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


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.


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!

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.
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!!!


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
Out in the crowd


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:

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!

Backstage pass – Part 1: The idea

I think it’s fair to say that I’ve always been a vicarious musician. The harsh truth of not having any musical ability has not stopped me from occupying as many music adjacent roles as possible.
I’ve done radio, driven DJ’s to gigs, managed perfomers, made video clips…I’ve even done a University degree in Music Industry. If the Rock n Roll Hall of Fame was to open a ‘Person who has done the most music related things without ever playing a note’ category, I would be in with a STRONG chance of being inducted.
So why do I love working with musicians? Is it partially because I hope that some of their talent will rub off on me, and suddenly I’ll be playing to sold-out arenas? Yes, of course. But also, they act as a constant reminder that there is an alternative to the 9-5 world I inhabit. A world where you start work when other people are going to bed, a world where writing passionately about things that piss you off is seen as genius and not a potential HR issue, and of course a world where each time you finish part of your job, people are obliged to applaud.

But of course, it’s also a world where your livelihood is reliant on cramming as many people as possible into a confined space and getting them to yell and scream. Which is not ideal during a pandemic of an airborne virus.
The sad reality is that musicians have been doing it incredibly tough over the last two years. Live gigs have only just started again in earnest, the 2c per track they get from streaming services isn’t really the same as selling a $10 CD at show, and Bo Burnham’s ‘Inside’ on Netflix showed that whether you’re a musician, videographer or stand-up comedian…he’s better at it than you.
Plus the government made it PRETTY clear, that when it comes to showing support for people doing it tough, artists can pretty much get stuffed…they chose this lifestyle anyway!!

Backstage silhouettes

So I was keen to come up with a way to support local musicians. A quick review of my finances revealed that I could not bankroll a series of concerts…but I could take some photos of musicians, that they could then use to promote their shows.
When I saw that local singer/songwriter John Flanagan was putting on a show where he was hiring the Brunswick Ballroom and putting together a 7-piece band, I knew that this was exactly the sort of endeavour I wanted to support.


Wow Chris! You sure are generous! Looking to help musicians, without getting anything for yourself!! Children should be studying you in school!!!
Um, yeah…about that. This was definitely not pure altruism. Having been invited to shoot a few gigs for friends, I had to tried to get a photo pass to shoot the HoldSteady at the Croxton Hotel…and couldn’t even get a response from the promoter. In short, without a magazine or website saying ‘He’s shooting for us!’ I couldn’t even shoot the show for free! And without a decent portfolio of shots, I couldn’t really expect The National to call and say ‘Chris! These shots you took on your phone from the crowd have convinced us that YOU are the one we want documenting our next tour!!’

The crowd at The Hold Steady…shot on iPhone
I’m not bitter…but I have never spent a show saying ‘That would have been a great photo!’ as many times as I did at this gig.

So when I reached out to John to see if I could shoot his show, one of the first things I asked was whether I could have backstage access to get some shots before the show, and could I get some shots from on the stage?
Basically, I wanted the chance to get shots that the audience couldn’t. I wanted to be able to tell the story of the show, and that meant shooting from both the audience’s perspective and from the band’s perspective…and did I dream of getting a shot of the band, with the lights flooding onto them and crowd mesmerised by the performance? Yes…yes I did.

Carrying two cameras and a camera bag meant walking across the stage was an exercise in ‘Don’t knock anything over…and don’t trip on a cable!’

Reaching out

I really should take a step back, because ‘when I reached out to John’ really does make it seem like this was easy. But rest assured that sending a DM via Instagram to someone you’ve never actually met and saying ‘can I come and take photos of you?’ is NOT easy.
But I had a few things working in my favour;
– while I had never met John…Katie (my wife) knew him, so I wasn’t going in totally cold.
– one of my regular dog walks actually went right past his house, so if he said ‘no’, I could train our dog to crap on his lawn.
– he’s a folk musician, and these really are the Canadians of the music world…so he would be too polite to say ‘no’.
– I genuinely felt that this was mutually beneficial. I’ve done jobs where I’ve felt that I had got the better side of the deal…and I’ve done jobs where I felt like I had been exploited. This one felt like a happy medium where we were both going to benefit.

Thankfully John agreed. Not only did John agree to me shooting the gig, he also invited me along to a rehearsal the band were doing…and that will be the focus of the next blog.

John Flanagan at the rehearsal for the show

Best photos of 2021

It’s perhaps a good indication of the sort of year that 2021 was, that when I looked at some photos from January, I genuinely didn’t believe they had been in the last year.
‘A photo of Uncle Jack Charles?! Wasn’t that 2 years ago!?’
‘A family camping trip to Wilson’s Prom? Didn’t we got to Narnia this year?’
Time and reality were at best ‘fluid’ for 2021, and at worst…well…2021. A LOT of time within 5kms of the house, and VERY little time feeling relaxed and inspired enough to get creative.
But there were still photos to be had and moments to be captured, so without further ado and in no particular order, here are my top 10 photos of 2021!

Uncle Jack Charles

Admittedly it’s statistically impossible to take a bad photo of Uncle Jack…it’s still awesome when you do. If nothing else, it means you’ve had the chance for him to tell you a story about how being able to read and write offered him protection in Pentridge…or his first ever play at the Pram Factory…or about being a cat burglar.
He’s a genuine source of light, enthusiasm and warmth, and I think this shot captured that.

Uncle Jack Charles

The Prom

The focus for this trip to Wilson’s Prom was our first ever overnight hike…and so I decided to leave my camera gear at home and live or die by the iPhone.
This meant that on one day I was returning from a walk, when Katie and the kids were heading off in the kayaks. The sun was setting over the hills in the background, the kids were my mid-ground…and Katie was the foreground. The moment was only going last a few seconds, but that’s all it takes to take your phone out and take the shot!

Bear and cubs

Shantilly clad

If you’re a ‘proper’ photographer taking photos at a gig, you’re normally only allowed to take shots for the first three songs (don’t ask my why…I don’t make up the rules). Which usually means you’re frantically trying to get as many shots as you can for those three songs. But if you’re taking photos at a venue like the Wesley Anne, you can actually take the time to experiment and get something different!
In this case it was the old ‘hold a lens in front of your camera and take a shot through it’ trick.
Also this is a band called ‘Shantilly Clad’ who sing sea shanties…I had to make sure they made the top 10, purely for their name.

