Saturday Evening Post #107: Matching the Mood

Hotdiggity.  We’re gunna commit photography.

After last week’s Saturday Evening Post #106, I felt like continuing with the voice behind the light photo skills exploration.

There are many studio lighting ‘sets’. One of the more challenging is sometimes referred to as the light of “Comic Book Villains”.

Split Lighting.

A variation of side lighting. A main light source is used at 90 degrees to the subject-camera plane. It provides light to one side of the subject, and shadow to the other side.

It is not the most flattering light for portraits.
It does add its own feel of dark mood to the subject—hence the ‘villain’ nickname.

Split lighting has quite a number of moods to offer.  One of the most useful is a feeling of conviction-assurance-confindence and sureness. It was used to great effect during the 1930s and 40s for movie starlets. A hint of mystery and  intrigue.

More recently I’ve noticed its been used in movie posters for ‘action’ style stories.
Lord of the Rings, Casino Royale, Lethal Weapon 4, Parker just to mention a few.  No, don’t watch them, I’m not doing movie reviews, just poster examples.
I once worked with a company that licensed the use of the Lethal Weapon 4 poster as an overlay for an entertainment centre experience. But. That is definitely another story.

It is also a very useful product in studio light, and has worked a treat for quite a number of car brochures.  Both Apple and Samsung have used a variation recently for their offerings.

The one thing about it is that the subject is always facing square on to the camera. The other day we were out with some Black-shouldered Kites.  The lighting was, well, overcast.

The grey sky was typical Rochester New York, 18% Grey. Now for those who don’t recall.  Rochester NY was (is) the home of the Eastman Kodak Company, some may have heard of them, they used to manufacture stuff called filum.
They also produced a device to help determine correct exposure. The R-27 Kodak Neutral Test Card. One side was 90% reflectance, White.  The other 18% Gray (note American spelling). It has been said that the 18% was chosen as it matched the grey skies of Rochester NY. It is not true that the sun never shines in Rochester, nor is it true that 18% reflectance is the average scene reflectance, but, tonight I won’t pursue that. Nor will I tell tales of the 8ft snow dump on the streets one winter.

The male has been named Bronson by my flickr mate, David Nice.
Bronson is a white and grey bird on a grey porridge sky. Think merge.

Then by one of those quirks of nature the clouds cleared momentarily and the early morning light brushed over Bronson’s side and he looked directly at me, and I had a Split Light subject and shot.

Gives him that awesome presence he deserves.

One frame was all I needed, and then porridge oozed back over and the moment was gone.

Saturday Evening Post #106: For the Love of Light

Someone once said, “Everything that comes from the camera, comes from the heart (Source: Your humble editor)

Now you might instantly think of some of the great emotive pictures that have been taken. The sharing of precious intimate moments between a grandmother and granddaughter perhaps.  The smile of proud family members at a graduation. The joy and delight of opening a special present.
All heart sharing experiences.

Alternatively you might recall photographs that have told of less happy moments or have shown  in great graphic details the destruction of the earth’s resources or man’s inhumanity toward fellow earth inhabitants.
All heart sharing experiences.

But.   There are other times when photographs are taken, merely in a mechanical or perhaps perfunctory way.
A tourist steps out of the bus into some historically important area, snaps of 2 or 3 shots, and goes into the local bistro for a meal.
Recently I saw some photos taken at the Grand Canyon.  Most of the people in the photo were more engrossed in what was on their mobile phone than the vista around them.
Heart sharing experiences still. But a heart that is not invovled in the mood, feeling or light of the moment.

As photographers we used to talk a lot about the “Language of Light”. Nowadays the discussion is almost always about what creative style, filter or add-on that can be applied in post production. My guess is because the heart is not in the photo experience, but is enamoured by some ‘Wow factor’ the designer has chosen.

Joe McNally, has a video training programme called “The Language of Light”. Joe has developed a visual style that is somewhat easily recognised. Great use of light, clever settings, the right model, and brilliant use of the medium.

In my formative years the concepts of the Language of Light was a major skill that was ‘drilled’ into neophytes. One of my early mentors spoke of it as, “We start with a dark canvas-the shadows- and we paint on that canvas with our brushes- the light.  Each stroke reveals a little about our subject.  When we have revealed enough, we stop. The remaining shadows help to set the mood.”

We were required to be able to discuss some of the major elements of the language.
The Direction. Where was the light coming from. Front, side, back, overhead, diffuse etc.

The Colour. These days we fiddle with White Balance, but it used to be called Colour Temperature.  Blues tend toward cool, Reds tend to stir the senses. Greens can be calming. These days there’s a slider for that. 🙂

The Quality. Hard midday sun, soft diffused, rim light, chiaroscuro. And how we handle it with scrims, flash fill, diffusers and filters.

The Quantity. And how we handle exposure. Too much, the mood might be lost, too little we struggle for delineation of the subject. Good light-bad light. Or perhaps just light that doesn’t match the subject or mood.

