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.

Fitness and photography

A couple years ago I spent 12 months focussing on being more ‘creative’. I spent more time writing, taking photos and making videos…hell, I even took singing lessons. The net result was that I think I became a happier human being. I had a creative outlet (even if the world probably preferred it when I didn’t), my problem solving improved (although admittedly the ‘problem’ was normally someone asking me not to sing…and my ‘solving’ was agreeing and apologising) and I started to see creative options where I hadn’t seen them before. But for the last year and a half I’ve been training for the Ironman (well admittedly I’ve spent the last 2 months basking in the afterglow of having completed the Ironman) and I’ve been amazed at how focusing on keeping yourself physically fit, can have massive benefits for your creative endeavours.

The basics

Granted, the actual act of pressing the button on your camera, looking at the screen on the back, sighing, and then dejectedly deleting the photo, is not all that physically taxing (the emotional and psychological onslaught is of course another thing). So you could argue that increased fitness won’t make a big difference to your photography. But a bit of cardio fitness may have meant you walked a bit further to get a better vantage point, a bit of endurance work may have meant that you carried an additional piece of gear in your bag that helped make the shot and a bit of muscle may have allowed you to elbow your way through the scrum and get the best shot of your daughter’s dance recital (Oh sorry other parents, maybe if you’d spent a little more time at the gym you would be the one taking this awesome shot…instead of rolling around on the floor moaning ‘My nose, my nose…I think you broke my nose!”).

Dr. Who dance-16

Location, location.

While training for the Ironman (and yes I will continue to drop that into conversation wherever possible) I would often head out on 1.5 – 2hr runs. Now don’t get me wrong, running along main roads and having the local bogans loudly question your sexuality as they drive past is pretty awesome. But eventually you will want to get off the beaten track and run somewhere different, and this will open up a world of new photographic locations. Old buildings, new bridges, creeks, graffitied walls, velodromes, rolling hills- you never know what you will find, but you can bet that it’s not something that many other people have used for a photo.

I stumbled across this one morning while out for a run...then scampered back to get my camera.
I stumbled across this one morning while out for a run…then scampered back to get my camera.

The early bird

Do you know what’s awesome for photography? Early morning light, deserted streets, sunrise, frost and that crossover between late night revellers and those who get to work early. Do you know what sucks? Getting up early to take these shots when on any other day you’d still be asleep. But if getting up early is now part of your daily routine (because it’s the only time you can work your fitness regime into your family life or work schedule), then getting up early on another day to take some shots really isn’t that tricky.

Admittedly this photo wasn't taken superearly...but it was early when we started!
Admittedly this photo wasn’t taken superearly…but it was early when we started!

The people you meet

I’m firmly of the opinion that the most important factor in taking a great photo is not your skill level…but being there. A photographer with basic skills who is actually there, is going to take a much better photo than an expert who isn’t. But the problem is, how do you meet people to take photos of? How do you hear about events that would be great to photograph? How do you hear the stories that would translate beautifully to the captured image? In short you have to get out and meet people and do things, and getting involved in a sporting group or club is a great way to do this.
Plus, if you are actually doing an activity, you will have a much better idea of where the best photos are going to be. Everyone is going to be at the finish line, but where will the race be won? Where will the hearts break? Where is the bike most likely to stack? If you are actually doing these activities day to day, you will be able to walk up to any event and have an advantage over the other photographers.

Footjam Nosepick,
Footjam Nosepick,

Confidence

OK, if you’ve made it this far into this post then you’re probably willing to let me get a little tangential. If you are exercising regularly, you will be happier with yourself physically. When you’re happy with yourself physically, this tends to manifest itself in greater self confidence…and you know what is an incredibly powerful tool when trying to convince strangers to let you take their photo? Self confidence. It makes no sense, but I know that for me personally, knowing that I could run 20kms on any given Sunday, gave me the confidence to approach Luke and ask him to pose for a portrait.

Of all the photos, I think this one carries the most weight.
Admittedly he does look a little like he’s regretting agreeing to let me take his photo.

