Friday, 27 June 2014

Shoot straight - don't make a mess of it

Six years ago I was  photographer for the Old Mill Theatre's production of Breaker Morant. Then I worked back stage on props and learnt all the main lines. When Harry 'The Breaker' Morant was wrongfully sentenced and faced the firing squad, he requested his blindfold be removed. Then he famously said

  'Shoot straight you bastards, don't make a mess of it.'

India, single shot Fuji S2 pro. 1/15sec @ f11
This post is to help all the ditherers, procrastinators and focus fiddlers. Now, I'm not calling you boring ... but .... continue like this and you could very easily develop a bad case of boringitis. This post is directed towards all those people who play with their food before eating it. For goodness sake, take a mouthful of burger and enjoy it.

I live in the wonderful port city of Fremantle - clean air, clean water and a harbour of seaside cafes and restauarnts. I love Freo, its footy team and the cluster of unwashed photographers.

I was standing on the wharf bidding bon voyage to old friends setting off on a six week cruise to London. The rails were packed with happy faces. waving arms and streamers that spilled down to the wharf. A male photographer a few metres away had his DSLR on a tripod and he was meticulously adjusting apertures, shutter speeds and ISO. He removed on lens and fitted another, then he added a filter or three. By teh time he looked up at QE2 she was at least a hundred metres away into the middle of the harbour. The streamers were broken and soggy in the Indian ocean.  My wharf man scores a 'B' for boring.

Meanwhile, a little old lady with what looked like a Panasonic Lumix TZ20 compact had taken about fifty shots and two or three burst of video capturing all the sound and colour of the departure.

On another occasion I had a lady on a workshop who refused to lift her eyes to the picturesque misty morning riverscape. She kept her eyes down just two inches from her camera. Despite my urging she refused to look at the scene
Celebratory dance after successful balloon landing. Luxor, Egypt. Fuji S5 Pro 14mm Nikkor.  1/125@f11
'not until I understand every single thing about this camera' she said.
She looked as though her nose was araldited to the flash bracket. My river lady gets to wear a T shirt with 'BB' on the front for double boring.

One thing is for certain. You will miss 100% of the shots you don't take.

To avoid the fiddling you need to organise yourself

  • Get your camera ready to shoot at a seconds notice. 
  • 'Zone' your camera (learn about this in my 'On the Move' workshop)
  • Get yourself and your gear into a position where you can capture action
  • Be confident - shoot now - apologise later
A good plan violently executed now is better than a perfect plan executed next week.
General S Patton

Then frame, focus, fire - don't fiddle. And make sure you don't make a mess of it. 

Learn how to shoot straight and quick with Dale Neill in my UWA Workshops

Wednesday, 25 June 2014

No such thing as a boring face

There's no such thing as a boring face.

From the beginning I've loved the challenge of photographing faces. Faces reveal more about you than any other physical feature. Faces are a storybook of your life. Faces tell the photographer  about your demeanour, how relaxed you are, your alertness and so much more.  The tilt of the head, quiver of a  bottom lip, the knot in the forehead.  I trust faces more than emails or SMSs!

English photographer David Bailey says he falls in love with all his subjects as he shoots them. Bailey has just photographed QE2 (the lady not the ocean liner). I'm sure Bailey fell in love with 'Liz' for a minute or two.

I appreciate physical beauty (as defined by my society) however I am not besotted by it. A face is merely a clock upon the wall, the story of us all. From birth to death I see that every face has a story.

From that first portrait I made by pushing my Hanimex C35 camera lens up my best mate Wolly's left nostril I developed a fascination and a love affair with photographing faces.

Pic 1: Egyptian shopkeeper
Pic 2: Russian ballerina

 Pic 1: On Elephantine Island in Egypt I met a local muslim lady. Hens clucked and sheep wandered aimlessly around us as I asked to make her portrait. Her hard  life and unsophisticated surroundings hadn't daunted her spirit.  Her outlook was positive. She told me she preferred Elephantine Island to the mainland because she felt free from authorities.  She enjoyed the few tourists that came to the island because they purchased goods at her brother's shop.