As learning photographers, we had to be able to discuss those terms at length, and sure enough on the end-of-the-year exam paper would be such a question.

Q 123. (5 points)
You are given a white china plate and a polished silver fork. Discuss your choice of light and what steps you would take to keep the detail of the plate while maintaining the filagree of the fork. (Use a diagramme if necessary)

Huh!, If necessary.  If you didn’t sketch at least one or more lighting designs you’d only get one mark, no matter if you filled three pages of detailed explanation. 🙂

These days no doubt it would be a multiple choice on some moodle platform. Simply fill in the check box of choice. No diagrams needed.

Q. 2
You are making an Instagram emoji. What lighting consideration would you choose.

A. Google to find latest trending style
B. None, my iphone 2345 doesn’t need light
C. Check to be sure that the lighting is not being exploited by underpaying third world profiteers
4. Not a relevant question.

The one thing that always seems to be missing from the discussions is the mood.  What is the maker really trying to express.  What indeed is coming from the heart.

We had an early morning start the other day, and by sheer chance the weather presented us with some fine rolling mists.

It was good to be able to enjoy the light playing on the shapes and shadows.


Saturday Evening Post #104: Everyone Right to Go?

Every day for the past 100+ days Victoria’s Premier, Daniel Andrews, has started the daily covid press conference asking, “Everyone right to go?”
So much so that a clip of a number of his beginnings have been put together and you can find  it here. I don’t do Twitter so hopefully this will link through ok

Yes, Mr Premier, we are indeed Right to Go. Please.

In Saturday Evening Post, #87: The fine art of procrastination, I rambled on a bit about the huge amount of uncurated photos I had languishing my photo library and my lack of motivation to do anything about it. Why wade through photos from 2011, when I’m certain to have shots that are better, technically improved, more meaningful than those older efforts.
So the photos continued to glug up the hard-drive(s).

Not being able to get out has  plagued (if you’ll pardon the poor pun), my photo enjoyment and the ability to share new work here, and on Flickr among other places.
So to amuse myself I started a little game of opening a year, and then clicking randomly on a month and then day and viewing the shots that showed up. Some were, to say the least worse than I had anticipated. Did I really photograph that!!!!! ?

But just occasionally a little gem would pop up, and my Flickr friends will have seen a few of them over the past couple of weeks.

Time as they say, marches on, and one morning I was messing about in 2011 folder, and I thought, “Why don’t I just delete these ordinary photos.”
So, I did.

It felt good.

I moved the next day, and soon had whittled it down from 75 also rans to 4 keepers.

I was on a roll.
By the end of the day, I had a mere 1,400 images from my efforts of 2011.  And some of them I would be happy to use.  Given that I had been out and shot for 235 of those 365 days, that works out at about 6 shots per trip. Many had less, 2 or 3 being much more average. Events like a nesting or special encounter might have up to 12 or more.

Hardly exciting stuff, but when I tackled 2010 the following day, I was both inspired and a man on fire. 2009, then 2008, then 2007 quickly followed during the week. And as the image count dropped, the gigabytes of images soon fell as well, and that gave me more enthusiasm for the project.

The challenge of course will be to keep the momentum going as I move toward the later years, and I might well—thanks to Dan—be back out in the field soon anyway.

Our Red-capped Robin is from the 2007 series. This was one of the first years that I was out in Woodlands. The camera was my trusty Nikon D90 and the lens was a Sigma 150-500m f/5.0-6.3 zoom.(it was filling in while my main lens was off at the camera hospital being repaired after a dreadful accident in 90kph+ winds).  The rig was mounted on a Manfrotto tripod, and a Markins Q10 ball-head held it all secure.

Which again shows how I’ve changed, as I rarely shoot from the tripod rig anymore. The nifty little Nikon 500mm f/5.6 PF is handheld all the time.

Another change for the better is the use of modern NEF, (raw) converters.

I’m off now to charge up the batteries, and tomorrow hopefully we’ll be able to take some baby steps out into the wider world and begin to feel once again at home in the field.

Yes, Dan. We are indeed Right to Go.

Saturday Evening Post #102: Making things happen

Oh, ok, it’s not a bird picture.

No, I haven’t run out of images. Just happens that I’ve been sorting through the photo-library, and giving it a bit of Jenny Craig love and slimming it down by some 15 thousand also ran pics.

I came across this set, and thought it might be a change to share a little behind the image.

Because, there is more going on than at first would be noticed.

Backstory.  Mr An Onymous and I were invited to a Nikon Camera Launch night at a Go-Kart track to try out some of Nikon’s latest products, and as we both had pre-ordered we did have a teensy vested interest in getting our hands on the gear.

At the time I was shooting a lot with the little Nikon V1, a much maligned camera on this very blogsite, but I had mellowed a bit.