Shantilly Clad at The Wesley Anne

Preston fog

We have the level crossing removal work going on in Preston at the moment (for people outside of Melbourne, we have things called ‘level crossings’ that basically stop traffic to allow trains to go through…and we’re getting rid of them by elevating the train lines so that the trains can travel unimpeded…and cars can be stuck in traffic caused by other cars, rather than by trains). On one night had some really heavy fog, and I had borrowed a friends 12mm Samyang lens…and so I thought I’d put on my ‘street photographer’ hat and get some shots.
I was having some issues working out how to get the lens to focus when about 10 metres in front of me, this guy walked out of his front gate in a long coat and golf-cap. With his collar turned up and the thick fog, he looked like something from a le Carre spy novel and I tried desperately to get a shot. But by the time I’d sorted the focus, he was already too far away and so I took this shot as I walked after him.
I knew the shot I wanted to get, and this wasn’t it…but when I looked back at the photo a few days later…I really liked it.

As close to a ‘pea souper’ as we get in Preston.

Seagulls on the Portland pier

With the exponential improvements in camera technology, the ability to take a great photo has never been easier. So a lot of the challenge is now being there to take the photo…and having the patience to wait for the moment to play out.
I had originally been trying some long exposure shots, until I realised that the whole pier actually moved with the waves, and so getting a non-blurry long exposure was going to be impossible. I saw a few seagulls at the end of the pier under the light, and so I sauntered over to compose my shot, then waited for more to arrive. When enough had arrived I thought I had my shot…but then a few took off and I realised that was the shot I wanted. So I waited a bit longer until this moment.
It’s something that I’ve learnt from years of doing video work, sometimes you have to set up a shot, and then wait for someone or something to populate it. If this means you have to sit on a cold pier for an extra 10 minutes while local teens chuckle at the guy on all fours looking at seagulls…then this is the sacrifice you have to make for your art!

Patience is a virtue

Strike a pose

After years of taking photos, I would say I am very confident in my ability to capture a candid moment. An unscripted, spontaneous moment. But ask me to create that moment…and my confidence evaporates.
Getting people to pose in a way that makes them look good, is really hard!
So I watched an instructional video from Lindsay Adle and dragged Holly out in front of the camera…and this was one of the shots that I got.
There were a number of shots that didn’t work, and it was really interesting to see how a comfortable pose can make for an unflattering photo, while poses that felt terribly contrived looked great in the final product.

Strike a pose

Sunset over sea

It’s fair to say that the wind blows strong at Sandy Point…and usually onshore. So any day where the wind is down and the swell is up has to be taken advantage of. On this day we had arrived just after lunch and spent the arvo in the surf. After dinner I went down to the beach to take some photos and the surf looked so good, I ran back to the house, put the still damp boardshorts back on and charged back to the surf with Josh.
It was magic! The waves were being held up by a slight offshore breeze and the sun was setting through them just before they broke. It was a constant battle between catching the waves and capturing them.
This shot was taken on the GoPro as the last light from sun set over a softening sea.

One of the many advantages to an early evening surf session

Lisa Mitchell at the Corner Hotel

As someone who has attended quite a few gigs at the Corner Hotel in Richmond, it was pretty exciting to get to take some photos there. I demonstrated just how excited I was by taking about 15,000 photos.
I really love this shot because it shows some of the things I’ve learnt over the last 5 years.

  • When an opportunity presents itself…take it! Up until about 10 minutes before this gig I was still trying to sort out a problem for a job the next day, and nothing would have been easier than saying ‘no’ to travelling to Richmond on Thursday night to take some unpaid photos.
  • Try not to take the same photo again and again. Get low, get wide, get tight, look for reflections or interesting framing. I know I missed a few shots changing to get onto the wide-angle lens…but it was worth it!
  • Compostion counts – I was in ‘the pit’ (the fenced off section between the stage and the crowd) with two other photographers, and I had to work to get this position right in front of Lisa and then frame her between the foldback speakers
Lisa Mitchell at the Corner Hotel

Danny Ross

I’ve been lucky enough to have Danny Ross ask me to take photos of a few of his gigs. In a year when live music has taken such a pounding, getting to see Danny play live was a constant reminder of just how important live music is.
Up until this gig, I’d never taken shots of Danny with a proper lighting rig..and the way so much of this shot is blown out and faded but Danny’s face is still exposed properly…lets me know that I made the most of the opportunity.

Danny Ross at The Corner

After the storm

One of my COVID-19 habits has been to walk almost every day past ‘The Tannery’ skate park in Preston. It’s basically an abandoned lot that some local skaters have converted into a skate park.
I was on one of these walks just after a storm had passed the through and decided to duck in and see if there were any photo opportunities. The setting sunlight was diffused by all of the moisture in the air and the in the calm after the storm there was water on the ground and no wind in the air, making for the perfect conditions for a ‘reflection’ shot.
It was then just a question of getting down low and getting the framing right, setting the iPhone to RAW, convincing the dog to stop walking through shot…and then taking the photo.

Reflections and post-storm light

So there you go. 2021 in 10 photos. Three photos of live music, two photos on the phone, one on the GoPro, one on a $10K camera I borrowed from Fuji, and one on a lens borrowed from a friend. Pretty reflective of a year where it was hard to plan for anything, you had to take your opportunities where you found them, and where family and music were the most important things!

My top photos of 2020

As I count down the hours until I have to return to work for 2021, I thought I should enjoy my annual trip down memory lane by putting up my top 10 photos for 2020.
Now I know that in the past I’ve done my top 18 in 2018, and my top 17 in 2017…but there is simply no way I can be bothered doing 20 photos for 2020. I tore the tendons in my ankle, Ruth Bader Ginsberg died…and I’m pretty sure there was something else that happened that wasn’t good. So in no particular order, here are my top 10, and you can just assume the other 10 are screenshots from Zoom meetings where I’m saying ‘You’re on mute’.

National Photographic Portrait Prize

My lanyard and program from the National Photographic Portrait Prize

Impressed with how many times I can work the fact that I was a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP) last year into conversation? Well you should be…and you should be glad I now have to devote equal gloating time to this and the Ironman I did in 2015.
This is a photo that acts as proof that it actually did happen. I actually did get to go to Canberra, and see my photo hanging in a gallery, and get a lanyard with that photo so that people could decide if they wanted to come over and talk to me about it, and that the event where it was all going to be announced had to be scaled back drastically because of COVID restrictions…and I thought that this was DEFINITELY THE WORST THING THAT WAS GOING TO HAPPEN TO ME AS A RESULT OF THE PANDEMIC!!!
Good times…good times.

Horsing around

Black hats and colourful ribbons

The day after the NPPP, we took my daughter and niece to The Saddle Club where they learnt how to groom, feed, saddle, and ride horses. In my head this was going to be an amazing place to get some photos…in reality, it was bushland that was recovering from recent bushfires and was in full sun that made everything look ‘meh’.
But at the end of the day, one of the instructors was walking along a corridor inside the house and I saw this photo opportunity. So all hopped on the confidence that being a finalist in the NPPP (and also an Ironman) brings, I asked if I could take a quick portrait, and this was the result.
I love the colours, and the light, and the fact that Grace was rocking a hat that I could never dream of wearing.

