Saturday, 26 October 2013

#Melbourneunearthed an open photography project

Melbourne Unearthed or #melbourneunearthed as it's known to the participants is a monthly photography project that shall run indefinitely until the participants don't want to do it anymore.

It's a free project where people can enter and leave at will, post with a +Mention  +Paul Pavlinovich at any time to join or leave the project and you'll be added or removed from the circle. The project includes events such as photowalks and workshops in some months around the theme.

When you join the circle is shared to you - it's entirely up to you what you do with it. You might add the people in their own circle to interact with them or not - it's up to you. Personally I have them in a circle that I keep silent.

The project is very simple - towards the end of each month an event is created for only the project members to add their image to. Around the same time the theme for the next month is announced. On or about the 1st of the month the previous month's theme event is shared publicly with the add photos option turned off so people outside the project can't add anything. It also helps prevent a backlog where people feel they "have" to catch up.

The project is specifically no pressure, you can join or leave at any time. If you don't feel like contributing an image or don't have time during any month that's fine. Simply don't do it. You won't be hassled or bombarded. Only the event creation and theme announcement posts are done with notify. Only the theme for this month and the next are known at any time (even I don't know what the next one is until something occurs to me or someone suggests something) so there is no need for forward planning.

Ideally you would live in or at least have a love for Melbourne and it's preferred but not mandatory that your images are shot in or near Melbourne. This isn't a hard rule though, in the current theme there is an image from Thailand for example. Perfectly valid and fits the theme as it's a Melbournite travelling abroad.

The current themes are:
October - "travel"
November "spring carnival" and there is a photowalk for this one

People on the project comment on each others images and where it is requested will offer help or criticism if it is desired. It is a very supportive project and while it's young I see great things and people have commented that they are getting out and shooting more than they would have which is excellent.

Wednesday, 23 October 2013

Releasing my images under Creative Commons?

For years I've been publishing my images online with the copyright statement of "All rights reserved".  When asked I've allowed people to use my images on a non commercial basis. From time to time people have used them without asking and I've had to try to get them to take them down or pay for the use or grant them belated permission depending on the circumstances.

I've been thinking of releasing my images under a Creative Commons license, specifically "Attribution-Non Commercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported" which when translated means that my images may be used non commercially providing they are attributed to me and are unchanged (no derivative works). They cannot be used commercially without making an arrangement direct with me.

I'm about 80% certain on this and I called for opinions on g+. The majority were supportive, one personal +Michael Tucker even pointed out that the Australian CC was developed locally with Queensland University.

This might be the next step in my journey as a photographer and might free me from worrying about people taking my images and using them without permission  because they will implicitly already have permission.

The one thing that holds me back is that I cannot put caveats on the use of the images, for example I would not want them used politically, for religious purposes or in promotion of poor society causes.


I decided to release under CC some time ago and it's a bit of a stress reliever to be honest. All the little image thieves who use the image for their own purposes I can ignore because they're allowed to use them now. It's the commercial ones I can attack :). Read the blog where I talk about it.

New Year Photo - A new photography project

Hi all, in recent times there have been several large world wide photowalks and events that have become very commercial and have forgotten the purpose - photography and our enjoyment of it at any level that we may choose with whatever device we may choose.

So... I'm announcing a new world wide event New Year Photo 2014 - even though my influence on g+ is small compared to the massive players - maybe we can make a go of this, I'd love people to start sharing this and see how we go. Maybe some of the massive players might like to share it without commercialising to help get it going. More information and announcements will be found on the page +New Year Photo on Google+.

Most of us will go to new year parties or events or have the day off work on new year's day.

Photowalk Option

I'd love you to organise or attend a photowalk in your local area or city anywhere in the world.

Photo Story Option

Post images from your New Year celebrations telling a story. This could be about your celebrations or perhaps resolutions. Anything that tells a story without words.

New Year Self Portrait Option

Show us how you feel about yourself. Reveal your inner you.

Year In Photos Option

Post an album of images summarising your year in photography - or a year from your or someone else's life.

Community Photo Exhibition Option

Grab a public hall and invite your local photographers to exhibit their work. Become known in your community. Try your local high school for support and youth photographers. Share your experience in photos.

Community Story Option

A series of images that depict your community at the end of beginning of the new year.

Indigenous Story Option

How are the indigenous people of your country faring in your local community - offer a set of images. Sometimes they might be people you'd never expect - one of my best mates who shares a local youth leadership role with me is part aboriginal - spending time with him changed my views totally. Seek them out and get involved. Share what you find.

Multicultural Option

A series of images showing the multicultural side of your community at the end of beginning of the new year. This will be a cool one to track over the years.

Thanks to +Hendrik Ebber for helping jell these ideas. If you've got other ideas, don't hesitate to share them - lets make this project as my friend +Charles Strebor would say #doubleplusgrand

You don't celebrate New Year on 1st January?

