Category Archives: How I shot…

It’s Panoramic

I am a member of the Point Cook Camera Club, a recent club competition had the set subject of “Panoramas”. It has been a while since I have tried to make a proper panorama. I have read the theory about tripods and nodal points and such, and all that hard brain work put me right off them, not to mention having to join them together yourself in the early days before Photoshop introduced its Photomerge function.

My first attempts were made with PTGui, a very clever program but one that was a little beyond my skills at the time. One of the issues for me at the time was trying to deal with lens distortion, never did manage to get that right.

Not long back I read an article on Luminous Landscape by Kevin Raber, explaining a simple method for taking the images needed for a successful panorama. It semed easy enough so I had a few tries at it.

For the camera club competition, I took two panormas, one at a favourite shooting place near Geelong; Dog Rocks. And another on the outskirts of Werribee. The Dog Rocks panorama has 7 images and the Werribee Badlands panorama is 9 images stitched together using the Photomerge function in Photoshop.

Dog Rocks Panorama

Dog Rocks Panorama


Werribee Badlands Panorama

Werribee Badlands Panorama

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Daily, Nightly

Just outside of my home town Geelong, there is an area called The Dog Rocks. This area has been a great favourite with local photographers, such as Laurie Wilson and his beautiful monochrome Dog Rocks series held at the National Gallery of Victoria. The last time I photographed there was at least 35 years ago.

Just recently long-time friend Phil Thomson asked me to join him there for a sunset photo walk. The first thing that struck me is how close housing has encroached on this area that I remember being out in the country. Fortunately the top of the hill has been preserved.

I enjoyed wandering about the rocks and photographing the old trees again as the light faded. So much so that I returned during the day to see just how different the images would be.

Dead tree at Dog Rocks

The windswept tree during the day

Dead tree at Dog Rocks

The windswept tree at sunset

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A wall in Wangaratta

On a recent trip to the town of Wangaratta in the north of Victoria, Australia, I walked down Victoria Parade, a narrow street near the centre of town.

It was late morning on a bright, sunny day and the shadows really stood out on the blue wall. As usual I had my walking around camera, the Olympus E-M5 with the 12-40mm lens.

Wangaratta, Australia

Wall, window and shadow

Wangaratta, Australia

Three windows

Wangaratta, Australia

Door with shadow

Also posted in explanation, How I shot..., Olympus, Travel

The making of a book cover

My clever step-daughter, Dr. Alix, has turned her doctoral thesis into a book, and it has been printed by Brill, a well-known publisher of scholarly books.

Her book, Problematic Identities in Women’s Fiction of the Sri Lankan Diaspora:
“…offers an insightful reading of nine novels by women writers of the Sri Lankan diaspora: Michelle de Kretser’s The Hamilton Case (2003); Yasmine Gooneratne’s A Change of Skies (1991), The Pleasures of Conquest (1996), and The Sweet and Simple Kind (2006); Chandani Lokugé’s If the Moon Smiled (2000) and Turtle Nest (2003); Karen Roberts’s July (2001); Roma Tearne’s Mosquito (2007); and V.V. Ganeshananthan’s Love Marriage (2008). These texts are set in Sri Lanka but also in contemporary Australia, England, Italy, Canada, and America. They depict British colonialism, the Tamil-Sinhalese conflict, neo-colonial touristic predation, and the double-consciousness of diaspora. Watkins examines the problematic identities in this fiction, revealing them as notably gendered and expressed through resonant images of mourning, melancholia, and other forms of psychic disturbance.”

I was very pleased and honoured to be asked to provide a cover shot for the book. Alix wanted the cover to suggest the themes of Sri-Lankan women and colonialism, which is how we wound up on a very windy St Kilda pier early on a Sunday morning. The pavilion at the end of the pier had the look of a colonial-style building and made a good background; early morning put the sun in the right place for me.

After dealing with wind, flowing hair, people wandering about on the pier, people fishing in inconvenient spots and the odd stray dog, we made a book cover. And as a bonus, I got to photograph the elegant and charming Chatu Gunaratne.

The cover image for my step-daughter's book.

The cover image for my step-daughter’s book.


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Bright yellow

While returning home from a road trip I drove through Benalla, Victoria for a food break. As I was approaching the main shopping area, I saw an eye-searingly yellow building in full midday sun.

Now, I know that traditionally when the sun is high you aren’t supposed to be able to take ‘interesting’ photographs, but light, colour and shadow sometimes work exceptionally well in full sun.

I spent a few minutes walking around with my trusty Olympus E-M5 and 12 – 40 mm lens and got the results below.

From the painted out sign, the building appears to have been a discount chemist of some sort, but if you look it up on Google street view, it was also briefly a Toys R Us, with swing sets.

