To EV or not to EV

There were quite a few times in my early 20s when I left a dance party while I was still having a really good time, just to head off the risk of it getting a bit shit, and that being my final memory of it. So I definitely have a personality that errs on the side of ‘bad things are probably coming, so let’s get out while the going is good’.
Which brings me to our current car, a 2018 Skoda Superb wagon. It is without a doubt the best car I have ever owned. We’ve had it for 6 years and it has not missed a beat. It has taken us on roadtrips to Tassie, NSW and Nhill. In the summer months it’s transported the family, plus surfboards, plus dog to many a beach destination, and it has been the haven of warmth at the end of winter trail runs and taboganning trips to Mt Donna Buang.
And yet…and yet, I fear that the longer we keep it, the greater the risk of it having an issue that costs a fair amount of cash to fix.
As someone who would like to play a part in not destroying the planet, I also like the idea of taking any opportunity to move towards having a smaller carbon footprint, and so maybe now is the perfect time to get an EV?

*cut to montage of Chris falling down rabbit-hole of EV car reviews and way, way, waaaay too much information*

I won’t lie, if there is a perfect time to get an EV for a family, it certainly isn’t now unless you are someone who has a lot of cash, and a deep, abiding love of SUVs. I’m not sure if EV manufacturers heard Scott Morrison say as PM that ‘converting to EV’s would mean the end of the Aussie weekend and we would no longer be able to spend our weekends driving SUVs’ and said ‘No worries, we’ll only make cars in sedan or SUV variants…best of luck station-wagon lovers!!’, but I can tell you, brands like VW are actively not releasing the station wagon/estate/tourer versions of their EV cars here in Australia. So, as someone who views SUV’s as one of the 4 horsemen of the modern apocalypse (the other three are; screen addiction, polarised political opinion, and NFTs), I am having to do a LOT of mental and moral gymnastics convincing myself that this is a good idea.

Also, I’m someone who has always had an interest in cars…but that means very little in this brave new world of terms and features to get used to, not to mention new brands like Tesla, Polestar and Cupra…throw in Kia and you’re suddenly one of those people who finishes every sentence on an upward inflection.
Plus, whereas in the past if you bought a car and the new version came out the next year, it was probably going to have slightly different coloured side view mirrors or better cup holders…now a new version may come up with a 100kms of additional battery range, or brand-new ‘everything’ inside, or now it doubles as an aeroplane.
The tech in the cars is evolving faster than the tech in my cameras, and it makes it VERY hard to commit to something!!

The other problem is that there just isn’t the range of cars that exists in the petrol/diesel world. In petrol/diesel world, you have a price range, and then a range of cars in the price range. In EV world, everything starts more expensive, and there limited options in each price band. The EV equivalent of our Skoda Superb (albeit not in station-wagon form) probably costs about $85K, which is *checks down the back of the couch, and in pockets of jeans he wore last summer* a fair bit more than I have to spend.
So…problem solved! Don’t buy an EV! After all, it would be insane to sell a perfectly good petrol car in order to buy an EV that I can’t afford. I can just show the world that I’m a great person by talking about how much I would like to buy and EV…without actually having to commit any money to it, because I can’t afford it. Virtue signalled…cost of living crisis adhered to.


Except…except, novated leasing.
Now I realise that if I haven’t lost you with discussions of ‘preferred body shapes for cars’, then I almost certainly will with ‘discussions of tax-based financing of car purchases’. But here goes anyway…maybe you should imagine Margot Robbie explaining this in a bath.
A novated lease is basically where you lease a car through your work, and the repayments for it come out of your pay. The cool thing is that a portion of this comes out of your income before tax, so you pay less tax because your taxable income is less. If this feels like the sort of thing that really benefits rich people…then yes it is.
After all, if you go and buy a $200K car and can then claim the repayments as a tax deduction, that’s a pretty sweet deal that is only available to people who can afford a $200K car. So one way around this for the tax department, is to charge a ‘Luxury car tax’ for cars worth over about $80K.
Cool story so far, I know.
But the Govt is keen for you to buy and EV, and so they have made it so if you buy an EV then the full amount of the repayment comes out before tax (remember earlier how I said that part of the payment usually comes out before tax…well for EV’s it is now ALL of the repayment, which saves even more on tax), AND the luxury car tax doesn’t kick in on EV’s until just over $91K.
In short this means that you can get a $10K nicer EV car, and you’re going to pay less in tax. Plus, the repayment amount includes things like rego, servicing, tyres, insurance etc, so instead of those things hitting like a kick in the proverbials each year…they’re spread over the full year, like a firm massage. It is a pretty good deal, provided you and your employer are keen to continue your current practice of you giving them the majority of your waking hours…and them wanting to continue to pay you for it.

We’re currently on a holiday in the Northern Rivers region of NSW, where it has rained so much, we’ve actually had the time to sit down as a family and discuss the options. It was such a relief after having all of this info bouncing around in my head for a few months, to be able to explain that I really didn’t want to sell the Skoda, but if we did, our best options were the Polestar 4, and the Kia ev6. So let’s make a choice.
After about an hour of discussion, and debate we finally made a decision…we really don’t want to sell the Skoda, but if we do, our best options are the Polestar 4, the Kia ev6, and the Hyundai Ioniq 5.
So…yeah…somehow I’m now actually further away from a decision than I was when we started.
But we have hired a Polestar 2 for our holiday, and it has been great!
It took us everywhere we wanted to go, it handled like it was on rails, and there is something quite awesome about not having pay for petrol on a holiday!
So who knows, having already said good-bye to a manual gearbox on my last two cars…maybe it’s time to fully embrace middle-aged comfort, and get an EV.


Reclaimed focus

If you can hold a new year’s resolution until March then I reckon you can say you’ve stuck the landing, and you’re now the proud owner of a new behaviour. Over the Christmas/New Year’s break I read ‘Stolen Focus‘ by Johann Hari. The overarching theme of the book is that modern life has taken away our ability to focus and think deeply on things. As if to prove this, when I say ‘I read’, I should actually say ‘I listened to the audiobook…at 1.5 speed…while I did a variety of other things’, but that just feels too sad to put in writing.

Now clearly you only really read/listen to a self-help book if you’re actually struggling with the problem yourself, the audiobooks for ‘My pecs are too big’ and ‘What do I do with all this spare money?’ have remained undownloaded by my Audible app. But in truth, I hadn’t realised just how little ‘deep thinking’ I was doing. I did have a sense of ending each day pretty much at exactly the point I had started it, but at the same time, I had ticked off my ‘to-do’ list and got lots of little things done. The simple truth is that ‘I got a whole lot of small things done today that kept people happy’ is a LOT more popular in the workplace and at home than ‘I didn’t get around to doing that thing you asked me to do…but boy did I have a deep think about an issue!’

But I kept thinking back to train trips as a teenager when I had nothing to do but let my mind wander as the stations on the Hurstbridge line flashed by. I could distinctly remember weird tangents that opened up new thoughts…weird tangents that no longer happen, because I have a purpose built tangent-killer in the form of a phone within arms length every waking minute of the day.

So I made a new year’s resolution to try two things to improve my focus, one for my home life and one for my work-life and I thought I’d take you through how it’s been going with the two of them.

I think it’s fair to say I was an early adopter of podcasts. Where you can now mention podcasts and have people tell you their own personal favourites, I was into them when if you said ‘Podcast’ people would stare at you and say ‘What’s a podcast?’…and when you tried to explain that it was like a radio show without the music…or a movie without the pictures, somehow YOU looked like the crazy one.
Anyway, pretty soon I was listening to audio books as well as podcasts on long runs, and then I was listening to them at 1.5 speed because listening to them at normal speed took too long, and then every time I was doing any sort of boring housework, or going for a walk, the headphones would go in…and then over the COVID lockdowns I listened to my headphones so much that I developed Tinnitus.
This did not make me think I should listen to them less…I should just turn the sound down.

Putting my headphones in any time something boring presented itself became second-nature. At the same time our youngest was having an issue with automatically watching a screen any time he was bored. So I decided that instead of just saying ‘don’t do that’, I would committ to giving up my habit as well. So I decided to stop listening to my headphones on my walks.

