Saturday, 30 August 2014

Suffer the chidren . . .

Not a lot about photography in this one, but bear with me . . .

Hieu Van Le, a refugee from Vietnam in 1975, is about to be installed as the Governor of South Australia, a truly incredible achievement. He has described his and his sweetheart Lan's flight from Vietnam to Australia to the ABC. Here is an excerpt from that ABC News article (the full article can be read at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-08-30/former-vietnam-refugee-hieu-van-le-installed-governor-sa/5707742).


_____________________________________________

"Amid chaos and as thousands of Vietnamese tried to flee the communists, Hieu Van Le, aged 22, and his sweetheart Lan decided to make the perilous trip in a small boat bound with hopes of reaching Australia.

"It was very dangerous and very risky, like many other refugees out there, I guess," he said.
He said they endured weeks of monsoonal downpours and storms and feared ending up in the bottom of the sea.

But finally the tiny boat made it to Australian waters and a remarkable welcome.

"Out of this curtain of mist we saw the little tinnie coming toward us, quite fast, and there were two blokes standing in it, shorts and singlets, sunhats on, white zinc cream on their noses, the fishing rod sticking up into the sky," he recalled.

"They waved at us and they come very close, very close and very fast to our boat and one of them raises the stubbie up as if proposing a toast.

"'G'day, mate!' he shouted. "Welcome to Australia."
____________________________________________________

I'm proud to say, I remember that Australia.

I knew, and still know, the sort of Australians that welcomed Hieu Van Le.

But as the article states, that Australia and those Australians have been shat on by successive federal governments, culminating in the pinnacle of disgrace, the state-sanctioned child abuse of refugee children Australia today so easily indulges in.

A pox on every politician who stands by and lets this happen . . . if history is ever to be of any use,please let it be the future judgement and contemporary condemnation of these bastards.

Monday, 3 June 2013

21st Century Technology . . . or just pure sweet timing?

I recently photographed the Australian Masters Indoor Cricket Championships.

Unlike the outdoor version, INDOOR Cricket is a blur of almost non-stop action: a little yellow ball zipping around a net-enclosed court at over 100 kpm, and 10 players running, diving, jumping and otherwise moving all the time.

The peak action moments are the split-second when a batsman and the ball meet,



and the split-second a batsman sprints across the "crease" (the marking on the ground beyond which, once crossed, the batsman is "safe") as that moment coincides with the ball hitting the wickets.


This post is about the latter, and the "human timing over technology" aspect therein.

In the first instance (batsman and ball meeting), the drama of the photo is maximised if the exact moment the ball hits the stumps is caught.

In the second instance, that drama is maximised the closer the batsman's bat is to the line.

Over the course of this tournament I published each day's photographs on the same evening they were taken. And each morning I'd hear comments along the lines of how good my camera's motor-drive or continuous-shot capabilities must be.

Bah humbug!!!

If I'd relied on the technology of my cameras, I'd have missed dozens of perfectly-timed shots like those above, even though the Nikon D4 I was using is capable of taking 11 shots per second . . . but mine doesn't because I shoot single shots. I never use continuous-shot mode (aka motor-drive for older, not-yet-caught-up-with-digital folk).

I've had more than one punter scoff at this assertion, until I explain the following:

at full stretch, a fit batsman in indoor cricket might be running at about 7 meters per second. The D4 can take a photo every one-tenth of a second, so between one frame and the next our batsman could have covered 70cm. So he could be up to 35cm before or beyond the line . . . 35cms!!

And what about the ball? While many can bowl at over 100 kph, let's say it's travelling at a leisurely 60 kph. That's 1 kilometer per minute. That's over 16 meters per second! Again, a photo every one-tenth of a second . . . between one frame and the next, the ball has travelled over 1.6 meters!!! So we could end up with a photo of the ball nearly one meter away from the stumps, or nearly one meter past the stumps.