Pic 2: The retired Russian ballerina is close to twenty years older than the Egyptian lady. Born into a multi-cultural mix of art and dance the prima donna flourished in both business and stage performance. She maintains an almost feverish optimism about the future.  She greets challenges with glee. When she walks into a  room it's like opening a curtain and letting in a bucketload of sunshine.

Is any of this difficult? Not really. But you do need to like people and not be scared of them

  • Use a prime lens - 50mm or 85mm or similar
  • Open aperture up near maximum eg f1.8
  • Focus between the colour and white of near-side eye
  • Position lens a little higher than subject's face
  • Make sure there is great light on subject's face
  • Befriend your subject and remember to say 'Thank you'

We can't all be writers but many of us can be visual biographers with our cameras.

You're invited to join Dale Neill on UWA Extension  'Photographing Faces' workshop.

Sunday, 15 June 2014

Boring skeletons - Survival Guide for Outback Photography

Your $5000 camera and  300mm prime lens won't be much use if you run out of water in Australia's remote inland areas. You will simply end up a very boring skeleton with a frilled-necked lizard peering through the viewfinder of your expensive camera and termites building nests in your rib cage.

Not only is inland Australia a harsh, dry unforgiving environment but it is one of the most sparsely populated regions on planet earth. There's just 0.1 persons per square kilometre. I can't remember the last time I saw 1/10 person walking around with a  Hasselblad but it was a long time ago. (But I have seen a few tourists walking around Kings Park with what looked like half a camera).

Survival wise, there's one simple rule -
Fail to prepare, be prepared to fail.

I've lived in Australia's outback for four years; two years in Halls Creek and another couple of years at Lombadina Mission near Cape Leveque. In recent years I've led a couple of tours through the Murchison and Pilbara to Karijini Gorge and  traversed a few pretty remote tracks. On a few tracks I barely see one other vehicle or human being a day. In '64 I almost ended up a skinny skeleton myself on a  remote track while driving from Alice Springs to Hall's Creek through the Great Sandy Desert. I was lucky to survive when our vehicle bogged in an 'inland sea' that rose in unseasonal rains. But that's another story!
Mount Augustus

Your essential preparation requirements for personal survival:
  • water (lots of it!)
  • reliable vehicle with spares
  • EPIRB* or satellite phone
  • telling someone of your route and schedule
  • Fuel +50% until next reliable fill-up
  • First Aid Kit
  • snake charming kit (just joking!)
For more information please click HERE.

The Australian outback provides unique photographic opportunities simply because of the lack of habitation and people. It is indeed a wide brown land.  In some places you can confidently say that you may be the first human being to set foot on that piece of earth. 

Let's assume you and your vehicle are going to pull through and your only snake and centipede encounters are digital rather than physical. You can prepare photographically by checking these points:

Night shoot - Honeycomb Gorge - approx 20 minute exposure

Photographic Preparation
  • Charging batteries - use solar or an inverter
  • Dust - it's everywhere and very fine. Seal gear in plastic. Carry an Arctic Butterfly.
  • Head torch - for late night  shoots and seeing centipedes at night when peeing
  • Spare camera body - essential (if you have a spare body for yourself, take that also)
  • Tripod and remote release (you will be in remote locations)
  • Three best lenses - wide angle 20mm, telephoto min 300mm, macro 85mm
Fern Pool - Karijini Gorge
I haven't mentioned getting your brain into gear before you set off on your epic journey. Take some outback pump-up music with you to hone your focus. Suggest you start with 'The Air that I Breathe' by The Hollies.

Oh, one more thing ... unless your husband/wife/boyfriend/girlfriend is a dyed-in-the-wool photography sympathiser, can cook camp casserole and stare down desert dingoes, leave him/her at home to tend the roses and save yourself the cost of the divorce.

* Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacon

Check out my Photography Workshops at UWA Extension.

