My top photos of 2017

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

Josh jumping off the tower at Blairgowrie

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

Danny Ross at the 303 Bar on the 56mm

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

Beach life be like…

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!)

Songrise singing at Katie’s 40th

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

Spin those flaming balls…and drag that shutter

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?

Lighting test

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

The old take a photo of a reflection and then turn it upside down trick

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.

Turin Brakes

Gale Paridjanian at the Northcote Social Club

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

Boys in the surf

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

The best cure for jetlag

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!

Normandy beaches

Holly atop one of the enormous walls at low-tide

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.

Tuba flamethrower

Just a man, playing a tuba, with flames coming out the top.

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

Lady in red, with a blue bag, and blonde hair, surrounded by green walls.

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

Mont St Michel through a 56mm

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

A bird slowly circles through the fog on the Isle of Skye

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.

Highland coo

Highland cow on the Isle of Skye

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.

Steam punk

A steam train backing out of the NYMR yards in Pickering

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

The Hyde Family Jam take to the streets 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

Maggie from the Mae Trio playing at the Wesley Anne

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.

My top 10 photos for 2014

2014 has been an interesting year of photography for me. On the one hand, training for the Ironman has left very little time to get out and take photos. But on the other hand taking part in The Age’s ‘Clique’ photo competition has meant that I’ve been forced to really push myself out of my comfort zone in terms who and how I shoot. Plus I shot my first wedding (there’s a blog on that coming soon). The net result is that I shot a lot more photos that I was happy with this year…so here are my top 10 in no particular order (if you’re having trouble viewing the images you can also find them here.)

#1 X & A

The X-man and Ashy. ISO 100, 50mm, f1.4 1/200
X & A. ISO 100, 50mm, f1.4 1/200

Probably the biggest change to my photography came with my purchase of the Zack Arias video series ‘Onelight 2.0’ It transformed me from someone who swore he would never shoot with a flash, to someone who suddenly saw the opportunities a flash presented. Like capturing that moment when a couple of 2 year olds give each other a big hug. On my normal settings I would have missed this. They would have been slightly blurred…or a little out of focus. But with the flash they were captured in this moment, and they both just look so freaking happy to be in each other’s company.

#2 Lightspeed at the roadhouse

Light speed at the roadhouse. ISO 640, 24mm, f2.8, 8sec
Light speed at the roadhouse. ISO 640, 24mm, f2.8, 8sec

I owe a pretty hefty debt to Luke Vesty for the idea for this one. We were on a two day roadtrip in regional Victoria and had decided to take some long exposure shots. Luke got an amazing shot of a truck driving past so all you could see was a road sign and the trucks red lights disappearing into the distance. Clearly I couldn’t steal his idea…but I could appropriate it! So this is my remix. I set up my shot of the roadhouse and then waited for a truck to come past. When it was about 500m away I took and 8 second shot…and this was the result.

#3 Selfish portrait

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

One of the Clique challenges was to ‘shine a light on something you are passionate about’. So I had the idea of getting a shot of me out on the cycling trainer with a long enough exposure that my legs would look blurred. In theory the idea was pretty straight forward…but it took about an hour of setting up the camera, pressing the button, then running over to the bike and pedalling until the shot was done, then getting off the bike and back to the camera to see if it had worked. Eventually it did and I love the final shot (the light on the back wheel is coming from my phone which I had set up against the trainer)…but was it worth the numerous mosquito bites? Probably not.

#4 Down at the Nieuw Amsterdam

Down at the Nieuw Amsterdam,
Down at the Nieuw Amsterdam, ISO100, 17mm, f2.8 & 1/6sec

Another Clique challenge was to take a photo of someone who worked from dusk til dawn, and you had to use available light (ie no flash). I have a friend at work whose husband runs a restaurant in the city called Nieuw Amsterdam and I asked if I could come in and take a photo, and she said no worries. So I traipsed into the city one Wednesday night and headed down to the cocktail bar at Nieuw Amsterdam, and discovered that while the bar had an awesome ambience…it was freaking dark. So I asked the barman if there was any way of getting some more light in to the bar ‘Will this do?’ he asked and put a brulee torch to a block of sugar. *snap* ‘Yep, that will do nicely.’

