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.


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!

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!

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.


The platform I went with was 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.
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 2: The rehearsal

On a recent project for work I was interviewing teachers who had been working for 40, 50 and 55 years. One of the things that really stuck with me was a teacher saying that they got to the end of each year thinking they were getting the hang of it…but that they spent their entire careers with that feeling because they ‘Didn’t know what they didn’t know’. So at the end of each year they knew that they knew more…but that had shown them what they didn’t know and needed to learn.
Shooting this rehearsal was VERY much the same thing for me!
So having told you about the idea behind this project, let me take you through the rehearsal.

What I knew I knew

Shooting in low light environments is never fun. Admittedly, most venues where you shoot live music are low light environments…but they make up for this by at least having lights on the performers. Rehearsal studios on the other hand give exactly zero shits about the insane ISO levels you’re going to have to use to get your photos.


My wide angle is a 10-24mm f4 lens. I normally find that to make sure every shot of a moving musician isn’t blurry, my minumum frame rate is 1/125…but with f4, I was having to go to 1/30 and hope the IBIS did its job.
I shot on all my lenses (50-140mm f2.8, 35mm f1.4 and 56mm f1.2), and when I went back through the photos, it was the 35mm and the 56mm that did the best work. But even then the ISO was often around 2,000 which saw me going to black and white quite a bit to hide the noise.

For the non-photographers reading this, a lens with a lower f number, means it lets in more light. In my case, the 56mm F1.2 lens, which is considered a ‘portait lens’, was the lens that let in the most light.
I can’t say this often enough, the 56mm is amazing for low-light photography!

Politeness vs photography – If you’re one of those people who can walk up to a complete stranger in the street and just take a photo of them, then this next para isn’t for you.
But if you’re someone with even a little humanity, it can be really hard to find that balance between getting the shot you want, and not encroaching on the space of the person you’re photographing. After all, if John had to choose between me getting a good shot, and one of his band members nailing their part…I’m quietly confident my artistic aspirations were going to come a distant second.

This is probably my favourite shot from the day

So I spent the first hour or so just getting wider shots or shooting on my zoom lens. Then as it got less weird to have someone in the room taking photos, I moved in closer and took some portraits.

Musicians are great to photograph – I have no confidence in my ability to get people to pose for a photo…but I do trust myself to capture a moment if they give me one, and musicians always give me one…no…wait…that came out wrong!
Look, all I’m trying to say is that musicians give you shots like this:

What I didn’t know I didn’t know

Trombonists are hard to photograph – If you’re tight enough to get their face, then you’re going to lose the slide…but if you get all of the slide, then it’s a really wide shot.
Plus if you get it on the wrong angle the bell covers their face.
I guess I should just be happy that I’m not taking photos of the 76 trombones in the big parade.

It’s the notes that aren’t played that make good photos – I got into the habit of putting down the camera each time the band would stop playing. But that meant I missed a lot of the collaboration and discussion between the band members. At the end of the day, photos of people dressed casually, playing their instruments in a room with terrible lighting…are going to be, at best, poor versions of the photos I was hoping to get at the live show.
So I had to make sure I got some of the shots that showed the process of the rehearsal as a document of the day.

The end result

I was super happy with the photos I got. I probably could have got up closer to the musicians and really taken advantage of the opportunity of being in the room with them…but at the same time, I was there to take photos at their rehearsal. They weren’t there to play instruments in my photoshoot.
I also wish there wasn’t so much ISO noise in the photos, but outside of setting off a flash at regular intervals or bringing in a light, I don’t think I was going to avoid this.

You can see the full gallery here:

Best of all, John was really happy with them…and the rest of the band all still spoke to me at the gig! Which gig? Well that’s what I’ll be talking about in the next post.