Photographer +Victor Bezrukov tactfully reminded me that not everyone celebrates the new year with the ticking over of the year. Various cultures celebrate at other times for cultural or religious reasons. I don't see this as an issue, simply contribute to the project when it works for you. We all stand to live and learn from each other and I look forward to the results at differing times of year.


Why will this be special? Simple, it's all photography. No prizes (unless you want to do something locally). No commercial promotion. No sponsorship. No one person's name you have to circulate or circle (you will need to follow this page for updates) to get in on the event. No limits on your walk beyond your ability and imagination. No registrations. I don't want anyone's personal details and neither should you.

I'm hopeful that community spirit is still alive and well and the commercialisation isn't necessary for a successful annual walk project.

If you think this is a good idea please comment on the post, if you share it encourage people to comment on this source post so I get a feel for if it's worth going ahead.

If you'd like to be a walk organiser please let me know your city/locality so I can start to prepare a list. If you'd like to help coordinate then please let me know that too.

Prove to me that g+ really is still about community - please!

Brought to you by +Paul Pavlinovich and I hope a lot of others, otherwise I'll go back to hiding under my rock :).

Tuesday, 24 September 2013

Is it worth getting a professional optical path clean?

Those of you who read my blog regularly will know that I clean my own sensor, I've written about it before in this article about do it yourself wet sensor cleaning. Shortly I'm departing on a trip to photograph the wonderful Victorian coast as I do once each year. This usually means lots of sunsets, sunrises and long exposures. The sunsets and sunrises are often bright and are often shot at f/16 or higher. A dirty sensor isn't a serious problem in your day to day shots as the spots won't show up because you are likely shooting at f/8 or less. You might see them in really bright areas or long exposures, especially in the sky. However, when shooting at f/16 or above (smaller hole) there is less light so the dust bunnies occlude it making the spots show up visibly in your images. To achieve good results without spending hours in the editing tool doing spot removal you must have a clean sensor.

This time around I elected to not clean my own, partly because I'm out of swabs and my liquid is out of date and partly because the camera hasn't been properly cleaned since it was purchased. I could certainly have bought more swabs and liquid and cleaned the sensor myself but I wanted to get the machine cleaned properly and to be honest, the fee isn't that much more than a set of swabs and liquid.

One of our photowalk sponsors, VinTech Camera Repairs provides what they call an optical path clean where they clean the sensor, the image box, the mirror, focus screen and view finder. It costs a little more than buying a set of swabs and liquid but you do certainly get more than a clean sensor. It is important to clean all areas of the mechanism from time to time as cleaning only the sensor alone leaves dust and grime in the image box sitting on moving components which will find its way onto your sensor sooner or later.

I thought I'd give VinTech a try, especially since the provider I've used for service and repair in the past has drawn out their service times to two weeks unless you pay a rush fee. I contacted Marty by email and he was fine with me bringing the camera in the next business day. He said it would be an hour or two then I could have it back. Vintech is a small business so service and reputation are important to Marty.

Marty at work on a camera

I dropped the camera off to their workshop in the city in the art deco Mitchell House, Level 5, 358 Lonsdale Street, Melbourne. Marty greeted me and we chatted about the work and how I found them. He accepted my camera, documented it and the lens I was leaving him and the work I wanted done and explained the minimum service charge and in this case the cleaning fee and said it would be ready in about two hours and said he'd call me if he discovered any problems.

I set off to wander around the city and returned a couple of hours later after doing some phoneography. I now know how to reliably lighten my camera bag - take the camera out! 

On arrival, I paid the fee and retrieved my now clean camera, a quick check through the viewfinder showed just how much had been cleaned away. I could clearly see the the grid lines on the focussing screen again and the viewfinder was spotless. The inside of the image box was also spotless. Of course there is only one way to check out a sensor clean properly and that's photograph something bright at f/22 and take a look. When I gave VinTech the camera there was a microscopic hair in the top left image corner and approximately 25 large spots visible at f/11 and up and around 40 smaller spots visible at f/16 and up and countless visible at f/22. On testing I find that no spots are visible until f/22 where there are eight faint ones that I had to work pretty hard to find on the big screen. This is as clean as I would make it myself. There were no streaks or marks on the sensor (as often happens when you do it yourself requiring a re-clean).

Overall I'm very happy with the result and even happier that the clean has a warranty. VinTech offer a one year warranty on their work and offer to re-clean the sensor if spots show up in the near future - they will, they're inescapable. The service was very personal, it was great to speak with the technician instead of the receptionist. 

I should point out that I paid the normal retail fee for this and VinTech are not giving me anything to write this blog. I'm writing it support a photography oriented local small business that I've had good service from and supports our photographic community here in Melbourne.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

How slow is too slow?

In this age of wonderful highly sensitive sensors that perform fairly well in low light with acceptable noise we're all tempted to shoot in situations that even a few years ago we would not have tried without a tripod. That does bring up the question, just how slow is too slow?

