Sunday, 20 December 2015

House Construction Photo Project #5

Processed using Nik HDR Efex 2, this looks like classic brutalist concrete formwork
The top of the basement stairs are covered for the moment to prevent labourers falling down the hole!
Steel meets timber - the complexity of the steel work, which does not wrap around the entire construction, has to be merged with the joist timbers to form the first floor.
Timber spacers clamped into place to separate the joists evenly...
Joists laid over the kitchen and living room
Tennyson Road view at the end of the street down towards the river
Health hazard.
Basement view of the builder's bog at the bottom of the garden.

Nuts and bolts in the garage

Nat inspecting the progress of the joists in the run up to Christmas

Thursday, 3 December 2015

Lightroom 6 still available on disk

I was pleasantly surprised to see that the DVD for Adobe Lightroom 6 is still available.
Why the fuss? Many wanting to take their photo editing to the next level hold back a bit when confronted with the concept of having to rent the new 'cloud suite' software on a monthly basis from Adobe for around $10 pcm.
When you do the maths though, I guess this is not that expensive.  

We used to have to pay more than $1000 for Photoshop and $200 for Adobe Lightroom. 
New versions were released every 15 months or so. Most people I know would only upgraded their software every second or third version - although in the days of Photoshop 7/8 and Lightroom 1/2, you could not only buy an upgrade which was cheaper than the full version - but it necessary because the software had far fewer features and, in some cases, shipped with too many glitches.

So at $520 p.a. the bundle is actually good value - but most folk that use Lightroom DO NOT NEED Photoshop for the simple reason that Lr is 100% about photography.
Photoshop is only about 30% photography (the rest being all about pre-press, graphic layout, illustration, video, 3D design, and more). Still it's in the $9.99 bundle.
Or you could buy the DVD and get Adobe Photoshop Elements 14.0 - which has 99% of the things that you'd get from Photoshop (pro retouching tools, layers, text, effects, 16-bit editing, panorama stitching) - but you get to BUY it (for about $135) rather than renting it.

Tuesday, 24 November 2015

911 Called After Photographer’s Tripod Mistaken for Machine Gun

Only in America. This snippet is from PetaPixel

Police in body armor showed up at an office building in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, yesterday after someone called 911 to report a gunman holding a machine gun. Turns out it was a photographer holding a tripod.


ABC News reports that officers responded to the 11 a.m. call by searching the Griest Building floor by floor for the suspected gunman. They soon found the female photographer and her tripod, which was perhaps confused with a 6-barreled minigun.
Industrial Resolution, a software company in the building, posted a photo on Facebook showing the police with the photographer.
Lt. Todd Umstead of the Lancaster police department believes the caller did the right thing by calling 911, saying that his force would “much rather respond to a call like this” than to not get a call about an actual machine gun being carried around.

Typically a minigun is over a metre in length and weighs, without ammunition or power source (they are electrically operated) around 30kgs.
The photographer's tripod is around 70cms long and weighs around 2kg


Tuesday, 3 November 2015

Madagascar Photo Tour for October 2016

A young Crowned Sifaka, one of
Madagascar's many species of lemur
I am currently putting together a photo tour to Madagascar for late next year (October). The (photographic) emphasis will be on the spectacular and unique wildlife found on this island nation although clearly there are many more things of interest to see and experience on this unique island.

This includes 100 species of lemur, 200 other mammal species, over 300 species of birds, 260 species of reptile (including two-thirds of the world's chameleon species), not to mention thousands of species of plants. In fact, some of Madagascar's unique plants are the source of drugs like vinblastine and vincristine which are derived from the Madagascan Periwinkle and are used to treat cancers! (Note also that, contrary to what you might have seen in the cartoon Madagascar, there are no
lions, giraffes, hippos or zebras on the island. 80% of what you see there is seen nowhere else on this planet).

This is a Malachite Kingfisher seen in and
around river systems in Madagascar
Aside from having one of the world's most unique collections of flora and fauna, Madagascar has a terrific range of impressive landscapes, from spiny deserts to tropical jungle, from azure seascapes to ancient baobab forests, from coral reef to towering 9,500 ft mountain ranges. Aside from a popular cartoon, Madagascar is famous for its vanilla production, coffee, cloves and rice. Add to this a history of French colonialism (Madagascar became independent from France in 1960) plus influences from Africa, India, Malaysia and the Middle East and you also get an interesting 'fusion' cuisine.

One of the best ways to get to Madagascar is either via Paris (because of its French colonial history, the national language is French, thus attracting many French nationals to the island) or more practically, via the island of Mauritius (flying ex: Perth, with Air Mauritius).