Along with being able to use the cameras/lenses and flash, participants also got to do a few laps, to get the adrenalin pumping.

The area was divided up into various stations, each of which concentrated on one aspect or equipment style.

I chose to use the little VI and took the opportunity to get a hand on some of the small system lenses as well as a few of the normal F mount lenses.

I was working with some of the zoom lenses and shooting at the exit of a particularly tight corner on the circuit.  Slow shutter speeds and large apertures were the go.  From the island in the center of the corner the boys and girls where trying out the latest and greatest flash units.

It dawned on me that if I shot of a burst, then perhaps the flash from the other photographers would on occasion sync with me and I’d get a great look of the light coming from a side angle.
It did.
Given there were about 10 people using flash at the time, I was able to get many bursts with at least one flash shot.
Add a slow shutter speed to give the feel of speed, and the rest was easy.

I like this one, as the limited spread of the flash has meant the front driver was not highlighted by the flash.

Who said photographing birds was tough.

Tech Specs.

Nikon V1, 70-200mm f/4, ISO 3200 1/30 @f/4


It must have been a successful night as Mr An, still tells the story that the following day, I went out and bought a zoom lens for the little V1 🙂

Laying on the Speed

Saturday Evening Post #101 : Making Us Something

Go to the people.
Live with them. Learn from them. 
Love them. 
Start with what they know. 
Build with what they have. 
But with the best leaders, when the work is done, the task accomplished, 
the people will say We have done this ourselves

Lao Tzu

As a young photographer learning the ‘craft’ was not about sitting in a classroom taking in facts, comparing oneself to others, and straining to meet the expectations of a system-guided-scorecard.  The right composition, the right camera technique, correct processing the ability to talk to the theory of lighting, exposure, physics, lens design and meeting the necessary passing marks to gain a qualification. Add interminable hours of Occupational Health and Safety issues these days.

My journey, at least in the main, was through a series of tutors, some of which paid me to clean the studio, others that I paid in my own time, to learn from, and a few that with hindsight was simply wasted time.

I press the shutter on the camera standing on the shoulders of great ones who have gone before me.

We are, I fear, accustomed to ‘doing the hard yards’ over the books, and that will lead to ‘success’ in the field.

The wonderful mentors that I had the opportunity to ‘disciple’ with, were not so much interested in teaching facts, theory, or even skillsets. They thought of it more of what it means to make me a better photographer. Teaching to them was not so I could learn ‘stuff’, but what it would make of my craft.  Learning to calculate depth of field,(DOF) and doing it on the back of a napkin, does not mean I can transpose that into a photograph sometime in the future.  Say, with a 180mm lens on a 4×5 Linhof Technika with a subject at 5m, gives a DOF of   31mm in front, and 35mm behind the subject. But what the great ones wanted to know is how does that affect the end result of the photograph. Knowing the theory becomes very much a, “So what is the use of it”.

If all the teacher could impart was that I needed to do was get the exposure right for the highlights, or process the print for the ultimate rich black, or hold the shadows to allow the form to show, then it  leads more to despair than growth. What if I fail the test?

Setting tests for what I know, only separates me from the subject. The story.  The involvement. The message that the viewer should take away.
What I end up with is a carbon copy of what my instructor would have done. True mentors fire the inspiration within me, looking not only to what I have just experienced, but all that I have yet to be.

Someone once said, of 20 years in a business, “Have you had 20 years of growing and honing your craft, or have you just had One year Twenty times over?”

It is not meant to teach us something, but to make us something. The classroom may fill with useful knowledge, but it’s out in the field when all that  stands behind us as a foundation, where we humbly struggle with the story of our subject in front of our lens that true mentorship is rewarded.

Addendum, because every Melburnian needs a Laugh

Saturday Evening Post #100: Settling

Gotta admit when I started Saturday Night Posts, I didn’t know that I’d have made it to 100 posts. 🙂

Do you have the patience
to wait till your mud settles
and the water is clear?
Can you remain unmoving
till the right action arises by itself?
Lao Tzu.

Part of a much longer description of “The Masters”, from Chapter 15 of Lao Tzu’s Tao Te Ching.

The main point being Patience. I’ve totted it up, it seems that by the time we are able regain some real freedom from the lockdown, I will have spent more days at home this year, than days being free to move about.  Not much of a record really.

So I am indeed waiting for the right action to arise by itself.

Tai Chi Pigeon, (a Spotted Dove) has been giving her own version of all this the past few weeks.

After much courting and mateship displays I thought that she would have been setting up a house for her precious young and already been sitting on eggs.
But, No.

She’s been sitting on the fence, literally, for the past few weeks.

Then yesterday morning the mud must have settled.
I want it to settle quickly, I want to be out and about in relative freedom.

Tai Chi pigeon on the other hand  has simply has been waiting. Having the patience of her species to wait for the way to clear. She remained unmoving until the right action arose.  Then, she began.