Opportunities and bees

Abandoned shed on the road to Warrnambool.

The last couple of times I’ve driven to Warrnambool, Google Maps has taken me via Camperdown and past this abandoned house/shed. Each time I’ve seen it I’ve thought “That would be a great photo!” But each time I’ve also thought “I’m already late for whatever it is we’re filming in Warrnambool so I can’t stop!”
But late last year I was heading home from a job (there’s nothing better than driving to Warrnambool, doing a days work and then driving home at the end of it!) and I saw the shed, and I saw the wheat, and I saw the skies, and I realised I had to pull over and get the shot or I would never forgive myself.
So I found a spot where I could park, and waded my way through the waste-high wheat, keeping a keen eye out for snakes. When I got to the shed I could see a small swarm of bees by the door. I’m not particularly worried about bees, and have a strong belief in ‘If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you’. So I took a few shot in and around the shed. But the whole time, there were a few bees flying around my head…then they started landing in my hair, then they started stinging my head, then I started flailing my arms wildly and running at high speed through the wheat back to the car, all the while trying not to drop my camera or get bitten by a snake (although I did wonder if I got bitten by a snake AND a bee at the same time, would I get super-powers?)
Mid-scamper back to the car I looked back at the shed hoping I wouldn’t see a plague of bees coming my way…instead I saw this shot. I took one shot standing up, and then another crouching down to make the wheat the foreground.
I was really happy with the result…and it nearly made up for the long drive home with bee-stings in my forehead.

Just a test

Portrait of my Dad

If there were a theme to the portrait shots that I’m really happy with, it would be ‘people not smiling, but not unhappy, in black and white’. This is a case in point.
On the last day that I had the GFX (Fuji’s Medium format camera) I spent the whole day taking portraits with my softbox. Dad was the first cab off the rank and so this shot was literally a test shot to dial in my settings. The shot was badly over overexposed, but the incredible amount of data in the medium format images meant I was able to pull it back in post-production, and it’s one of favourite photos from the day.
It’s also a fitting tribute to Dad’s ‘Lockdown beard’.

They shoot piers don’t they?

The early bird

As mentioned in the previous photo, I was lucky enough to borrow an eye-wateringly expensive camera from Fuji and play with it for a couple of weeks. During that time we went to Lorne and one morning Josh and I got up super-early to take some photos down on the Lorne Pier. I got some really nice landscapey photos of the pier…but I always much prefer to have a human element in my shots. We were just about to go when this old guy in a bright yellow jacket started walking down the pier, I took a few snaps…and this one with the bird just above him just really clicked with me. I liked to imagine that he was such a wily fisherman that he always got the fish, and the birds knew it…that’s why they were circling him.


An extra from a Wes Anderson film if ever I’ve seen one

In that wonderful time in between lockdown 1 and lockdown 2, we were lucky enough to get to Bright. The place we were staying had a billabong, and so I got up to get some ‘sunrise over water’ shots. I knew that these were going to be purely landscape shots, so I put my wide-angle 10-24mm lens on and trotted down to the billabong. As I stood there trying to work out the best shot, I heard a noise behind me. I assumed it was one of the kids coming to see what I was doing, but when I turned around I saw this fox. Now I know that foxes are pests and eat native animals…and so I shouldn’t have been so stoked to see it. But in my defence…check out that tail!
The problem was, I was stuck on my wide angle lens, so unless I could get really close to the fox, it was going to be a very small part of a larger picture. I walked to a different part of the billabong, and noticed that it followed me the whole way. It always kept a safe distance…but was clearly interested in what I was doing. So I just settled into one spot and waited. Sure enough, it came in a bit closer, and then a bit closer still. If I moved the camera in front of my face it moved back, so this was taken from the hip and with a lot of faith in autofocus.
To be honest I just wanted a memento to prove that this really did happen…I didn’t need to hear ‘Dad’s seeing foxes again’ from my kids.


Sandy Point legend ‘Bones’ on his way to the surf

At the very start of the year, Holly and Josh got surfing lessons from ‘Bones’. He’s an incredible character who has been part of Sandy Point for as long as we’ve been going there.
I was out of surfing action as I had done my ankle and was still in a brace. But after the lesson I asked Bones if I could take a few photos. I was so relieved when he said ‘yes’ that I really rushed through the photos as I was paranoid about taking too much of his time. As a result, the photos were OK…but I didn’t think I’d really captured him as I see him.
Fast forward 11 months and Josh and I are heading out for a surf and Bones is walking in front of us. I had the GoPro with me to take some shots in the surf…so I grabbed this shot. I love the clouds, the green and blue and the leading lines of the fences…but most of all, I had finally captured Bones as I saw him.

Advanced photography in the surf

Josh tearing up the waves at Sandy Point

A good photographer should be able to see the shot they want, compose for it and then nail the execution. What they should NOT be doing, is setting their GoPro for burst mode and taking 10 shots in 3 seconds and simply pointing their camera in the general direction of their subject.
So for the record, I knew that if I took this photo at this exact moment, then I would frame Josh inside the breaking wave as it crashed over me. Furthermore, I was not joyfully surprised when I looked back at the dozens one single photo and saw this.

Caught by the rising tide

Caught out by the rising tide

I know that for someone who spent a LOT of 2020 not being able to travel more than 5kms from my home…I sure do have a LOT of photos from the beach! Actually the majority of these photos were taken during that brief window between lockdowns. At the time it seemed insane to be travelling from Sandy Point for one weekend, then Lorne the next…after all, we had the rest of the year to travel!
Bwah ha ha! Bwah ha ha! Bwah ha ha ha!
I can’t begin to desribe the number of times Katie and I thanked our lucky stars that we travelled while we had the chance!
Anyway, this weekend at Sandy Point was meant to be the starting point of me borrowing the Fuji GFX. But in a magical example of the world mocking my best laid plans, the GFX body arrived in time…but the lenses didn’t.
So I was down on the beach, during an incredible sunset, cursing the fact that I had a $10K camera…but no lenses that would fit on it, when these two guys got caught out by a wave that came up a lot higher than its predecessors and I took this shot.
I was a bit filthy that I didn’t have the big medium format camera to get this photo, as the colours were so amazing…but in reality, this was such an instinctive shot, that I think I would still have been messing with the settings of the GFX as this unfolded before me.
As they say, ‘the best camera, is the one you have with you.’

2020 in a shot

Our protector

2020 was a year of many things for our family. A lot of time inside, a lot time feeling that people outside were having fun and that we couldn’t be part of it, a lot of time walking ‘all of Brighton’…and a LOT of time being super grateful to have our Beagle ‘Marnie’ in the house.
I hope that after the front-line workers get their hard-earned thanks…the pets of Melbourne get some sort of acknowledgment for the work they did keeping us all together during COVID times.
So here’s to the dogs!