'Thank you for your generous sharing of encyclopedic photographic knowledge and the empathic way you impart it'  (Dr) Peter Randell 2013

Saturday, 14 June 2014

The best camera club in the world

Finding the best camera club in the world is easy.
First, find a large solid tree branch and shape into a  formidable weapon. Then proceed to  belt the living daylights out of the offending camera that refuses to take prize-winning images. 
That was easy, wasn't it.


Getting back to reality, camera clubs are a great source of inspiration, learning, competition and socialising. I was a camera club member for years and encourage many of my students to join. I issue just one word of warning - don't allow your camera club to become the sole source of your information and photographic experience.

Like all other organisations, camera clubs vary considerably in their style and quality. Here are a few tips on how to choose the best camera club for you.

  • Friendly, welcoming reception on your first visit
  • Location - you don't need to drive an hour in each direction
  • Mission and vision - the club knows where its going and communicates that to members
  • Runs outside workshops and expeditions*
  • The club has good photographers - people to aspire to and learn from
  • Interclub competition - local, interstate, overseas
  • A wave of photographic passion
  • A variety of ages with a few new young members coming on board
  • Some speakers and judges from outside the club (and outside photography)
  • Access to an asset - clubrooms, bus, darkrooms, studio

*Rob Lewis shooting in the Pilbara 2013 with the Medical Arts Association 

Possibly the best asset a camera club can have is a legal one - a public liability policy. This is to protect members who may take on photographic work through the club. Damage to person or property could run into hundreds of thousands of dollars and be sheeted back to an unsuspecting member without public liability insurance.

As for the best camera club in the world - the Photo Art Association in Singapore would be hard to beat. World class photographers and gear, their own multi-storey building in the heart of Singapore, overseas tours and a high class photographic book several times each year.

And as for the occasional irksome camera club member who's always complaining about
the judges, the scores and the supper - that's what that dirty big club is for!

Join a Dale Neill  UWA Workshop to find out what a camera club can't teach you.

Thursday, 12 June 2014

When your camera stops working

'What can I do???? I'm shooting tomorrow morning' she pleaded.

A couple of months back I received this urgent call from an Australian photo-journalist on assignment in Italy. Her task was a story on a well-known Italian shoe designer. The day before the interview she took her camera into the rain and the zoom lens jammed! Well, that was a big surprise ..... not.

My answer

'Beg, borrow or steal a camera. Just get a camera.'


This is probably more embarrassing - for me at least. 
Looking over the Southern Ocean near Denmark a willowy, wind blown young girl walked across my path. She was waiting for her surfer boyfriend down below in the surf. She was happy to pose while I took  a few shots.

Girl on the Beach, Denmark WA - on 'borrowed' camera

Just one shot and my camera shut down. Flat battery. Bugger and embarrassment. I am constantly reminding students they should never, ever, ever get a flat battery. 

With no spare, I called out to one of my students nearby who came to the rescue. I simply picked up his camera, inserted my memory card and continued shooting with hardly the miss of a heartbeat. If you're motivated you'll always find a way.

Tip: If you're in the middle of nowhere and your camera stops working or starts behaving badly, be your own camera technician and try this:

  1. Press 'Reset', 'Reset all' or 'Clear all settings' on your camera
  2. Remove battery, leave 30 seconds, replace.
  3. Use your mobile phone
  4. Say three Hail Mary's
Travel tip: Don't insult the mother crocodile until you have crossed the river and other travel photography tips in UWA Workshops.

Monday, 9 June 2014

Frame, Focus, Fire! Don't fiddle!

Light source: Elinchrom 500BX head, triple diffused, 2 metres from subject. 45 deg left 45 deg elevation
A friend of mine, Vittorio (Vic) Natoli, established a highly successful photographic studio (Viva Photography) in Fremantle with just ONE light. He took thousands of fine art portrait images, won major awards in APPA (Australian Professional Photography Awards) and produced a beautiful coffee table book with just that one light. (Vic now tells me I have to stop telling this story because he now owns two lights.)

Let's remind ourselves there is just one sun so why should we create a lighting set-up with 3, 4 or 5 lights. Its a challenge to all of us to understand the effects and subtleties of just one light let only multiples.