#5 Maxim

Maxim
Maxim, ISO 100, 24mm, f2.8 & 1/80sec

This shot was taken at Josh’s birthday party. My children pretty much refuse to do anything that I ask in a photo…but that doesn’t mean I can’t ask other, more polite children to stand under a skylight and look up towards it. I originally wanted to use as a colour shot as there was heaps of brightly coloured lego in the background…but it worked so much better as a black and white.

#6 Show me the boy at 7 and I’ll give you the man

Josh
Josh, ISO 800, 55mm, f2.8 & 1/100

As mentioned in #5, my kids have pretty much decided that my interest in photography is just a ploy to annoy them. As such, I have at best 10 seconds to get any shot of them before they walk off…and, no, they won’t be taking any direction…what you see is what you get. And sometimes that is pretty awesome. There’s nothing special about this as a photo…but as a parent it’s exactly how I see Josh, and how I think I’ll see him in about 10 years time. So I’m so glad I’ve got this as a keepsake.

#7 Sir James

Sir James,
Sir James, ISO 100, 24mm, f2.8 & 1/160 (with flash bouncing off an umbrella)

Another big lesson for this year was ‘Don’t be afraid of autofocus’. I had always assumed that pro-photographers eschewed auto focus and manually focused all of their shots. But having spoken to a few photographers about this, they all had the same reaction ‘Wow, you’re focusing everything manually…I don’t do that!’

For this shot I was in near total darkness and had no scope to manually focus and so trusted the autofocus…and lo and behold the shots came out beautifully.

I had hired some flash gear for the weekend to take these shots, so I was shooting with gear I’d never used, following a technique I had just learnt from a video and I was taking photos of my father-in-law. So the scope for disaster was pretty spectacular, but if this year has taught me anything it’s that the more you push yourself, the bigger the rewards. My challenge with any portrait is to try and capture the essence of the person, and so in this shot I think you see someone who is content, confident, a bit cheeky and incredibly comfortable with a glass of wine in his hand. Which is pretty much exactly how I see James.

#8 The big sister

The big sister,
The big sister, ISO 200, 85mm, f1.8 & 1/200sec

Similar to the photo of Josh, this photo is incredibly important to me as it serves a record of how close these two are. Holly’s patience with Xavier is biblical, and Xavier’s adoration of his big sister is equally epic. In time this may change…but I’ll always have this photo.

#9 Harry Potter

Harry Potter
Harry Potter, ISO 200, 17mm, f6.3 & 15 secs

I can remember in my late teens I was having guitar lessons, and my teacher had given me a series of scales to learn. He explained that I could play the notes in pretty much any order and they would all work with each other as they are in the same scale. I worked on those scales for weeks…then one day I suddenly started to see the patterns in them and was suddenly able to create little solos by using the notes from the scales. It was like suddenly seeing how the magician did the trick. Suddenly things made sense.

This photo was a similar experience for me. I knew what I wanted to do with the shot, but couldn’t get the camera to do it. So I went to full manual mode and realised what I had to do. I changed lenses, I put the camera on a tripod, I manually focussed on the church, cropped the moon just out of the shot so that the overall shot was darker so that I could use a longer exposure, and I got this shot. Suddenly things made sense.

#10 Footjam Nosepick

Footjam Nosepick,
Footjam Nosepick, ISO 200, 42mm, f4.5 & 1/1,000sec

The final Clique challenge was to take a shot using a fast shutter speed, which again was something I’ve never really done before. So we headed to the Edinburgh gardens, and after watching the skaters for about 20minutes, I saw this guy on the BMX doing a few runs. He was pulling off some pretty awesome tricks, and so I decided he was my star. I watched him for a bit longer to work out where was a good place to take the shot (ie where I was close enough to a trick to get the shot, but not in the way of anyone else). Then I shot in bursts of 1/1,000. I got a couple of pretty good shots of him doing airs, and one of him grinding…but this was the hero shot.

I really like photos where the more you look, the more you see, and so if you look closely you notice his tatts, you notice the two skaters in the background watching him, and if you look really closely you see that he’s not using a hand-brake to keep his front wheel from moving, he’s jammed his foot between the tyre and the fork – a ‘footjam nosepick’.