Compare that to the photos above . . . on continuous shot mode, I would have been relying on luck to get anywhere near that position of the outstretched bat, or the ball just centimeters away after crashing through the stumps. In such situations, my sense of timing is going to trump the frame-per-second capabilities of even Nikon's flagship camera. Always. Each and every time.

Now of course there are situations where the high frame-per-second capabilities of modern cameras are going to be very handy . . . I guess . . . many sports don't have the same well-defined critical moments as discussed above, so blazing away at 11 shots per second, without having to worry about little things like timing and anticipation and understanding the game and reading the flow of the game etc etc, is going to get some interesting and exciting shots.

But for real excitement and drama, to really capture the essence of the sport and to capture that . . . ummm .  . . what's it called? . . . ah yes, to capture that "decisive moment" (now where have I heard that before?) . . . for me, nothing beats good old-fashioned human timing.


See the images of the 2013 Australian Masters Indoor Cricket Champioships

Monday, 4 March 2013

Time-lapse with a DSLR (or why I miss 35mm film less each day)


You know, I'm missing 35mm film less and less nowadays . . . yes, I know film has "the look". I know it has the feel and the history and the smell and the romance . . . and the cost. And the waiting. But in many ways what is more important now is what it doesn't have.

In this post, the "what-it-doesn't-have" I'm most interested in is the capacity of modern DSLR cameras (in my case both a Nikon D200 and D700) to shoot time-lapse video. No video camera required, all it takes is one of my Nikons, time, and the right software. In other words, NO specialist equipment, just a tripod and the Nikon. This is something I wouldn't have dreamed of trying with my film gear, but with digital, it's a breeze.

Software requirements can be covered in a few ways, I'm trying LRTimeLapse (free for non-commercial use) and LightRoom 4 (definitely not free, but hey . . .). LRTimeLapse allows for some very professional looking effects, including the slow "Ken Burns" effect (very slow zoom in then out again), and LR4 allows full editing of levels, sharpness etc and use of a vast array of digital filters.

The results?

See for yourself. Here's my very first attempt using this software combination. Please note, this is a very low-res, bandwidth-friendly version, the original is astonishing, in full 1920 x 1080 HD, rendered at 30 frames per second:

video

For Nikon DSLR owners, the necessary interval shooting is via the built-in intervalometer in the D700 (and most other newer models I think--even my old D200 has this feature). Just set it and go away for an hour or so, the camera does it all for you automatically. This particular effort involved 600 photos (one every 5 seconds), but I only processed 400. I sat around for 50 minutes enjoying the view while the camera tripped along. Half an hour editing and rendering and there it was!

Here's a more recent effort, again using this software combination, and again a very low-res, bandwidth-friendly version. The original of this is amazing, the sun's rays rotating across the sky while the higher clouds move in the opposite direction. Again, it is full 1920 x 1080 HD, rendered at 30 frames per second:


video

Like I said, I'm missing 35mm film less and less these days.

Saturday, 27 October 2012

RocKwiz, and no one likes a smart-arse

Had the best night-out ever last night, onstage as a RocKwiz contestant.

Off to see RocKwiz live at the Riverside Theater, Perth Convention Centre. Nasty architectural blot on the landscape, but nice theatre

 Started the night with no thoughts whatsoever of even trying out for a spot as a contestant, but a string of random circumstances conspired otherwise. I almost suddenly found myself and two dozen others on stage trying to be one of the final four who would make up the show proper.

Brian Nankervis eventually announces the four contestants, and blow-me-down, I'm one of them. Was it my rusty rendition of "Lola"?

Off backstage for some introductions and nerve-settling small-chat amongst the four of us, meeting the truly delightful Julia Zemiro, saying hi as the orchestra members wandered back and forth, and meeting Dugald of course. Smiles and a warm hello from Vika and Linda Bull, a casual g'day from Joe Camilleri who is pacing backstage with one of his highly decorated saxes attached. Stage manager explaining the routine and protocols (my absolute favourite: "if you find yourself on a bit of a roll answering 2 or 3 questions in a row, back off for a while, no one likes a smart-arse". Now there's an idea for a great t-shirt . . . ), and explaining stage seating arrangements.