It is not a wonder to me that the ancient documents, like Lao Tzu’s, the parables of the Carpenter from Nazareth, Egyptian stories, the Original People’s of Australia and the Americas, the list is quite long, all make use of observations from their around.
The return of a bird, the blossoming of a tree, the melting of ice, or the flooding of a river, each in its own way are exemplars of waiting for the way to become clear.

Tai Chi pigeon had found her ideal nesting spot, under the eave of the next-door neighbour’s pergola. The rest  of the morning was a frantic backwards and forwards with increasingly large sticks to complete her little home.
Not that they are noted for their nest building creativity. A few sticks, bundled up, and everybody sits and hangs on. 🙂
Last year it was the standard rose in the house across the road, then two failed attempts in a small ornamental tree, the branches of which were hardly strong enough to support the dove’s weight, let along withstand the rigours of use and weather.

So while I wait feverishly the end of our lockdown, Tai Chi pigeon, has offered me another little lesson in waiting.
Because she is ready for whatever happens. Things don’t have to be just so… Things just have to be the way they are.


Saturday Evening Post #99 : Back to the 80s

My Ballarat connection daughter, Face-timed the other night. She is a girl of the 80s and we started to talk about the songs of that era, and the parody they are now to the current Lockdown restrictions.

It kind of ended up with us rolling on the floor laughing as we tried to recall as many as we could that had something to say about our current situation. Our politicians haven’t helped by adding such euphemisms as “Getting on the Bus” and “Roadmap Forward”, which no doubt could in themselves make great song titles.
I, of course was at a disadvantage as most of my recollection of the times was telling her to “turn that music down”

Here is a hit parade we came up with. Not in any real order, but it made us smile.

  1.  ACCA DACCA:  “Highway to Hell
  2. The Police: “Don’t stand so close to me”
  3. U2 “With or without you”
  4. Talking Heads: “Road to Nowhere.”
  5. Whitney Houston: “I wanna dance with somebody”
  6. INXS: “Never Tear Us Apart”
  7. Bowie and Queen: “Under Pressure”
  8. Queen: “I want to break free” or “Another one bites the dust” (we were getting silly then)
  9. Fleetwood Mac: “Everywhere”
  10. edited UPDATE Dire Straits: “So Far Away”… from me.
  11. Cyndi Lauper: “Girls just want to have fun”,
    I let that in as I thought of two more, although not really 80s
  12. Elvis: “In the Ghetto” and SkyHooks, “Horror Movies, the Six Thirty News”In the end we had a giggle and it gave me some food for thought

My Saturday morning read these days includes a topical piece by Virginia Trioli, on how the lockdown has left many feeling broken, and how most of our communication is via screen, through glass or from behind a mask.

But, one of the things she shared is a link to a new Bruce Springsteen release, “Letter to You”.  You can find the vid at the bottom of her piece.

Now I have to say its pretty much typical Bruce, he is a great entertainer, but to me, after awhile they do begin to sound the same, I once used his, “My hometown”, for an event, so I’m not unsympathetic.
His “Streets of Philadelphia” for the Tom Hanks movie is really quite a sensitive statement.
So back to “Letter to You”
It’s worth a  look at the vid, as it’s all been shot in black and white, most of it in stills, and most in the studio where I presume the song was put down.
Turn the music down, and watch the clarity and expressions that the mono vision brings out.   Says a lot about the power of photojournalism to reach into the soul of the moment.

Saturday Evening Post #98: Back to the Future

“The sanest man Sets up no deed, Lays down no law, 
Takes everything that happens as it comes, 
As something to animate, not to appropriate, 
To earn, not to own, 
To accept naturally without self-importance:
If you never assume importance You never lose it..”
Lao Tzu

One of the blog posts I regularly follow has been that of Ming Thein (MT)
Over the years his insight into the creative photo process and his attention to detail in technique has always offered new ideas and directions. His clear and reasoned explanations of the elements of a photograph, form, shape, tone, texture, point of view and the like, has always been interesting, and I have to say that not always did I agree, but that is part of the fun of looking at someone’s work.
But MT has called his blog time over.

In the same week, Kirk Tuck over at Visual Science Lab is also calling an end to his current blog as he is off to pursue some video options.

“I see myself writing less and less about new photography gear and new picture making practices. ..  I’m not anxious to watch my writing devolve into some personal pathos about lost life opportunities, bad decision making, therapy or diets. Or “how we did things in the golden age of photography.”
I have recently (finally) come to grips with the whole concept that, in what’s left of the commercial imaging world, you can do quite well with a smart phone and a suite of programs to enhance your smartphone photos, with less hassle and less time spent than “doing them the right way.”

Sad to see them both go, but fully understand their individual reasons.

Truth be told, as the weeks of lockdown have deteriorated into months, that I find it much  more difficult to warp out words that are relevant and encouraging. There are only so many stories from my own ‘golden age of photography’, only so much pathos that I’d be inclined to share online.