A street performer in the evening 85mm 1/125th f/1.8 iso 4000

What do I mean by too slow? Well, there is a point that the shutter will be open for so long that you won't be able to hand hold the camera without some blur. It's important to experiment with how slow you could go for the slowest shutter speed and still hand hold without blur.

Whenever this subject comes up people spout all this complex maths and justifications. I get scared of people like that. They think too much. I've been around photography for a while - so I do understand the concepts, but someone with less experience is going to run away and hide.

To be absolutely correct, they're right - BUT you can just keep it simple for ANY camera if you want a rule of thumb.

In my experience, double your focal length is the slowest shutter speed you should try and hand hold. So if your lens is 200mm then the slowest is 1/400th of a second. If it's 80mm then the slowest is 1/160th of a second. Some people will be able to do better most of the time, but is it worth the risk?

Yes, I hear you groan you can of course go slower if you know the math and your focal length and your crop factor and and and... I'm ignoring IS (Image Stablisation)... because I'm keeping it simple. IS can help you but if you want the best results I'd stick with simple. Below these speeds use a tripod.

Don't have a tripod with you? Improvise - ground, poles, bins, whatever. The first shot at the top of the article is braced on a pole, these below are either on the ground or other objects.

Shot from the ground this is a 4s exposure at f/9 iso 200

Using a wheelie bin at Luna Park in place of a tripod 30s f/22 iso 100

Sunday, 21 July 2013

The Speke Shipwreck - Kitty Miller Bay, Phillip Island

On a stormy night on the coast of Phillip Island in Westernport Bay The Speke ran aground and broke up over days. Built in 1891, The Speke was an all steel ship. After running aground she was salvaged by Phillip Island locals where parts of her can be found in local homes and cottages and the island's museum.

There is still a significant chunk of the wreck right on the shore and is of interest for photographers.

The Speke
The largest pieces sit in Kitty Miller Bay on Phillip Island. I found it difficult to research exactly where the wreck is and how to get to it. It's certainly not immediately obvious and is not visible using satellite view.

To help you find it, I've created a Google Map of the wreck and how to get there.

Park near the beach stairs and head down them to the beach. Walk along the left hand side of Kitty Miller Bay towards the ocean. About half way along the bay (before the first out jutting) the path takes off up the slope to the cliff top. This part is steep and resembles an animal track more than anything.

The surface of the track is basalt and clay so it is fairly easy going but is slippery in places and gathers water. Good boots are not essential but advisable.

Once you get to the first cape there is a good vantage point over the bay before continuing along the cliff top to the wreck itself. The descent to the wreck is slippery and challenging so take it easy.

The Path Down To The Wreck
The Ghost
In the right conditions you might even see the ghost on the wreck. Well ok, I made that up but a nice ghostly long exposure with a 10 stop ND filter makes a mist out of the breaking waves.

The Waves

It's easy to see how the ship came to grief where the wreck washed onto the rocks and was gradually beaten to death.

A polarising filter is a useful addition to the kit for scenes like this so that your shots can see into the water and capture the detail of the rocks and sea floor.

The wreck sits within the rocky bay facing the direct ocean.

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

#LoveYourWork - An organic introduction to photographers

When g+ first awakened we all shared these massive circles of people. We quickly built up circles that we were following. That was a mistake. I'm still cleaning out crap from those days. Inactive people. People who just post rubbish.

Since I've got a pretty decent bunch of followers, many of whom interact with me, I thought I'd start paying it forward and each day I'm going to introduce a photographer that has found me, or that I've found that has a decent amount of good images in their stream and appears to be a good g+ community citizen. In short someone who I've circled. I call this my #loveyourwork project.

I'm going to do this with the hash tag #loveyourwork to recognise their efforts and positive behaviour.

These are people that I think you should take a look at and perhaps if you appreciate their work, you can circle them too.

Consider doing the same thing and use the #loveyourwork tag as well. I'm looking forward to who you've found. If you choose to do so, please plus mention me +Paul Pavlinovich so I get to see them.

Update 02 Aug - This is fantastic only a bit more than a week since I launched this idea it's started to take off with more and more people doing it. People are using the tag to suggest all sorts of interesting people. It's grown well beyond photographers. Wow - thanks to some amazing people who are helping the Google+ community grow and prosper.

Search for the tag #loveyourwork in the search box and you'll find some great shares.

Saturday, 13 July 2013

The Great Ocean Road - A Natural Wonder - The Annual Pilgrimage

The Great Ocean Road
Once each year I head off somewhere along the coast line of Victoria. I camp out and pursue photography. My favourite destination is Victoria's natural wonder the coastline along The Great Ocean Road. Whoever named this road certainly wasn't an idiot. You get everything, curves, hills, beaches, forests, cliffs, small towns, the works. Why do I take this time out of life? Simple really everyone needs to unwind and this is the way I do it. I love the coast and I love photography. Mixing the two, well that's just fun really. There is magic to be found along that simple road.