Nikon D700 with 85mm Nikkor prime lens.
In my early days teaching pro's in TAFE I often shot portraits in a  TV studio where there were literally twenty or thirty overhead lights. The TV technician would flick a switch and KABOOM! the whole studio was flooded with uniform lighting and I was lurching towards my sunnies. Great for TV but boring for portrait photographers. Subjects lose their shape and form, their clothing loses texture.

When I set up a single  light I'm interested in just tour things:

  1. the power
  2. the diffuseness
  3. the direction
  4. the colour
Hang on a second, I've forgotten the single most important thing - the subject! The human being in front of me. Forget about him or her and you're on a losing bet. Whatever you do, make your subject Numero Uno!

Join my 'Photographing Faces' workshop on 10 August.

Saturday, 7 June 2014

How to photograph revolting teenagers

Some mornings I wake up and think I'm 17 again. I occasionally dream of my 16 year old freckle-faced Irish girlfriend with the twinkly eyes. Flash! Bag! Wallop! I'm rudely awoken by Millie the kitten purring in my right ear and kneading my face with her black and white paws. 'Feed me, feed me' she says.

Creaking knee joints and lower back aches soon remind me that I'm not 17 any more and my ex Irish girlfiend has 29 grand children.

However, there's light at the end of the tunnel. One way of maintaining  youthful exuberance and thinking positively is by mixing with young people (even your grandkids if they qualify as people). It puts benzene into your photography as well!

Margaret River Bakery Coffee Shop
Teenagers actually look at home when chomping on a burger or licking  an ice cream. Don't try this with adults - they look positively awful. If you want to make an adult (or celebrity) look really bad wait until they've sunk their fangs into a 'sanger' or have half a hot dog in their mouth. Best avoided unless you're out for sweet revenge.

Subiaco Station Street Markets

Photographing teenagers isn't hard. Just add food.
Or maybe food and ABBA!

Click HERE to discover how to photograph your teenager's face without them running away from home.

Thursday, 5 June 2014

'Be Unafraid' - a German Fairytale

How many photographers have walked past a wonderful photographic subject, failing to stop and shoot. Then, later, there is regret 'I should have stopped and photographed'

There are a number of reasons photographers become afraid to press the shutter. The reason could be as simple as not wanting to slow down the group or inconvenience a spouse. It could also be as simple as the fear of rejection. In more recent times photographers have become fearful of the repercussions of political correctness.

Edwin Land, the pioneer of Polaroid and inventor of the Polaroid camera said,
"An essential aspect of creativity is not being afraid to fail"

When I was asked to photograph meditation guru and author Oliver with German belly dancing girlfriend I devised a fairytale.

  Oliver was under the spell of a wicked witch asleep on the studio floor for one hundred years. I asked Nadine to break the spell by doing a magical dance around the sleeping prince.

Nadine performed her spell-breakling dance with absolute beauty and flair as I climbed to the top of a two metre ladder and shot the sequence. The 'prince' awoke and I took this shot.

post script: Several months later I was invited to Oliver and Nadine's engagement party. To my delight and the surprise of the invited guests they unveiled a one metre high image of the German fairytale.

Be unafraid.
Show me the man who has never made any mistakes and I'll show you a man who never made anything.

For Fine Art Portrait enquiries contact Dale Neill at Facez Fine Art Portrait Studio

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

Not another 'Beautiful Sunset'

Last week I judged a photographic exhibition with two other much younger judges. The first thing I asked the exhibition organisers to do was to remove the photographers' names and entry numbers while we had coffee.  I didn't want to see the entrants' names or for the other judges to do the same. Who the entrant is should have absolutely nothing to do with the judging process. Let's start off doing things right.

The next thing I asked the organisers to give each of the judges the entry and judging criteria. We all agreed on the entry conditions and what we were looking for in the entries. How many judges storm into an exhibition and start allocating scores willy nilly without first checking the criteria - even at camera club level.
Goa, India - professional dancer Merome at coffee

As we started judging, one of the young judges asked that we be able to see the titles for the images. Once again, I argued against this. 'Are we judging the photograph or some cleverness in penmanship and writing?' We are judging photographs - let's make the process valid and above all, ethical.