Saw an ad on the tv the other night (Yes, you read that right. Me, watching tv), from Apple. The tag line was, Taken[and Edited] on an iPhone, lots of flashy coloured splashes, and some clever image size, and perspective things to ponder over, and it just confirmed to me that the future of photography is going to do what it has always done.  Change, evolve and find new markets, new vision and new visual experiences.

In another life I once made a presentation at a major photographic convention, just at the turn of digital, and indicated as photographers we have always been “on the cutting edge” of technology.
In the beginning we used to shoot only glass plates, then flexible film.
We began with Monochrome Images, who would have thought of colour.
Rangefinder cameras gave way to Single Lens Reflex.
Bulky studio lights gave way to sparkling electronic flash
Formal indoor portraits became rich environmental, tomorrow pictures (as Don Nibbelink coined).
Digital began for us as scanning from negatives and transparencies. Now we think in terms of 61Megapixel sensors and look beyond that.
Not unsurprisingly at the time, a lot of what I said was dismissed as ‘activist nonsense’ by the organisers.

And as my Tai Chi Master would say,  “If an art is simply a repetition, then it will fade and die.  For the Art  to live on and grow it must find opportunity to express the old in new ways”.

Me, I’m looking forward to our times in the field. To look for and work with the birds again.  To hopefully bring back some new fresh stories of our amazing natural world.

Been delving through the archives of late.  Not much else to do really, amazing to find moments or opportunities with birds that I had overlooked.

White-winged Choughs are a favourite bird. I am happy to spend hours in their company. Many will tell they  find them difficult to photograph. To the contrary, I’ve sat on logs in the forest and have them hunt over the log, around my feet and sit on the log and preen.  Talking all the time.
Choughness is a compelling life.

This one was only a few seconds before the ‘guard’ in the tree. The communal life means they share various activities among the flock. It had been relieved of its sentry duty and wafted down to enjoy a rummage among the leaf-litter.

Looking forward to the ‘Roadmap Ahead’ tomorrow, or as Sean McCaullif said, “With all this social-distancing, what is the point of being a Hermit!”


Saturday Evening Post #96: Eavesdropping

I don’t know about anyone else, but seriously, I’m seriously over Zooming, Youtube tutorials on just about every subject there is. Youtube product reviews, that are simply biased every which way, and the “We’re all in this together” mantra.  I just don’t get it. The number of vidiotclips I’ve watched on how to make the most of my post-processing, are hardly entertaining, nor that well filled with actual instruction, and a lot of waffling (well, I shouldn’t complain about that too much should I, dear blog reader), and in the end not all that helpful for the types of problems I’m trying to solve. Not everyone is making (thank goodness) 34 frame HDR landscapes.
Joe McNally said it best, ” Post is not a hospital for poor camera handling technique.”

Must be the weather, or it’s hard to be a non-photographing photographer, or perhaps a non-plumbing plumber, we just can’t get out to our subjects, (well ok, a plumber can do emergency calls)

Eavesdropping is different.  Listening to two totally invovled photographers in discussion about many elements of the craft, and little snippets of value seem to drift out, hoping to be cherished beyond the intimate discussion, and landing every so vapour-like on an eager ear. Something to build on.  Or perhaps, slipping slowly across the void, hitting the wall or ceiling and lost forever.

We, EE, I and David Nice, have spent many hours with the nesting kites and their energetic young. It’s like eavesdropping on their lives. Waiting for an instant that is more than just another kite shot, but a real insight into their lives, a sensitivity for the moment. Learning a little about what it’s like to be a Black-shouldered Kite. I spoke with a long time friend today, about the excitement of being close enough to see the feathers rise and fall as the bird breathes.  You don’t get that on vidiot.:-)

Here is one snippet that I meant to publish when I spoke of Rodney Smith in Saturday Evening Post #93, Speaking Privately.
You can see the full text here. But here is the eavesdropped version.

Rodney was photographing the Chief Executive Officer for a corporation.
He says, “I’d learned over the years that the play for power and control was simply fear… if you could earn their trust, they were willing to be truly vulnerable and powerful subjects.
The CEO walked in and said, “I’m very busy, let’s get this over as soon as possible.”
Everybody, the people who hired the people who hired me are sweating.  Time is motionless.
Smith asks him to stand in one place, look directly at the camera, takes one picture and says, “Ok, that’s it, you can go now.”

Subject says, “Are you serious? That’s it”.

Smith replies, “I believe you have a competent picture equal to the effort you’ve put in to that experience and I’m willing to accommodate your need for speed. If you have some time in the future, and are willing, together we can produce something of far more substance, but now, that one frame will be enough.”

He leaves, everyone else leaves (quietly), Smith packs up and heads down the hallway.
Just about out, and the secretary says “He would love to see you in his office.” Smith is then shown some photos of houses that the CEO owns, and offers that he would love to be photographed in one of those locations where he would have more time.