In conclusion

So that’s my top 10 for 2014. I was really stoked to have my portfolio of photos for Clique make the final for the grand prize. But I was much happier with how many risks I was willing to take this year to work on my photography. From approaching relative strangers to be photographed, to taking on my first wedding, to trying new techniques and equipment…every risk I’ve taken has given me some reward. Now I just have to work out a way to get paid to do this on a regular basis so that I can afford to get some of these printed.

Thanks for following the blog this year, I know that it’s been pretty sporadic. But once I’ve got this Ironman done (in March 2015) I’ll have much more time to devote to creative pursuits….and hopefully 2015 will be an even better year for photography.

Shooting portraits

My favourite photography to look at and to take is portrait photography. I love the idea of trying to tell a story, or capture an emotion in a single frame. I recently took a whole lot of portrait shots at a family get together, and I was really happy with some of them. So ‘I’m No Expert, But’ here are my tips for shooting portraits.

1. Light
If you have a studio and lights then you are probably reading this post on an ironic level…so I’ll just provide advice for the rest of us.
Use whatever natural light you have available. So if there is a window in the room, make sure the subject is facing towards it (and obviously avoid placing the person in front of the window, as all the backlight will make their face comparatively dark).

2. Shallow depth of field
A shallow depth of field basically means that one part of your shot is very clear, while the rest is blurred. To me this allows you to make the persons face the focus of the shot…everything else is just background. The lower the f-stop you use, the smaller the area that is in focus. My lens can go to 2.8 so that is what I use. Some lenses can get down to 1.4, some can’t get lower than 3.5.
The challenge with using a shallow depth of field is that while it means that you have one area beautifully in focus…you need to make sure that it is the area that you want. I have a dazzling array of photos where the person’s hair is in focus…or their ear. When in fact what you want to capture is…

3. The eyes
This is where the connection is for me. The mouth can be smiling…but the eyes will always tell the real story…so make them the focal point of the shot.
If you can, try to get some ‘light in the eyes’. If people are looking towards the light you will see a reflection of this light in their eyes, which adds an incredible sincerity to the shot.
Steve McCurry is a great exponent of this.

4. Camera settings
If you have the time and ability, then by all means set your f-stop, aperture and everything else manually.
Personally, I use the ‘CA’ (Creative Auto) setting on my Canon. Then use the following:
Flash: Turned off
Background: Blurred as possible (this is the shallow depth of field I was talking about)
Exposure: Leave as is unless it is really dark or sunny…and even then, just move somewhere else
Picture setting: Monochrome (I really like my portraits in black and white). But only do this if you can work with RAW files on your computer.
File type: RAW+L This will give you a RAW file (in full colour) and a JPG in black and white (if you’re in the monochrome setting). A lot of people will tell you to shoot full colour and then desaturate the image to make it black and white. But I personally like to see the image in black and white as I shoot it…and if I suddenly need a colour version, then I can just save the RAW file as a colour jpg.
Shooting: Continuous (people’s expressions change in the blink of an eye…so it’s worth shooting a whole lot of shots, to get that one moment where you have captured something special).

5. Put yourself in their shoes
Imagine you are sitting in front of a camera, unless you are an extreme extrovert, you are going to be feeling a bit nervous…the photographer takes the photo, then says ‘No, that didn’t work’ or ‘We’re going to have to do that again’. How do you feel? I’m going to guess ‘not so great’. As the photographer you may have meant ‘I didn’t quite get that right’, or ‘I’ve got to change my settings’…but the damage has been done. You are now very unlikely to get a great shot of this person because that are going to be feeling awkward or self-conscious.
So always put yourself in the shoes of the person you are taking the photo of…if you wouldn’t like someone doing something to you, chances are they won’t like you doing it to them. And from a purely selfish perspective, you are going to get a much better photo of someone who is happy to be there and having fun.

I also think it’s worth making sure you get at least one photo that the person having their photo taken will actually want. Yes that photo of them in the middle of yawn ‘totally captured their inner child’ and yes that photo where pretty much everything is out of focus except for their left nostril is a fitting tribute to ‘the look you were going for there’. But you’re going to run out of people who are happy to let you take their photo pretty quickly if nobody likes how you’ve made them look.
So find some work that inspires you (I love cycling so Kristof Ramon , Veeral Patel, and Wade Wallace are a few of my faves) and get out there and try to capture some magic…then upload that magic to the internet…then wait for people to tell you that ‘you’re doing it wrong’.