The results

Ability to stick to it: 95%
Challenge: On longer walks with the dog it was easier, as I think I knew that 30 – 40 minutes of letting my mind work through things was going to be a benefit. But on short trips (from our house to the supermarket/market, or from the office to get a coffee) it was a lot harder to convince myself that there was going to be any benefit.
Has it made a difference?: Most definitely. It has been amazing to see how much more my mind can come up with ideas and solutions once I give it the space, especially after about 15-20 minutes thinking about the same problem, suddenly alternative ideas would present themselves, or links I hadn’t seen before would become apparent. In particular I had one issue at work that I was able to see from another perspective and find a solution…with my photography, I was able to think ideas through from ‘idea’ to ‘how to actually make it work’.
Even on the shorter walks, while I certainly didn’t have any moments of clarity, I did feel as though I was a lot more aware of the world around me.

I was lucky enough to do a 3-day course with Leadership Victoria last month, and one of the key takeaways was the importance of getting ‘on the balcony’ so that you can see the whole picture, rather than getting caught up in the hustle and bustle below. The idea is clear, once you’re in management your role is not just the ‘on the tools’ work, but also the higher level, more strategic work.
Of course at the same time we now have more ways than ever for people to contact us. On any given day I will receive work requests via email, text message, phone call, Microsoft Teams and Monday.com. If I’m in the office then people will drop past for a chat, and if I’m working from home the Teams chat will be a constant series of notifications. Worst of all are the people who wait for the split second your availability ‘turns green’ to call you. These people know that the most important thing is to make their problem, your problem and will happily spend 20 minutes waiting like a predatory spider for your current meeting or call to finish so that they can unburden themselves.

The other problem with all of these small requests is that they’re usually 15-20 minute jobs, so there is a sense of satisfaction that comes with getting them done and ticking them off. So much so that if given the choice between a 15 minute quick fix Teams request, and a trickier 40 minute piece of HR paperwork…I will invariably go with the Teams request with the red exclamation mark over the email with ‘URGENT’ in the subject.
We also have Teams chats with my fellow Managers, my team, the video team within my team, that ebb and flow over the course of the day…but never fall silent. Quite often these chats present the opportunity to post the perfect GIF of Will Ferrell saying ‘That escalated quickly’ or John Oliver saying ‘Cool’, or pretty much any line from ‘Schitt’s Creek’…and I’ll be damned if I miss that opportunity!

So at the start of this year I turned off my notifications on Teams, and told my team that for the first 45 minutes of every hour I wouldn’t respond to Teams messages, and would reply where necessary for that last 15 minutes. If I’m honest, I rarely focus my attention on one thing for more than 45 minutes at a time, so that 15 minutes of quickfire responses at the end of the hour is the reward for the sustained and focussed thinking I’ve done for the remainder.

The Results

Ability to stick to it: About 50%
Challenge: Whereas the challenge to not take headphones on a walk put all of the pressure on me to stick to it…this one is a bit different, as there are plenty of people outside of my team who don’t know my ‘you have to wait until the last part of the hour for me to reply to you’ approach. So there are still always requests and conversations coming through…and some of them you can’t ignore. Also, the allure of the quick job that will make someone happy straight away, over the boring work that may yeild a result in 6 months…is still too hard for me to resist.
Has it made a difference?: If the measurement of success is the amount of high level thinking and planning I’ve done since January, then it has made absolutely no difference. If the measurement of success is an awareness of how little high level thinking and planning I’m doing…then it has been painfully successful.
A big reason I love my job is that I still get to do the ‘hands-on’ work, and I think that having someone who genuinely loves creativity is still a rarity in a bureaucracy…so perhaps keeping my hands in the creative work, rather than the policies and procedures that guide the work is actually the harder and more beneficial option. Or perhaps that’s exactly what a creative person says when faced with the pressure to just sit down and do some damned spreadsheets and Standard Operating Procedures.
Either way, I’m going to stick with it. If nothing else, just to show my team the importance I place on bringing your whole self to a task and thinking deeply, rather than spreading yourself over a whole lot of smaller tasks, chasing that ‘quick win’….and that real change takes time, effort and the occasional failure.

Confessions of a middle-aged Swiftie

‘I just don’t get the whole Taylor Swift thing’ is a sentiment I’ve heard a bit in the lead-up to her concerts at the MCG. Which is totally understandable, after all, there are plenty of things I just don’t get, Eurovision for example. I love that so many love it, and get so passionate about it…but it’s just never done it for me. Horror movies are another thing that has passed me by…and quadratic equations have 100% been beyond my ken since forever.
So I would never say that anyone is wrong for not ‘getting the whole Taylor Swift thing’, but after spending an evening with 96,000 people sharing a communal experience of art and positivity, I do think they’re missing out.
So from someone who came to Taylor Swift in the Folklore/Evermore era, and after at least 35 years of going to gigs thinks they may have seen one of their best gigs ever, here is what I love about Taylor Swift.

The music

Back in 2014 when I was training for the Ironman (for those of you playing the ‘When will Chris mention that he has done an Ironman’ drinking game…please drink now) I was watching a YouTube series about a non-athlete training for the Kona Ironman. On the morning of the race she was talking about how she couldn’t sleep and so had just blasted ‘Shake it off’ in her headphones for an hour to get herself ready for the race. I was genuinely dumbfounded. How could someone who was about to attempt something so massive, be listening to something so disposable?! I had never listened to the song in its entirety, but it very much fell into the ‘teeny bopper’ music category in my mind. It was basically ‘musical cordial’ in that it was sickly sweet, and designed for kids.
But out of interest, I gave the song a listen. As I suspected, it was pop-crap. But I gave it another listen…out of fairness. Ok, that horn sound is pretty cool…and I did kinda sing along to a bit of it…but it was still crap. To prove this I listened to it again…then watched a behind the scenes video about making the video clip…then listened to it again. I decided that maybe even pop songs can be ok at times, but that true musical genius came in the form of little known Belgian guitar bands, or people with ‘Chemical’ or ‘Shadow’ in their band names. So I went back to what I knew.

But then in 2020 what I knew (The National) intersected with Taylor Swift. Aaron Dessner from The National had worked with Taylor on the ‘Folkore’ album…and I was genuinely baffled. This was like Jamie Oliver saying he had taken a job at McDonalds. But the world was locked down with COVID, so I gave the album a listen. I was about 1/3 of the way through the opening track ‘The one’ when she said the line ‘In my defence, I have none’, and I suddenly thought ‘Oh man…that’s GOOD!’ It’s such a little line, but it really landed with me…then two songs later she hit me with ‘I knew you’d linger like a tattoo kiss, I knew you’d haunt all of my what-ifs’…and I was hooked.
That night while making dinner I played it on the speaker and asked Holly what she thought, and asked Katie if she could believe this was Taylor Swift? We played the whole album through…then again…pretty soon it was on regular rotation. Then Evermore came out, and it was all over. I was well and truly sold…and Holly went into a level of fandom that exposed me to all of Taylor’s previous work.
As a middle-aged white guy, the less autobiographical lyrics of Folklore and Evermore are my faves…but I can see how the lyrics in her other songs connect with Holly and Katie and have to realise that I’m really not the target audience, but no matter what era you’re listening to, her ability to write an evocative and catchy melody is phenomenal.

The vibe

Normally when a man has as much charisma as Taylor Swift, within a few years they’re insisting they have a direct line to God, and that he’s saying everyone should be wearing orange tunics and marrying him…before eventually everything ends in a hail of gunfire, or poisoned drinks, or massive embezzlement.
Instead of this, I sat in an audience of 96,000 people with a focus of pure positivity. In a world that has us increasingly divided into online factions, where differences are what define us, over three nights Taylor Swift was bringing nearly 300,000 people together to show what it’s like when we unite behind something that makes us feel good.

That was all off-stage. But onstage I couldn’t help but notice that every one of the dancers and musicians on stage looked to be having the time of their life. Now I realise that they’re being paid to look happy, but I do think that you can tell the difference between a stage smile, and genuine happiness (it’s usually in the eyes), and every person on stage at the show I saw looked genuinely happy. That can only happen when the person at the top puts genuine effort into making sure her whole team feels comfortable and confident to be who they are. I find it hard doing that managing a team of 7 people, so how she does it with a team of hundreds (and a personal worth in the billions) is amazing. I wonder how many Tesla employees feel the same level of support from Elon.

The show

There was a part of me that thought that the songs I particularly liked were probably the ones that were the least appropriate to a big stadium show, so I was just excited to experience ‘the show’.
But nothing could have prepared me for ‘the show’. The lights, the visuals on the screen, the use of effects on the live cameras, the motion graphics on the the stage floor, the choreography of a 3.5 hour show, the sheer energy that’s required to sing and dance for that long, and the ability to feed and ride the energy of the crowd. It was all brilliant. I looked over at Xavier at one point and thought ‘How is he ever going to enjoy a live show again?’