“If one opens up to me, I’ll give them my heart and soul… the picture is bigger and stronger than me. It is sacred and worth fighting for.   What starts with a handshake in the end is an intimate embrace.”

I was sitting on the grass, at the edge of a foot-bike path.  The young kites were intrigued by the concrete and the grass and whatever might be in the grass.  Every-so often their concentration was broken by a bike-rider hurtling past, but they quickly came back to investigate.
This one was working its way up the footpath towards me. Could it see me? Of course. Did it change its approach because I was there, No not one bit.

Holding my breath, and trying to avoid camera shake, and suddenly it rose up, flew toward me, and landed on the grass. I could see the feathers rise and fall.




Saturday Evening Post #94: From the Notebook

“How ya Doin!”
Eddie Murphy Beverly Hills Cop

Shout out to all who are in Lockdown at the moment. We are at the end of week one with five to go.
It’s kinda like the job that just has to be done. Like vacuuming under the couch, or taking out the rubbish.

After the past few Posts I thought I’d try a lighter look at what has accumulated in my Notebook.

When I was still an apprentice, an early mentor introduced me to carrying and even better, making notes in a Daybook. I have, I guess been an inveterate note collector ever since. In the early days, notes of film type, lighting, camera settings studio setups filled many a page.
I came across one of those books a long time back (since lost again unfortunately) that had diagrammes of set design or location details for shots that I didn’t even recall making.

I even went through a “Yellow PostIt Note” phase.  Just about everywhere you looked in the workroom were magazines, books, tabletops and equipment with little yellow notes with scribbled details.

Or excepts from some book or movie or activity that I thought I might work on.

These days, I confess, I clip things from the Web and keep in an electronic notebook.

Here is one I came across recently.
Jane Goodall.
Jane is the lady from the 1960s who spent her life working in Africa with Chimpanzees. Amazingly her discoveries changed a lot of scientific thought about these creatures and the whole human race.
She recalls in a BBC interview some of the most important events from her time in the jungle.
Here is the link.

Her technique of getting to know the Chimps as individuals was frowned on by the scientific community. Yet my own experience with birds has followed a similar path. Great to hear her defend her position. Enjoy

I found this one a bit amusing

Would have never thought of using Ibis as a measuring tool.
As some wag said,
“If you are 3 Ibis away, you’ve just lost your lunch”

From the Rodney Smith collection challenge last week.
The image I’m currently living with was the one “Zoe with Ducks” From the Storytelling Series.

However I am also quite taken by “Chicken Haiti”  from the Humour set, is in there with a chance as well. I like it for the moment of timing. Given chickens to the best of my knowledge generally don’t perform to schedules.

I woke this morning with the sound of rain on the roof, and outside it was all grey and gloomy.
“Good day to stay under the Doona I thought”, and for no apparent reason, the song “Rainy Days and Mondays always get me Down”, by Karen Carpenter rang through my head. Funny as I haven’t heard it for years, and could never have cast myself as Carpenters fan.

Talkin’ to myself and feelin’ old
Sometimes I’d like to quit
Nothin’ ever seems to fit
Hangin’ around.



Robin Whalley, a Landscape photographer from England posted this one. Interesting to me as he has gone back through some of his old work, and found some shots that he’d ignored, but now that he has some time, he’s been able to bring out a feel and mood that he’d missed earlier.

As I’m now working through my own collection of “Might have been good” shots, I found it very encouraging.

Funny old world.


The Doona Hermit


Saturday Evening Post #93: Speaking Privately

When we talk of photography, it’s not something we think of in a ‘private’ sense all that much.

“Let me Share some Pictures I took”, “Here’s a shot I made at the park”, “This is some pictures I took on my holiday to Tuscany last year.” “My granddaughter’s graduation photos are here.”
“I photographed this Flame Robin at Woodlands Park in June.”
We share, Messenger, Facebook, Instagram, (No, No, not Tic Tok), prints, email and blogs to name a few.
Photographer type conversations sometimes start, “Whatchabeendoinlately?”

Yet one photographer I’ve followed over the years has the concept of “Private” as part of his creative approach.

His work is characterised by enchanted worlds full of subtle contradictions.

His name? Rodney Smith.

Noted for sharing his vision of the world with Humour, Grace, and Optimism.
He has since passed, but on his blog entitled intriguingly enough, “The End‘, Rodney Smith would describe his creative process as being  “intricately connected to how I examine my own life, how I got to know myself, and how I drew clarity of my emotions and translated them into pictures.”

So, if you want, you too can Go To The End

A further quote, “I want people to see the beauty and whimsy in life, not its ugliness. I feel the need to reach out for its soul, its depth, and its underlying beauty. I represent a world that is possible if people act their best. It’s a world that’s slightly beyond reach, beyond everyday experience, but it’s definitely not impossible.”