Time to think

If you’ve got kids, or a full-time job, or remarkably persistent cats, you’ll probably find that you don’t have a whole lot of time to think about your photography. But head out for a swim, ride, run or gym  session and you suddenly have time and space to think, although for the  first couple you will just be thinking ‘Christ I hate running!’ and ‘Why am I doing this?!’ and ‘Who the hell put the Wiggles on my playlist?!!’ But eventually you will be able to do the physical side of things on auto-pilot, while you use your newfound firing synapses and endorphins to come up with some stellar ideas.
The best ideas I’ve had for photos, videos and blogs have been while I’ve been out exercising.

Selfish portrait. ISO 400, 17mm, f3.5 and 6sec
Selfish portrait.

In conclusion, your Honour…

Having swung the pendulum between focusing on creativity and focusing on fitness, I have settled on the idea that I need to have a balance of 60% fitness and 40% creativity…with that additional 20% focus on fitness leading to more than a 20% improvement in my creativity. So go out and try find your balance. Before you buy that next bit of gear, buy a a decent pair of runners instead, before you book a photo-tour, go for a run around your local area and see what you find, and instead of putting your head back on the pillow at 5.30am get outside and break out of your comfort zone…your photography will be the better for it.

My best photos of 2013

It’s been an interesting year. It started with all of us living at my parents’ house, then we spent a couple of months moving into our new home and finishing things off, I also got to apply for my own job (thankfully successfully), battle for 6 months with the local council about building a deck (a Pyrrhic victory at best) and discover that ‘no, it’s not just the light in here…I have some grey hairs!’
So to finish the year on a high note, I thought I’d select my favourite photos from this year and tell you why I like them.

So in no particular order…here are my favourite photos for the year (I’ll be honest, the photo functionality in this WordPress theme isn’t dazzling, so you can always just head here to my Flickr site  to see the photos without the reasons why I chose them)

Sun rises over Victoria Park
I had travelled past Victoria Park a couple of times on my way to work and thought ‘that would be a great place to take some early morning shots’. So I got up before sunrise and headed there on a cold winters morning. I really love the way they have made the park open to the public and made it a lot more inviting, while still maintaining some of the elements of the spiritual home of the Magpies…and this photo came the closest to capturing that.
I took this one while I was on a lunch break from a course. I had set myself the challenge of only shooting on the 50mm and was trying to get shots to enter in the Age photo comp which had the theme 'light'. I liked this shot...sadly they didn't
I took this one while I was on a lunch break from a course. I had set myself the challenge of only shooting on the 50mm and was trying to get shots to enter in the Age photo comp which had the theme ‘light’. I liked this shot…sadly the Age didn’t.

 

I was taking some photos after my interview with Geraldine Quinn, and I tend to put my lens cap in my mouth when I'm shooting (if I put it down I lose it and if I put it in my pocket I sit on it)...clearly Xavier thought this was what one does with a lens cap and I couldn't resist getting this shot
I was taking some photos after my interview with Geraldine Quinn, and I tend to put my lens cap in my mouth when I’m shooting (if I put it down I lose it and if I put it in my pocket I sit on it)…clearly Xavier thought this was what one does with a lens cap and I couldn’t resist getting this shot
This photo was taken just before we headed on to stage at an open mic night. I'd never sung on stage before...and may never do it again, so I took the opportunity to grab a shot.
This photo was taken just before we headed on to stage at an open mic night. I’d never sung on stage before…and may never do it again, so I took the opportunity to grab a shot.

 

Luke Vesty and I headed down to St Kilda pier to take some long exposure shots. It was a really good learning experience, and it was awesome to have someone else to shoot with. This photo was the pick of the evening.
Luke Vesty and I headed down to St Kilda pier to take some long exposure shots. It was a really good learning experience, and it was awesome to have someone else to shoot with. This photo was the pick of the evening.

 

On the night our choir (The Septemberists) were performing, I figured this was an excellent opportunity to get some experience shooting photos of bands on stage. I set myself the challenge of shooting everything manually (exposure, f-stop etc). It was a complete disaster...so out of desperation I took a shot of some worn out sneakers, on sticky carpet and with an amp in the background. It said pretty much everything I wanted to say about rock n roll
On the night our choir (The Septemberists) were performing, I figured this was an excellent opportunity to get some experience shooting photos of bands on stage. I set myself the challenge of shooting everything manually (exposure, f-stop etc). It was a complete disaster…so out of desperation I took a shot of some worn out sneakers, on sticky carpet and with an amp in the background. It said pretty much everything I wanted to say about rock n roll