Sometimes there are just people or places that are a catalyst to greater things. Like watching a train to the MCG slowly fill up with more and more people wearing smiles and sequins. Or young people going to craft shops so that they can make friendship bracelets. Or hundreds of thousands of women and girls getting to see someone who not onlys says that they can be whatever they want…but also shows that they can be. Or a city that prides itself on being a city of arts, treating an artist with the same level of respect it usually reserves for footy, cricket or a horse race.
There are a lot of things we’re going to have to come together as a planet to fix. We’re going to have to see what we can do as a large collective, rather than a whole lot of individuals. The ‘whole Taylor Swift thing’, leaves me thinking that we’re still capable of doing it.

Best photos for 2023

It’s that time of the year when I’m on leave and archiving off all of my photos from last year onto external hard-drives, so it’s time to dive into my favourite 23 photos from last year.
These are in no particular order, as I’m far too lazy to rank them.

The smiling assassin

Wombat at Wilson's Prom


I was out for an early evening stroll at Wilson’s Prom when I rounded a corner to see this handsome devil on the path ahead.
Instead of heading towards them (and potentially scaring them off), I took a punt on where they were heading next and got myself set up. Lo and behold, they headed in my direction, and came up so close that they briefly looked like they were going to take a chomp out of my lens.
Did I ask for the shy smile? No. Am I taking full credit for it? Yes…yes I am.

Right leg kick-through


There is nothing better than discovering a subculture. Last year I started doing ‘Animal Flow’, which is basically a series of moves based on different animals. If you imagine a group of gymnasts, and a group of Cross-fit types meeting at a zoo and trying to torture each other…then you’re not far off.
On this day, Alisha Smith was down in Melbourne to test some instructors and run some classes. Given the choice between doing the class…and taking photos of people doing the class, I chose taking photos.
One of the upsides to having done some of the classes was knowing when the best moments were going to be to take a shot…and then having someone with such perfect technique to make it look easy.

Cycling in Vietnam


In what I think will be a bit of theme in this year’s photos…we went to Vietnam! As part of it we rode for 4 days through rice paddies and rocky outcrops. We also rode through about 3.98 days of rain, so I love that this photo captures both the beautiful vistas we were travelling through, as well as the constant spray of mud up the back our jackets!
Shooting on a GoPro while riding does involve a degree of taking a photo and hoping for the best…and with the lens so wide, you really need to be pedalling hard to keep the person in front of you as the focus, but this sort of scenery can make up for a what you’ve missed in the foreground.

The Bridal Waltz

The Bridal waltz

Going to a wedding of your friends in your 20’s can be a slightly tense experience. There is a LOT of pressure to not screw anything up (this is the BEST day of their lives after all), and so people are often too nervous to actually be themselves.
But weddings of people in their 40’s are usually a lot more relaxed. It’s often a second go at a wedding for those involved…and so they’re there to have fun. This may mean that what looked liked a speech, devolves into the bridal party swarming onto the dancefloor to recreate the zombie dance sequence from ‘Thriller’, and then whisking the bride away.
A good photographer will be able to capture that moment (and may even be brave enough to drag the shutter to capture the movement as well). A bad photographer won’t know what’s happening as the Bridal party swarms towards them and very nearly gets in the way of a choreographed dance sequence.
I will do both.

On the buses


We were on a bus in Vietnam driving over a mountain range. The fog outside was so heavy that we could hardly see more the 5 metres in front of us…but it did make for some amzing diffused light. Just as I was taking a photo of the bus, Xav turned around in front of me, and I snapped this pic.
I know that if I had tried to pose this, it would never have worked, but sometimes the photography gods smile on you.

The farmer is strong in him

Every year we head to my Uncle Pat’s farm for an early Christmas get together. We’ve been there in drought and in windy heat, but this year everything was green and growing. On the traditional post-lunch walk I snapped this pic of one of my cousin’s sons. His dad is a farmer…and the stance, and look of wary concern is clearly genetic.

Hanoi streets


I know what you’re thinking…’Chris, it’s been an entire photo since you’ve shown-off about being in Vietnam!’ Well fear not…we’re back.
I think I really like this photo because it shows me that I’m learning. This street corner in Hanoi was definitely photogenic. But I chose to wait until some people walked into the shot (to give it an extra element of interest), I got down low to change the perspective, and when I did that I remembered not cut off that light in the top left of the image (that’s the sort of thing I would have missed in the past, and been furious with myself later).

On the way to Fairy Cove


While I may have had my nice Fuji for the photo of the wombat…I definitely wasn’t lugging it along for this hike to Fairy Cove. Which I thought I was going to regret, as the early morning light revealed this vista of the Derby River.
Thankfully, the iPhone is a pretty impressive beast, and this was the result.

Post race


Many moons ago there was a photographer taking super-shallow, close up portraits of cyclists after the big 1-day races in Europe. I really liked them as there was invariably one happy person…and a LOT of very broken and exhausted people.
This photo was taken after a loooong morning of riding in a combination of the rain and the Vietnamese countryside. We had just arrived at the spot where a bus was picking us up to drive to the next location…and the bus driver was making it clear that our filth was not a great addition to his clean bus. So while negotiations raged between him and our tour guide, I snapped this photo of Josh.
As a complete aside, our guide had told us the night before our first day of riding that he was preparing some special ‘lamb juice’ for us. He insisted that this was always very popular with cycling tours, and had a lot of salt and other minerals added to it.
It’s fair to say that up until that point I had not seen a single sheep in Vietnam…and was certainly not sure how ‘lamb juice’ was going to help our cycling. But maybe it was some form of ‘bone broth’? Either way, it’s a testament to Aussie politeness, that at our first drink stop when he showed us a water cooler full of ‘lamb juice’, quite a few of us were willing to give it a shot.
It turned out to be ‘lime juice’…and was indeed delicious.

Street portrait


As the negotiations between the tour guide and the bus driver continued loudly in a tiny town on the way to Ninh Binh, this guy arrived on his scooter. The sight of a group of mud-spattered Australians standing around a bus was clearly the best thing he’d seen all day. I did my best to ask if I could take his photo in Vietnamese, but his laughter implied that I had not done this. Through a lot of laughs he said 3-4 words in English, and I think one of them was ‘lunch’…so I realised that charades was going to be the winner again. I pointed at my camera and then pointed at him with my face doing it’s best to convey that this was a question. He laughed again and nodded, and so I snapped a few shots. The colours, especially with the flag in the background, were great, but the black and white was my fave.
I won’t lie, my first instict was to just snap off a few surreptitious shots without him noticing. But I think a really important part of taking photos is connecting with people, and you won’t do that snapping off photos of people when they’re unaware. Plus, watching each other destroy the other person’s language was a great bonding experience for the two of us.

Early evening swim


As a family we have always had a pretty clear beach schedule; the mornings hold an optional walk or surf (if the waves are good), then lunch, then an early arvo beach session, then a cup of tea, then dinner, then the News and eventually bed. At no stage was a post-dinner dip in the ocean an option.
Then my wildcard wife Katie threw it in as an option, and it is now a family favourite. Now clearly, after hours swimming means you’re there without any lifeguards, so there is a presumption that you only swim when it’s safe to do so. But the rewards are pretty epic. The wind has normally died down, so the waves are clean. Any warmth from the day is still in the water, and the setting sun looks amazing through the cresting waves. All you need now is a GoPro to capture a few shots!

Vietnamese landscapes


I imagine that if I had grown up in Vietnam and I saw someone get off their bike (and therefore consign themselves to at least 20 minutes of furious pedalling to catch back up to the group) to take a photo of the landscape, I may well have said ‘What on earth are you doing? It’s just a misty mountain range, with some rice paddies in the mid-ground and a yellow road winding towards them in the foreground!! Why are you wasting your time, when you’ve grown up with the majesty of Bell Street in your life? How can this even compare?!’
But that’s just the joy of being a tourist, everything is new and interesting. Either way, I’m really glad I did jump off the bike to take this photo. Interestingly I took this photo and then thought ‘I bet the composition would be even better if the road was in the centre leading away from the viewer’…it was not.

Fiddler in the spotlight


My daughter had a role in a local theatre production of Fiddler on the Roof. As part of the show, Tevye was walking through the audience behind the fiddler with just a single spotlight on them. I would love to say I planned this composition, and the downcast look from Tevye, but I really just got lucky.

