Saturday Evening Post #127 : Formidable Ancestors

I have been musing the past week over the horrendous floods that have swept through parts of New South Wales. Having lived and worked in the area around Newcastle and Maitland in another universe, I had more than a nodding acquaintance with what ‘High Water Mark’ means. 

What struck me even more were the visuals, both video and still photography, of the rescue operations, and the shattered lives that were saved from the merciless waters.

It took me back, to a photograph that had quite an impact on me as a young lad.  (I’ve searched across the web, and haven’t been able to locate a copy sadly). 
The photograph was taken around 1961 or 1963 as best I can recall.  I’m fairly certain it was taken in Newcastle, or perhaps Maitland, but I do know it was in that area.  I think also, and I’m trying to recall a young lad’s impression of the image, that it was a newspaper front pager. And because of the circumstances I remember the image, it was most likely a Walkley Award winner. 

The photograph showed a small child, and the mother being rescued into a boat from the surrounding waters, with a rescuer in the water with the pair.  What struck me, as a young lad, was, that the child could have been me. And of course the mother, my own Mum, and rescuer any number of people I’d known to help out folk in crisis. 

The impact of the image is important, because it is probably the first photograph I can recall that was more than a record of some event. It carried a personal story—an emotion of the agony of the family, the drama of the rescue and the concern of the man helping in the water. 

Up to then, my interest in learning photography was limited to photos of a cat called “Blackie” in the safety and security of our backyard.  Here in this one image was a world that outside of my childhood interest and I saw how powerful photography could be at storytelling.  So much so that it is probably at that moment the first spark of making photography my life passion was kindled. 

Now of course, as a blog scribe I have to be careful not to read a lifetime of experience back into a childhood lightbulb moment, but the point is that image is one that I can recall, and the magazine I saw it published in travelled with me for quite a few years of my youth.  Sadly one too many moves, and changes of interest, and now, I am bereft of the photo, but hold still the vivid memory. 
As I contemplate it now, it is to my loss, that I didn’t follow through with that initial enthusiasm, and I chose to work in fields other than documentary photography. Yet I feel that every time I press the shutter, something of that lightbulb moment is present. 
I also came across a quote from writer T. S. Eliot this week, he of The Waste Land,  in an essay from 1919. He was deploring the tendency of many critics to only be interested in novelty and difference from other’s work. 

He wrote, “… not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously.’

So I muse, how much of that photographer of the moment of pathos influenced the work I’ve made over the years, and of course how much of my current, and future work.  Rhetorical, I understand.

Here is an image I found while I was searching that was taken several years earlier in the same area, and while not the visual impact of ‘my’ photo, it shows what dreadful impact the floods have on people’s lives. 

This is not the photo I have spoken about, but gives the idea of the work of press photographers at the time

copyright is Newcastle Herald

Now back to the present.
The weather has kept us home the past few days, and #kneetoo has been to a number of medical rounds as the foundation for her new addition.

I took the time to clean the camera, lens and kit, and was outside just checking the focus and things, when Tai Chi pigeon dropped by to see how my practice was going.  Seeing me otherwise engaged it moved to an outside fence, and for just a moment turned toward me against the rich dark shadows of the neighbour’s tree. 

Might not win a Walkley, however I enjoyed the company for just a few moments. As I pressed the shutter, I realised I’d left the exposure set for a much darker scene a few clicks earlier.  Overexposed! Oh dear. A quick twirl of the dial and I was back in the groove.
Which just goes to show, that like all good craft skills, photography needs a dedication to keep sharp for what may happen next. 

Saturday Evening Post #126 : “#kneetoo”

Just in case there is any confusion, the title has little to do with the Black Kite in early morning light

EE has thrown a fetlock. 
Mr An Onymous wrote me a note and called for a new moniker, “#kneetoo”,  seemed appropriate.
We have over the past few weeks been unable to enjoy any real field-time as #kneetoo’s fetlock has been getting more and more painful. 

The pain in the leg, is now, after mri, X-ray, ultrasound, poking and pushing, and oh and ahh ing, identified as a damaged fetlock. Or in layman’s terms, a dicky-knee. 
So it’s off the operating theatre for our heroine and a nice sparkling knee-replacement thank you. 
She will be able to walk about before we all know it,  and in conversations over coffee, exclaim, “Oh, yes, me too!” Hence, if you follow the somewhat obscure logic that occasionally flows from this blog, #kneetoo
Mr Slice and Dice is going to turn on his electric drill, angle grinder and sanding machine after a short wait of about 6 weeks, so it seems.
In the meantime a round of X-rays and mri’s should keep our girl occupied over the next couple of weeks.
Now you know.
We’ve survived a long covid lockdown, so have learned to deal with being house-bound.