 

Admittedly this is more about the back story than the image...but I do love this shot. About 10 seconds after this shot, a woman walked along the beach in front of me with a child on her back. She had a hat that resembled a bright yellow turban, and it was unfurling in a golden wave behind her. With the white sand at her feet and the blue sea behind her, it would have made an amazing photo! But at the same time, Xavier was tottering towards the sea. I had to choose, the shot or the child?! I went for the child...but I still have a few regrets ;-)
Admittedly this is more about the back story than the image…but I do love this shot. About 10 seconds after this shot, a woman walked along the beach in front of me with a child on her back. She had a hat that resembled a bright yellow turban, and it was unfurling in a golden wave behind her. With the white sand at her feet and the blue sea behind her, it would have made an amazing photo! But at the same time, Xavier was tottering towards the sea. I had to choose, the shot or the child?! I went for the child…but I still have a few regrets 😉
This was taken on an excursion to Footscray. I'm not a massive fan of excessive HDR...but I reckon the balance is right in this one. I also had a weird moment where I had taken some shots down near the the river of a guy in a red hood looking towards the city. When I looked at this photo I saw someone in a red hood and thought 'That guy was following me!' But it was a different person...I think.
This was taken on an excursion to Footscray. I’m not a massive fan of excessive HDR…but I reckon the balance is right in this one. I also had a weird moment where I had taken some shots down near the the river of a guy in a red hood looking towards the city. When I looked at this photo I saw someone in a red hood and thought ‘That guy was following me!’ But it was a different person…I think.
Once a year we make a pilgrimage to my Uncle's farm for a family get together. Under a tarp in a shed lives his beautiful Monaro. It's been a long time since I've heard it tearing up a paddock...but I hope I get to hear that glorious v8 again.
Once a year we make a pilgrimage to my Uncle’s farm for a family get together. Under a tarp in a shed lives his beautiful Monaro. It’s been a long time since I’ve heard it tearing up a paddock…but I hope I get to hear that glorious v8 again.

 

So  many of Mick's songs are amazing stories, told with complete honesty. And I think I came close to capturing the same thing in this portrait. I got some nice ones of him smiling as well...but the eyes on this one catch me every time. I was also pretty nervous taking a photo of someone whose work I really respect, so it was great to get a few images that really worked.
So many of Mick’s songs are amazing stories, told with complete honesty. And I think I came close to capturing the same thing in this portrait. I got some nice ones of him smiling as well…but the eyes on this one catch me every time. I was also pretty nervous taking a photo of someone whose work I really respect, so it was great to get a few images that really worked.
After a drive along a corrugated dirt road and a brief walk you end up at this lighthouse on the Gippsland coast down near Sandy Point. Obviously this shot would have been a lot better with some hefty ND filters and a long exposure...but I don't have any ND filters and I do have 3 children who were running all over the place near the edge of a cliff. So this shot had to suffice, but it's definitely a spot I will return to.
After a drive along a corrugated dirt road and a brief walk you end up at this lighthouse on the Gippsland coast down near Sandy Point. Obviously this shot would have been a lot better with some hefty ND filters and a long exposure…but I don’t have any ND filters and I do have 3 children who were running all over the place near the edge of a cliff. So this shot had to suffice, but it’s definitely a spot I will return to.
It's getting harder and harder to get the kids to sit for even 10 seconds for a photo...and even harder to get a shot where it doesn't look like they're posing. So I will treasure this photo for a long time as it truly captures Josh at his best.
It’s getting harder and harder to get the kids to sit for even 10 seconds for a photo…and even harder to get a shot where it doesn’t look like they’re posing. So I will treasure this photo for a long time as it truly captures Josh at his best.

