camera. The Sony was the way of the future, great video and great stills…but at a price to match. My original idea had been the Fuji…but with more video work coming my way, its shortcomings on the video front made it less attractive.
So after weeks of cross referencing tables, drawing up lists of pros and cons, and boring everyone to tears with my constant analysis of these tables and lists…I went with the Fuji. Why? Because, that’s what I really wanted. The other cameras all made sense, but when it came down to it, the Fuji is the one I had my heart set on. Also…
Zack Arias told me to do it.
Looking for information about cameras on the internet is a bit like drinking from a firehose. There is just so much information, and so many opinions (most of them differing) that it’s overwhelming. What you really want is a professional photographer who can take you through all the relative pros and cons of a camera. To tell you what lenses would be best suited suited to your style of shooting, and to walk the talk by actually using the camera they recommend. Fortunately for Fuji, they have Zack Arias doing just that. He goes through all of the cameras, then all of the lenses, then breaks people down into a range of users and suggests the best combos for them.
This information was invaluable. So much so that I pretty much followed his recommendation verbatim. So if you’re looking to make the move to a new system, make sure you find a source you trust and then work out exactly what you want, because now it’s time to take the plunge and purchase your new gear.
Clicks and mortar
If you live in Australia, then you know that buying online is going to save you about 30% over buying in an actual store. But you will also know that websites don’t have a ‘haggle’ button that you can press and knock some money off the price…which is something you can do in store with an actual person. Also, there is a lot to be said for supporting a company that pays local people. So in the end I decided that if I could get the gear that I wanted from an actual store, for within 10% of what I could get it for online…then I would buy it locally. While I couldn’t get the camera body and lenses for this price, by the time I had haggled getting a camera bag, SD cards, a spare battery and mic adapter thrown in, I was there! So on the day of my 40th birthday I got to walk out of the store with my new camera and a bevy of lenses (for the record; an X-T1, 10-24mm f4, 35mm 1.4, 56mm f1.2 and 50-150mm f2.8).
The best thing about dropping a large amount of cash on a new camera system is that it will change everything for the better! You’ll be faster, shoot better photos, look more pro, become a better lover (actually you may have to chose between the first one and the last one). Which is awesome right up to the point where you miss a shot because you where you normally stab your thumb to adjust the auto-focus has instead changed the ‘film stock look’ of your photo, or you can’t for the life of you work out how to make your flash fire remotely, or you discover that you have to upgrade Lightroom because your camera isn’t supported by the version you have. This isn’t what you signed up for!!! Why did you change?! Why couldn’t you just leave well enough alone?!!! I wonder if you can sell this and return to the warm embrace of the ecosystem you chose to leave?!
It’s all going to be alright. Remember when you bought your first good camera and you spent weeks freaking out at all of the options at your disposal? Remember how you spent ages just shooting on ‘automatic’ or ‘aperture/shutter priority’ until you got the hang of things? Well you’re just going to have to do that again…but now you have the advantage of years of experience in working with people, and framing a shot on your side. So while you’re not as good as you were on your previous camera yet, you’re also not back to square one. So get out there and shoot!
However, if after a month or two you are still getting photos that are as bad as the ones you bought new gear to improve…then the problem may be with you. So go and do a photo course and brush up on your skills…or take up macrame…macrame’s nice.
Four months in
It’s now four months since I jumped head long into the Fuji world. In that time I’ve shot over 1,000 photos on the Fuji (well, I’ve shot a lot more…but I’ve kept that many). I’ve shot a wedding. I’ve followed a guy doing 8 Ironman’s in 8 days and shot both photos and videos. I’ve captured some treasured memories of my family, and most importantly I’ve really enjoyed getting out and taking photos again.
So if a fear of the unknown is the only thing holding you back from taking the leap to a new brand, then just remember ‘Life begins on the other side of your comfort zone’.
The opportunity to document someone attempting 8 Ironmans in 8 days in the 8 States/Terrritories of Australia doesn’t present itself all that often…in fact when Craig Percival mentioned it to me, he also mentioned that he would be the first person to ever attempt this feat. I readily said yes, as it was a very good way of ensuring I wouldn’t be asked to join him for any of the swimming/riding/running.
By the time all of the logistics and financial implications were sorted, we agreed that I would travel to Canberra to see Craig finish there, then travel with the team to Sydney, sleep the night in Sydney, then document all day in Sydney, fly home to Melbourne the next day and then film and photograph Craig’s final Ironman in Melbourne.