And then we're onstage. I'm teamed up with a lovely young lady, Tory, and we take up our seats in front of a huge audience we're trying to imagine isn't actually there . . . . looking . . . . listening . . . answering questions we can't . . .

A bit of light-hearted banter about some Gandalf look-alike in the panel. Then "Who can it be now?" . . . "born in the US in 1953, came to Australia to star in the hippy musical--" and I watch in horror as my hand presses the buzzer and interrupts the question . . .

"Female?" I query.

"Maybe" says Julia.

"Marcia?" I offer.

"A surname perhaps?" responds Julia.

"Marcia Hines" I suggest . . .

. . . and bingo, Marcia Hines takes over the stage and theatre singing "there's something very special about YOU".

Song ends, and Marcia Hines, THE Marcia Hines, sits next to me, handshake and kiss on the cheek, "hello, how are you?" . . .

Halfway through the show Marcia left and Bob Evans (aka Kevin Mitchell of Jebediah) joined our panel. Very cool, nice bloke, but . . . Marcia Hines! . . . THE Marcia Hines . . .

Panel-mate Tory does a brilliant rendition of "I'm A Believer", another panel member (sorry mate, name escapes me at the moment) belts out "Howzat".

Russell Morris comes on stage and gives us "The Real Thing" then sits across the stage with the other panel, giving Joe Camilleri a break . . . Russell Morris!

More questions, buzzers and lights flashing, more music, the show just charges along without missing a beat. Julia and Brian and the orchestra and Dugald and guests (did I mention Marcia Hines? The Bull Sisters? Russell Morris? Joe Camilleri? Bob Evans? . . . oh . . . )

Joe and Marcia return and give us the eternal Janis Joplin classic "Piece of My Heart".

Finale, everyone on stage giving last bow to the audience . . . then it's over. Backstage for photos, goodbye kisses and hugs, thankyous.

Thank you RocKwiz team . . .yet another show for you all, but for those of us plucked off the street to join you for a short while, the best night-out ever. . . . and not a smart-arse to be found.

Sheldon


Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Do you shoot in "Portrait" format? You should . . .

Are you a photographer loathe to turn their camera on its side to take a vertical (Portrait) format shot?

If you are, let me tell you a little story.

On my last trip to Bali, I got up one morning before sunrise and rattled off a few dozen shots of Sanur Beach. The light was fantastic, scenery sublime (Gunung Agung, so often hidden behind clouds in the early mornings was this day clearly visible in the distance), and I managed some beautiful shots.
I was just about to go back to the hotel for breakfast when a thought occured: "I've shot everything in Landscape format".
I hurriedly grabbed four shots in Portrait format, making sure there was "copy space" at the top of each image, just in case one was ever chosen as a book or magazine cover . . .
. . . and this week, one of those four Portrait shots with copyspace was licensed by Lonely Planet for a book front cover. That's $600 that would never have found its way into my pocket had I not remembered "Portrait and CopySpace".

soon to be seen on a Lonely Planet Guide cover
 
 Come to think of it, my highest grossing image was also taken in Bali . . . and was also shot in Portrait format.

Used in an advertising campaign for a Balinese Hotel

I do always take vertical shots wherever possible. For example: 

My last two batches of travel images with Getty were taken in Vietnam and Hawaii. 
Nearly half of the images from Hawaii are in Portrait format, as are 60% of those from Vietnam.

And 45% of the images I've had licensed via Getty are in vertical (Portrait) format.

There, it's not really a secret anymore . . . just keep it to yourself, okay?



Tuesday, 6 December 2011

Some people feel the rain. Others just get wet.

The title of this post is one of my favourite Bob Dylan quotes.