 A sunny morning promised some good photo opportunities and as we’d only had one brief visit to the Western Treatment Plant since this time last year, it seemed a good time to reacquaint ourselves.  Working “The Plant” gives #kneetoo an opportunity to photograph from IamGrey, without getting out and walking about a lot.  
So, as The Banjo said, ‘We went’

We timed our departure to coincide with sun rise, (about 7:20am Daylight saving time). Too early for light on the birds, but cleverly timed so that with a stop off at barista Steve’s for a morning cappuccino, #kneetoo would be ready for the day’s activities.

By the time we had opened the Point Wilson Road gate, the sun was streaming over the pines around the pumping station along Paradise Road.” As we headed past the pine trees on the road to Ryan’s Swamp, #kneetoo pointed at a Black Kite enjoying the early morning sunshine. The reason I’ve chosen this shot is it is the same tree that was in last weeks post. (#125) Now, I can’t claim it’s the same bird. So I won’t.


This time I travelled on past the bird, turned around and slowly drove back.  Now the bird was on #kneetoo’s side of the vehicle and all I had to do was work the mobile camera platform (IamGrey) in position.  “A little to the left, forward. Stop. No, just a bit further. Oh, the mirror is in the way, reverse a bit.” Etc ,etc, etc.
It might seem a complicated task, but as we used to photograph motorsport rallies and classic car tours using a similar technique— she photographing out the window—while I drove and navigated at the same time, together with having  to watch for approaching or turning cars, made doing it at a sedate speed on an open farm road feel quite relaxed.
The gracious Kite was neither impressed or concerned.  
However I thought the light on this particular one was as good example of how rich early morning light plays its own magic on the shape and form of the feathers.  The golden glow of that low-Kelvin temp light also brings out the richness of the colours.  Hard to believe they have the name, ‘Black’.
All in all a good start to the morning.

Little Visits: What’s on the Menu

Looks like WordPress have put the skids under my basic blogging style.

From now on it seems I have to work with ‘upmarket’, ‘ubeaut’ ‘user friendly’ styles and blocks.

All I wanted was somewhere to put text and photos.
Does not augur well for on this server.

Whinge over.

We soon became aware of working with the Kingfishers as they fed the young that the light was only really useful on the nesting site for about 45 minutes in the early morning, after that the sunlight slipped behind the river gums and we were going to be hampered by slow shutter speeds and high iso.

It’s been awhile since I lugged large electronic flash about on to a site for photographs, but loaded up each morning with a couple of units, a Better Beamer flash extender, and some connecting cables and I setup to get a little flash fill and also keep the shutter speeds high. No tech explanation, but the Nikon system’s use of flash was why we originally bought into the system. Oh, yeah and a bunch of manual focus lenses we were going to use, and now only have one of those left, and its been in the garage box for years! 🙂

High (about a 1 and 1/2 metre up) and to the left gave the most ‘natural’ effect, following the sunlight. But in the end I settled on high (about 1 metre) and to the right as giving me a slightly better colour rendition and better looking fill of the shadows.

As the weeks went by, the different types of food they delivered ranged from small bugs and centipedes, skinks, crustaceans, and every so often small fish.

This is a collection of about 3 weeks of images from that time. It’s just a handful of some of the opportunities we shared with the birds.


Saturday Evening Post #125 : Simples

Front light is one of our most basic light forms.

Nicéphore Niépce used it for his first ‘heliograph’ made in 1826 or 27.  An 8 hour or more exposure taken through an upstairs window of his Burgundy estate.

Front light was the staple light of George Eastman’s Kodak. The small aperture and low sensitivity meant that bright light was indeed the order of the day.

The (in)Famous “Sunny Sixteen Rule” relies on bright sunshine—a couple of hours after sunup and before sundown— to give correct exposure.

I admit to still using a variation of the Sunny Sixteen, when I shoot in M for Manual on the D500. Normally I use ISO400, and f/5.6 on the 500mm PF with a shutter speed of 1/2500-for white birds 1/3200.  The good old Reciprocity Rule at work before your very eyes.

My dear old Mum’s favourite photo-adage, “Keep the sun over your left shoulder dear”, is just another variation on that theme.