Things got off to a poor start due to the predilection of Melbourne drivers to crash into each other as soon as the roads get wet…despite leaving the city at 4.30pm, my 6.45pm flight had left by the time I got to the airport. So I had to book another flight…and given that there weren’t any more flights into Canberra, I had to fly to Sydney instead. I called Kate Patterson to let her know that I would meet her at the accommodation in Sydney, and I got the distinct impression that things were not going well in Canberra…and that perhaps my throwing another spanner into the works was about as welcome as a cold-sore. In fact, Craig was unlikely to finish the Canberra Ironman until about 2-3am, and so the team was going to drive directly from Canberra to the pool in Sydney to start the next one. Craig would sleep in the car as would the rest of the team…although ideally not all at the same time as that would make driving treacherous.
Clearly this was not the ideal start to my filming and photography…but a little drama never hurt anybody.
But when Craig arrived at the pool the next morning I realised that it hadn’t been ‘a little drama’, and it had indeed hurt him. In fact Kate and Lindell pulled me aside to tell me that during the drive from Canberra they had agreed to pull the pin on 8in8in8. Craig would do as much of the swim as he could…but that was it. It was over. As the guy who was meant to be documenting a triumph…I quickly realised that my day was over before it began.
But then 3 x Ironman World Champion Craig ‘Crowie’ Alexander jumped in the pool with Craig and I thought I may as well take some shots…so here, in no particular order, are my top 8 shots from the 8in8in8. These are not necessarily the best photos, or the photos that best encapsulate the whole thing, but they are the images that captured the key moments for me as a somewhat embedded observer.
#1 The before shot
Traditionally the ‘before’ photo is used to show how much someone has improved in the ‘after’ photo. How much weight they’ve lost, or how ripped their abs are now. But I think that in the ‘after’ photo for this one, there probably wouldn’t have been the relaxed smile, the quiet confidence and the ‘let’s do this’ attitude…I also think the t-shirt would have said ‘Ragged’ instead of ‘Jaggad’.
#2 The swim in Sydney
If you ever want a brutal reminder of just how out of shape you are, let me assure you that donning the budgie-smugglers and hopping into a pool with a 3 x Ironman World Champion and a man who has done 5 Ironmans over the last 5 days is a remarkably good place to start. But I was determined to get some under water footage of Craig swimming, so myself and the trusty GoPro jumped into the pool. After I got the footage I was after I decided to get some photos too. One of the challenges with shooting with this GoPro is that it doesn’t have a viewfinder, so you can’t actually see what you are shooting. You just have to line up a shot that you think will work and shoot. I was shooting on burst mode so that I got 10 shots in 3 seconds. The other nine shots in this burst were rubbish (catching a swimmer mid stroke can either look powerful and fluid…or like they are coming a distant second in an underwater dancing competition), but this one I love. The reflection creates really nice symmetry with both the stairs and Craig’s arm, and more importantly I know I never would have got it if I hadn’t swallowed my pride and jumped in the pool.
#3 The power of words
As I said earlier, Craig had decided to pull the pin on the 8in8in8 on the way from Canberra to Sydney. He had pretty much done the swim because Crowie and John Maclean were there. But the local Cronulla Tri squad had sorted a masseuse to come and give Craig a rub down, and while Craig was lying there John Maclean came over to talk to him. Sometimes you can see two people talking and just sense the gravity of what they are talking about, and this was one of those times. I knew I had to capture it, but when I took the photo from the side so that I could see both of them, it just didn’t work. So I scampered the other way so that I could see Craig, but that still didn’t work. Then I went behind Craig’s shoulder and realised that I could see John’s wheelchair in the background and knew that this shot would really tell a story. So I framed up the shot, pulled focus on John and waited for him to look up towards Craig…when he did ‘snap’, I knew I had the shot I wanted.
Over the last couple of months I’ve been working really hard on not just taking a shot from one angle, but trying to take it from a variety of angles. In this case it really paid off.
#4 The painful reality
When I think of some of the most powerful photos I’ve seen, I realise that the photographer hasn’t been trying to help the starving child, or save the people running from the explosion, or stop the horror unfolding before them. They have made a decision that their photo will do more to change a situation than anything else they can do. For better or worse they have had to choose between taking a photo, and actively helping someone, and they have chosen to take the photo.