Ha Long Bay


As part of our trip in Vietnam we spent a night on a ship in Ha Long Bay and did some activities out there. For some reason, I thought this activity was going to involve us going somewhere in kayaks, so I just packed the GoPro. But it turns out we were going for a hike through some incredible caves, and then emerging to this stunning view of the bay. ‘Oh excellent!’ I thought ‘I’m absolutely delighted that I’ve brought the camera that is pretty much designed to be strapped to the chest of someone hurtling down a mountain on a bike, or skiis, or Grizzly Bear. Instead of…say…the camera back on the boat with all of the lenses.’
But sometimes you just have to play the hand you’ve dealt yourself, and so I took this photo on the GoPro, and it’s actually a LOT wider than I would have taken normally, but works really well.

Black and white and prog-rock all over


I really love photography, and I really love live music, and I really love teaching people about photography. So last year I did a photo workshop where I talked about the fundamentals of live music photography, and then headed to a gig where Psi-Phi were playing to put the theory into practice.
This is one shot that I took that I was super happy with. I love the glow being cast by the overhead lights, and the way it looks like it’s those lights that are illuminating Ryan’s face.
Pretty sure that’s a can of Heaps Normal in the centre of the frame…so I’m also very happy for this to be used in some form of advertising campaign.

I’m on the nightrain.


In a beautiful homage to 1980’s era Guns n Roses, we caught the nightrain from Hanoi to Da Nang. This photo was taken on the morning we were arriving at Da Nang. We were snaking our way through green forests, with sea visible down below. I was trying to replicate photos I’ve seen where outside is a blur while inside is a still-life. But you had to hold the windows down as they were springloaded to close, so trying to co-ordinate a long exposure while also holding down the window, while also making sure you didn’t fall victim to some sort of errant pole or sign or tunnel as you stuck your elbow out of the train and looked in the opposite direction, was tricky.
So I got Xav to hold down the window and act as my ‘here comes a tunnel’ warning system, and snapped this shot.
On an unrelated note, every now and then a cascade of water would come off the roof of the train and down into the open windows. It wasn’t raining…and we were close to the toilets…I really hope the dots I joined were incorrect.

Let there be Rock!


I think I can pretty much divide my selections for this year into two categories; Vietnam, and Live Music…and to be honest, I’m pretty comfortable with that.
This shot was taken at Doggerell’s album launch at Shotkickers in Thornbury. Now live music photography can be tricky, but if you’ve got someone with the stage presence of Keir (on the Dobro here) and the lighting of Rosie at Shotkickers, then you’re job is pretty much just waiting for the moment to happen and then capturing it.
As part of my ‘Yeah, but how did photographers with just 12 shots on a roll of film ever actually survive’ series, I can assure you that the 5 photos before this, and the 6 after were magnificent examples of me ‘not capturing it’…but it doesn’t matter, because I got this one!

Self portrait…of someone else.


In our last night in Hoi An, Josh and I went out to take some photos. Outside where we were staying there was a bus-stop style illuminated ad that was throwing out a lot of light. So Josh and I took turns standing in front of it and using it to illuminate ourselves, without losing the lights of the town behind.
I love the colours in this, and look of metal on the camera…I also love that it looks like some modern version of a Vivian Maier self-portrait in a mirror or shop window.

He’s not terrifying, he’s my son.


We were spending a family weekend at Point Lonsdale, and I dragged our youngest out to take some photos of the lighthouse there. Lighthouses (or ‘Lightheese’, as I believe is the correct way to say the plural), can look bloody amazing…or they can look ‘kinda fine…I guess’, and this photoshoot was falling very much into the second category, so we headed down onto a nearby pier. While we were there, there was another photographer taking photos looking out to sea. I looked out there, but couldn’t for the life of me see what he was taking photos of. Then he said ‘Have you seen the Aurora?’ and showed me the screen on his camera. Lo and behold, there it was, the Aurora Australis! It wasn’t visible to the naked eye, but with a few seconds of exposure it suddenly appeared.
I took a number of photos, and they were all pretty good…then I took this photo of Xavier looking like something that was going to haunt my dreams…and I preferred it to all of the photos of the Aurora. Photography is a funny game sometimes.

Beer goggles


I’ve had the pleasure of taking photos of Danny Ross on numerous occasions. One of the many upsides to this is that I’m now pretty comfortable trying new things when I take photos of him performing.
This shot was taken with an empty beer glass being held in front of the lens to distort the image. I know that this could have just as easily been done in Photoshop, and I could probably have done it in AI and never even left my house…but I got to see a great gig, drink a beer, and then take this photo. So I reckon I won this one.

Quintessence


Any time you take a portrait of a person, you ultimately want to capture an image that conveys the essence of that person. When you give them posing suggestions, it can usually go one of two ways; you make them do something that is so disengenous that you lose any chance of getting a natural shot, or the very act of trying something different unlocks a moment where they forget they’re being photographed.
I love this shot, because it’s how I see Holly; happy, confident and enigmatic.

Give the drummer some more


There have been numerous occasions where I’ve had to explain to a drummer after a gig, that while I got some great shots of the singer and guitarist, my photos of them pretty much suck. This isn’t entirely my fault. Drummers invariably hang out at the back of the stage where the lighting is crap, and they surround themselves with things that make it super tricky to get a clean shot.
So when I got the chance to take photos for ZOJ at their Melbourne Recital Centre gig, I was super pumped to take photos during their rehearsal, where I had free-rein to get as close to Brian (the drummer) as I wanted, without becoming a distraction to him or the audience.
It’s worth noting that I don’t even know what he’s using as a drumstick in his right hand, but his left hand is playing some bells on a string. In another shot he has a singing bowl in one hand and is moving a marble inside to get a resonating ring…and he’s only half the band!

The Prom


I won’t lie. When I decided to do 23 photos for this post…I kinda forgot that I was going to have write about each one. So this has taken a LOT LONGER than I was anticipating.
With that in mind, I chose this one because I think that if someone else had shown it to me I would have said ‘I wish I’d taken that shot, it’s really atmospheric’.
But I did take it, so now we can all stop reading and writing and get back to whatever it was that we were meant to be doing before I embarked on a 23 photojournalism saga.
See you again for 2024!

The nightwatchman

For those of you not living somewhere the English colonised, or without an interest in Cricket…it’s pretty important for you to know what a ‘nightwatchman’ is in Cricket.
So brace yourself for a paragraph of Cricket talk…but I promise it will get interesting after that.

In Test Cricket, the 4 or 5 day version of the game (sadly yes…there is a sport that goes for 5 days. And yes, even more sadly, it can sometimes end in a draw after 5 days), if a batting team loses a wicket with not much time left in the day’s play, they will often send in a ‘nightwatchman’. This is someone who is further down the list in terms of batting skills than the person who was meant to be coming in to bat. The logic is, it’s better to save the person with the good batting skills for the next day when they can start fresh, than run the risk of exposing them to a few overs at the end of the day.
So the role of the nightwatchman is basically to not lose their wicket. If they want to score some runs, great! But ultimately, they will be seen to be doing their job, if they just occupy the crease until the end of the day.

So why am I giving you a fascinating insight into the nomenclature of a Cricketing term? Becuase there is a workplace equivalent…and it happens over the Christmas/New Year’s period, when senior people in an organisation take a holiday and someone needs to fill their position while they’re gone.
Now clearly ‘backfilling a role’ is something that happens through-out the year, so why is the Christmas/New Year’s break different? Well, becuase it’s a rare time of the year when a lot of people go on holiday, so the usual demands and stresses are alleviated…and the talent pool available to act in roles is greatly diminished. Or as I like to see it, ‘Chris’s time to shine!’

For as long as I’ve worked in the public service, I’ve tried to help out by backfilling these roles, and being a nightwatchman…so I thought I’d talk about some of the reasons why.

Altruism

Speaking as someone who usually exhausts their annual leave balance by the end of the year, and who took long-service leave as soon I could, I think it’s fair to say that I think that time away from work is a really good thing. You’re not an ’employee’ you’re a ‘person’, and time away from work helps you remember that. Best of all, a good holiday will usually see you return to work invigorated and with a new perspective you can bring to projects.
Sadly, quite often, the further up the ‘org chart’ your job resides, the harder it is to take a proper break. Meaning that people who really need invigoration and new perspectives, often find excuses as to why they ‘just can’t take a holiday right now…not with *insert name of project that seems important right now to a few people, but really isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things…and will most likely still be there when you get back from any holiday you take* so close to rolling out’.
But the two weeks after Christmas are a time when everyone expects people to go on leave…all your boss, or boss’s boss, needs is a safe pair of hands to hold the fort while they’re away.
They don’t need someone to make ground-breaking decisions, or try to do their job better than them…they just need someone to be there if needed. And I’m very happy to be that person.