Front Light in sunny daylight gives beginners several advantages:
The subject is evenly lit.
No heavy shadows to spoil the colours. The shadows fall away behind the subject.
Colours are rich and expressive.
Metering is easy, or just the Sunny 16.
The form and shape are lost in a flat looking surface.
A uplifting, bright mood is established.

And of course a couple of disadvantages:
Lack of Drama (most times)
Lack of form and shape because of the loss of shadows
Hard for subject not to squint as they peer toward the bright light.
Birds tend to look away for the same reason, and perhaps because it’s easier to see prey in the bird’s front light.

So on any given day in the field, my first choice is Mum’s Rule. But of course it depends on the mood I want.
Light coming from behind the subject robs us of rich colour and often detail.

So it is not without consequence that EE and I were out at the Western Treatment Plant on a sunny afternoon.

We found the Black Kite sitting conspicuously on a branch high on a tree near the roadway.
We slowed and stopped, the light was coming from behind the bird and the most we really could see was a shape in shadow.

I glanced in the rear view mirror and several cars were coming up behind us. We had stopped well off the road, so there was plenty of room to pass.  To my surprise, they too stopped, several cameras with people attached got out, some cameras stayed in the cars with the windows wound down.  A few shutter clicks, and quick ‘chimp’ at the results, and the vehicles moved on looking for something else to record.

I didn’t have to see the results to know they had a black, Black Kite. All shadow, no detail.
After the dust settled and with the bird still in good view, we moved up the roadway about 75m, and the Kite was now in “full front, sunlight”, dial in the sunny 16, and increase the shutter speed slightly to keep the highlights in the feathers, wait, wait, wait for a head turn, there is the eye catchlight. Click. Job done.

I know in the field, the excitement of seeing a bird is more than enough to make a record shot. I’ve got half a disk-drive full of them.  But getting the best colour, or mood or feel takes a few moment to consider the vision that I have of the results, and then making the necessary steps to work to achieve that.

Do I always use front light?  No, is the loud reply. But it is my light of choice if I am after those rich feather colours and details



PS: For Nikon Users Only. Canon and Sony users, move along-nothing to see here. 🙂
Over on ArtfromSience web site, Ed Dozier has an interesting test series on the Auto Focus on the D500, D850, D6.  His methods and conclusion bring some interesting thoughts to the accuracy and how to get the best out of it, of the Nikon AF system. Hope it helps.
Optimizing Autofocus Efficiency in Nikons



Little Visits: The Steady Procession

Having found our needle in the haystack, we made plans to visit regularly to see how things were progressing.

Because of the situation of the tree in question, it kind of determined an early morning start. Which in hindsight turned out to have several advantages. And of course the obvious dis. Getting up and rolling just after sunup.  Daylight saving is never high on my must have lists. As early starts have one other dis.  The day becomes very long.  Good excuse for a ‘nanna nap,’ I hear you cry. 🙂

The general layout of the area helped a lot too.  Kingfishers are pretty fussy about location, so there were several branches that became favoured perches for checking things out before delivering food, and also to get the right angle of attack to sweep into the nest, deposit the food and depart.

The average person in the bush would not notice ‘corridors’ through the trees, but no so Kingfishers.  It took us several visits to work out where they were coming from, and so could be prepared, and where, on leaving, they were disappearing to.

While they were still sitting eggs, the food visits were around the hour or so, usually a little longer. Once the young were hatched, the time between appearances was within 20 minutes or so.  Both adults were involved in the feeding.

Here is a selection from that first couple of weeks.  It was interesting to note that food sources were varied. After cleaning out the skinks, they moved on to centipedes and the like, and occasionally some aquatic fare as well.

Saturday Evening Post #124: Sneak Attack

I don’t have too many closeup or head on shots of Swamp Harriers.

Our local area of rivers, a few large water storages and of course the wonderful bird haven at the Western Treatment Plant all carry their fair share of “Swampies”.


It is said, that a Swamp Harrier can see the flea on a dog at 40 Kilometres.
I’ve always thought that might be a bit of an exaggeration, and it would more likely be around 38 km 😉

They also have a total, “Zero Tolerance Policy for Human Beings.” This means they will turn away at the slightest chance of human presence. There are stories of Swampies abandoning a nest when the young are just days from fledging, if the area is compromised by human activity.

So your average photographer around Swampies ends up with lots of flying away back shots.  Showing the colour of its tail as it stretches out to put as much distance as possible between them and us.

They will always have a glance behind to be sure of the source of their concern. So, we accumulate a fair number of bird looking back under or over wing as it powers away.