So here’s your humble scribe’s challenge. If you’ve manage to read this far without your eyes glazing over. (well done of you have!)

Follow this link over to his Gallery – the Humor Section.

While you’re there, have a look at several of the others sections, but do visit the Surrealism one as well.

Hopefully one or two will make you laugh, or smile, or just ponder a bit, or at least cause you to be amazed at Rodney’s sheer visual audacity.

Second part of the Challenge.
Pop a note into the Comments below, let us all know which one ‘privately’ appealed. Don’t have to say Why.   Just enjoy the trip.

Next week I’ll reveal my fav.  Hint, its neither of the ones with Hay Bales. But they did run a close second.

Took me a while to find a “Rodney Smith” Private moment among my own recent shots.

Don’t think its a great example, but at least I remember smiling when I pressed the shutter.

As Rodney is quoted, :”Choose Photography for Love, rather than fame, fortune or glory.”

I look forward to hearing from as many as possible.

Go on, you can do it.


Saturday Evening Post #92: About 95% Negative Space

“You’ll find,” he said, if I recall correctly, “that Negative Space carries a lot of visual weight. The subject therefore has to be very strong to balance out that 95% Negative Space.” A mentor was extolling the use of the broad, seemingly lacking in detail, surrounds of the main subject.

He went on, again as best I can recall, “Negative space helps the photo stay calm, and isolates the subject, and at the same time removes any interfering elements that distract from the view seeing what you are seeing.”

Great advice to a budding studio product photographer. After all a client doesn’t want a lot of competing visual elements, they want to see the product.  And in particular, the product’s name, brand and model number (if applicable). If Mr Colgate couldn’t see the word “Colgate” in large letters on the subject, he would wonder how anyone would recognise his product, no matter how ‘creatively’ the subject was shown.

The same might be said of a certain cheese brand that is about to change its name. No matter that it was the brain child of a certain William Edward who’s family name now carries unfortunate connotations.
Ford Motor Company want to see their famed logo, and it is said the Coca Cola logo was one of the most recognised logos in the world.  Now it seems the jury is out on the most recognised, but Google might be close to the top. At least when I googled, that is the result I got. 🙂

From a studio product point of view, getting the subject well lit, boldly presented and refreshingly isolated was always the big challenge. A small fill light  here, a white card to be reflected in the strong sidelines of the product, a disappearing shadow to give depth, all against a plain backdrop.

But negative space is more than just a simple way of saying, ‘here is the subject’, it does, as my mentor suggested, carry a visual weight that needs to be carefully balanced by a subject. It reduces visual clutter and the minimalist approach welcomes a view to pause and reflect in a tranquil, welcoming way.

I have been I think, always a minimalist. Well, at least at heart. Preferring the simple to the complex visually.
Whether street, or field, or portrait, or product, I’ve always been happier to work with a subject against an uncluttered backdrop.

Most times, either here on the blog, or on Flickr, or my other web site, I try with the birds to provide as much detail as possible, preferring the closeup frame filling moment, rather than building a mystery or calmness or asking the viewer to pause and ponder, “Why there, why now, what was going on?”

So the past several weeks have been a bit intense, staying at home, (by preference) working through the photo library—it’s called Culling!
Removing those images that I am never going to pay the hostage price.
See Saturday Evening Post #87

And finding of course some photos that I’ve never spent time with, yet, hold a strong sense of graphic because of the smaller subject in its surrounds, or lack of them. Not always suitable as bird descriptive shots, but perhaps with a little work, suitable for Birds as Poetry.

Shots where the bird is almost inconsequential in the frame compared to the negative space.
It is true that I hadn’t been consciously working on that feel when I pressed the shutter, and it did require me to revisit to see the opportunity.
I’ve oft quoted my long-term friend and mentor John Harris. “You’ve got to look within the photo, to find the picture. Always look at the details, look at the obvious as there is always a highlight there somewhere, that others aren’t seeing.  That is the diamond.  Look for it always.”   Thanks John.

The ones that have got the creative juices flowing, are those that lend themselves to making the most of the negative space.  I’ve shared a few on Flickr of late, and thought this very active male Superb Fairywren had made a strong enough compositional statement to balance the dark moody area behind him.

As he moults into his breeding colours he is ready to become the master of his new status, his balance of the negative space gives him a strength and purpose.

The Doona Hermit.



Saturday Evening Post #91: It’s About Time

One of my fellow blogosphere inhabitants, the Chronicles of  A Blogaholic, posted just recently a quote from Martin Luther King Jr.

“We may have all come on different ships,
but we’re in the same boat now.”
Martin Luther King, Jr

Now to be honest, I am not that familiar with the writings of MLK, but this one struck a chord with me, as we settle into a six week enforced stay at home.
I am, truth be told, not that enthusiastic to the “We’re all in this Together” media blitz that keeps coming over the gunwales, I think that most of us more identify with “I am in this Alone”. However to a much broader term, the MLK quote I think carries its own special message for the here and now.

