Sunday, September 27, 2009

Head in the Clouds

Cloud Forest 1

The fine spring weather has turned around and headed back wherever it came from this week, and there was hardly anyone at the skate park today so I decided to make the most of it and see what I could do up in the cloud forest near Leith saddle. I'm such a fan of high contrast and rich colours, I thought it was time I learned to do something with the more muted tones you get in misty conditions.

Tree Fern Cloud Forest-7

I had a couple of mishaps, one happy and one unhappy. First I dipped my camera on the ground while setting up my tripod. Nothing serious, but my 18-250 zoom lens got a little mud around the zoom ring, so I decided to swap it for my 50mm and clean it at home later. Having only the 50mm enforced the discipline of composing by camera position rather than zoom, always a good exercise, and I love the sharpness it delivers - even though most of my pictures were softened by the mist and rain.

Cloud Forest-2-2

What wasn't so good is that a leg came clean off my Induro AB2 tripod. I've been careful with it since I really love it, but something's been rattling around in one leg since I got it. It must have been part of the locking mechanism, because when the leg slipped off, the broken plastic of the mechanism was there inside. I expect to get it sorted under warranty, I just hope it doesn't take too long.

Cloud Forest-14

With more time, a repaired tripod and my wet weather boots, I must explore the high track above the dam. I know I'll be back to the dam some time soon, it's stocked with trout! Despite getting a little damp, I kind of like what the cloud does for things. The normal rich greens of NZ bush become quite subtle, and things get this slight bluish-purple cast as the cloud gets thicker. Lots to work with, and of course, the ferns always look good in wet conditions.

As usual, here in Dunedin even a day in cloud and mist is time well spent.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Skate Art

Down the Slide

Some days it seems like our lives really are works of art, endless opportunities for self-expression.

Mike Thorsen and I thought it was time for another Light Brigade group shoot yesterday, and the skate park seemed like a good option. The afternoon light was nice, the bowls and ramps have some really tasteful paint on them, and the action can be pretty good. It was either that or my daughter's school fair and I don't need the temptation of all that candy floss.

Sunday SkatersSkate Art 2Skate Art 1Air

When I got there I recognised Matt, a hard rock drummer I know from the old Empire Pub jam nights. He was hanging with the older dudes by one of the bowls. The first trick he showed me was how to bar-code swipe a six pack at the self-checkout so that it reads way less than the advertised price. See? I hadn't even got my camera out and was learning stuff already.

My plan was really just to do a little recce shoot, introduce myself and come up with some ideas for a subsequent visit. Since the afternoon sun was nice and low, I thought I'd stay wide and experiment with some cross-light or off-camera fill-in flash. Mike's idea was to just get as close to the action as possible, either with his zooms or by risking a set of skate trucks in the groin.

Skater-19 Skater-22

Mike under the jump

I found it pretty hard to keep the fast-moving skaters in frame with one hand and point my flash in the other and despite his exposed position, Mike was having a ball, so it seemed unkind to demand he hold my flash for me. The cross-lighting experiments will have to wait for next time, but I persevered with the flash, trying to get some fill into the skaters shaded faces. Then something magical happened. What looked like a home-made playground slide appeared in the traffic roundabout across the road. Don't ask me why. There are too many sharp edges for it to be kosher. Some kind of joke maybe?

Strange Slide

Whatever, it was like an open invitation to me, Mike and 3 of the skaters.

Riding the Slide10Riding the SlideRiding the Slide7Riding the Slide 2

The lads had mixed success riding the thing. Dismounts seemed to be the biggest challenge.

Riding the Slide in style

Riding the Slide5 Riding the Slide9

Just click on the picture, look at the large size and check out the expression on that last guy.

So what was the point of that playground slide? It's an industrial area; no kids play here. It's probably some kind of practical joke, but I think it could actually be a piece of casual installation art, a statement of self-expression, like tattoos, pulling stunts on a skateboard or even photography. Either you put some thought into it and go to extreme lengths to express yourself, or life just presents you with opportunities to do so. Your life is your work of art.

Friday, September 18, 2009

No Klicks, No Pics

The belt notch I'm currently using (and a few comments from Mrs C) have led me to the conclusion that photography is not good for my health. So I'm implementing a "No Klicks, no Pics" policy. That is, I have to travel at least a couple of kilometers under my own steam if I'm going out to take pictures now.

Harbour Cone and Flax 1

So the other day I set off on my mountain bike for Harbour Cone, a summit about 12 km from my place. Unfortunately, I had forgotten about lambing season and the track to the summit was closed. I didn't take any pictures, but am thinking I earned some credits with the 25 km ride, like a carbon emissions trading scheme. Yesterday I headed out in my vehicle for Alans Beach wildlife reserve, to get some shots of the peak from a different perspective, and yes, I walked plenty - my aching knees will testify to that.

I'd missed the golden hour light an hour either side of sunrise, but I got a few shots of the flax and reed vegetation in the reserve. I also snuck around trying to get close to some marsh harriers, but to no avail, even in my camo top. Lying in wait, I was snoozing in the reeds when I heard wingbeats close by, so by the time I had my camera in hand, all I got were some blurred shots of a bird flying somewhere else.