Also posted in How I shot..., Olympus

Vanishing act

During the September 2011 trip to Iceland, I visited a small town on the south coast of Iceland: Eyrarbakki. I was looking for a cafe I had been told served the best lobster soup in the area. It was a rainy afternoon, and the town was very quiet, and just about everything was closed, including the cafe. In Iceland out of season you soon learn the word: Lokkad.

While I was driving around the town (it didn’t take long) I came across the (closed) Bakkabrim organic cafe. It appeared to be a plywood shack built in the middle of a disused car park near a small pier.

It looked fantastic in the watery light between rain showers. I managed a couple of quick shots of it before the rain drove me back into the car.

I went back in 2013 to photograph it again, but alas it was gone, there was just a disused car park near a small pier.

Bakkabrim organic cafe, Eyrarbakki, Iceland: Lokkad.

Also posted in How I shot..., Iceland, Travel

Early Morning at the Museum

It was early morning at the Melbourne Museum. All was quiet. There was no one about, except for Ben McKenzie, Petra Elliott and Dave Lamb of Museum Comedy, me, a few security personnel, the cleaning crew, some early starters, the admin staff, the cafe staff, a few dozen researchers and… But it was quiet, very quiet.

What was that? - Ben McKenzie and a dinosaur

We had an hour to make magic, or at least enough images for the Museum Comedy publicity. So, a couple of light stands, Nikon flash units, umbrellas and camera and tripod got trekked about to several locations in the museum and an hour later we were done and packing up as the first sight-seers arrived.

Thanks to the staff of the Melbourne Museum for letting us play with the exhibits.

Also posted in explanation, How I shot...

Head Shot

My good friend Ben McKenzie and I were discussing some photos that Ben could use for publicity. We decided to start with a traditional black and white head shot that could be used as an avatar for Twitter (@labcoatman) and other online uses, and could also be printed and handed out when needed.

Ben McKenzie

The aim of the photo was to let Ben’s personality come to the fore, so I decided to use the classic Hollywood-style clam shell lighting. One umbrella is placed directly in front and slightly above the victim’s eyeline with a second umbrella lower down and set two stops below the main light to fill in the shadows and put light in the eyes. The white back drop is a piece of foamcore clamped to a stand.

It is a simple setup and one that gives very even results. The rest I left up to Ben.

Ben McKenzie

And yet again…

Also posted in discussion, How I shot..., Portrait

How I Shot a Show

Recently I had the pleasure of photographing The Man in the Labcoat’s first show of the year, Dungeon Crawl.

I put the big lens on the camera, which not only gave me a 200mm reach, but also f2.8 to work with. With the ISO set as high as it would go (1600) I then had to wait until the stage lights came up to see what shutter speed I was going to be working with.

The evil cleric is betrayed by his baby dragon

The early estimates weren’t good. But after checking the histogram and the image on the LCD screen, I realised that the light meter was over-compensating for the black curtain behind the actors and the light on their faces was too bright. I was able to underexpose (according to the light meter) by a stop and a half. This brought the shutter speed up to something that I could work with; just.

In the early part of the show I tried to get some close-ups from near the stage, but I wasn’t able to hold the camera steady. I settled in at a bench behind the audience where I could brace my elbows and support the camera. The challenge then was to catch the moment when as many actors as possible weren’t moving.

I was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the images the camera produced. There is a little noise in the dark areas that the RAW converter took care of. The major problem was the movement of the actors, but I managed to get enough usable images for the Labcoatman’s website.

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How I Shot the Labcoatman

Ben McKenzie is a friend and mild-mannered work colleague, but in reality, he is the Man in the Lab Coat.

Ben McKenzie

Apart from working with me, Ben is an actor, comedian, writer and improviser who specialises in science comedy, and therefore usually describes himself as a “scientician”.

Ben has written, performed and produced a series of comedy science lectures as “The Man in the Lab Coat” since 2004. His shows have appeared in both the Adelaide and Melbourne Fringe Festivals, the Melbourne International Comedy Festival, and as part of the National Science Week programme.

Ben and friend

A trained public speaker, Ben has made numerous appearances for schools, corporations, scientific institutions, charity events and art gallery openings, always able to find a unique scientific angle on proceedings.

The aim of this series of shots was to provide Ben with several images with a plain white background that could be used for promotional purposes.

Have I got a deal for you

The set up was simple. The white backdrop is the wall of the living room in my house. The main light is a Nikon SB-28 speedlight fired through a white umbrella at the left of camera to produce a large, soft light. At the right of the image was a large sheet of white foam core acting as a reflector. There is another SB-28 directly behind Ben aimed at the wall to make it white. The flashes were triggered by Cybersyncs.The rest of the work was left to Ben.

This was a very enjoyable shoot. Ben is an experienced public speaker and actor and is very relaxed in front of a camera. All I had to do was stand there and press the shutter button.

Ben, the Man in the Lab Coat

Also posted in discussion, How I shot..., Portrait