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

Live music photography tips

Now I know that at the moment the idea of talking about photography at a live venue with a group of people all crammed in together in a non-ventilated space where they can yell and scream…may seem a tad far-fetched. Who knows, by the end of this year all pubs and band rooms may just have wisened old hipsters looking into the middle-distance and saying ‘Live music? We ain’t see no live music since…well shoot…not since Omicron!’
But I’m an optimist…and I think I’m also now at the stage where I have shot enough gigs to have learnt from my mistakes, but I’m still sufficiently new at the game to remember all of the things I wanted to know when I started.
So I think it’s the perfect time to give some tips on shooting photos at live gigs.

Get out there

A remarkably important part of taking photos at live gigs…is actually being at those live gigs to take photos. So while I have waited remarkably patiently for The National to call and say ‘Chris, we want YOU to follow us around the world and take photos at our shows’, I have also hustled to find performers to take photos of.
Now, admittedly, having the drummer from The Cat Empire as my brother-in-law has opened quite a few doors. But if you haven’t made the strategic decision to marry into the Hull-Browns…then that’s on you.
But in all seriousness, I’m yet to come across a musician who has said ‘Nah, I’m all good for free photos that I could use on my numerous social channels, and I certainly don’t need a new shot that I can send to potential venues, and the venues I am playing at really hate it it when I bring along an extra person who buys a few drinks.’
This is a win-win for you and the artists, so see if you can find a friend/cousin/friend of your kid/local parent/open mic night participant who is doing a gig and get photographing!

The composer at a Darebin City Brass show my daughter was playing at.
My son’s piano teacher at the end of year concert

Spot focus

Ok…this is going to get a bit technical, but I promise the payoff is worth it! If you’ve ever been at a gig, or a kids concert, or anywhere where the person on stage is in the spotlight and taken a photo of it on your phone…you’ve probably ended up with a photo where that person is very bright, and the background behind them is kinda murky. This is because your phone (and you camera will do the same), has taken in all of the light from what is in the photo and found a place where on average everything has the right amount of light. So the person in the very bright spotlight and the background which is very dark…have been evened out. The dark bits are a bit lighter and the bright bits are a bit darker. In a normal daylight shot, this is great…and you will say ‘Thanks phone/camera for doing all of that thinking for me!’ But in a darkened room with with a performer in the spotlight you will be saying ‘Stuping phone/camera! That looks like balls!!’
Fortunately the answer is pretty straight forward. You can tell your camera to just focus on one part of the photo and get that bit exposed correctly…and then base everything else off of that. So in the case of someone in a spotlight, you set your ‘metering mode’ to ‘spot’ and that will make sure that the very bright person is exposed correctly and everything else will become dark. There are other modes you can choose that will vary from camera to camera…but basically the options will be for your camera to see the whole image and balance out the exposure, or take a section of the image (usally the middle of the image) and balance the rest of the picture based on that, or take a specific part of the picture and balance the rest of the image based on that.

Maggie Rigby from The Maes
Gale Paridjanian from Turin Brakes

A really good example is this shot I took of Danny Ross at the Wesley Anne. It was early evening the and the setting sun was coming through a gap in the curtains and hitting the stage. It was so bright, it was even brighter than the lights in the venue, which made taking photos REALLY tricky.

As you can see, that bright light is so bright it blows out whatever it touches

But then also gave some opportunities that I could never hope to replicate without a LOT of time.

But exposing just for that light, suddenly gives you some arty ‘light and shadow’

Get wide, get tight, get outside!

This is my advice for pretty much every photography job…but it’s particularly true for live music, DON’T SETTLE FOR MULTIPLE VERSIONS OF THE SAME SHOT!
Absolutely get the standard photos from as close as you can, and if there are multiple people in the band, make sure you have a good standard shot of each of them. But then…get creative!

Go in as tight as you can

Danny Ross

Get as wide as you dare

Lisa Mitchell and band

Take photos of their shoes

Chuck Taylors: Rock n roll since forever

Shoot from the back of the room

Danny Ross at the Corner Hotel

Shoot from outside the venue

Outside looking in on a gig at the 303 Bar

I can safely say that they will not all be good shots…but I can also guarantee that one of these shots will be your favourite shot from the gig, because you made it happen!