Time it seems, doesn’t stand still, we have been working with a growing trio of young Black-shouldered Kites, they are not going to sit around, frozen in time, if you will, waiting for me and my lens to get back out and pickup where I left off.
They will be gone. Following the ways of a Black-shouldered Kite. I’ll have some photos and some memories.
They will have their lives, a day full of moments, each filled with intent.

Time it seems, is Now!
When it comes to the images I make, to the people whose lives I’m gifted to share, to opportunities to learn about myself and others, there is only now.
Inspiration is not just two more pages over in the book I’m reading, I may never turn the page and miss it. It’s not another 1:34 along in some dotube that I’m watching. I might click ‘stop’ before I get there.

Robert Capa, had an amazing life, made some awesome photographs and experienced more than most.  Many will know of his Falling Soldier killed in action.  The irony I think of that photo is it was made on the last day of the conflict.
Time or chance or…

He once said, “If you photographs aren’t good enough, it’s because you are not close enough”
I think he means, not so much a physical proximity—today, of course, abiding by the 1.5m rule—but rather an experience with the subject. As nature photographers, we buy the longest lens available, or at least that we can justifiable afford.  Although I suppose some lenses I’ve owned over the year stretch your definition of ‘justifiable’ to a new horizon. 🙂

The question was once asked of a nature photographer, ‘Do you think it’s possible, to some degree, to translate the experience of a close encounter with a wild animal—in this instance it was the Kyutzeymeteen Ghost Bears—into a photograph?”
And a second part of the question, “If it is, how come so few people achieve it?”

With our long lenses, it becomes I believe a lot harder to provide a close, almost intimate invitation into the world of our subject, the narrow lens might fill the frame, but it doesn’t necessarily bring the right feeling. They compress lines, shapes and distances. Rather then drawing the viewer in, the long lenses exclaim, “This was a long way away, don’t you feel safe.”

Establishing that closeness, is first and foremost I also believ, is about respect for the subject, taking time to build the relationship, building on a fascination for the subject, a thread that is extended to the viewer.

Recently, as we approached the roosting area of the three local kites, I spotted one on the ground behind some bushes.

I stopped and sat on the ground, maybe I’d make a great takeoff shot against the sky. To my surprise the young bird stepped around the bushes and moved closer to me. The light changed, a soft and mellow melding light that draped like a poem over the form of the bird.
It was time.


Saturday Evening Post #90: What’s Fun to Shoot!

Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away from Corona, I had the good fortune to be able to attend a day workshop with a visiting US based photographer, Pete Turner.

It is said, of Pete, that he was one of the founding fathers of colour photography, and more particularly graphic, dynamic and alive motifs.

His use of colour in a world of monochrome was striking to say the least.

He is known to have said, “Color is in my DNA, I think in color”.

He also talked on the day about being able to follow your instincts and not formulas. And as he would say, “And ultimately, that is the key—shoot what’s fun.”

You’ve probably seen his “Rolling Ball” image.  If not here is a link.

For many years, I thought that the image somehow was made using one of the ‘Great Pyramids of Egypt’.  Never was able to figure out the funny little hut shape on top.


It wasn’t taken in Egypt. It’s not a pyramid. It’s a roof top on a building somewhere in the Nubian Desert.  Ahh.  That makes sense.

But the Graphic is still so compelling.

If you like detective stories, I found this by fellow photographer, Eric Meola (another whose work in colour is simply gripping). Finding the Location for Rolling Ball

I learned a lot that day at the workshop. How to manipulate colour, how to make amazing duplicate montages (remember this was way way before Photoshop), how shape and form may bring a bold graphic to an otherwise ordinary overlooked subject. And so much more.

But the big takeaway was:
A good photograph has to be something that pleases you, that you like. That is the important thing. Does it pass your litmus test? Start on a project and stick to your guns. A project you want to work on that inspires you, and keeps the creative juices flowing.

And here is a link for the cataloge of Pete’s 2006-07 exhibition at George Eastman House.

After many twists and turns in my own path with a camera, and I can say, that just about everyone of those, (with the exception of making photos of powder-coated white laundry stands with highly polished stainless steel insert bowls, — think keeping white, white, while making the stainless steel look like bright clean metal. ((and for bonus points try to work out how to keep the studio internal reflections in the bowl from picking up all extraneous shapes, lights and colours)) that just about everything I’ve photographed has included an element of enjoyment for the subject.
I used to have the following as a sort of studio motto, “It’s hard to explain, but I try to photograph a moment or a feeling…”

The young kites were having their “hunting on the ground” lessons when we arrived the other day. Totally absorbed by their activity they seem to ignore my presence. So much so that this one was happy to make a close approach and perch on the thistle not too far from me, and like a well prepared model, turn this way, that way, lean back, and engage great eye contact.

Shoot what’s fun.