My initial thoughts for an itinerary are:
Day 01:  Arrival in Antanarivo ('Tana')
Day 02: 
Relax after the flights from Sydney. In the afternoon we take a city tour to get our bearings.

Day 03:  Tana - Antsirabe   Antisirabe is famous for its brightly coloured rickshaws (called pousse-pousse) so there's plenty of time to take a ride and shoot some colourful shots of these lightweight rickshaw bicycles. Antsirabe is also the centre of the aluminium pot-making industry - we'll visit a local factory - you might even be able to try your hand at making your own pot.

Day 0
4:  Antsirabe - Ranomafana
After a longish drive we arrive in Ranomafana village. Take a tour of the surrounds and maybe a swim before stopping here overnight prior to entering the park.Day 05:  Ranomafana  
Today we drive into one of Madagascar's most important (and beautiful) National Parks, Ranomafana. This was first gazetted in 1991 after the discovery of the very rare Golden Bamboo Lemur. The forest is also home to eleven other species of Lemur, some nocturnal. You'll also see some of the world's most spectacular chameleons, giant stick insects, praying mantis, and many brightly-coloured bird species. If we have the time and energy we can also take a short night walk in the park.

With a wingspan of more than eight inches, this is the Madagascan Comet
or Moon Moth, one of the most spectacular of all the world's moths.

Day 06:  Ranomafana  - Tsaranoro

Driving to the Tsaronoro Massif, we visit a paper factory in
Antemoro, a tea plantation at Sahambavy, then move on to photograph the spectacular Tsaranoro Massif, huge boulder-like mountains that attract climbers from all over the world.Day 07:  Tsaranoro
Full day
spent in the Tsaranoro
valley. Here we'll see Ring-Tailed Lemurs and many more fascinating animal and bird species. Tsaronoro is a spectacular location for photography.
Black-and-white Ruffed Lemur

Day 08:  Tsaranoro  - Ranohira - Isalo

Drive on south-west to the spectacular Isalo National Park looking for Grey Mouse, Ring-Tailed and Brown Lemurs, as well as Sifakas and more than 50 species of birdlife. This is also the home of the Bara people - you will see some of their burial sites lodged high up in the cliffs around Canyon des Singes and Canyon des Rats. It's a spectacular terrain for photography.
Day 09:  RanohiraWe spend a second day in this spectacular National Park.
Day 10:  Ranohira - Tulear (aka. Toliara) - ifaty 
Today we drive from Isalo to Tulear on the western coast of Madagascar, then meander up the coastal road to the small hamlet of Ifaty where we stay in a beach side hotel for three nights

Day 11:  Ifaty 
ay at leisure. Plenty of time to relax or take a boat trip out to the reef for snorkelling or just pleasure.
Day 12:  Ifaty
Visit to nearby Reniala Private Reserve to see its huge baobab trees among the spiny forest. You'll also see some of Madagascar's spectacular endemic bird species here

Madagascar has many huge baobab trees, some as old as 800 years
Day 13:  Fly Ifaty - Tana    Today we take a flight from Tulear, an hour's drive south of Ifaty, back to the capital.Day 14:   AntanarivoVisit to the Royal hill of Ambohimanga, a pre-colonial fortified palace complex created eighteenth century for the then Madagascan ruler, King Andriamasinavalona.
Afternoon at leisure in Tana.
Day 15Departure       

(Please note that this Madagascar itinerary is only a suggestion at this stage.
Timings, dates and costs are still being worked out. )    

Sunday, 25 October 2015

Parramasala - Tips on How to Shoot Public Events

One of the hardest things to do is shoot a public event where you  have little or no control over what happens - to the event, the participants and the weather. This is also true for wedding photographers - you have to fit in with whatever location, lighting and weather the day throws at you.
This year's Parramasala event was a bit like that - a beautiful bright, almost too glary, sunny day with performers either dancing in deep shade on the stage or out in full sun.

Indonesian/Australian dancers at Parramasala by Natalie Hitchens
Although predominantly of Indian essence, Parramasala is increasingly a mix of many cultures new and not so new to Australia including this gamelan performer from Indonesia.
(Canon EF 100-400mm lens, 1/1250s @ f6.3, ISO 1600, 400mm focal length).
Indian dancer
Pic by Natalie Hitchens
Looks a bit more like a marketplace in Rajastan than Parramatta in Sydney.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens
Rajastani turban, Parramasala, pic by Natalie Hitchens

HDR shot of a colourful henna display at Parramasala.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens

How do you get the best shots?
Here are some tips that I hope might prove useful:

TIP 01: Use a long telephoto lens (i.e. 200-400mm range).
This allows you to frame performers tightly thus eliminating much of the distractions found on stage (wires, background clutter, etc.).

