Top photos of 2016

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

Blinded by the light
Blinded by the light

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

Alain Laboile comes to Preston
Alain Laboile comes to Preston

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

A boat at Shallow Inlet on low tide
A boat at Shallow Inlet on low 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

Cousin Nick
Cousin Nick

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

Yurts and space
Yurts and space

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

Shaz and Lofty
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

2016-top-16-7
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

Autumn raindrops
Autumn raindrops

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

On the beach in Queensland
On the beach in Queensland

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

Hervey Bay
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

Family photo among the Kauri Pines at Paronella Park
Family photo among the Kauri Pines at Paronella Park

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

Black and White beauty
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

Uncle Jack Charles
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

The Spotted Mallard
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

BMX at Fed Square
BMX at Fed Square

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

'The pain won't last..'
‘The pain won’t last..’

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!

Life begins at 35mm

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.

Willie

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.

Form

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.

BMX-1

Function

Want to shoot some portraits? The 35mm will knock them out of the park.

Man in a hat.
Man in a hat.
Boy on train
Boy on train

Want to shoot some landscapes? Again the 35mm will do the job.

Sunset
Sunset
The lure
The lure

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!

Hamster wheeling
Hamster wheeling

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.

Holiday
Holiday
Country wedding
Country wedding

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!’

In conclusion

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.

Wedding getaway car
Wedding getaway car
Life's tough in Noosa
Life’s tough in Noosa
Flotsam
Flotsam
Blinded by the light
Blinded by the light
Bare-feet and wine
Bare-feet and wine
Sunset at Hervey Bay
Sunset at Hervey Bay
I love the 35mm this much!
I love the 35mm this much!

Moving from Canon to Fuji

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.

My first portrait shot on the Fuji
My first portrait shot on the Fuji

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.

Daylesford-4
Blinded by the light

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.

Fuji, Canon & GoPro...and it all fits in a backpack!
Fuji, Canon & GoPro…and it all fits in a backpack!

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…

Shallow Inlet
Shallow Inlet

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…

TCE Fed Square-2

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.

Fuji X Buyer’s Guide :: Part 1 :: Cameras

Fuji X Buyer’s Guide :: Part 2 :: Lenses

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.

Country wedding
Country wedding

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).

That new camera feeling
That new camera feeling

Post-purchase regret

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?!
Stop.
Calm down.
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.

Yurts and universes
Yurts and universes
'I stop and think, this is Australia'
‘I stop and think, this is Australia’

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’.

Shaz & Lofty
Shaz & Lofty
Suns & daughters
Suns & daughters

 

Top 8 photos from #8in8in8

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.

Fuji, Canon & GoPro...and it all fits in a backpack!
Fuji, Canon & GoPro…and it all fits in a backpack!

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

A few days before 8in8in8
A few days before 8in8in8

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

Gotta love the GoPro
Gotta love the GoPro

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

When John Maclean talks, you listen.
When John Maclean talks, you listen.

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

60kms into the 180 ride,and still a marathon after that. Sometimes the only person who can support you is the person who knows you best
60kms into the 180km ride,and still a marathon after that. Sometimes the only person who can support you is the person who knows you best

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

'You're still here mate?'
‘You’re still here mate?’

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

This group of kids cheered Craig's every lap.
This group of kids cheered Craig’s every lap.

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

Tommy and his Mum.
Tommy and his Mum.

#7 Midnight in Melbourne

Running on the Albert Park Grand Prix track.
Running on the Albert Park Grand Prix track.

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!’

'You know I'm going to do this!'
‘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.