Purely selfish

If you like people starting emails with ‘Thanks for getting back to me’, then you’re going to love the way people treat any form of email that you send when you’ve updated your email signature to ‘A/Important Person’.
You will also get to work and talk with people who have decision making power within your organisation, and that can be great for future prospects.
You will also most likely be paid more while you’re acting in the role.
You can update your LinkedIn profile with the new job title, and that will trigger notifications being sent to your network suggesting people congratulate you on the new job. Although, rest assured, if you’re filling in that role for anything less than 6 months and updating your job title on LinkedIn…I am judging you.

Perspective

If you’re the ambitious type, who is always looking at the next step on the career ladder, then acting in your boss’s role can you give you an insight into what’s required if you want to move into the role when the opportunity presents itself.
Alternatively, if like me, you’ve come to realise that each step up the career ladder leads to a reduction in hands-on creativity, and more importantly, less time in your day to do things you actually want to do (spend time with your family, exercise, not spend time in meetings that clearly could have been emails, etc). Then acting in a role above you for a few weeks, can be a wonderful reminder of exactly why you don’t want to take the next step up the org chart.

Challenge

You only grow by challenging yourself…but you also don’t want to bite off more than you can chew. So taking on a new job can be like signing up for a half-marathon, whereas acting in a role over Christmas/New Years is more like doing a Parkrun, it’s a challenge, but you’re never more than 5km away from the finish.

The downside

Of course, there are times when the proverbial hits the fan…and suddenly you’re in the hot-seat (or at least a seat closer to the heat than you would normally be). While acting in other roles I’ve had to deal with everything from bushfires, floods, & COVID restrictions, to Premiers wanting to send an email to all staff on New Year’s Eve (I’d booked a table at a restuarant for the whole family at 7pm and was still desperately trying to co-ordinate things from my mobile as the food arrived) and a change of name for our Department that required every document, template and webpage to be updated with the new logo (good times…good times).
You will also have to make the choice between heading in to the office and facing the appalling coffee offerings available when the baristas of the world are on holiday, or staying at home and being the sad person sitting on their computer all day while the rest of the household is on holiday.

So if you’re up for a bit of a challenge, or if you want to help your boss out, or even if you want to see if you can survive on Nescafe Blend 43 for a few weeks. Then I highly recommend taking up the option of acting in a role over the Christmas/New Year’s period…I’d go into more detail, but I’m on holiday now while the rest of you suckers are back at work, which is of course the other massive upside to working over Christmas / New Years!

Getting out of the introverse

There was a great cartoon I saw during the many COVID lockdowns that had a first panel where an introvert was saying ‘I just need some time alone to recharge my batteries’ and the second panel showed them after the lockdowns and they were glowing with energy.

It’s fair to say I felt ‘seen’.

Oh sure, COVID did bring with it; learning from home, existential dread, increased stress on families, financial hardship, an increase in people falling down social media rabbit holes without daily interactions from people who would normally tell them to ignore that stuff, and a regrettable increase in the number of people saying ‘Nice to eMeet you’.

But it did pretty much reduce to zero the number of times people were forced to attend social events where they had to listen to people talk about what school they’re sending their child to, or what their renovation plans are. In fact, you could just not attend any social events, and you were considered a good person for doing that. If the doorbell rang, you were under no obligation to enter into small talk with someone, because that person was just delivering a package…not there to interrupt your solitude.

For some introverts, this trade-off seemed almost worth it.
Not me of course…I love attending your events…and couldn’t be happier when you come to my door.

By late 2022 the glory times for introverts were over. While there was an initial stage of extroverts saying ‘Oh my God, I think I’ve forgotten to be social! We had a few friends around and I was exhausted!’ Unfortunately this empathy didn’t extend to ‘…and this is how some people must feel every time they have to be social…we should limit our get-togethers to once a month!’
Nope. Gatherings and meandering small talk were back baby!

Similarly, workplaces started spruiking how great it is to be back in the office so that you can have ‘meetings in person’ and ‘water cooler chats’…which to an introvert sounds like someone saying ‘It’s so great to be at this beach where we can enjoy seaweed and sunburn!’

This may have been more a case of Senior Executives (extroverts by and large) thinking ‘How can my employees survive without seeing my glorious self in person?! And besides, what’s the point of having an Assistant, if I still have to do my own printing and get my own coffees?! No, we really need to get back into the office!’

If 2023 was the year we ‘got back to normal’, it was also the year I realised that I have drifted a fair way from ‘normal’.
I would say my pre-COVID life was as an introvert who had developed skills and tricks to pass as an extrovert.
I can happily talk in front of a crowd (the trick here is not to see the audience as a number of different people…but as a single ‘crowd’ entity. That way, much like when I’m comfortably talking to one person, I’m now just talking with this single crowd).
I can make people laugh…and it’s amazing how many social faux pas people will overlook (“Boy, his hug felt it was in hostage video, and he just disappeared from the party without saying goodbye…but that joke about the current political situation and how it relates to Dachshunds…that was pretty funny!”)
Most importantly, I’m happy ask questions that allow other people to talk. Introverts are often happy to talk about something that interests them…and extroverts are often happy to talk. So people rarely think you’re introvert if they’ve been talking to for 45 minutes…even if they’ve been the one doing all the talking.

But during the lockdowns I didn’t have to do any of this any more, and the mental muscles that I needed to do them grew weak. So when we all swung back into the habit of socialising, I was like an athlete coming back from the off-season. Or worse still, I was like an ageing athlete about to start pre-season, and wondering if they were really willing to do this all over again.

There’s a great line in a Something for Kate song ‘Pinstripe’ where Paul Dempsey sings:
‘We thought we knew it so well,
We could do it with arms tide behind our backs
And our eyes shut tight.
I thought I knew it so well, that I stopped
Now I can’t start again’


I had definitely stopped, and I was really wondering if I needed to start again.
I mean, in a world where we’re increasingly becoming aware of the different ways people’s brains work, and looking for ways to accomodate that difference…why should I have to do the heavy lifting, just to fit in? Why do I have to go against what I do naturally?

Of course the answer is pretty simple…it’s an extrovert’s world. Oh sure, in 1966 James Brown sang that ‘It’s a man’s world’…but I’m quietly confident, that if it hadn’t been such a syllabic nightmare, he would have sung ‘It’s an extroverts world’. Extroverts are the heroes of our stories. They are the influencers whose lives we covet. They are the voice that says ‘I’m saying this pretty loudly, so I’m most likely right’ that cuts through to our overwhelmed brains.

They are of course, also incredibly necessary. I should know, I’m married to one. Extroverts are the ones who inspire people to follow them. Extroverts are the people who will doorknock the entire street asking complete strangers if they would support blocking off the street so that we could have a street party. Extroverts believe that people actually want to hang out with other people, and that any time this doesn’t happen it’s a ‘tragic missed opportunity’ (as opposed to the ‘exact outcome’ that many introverts were hoping for).
As much as it may be extroverts who feel absolutely fine about jumping on social media and saying whatever comes into their heads that encourages division…it’s also extroverts who are going to organise the event where a group of people meet in real life and realise how much they have in common.

For me there is also the very real issue of the example I’m setting for my kids. While I have found great entertainment in cueing up the line from the National:
‘Goodbyes always take us half an hour,
Can’t we just go home?

..to play in the car as we depart a family function where the goodbyes have taken forever. I have also found myself on multiple occasions sitting in a quiet room with one or two of my kids as a parties goes on in the house around us. Withdrawing to solitude may be the easiest and most comfortable option…but it’s also going to preclude them from incredible opportunities with friends, and moments of connection with strangers.

So 2024 will be the year when I make a concerted effort to embrace more social occasions. To try and re-train my brain to embrace the outlook of the extrovert. And to show that introverts can actually be fun at parties.
But rest assured, no matter how much fun it may look like I’m having…I would probably prefer to be out on a run listening to a podcast.

This little piggy went…snap.