TIP 02: Shoot using a high ISO - this gives you a fast shutter speed allowing you to capture the energy of the dancers for example, without too much (lens) movement. Remember, if shooting at 400mm focal length for example, you probably need a shutter speed of double that, more if the performers are moving quickly.
Gettin' into it at Parramasala
Tamil dancers are incredibly energetic and dynamic...
Pic Natalie Hitchens

TIP 03: Set the camera's Drive Mode to high speed - shooting continuously gives you the best chance to get those expressions that are impossible to capture with a single press of the shutter. Shoot as much as you need to because it no longer costs anything to snap off dozens, or hundreds of images. As a wedding photographer, particularly on jobs where I was working for other people, you had to be able to sell every image (in those days, everything was printed).
Shooting ten frames (about 1/3 of a roll of film) to get one saleable image was a no-no!

Shooting using the camera's fastest Drive Mode allows you to capture expressions that would otherwise be totally impossible to get - by just trying to press the shutter at the 'right' time.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens.
Bystanders at Parramasala
A powerful telephoto lens is good for bringing your subjects close. It is also excellent for producing a de-focussed background, especially when shot at a wide aperture.

TIP 04:
A monopod is an awesome tool to help increasing camera stability. Monopods are light, and far less intrusive than a tripod and provide a seriously stable shooting platform when using big telephoto lenses.

Don't try this at home.
Swastik dancers getting into the rythm.
Canon EF100-400mm lens, 1/2000s @ f5.6, ISO 400
Guruji Arrives
Manual focus is often better than AF simply because, in a scene like this, it is very hard for the auto focus to distinguish between what you want sharp, and what it is programmed to do...

TIP 05: Use fill-flash where possible. Shooting at midday produces heavy, unflattering shadows in the faces of your subjects. Fill-flash basically adds brightness to the dark shadows only - not to the highlights. Depending on the brightness of the day, use the flash set to minus one (power output) so as not to overpower the scene. You don't want the subject to look over-flashed.

Puppets on a stall at Parramasala
Pic by Natalie Hitchens

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Photographer Paranoia goes from Bad to Worse

I was intrigued by a piece in last week talking about  the paranoia experienced by [some] photographers targeted by depressingly alarmist, ignorant, and misguided members of the public.

"The problem of photographers being seen as “pedophiles with cameras” is widespread and is a subject we’ve reported on and written about many times over the years. One of the latest victims is David Updike, a Harvard-educated photographer and writer.
While sitting in Cambridge’s Dana Park on September 23rd, Updike found himself suddenly surrounded by police officers and questioned about what he was taking pictures of.  It turns out a woman had reported him for “taking pictures of children,” and now Updike has responded to the incident by writing an open letter to that woman.

Updike’s open letter was first sent to and published by the Cambridge Chronicle.  It’s addressed to the “woman in Dana Park who called the police on Sept. 23 around 5:30 p.m.”

Dear Neighbour,
Yesterday was a beautiful day, I think you will agree. I decided to take a short walk from my house on Hamilton Street to Dana Park, which I have been coming to almost daily since 1989, the year my son was born. As I often do, I brought my camera, sat on a bench for about 10 minutes, did one lap around the park and headed home.
I had barely gotten across the street when three police cars pulled up: I was told to stop, and swiftly surrounded by six policemen. I was “detained” there for approximately 20 minutes and questioned; another officer returned to the park to find out why you had called them.
My suspected crime, apparently, was having a camera in a public park, and allegedly taking pictures of children. As it turned out, I had taken no pictures that day. But I have been photographing in this neighbourhood for 30 years, and have published a children’s book of poems and photographs, always with permission.
The policeman returned and wanted to see my “flip phone,” and then asked me if I knew how he knew I had a flip phone: I didn’t. He knew, he told me, because the woman who called the police had taken a picture of ME, sitting on the bench, and shown him the picture. They then took away my phone, scrolled through the few pictures that were on it.
They continued to hover around me asking questions. As it happened, I was standing near the house where my son now lives, and when my wife appeared, walking down the street after work, and saw me standing in front of his house with six policemen, she instantly feared something terrible had happened to our son. She was shaking, and I explained the situation. She is an English teacher; I am a college professor of English. Our son spent much of the first 15 years of his life in Dana Park.
You must be new in the neighbourhood. I am often in the park, on foot or on a bike, talking to friends who have children who play in the playground. I know you were standing very near to me for the entire time I was on the bench, though I could not figure out why. Now I know: you were taking my picture.
Suggestion: the next time you suspect someone is up to no good, perhaps you should say hello, speak to them first and, if still anxious, ask what they are taking pictures of. That’s what people do in a neighbourhood park: talk to each other. This would save someone the humiliation and degradation of being stopped and held by the police, and might save the police from wasting their time when they could be doing something more useful, like managing the daily mayhem in Central Square.
The fact that you now have my picture in your phone is both sadly ironic and, well, creepy. Could you please delete it? Your neighbour, David Updike, Hamilton Street.