Uncle Jack & the iPhone

5 years ago I was lucky enough to work on a video shoot with Uncle Jack Charles. It was for an organisation called Malpa who are working to address the vast inequality in health between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians. My job was basically to find a suitable location for the shoot (Malpa are based in Sydney, so they needed some local Melbourne knowledge). Never one to pass up an opportunity, I also bought along my camera to grab some stills during the shoot. I got some shots that I was really happy with…but this one haunts me to this day:

So close…but just missing the focus on the eyes.

This was taken literally as Uncle Jack was heading out through the house we were filming in. There was a light that just illuminated his face as we were walking and I quickly grabbed the shot. It wasn’t until I got it into Lightroom that I could see that I had hit the focus on his forehead instead of his eyes…I think I could have retired from photography knowing that I had peaked if I’d just got those eyes in focus!!!

Thankfully that sort of thing doesn’t stick in my head, or keep me awake at night, or re-surface any time I look back at these photos. So when Malpa got in contact again and explained that they needed to film Uncle Jack for a TVC, and that due to the ever changing COVID situation they didn’t think they could travel down for it, and so would like me to do it…I jumped at the chance.
I mean, had I Directed a TVC before? No.
Did I have a camera that could shoot 4K? Also, no.
Even if I could get a camera that shoots 4K, could I be trusted to shoot pictures and record audio at a quality that was acceptable for TV broadcast? No…again.
But, did this provide me with my best opportunity to get an in focus portrait of Uncle Jack Charles? Yes! So I took the gig.
Here’s how it went.

Location, location, location!

Malpa had said that they wanted a ‘grungy, Melbourne laneway’ for the location…but with $0 budget, there was no way I was going to find a cool laneway that we could section off for our use, and any other laneway that we tried to just rock up and shoot in ran the risk of traffic noise, people in their backyards, and of course if it was raining on the day, then we were stuffed. I also had some concerns about getting a man in his late 70s to walk along uneven cobblestones while looking to the camera delivering lines (the thought of the headline ‘Man who took out-of-focus photo of Uncle Jack Charles 5 years ago, now forces him to have a knee reconstruction after laneway mishap’ really didn’t appeal). But I found a few options near our house that had potential.

Grungy laneway option

Then on my morning run one day, I found a location that offered both ‘native bush’ and some graffitied walls that could offer ‘urban grunge’…and more importantly ‘place to film if it’s raining’. I pitched the idea to Malpa and they were happy with it. So I now had two locations…this was going to be great!

Under a bridge…
Native bush option

As part of my rigourous pre-production, I headed back to the location in the mid-arvo, as this was when we were likely to be filming, to see if the light was ok. It turned out that there a significant difference in light between 8am when I had taken the photos…and 3pm when we returned. It was almost as if the sun had moved and become brighter over the course of the day…weird.
Unfortunately this meant that the graffiti just near the bush location was out of action as it was in full-shadow and was too dark. But if we just headed over the bridge (about 200m) and down to underpass on the other side, there were some great options.
We had two locations again…this was going to be great!

Timing’s everything

I got in contact with Uncle Jack to sort out a date for filming. Unfortunately, the first day that was an option for him was when I was going to be down at Warrnambool with the family, so I proposed a few dates in between when we got back from Warrnambool and when we headed to Sandy Point, but neither of these worked for him. Malpa were hoping to have the TVC’s ready for broadcast from Australia/Invasion Day, so our timelines were getting a bit tight. So I decided that if push came to shove, I could head back to Melbourne from Sandy Point to do the filming, and the return to Sandy the next day. The only day that didn’t work was Tuesday as that was when Josh and I were going to Tooraddin airfield for flying lessons, so I said to Uncle Jack “I can do any day after Tuesday”…and he said “Tuesday is great! Lock it in!”…and I thought ‘I think he’s messing with me!…but he’s somebody who has served time in Pentridge with Chopper…AND has worked with Hugh Jackman…I’m not going to risk it!’
So it was agreed that Josh and I would drive from Sandy Point to Tooraddin, have our flying lessons, then drive to Melbourne to film in the late arvo. I wasn’t going to be doing the edit, so I could just upload the footage overnight and we could head back to Sandy the next day.
Josh had been at the shoot 5 years ago…and I was keen for him to help out on this one as well.

Josh and Uncle Jack in 2016
Josh, Katie and Uncle Jack in 2021

Fuji comes through

I figured I was probably never going to get another chance to take some photos of Uncle Jack, and so decided to roll the dice and get in contact with Fujifilm Australia to see if I could borrow one of their Medium Format GFX cameras again. Against all the odds, and indeed against their better judgment, the magnificent Neil at Fujifilm made it happen! So I now had a confirmed time and location with an Australian National Treasure, a graffitied location that was going to make for an epic portrait, AND a medum format camera to take it with!
This was going to be great!!!

Can we shoot this on an iPhone?

Unfortunately the date I’d locked in with Uncle Jack didn’t work for the DOP (Director of Photography…cameraperson) that I had hoped to work with. This meant that I would have to shoot the video, and seeing as I didn’t have a camera that shot 4K (one of the requirements for the final product), I was going to have to hire a camera.
Now I CAN shoot on professional cameras, but in much the same way as I CAN eat an entire Tiramisu. Just because I can…doesn’t mean I should ( while both will lead to an amazing story to tell after the event…in reality, they will also lead to very high blood pressure, and no sleep).
If you’ve ever seen a film crew, you may ask yourself ‘What are ALL those people doing? Surely they don’t need all of them!’ And 90% of the time that’s true…but it’s in those critical 10% of times where you need a dedicated professional to get the best camera shot, or realise that that there was a background noise that ruined the take, or someone to say ‘you missed a line of dialogue here’, or to realise that the shot was a little out of focus…that can make a difference between the success and failure of your entire project.
With this in mind, I was a little wary of being the DOP, Director, Script supervisor, and sound recordist…especially if I was using a camera I didn’t know. So I asked to hire a friend’s camera that shot 4K and that I had shot on before…but promptly managed to miss this by a day.
So I suddenly had a script, an amazing actor, locations, a fancy stills camera…but no video camera that could shoot 4K!
Unless of course, I looked to use my new iPhone. After all, it shot 4K, did 10 bit colour, and had amazing autofocus & stabilisation. If I put my non-existent budget towards hiring some audio gear, and promoted Josh from ‘general dogsbody’ to ‘audio recordist’…and roped Katie into doing the clapper-board so that we could sync the audio, and using a reflector to bounce in light…then we might be able to make this work!
At the same time, who the hell turns up to a TVC shoot with a renowned Australian actor and says ‘Look, I’m a trained professional who clearly knows what he’s doing…now if you could just look at my phone and deliver your lines, that would be great!’?
So I did a LOT of YouTube research and eventually convinced myself that I could get the quality that I needed out of the iPhone…and acknowledged that one thing I do bring to a video or photo shoot is the ability to get people to relax and just be themselves. Could I do that while I was also trying work out f-stops and shutter speeds, and make sure I was in focus, and ensure I wasn’t moving the camera too much? Probably not.
Plus, if everything went to shit, I would at least have my phone handy to call my DOP and blame them for everything that had happened…or use Google maps to find the nearest deep hole I could throw myself into.