There is no impressive way to break your toe. It’s invariably a result of stubbing it on some furniture as you wander shoe-less around your house, or of clumsily dropping something on it. I know this because I’m now 9 weeks into my broken toe journey, and every time someone has asked how I broke my toe, I would just say ‘Heroically’ and then hobble away, hoping their temporary bafflement would allow me to escape. Now I know that saying I broke my toe, but not explaining how I did it, really is the ‘Chekhov’s Gun’ of toe injury related blog writing…so to avoid any distraction, I broke my toe while doing a fitness class bare-foot. We had to do a move where we kicked our leg out parallel to the ground while in a semi-squat position, and my toe caught on the ground and snapped. Proving that while not all heroes wear capes, they should perhaps at least wear shoes.

So seeing as I haven’t written a blog in
*checks notes*
8 MONTHS?!! It’s probably time to make sure I can still do this, so I’m no expert, but here’s what I’ve learnt from 9 weeks with a broken toe.

Our medical system is a bit like my toe

When I was getting the x-ray done for my toe, the radiologist was saying it’s unlikely that I’d broken it, it was probably just badly bruised…then he saw the x-ray and said ‘Ah shit! Nah, that’s broken!’ Now look…was I perhaps hoping for both better news, and perhaps a less candid way of telling me? Yes. But I’m also feeling that our public health system may be in a similar way.

Now don’t get me wrong. Much like me with a broken toe, most of the health system is still fine…but there were a few niggles, and really what better place to vent my petty grievances than on a blog predominately read by my wife, parents and a selection of Yr 12 Coburg students?!

I know how over-run our Emergency Departments are, so I was keen to just go to my local GP. But in reality there were no bookings there for a few days, so I went to nearby clinic where you can just wait to see a doctor. As someone who has spent most of their life getting bulk-billed, it was sobering to see how few GPs can offer it now, and how much it can cost. Especially when you need to see a doctor to confirm you need an X-ray, then go and get the X-Ray, and then go back to the doctor in order for them to tell you that your toe is broken.

It also kinda sucked having the first Doctor tell me that it would take 4-6 weeks to heal, and that I would have to wear a moonboot for this time. No cycling either…but I could swim, so long as I didn’t push off from the end of the pool.
Then when I went back at 5 weeks to get another x-ray, a different doctor told me that it was healing well, but that of course it takes 8-12 weeks for a toe to heal and that I shouldn’t be doing any walking, running or cycling.

Now I totally realise that no Doctor is going to say ‘Yeah, you can probably get back into some light running if doesn’t hurt’ as then it’s their problem if I further injure it. But at the same time, I reckon my Achilles would have atrophied if I’d worn a moonboot for as long as they recommended.
Plus the blank stares that came back each time I said that exercise was really important to my mental health…was frustrating to say the least. I genuinely felt as though they were thinking ‘We’re giving you an excuse not to exercise for 4-12 weeks…what more do you want from us?!’

For the record, I did make sure I wore shoes at all times around the house to ensure I didn’t stub my toe…and I didn’t run until week 6. But Chris did not wear a moon-boot…and he was well and truly back to riding to work within a week.
At week 9 I’ve done a few 10km runs and played 5 minutes of basketball at an end of season presentation night for the basketball team I coach.

Putting your toe in other people’s shoes

Do you know what really sucks?
When you can see that a set of pedestrian lights is about to go green, but you can’t run to get them.
Or when you crouch down to take a photo and suddenly realise that if you stand up in your normal way, you will put a whole lot of pressure on your broken toe and so have to do an elaborate manoeuvre that looks a LOT like an baby giraffe trying to stand up.
Or when, having spent the last 5 years with your weight fluctuating ‘wildly’ between 71kg and 72kg, you suddenly look down to see that you weigh 74kg.
And especially when you have a problem that no one else can see, but is making your life a freaking misery.

Do you know what’s really great?
Knowing that there is finite time that all of these things will be affecting you.

So just a massive note of support to everyone out there who is fighting these things without any end date. Whether you’re fighting poor mental health, or a chronic injury, or just getting old…you’re a champion!

Take the reset

If two and a bit years of COVID have taught us anything, it’s that sometimes you have to take the opportunity to reset. Going back to square one is never fun, but it might be an opportunity to do things differently, or bring people along for the ride.
So here’s to more runs and bike rides with friends and family!

Best photos of 2022

I’m on holidays, so it’s time to compile my favourite photos from last year. It’s a wonderful time for me to reflect on the year that’s just past, reminisce about good times…and in the wake of COVID, say ‘Wait…was that last year? I thought that was two years ago…or 6 months in the future!’
As per usual these aren’t in any particular order other than ‘let’s not have all of the beach/band/black and white photos next to each other’. But if there’s a theme to this year’s selection it’s probably ‘trying something new’. Quite a few of these leapt out at me as I was going through my ‘4&5 star’ rated photos in Lightroom, because I remembered trying something new to achieve them.
So if you’re on holiday, sit back and have a read…and if you’re back at work, pretend you’re doing research, either way, enjoy!

GoPro through sunglasses

Not how I expected this shot to work…but still happy.

On the beach at Warrnambool on a stinking hot day I was noticing how much better everything looked through my sunglasses. So I thought I’d put the GoPro behind my sunglasses lens and see how it looked. ‘Chaotic’ is probably the answer. The colours are all over the place, the light is baffling, and I have NO IDEA why there is that weird shadowing around the the arms. BUT, if I had achieved this result on purpose, I would have been super proud of myself, so the next best thing is to claim a mistake as a success…then hope that no-one asks me to replicate it!

Spontaneous surf selfie

A family that surfs together…

If there are two things I usually avoid, it’s selfies and spontaneity. So the fact that this is one of my favourite photos from last year, really does speak volumes. We were down at Sandy Point in late January and after dinner, made an impromptu decision to go for a surf. The sun was sitting low on the horizon, the light was incredible, the surf was great, and for one quick second we were all in the same place at the same time and I took this shot.
If you’ve ever taken a photo of someone, you know how hard it can be to get a genuine smile…and if you’ve ever worked as a photographer, you’ll know how hard it is to get a photo where everyone looks happy at the same time. So as a photographer, this is a great keepsake…and as a parent, it’s everything!

When in Rone

Helen and Rone

I do genuinely think that this is an objectively good photo. It’s someone in a great outfit, striking a great pose, in a great setting.
But for it to happen, visual artist RONE had to have created this incredible installation above Flinders Street Station, and I had to have taken the unusual step of booking Katie and I in for a social event (a trip into the city to see RONE’s work), and while we waited in the queue to be let in, Katie had to have started up a chat with Helen and her son and said that I would take a photo of her inside, and I would have to have a GFX100S in my hands because Fuji had loaned it to me for another project, and while we were walking the around the installation I would have to see Helen and compose this shot, and then with such a great subject, in such an aesthetically engaging environment and with a very expensive camera, I would have to not stuff up the photo. If any one of these elements hadn’t coalesced, this photo would never have happened.
But they did…and I love it!

Trainspotting meets Bladerunner

Coburg station by night

From memory it was raining for most of November, and repeated trips past Coburg station in various forms of precipitation had left me with the thought that there were some good photo opportunities there.
All it would require was; me leaving the comfort of the house on a rainy night, me taking the time to actually set up a good photo, and of course me being willing to be ‘that creepy guy taking photos of a train station at night’.
Needless to say, the chances of this actually happening were very slim. So I was very proud of myself for actually heading out and taking the photos, and really happy with how they came out.
But the real joy was posting it online and hearing from people who had worked on the redevelopment of the station, or had designed the lighting for the station, or were just proud Coburgers/Coburgians/Coburinians?
You just never know what is going to connect with people…so get out there and take those shots!

Rock and/or Roll

Sophie from Body Type

One of my big photographic focuses for 2022 was to shoot more live gigs, with a view to getting proper accreditation to do it ‘for realz’. So when I saw that Body Type were playing at The Brunswick Ballroom, I pulled what strings I could (aka got in contact with Cecil the drummer, who I used to work with) and got myself on the door to take photos.
Having shot photos of John Flanagan a few weeks earlier in the same venue, I was confident I could get a few good shots. And when Cecil told me ‘This could get pretty loose tonight!’, I knew I was in for a great night.
Body Type are a freaking amazing live band, and there was a LOT of energy in the room.
This photo is the one I keep coming back to. It’s definitely not one that jumps straight out at you, but I just love the pose. I had set myself up so I was shooting between to people (that’s why there is so much black around her…that’s actually the people right in front of me blocking out the rest of the picture), and I certainly didn’t plan for the lights to turn red just as she did this pose…but I’m very glad they did!