If its not apparent that an image titled 'Red Rose' is a red rose there is something radically wrong with the image. I've lost count of the the number of entries I've judged labelled 'A Beautiful Sunset', where the sunset was about as beautiful as a house brick and as boring as bat shit.

Sandakan, Malaysian Borneo - shops open 2pm
Actually, I love to read the story behind the image. But only after I have judged the image. It is after all a photography competition not a  writing competition. The image should stand on its own. If you are required to title or caption an image the information should be additional to the visual information not something that is apparent. 'A Beautiful Sunset' could be retitled 'Cable Beach, Broome, August 2012'.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Three compact cameras with clout


'Hi, my name's X100S but you can call me Millie. I may be small but I have powerful thoughts and I punch above my weight! 
Here are three cameras that do the same!'

You no longer need to carry a 4kg camera and lens with a 10kg tripod to achieve  a cover shot on a magazine. And even if you still want 'old reliable' DSLR for company on your next trip its great to have a quality camera that slips in your top pocket or handbag. Here are three lightweight compact cameras that are tried and true.

Samsung WB350F
This little compact must be one of the most underrated budget compacts going. I'd never been a fan of Samsung until a couple of my students brought them along on an Antarctic tour. Fitted with a quality Schneider lens, simple to use and with a host of features including a 21X zoom and wi-fi compatibility its brilliant value for your dollar. About $200.

Panasonic Lumix TZ60
The TZ stands for travel zoom and come from a long line of Lumix TZs - the TZ10,20,30,40 and now the 60. The TZ uses a brilliant Leica lens, shoots in RAW and has an iA (Intelligent auto) function that is almost impossible to trick. The TZ60 is one of the only cameras I know that has a special setting to shoot through aircraft windows producing results better than DSLRs. About $400.

Fujifilm 100S
The 100S is one of a  kind. There's no zoom! Alas! The sky might fall in Chicken Little! And you can't change lenses! Wrist slashing time!  But the 100S has a sensor as big as most DSLR's, low noise at high ISO and is whisper quiet. The 23mm (35mm equivalent) wide angle lens mean the onus for the photography dwells with the photographer NOT the camera. If you have potential as a photographer, especially a photo-journalist, THIS camera will make you a better photographer. The Fujifilm lens is as sharp as a surgeon's scalpel and the retro styling attracts a lot of attention. A superior quality compact for pro's and advanced amateurs.  Its not the size of the camera but the size of the sensor in the camera. The X100S is the 'Kylie Minogue' of compacts. About $1000.

Yallingup beach succulents.  Fujifilm X100. 1/680@f8 320ISO 23mm Forced flash.

Learn the secrets of Creative Fill Flash in my UWA workshop. 

Sunday, 1 June 2014

Has Digital killed off Thinking Photographers?

My friend and photographic colleague Michael Coyne urges photographers to think before they press the shutter.

Ask yourself a couple of questions:
  • Are my images technically correct in terms of exposure, colour and sharpness?
  • Have I given thought to the design or have I simply pointed and shot?
  • Is my visual message simple, clear and bold?
  • Is there a 'hero' on my photo? A person, tree, dog or rock could all be 'heroes'?
  • Did I allow others to view my image or is it hidden under the bed?
  • Did I earn a fair return for my effort? 
  • Did my photograph make someone or group or community feel better?

Leprosarium, Andreh Pradesh, India, Photo: © Dale Neill 2005

Five hundred metres down the road was a leprosarium. My Indian minders warned me the leprosarium was strictly out of bounds for me as a westerner.

The young  girl stepped forward from her group and greeted me enthusiastically. She had no mother and father and lived in the colony with her grandmother who had contracted leprosy. She asked me to photograph her and show the others.


I could just as easily have been sitting in the Blue Duck Cafe in Cottesloe with my retired mates - the teachers, accountants and engineers. Dressed in their slacks and ironed shirts, sipping lattes they would have been discussing their golf handicaps, the stock market and the state of the economy. I chose Andreh Pradesh rather than the Blue Duck.