 

I included this one as a reminder to always take your camera wherever you can...and that if you see a shot unfolding in front of you, take it! I was in a rehearsal studio surrounded by musos and empty Jim Beam bottles and feeling a little self conscious of being the guy with the camera. But I saw the singer from one band having a quick chat with the members of our group through the studio door and decided to take the shot. I'm really glad I did as I think it captured both a moment and a character...even though you can't see her face.
I included this one as a reminder to always take your camera wherever you can…and that if you see a shot unfolding in front of you, take it! I was in a rehearsal studio surrounded by musos and empty Jim Beam bottles and feeling a little self conscious of being the guy with the camera. But I saw the singer from one band having a quick chat with the members of our group through the studio door and decided to take the shot. I’m really glad I did as I think it captured both a moment and a character…even though you can’t see her face.
At age 3 Holly told me to 'Take the camera off your face'...so it's fair to say getting photos of her has been a challenge since then. She had her 5th birthday party at Fairy Fields and in one room the only light was coming through a skylight, I stood up on a chair and asked her to look up and before she could complain I took the shot. If I ever take a better shot of her, I will be a very happy man.
At age 3 Holly told me to ‘Take the camera off your face’…so it’s fair to say getting photos of her has been a challenge since then. She had her 5th birthday party at Fairy Fields and in one room the only light was coming through a skylight, I stood up on a chair and asked her to look up and before she could complain I took the shot. If I ever take a better shot of her, I will be a very happy man.

 

I love this photo for a number of reasons. The shot I wanted (of the wind turbine at Toora) was a disaster, and I was on my way home when I saw this. Actually stopping the car when you're already late, getting out by the side of a road where cars are hurtling past at 100kms/h and waiting for a 30 second window where there isn't any wind or cars to ruin the shot can seem overwhelmingly frustrating. But sometimes, it pays dividends.
I love this photo for a number of reasons. The shot I wanted (of the wind turbine at Toora) was a disaster, and I was on my way home when I saw this. Actually stopping the car when you’re already late, getting out by the side of a road where cars are hurtling past at 100kms/h and waiting for a 30 second window where there isn’t any wind or cars to ruin the shot can seem overwhelmingly frustrating. But sometimes, it pays dividends.
A storm had just come through and the light was amazing. Our deck had just been completed and Xavier was out playing in the residual rain. I got this shot set up while he was playing and then asked him to turn around and smile. He chose to walk off. If he had a speech bubble it would say 'Yeah sure Dad, I'll just stand here and smile while you take a photo. Idiot.'
A storm had just come through and the light was amazing. Our deck had just been completed and Xavier was out playing in the residual rain. I got this shot set up while he was playing and then asked him to turn around and smile. He chose to walk off. If he had a speech bubble it would say ‘Yeah sure Dad, I’ll just stand here and smile while you take a photo. Idiot.’

 

Working for a Govt department that works with a lot of people in crisis, I spend a lot time trying to tell stories without identifying anyone. Clearly that is starting to flow into the photography of my own kids. But I just love Josh's pose and Xavier's clear exuberance at being allowed to roam free. Either that, or Foster's criminal were about to face the wrath of a new superhero and his sidekick.
Working for a Govt department that works with a lot of people in crisis, I spend a lot time trying to tell stories without identifying anyone. Clearly that is starting to flow into the photography of my own kids. But I just love Josh’s pose and Xavier’s clear exuberance at being allowed to roam free. Either that, or Toora’s criminal were about to face the wrath of a new superhero and his sidekick.

Creativity…I want to get me some.

If you’ve ever read the Dr. Seuss story ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!‘ you’ll know about a feared destination called ‘The waiting place’. It’s basically a place where people are waiting for things to happen, a form of limbo if you will…and I think it’s fair to say that 2012 has been pretty much a year of ‘The waiting place’ for me. Waiting for the renovations to be finished, waiting to see if I’ve been successful in applying for my own job, waiting for our eldest child to start going to sleep without 2 hours of coaxing, waiting for our youngest child to just go to sleep, waiting for the chance to get back into exercise, waiting, waiting, waiting.
But the whole point of the ‘Waiting place’ in ‘Oh, the places you’ll go!’ is that’s it’s very easy to get stuck there and wallow in your self pity. If you want to get out, you need to put in some effort. So I have decided to break free of my wallowing, and declare 2013 my year of creativity!

So what the hell does that mean?
Good question. I’ve worked with, and been dazzled by, genuinely creative people, and I do not include myself in their number. When I worked in film and TV I was the Producer or a Production Manager, which is basically a nice way of saying I was kept as far away from the creative process as possible. And with good cause, if there were ever a battle between the chaos and anarchy of creativity and the structure and organisation of order…I will be there with my ‘Hurray for structure’ banner.
However, I have always admired the end result of creativity and have always harboured a desire to be more creative. I love music and film and photography and various other things where people have ignored the beautiful structure of order…and just been creative. The challenge has always been to get involved in the actual process of being creative rather than just admiring what other people do. But this is not easy, because to be truly creative you need to have a singular vision and belief in what you do…which is very tricky to have when you’ve never really done it before.