Black, white and live

John Flanagan live on stage

If I could spend the rest of my days taking photos like this, I would be incredibly happy. Obviously I love black and white shots, and I love taking photos of musicians…but in this case, I had also worked with the band in rehearsals and developed a rapport. Because of this I was able to be on stage to take the photo them as they performed…and so suddenly it wasn’t all just ‘up the nose of the lead singer’ shots, and I was able to bide my time and wait for the shot.
John is a contemplative performer…and his decision to book the Brunswick Ballroom for the gig (and play with a 6 piece band!) was a big swing after two years of no live gigs as a result of COVID restrictions. So to not only see him in his element, in front of an appreciative crowd, but to also be able to capture it, was a real privilege.

Silhouettes and sunsets

Sue Johnson

One of my favourite jobs for the year was shooting some portraits of the wonderful Sue Johnson. Now clearly the vast majority of the photos were ones where you could actually see Sue…but this one, where we had headed to the slightly flooded grasslands of Coburg, was the one that as soon as I set up the shot, I knew was going to be a keeper!
The late afternoon Winter sun just peeking through, the blue sky and the movement of her hand *chef’s kiss*!

Comfort zone

Phil

It’s probably a testament to my lack of skill as a videographer, that the whole time I was setting up for this video interview, my main thought was ‘This would make a great photo!’
I love taking photos of people in their homes (and to clarify, I love doing this when I am in their homes with them for the purpose of taking photos…not just lurking outside with a long lens!) I get to see the place with a fresh eye and see the things you miss when you’ve lived in a place for more than 3 months…and they get to sit in a space where they’re in control.
I think there’s a fair bit of relief that the video interview was over in his face…and bemusement that a complete stranger was asking him to stare out a window. If there was a thought bubble it would say ‘If I just do this…then he will leave’.
He was of course wrong…I overstayed my welcome by at least another 3 hours!

Maps and chats

Carol and Lyn

This one was taken as part of the same project as the photo of Phil, where I was trying to capture the essence of Carol’s relationship with her parents. One of Lyn’s favourite memories was a trip she and Carol took to Italy, so I looked to capture that idea of both planning for, and reminiscing about, that trip.
I love the way the maps and travel books tell a story, and I’m so glad I used the vase with the Irises to frame Carol…but it’s the way the smiles look so relaxed, comfortable, and authentic that makes me the happiest.

Can I get a light check?

Lighting test

I had a very specific idea for a portrait I wanted to shoot, and had borrowed a friend’s light to shoot it. So I spent an hour or so doing a practice run, and roped my daughter and niece into posing for me.
I cannot begin to describe how much this was exactly the light I was going for…and how far away I was when I took the actual shot with the actual people. So I’m keeping this photo as a reminder that I can get the light that I want…just not necessarily when I want it.
Also, if this isn’t the album cover for their debut EP, I will be furious.

Splashdown

Post-ride swim

On this day Josh had ridden just over 200kms from Preston to Sandy Point…and this was him getting into the surf for a cool-down. On a metaphorical level, this was a teenager who loves exercise and the outdoors who had just come up for air after 2 years of lockdowns.
To me this is a perfect portrait of relief and renewal.

Flinder’s Street Station

Flinder’s Street at dusk

I’ve lived in Melbourne all of my 47 years… but I reckon I’ve been in to the city to take photos 3 times in my life. If I’m staying in any other city I will religiously take my camera and get some photos. But for some reason I have a blind spot with my home city…probably because it’s always there, so there’s never any urgency to make a trip in.
In December I was due to return the GFX I’d borrowed from Fuji, and so I thought it was probably high time I headed in to the CBD and get some photos.
After about two hours of taking a series of photos that were very nearly good…but were just lacking something. I decided to just embrace my inner tourist and take a photo of the iconic Flinder’s Street Station.
As soon as turned the corner of Swanston St I saw this incredible purple dusk sky. I rested the camera on a the edge of a bench so that I could drag the shutter a little and then waited for a tram to trundle through and give me a snapshot of Melbourne…this city loves me so much, it gave me two!

Thanks for indulging this trip down memory land. Now it’s time to relax, and make some plans for 2023!

Self portr-AI-t

Why I’m dabbling in AI

One of the hardest parts of working in the creative arts is being able to make the jump when technology changes. Sometimes it’s a change of software; Final Cut to Premiere or Quark to InDesign. Sometimes it’s hardware; from film to digital, or from big cameras to DSLR’s to phones. Sometimes it’s a change in what audiences want; from website videos to Tik Tok.
The challenge of course is that you never know what is going to be the next leap forward, and what is going to be a jump into obsolesence. Have you learnt to how to make great vertical videos…or are you now the proud owner of a $10K steadicam rig that lies dormant while other people use a $300 gimbal.
These choices are amplified as you get older, as you normally have a number of existing responsibilities, and so following one of these new ideas isn’t so much ‘a chance to learn for the sake of learning’ as it is something that you’re going to have to make sacrifices in another area of life in order to accomodate this new interest.
Listening to Chris Marquardt on his ‘Tips From The Top Floor’ photography podcast got me thinking about Artificial Intelligence (AI) in photography…and wondering if this could be the next big leap.

So what is AI photography?

Ever wondered what an angry avacodo on a skateboard in Paris would look like? Well AI can create multiple versions of that. And if you also want to see what that would look like if Rembrandt had painted it…or if it was in a White Stripes video clip, or if H R Giger had created it while using Ketamine and drinking Pink Rabbits…AI can create that as well.
It basically takes a massive number of images and uses machine learning to create artwork based on whatever prompts you put it.
Clearly the success of this is based on:
a) the images the machine learning has access to,
b) the ability of the user to create prompts that the machine learning understands, and,
c) the processing power and intelligence of the machine learning to create something that is actually what the user is after.
Parts a) and c) are clearly the domain of the AI tool that you’re using…but the ability to write prompts that it can use, is a skill you can learn…and so that’s what I set about doing.

An early attempt where instead of photo of me in the style of Annie Lebowitz or Wes Anderson…it created a composite of me, Annie and Wes. Not great.

Using Astria.ai

The platform I went with was Astria.ai as it was one of the more user friendly options for those of us who can’t code.
I uploaded about 15 photos of me from my phone, from a variety of angles and in a variety of environments, and then let the tool use some of its default prompts to create some images of me.
I think it’s fair to say my expectations were pretty low, most of the examples I had seen to this point were on social media, and were very much of the ‘Ermagerd! What is even happening with this?!’ variety. So I was genuinely surprised when at least three of the images made me think ‘I wish I’d taken that photo!’

Just my usual Friday night attire
From my ‘Dress like Klaus from Umbrella Academy’ phase
When Vivienne Westwood shaved and dressed me


Now, was this because they made me look about 15 years younger and with cheekbones you could juice an orange on? Yes…that certainly didn’t hurt.
But ultimately, I actually really liked the way they looked, and I have to stress, this wasn’t a case of just taking one of my images and putting it in a different context…none of these images of my face existed before, let alone the feathers and accouterments that accompanied them!

But what does this mean for photography?

Once I got past the ‘Machine learning does the darnedest things!’ stage, I started to think about what it meant for one part of photography that I love – portraiture.
At its most base form, when I take a portrait of someone, I bring together a range of elements (the person, the environment, the lighting), capture them with a machine (a digital camera), and then use software to bring that photo to life (adjust the contrast, make it black and white, add a vignette, etc).

Is that really so different from what this AI tool had just done?
What would happen if I entered one of these photos in a portrait competition?
What it the line between ‘digitally enhanced’ and ‘artificially created’?


I didn’t actually know…but it did give me a great idea for a portrait!!

The portrait

Any time I look at the work of great portrait photographer (Simon Schluter…I’m looking at you!) I’m always really impressed by the way they can build an image from the ground up in order to tell a story.
I’m very comfortable just capturing an image of someone and hoping it tells a story, but actually setting out from the get go to tell a specific story with a photo, and building everything around it…that’s really not a strength I have.
But I suddenly had a vision of an image where I was surrounded by the AI portraits of me, as a reflection of what I was wondering about what the future held as a photographer. When I came up with the idea of the title ‘Self portrAIt’…I knew I had to make this happen.