To experience the GOR I'd suggest you really experience it don't just drive along it. Camp. Walk. Live. Enjoy.

I love to camp somewhere along the road along the cliff tops. Along most of it camping isn't allowed but there are spots where you can as long as you're not in a motor home or caravan. Mind you if you go easy on the light no-one would ever know you're there and I've not encountered any night patrols.

One of the Twelve Apostles Seen from a cliff top vantage at sunset

Mostly when people think of the GOR they think of The Twelve Apostles, of which there are only eight still standing. You could go to the concrete monstrosity that is the tourist trap with the thousands of others, or you could go to one of the nearby cliffs for your viewing. I know which I prefer.  Leave that asphalt road every chance you get. Those dirt roads off towards the cliffs bring you the real coast without the tourists. Be safe the cliffs do collapse from time to time.

Anchor embedded in rock at Wreck Beach
I've been known to sleep on the beach to get that dawn shot. Just watch your tides and seek local knowledge because many spots are deep under water at normal high tide. It is a truly magic environment that changes every minute of every day. It's not possible to see, experience or feel that let alone capture it unless you're actually there for the entire time. I have some favorite spots like Wreck Beach and the Bay of Islands.

Wreck beach can be reached via the giant stairs from the carpark at the end of Moonlight Head Road or you can hike along the beach. Wreck

Beach forms part of the lower Great Ocean Walk. It's a serious climb. Take only the photographic gear you need, food and water. Watch your tide times, the entire beach is submerged at high tide and those waves are big. Never turn your back on the sea unless you've got a spotter. Last time I was there I asked my son to warn me about waves while I photographed on the reef. He dutifully did that and warned me a couple of times so I could keep the gear dry. What he didn't warn me about was the tide coming in. I had to wade back to the beach to the sound of his laughing.

 Loch Ard Gorge is simply amazing. The scene of the tragic shipwreck. It's like a tropical paradise and it's possible to swim there much of the year as long as the sun is on the shallow water keeping the frigid ocean at bay.

Much of the gorge is shallow and there is a wonderful sandy beach and two caves. You cannot enter the caves due to falling bits.
Loch Ard is very popular with the tourists. These two were from Brazil and were intent on snapping beach selfies in the water.

The group they were with commented on the expense of accomodation along the road and I told them about Princetown. They moved there that night.

When you need to shop go inland to Hamilton or scoot over to Geelong or Warrnambool - you'll pay through the nose everywhere else. Port Fairy is fantastic at night. So much history. So well lit.

The cheapest places to stay are the community oval at Princetown on the Gellibrand River and the Lady Bay caravan park in Warrnambool.

The Grotto
There are spots along the road, some of them secret, some of them well known tourist spots. On the left is "The Grotto" which is frequented by tourists but conveniently there isn't enough parking for the giant coaches. It's worth spending some time here as the pool is different every time I go. The colour changes throughout the day.

Shot with a circular polariser to allow me to see into the water and a graduated ND filter to balance the exposure of the bright sky against the rock floor and the pool.

The area of the grotto itself is walled off by Parks Victoria to keep our the great unwashed tourista. As a kid I used to swim here and if you went through the grotto with some climbing you could get down to the beach.

At times of heavy storm action the tips of the waves crash right into The Grotto causing all the erosion and rounding the rocks around the pond. Like most things on the GOR it's always changing and sooner or later will collapse.

Generally speaking I stay at Princetown at the community camp ground. It's got basic facilities and is much cheaper than the tourist places.

Floodplain adjacent Princetown community camp ground
The other reason for staying at Princetown is the local scenery.

From dawn the kangaroos abound in the adjacent paddock to the estuary of the Gellibrand River.

There are often gorgeous mists in this ocean valley in the mornings giving an interesting atmosphere to your images and allowing you to hide the houses on the hills around the park.

Be aware you can get flooded in as the bridge in and out is a low causeway. I've had to drive through the water more than once.

Gellibrand River Estuary
The Gellibrand river meanders through a reed bed and into a wide estuary just before it cuts through the pearly white sand of the beach into the sea.

The estuary is salt water and tidal so you can't always walk to the beach unless you want to get your feet wet.

You'll see black cormorants various gulls and the occasional eagle in the area. I've seen snakes on a number of occasions so stick to the sandy areas where you'll see them before they see you.

Surfers at Bells Beach near dawn
Surfers abound along the GOR, you'll find them all along the road. They're generally out early and late so if you want to catch them you'll need to be there when they are.

If you want general imagery you could use a 100mm lens but if you want close up surfing action you're going to need something bigger like a 400mm lens. It's nearly always windy so make sure your lens mount on your tripod is sturdy. You'll need a fast shutter so high ISO is often necessary in the lower light of the post dawn.