I once presented at a conference and there was a screen outside the room with my name on it…I took a photo of it. Why? Because in one image it showed that I had been at conference, and I had presented…and no-one had escorted me off the premises saying ‘Sir, you have no place being here’.
I think most performers want the same validation.

It’s time to move away from ‘auto’

The ‘auto’ settings on your camera are a far better photographer than I will ever be. They can do calculations that will result in the best combination of f-stop, shutter speed and ISO in milliseconds. BUT they are not set-up to provide the best shot in a darkened room, with a subject who keeps on moving and who has something sitting just in front of their face.
In fact, leaving your settings to auto will almost certainly lead to a slightly blurry photo of the performer (as they were moving when you took the shot), but that doesn’t matter, because the autofocus will have focused on the microphone instead of the singer

So you’re going to have to get comfortable manually setting some of your parameters.

Shutter speed – If you have a guitarist/singer then you’re probably looking at a minimum of 1/125. If they’re just sitting on a stool and singing you could probably go lower, if you’re trying to capture the drummer, you will have to go higher…and if you’re capturing a punk band, I wish you the best of luck.

f-stop – If your shutter is only staying open for 1/125 of second, then you’re going to have to let your aperture do a LOT of the heavy lifting in terms of letting light in. So go the lowest you can go. I have a beautiful 56mm f1.2 portrait lens that is hands down my favourite lens at a live gig as it just lets so much light in. Whereas my wide angle is only f4 and that needs a steady-hand, or a LOT of noise-reduction in post.

ISO – Modern cameras are remarkably good at taking great photos at ISO levels that would have been considered laughable in the past. So don’t be afraid to let it get as high as 5,000. There’s a reason a lot of my live music photos are black and white, and that’s becuase it’s easier to hide noise reduction (a setting in Lightroom that ‘smoothes out’ the crunchiness of a shot with high ISO).
If you’re in a venue with a lot of different lights, then I would leave the ISO on auto, because if a bright light suddenly comes on just before you take the shot, the camera will adjust before you’ve even pressed the button…you probably wont.

Focus – If you have your camera on autofocus, then it will focus on the thing closest to the camera in the auto-focus zone. So if the performer has a microphone in front of their face, and you’re focussing on their face…then it’s going to focus on the microphone. So be brave and try a bit of manual focus!

Ollie Knights from Turin Brakes

Drummers are people too

Look, I get it. When your choice is between the charasmatic lead singer, striking a rock-star pose, with the lights shining on them at the front of the stage…and the person at the back of the stage, moving frenetically, with no lighting and a car-crash of cymbals and drums surrounding them. You’re going to take the photo of the lead-singer everytime!
Just try to get a least one decent shot of the drummer…and the bass player (they’ll be hiding next to a speaker somewhere).

Drummer with Lee Rosser

Something in the way

Part of the joy of any live gig is the people around you. You very rarely get an unencumbered view of a performance, so don’t be afraid to capture this with your photos.
Get down a bit lower and shoot between people’s heads.

The man in the hat

Or ‘dirty up’ a clean picture by shooting through something (in this case it was an ornate hand rail that was about 3cms in front of the lens…but with the focal length set for the stage, actually created some nice shadows and deliniation between the performers)

Managing to get Will and Ryan into a shot of the Danny Ross Trio

Next level stupidity

Looking for something a bit different? Then why not hold your phone under your lens to create a mirror effect?

Lisa Mitchell x 2

Or take a photo through another lens?

Shantilly Clad at The Wesley Anne

Or zoom your lens while taking your photo

I know this didn’t work…but I gave it a go!

If they work, then you’re a creative genius…and if they don’t…the internet never has to see your mistakes (unless you publish them in a blog…as above!)