The shoot

Josh and I left Sandy Point at about 9.30am and arrived at Tooraddin airfield in time for our flights. Any day where flying a plane for the first time is the second most scary thing you will be doing that day, certainly makes for an interesting life.

Maverick and Goose…in that order

We then drove back to Melbourne, picked up the audio gear, learnt how to use it, waited for Katie to finish work, then drove to the location. On the way there I saw someone driving a scooter with grey hair billowing from under the helmet…as we drew alongside, I realised that it was Uncle Jack. The man knows how to make an entrance!

Once we are all at the location, we did a full run through of the script with a static camera…then did a variation with some camera moves, and took some stills.
We didn’t really have enough to make a strong TVC with, but we still had our hero location under the bridge to do, so everything was going to plan.
But as we were walking to the next location, I realised that 78 year old men don’t walk as fast 45 year old men who are running on adrenaline and anticipation. By the time we had passed the midway point between location one and two (the bridge between the two locations), I was starting to realise just how insane my idea of getting a shot from the top of nearby hill was. By the time we had crossed the bridge and I had explained that we just had to walk down the hill to the underside of the bridge…Uncle Jack said that he didn’t think he could make it down there.
So what could I do?! Explain to a man who had fought against great injustice and who had overcome greater barriers than I could ever understand, yet was still willing to donate his time for a charity…that it was really important to my sense of artistic closure that he should suck it up and press on? Or come up with an alternative location and realise that it’s not all about me?
So we improvised a second location…and it looked like balls…and then we filmed on the bridge as another option, but there was too much wind, and if we looked one way we had too much sun behind Uncle Jack…and if we faced the other way, we could see a housing development, that sort of ruined the vibe. But we got it done, and when the video came back from the editor, you’d never know there was a problem in the first place. Why? Because Uncle Jack Charles is a freaking genius, and the level of energy he brought to his performance could have carried any TVC…and because I wasn’t a jerk and insist he worked an Olympic distance cross-country event into a video shoot, he still returns my emails!

So what have I learnt?

  • Always take on projects that challenge (and scare) you
  • Plan meticulously…but make sure you can improvise if you have to
  • Trust the technology and play to your strengths
  • Fujifilm Australia really do support their photographers
  • Katie and Josh are the best video crew you could hope for
  • Uncle Jack Charles is a genuinely amazing person, and I’m incredibly lucky to have had the chance to work with him

The TVC will be on SBS from today…and here are some stills from the day:

Fuji GFX

Have you ever seen an older gentleman in a hideously expensive sports car and thought ‘That machine is capable of so much more than you could ever ask of it. That is such a waste of potential!!!’ Well me using Fuji’s Medium Format GFX is pretty much the photographic equivalent. But that didn’t stop me from borrowing one from Fuji try it out. Here’s how it went.

The camera

If you’ve come to this blog knowing a bit about photography, you will already know what a Medium Format camera is…and if you’ve come to this blog not knowing much about photography you really won’t care about pixel counts and sensor sizes. So I won’t waste any time throwing numbers at you.
In short, the camera I normally shoot on (the Fuji x-T1) has a sensor about the size of a postage stamp, and the GFX has a sensor about the size of a tea-bag.
Do I think for a second that Fuji want me making this comparison? No.
Do I think it’s very helpful for people trying to picture this in their mind? Also, no.
But it basically means that each photo has a lot more pixels and therefore a lot more information and detail. When I had my photo (taken on the x-T1) in the NPPP I had it printed as large as I could without it losing any detail…and when I saw it compared to the other photos, my first thought was ‘Why is my photo so small?!’ Part of the answer may have been that the other photos were taken with cameras with a bigger sensor.

‘Soooo…your Dad’s photo is pretty small huh!’

So part of me wanted to see just what was possible with a camera with a bigger sensor…the other part of me knew that I had purchased my entire Fuji kit (camera body and 4 x lenses) for $5K, and $5K wasn’t even going to get me the camera body of a GFX, let alone lenses. So were my photos going to be 4 times better with $20K worth of camera gear? Let’s find out! (Narrator’s voice – ‘They weren’t”)

The lenses

I was lucky enough to be sent 4 lenses; a 45mm, 63mm, 120mm and 250mm. Instead of banging on about them, here’s a snapshot of each:

The 45mm

I REALLY liked this lens. Wide enough for landscapes and architecture, but tight enough for an environmental portrait.

The 63mm

Hey, do you know what’s fun? Maths. So this 63mm on the medium format, is about the same as a 50mm on a full-frame and a 35mm on my Fuji x-T1. So this is a convoluted way of saying that if I could only have one lens on the GFX… this would be it.

The 120mm

The 120mm was probably my revelation as a portrait lens. I’ve never really done portraits where people’s hands are cut off, or heaven forbid, part of their head is cutoff. But I LOVED how some of these shots turned out with this lens, and I’ll definitely be using this in my future portraits…albeit with a LOT fewer pixels!

The 250mm

I added this to my list of lenses because I thought I was going to take photos of wildlife. I didn’t. So this lens didn’t get as much of a workout as the others. But I also took one of my favourite GFX pictures with it, so on average is was probably the best performer!

So what’s it actually like?

You 100% feel like a Pro with this camera in your hands. It feels solid and purpose built, the sound of the shutter is brilliant and it has the same functionality as my x-T1 so everything I needed was at my fingertips. The file sizes are enormous! I’m used to having my RAW files as 20mb files on the x-T1, whereas the jpegs that come out of the GFX are 20mb…the RAW files over 100mb! So on my first day of shooting I went to a skate park where I was shooting RAW+Jpeg on burst mode, and just about filled my entire 32GB card! There are a lot of reviews of this camera where people say ‘It really made me slow down and consider my composition’ which I had thought was a comment on just how much you can fit onto the sensor…but I now realise it was just code for ‘I can’t afford to buy another hard-drive to store these files!’

Should have gone on the wider lens!
I missed SO many of these photos where I tried to follow the skater to keep them sharp while everything else is blurred that I almost cried.