Port Fairy Light Station
If you're into lighthouses you're up for a treat, there are plenty of them along the road from Cape Otway, Airey's Inlet through Warrnambool, Port Fairy and beyond.

Some of them like Airey's Inlet are surrounded by tourists all of the time and it can be challenging to get an angle without the people in shot. You can cheat and use a big stopper ND400 (9/10 stop) filter and a long exposure to get rid of them or you just get creative with your angles.

Lighthouses are best photographed in the blue and golden hours near dawn and sunset.

My favourite information source is the LIght Houses of Australia web site

Some light houses are open for inspection via tours. It pays to book ahead for these so you know the tour will be running and you'll get a chance to look inside. Airey's Inlet is in that category.

Shearing Time

Make sure you approach the locals in various places. They'll give you information that you could not otherwise find and perhaps grant you access to photograph on their land where you'll find some true examples of Australiana such as these shears on a farm in Bellbrae near Bells Beach.

Most of the land along the road is arable farm land generally used for grazing cattle or sheep but in some areas food crops are grown. Never enter property without asking. The owners may not be all that understanding. If you do go in never disturb a fence and always close any gates that you open to avoid release of the farm stock or them moving from a grazing paddock to a food crop paddock. You could cost the farmer his entire income for a year if you bugger that one up.

A few words of warning, the land scape along the GOR varies widely in climate from rain forest through open beach and open farmland. The temperatures change throughout the day dramatically. It can reach freezing at night even in summer. Salty fog and frosts are not unusual in the cooler months be prepared with layers of clothing when you walk. Should you elect to do day walks along parts of the Great Ocean Walk by all means do but always carry water, food and means of communication. There are emergency markers along the trail. It doesn't hurt to write down the number of the nearest so you can be found if you need help. Australia is an unforgiving mistress, treat her with respect and she will reward you. Disrespect her and she will likely kill you.

You'll find the most amazing wildlife along the road. There are eagles and hawks as well as egrets hunting during the day.

Cormorants, penguins, gulls and plenty of other birds will make an appearance.

Kangaroos, wombats, echidnas and other ground animals are everywhere.

Take it easy on the roads at night. One big red and your car is totalled. One wombat and it's likely disabled at best, written off at worst. They're basically hairy rocks.

Hand Feeding a Roo
Near Princetown is a collective cooperative animal preserve run by volunteers. It's well worth a visit with both native and imported species. Donate if you care to help them keep it going. Abandoned by its owners some years back and now operated by a group of volunteers. The park has had much improvement done to it and the volunteers are reorganising the exhibits as time and money permit to be better for the animals. The animals seem quite healthy and as happy as any animal in a zoo.

Drop in and visit, you can certainly get up close and personal with many of the animals. Your money goes right back into running the park. They have backpack and farmstay accomodation. Ignore the closed signs they let us in when they were closed.

My favourite cities on the GOR are Warrnambool, Port Fairy and Portland. Warnrnambool is a fairly modern large town with all the usual supermarkets and amenities. You've got to try the ice cream. Don't leave there without it. There is amazing history in Warrnambool such as this historic bridge. Make sure you search around because it's well worth a visit.

While you are in Warrnambool a visit to Flagstaff Hill is just about mandatory.

The site conveys Warrnambool of old as a martime port village complete with the Upper Lady Bay and Lady Bay light houses within its grounds. The Upper Lady Bay lighthouse is open for inspection. Both lighthouses are operational.

The village abounds with photographic opportunities and various other attractions. Food and drink are reasonably priced inside. They have a night time entertainment show naturally themed on the ship wreck of the Loch Ard.

Port Fairy is old school and revels in its history. Much of the town is carefully groomed to maintain the heritage look and feel. Portland is an industrial city that has had its share of set backs but continues to exist and offer interest to the traveller.

Wandering around the island that the light house calls home is awesome at night time yielding some wonderful images.

In Portland I stay on top of the hill, again near the light house. The tram car service can take you around the town and is well worth the ride.

The tram is made up of original Melbourne cable tram dolly and trailers that today are powered by diesel engines. The operators are very friendly and they have a small tramway museum. They're not all that friendly to visitors in the workshop which surprised me given I work on another tourist railway.

Portland has all the usual coastal attractions of scenery and wildlife and also boasts the giant aluminium smelter and it's surround infrastructure. These giant transformer robot like towers provide the incoming electricity to the plant. The golden blocks on the ground are the ingots of smelted aluminium. There are plant tours from time to time but they were not operating last time I was there so check ahead.

Portland is also home to a massive community of Australasian Gannets at Point Danger, I believe the largest on shore community in Australia.

Certainly worth a look. Last time I was there the dogs were not present and the fences did not reach the beach so close access was easy without disturbing the birds.

The Great Ocean Road stops officially at Portland but in reality keeps going along the Great Australian Bight into South Australia towards Adelaide.