I'm often reminded of it when overseas--and I encounter one of those sour-faced, wish-I-was-not-here looking tourists. The ones you see tramping down the beach in Bali, steadfastly refusing to meet the gaze of any local in case they (the local) tries to sell them something (perish the thought). The ones who are so worried about being ripped off they spend their whole holiday avoiding people other than tourists from their own country (if only they knew). The ones who are so scared of "foreign" places they refuse to eat local food, proudly restricting their diet to american fast-"food" outlets.

These are the folk who just get wet.

I must admit, this applied to my photography once in the past. I'd been so intent on photographing a location/event, I didn't actually "feel" the location/event. I had spent the day at a cremation in Bali (if you've not experienced a Balinese cremation, as a spectator of course, you are missing one of the most amazing events available to guests of that enchanted/ing isle). But back to my story:

The cremation was the biggest I've ever seen. I shot 10 rolls of 36 exposure Ektachrome (if you don't know what that means, don't worry about it, it's not important . . . anymore . . . sigh . . . ), which for me was huge. I got some of my alltime favourite images of Bali. On seeing some of the slides, a friend asked me why it was such an enormous event, and which really important person was being cremated.

I didn't know. In fact, I knew very little about cremation, and learned nothing more that day. I was so busy shooting the event, I wasn't experiencing it. I was just getting wet. It never happened again.

Now, I know there is a view that the photographer shouldn't get involved in what he/she is shooting. He/she should just observe and record, dispassionately and without bias (do they both mean the same thing? . . I think so . . tough! . . . I like the phrase, so it stays). Since that time in Bali, I make sure I "feel" every place I visit. I love being in places unfamiliar. I love being away from home, in towns and villages and cities I've never seen before, in cultures strange and sometimes unfathomable and often challenging. I also like to take photographs. But since that cremation, never to the exclusion of "being there", and being aware of being there. I try to learn all I can about destinations before I leave home. I try to learn some of the local language, and I always learn some of the recent history (including cultural and political events). I engage with locals as appropriate (and appropriately, as best I can tell). And I assist and encourage my children to do the same, although to a lesser degree (as befits their age and interests).

This approach to travel is a compromise for someone seeking to gather stock photographs. It often means much more time spent doing non-photographical stuff like talking to people . . . lots of people . . . for long periods of time . . . for bloody ages sometimes . . . as Bob Dylan said, feeling the rain, not just getting wet. But it sure as heck ain't a compromise when you're a traveller as well as a photographer . . . it's essential.

A recent example: I was visiting a magnificent pagoda in central Vietnam--I'm not going to identify which so that I don't have to "hide" any details about the old man I mention shortly. I had some images I was happy with, and was having one last wander around before traipsing back to the train. An old gent wandered up to me and in accentless english asked me if I was having a nice day. He went on, by way of introduction, to tell me he was nearly 90 and helped out sometimes at the pagoda. I complimented him on his English, apologised for my very poor Vietnamese, and told him that I was sure he could speak perfect French also. He was surprised and pleased that I would know that, and proceeded to repeat most of our previous conversation in what sounded to my non-French ears like perfect French. We talked for another hour at least. He told me of his education in Paris and London, of life in Paris as a young man, and of his return to a still French occupied Vietnam. He talked of how there were few who who lived under French rule (the majority of the current population of Vietnam was born after the American War, that which we in Australia call the Vietnam War), and he told me how he was mostly pleased that the French eventually had to leave his country, how he was proud that Vietnam was now governed by Vietnamese, but how he sometimes privately mourned the passing of the French at the personal level. Not the Americans, with whom he had much contact, but definitely the French.

He declined my request for a photo. I didn't mind. The images I have of that pagoda are pretty good. Nothing truly outstanding, but fine images all the same. But they mean so much more to me because of the time I took to be there, the time spent with a lovely, gentle old man who was willing to share some of his stories with a foreign visitor. Time spent with my camera discarded on the ground, ignored and irrelevant in the Vietnamese dust. 