I loved the amazing detail in the photos. I loved being able to shoot at f32 for a long exposure and not have to worry about ND filters.

f 32 and 7 second exposure at Kalimna Falls
f 22 and 5 seconds at a Lorne sunrise

I loved that even shots that were brutally over-exposed could be made to look amazing!

This was just a lighting test to set the level of the flash. Did I turn it down after this shot? Damn straight I did. But when I worked on it in Lightroom it actually became one of my favourite shots.
I had been taking photos on the other side of the pier and when I turned on the camera it still had the old settings. It looked so ethereal in the viewfinder that I had to take the shot.

I loved the results I got when using a soft-box or off-camera flash.

But most of all I loved the motivation it gave me to get out and take photos ‘You’ve got $20K worth of camera equipment for a short period of time’ is a VERY strong motivator to get out and shoot!

The photo prior to this didn’t have the bird flying through…the bird really makes it.
Kids in trees…always good.
Families in trees…also good.
Photo of the photographer…with thanks to Katie!

But would I buy one?

Well first and foremost I would like to thank Fuji Australia for allowing me to borrow the camera. Outside of some bizarre ‘You’ve seen this camera in the hands of the best…now see it in the hands of the rest?’ angle, there really was no reason for them to take a chance on me. I can’t imagine there is a huge demographic of my readership with $20K burning a hole in their pocket just looking for a camera to spend it on. So I can’t imagine sales are going to skyrocket after me writing about it. But to Fuji, and in particular Neil, thank you so much for this. You were fantastic to work with, and I really appreciated this once in a lifetime opportunity.
But would I buy one? No. If I had the money would I buy one? Yes. Would I hire one to shoot a wedding or a proper photoshoot? Yes. Is Fuji likely to loan me gear again after saying this? Probably not.
But this is not a reflection on the camera, it’s a reflection on where I am with my photography. When I was training for the Ironman and the 3-Peaks, I could never justify buying a new super-fast bike, or super-light wheels to get myself some ‘free’ speed, until I knew that I had done everything in my power to make myself as fast as possible (train more, lose weight, race smart etc). Not surprisingly I never bought a new bike…because I never got to the spot where the only thing holding me back was my gear. Similarly, there are still SO many things that I can improve with my technique, my discipline, my willingness to approach complete strangers etc that will result in better photographs. I need to get them sorted before I can look to better gear to raise my game.
I have also had my x-T1 for nearly 5 years now. I’ve shot a documentary on it, multiple videos, weddings, award nominated portraits and even a photo where 9 children are all doing what I wanted them to at exactly the same time!
If, in the process of trying to get an epic shot, my camera got hit by an errant skateboard, or fell into the ocean, or was eaten by a surprisingly fast and aggressive turtle…I could live with it. I certainly wouldn’t be happy about it, but I could live with it. And that gives me a level of freedom that simply doesn’t come with holding a camera worth more than a family holiday to somewhere NICE.
Plus, if I take a photo with my x-T1 and the 35mm lens and it’s an abject failure, people think ‘Well, he only has that little camera that looks like it’s from the 1970s…what did you expect?!’ But if I take a great shot, suddenly I’m a genius who may get upwards of 7 or 8 likes on Instagram! Follow me a @sumo_21 😉 But if I take a great photo on the GFX people will think ‘Well yes OF COURSE he took an amazing photo…he has that amazing camera.’ Worse still, if someone sees one the of MANY crap photos I took with it, they’ll think ‘Why does he have such a fancy camera, when his photos are so average?!’

Plus, every photographer knows about Gear Acquisition Syndrome, you always need something to aim for, and if I had a GFX 50, what could I possibly have to look forward to after that?! It’s not as if Fuji are going to do a GFX 100 that has a 100 megapixel sensor…I mean that would be insane, and…what? They have made one?!


Excuse me…I have to change the entire tone of this blog…and then make a grovelling call to Fuji!

My National Photographic Portrait Prize photo

This year I was fortunate enough to be a finalist in the National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP), and I thought I might let you all take a peek behind the curtains at how the photo came to be.
Now clearly I’m setting myself up to fail a bit here, if you’ve come to this blog because you’re interested in the NPPP, then you’re probably relatively au fait with photography, and so will be pulling your hair out when I’m explaining why I went with a 56mm f1.2 lens…and for people who are regular readers of my blog, you’ll probably be saying ‘I don’t even know what f1.2 means, and I care even less about why you went with f5.6 for this photo. Just tell me how I can take a similar photo!!!’
But you’re all stuck at home and looking for distractions, and I managed to get an entry into a nationwide portrait competition using a 6yo APS-C camera, so you can all shut your pie-holes and read on…then complain bitterly in the comments section.


Now clearly, what I would love to say is ‘I had a clear vision for this photo. I wanted the rabbit to represent new life / innocence / modern cuisine, and I spent hours on the lighting setup at the studio I hired. Then I said to the model (who was was incredibly excited to be working with a photographer of my calibre) “Give me a look that is simultaneously; strong, vulnerable, stoic, protective and beguiling.” Then I nailed it in one shot, and my team of assistants packed away the gear while I lay on a chaise-lounge contemplating my brilliance’.
But the truth of the matter is that Katie (my wife) wanted a few headshots for a conference she was presenting at, so I set up my soft-box in the kitchen, and when I had finished I asked if the kids would pose for a few photos. Holly (my daughter) asked if she could go and get ‘Pebbles’ (her rabbit) and I thought that could be fun. So I took some photos of the two of them.

Holly and Pebbles

The tech stuff

The light – About 7 years ago I bought some second-hand flash gear. This included; an Alien B strobe, a soft-box, beauty dish, ring light and stands. I think I have probably used the beauty dish and ring light about 4 times in total since then…mainly because I just don’t seem to be able to make people look good with them.
But the soft-box I love! It always makes people look great, and I’ve found a setup that allows me to use a blank wall in our kitchen as the background.

The lens – When I made the move to Fuji four years ago, I used one of Zack Arias’ guides as to what to buy. In the end I went with; the 35mm f1.4 as my carry around lens and proxy ‘nifty-fifty’, the 50-140mm f2.8 to give me some zoom if I’m shooting weddings or anything I can’t get up and close and personal with, and the 10-24mm f4 for anything wide. These three lenses pretty much covered off every eventuality and would get me into and out of as much trouble as I could hope for as a photographer.
So the fact that I also purchased the 56mm f1.2, is very hard to justify! With enough light I’m never really going to need f1.2, and the 85mm focal distance is covered by the 50-140mm. So this really was a vanity purchase. I have always loved taking photos of people, and to have a lens that is almost exclusively designed for this purpose was too great a temptation. Plus, as a 40th birthday present to myself, it seemed a lot cheaper than the Porsche 911 I was also hankering for.
So any time I get to use this lens, there is a degree of ‘See?! I told you I needed it!’