I’ve sat motionless in the reeds, camera at the ready, while a Swampie makes its way slowly, surely and with great care along the edge of a reed bed. I’m sure that they can spot the mirror going up when I press the shutter and by the time the mirror has come back down again, the bird is already turning away. Perhaps another reason to ponder using a mirrorless camera?

Not only do they hunt from a distance, but they also patrol just above the water line with sweeps over a likely reed bed.  This is a head down absolute dedicated to the task at hand operation.
I’ve probably said before, but I think they have some sort of mapping system that they check against.  If there is a change to what they see to the ‘map’ the airbrakes go on and a much closer investigation begins.
Same map alerts them to a photographer, cleverly sitting in the reeds with camera gear and self all cleverly cameoed up.  That lump wasn’t there before!  Is it food? No!  A danger!  Turn Now. And they do.

This bird was on investigation duty along the edge of bund. It swept high, and low, running across the water, pulling back to gain some height. A cleverly co-ordinated sweep of the area.

I held my breath, I was ‘hull down’ on the other side of the bund, so it hadn’t shifted its gaze that far ahead, and would only have spotted the camera and me from the shoulders up.

Finally I couldn’t hold on any longer and let off a burst, and a split second later the bird had turned and was gone.

I was using the amazing Nikon D500 PSUEDO eye-recognition autofocus and it maintained focus even though the bird was disappearing behind the canola growing on the side of the bund.

After last week’s Saturday Evening Post, about eye-recognition, I couldn’t help myself and this shot seemed to fit so well.
The PSUEDO af is really only single spot focus, kept on the bird’s head.  The D500 does the rest.-)

Bonus Night, here are three from the sequence

I was concentrating on the bird as much as it was on its hunting and didn’t see the grasses until I looked at the shot on screen.

Now I see you.

Peeling away from danger.

Little Visits: Like a Needle in a Haystack

…. or a Kingfisher in a Forest.

“Found It”, the text message said.  Neil A. and I both smiled.
We had been photographing the nesting Hobbys and EE had decided to leave us, and venture further on down into the forest to look for a pair of nesting Sacred Kingfishers.
Sacred Kingfishers are not noted for putting up a Neon Arrow pointing the way, and to say that sacred could also be interpreted as ‘furtive’ would not be pushing the language too far.

Sacred Kingfishers in our area come down from up north in late Spring and after a lot of calling through the forest, select a suitable small opening in an old tree and move in.
They don’t spend a lot of time sitting around contemplating their next move. The most we usually see is a flash of green and blue disappearing into the forest.

The one upside is that they have a particular ‘skcrrrarrk’ call when they are near the nest.  They also are able to sit perfectly still for many minutes and because of their colour set will simply blend into the surrounding forest colours.

However, with several seasons under her belt, and eyesight and intuition that must have been handed down through the gene pool for generations, Neil and I both had our money on EE’s ability.

The ring on my phone, announced in the absolute minimum of words, that the hideout was located.  Neil had other places to go, and so we parted company and I headed on into the scrub. Now, my challenge was not to locate the Kingfisher nest, but rather to hopefully find EE, another needle in a very large haystack.

To my surprise she wasn’t too far from where we’d spied a bird a few days before, just off a main track.

Another succinct conversation. “There.”

Well, I could see a number of trees with holes that might have been useful. A pair of Red-rumped Parrots popped their heads out of one, and a fierce looking pair of Rainbow Lorikeets seemed to have another hole staked out. So I eliminated them from the search.

“He’s coming”, EE called, and in short time a male Sacred Kingfisher turned up on a branch not that far from where we were standing.

He sat.

Twirling a small skink in his beak, he sat.

Then a few wing-flaps and he had delivered the meal to a hole in an old tree just across a small dry water course.
“Oh, there.”

We concluded that he was feeding the good lady as she was sitting on the eggs. And perhaps an hour or so later she poked her head out, and then flew before we even had a chance to press a shutter.

Now we knew.
Time to plan a full scale Expotition as  Winnie the Pooh would say.
“Pooh tells Rabbit about the Expotition (which he says is a sort of boat, which might not be exactly right, but we shall have to wait and see.

But in the meantime we were watching it unfold.

Yawning as he contemplates going out for the next hunt, or laughing at the futile attempts to locate the nest.

Checking out the unwanted attention

Food up. Delivering top up snacks to the female sitting on the nest. It is quite a tiny hole.


Sometimes the transfer fails and he has to make another turn around.

All good. Time to go.

A quick peak to make sure all is clear and the like a bolt of green and blue she was out of the nest and away.

More as they say, to follow.