No flash photography

The standard rules for taking photos at a gig if you’re actually there on business is ‘First three songs, and no flash’. I will never understand why you can only take photos for the first three songs, as I think it’s like the venue selling a recording of the gig, but only including all of the between song banter and tuning of guitars…you know, all of the stuff that happens BEFORE the band actually hits its straps?!
But the ‘no flash’ thing makes perfect sense. No one wants to see their favourite singer stagger off stage having been blinded by some muppet unleashing a flash in their face…and no unseasoned performer wants a constant visual reminder that someone is capturing everything that they’re doing.
Also, if you’re shooting on your phone, just remember that the flash is designed for people about a meter away…so if you’re 15 rows back pinging of shots of a band…you’re really just taking stunning portraits of the backs of the heads of the few rows in front of of you.

Share the love

If you’re taking photos at a gig and you see another photographer…just remember, they’re not the enemy or the competition!
Realistically they are the only other person in the room who is facing the same challenges as you, and most likely the only other person you can learn anything from. So don’t be afraid to strike up a conversation, and like their photos on Instagram the next day. If you’re feeling really generous, why not grab a quick photo of them in action and send it through to them. Just as chef’s are less likely to be invited around for dinner (as people feel increased pressure to make an amazing meal), I can pretty much guaranteed that most photographers have very few photos of them in action (in fact I think the only photo I have of me in action, is me giving a photographer friend the finger while taking photos at a wedding!)

How to deal with pesky onlookers telling you how to do photography.

At the Corner Hotel gig I got chatting to one of the other photographers (the remarkably awesome Samantha Meuleman ) and during the next music shot grabbed this shot of her.

Sam in action

Is it the greatest photo? No. Was ‘here’s a photo I took of you while you were at work!’ an awkward conversation starter? Yes. But do I have any regrets? No!

So there you go…some of the lessons I’ve learned on my journey so far. If you’ve got any tips you’d like to throw my way, I’m always keen to hear them.

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!

iPhone photograpy …the follow up edition

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about using my iPhone on an overnight hike. Regrettably this did not result in Apple swiftly getting in touch and insisting that I take up a role with them as their official photographer. In fact all it did yield was some people asking me how I actually got the shots to look like they did.
Now clearly, only an idiot would give away their trade secrets…so here I go.

It’s not about the technology…no wait…it is!

Earlier this year I upgraded from an iPhone 6 to an iPhone 12 Pro. Now I can promise you that if you have an older phone, then the tips I’m going to give you will help you get better photos…but I also know that if I had taken these photos on my old phone, they wouldn’t have looked anywhere near as good. And besides, the battery would only have lasted for the first 35 minutes of the hike.
Composition and technique help…but so does millions of dollars of Research and Development! So as with most things in photography, the more money you throw at your equipment, the more people say ‘How did you get that photo?!’
But telling people you can take better photos by dropping $1,200 on a phone seems like the sort of advice that inevitably leads to a global financial crisis (albeit one that is beautifully captured in photos on Instagram), so here are some tips that won’t cost you a cent!

Light bro

We’ve all had that experience of incredible light. Whether it’s the last fading light of a summer’s day, or the first golden rays in the morning, or that incredible light that comes after a big rain storm. You can take pretty much any photo in that light and it will look amazing. Why? Because the light is being diffused. Whether it’s because the sun is just rising or setting and so is only hitting you with about 10% of its light…or because the light is being reflected around by moisture in the air. The result is beautiful soft light.
The antihesis of this is pretty much any photo taken in Australia from 10am – 5pm, where the brutal sun just a makes everything look flat and unispired.
So the first step to getting a great shot on your phone is to get up nice and early when that light is at its subtle best.

‘I love the look of Pano mode in the morning!’