In a comment left on the Cambridge Chronicle Facebook page, Updike says that it was a film camera he had with him and that he hadn’t taken any pictures with it at the park.

“…their looking in my cell phone is illegal, as would be taking my film,” Updike writes, “Sitting on a bench in a public park… a crime?”

Last week I was in South Coogee, with my wife and a couple of other people, waiting for a friend to arrive for her wedding in the park (As a long time friend I'd agreed to take photos of the wedding ceremony).  While we were waiting a woman ran up to us and blurted out that 'someone was seen taking photos over the fence of Wylie's Baths' (a female-only pool), about 50 metres away from where we were standing.

She then noticed the camera on my shoulder and, without hesitating, quite seriously asked if I was the one taking pictures over the fence.  Before I could (somewhat indignantly) reply, the rabid vigilante ran off in search of a more compliant culprit...

Sure, there are idiots out there that get a kick out of taking inappropriate photos - most beachside councils in Sydney face this issue in the summer - immature males snapping pics of topless bathers with their phones - at one point I remember reading that Bondi council was considering banning photography entirely after some kids were caught snapping in the changing rooms(?). What most critics and knee-jerk apologists don't get is that with current technology the way it is, you don't need to walk along the corso to get inappropriate snaps. You could buy a Nikon P900 compact camera and get smutty pictures from a kilometre away with its insane 24-2000mm super telephoto lens and five-stop image stabilising technology - and no one would be any the wiser. (I am not in anyway suggesting this is a good idea - just that it could be possible with these affordable, superzoom cameras).

Add to this the fact that you can't use a tripod almost anywhere in Sydney, you can't even point your camera in the direction of certain buildings, you have to get permission (to take students to learn photography) in places like Darling Harbour and Cockatoo Island to avoid confrontations with rangers, and, as a photographer, you might be forgiven for feeling a bit paranoid.

Anyone else have a similar story?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Iceland Group Photo Book

Hot from our recent photo tour to Iceland in September - here's a group photo book I (hurriedly) put together to send to our guide, Hjalti Bjornsson, as a way of saying thanks for looking after us during our two week trip...

Fastest Ever CF Cards from Lexar

Just when you thought you knew what a 'fast' memory card was, Lexar upped the ante by releasing a truly eye-popping performer in its CFast CF class of camera memory cards (note that these are CF cards and are definately only for the fastest pro cameras on the market).
I  have not tried one of these - they cost more than $700 a pop but produce a read transfer speed up to 540MB/s (3600x) - the cards are supposedly designed for 4K shooters and "next-generation, cinema-grade video cameras".  Interestingly, no cameras can actually shoot still images fast enough to justify one of these mega-fast accessories - although downloading date from card to computer would be almost instantaneous...