For all it’s ‘Waiting place’iness, this year has actually been a really good year for me creatively. I’ve started really getting into photography, and I’ve started trying to do new stuff with my video work. But I think I’ve treated it as a pleasant distraction from the more mundane work…rather than something to focus my attention on.
So for the next year, I’m going to actively embrace the creative process as an opportunity, rather than an entertaining by-product.

That was sufficiently wanky…what does it really mean?
Well for starters I’m going to do some singing lessons. If I’m willing to be seen in public in a triathlon suit…then I can no longer claim that I refrain from public singing out of a sense of common decency. Plus I really like singing…it’s just that my preferred venue is an empty beach where the only thing that can possible hear me is the unfortunate dog I’m walking.
I’m going to pester O’nev into giving me a photography masterclass…and I’m going to try and take some photos that I can enter in a few competitions…and I’m going to set aside time to go and take photos, rather than trying to fit them in around some other activity.
I’m going to finally shoot my short docos on Melbourne people I admire and get them up on YouTube.
But, most importantly I’m going to start putting my work out there…and wait for the internet to tell me how much they hate it. After all, there’s no one’s advice you should take more sagely than an anonymous loner with a keyboard.
So here are my favourite photos that I took this year, let me know your thoughts.
Unfortunately WordPress isn’t playing nice with ‘media’ at the moment…so for the time being you’ll have to click through to Flickr to see all of them…but here’s five to get you started.

Beechworth streetscape

 

Gippsland sunset
Windfarm
Empire
Scarlett O’Hurta at the Rollerderby

 

Why I love Instagram

As most of you probably know, Facebook recently purchased Instagram for $US 1 billion (which is about $AUS 2 billion if Adobe or Apple are charging…but that rant is for another time). This was disappointing on a few levels:
Firstly I don’t really like Facebook,
Secondly I had hoped that Google would purchase it for Google+,
…and Thirdly because I had offered to buy the company for $85, and that was now looking like it wasn’t going to be enough.

But none of this has been enough to diminish my love of this app. So I’m No Expert But…here’s why I love Instagram.

1. It can make remarkably average photos look sensational.
Allow me to present exhibit A:
Before

After

2. It’s very easy to use
Just download the app onto your phone, then either take a photo with the app, take a photo with the phone’s camera or choose a photo from your library.
Open this photo in the app and start adding filters, blurs and borders.
Once you’re happy with how it looks you can then add it to your Instagram account, share it on Twitter or Facebook… and the photo is saved in your library if you want to email or text it.

3. Filters and blurs
There are about 18 filters available, giving you everything from pronounced black and blues, through to washed out reds and black and white. I personally like ‘X-pro II’, ‘Lo-fi’ and ‘hefe’. But it really depends on the photo you’re using.
The are only two blurs, but they are awesome. There is a circular blur that you can manipulate the size of, and that can used to cheat a depth of field. And there is a straight line blur which can create a pretty cool tilt-shift look.
One feature I’ve been using a lot is the ‘lux’ tool (the little sun like icon in the bottom left of your screen). It basically adds contrast and saturation to the image (the before and after shot above is a really good example of what it does).

4. But it’s not real photography
I can remember my guitar teacher telling me how he had played guitar for a couple of years and then bought his first wah-wah pedal…and suddenly everything he played sounded awesome. But he got so carried away with playing with the pedal that his actual  skills deteriorated.
This app can definitely have the same impact on your photography, an average photo can be made look pretty damn good. So you can get a tad sloppy.
But by the same token, I’ve learnt a lot about shooting with the filters in mind and have found that I’ve been getting better results out of Lightroom because I know what I’m looking to do.