The first step was to get a selection of the AI portraits printed in a way that I could use for a photo. I went with canvas prints with a wooden frame so that I could stand them up, or hang them from something.
Next step was to work out a background. In my dreams it was a big, austere room with the photos suspended around me…given the complete absence of large austere rooms available with a budget of $0, I settled for a white sheet suspended behind me in our backyard, with the photos suspended from the monkey bars the kids used to play on.
Artistically, I was going to shoot with my trusty softbox so that I could make it look dramatic by just picking me and the photos up with the flash, while everything else fell off to black/grey.
Technically, I was going to shoot it on the GFX 100S I had on loan from Fuji for another project…and the GF32-64mmF4 lens (equivalent to a wide angle lens on a full frame camera).

Cool plan…so how did it go?

As you would expect…badly. First of all, screwing little hooks through canvas into wooden frames is about as much fun as it sounds…but perhaps more importantly, securing these frames to monkey-bars via fishing line is a freaking nightmare, and the fishing line just cuts through masking tape, and was slipping through the electrical tape we had. It is only through the patience of Josh (my eldest son) and the wonders of gaffer tape that were were able to suspend them where we wanted them.

The next weird problem was that the wide-angled lens that I had thought would be perfect…was actually too wide, and was showing a lot more of the monkey bars and sheet than I had hoped. Fortunately I also had the GF80mm F1.7 lens to work with…and it was a freaking revelation!

Last but not least, having waited for the sun to go down sufficiently so that the white sheet background didn’t have any bright spots on it, and my flash wasn’t having to work overtime trying to knock out too much ambient light. My flash decided now would be the perfect time to ignore my wireless triggers, and not fire when I pressed the shutter.

* Insert gif from Brooklyn 99 of Peralta saying ‘Cool…cool, cool, cool’ *

So we reset the camera to work with the natural light, and Josh diligently took multiple photos while tried a variety of poses and facial expressions.
It’s a testament to my inability to self-direct facial expressions, and the frankly dazzling file sizes on the GFX100S that we managed to fill a 128GB card with photos that were roughly 5% different from each other!

The result

After going through hundreds of photos that felt like they were exactly the same photo…I came down to these as my faves.
Huge props go to Katie for getting me to actually interact with the pictures in that first one. Where most of my photoshop attempts look like bad photos…thanks to the fishing line, this photo was suddenly looking a bad photoshop. But actually getting my hands on them, showed that there weren’t just digitally inserted.

Option 1
Option 2
Option 3

So now the million dollar question -Which is your favourite and why?

Backstage pass – Part 3: The gig

So I’d had my idea, and I’d done my rehearsal…but now it was time to bring it all together for the gig.
So on a chilly Melbourne evening I headed along to the Brunswick Ballroom as John and his band were getting ready.
There were so many questions running through my head:
Was having access to the band going to make for better photos?
Were they still going to talk to me after seeing the photos I took?
What’s it like to stay up past 10.30pm on a weeknight?

There was only one way to answer these questions – with a blog!…written about 2 months after the gig…because life got really busy…and The National STILL haven’t called!

The gear

All the cameras and all the lenses

I was very selective with the gear that I took…in that I selected every bit of gear that I had, and took it.
So this meant I carried:

  • X-T1 body
  • X-T4 body
  • 16mm f1.4
  • 10-24mm f4
  • 35mm f1.4
  • 50-140mm f2.8
  • 56mm f1.2

I did ‘um’ and ‘ah’ about taking the 10-24mm and the 50-140mm …but my decision to take them was 100% vindicated by the 0 photos I took with the 10-24mm and the 2 photos I took with the 50-140mm. On the bright side, my shoulders were stoked with carrying the extra weight all night for no apparent reason.
My big lesson from the night was that I should have just taken my prime lenses and shot on those. I would almost have said that I could have gone with just the 16mm and the 56mm…but three of my favourite shots from the night were taken on the 35mm.
As Zack Arias says ‘There’s just a bit of magic in that lens!’

Backstage on the 35mm
Between glasses on the bar on the 35mm

The support

Now admittedly we all have busy schedules, and after 2 years of lockdowns, some of us are still trying to limit the amount of time we spend in crowds. But it is 100% worth your while to get there early enough to take photos of the support act. It’s a great trial run to see what is going to work when the main act comes on stage, and no up-and-coming muso is ever going to say ‘Nah, I’m good for photos’ if you send them the shots you took. In fact you may be the person they contact as their career starts to take off!
Of course, John didn’t have an ‘up-and-comer’ as his support…he had the incredibly talented Maggie Rigby. So I was always going to have someone who was giving an incredible performance. But I’m still really happy with the shots I got…especially as some of them worked incredibly well with a single perfomer, but failed dismally when John and his band were on stage.

This mirror shot worked a treat with Maggie, but not with John and his band
Maggie Rigby never phones it in.

Shoot early, shoot often

I think a lot of people taking photos of gigs dream of taking iconic photos like the ones of Iggy, or Kurt, or Patti that they had seen growing up. And yes, these were all probably taken by someone who had two rolls of film that allowed them to take 24 photos for the night. And yes, ‘you should never spray and pray’, ‘you should always take the time to compose the shot and shoot it once’, and ‘it’s no good just filling up hard-drives with useless shots’.
But if I need to shoot a whole lot of shots to get the one I’m after…then so be it. It’s not like I’m demanding that people look through all of my shots.
No.
I’m just taking multiple photos of a very similar shot, then cursing myself when I get home to find that I’ve taken over 550 photos…and no one even got married! Then I’m spending an inordinate time switching between two versions of the shot and saying ‘I really like the singer’s hair in this one…but the bass player’s eyes are open in this one…I think I’ll just keep them both!’
BUT, so much of what I’m trying to achieve with my photos is to capture a moment that encapsulates the energy of the performance…and sometimes, that moment is there and gone before you can even take the shot.
This is one of my favourite shots from the gig, as it really captures John’s energy and committment. But I can tell you that the photos taken 1 second before and after, just don’t have the same energy. So if I have to delete 50 photos out of Lightroom just to get this one…then no amount of ‘photographer snobbery’ is going to stop me!

Hiring gear

My wide lens is the 10-24mm f4. For non-photographers, this means the lens goes from 10mm (which is very wide and great for photos of urban landscapes or sports like BMX and skating where you’re trying to get a lot into a shot) to 24mm (great for landscape shots and group photos), and at f4, it’s great in full-light, but starts to struggle in low-light.
Most live venues are ‘low light’, and so if you’re trying to capture a moment with minimal blur you’re probably shooting about 1/125…and really ramping up the ISO. As a result, I only use this lens if I’m trying to capture the whole band on stage, and very rarely for action shots.
I knew I had permission to get as close to the band as I liked, and I really wanted to get some up-close action shots…and so I fell down a rabbit-hole of YouTube videos on the 16mm f1.4 lens.
In the end I decided that this lens was exactly what I needed. But at about $1,000, it would be insane to buy it just to take band photos. The smart and pragmatic thing to do would be to hire the lens for $50 every time I needed it. That way, I could do 20 gigs before I had incurred the same cost as buying it outright! It’s this kind of considered and emotionally constrained thinking that makes me such a great businessman.
So I hired the lens for the night, loved it so much that I went out and bought one the next week.

Take that pragmatism!!!

*sigh*

Tell a story

John had given me access to the band before the gig, I’d spent time with them so they knew who I was, I could get as close to the band on stage as I wanted. So, how could I use all of this to not just take photos of the show…but tell the story of the night? The short answer was, ‘take the photos of the little moments’. In a social media landscape that rewards the big and flashy moment…it can be hard to take the time to capture the little moments, that make up the big story.

Before the show
Backstage
Out in the crowd

Post-script

Thankfully every photo that I take is perfect and needs absolutely no work in Lightroom…but if I were the sort of person who spends a LOT of time deciding on which black and white preset to use, then I would say I lent very heavily on Chris Orwig’s presets for these shots.
His ‘BW strong v1’ and ‘Add snap’ presets are usually my ‘go-tos’…but for this show, some of his film simulations ‘Film Classic Warm Plus’ and ‘Film Cross processed’ really made the shots pop, and gave them an almost 70’s Rock vibe.

So was it worth it?

I honestly don’t think I could be happier with how it all went.
I got to work with some incredible local musicians, and take a peek behind the curtain to see how it all works.
I got to challenge myself creatively, and learn a hell of a lot that I would never have known if I hadn’t taken the risk.
I captured some great photos on the night (click on the image below for the full shotlist): John Flanagan at the Brunswick Ballroom

and I got other gigs after shooting this one (again, click the image to see the gallery:

Body Type

AND I now have a portfolio of shots to use for future photo accreditation: https://www.twodegrees.com.au/live-music

But best of all, I got to see an artist at the top of his game, breathing musical life back into the city I love!