The Fuji 56mm f1.2 on my trusty X-T1

The setup – I basically try to get the light as close to the subject as possible. Given that I’m shooting in my kitchen, and I can’t move the bench that people are sitting at, or the wall behind them, I find that getting the light as close as possible to them gives me the softest light on them, and the best fall-off of the light on the wall behind them. A better photographer would be able to quantify and explain this…but I did NOT win the yr 10 drama prize by being good at STEM!
The light is above and the left of the subject (from my perspective and is on about 60 degree angle. This is due to the hypotenuse of a triangle being relative to Gould’s Law of thermodynamics, and…nah…just kidding, I just like it being there.

In hindsight, it was probably a bit lower and a bit more front on for the actual shot.

Settings – f5.6 (because anything lower and it gets overexposed…and in this case, it also meant I got both Holly’s eyes and the rabbits eye nice and sharp!), ISO200 (because that’s as low as I can get it on X-T1 in RAW) and 1/180 because that’s as fast as I can go and still sync with the flash.

The pose

Having seen all of the finalists in this year’s NPPP I realise how lucky I was to make the cut. I get the distinct feeling that about 90% of them would have been great photos no matter what their subject had done. They have put time and effort into the story-telling part of their photo, and the subject is just completing it. Whereas my entire photo hangs off Holly’s expression. I do pride myself on being able to get people comfortable in front of the camera so that I can catch those candid little moments. But as I said earlier, this was not part of a grander plan, and I can only thank Holly for being such an amazing person to photograph.

The post-production

Any time I’m doing a workshop, or working with people who are new to photography, I see how blown away they are by what a little post-production can do. I’m also regularly dazzled by people who think that any sort of post-production is ‘cheating’.
So if you’re from the ‘post-production is cheating…in the olden days they just relied on what came out of the camera, blah, blah, blah’ school. Then rest assured that I shot this on some Agfa Scala 200x film and then spent time in my dark-room sniffing chemicals and adjusting my exposure times.
If you’re comfortable with a digital world, then I’ll tell you that I used a VSCO emulation of the Agfa scala 200x film in Lightroom and then played around with the colour temp, exposure, clarity etc

The joys of Lightroom

What’s next?

Now that I’ve supped from the NPPP cup and felt the thrill of having someone who isn’t directly related to you saying that they like one of your photos…I want more…MORE!
So I’m already planning a few more extravagant portraits shoots, and would definitely like to have a play with a camera with a bigger sensor to see what difference that really makes.
But with the current restrictions on travel and meeting people outside of my immediate household…it may be time to bust out the soft-box and demand the kids stand in front of it again!

The National Photographic Portrait Prize 2020

In what was described by some people as ‘an affront to a once-great institution’ and others as ‘that’s nice dear’, I was a finalist in this year’s National Photographic Portrait Prize (NPPP).
Before you become too invested in this, I will warn you that I did not win. But it was still an amazing experience that I would love to share with you.

The lead up

A lifetime of New Year’s Eves has taught me not build events up too much. If you go in with minimal investment, and even less expectation, at worst you will get exactly what you anticipated. But I was really excited about this! I had no delusions of winning, but just getting the chance to see one of my photos in the National Portrait Gallery and getting to swan around with actual, bona fide photographers, seemed like a pretty good way to spend a night.
So Katie and I hatched a plan. I would take three days off work, and we would do a family road-trip up to Canberra. We could stop at Illabo on the way and stay with some friends there, and I could use the time to get some great photos along the way. A road-trip so often throws up photo opportunities that haste to get your destination, or a back-seat full of surly children, ensure never become actual photos. So I was really excited about having an excuse to make photography a feature of the trip…after all, it was photography that made the whole trip possible!
Then I got to thinking, if I’m going to be taking such amazing photos, I really should see if Fuji would be willing to lend me a GFX for the trip in exchange for some photos and social content. I could shoot with a camera that I could never afford, and they would get some free publicity!
Everyone wins!
This was going to be great!
A family road-trip, an epic camera I had always wanted to try shooting with, and a night where I get to extort information out of some amazing photographers!


But then of course, the Gods looked down and said ‘Chris looks so happy! Look at his contented face…and look at how he has dreams and aspirations! Let’s throw a veritable shit-storm at him!’
And so we found out that Holly had her School Photos on the Friday of the event (these would be her photos from her first year of High School and so she really wanted to be there), then Xavier had an excursion for school on the Thursday and Josh had a basketball semi-final on the Saturday and his first night of Air Cadets on the Friday night, and Katie got work on the Wednesday and a gig on the Sunday arvo, and Holly got invited to a horse-riding birthday party on the Sunday, and Holly’s brass band got a slot at the Preston Market, and Fuji explained that they didn’t have a GFX I could borrow…and, well…I started to feel that perhaps this was not going to be the epic experience I had hoped for.


So, to cut a long story marginally less long, I ended up driving to Canberra with Xavier on the Thursday, Katie and Holly flew up on the Friday to arrive just in time for the big event at the Portrait Gallery, and Josh stayed home. We would stay with my sister and niece at their place, and my Mum and Dad would travel up and stay in a nearby hotel.

The big event

So having spent all of Thursday driving, and listening to an audiobook that told the story of what happened on Tattooine between the time Obi Wan Kenobe landed there with a baby Luke Skywalker, and when Luke came and found him as an adult (I shit you not…this is what I listened to). It’s fair to say that my excitement for the event on Friday night had been tempered a tad. But all of this was turned around on Friday morning when the National Portrait Gallery called my mobile!
Now I have been involved in enough events to know that the winner is usually given a bit of heads up so that they can plan a speech, or at the very least, ensure they will be wearing pants at the award ceremony. And here was the Portrait Gallery calling me on the morning of the event! This could mean only one thing…I had won the National Photographic Portrait Prize!!! $50K worth of prizes and a lifetime of bragging rights! This was amazing! This was UNBELIEVABLE!!!!
Indeed it was unbelievable, because the first thing Sheridan from the Gallery told me was that the reason that she was calling me was because the event that night had been cancelled because of the Corona Virus.

So that was cool.

On the bright side, I now had all of the time I would have spent writing a speech and putting on pants, to go and take some photos around Canberra. Plus there was still going to be an event where all the photographers got to see their artwork in the gallery, and where the National Portrait Gallery would announce the winner…and they had organised for the artists to have a dinner in the restaurant of the hotel where a lot of people were staying. So while there wasn’t going to be a big event and an after party, there was still going to be an event with the finalists, and a free dinner with a guest of my choice!

Take that Gods!