5. It ain’t perfect…but it’s free
I discovered Instagram because I was annoyed by the shortcomings of Hipstamatic (limited preset looks, missed shots because the app was ‘cleaning the lens’, inability to apply effects to existing photos etc)…so initially it ticked a lot of boxes. However it would be great if the photos could be saved at a higher res (you can do this by using the camera in the app…but I don’t like that camera as much). I would really like to enlarge and print some of the photos I’ve taken…but the file size is so small that it look pixelated on anything larger than a phone.
I’d also like to have another black and white filter…the one that’s there already is pretty washed out and it would be nice to have one that had more shadows and contrast.
But seeing as I paid $0 for it…I’m not going to complain.

So if you haven’t already got it, then I recommend downloading and having some fun. If you’re using some alternative apps I’d love to hear what you’re using and why…and if you want to follow me on Instagram my use name is @sumo_21

I’ll leave you with some photos I took on a recent trip to Geelong and Warrnambool.

 

The kids on Facebook

When it comes to putting photos of my kids on Facebook I think I’m somewhere between one of those lunatics you see holding up a ‘The end is nigh!’ sign and King Canute.
I still think it’s dangerous, I would rather it didn’t happen…but deep down I know that there is no chance I’m going to stop it. So am I a paranoid delusional madman…or is everyone else just stupid? Well clearly the first option is ridiculous…so it must be the second one.
Sorry.
Now I’m No Expert But…here’s why:

1. Dear stalker, do you need any other info on my child?
I’ve put up a photo of them on their first day of school so you know what they look like and what school they go to. From some of my other posts you know their hobbies, friends and cute stories about them, what my name is and what I do. But have I really given you enough info to go on?

2. Wait, why is my child’s image on that ad?
At the moment you can change your privacy settings so that your photos aren’t used in ads. But an ad for a product that features your own child is going to have a massive impact on whether you buy that product. So companies would pay a lot of money in order to get access to your photos for their ads…and Facebook would really like to take that money.
So as long as Facebook puts a greater emphasis on your wishes than on large amounts of money…you’ll be fine…*snigger*.

3. But people need to know what my child has achieved!
Let’s face it. The minute you have kids, you have pretty much given up on achieving anything impressive for yourself for the next 15 years. So you can’t really post ‘Just remembered to put the bins out’ or ‘Just fed the whole family and didn’t kill them’ because no-one really cares (actually in truth you can and most likely do post these sorts of achievements…but you shouldn’t…you’re ruining the internet for everyone with this sort inanity). But if your child has done anything from losing a tooth, to riding a bike to not asking ‘why is that lady so fat?’ in public…then this is worthy of a post and a photo. Because your child’s achievement is vicariously your achievement. After all they couldn’t have possibly done it without your exceptional parenting.
So by all means put up those photos of your kids…but just don’t pretend that you’re saying anything other than ‘My child is better than your child!’

4. Wow! That’s some impressive paranoia you’ve got there.
Ok, I’ll admit that the chance of someone stalking my child as a result of appearing on Facebook is remarkably slim. In fact the whole idea of stranger danger is a bit of a nonsense seeing as about 85% of all acts of abuse a perpetrated by someone the child knows…and if they know the child then they’re not going to need Facebook to know that they look like.
But then I’m sure that every one of those muppets who leaves their key in the wheel arch of their car while they go for a walk/run and comes back to find it stolen was equally sure it wasn’t going to happen to them.

5. But I’ve got some great photos!
Ah, this is where it gets tricky. In a previous post I talked about the importance of shooting what you know and what is going on around you. For me, pretty much all I know and all that’s going on around me is my kids…and if I had to choose the best 10 photos I’ve taken over the last 5 years, I can guarantee that they would all be photos I’ve taken of my kids. Not being able to show these off via social media is killing me…KILLING ME!!
But given the choice between fulfilling my heart’s desire…and maintaining my ill advised devotion to a poorly thought out idea, I’m going with the latter (I didn’t endure 18 years of Catholic education for nothing!).

So there we go. Parenting is all about choosing the risks you want to expose your child to. I’ll happily let my 6yo son ride around the block on his bike by himself, but I won’t put identifiable photos of him on the internet. A lot of people would do the exact opposite.
I know that in 6-7 years he will be happily sharing photos and videos of himself that will cause him a lot more grief than anything I could post. And I know that my refusal to put photos up is completely useless seeing as my wife happily puts photos of our kids on Facebook.
But like a recipe in a Teague Ezard cookbook, I’m complicated.
I’m also interested to hear your thoughts, so what do you think twice about putting on Facebook?