Setting the exposure

If you have your phone with you…bwah ha ha! Just kidding. Of course you have your phone with you! So seeing as you have your phone with you, load up the camera and find a shot where there is something bright (a window or light), and something dark (perhaps an open cupboard or shaded area), and then put your finger on either of these spots. When you put your finger on the bright part, you should see everything else get a little darker…and when you put your finger on the darker part, you should see that the everything gets brighter (to the point where the bright part gets really bright).
I know what you’re thinking ‘Cool story Chris…but how does this help me?’
Well, the reason this is happening is because normally your phone is looking at a scene and trying to find the right balance so that the bright parts aren’t too bright and the dark bits aren’t too dark. It’s a bit like making a decision by committee, you don’t come up with the best result…just the one that people hate the least. When you put your finger on the screen you are telling your camera ‘This is the part that I want you to get right…and everything else can just work around it!’ So for example with this shot, it’s the colour in the sky that draws you in.

More cloud…less guano.

But if I had just taken this photo as the phone wanted to take it, it would have tried to capture the detail in the shadows on the log in front, or the hills, and so would have added a lot of light…and in doing so, would have made the sky a white mess. So I put my finger on the sky, told the phone that this is what I want it to get right, and this is the result.
Tragically I have missed out on highlighting the beauty of the birdshit on the log…but these are the sacrifices you have to make as a photographer.

Similarly if you’re ever at a gig or a concert and someone is up on stage with a spotlight on them, press on the screen where their face is so that the phone knows to expose for that and it will make the background really dark, but have them perfectly lit.
There was a distinct lack of spotlights on the hike we did…but there some burnt out tree stumps…so exposing for the person’s face in the full light, made the blackened stump fall away to a perfect black background.

Stand in this burnt out stump son…Daddy’s taking a photo.


I think we’ve all had the experience of walking into an incredible natural scene, being overwhelmed and taking a photo…then thinking “Wait…that looks a lot more shit than I remember!” I call this the ‘Every phone photo ever taken of the moon’ phenomenon.
My non-scientific belief is that the experience you have is of feeling humbled by all that you’re taking in, but your phone can’t replicate that feeling (an iPhone 12 makes you feel many things…but ‘humble’ is not one of them).
My photographic approach to dealing with this is wonderfully contradictory!
First and foremost you need something in the foreground to give the grandeur behind it some perspective.

At the same time…going for the ‘Pano’ approach allows you to take in a larger portion of the scene, while getting rid of a lot of the sky and ground (I think as humans we can see a bit of sky and a bit of the ground and imagine how the rest of the sky and ground looked). Unless the sky or the ground is the part that’s interesting, focus the viewer’s eyes on what you want them to be looking at.

Also, speaking as someone who once had to ‘stitch’ 3 photos together in Photoshop (before this was an automated process)…the fact that you can just wave your camera around a scene and your phone will turn it into something comprehensible, is as much a modern-miracle as any life-saving drug!

Get low

We spend most of our lives walking around and looking at things from between 5-6 ft high. So if you want your photo to get people’s attention, try shooting from a different height. In particular…get low…especially if there’s water around for a reflection!

Crystal clear reflections

Getting high can also help your photography…but that feels like a different blog.


This may come as a shock…but I didn’t buy a special edition iPhone to take my black and white shots…I actually converted them to black and white in post-production! Similarly, I will almost always adjust the contrast, or pull back the exposure, or raise the shadows, or add a vignette to a photo before I publish them.
The person looking at the photo doesn’t get to smell what I was smelling or hear what I was hearing…so I’ll be damned if I don’t try my best to engage them visually!
All of these options built into your phone, and you can ‘undo’ any change you don’t like. So start experimenting and see what you can do!

Straight out of the phone
With some tweaking

If you have access to something like Adobe’s ‘Lightroom’, then you can have even more fun working on your photos…just try to get past the ‘add heaps of ‘clarity‘ to everything’ stage as quickly as possible. Like ‘instant noodles’ and ‘undercut’ haircuts, we all have to go through that stage…but it’s nothing to be proud of.

So there you go…some free tips on how to raise your phone photography game…for everything else, just drop a distressing amount of money on a new phone!

Up the creek…with paddles

The best camera is the phone you have with you.