Extra Photographic Activities - Fire Poi

After seeing many people take on the sport of poi I've taken it up myself. I spin both square poi and snake poi. The reason? Well apart from the obvious photographic benefits in images like this one of me walking across a bridge over a lake while spinning it is a lot of fun. It's even seemingly acceptable ti light up the poi in public, no one seems to care and often stop to watch. This image is a long exposure exposed for the brightness of the fire. I did a test pass then decided how to expose based on the histogram.

While the spinning itself is a bit of a lone thing and doesn't really work all that well in groups, it's a kind of performing art that my fellow photographers just love.

I spent some time last evening with a number of people from Google Plus when +Charles Strebor came down to Melbourne from Darwin for a whirlwind tour before he heads back home on Monday.

Being out with mates and being challenged to perform is a good thing, you really learn fast when you are within millimeters of setting fire to your mustache! I'm still learning the basics but am progressing towards more adventurous things.

I use a range of kevlar poi on chains with swivels and leather finger handles. The fuel I use is Firewater from Juggleart which is a solvent Isopar G. I'll stick with buying it from Juggleart because when I tried to find it in bigger quantities I rang and emailed a lot of chemical suppliers. Spoke with a few who said they'd get back to me then I got a call from the AFP.

Here is a video of one of last nights spins with the Snake Poi .

Here are also a couple of videos of Charles, one spinning ball Poi and one spinning my Snake Poi.

Note: I don't support any poi provider over any other. I used to use Home of Poi a lot but after a really terrible customer service experience where a faulty product was not replaced by them (but was by the manufacturer when I contacted them directly) I won't buy from them anymore.

Thursday, 11 July 2013

So you're buying a second hand lens - what to look for?

When you are buying a second hand lens, it's always a nervous business. Since there is no warranty available it's important to test the lens before you hand over the money. Anyone that won't let you do this is a loser with something to hide. Walk away. Note this is not how to review a lens - this is only scoped to a quick test before you walk away with your new glass. There are common problems to all lenses to look for: look for dings and scratches in the casing that might indicate it has been dropped smooth movement of focus ring both manually and automatically aperture can be set (either manually or auto depending on lens) at all zooms look through the lens off camera at its widest aperture and check for no fogging inside no fungus no scratches on the camera end (other end doesn't matter much) It can be helpful to know which parts should and should not move. If the lens is supposed to be water resistant check that it's gaskets and seals are intact. Give it a shake too - nothing should rattle - unless it is stabilised - that mechanism might make a small rattle noise depending on lens brand (e.g. I know Canon IS lenses do). I suppose it would be better to listen for loose things that rattle and roll around when you turn the lens end for end and around. The source of a bad rattle would move the IS rattle would always be in the same place. Get familiar with the characteristics using a reliable impartial site like Test the lens on your body at all focal lengths and apertures. You don't have time to check on computer so use zoom on your camera display. I look mostly for focus and bright spot problems that could be light leakage. Particularly try and shoot into a bright area as this will help show up any dark fringing around the edges of the image.

Saturday, 6 July 2013

My new old love affair

Hanna Silver Portrait f/3.5 Tri-X 400
On the most recent photowalk I decided to do something that various people including local musician and photographer artist +Hanna Silver had been pushing me to do - shoot with film. I last shot with film in the 90's nearly 20 years ago. I wondered if I'd forgotten and ummed and erred for months until finally deciding this was the time.

Hanna is on the left here. This is shot with the Tri-X 400 you'll read about shortly. I have to say that while you could certainly capture this image with a digital camera it won't be the same. Worse? No. Just different. Film has an amazing graduation of tones with no lines or moire effects or jpegisms. Of course this image here actually does have them because you can't put the printed hard copy image on the internet.

The Camera

First hurdle was the camera, I hunted throughout the house for my trusty 50E. Couldn't find the beast anywhere. Conveniently friend +Frank Yuwono was having a camera garage sale as he was moving house and was divesting some of his massive collection. I picked up a nice EOS 10 from him. Why Canon? It's not the brand - I have Canon digital and a large lens collection. I know the features and nuances of the breed. Is it better than any other platform? No. They all have their strengths and weaknesses. Lately I've been heading more towards mirrorless micro 4/3rds as a possible platform for the future as the devices are much smaller and lighter but also because the manufacturers seem more interested in technological progress and pleasing their customer base. The big brands have forgotten how to do that. They're lost in this world of social media predominant society.

Purchasing Film

The second hurdle was finding some that I wanted to use, you can still buy 35mm colour film around the place, predominantly Fuji and Kodak in various forms. Is Kodak still made by Kodak or is it a brand grab from someone else?)

Again I went to +Frank Yuwono who works at Vanbar Imaging in Fitzroy because I knew they not only sold film but also had onsite processing with people who care about the end result. They're not just machine automatons.