While of course not on the same scale, I had quite a few moments on my day in Sydney with Craig when I was tempted to take a photo that showed the physical and mental toll the day, and the indeed the previous five days…and no doubt the thought of the next two days, were having on Craig. To show how broken he was. But it just didn’t seem right. I felt as though I would be betraying Craig, Lindell, Kate, Ginny and everyone else who was supporting him.
So when I saw this moment, I knew I had to get it. It showed just how shattered and exhausted Craig was, but it also showed the wealth of support that surrounded him.
#5 Getting ready for the run at Cronulla
Perhaps this is the reward for not getting in Craig’s face for the preceding 11 hours. It was about 5.30pm, Craig had just hopped off his bike and was preparing to do the marathon along the Cronulla foreshore. I was just waiting to get the right shot of him when he looked at me, laughed and said ‘You’re still here mate?’ As with a lot of the other photos in this blog, this shot serves as a signpost to a turning point. I wasn’t there for the first five days, so I don’t know this for sure, but I felt as though Craig had spent the first five days enjoying people’s support, but not relying on it. But over the course of the day, Craig had let his defences down and realised that if he was going to do this, he was going to have to rely on the support of a whole lot of people he had never met.
So for the next 7 hours he walked the marathon, and people came from all around to walk with him. Earlier in the day he had been worried about what people would think of him if he walked the marathon…but by the end of the day I think he knew exactly what people thought of him BECAUSE he walked the marathon.
#6 The cheer squad at Prahran pool
Craig’s motivation for doing the 8in8in8 was to raise money for the John Maclean Foundation. Last year when he told me he wanted to raise $80K from this, I did my best to pretend that this was achievable. But deep down I wanted to say ‘Are you out of your mind?! I think you’re gravely overestimating the generosity of people’
Fast forward three months and Craig is swimming his final swim leg of the 8in8in8, and after the swim he is going to present a cheque to Tommy Le’Au and his family so that he can get a wheelchair. Tommy’s siblings and cousins had perched themselves by the side of the pool and were cheering him every time he went past. I’ve got three young kids and I know how hard it is to keep their attention for the time it takes to swim one lap of a pool, let alone 76. But these kids clearly knew what Craig was doing and why he was doing it…and they wanted him to know how much they appreciated it.
For the record, Craig has already raised over $84K and has now set his goal as $100K…so if you haven’t donated already, every little bit helps…and this is who you’ll be helping
#7 Midnight in Melbourne
It’s nearly midnight on Sunday, we are on the closed roads of the Albert Park Grand Prix track, there are over 50 people still running with Craig, and he’s just let us know that he’s confident of finishing this epic event. If that’s not worth a photo, then what is? Of course the challenge is that it’s really dark, they’re too far away to use a flash…but that f1.2 56mm lens that you beat yourself up for buying, has just come into it’s own!
#8 ‘You know I’m going to do this!’
Kate Patterson had worked tirelessly in the lead-up to the 8in8in8…and while ‘tirefully’ isn’t an actual word, if it were, then she would have worked tirefully for duration of the 8in8in8. Surviving on smatterings of sleep, taking days off work to be there when Craig needed her and doing all of the media and social media stuff along the way. She was indefatigable.
About an hour into the final run (on the Albert Park Grand Prix course no less…another thing that Kate had managed to organise), I had perched myself at the 2km turnaround point of the run and was giving Kate some photos for her to feed the ravenous beast that is Facebook. When Craig ran past, then doubled back and said ‘You know I’m going to do this!’ and gave Kate a hug. He still had another 4.5 hours to run, but this was the first time I had heard him say this, and the first time he had let his game face slip, and reveal a little bit of the optimist inside.
Technically this is not a great photo. It was really dark where we were so the ISO is ramped up to 1600, I was clearly hunting for focus so the image isn’t sharp, but it captures a moment…and that’s all I ever really want to do.
Now for the movie
For those who don’t already know I’m putting together a short video about 8in8in8. I’m hopefully shooting the interviews next week, and then will be furiously editing it for a couple of weeks. I’ll do my best to write a few posts about this process.
But in the meantime I just want to thank Craig, Lindell and Kate for taking me on for this project. To Amanda, Grant, Ginny, Shrek, Ailie and everyone else who helped me out along the way, thank you so much, it was greatly appreciated. Last but not least to everyone who supported Craig whether it was in person, or on social media, or by donating to support JMF, you were part of something pretty special and I hope it inspires you to do something great.