There’s an old photography adage that ‘the best camera you have, is the camera you have with you’. In other words, it’s no use bemoaning the fact that you don’t have your $5,000 camera as a Yeti rides past on a Segway…you need to use whatever you have at your disposal to capture this moment!
For the last 10 years this ‘camera you have with you’ has been a phone camera, and over the last 10 years the phone camera has evolved from ‘if you squint you can kinda see what I was trying to capture’ to ‘this is only half as bad as I would have done with my proper camera’. But last weekend I went for an overnight hike with my family at Wilson’s Prom, and my iPhone got promoted to ‘this is the only camera I need!’
So I thought I’d write a quick blog post about how it felt to take my proper camera gear with me…and never take it out of its case.

‘So I just push this button?’

There is a very specific feeling of dread that happens when someone offers to take a photo with your camera. Invariably this will be when you’re taking a group shot, and someone will say ‘Hey, do you want me to take the photo?’ Sadly, societal norms mean that you can’t respond by saying ‘That depends…are you going to f*&# this up?’ So instead you will switch all your settings to ‘auto’ and say ‘Just press this button. No, not that button…this button’. Then they will hold the camera at arm’s length as if it’s a feral cat that’s trying to maul them to death…will press a button other than the one that you told them to…will frame the photo so that it’s only your upper-bodies and 3kms of sky above you…and when you look at the photo, while everyone else is smiling, you have a look of ‘WTAF are you doing?!’ on your face.
But put a phone in their hands, and people will happily snap a series of in focus, nicely framed images where you are actually smiling…like this one!

About to embark on our first family overnight hike

‘OK guys…just hang on a second, Dad’s just going to take a photo’

You had best believe that any time this sentence is uttered…the response is a series of groans.
Worst of all, these groans are 100% justified. Because the translation of the sentence is actually ‘Hang on for five minutes while Dad breaks any momentum that we’d generated so that he can unpack his camera, then decide he needs to change lenses, then get increasinly angry as no-one is able to re-create the happy scene that had inspired him to take out his camera five minutes ago’. But with a phone, you can simply take out the camera as you walk and get the shot.

On the way to Sealer’s Cove
On the boardwalk pt 1
On the boardwalk pt 2
Bowl of porridge…and a bowl of coffee. Camping done right!
Zero fear of wading through water to take the shot.

Yes, but Chris, I’m an artist!!

Of course you are! And you will not be able to take epic landscape shots that you can blow up and print for your wall…or take tack-sharp portraits…but DAMN you can get pretty close!!!

Wide-angled black and white. Would I have loved to have had a dancer creating a similar shadow next to this branch? Yes…but dancers were very thin on the ground at Sealer’s Cove
Pano mode in the morning
Crystal clear reflections
Trees and reflections of trees
More early morning shots. Pano mode with the wide-angle
The old ‘get them to stand inside a burnt-out log and look towards the sky’ shot.
The morning sun was breaking through the foliage in this one spot, so exposing the shot for that bright light made everything else fall off into darkness…or I carried a softbox and strobe for the entire hike in the hope of getting this shot. You decide.

Photos on the run

There may be times when I decide that it’s worth carrying the extra weight of my proper camera on a hike or bike ride…but there is NO chance I’m carrying a camera when I’m out for a run. Because I simply don’t need to make that any harder than it already is. But at the same time, I tend to do most of my running in the early morning as the sun comes up, and there have been many times that I’d wished I had a decent camera with me. Now I’ve got the best of both worlds. Now I can carry my phone, listen to podcasts, and if hypothetically speaking, there were an incredible sunrise…or a wallaby…or I see that the rest of family are about to paddle of up a river…I can take a shot!

Up the creek…with paddles
Pretty sure I’m being watched
Sunrise over Tidal River
Never pass up an opportunity to get a photo of a wombat

So there you go. I don’t intend this to be an advertorial for any phone in particular…nor am I about to sell my Fuji gear. But what a time to be alive when I can get these sorts of photos out of the same device that I can also ignore your phone calls on!