I settled on two 36 roll films. One of Kodax Tri-X 400 and one of Kodak TMax P3200. The Tri-X is an awesome high contrast black and white film that's really great in daylight. I've shot with before quite a lot. The TMax P3200 is new to me, I'm not even sure how long it's been on the market. A 3200 ISO film intrigued me. It will let you shoot at night hand held at wide apertures. Amazing. This is a luxury I'm used to with digital but with film? I said it before. Amazing.

During The Shoot

My son Alex at 50mm f/1.8 Tri-X 400
Using film really changed my outlook on the walk. Normally I'd shoot anything that I fancied, there would be around 250 images for a typical walk. I would later reject quite a few of those images. This time I had a finite number of frames and had to manage my shooting much more carefully. I'd already used nearly 10 of the precious frames getting used to the EOS 10 camera body with my lenses at home and at Puffing Billy. Shooting in the early morning on the railway brought out the real strengths of film. It can handle fog. Digital can't. It's certainly better than it was in the early days but the reality is that it's simply not up to it.

Looking up Fielder Bank towards Gembrook in the fog on Puffing Billy Railway

That left me about 62 possible frames to use on the photowalk. To my interest friend and strong (welcome) critic +Ananda Sim made the statement that the images I produced from the walk were not my usual style. They were different. He could see they were mine but he was not expecting them. I'm not sure I really have a style in particular because I shoot anything I feel like shooting and I produce very different images throughout the differing subject matter. For Ananda to make the comment was very interesting. It made me sit back in my chair and think for a moment. People who know me know I don't think much :).

Handling massive contrast and tonal range is a breeze with film

He was certainly right in one thing, I was forced to deliberate every shot I was thinking of. I was forced to ask myself did I really want it? Did I really have to have that particular shot? When the answer became yes I had to frame it so that I'd be happy because there is no opportunity to crop. I had to move. I had to review angles before I shot instead of just shooting ten angles and picking the best later. I had to visualise the image outcome before I pressed the button because you can't look at the back in chimp mode and say, well, no that's not quite it better have another crack at that one. This totally changed my approach on the day. Was this "new" approach better? Well, no I don't think so. It meant that I did not take any of the opportunistic shots that might or might not work. It meant I could not repeat - as an example I tried some pan shots in the dark of trams - they failed but I didn't know that until I got the prints back. With digital I would not have moved on without something I was happy with.

The Shrine of Remembrance Forecourt

Using film constrained me in another unexpected way, as the light started to fail at The Shrine of Remembrance I had to switch from the 400 to the 3200 film, but I hadn't finished the 400. This meant looking for some shots for the sake of it. I had four to use up.

This was the 2nd last shot of the day on the 400 film and while it's an interesting image, it's not really deliberate enough. Maybe moving to the left a little would have helped. The need to hurry stopped me!

After switching to the 3200 and commencing the night portion of the walk I kept thinking to myself, I've never used this film before. I was actually terrified! Well, ok that was an exaggeration but I was certainly apprehensive. I had never touched this film before. I simply did not know how it was going to react in the light and dark. How would it go with the long exposures? High ISO film in "my" day was known for it's extreme grain. I hated it. Would this be better? Would I like it? Fortunately the answer is yes. I love it in fact. The first image I used was a marble stone with a rough stone wall behind it set into a fountain. I'm very happy with the outcome of the image. It's got a real stone feel to it. I know this sounds stupid, but the image feels cold and rough. They way it looked in person.

Heading on down the road we climbed over the pedestrian bridge next to McRobertson Girls High School for some light trails. Again I had no idea what to do. It was several minutes before I made my first image. I had to dig in my brain for twenty year old memories for some suitable night exposures for traffic trails and adjust them upwards for the 3200 film. I don't think I've ever done this on anything higher than 800 film before. Intriguing.

I named this Less Out Than In
The shot shows the traffic as it graduated from Kings Way onto Queens Road in Albert Park. The time of day around 6.30pm ish in the winter and shows the distinct disparity in the traffic going into the city vs the traffic coming out. Or is the film simply less sensitive to red light?

I know the answer - it really was the traffic. Ok so I played with your head. Forgive me or stop reading now, I'm like that.

Moving over to the water, the task I set people was to capture the reflections of the night. It was almost totally dark, there wasn't much of a moon and this made focussing challenging for everyone. This time round I knew I was sunk. I didn't want to rely on the camera working out the proper exposure as high contrast between light and dark is painful for a camera to discern. I grabbed my mate +Kelvin Morrison and asked him to set his ISO to 3200 and f/11 and test the water for me with his digital camera then copied his settings. Next time I'll bring a light meter.

I'm quite pleased with the results, they've both got a good feel. Composing and focusing in the dark lead to another challenge with film. On digital you just turn on live view (or whatever your equivalent is - or use your electronic view finder if you're cursed blessed with one and you can compose and pin point focus in the dark. Can't do it with film. No cheating by zooming into the image and spot focusing on something interesting.