Dead Crab

The inlet is large and shallow, and I'm guessing on a sunny day the outgoing tide channel would be a pretty nice place for a swim. I got a shot of a dead crab in the sand, but on reflection, think I should have shot it a little looser for more space in the composition. Next time. On the way home I stopped at the boat sheds and did a little shooting there, but since they've already been done to death by local artists and photogs, I'm not sure I brought anything new to the party.

Red Shed

I also stopped to get a shot of my favourite ruin - Kerrs Farm. On the way I spied a harrier harassing a sheep - I mean really going at it. I got some shots but the action was so far off they're not worth sharing. Another one for next time. In line with my new scheme I plan to have a pedometer on board, and for my knees, some anti inflammatory drugs.

Kerrs Farm

Friday, September 11, 2009

It's Not Fiordland, But It's Pretty Cool

Nichols Falls Sign

I only just heard about Nicols Falls while picking up some prints last week. Of course I had to check it out. The track starts just a few hundred metres past the last few houses on the Leith Valley road. We're talking a 10 minute drive from the heart of town, and that's if you get stuck at the lights. I love this town.

Not far from the start of the track, the creek has cut a little grotto that's great for glow worms. Then the track takes you uphill for about 10 minutes to the sign above. It was a little dark in the forest, so I made sure the lettering stood out by using a restricted beam of light. I put a little home-made snoot on my 580exII flash and used my new Yongnuo wireless trigger to fire it. The camera was on my tripod - essential for shooting long exposures in the bush, and I held the flash up and to the right of the sign.

The falls were a popular attaction in the late 19th century when the Nicols family used to charge admission. When I got there, I found that slips had brought a lot of trees down in the little gorge, making it less than picturesque and getting up to the base of the waterfall meant a little scramble. I hope the DCC gets someone up there with a chainsaw to cut it all up and let it flush out one day soon, because it seems to still get plenty of visitors. Right now I wouldn't be too keen to take a little kid close, esepecially if there was more water. Now I'm not too keen on self-portraits, but I needed something for a sense of scale, so if you look really carefully, you'll see me in the new camo top I got for fathers day.

Nichols Falls-4 Nichols Falls CC

Keeping my aperture small for maximum depth of field meant long exposures - that tripod is a must. At f/22 I had the shutter open for 30 seconds. There's a nice little pool at the base of the falls which must be pretty cool with a bit more water flowing - it's been a pretty dry spring so far. Something about the auto white balance in these green surrounds can give waterfalls a blue cast. I've seen it on some of Martin Bailey's stuff and the contrast between the greens and silky blues and white water is something I quite like.

Nichols Falls-3

Here's a stitched picture for a wider view. It's a magic little spot I never knew existed, but Dunedin is full of little gems like this. There's a new MTB track going in on the other side of the creek, so I'll be back to try that some time soon and you can bet I'll be back one night to check out those glow worms.

Nichols Falls wide

Friday, September 4, 2009

Sunrise, Moonset

Moonset 2

I planned to get out and get some nice sunrise shots this morning, before heading out of town to do some skiing. As I was getting ready to leave the house, I saw the moonset and had to try and capture it. The only place the moon wasn't obscured by trees was my compost heap, so that's where I found myself at 6.15 this morning. I hope it was worth it.


Then I raced over to Sandfly bay just to see what the sealions were doing. I decided to stay high up on the viewing platform. Unfortunately the bay is in the shadow of Sandymount, so no great sunrise landscape to be had. Way down below, males were harassing females... it is Spring after all. I didn't want to go all the way down to the beach and shoot, but I did manage to get this fellow heading down to the water.

Morning Bather

Like they say, any day you see the sun rise is a good day. So seeing the moon set too, I think today got off to a pretty good start.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

The Heart of the Machine

Machine Heart

I'm not sure if I'm ever going to get this thing about machinery out of my system. I love the work of Maurice Bloomfield, the British Industrial photographer. His images of postwar industry are captivating, and I particularly like his black and white pictures of gleaming bearings. He's a master of lighting that kind of thing, raising machinery to the level of fine art sculpture, modern-day idols, even fetish objects. Works for me.

I love the burnished surfaces and reflective edges of the Gasworks Museum machines and for that reason, I've always captured them static. Little details like serial numbers stamped into the metal or flaking layers of enamel speak to me of the age when machines were built by craftsmen, not robots. One day I may move on to portray the power and energy in these things, capture their motion somehow. For now, one little cheat is to use something like photoshop to apply selective motion blur. What I did here was apply a radial motion filter to the image, then painted over the layer mask to remove the blur from the parts of the picture I wanted to remain sharp. So it looks as if the piston here is moving, but I've retained the detail of the numbers stamped on it in the top left corner. I'm not sure if it adds that much to the image or not. It's just another tool that gives you more options. What do you think? Leave a comment below if you prefer one over the other.

Machine Heart Blur