Anyone can take a great photo

Welcome to the first NineB (‘Now I’m no expert, but’) blog

A while ago Things Bogans Like had an excellent piece on bogans purchasing camera equipment and assuming that they were automatically great photographers. As usual I started reading the article and thought ‘Ha, ha…those stupid bogans!’…and then gradually began to see more and more of myself in the article. Then I stopped reading it. I don’t have time for that sort of pseudo-intellectual lefty crap.

The problem that the bogan and I have, is that pretty much anyone can take a great photo. If everything goes right, and all the moons align, and you take enough photos…eventually you’re going to have one that is a great image. And you’ll look at it, and you’ll think ‘If I can do this once…I can do it again…so clearly I’m now a photographer!’ But you’re not. The big difference between me/you and a good photographer, is that they continually get great shots. They definitely shoot some duds…but then they also shoot some photos that are so good they make you want to just give up on ever taking another shot (I call this the Lee Jeffries effect).

But there are some things we non-pro’s can do to improve our ratio of crap photos to good ones.

1. ‘It is about the bike’
Sure Lance Armstrong may have said that his success was ‘not about the bike’…but that’s a lot easier to say from the comfort of a $10K road bike. Likewise, the money you put into good equipment (particularly lenses) will make a massive difference to quality of the images you take.

2. Using ‘auto’ features does not make you less of a man.
Yes, a great photographer doesn’t need a stabiliser, or autofocus…and they set the f-stop and aperture and everything else manually (they probably even know what the f-stop is). But you are not a great photographer…yet.
When I first got my DSLR I shot everything on full auto (other than flash..I hate using flash), and they are still some of my favourite photos.
By all means learn how to do everything manually (it will make you a better photographer), but if you see a great photo happening in front of you…don’t forsake capturing the moment for some sort of misplaced professional pride. Besides, when someone asks about your photo, you can still lie and claim you did it all yourself.

3. Don’t be afraid to ask for advice from photographers whose work you like.
Most good photographers know that there is more to what they do than just the settings they use (such as the way they work with the people they’re photographing, the post production processes they use, the time they spend in the freezing cold to get the shot), so they won’t mind answering your questions.
If I want to ask someone about taking a MTB our outdoorsy photo I’ll ask Tim Arch, or if I want some tips on taking a great portrait shot I’ll ask Veeral Patel, or if I want a great car shot I’ll ask Joel Strickland…and of course if I want a photo that represents the pain of riding from Melbourne to Adelaide on a fixie I’ll ask Andy.
But be warned, some photographers are just jerks and won’t get back to you…I’ve sent numerous emails and tweets to Ansel Adams asking if he uses a Canon or a Nikon DSLR. He still hasn’t responded to any of them.

4. Shoot what you know

If you like cars or bikes or wilderness or ponies, then shoot cars, bikes, wilderness or ponies. If you have an interest in something, then you’re likely to have an intuitive idea of; how things should look, when is a good time to take a shot…and ideally where you can find a pony who can either drive a car or ride a bike in the wilderness.
Most importantly, it is a lot easier to fit photography into your life than it is to make time to go and take photos. So the more you can work photography into what you do everyday, the more practice you will get,and the better you will become.

5. Shoot early, shoot often

The joy of shooting digital (and there’s no way you made it this far through this blog if you’re shooting on film…so don’t try to claim otherwise) is that you can take a whole lot of shots, and you can see them immediately, and then you can adjust things accordingly …and then you can shoot a whole lot of shots again.
It’s basically the snowboarding/surfing scenario. It’s a lot easier to learn to snowboard, because each time you fall over, you can just get up and try again. Whereas with surfing, each time you fall off you have to paddle back out, wait for a wave, catch the wave then try to stand up again. So be like a snowboarder, and take a lot of shots so that you can learn how things work. But at all times know that surfing is way cooler.
It is also very important that you get as good at deleting photos as you are at taking them. If you’re shooting a 100 shots and keeping more than 10 of them, you are either setting your standards way too low or you are some sort of photographic wunderkind. Either way you are not the target audience for this blog…so it’s probably best if you left.

So there you have my hints for taking a better photo, to paraphrase a DJ Shadow sample ‘It won’t make a bad photographer good…but hopefully it will make a good photographer better’.