Moving along a little in the night came the next full on challenge - steel wool spinning. If you've never tried it, well do it, it's great fun. The usual image you'll see is the trails of steel bits as they spit out from the fiery blot of wool while it burns like this:

The glowing landing bits highlight every nook and cranny of whatever they land on and even bounce off the water as their intense heat makes a bubble of steam holding it up briefly. The stuff isn't as environmentally unfriendly as it looks - it decays to rust then nothing in seconds after it falls. I think this spinner was +Lachlan Downing who was with us briefly on the walk before taking off to another engagement.

The other kind of wool spinning image that I like to capture but hate the outcome in digital is the stars. To do this you need a high shutter speed and mid range depth of field f/8 or so. The only way to do that in digital is hit the high ISOs and the chromatic noise that follows is bloody awful - even converted to b&w it's just bad. I wanted to try with film.

The result has floored me literally. This spinner is the lovely +Al Christensen who was trying her first spins ever on this night. There is certainly grain noise from the film but it feels good - not like the square blotches you see in digital. I really love how this turned out.

The final challenge was artificially lit night portraits, the first is Andrew of Andrew's Burger in Victoria Ave Albert Park. These burgers are worth the journey. I'll happily drive from home in the Dandenongs to get one. 

The second image is our resident hooded assassin +Trace McLean both portraits are lit only by the available ambient light. Andrew is lit by bright fluorescent lighting and Trace is lit by tungsten street lighting. Both portraits worked admirably without the yucky noise of digital. Again the grain I see just feels right. It's not added by one of those wanky (yes I've used them) grain filters in your favorite photo editing product - it's even, it's real, it's only apparent in the darker areas like it should be. Bloody awesome.

The final location of the evening, well the final shooting location we did go to a local tavern for some very nice coffee was Kerford Rd Pier where +Ockert Le Roux spun some more steel wool and I spun my Snake Fire Poi.

The beautiful even black of the darkness and the bright trails of the steel wool with the highlighted rails and the peep of the street light are lovely. I really enjoy how this came out. You can see the individual bits bouncing around and something that is new to me - the bits bouncing around out the back. I've not seen that work so well with digital, I think the sensor is a bit overwhelmed by coping with the massive contrast by this point and gives up the ghost but film got it. Lovely.

The Painful bit - Waiting

You take your rolls off to your favorite developer of which their are three fifths of bugger all these days and then you wait. You might still be lucky enough to find hour no wait places doing C-41 but not black and white. It takes days. You have to wait. You put your films in and of course pay then, not when you pick up. If you're not happy later, oh well. I chose Vanbar to do the developing because of my association with them so long ago and my association of today with Frank. I was quite lucky in that mine all went smoothly. Another customer had brought in a film that introduced foreign proteins into the tanks of the machine that ruined his film and meant Vanbar had to disassemble the machine and scrub it clean. A huge financial cost to them and a lost images cost to the artist. I was there when he came to pick his up and his pain and carefully checked anger were highly apparent. Fortunately he was a gentle soul. It must be awful as a developer knowing you've done your best but the artist is going to be lost and broken when they see the outcome.

The cool bit

Once you've got the images you can share them with interested friends in person. You can handle them. You can take your time over them and look at them together and review them. You can sit with your brekky and rummage through them. Of course you can do this online too, but I think it's somehow not the same.

In Conclusion

Is this a one night stand or a long term love affair? Will I shoot with film again? Sure I will but it's not going to be often. It's an expensive exercise. The film itself, developing the negatives and printing the positives then scanning comes to about $60 or so for the 36 shots. Not to mention you either drive there twice or post them.

Shadow Marching (Idea pinched from Hanna - thanks!)

Will the lessons learnt on the walk change the way I shoot digital? Will it make me more deliberating and more precise. Probably not. Will it make me into one of those old school knob spankers who screams in CAPITALS online because they don't know what the caps lock key does QUALITY OVER QUANTITY. Certainly didn't last night at the fireworks. I was back to my normal self. What the exercise has done is made me think more about my images before I make them but it hasn't stopped me grabbing the opportunistic image that might or might not work out.

One other cool aspect I had not considered was that the film body is so much lighter than the digital body. So much more friendly to carry.

There were some downsides at the spinning by the lake my lens and view finder fogged up externally. I cleared them both with lens cloth but I didn't know if there was any internal fogging on the film itself. This certainly happens on the glass cover protecting the sensor in digital. I wasn't sure if celluloid would have the same problem. Fortunately it didn't. There are so many aspects of unknowns in shooting with film that make the process more interesting and more intriguing. It really captures and holds your attention.

There is a down side, with digital when someone says what settings did you use, you look in the EXIF. It's not there with film (well, there was a film with a digital track that did record it but it's no longer available). You either carry a notebook and dutifully note all the settings or you do what I did and don't think about it.

If you're part of the modern generation and you've never handled the stuff - I highly recommend you do. Go and give it a go just for the fun of it. Experience something there is so little of these days. Waiting. Borrow a film body and get to it. Your parents will probably have one they don't want.