128GB—Up to 540MB/s read, 445MB/s write
256GB—Up to 540MB/s read, 445MB/s write

This is what Lexar says about its new high speed card:
"New speed thresholds for cinema-quality 4K video and beyond Designed to address the exacting demands of today’s top content innovators, the Lexar® Professional 3600x CFast™ 2.0 card provides new thresholds of high-speed performance and large capacity options to easily capture the highest-quality 4K video and beyond. And with a read transfer speed up to 540MB/s*, the card dramatically accelerates post-production workflow. Lights. Memory card. Action. Whether shooting broadcast-quality videos, professional-league touchdowns, or feature-length blockbusters, today’s cinematographers, filmmakers, and content creators need a card that delivers the quality expected at the highest level of cinematography. Powerful high-speed capture and transfer. The high-speed performance of the card maximises the capabilities of next-generation, cinema-grade video cameras, allowing you to capture the highest-quality RAW, ProRes, and 4K video, and beyond. And with an industry-leading read transfer speed up to 540MB/s, you’ll quickly power through post-production.* Record longer with high-capacity options. The card is offered in large capacity options to address the requirements of professionals to capture lots of footage, and keep shooting. So from the first take through to post-production, you’ll have the speed and space you need to capture the highest cinema-quality video for your next masterpiece. Specifically optimised for ARRI® cameras. The card has been developed to meet the intense demands of cameras capable of capturing 4K video and beyond. It’s optimised to work with ARRI cinema-grade cameras based on their unique recording design.** Recover files with Image Rescue® software. All Professional line memory cards include version lifetime copy of Image Rescue® software. Image Rescue recovers most photo and select video files, even if they’ve been erased or the card has been corrupted.*** The software is available for free download with purchase of the card. Warranty and support. All Lexar Professional line memory cards come with a limited lifetime warranty and are backed by expert technical support. Rigorously tested. All Lexar product designs undergo extensive testing in the Lexar Quality Labs, facilities with more than 1,100 digital devices, to ensure performance, quality, compatibility, and reliability."

I think I'll stick with my Lexar 94Mb/s cards for the time being - at least till the prices come down and I can afford a 4K camera...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

New Features in Photoshop Elements 14.0

While very little has actually changed in this new version of Photoshop Elements, one area you'll see some differences and expansion is in its Guided Edit mode - more techniques and slicker visuals.

This video is all about a new feature called Shake Reduction - you can use it as an AUTO function or manually control where in the shot the shake reduction is applied.   It works quite well- essentially adding contrast and sharpness to the affected areas.  It really depends on how bad the camera shake is to start with. Some of the examples I tried just looked over-sharpened.  Nice idea but don't expect miracles...

The video below highlights how to get a better, more accurate selection using the Refine Selection Brush Tool.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Hot Mud Venting - High Speed Shutter

I shot these images in Namaskard hot springs near Myvatn in north eastern Iceland.  It's an impressive landscape with steam venting out of the ground and raised vents. 
Mud and boiling waters oozes, bubbles and fizzes out of numerous apertures in the mud.  It's a bit of a devil's cauldron.  I found one really cool and very active mud spring and shot a series of close ups at extreme shutter speeds - 1/2000s and faster - to (hopefully) freeze the shapes of the mud bubbling out of the vents. I had no idea what this might look like - and indeed the steam in the immediate area mostly obscured the mud bubbles - but I brought out the details by maximising the Contrast (in Lightroom), darkening the Blacks and cranking the Clarity slider to the max.

Thursday, 24 September 2015

Réttir, Joining the Annual Sheep Roundup in Blonduos

Sheep heading into the sorting pens at the Blonduos Réttir.
I created a sense of movement by shooting at 1/25s and panning the lens at (approximately) the same speed as the sheep.
It's a bit of a hit and miss because it depends on the light, the speed of the sheep and the (up and down) stability of the lens as you pan.

Every year in late September there's a sheep roundup in Iceland called Réttir. Farmers and their families spread out across the mountain ranges, with the help of sheepdogs and Icelandic horses, to bring in their sheep.
They've been out grazing since May but, sheep being sheep, most have have strayed far and wide  from home turf - as well as possibly being mixed up with many other farmer's sheep.
Once the sheep that can be found are rounded up into a large field somewhere the rest of the community turn up and herd the lot into the sorting pens - you see these pens dotted about the fjords as you drive through Iceland.
For two days the lost sheep are sorted by ear tags into each of the farmer's pens, then loaded into a truck, trailer, van or ute for the ride back to the farm where they will spend the colder winter months under cover. It's a very hectic two days and I guess, as a farmer, a tense time as you find out how many you might have lost, or gained since the Spring.
At the two roundups we visited we spotted at least one official who was there to record all the lost or yet to be claimed sheep - animals that had either strayed far too far off the farm or that had perhaps had lost their tags. These are then entered into a log for farmers to claim when they have the time. 

At a Réttir near Akureyri, Northern Iceland.

This is a sheep dog's best day of the year
Once a sheep was identified the best course is to straddle its neck and use the horns as a 'steering wheel'.
You than have to shuffle the struggling sheep across the melee to the allocated temporary holding pen before loading them into a vehicle.

All the kids join in.
Some help to read the tags while the slightly older ones try their skills at sheep wrangling

This kid was really getting stuck into the whole hauling the sheep off to the pen bit but ended up on his backside a couple of times because the sheep wasn't having any of it!

A sheep roundup is also a day to celebrate, catch up with the neighbours and generally have a bit of fun.
The event has a very friendly and fun atmosphere.