Friday, 24 May 2013

Six things to improve your photography (that won't break the bank)

1. Use a genuine dedicated lens hood all the time (about $50)
This will reduce flare, improve contrast and colour saturation and make the image look sharper

2. Stand somewhere different ($0)
Stand on the same spot as everyone else while on holidays or on tour and guess what? Your photographs are bound to look more or less the same as everyone else's.

3. Shoot in the 'sweet spot' ($1.95)
Boring photographers tend to shoot between 10am and 3pm. Keen photographers like to shoot sunsets and sunrises along with the other 20 million keen photographers. Creative photographers will shoot in the 'sweet spots' between first light and sunrise or sunset and last light. There's a little app for your phone called Sunset and Sunrise by Peter Smith that works it all out for you.

4. Separate subject from background ($0)
Whether its a portrait, macro or wildlife shot there are three things you can do to make your subjects stand out from your background:
  • focus separation - use aperture wide open and a longer focal length lens
  • colour separation - example: pink subject and green background
  • tonal separation - example: light subject and dark background or vice versa
5. Treat your shutter button like a butterfly's wing ($0)
Too many people 'stab' at the shutter button resulting in camera shake.  As you shoot, STOP talking, STOP breathing and gently push the button like you were touching the wing of a  butterfly

6. The colour and the white ($0)
In portraiture the eyes have to be sharp. Don't just focus on the face or the eyes generally, focus on the line between the colour and the white of the eyes!

And if you would like a chance to win AU$5000 cash,a  new Nikon D800 camera, an Apple mini iPad or a GoPro Black Edition camera submit your best portrait to the Fremantle International Portrait Prize. Entries close 8 July 2013.

Wednesday, 8 May 2013


If you enter into photography competitions regularly and you find that your best result these last three years was Third Prize in the East Widgemootha Royal Agricultural Show (Division Three) you just may have a problem.

It could be that your photographs are just so damn boring that they are giving the judges a dose of the ZZZZZzzzzzzzzzzs.

If you're regularly entering sharp, head and shoulder  images of old men or old women from third world countries; guess what? So are half the population.

I've called this the BEG principle
When all else fails, BEG for a result!
Be Bold, be Emotional, be Graphic!

If you're timid, the chances are your subject will lack confidence and your image will have all the spice of reheated three day old porridge. Be BOLD, take risks, work on the edge, try quirky. You have lots of time to be shy and retiring after you die.

Tear jerking images that grasp your heart by the aorta valve and left ventricle are likely to work. The tear in the eye, the quiver of the lip, the wrenching of clasped hands. Emotion is much easier with two people because they can react to each other - pain, sorrow, loss, love, delight, flirtation, sadness. These all work.

I recently witnessed a portrait getting the highest score in a state wide competition for pro photographers. It was a portrait of a dog (amputee) sitting sadly on a stylish chair just in front of a framed family portrait of mother, father, two kids and the dog before the amputation. The judges were overcome with emotion. They pleaded the case for the three-legged hound and hypothesised on the fate of the family. 'Perhaps a car accident' ventured one judge. It was a damn fine image which brandished emotion like an 80 pound sledge hammer.

Take a long hard look at the lighting you are going to use. Remember the word 'Photography' comes from the Greek for writing with light; make it work for you! Get the image as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel.
Then power into the image with your favourite software to maximise the grain, textures and monochrome tones.

You could win $5000 cash or a Nikon D800 or a mini Apple iPad in the 2013 Fremantle International Portrait Prize! Check for details. Just $15 enter. Entries close on 8 July.

Saturday, 4 May 2013

Elevator Music

I once thought making eye contact was interlocking eyelashes. My dear Aunty Frieda put me right on that one before I started high school at Marist Brothers.

Do you make eye contact in a lift?

There you are standing shoulder to shoulder (or maybe face to face) with someone you have never seen before in your life. You can hear them breathing; you can smell their deodorant (or lack thereof); you might even be close enough to read the SMS on their mobile.

I've got to fess up here. When I get into an elevator I often study the people I'm sharing with and fantasise about being stuck there with them for 48 hours. In Cairo I once shared an eight person elevator with a dozen Egyptians at an ISO conference. Not photographers, these Egyptians all worked in the concrete industry. I discovered there were ISO standards for concrete as well as cameras. 48 hours jammed in a lift with 12 concrete workers would not have been my idea of a fun weekend. It would have been a long weekend. A very long weekend.

Mill Point Quartet

Lifts are such terribly boring places I thought this would be the perfect place to take a really deadly boring photograph.

So when I got to share an elevator today with Mill Point Quartet, an up and coming  string quartet from Perth, WA I thought that was a bit more appealing. In fact I cheated a bit. I invited them to share the lift. I first noticed this lift in His Majesty's car park in 2005. The walls are lined with dimpled stainless steel. I thought this would be great for bouncing flash around inside.

While Mill Point played Ravel's Bolero I took  a few shots. At each floor the doors opened and Mill Point entertained the waiting crowd before we continued our ascent. My next Creative Flash course is at UWA Extension in August 2014.

Thursday, 2 May 2013

How to microwave your camera

I'm sure you've all heard them ad infinitum - the Rule of Thirds, the Golden Mean, the Sunny f16 rule and so on and so on. There's a photographic rule for almost everything we do. It possibly all started with the Great Yellow Emperor, otherwise known as Kodak including a slip of paper in each roll of film telling the photographer what time of day to expose the film how to stand, the aperture to use and of course the sun needed to come over your left shoulder!

A 'rule' that has pervaded photographic circles for half a century is Never Use 400ISO or Higher. The warnings were dire - a massive infection of grain (or the digital equivalent of noise), degraded tonal values or being made to stand in the corner of your local camera club.

I'm not suggesting using high ISO all the time. Heaven forbid! But when the time and circumstances are right be brave enough to play with that ISO button and dISObey the rule. The only photographic rule i follow religiously these days is I never microwave my camera for longer than three minutes!

I shot the image here as part of my H2O series. It was taken at 8.38pm at night in January in the Swan River in Perth using a Nikon D700, 1/80 sec @f4 using a 24mm prime lens. (oops another rule broken - using a wide-angle lens for a portrait!) I used 4000 ISO. (Four thousand ISO).

For your chance to win a Nikon D800 or AU$5000 cash enter the Fremantle International Portrait Prize. Entries open on 5 May 2013 and close on 8 July 2013.