Channeling my inner Alex Ellinghausen
About 2 seconds after I took this shot a flock of birds flew right above me and would have made this shot epic!!
Rollerblading in the echo chamber

The event itself was pretty awesome. We all were given a lanyard that had our photo on it which was great as it made it easier for me to stalk those photographers whose work I really liked.

The only lanyard I’ve ever been happy to wear!
Tough crowd…and no I didn’t realise how much smaller my photo would be than everyone else’s!!
For posterity, me in front of my own photo at the National Portrait Gallery

If nothing else, walking around looking at all of the other photos made me realise just how tough it is to be a judge in a competition like this. There were so many amazing photos, so many brilliant stories and so many totally different approaches. But if there was a correct decision…then I think that the judges made it. All three winners (the overall winner, the highly commended and the ‘Packer’s prize’) were all outstanding, and you can see them here

Holly and Pebbles

A huge note of thanks to the judges and the National Portrait Gallery for selecting me as a finalist, and to the NPPP staff who did such an amazing job of still making the event a night to remember, in spite of everything else. And to the staff at the Midnight Hotel who were able to provide meals for all of us at remarkably short notice.
A big thank-you to my sister and niece for putting us up in Canberra, to my parents for travelling all the way up to Canberra, to Katie for pulling out all the stops to get from Melbourne to the gallery in time to see the portrait, to Xavier for being such a great road-trip companion, and last but by no means least, the biggest thanks to Holly (and to a lesser extent Pebbles) for giving me such an amazing portrait!

And of course if you want to vote for the portrait in the ‘People’s Choice’ category…you are more than welcome to here

My top photos of 2018

If there’s one thing that 2018 taught me, it’s that starting a new job REALLY diminishes your photography! I took about 75% fewer photos this year, but I’m not willing to let this stop my annual list of favourite photos. So here in no particular order are my top 18 of 2018, and as a special bonus I’ve included a music reference in every title…anyone who can guess them all wins a prize!

Sunset studies

Lake Pertobe sunset

I know that a good photographer can manufacture almost any scene…but for the rest of us, we have to just celebrate those moments that you’re in the right place at the right time, and you’ve got your camera…and you get the shot!

You’ve gotta fight, for ya right…to PARTY!

Party boy

There’s a lot to worry about when your kid’s having a party. Will the other kids come? Will they care that there are just basic party games, rather than a unicorn petting zoo or jumping castle filled with Lemurs, or whatever it is that people are paying for now? Katie and I spent the days leading up to this party wondering how we would deal with no-one turning up. This photo let me know that it was all going to be OK.

Dogs are the best people

The Regal Beagle

The big addition to our family this year was this fine looking hound, our rescue Beagle ‘Marnie’. You can read about our journey to get her here but given the Beagle propensity to escape, I wanted to get a good photo we could use for the ‘Missing Dog’ posters.

Uncle John’s lament

Uncle John

My Mum comes from a family of 10 kids and at her Brother’s recent 80th birthday party she asked me to shoot some portraits of the siblings…I love this one because it’s somewhere between Ernest Hemingway, Orson Welles and ‘The Thinker’. I also know how hard it was to get a serious pose from him when all of his siblings were looking on and mocking from the sidelines.

The last splash

Last splash in the waves before heading home

We had told the kids they could have one last splash in the waves at Sandy Point before we headed back for Melbourne. I was trying to get some photos of the Pacific Gulls flying low over the shallows when I saw Xavier running towards the waves. No time to compose the shot, just swing the camera, shoot and hope…and this was the result!

Binalong time

Binalong Bay, Tasmania

I had gone exploring during a stop at Binalong Bay in Tassie, and decided I would only take my 35mm, as I didn’t want to lug my whole camera bag around. When I saw this I cursed myself for not bringing a wider lens. But I did have my GoPro, and so I took the photo on that. The best camera is the one you have in your hands…not the one sitting in the boot of the car!

Treat your Mother right


I have photos of my Mum blowing out the candles on a birthday cake with my kids, and photos of Mum at family events, and even a photo of Mum dressed as Ace Frehley from KISS. But I’ve never had a shot that I think actually did her justice…and now I do.

Tasmanian still life

Still life

Metaphors for life people…metaphors for life. Don’t just be part of the dull background! You can stand strong, be vibrant and shine a light in the darkness. But just be aware, that as you do, your mate is vomiting up a gooey yellow mess in the background.
I was really proud of this photo when I took it…but now I can’t help but feel like it’s two daffodils re-enacting drunk people at the Melbourne Cup.

Put the kids upfront

Cradle Mountain part 1

Cradle Mountain part 2

There are thousands of photos of this view, so how do you make yours different? Put a kid in the foreground and let them do whatever they want. Kids don’t take direction well, but they do ‘whatever they want’ remarkably well…and you can’t fake authenticity.

Architecture in Tasmania

Taking in MONA part 1

Taking in MONA part 2

Sooo, that thing about putting a kid in the foreground of a shot that you really like…that works really well for architectural shots as well, especially if you’re at MONA.
Of course putting a child in MONA does come with its own consequences. One of the first things you see as you walk into MONA is a wall of plaster-cast vulvas. Our 7yo who was listening to the audio tour looked up at me and innocently said ‘This one’s called ‘C*nts and conversations‘ Dad…what’s a conversation?’
Yet another parenting highlight.

It’s a soft-box life

Holly & Pebbles

The enigmatic X-man

It’s always a bit of an effort to drag the soft-box and strobe out of the shed, but it does mean that the kids are 23% more willing to let me take their photo. It’s always worth it, plus I get to pretend I’m Zack Arias or David Hobby.

There are angels, in your angles

Evandale in Tasmania

On the final night of our Tassie trip we went out for dinner at a pub in Evandale. There was an enormous sculpture of the word ‘RELAX’. This is Josh with his head in the A-hole…and no, I do not intend to reword that.

You better lose yourself in the music, the moment…

‘All the way home’ playing a gig in the living room

I always love getting a shot that captures an experience. Here ‘All the way home’ were playing a gig in their living room, to an appreciative audience and having a great time.

If you can’t be with the one you love, love the one you’re with.

Deloraine sunset through the blossom

As we pulled into Deloraine, the sun was setting through the blossom and a large family all dressed in some sort of religious clothes were walking together next to the lake. I had dreams of taking a photo of them as it was an amazing scene, but by the time we had done an elaborate U-turn and retrieved the camera from where it was packed, the moment had passed. So I settled for this.

This one goes out to the one I love

Composed, classy and confident.

The stress of shooting a wedding is nothing compared with taking a photo of the person you love. They’ve heard all your jokes, they know all your tricks, and they will make life VERY difficult if you mess this up. There is also the challenge of breaking through 16 years of marriage, 3 kids, numerous ups and downs, and then capturing the person as you see them. So I love this shot.