How sad had I just got wet in the sweet rain of that day . . .
,

Friday, 25 November 2011

. . . Elvis has left the building (follow up to "Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting . . . Elvis Presley!!!!!)

Yes, Elvis has left the building, and he ain't coming back.

What would you give for an original photo of Elvis on stage, taken by you?

Not going to happen is it? Too late and all that. So what about those performers for whom it isn't too late? What would you give for an original photo of your current, still-with-us favourite performers on stage, taken by you? Perhaps the question should be, to what lengths would you go to get an original photo of your favourite performers on stage? Of course, if you want to just wait until it's too late, fine. But if you don't want to have to one day say "I had a chance of getting photos of [insert name of favourite artist] but I didn't", read on.

Kutcha Edwards, Fremantle 2008. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011
Kutcha Edwards singing tears from the eyes of all who were there (Fremantle, 2008)
  Definitely NOT taken with a phone camera or point-and-shoot.
Nikon D200, 180mm f/2.8
ISO 1250, f/4, 1/200

In an earlier post I displayed some photos I have taken of some of my favourite performers. I also briefly mentioned the main obstacle to getting those photos--the venue's security folk, for the most part enthusiastic enforcers of all venues' NO PHOTOGRAPHY policy. I know many of these security folk--some are fine people. And of course they are just doing their job . . . although some approach the anti-photo aspect of their job with an almost sadistic relish. But if you want photos, you can get photos, and I'm here to let you know how.

Before a concert, I always have to make an important decision: do I want photos of this act? Sometimes I'm not particularly enamoured of an act, going along to keep the better half happy (I must add, one of the things that makes my better half "better" is that she has mostly similar tastes in music to me, so I'm very rarely dragged to see someone I don't like). And sometimes I just can't be bothered. But most of the time, the answer is YES, I do want photos.

At this point, you dear reader may have to make another decision; do I want high resolution pics I can print big enough to cover the wall of my shed, or will I be satisfied with images of tiny, blurry little blobs of light indistinguishable from the photos of the Russian Ballet Aunt Ethel took from the 153rd row with her Box Brownie? If the latter, pack your phone/camera or little point-and-shoot in your pocket, go to the concert and hold your hand up in front of the people behind and shoot away.


But if the former, if you want photos you can print up to A4 or A3 and beyond and still be able to see whether or not Mick Jagger trims his nose hair, or which string is missing off the mandolin in the background, if you want images that people can look at and say "is that what she looks like now?", sit back and read on.

Derek Trucks, on stage with Eric Clapton. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011
Derek Trucks, accompanying Eric Clapton (Perth 2007)
Nikon D200, Nikkor 135mm f/2.0
ISO 900, f/4, 1/125

What you need.

There are three main requirements:
1. camera
2. lens
3. means of getting camera and lens into the concert
4. (free bonus for reading this far) means of using camera in concert under the nose of anti-photography security

1. Camera.
Ultimately, to shoot high resolution images in the conditions at most concerts, you need a "good" camera. For my purposes, this means an SLR. In my case, I use a Nikon D700 or Nikon D200. With both I can remove the battery grip and significantly reduce the bulk of the body.

2. Lens.
You really don't want to attract attention, so something like a 70-200 zoom is out. I use either of two lenses: an old but stunningly sharp Nikkor 135mm f/2.0, or the legendary (and even older) Nikkor 180 f/2.8. Both are relatively small (will fit in large pockets), not particularly long, and don't look at all impressive to a non-photographer. And both are pitch black, handy for not standing out in a crowd. Both just have to be manual-focus too, so if you are children of the digital revolution you just might have to brush up on your manual focusing skills should you use similar lenses.

Doyle Bramhall II on stage with Eric Clapton. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011
Doyle Bramhall II, on stage with Eric Clapton,
Nikon D200, Nikkor 135mm f/2.0
ISO 900, f/4, 1/125




3. Getting your camera and lens into the concert.
In winter, drop your lens into a jacket pocket, and then carry the jacket nonchalantly in one hand, clutching the jacket just above the pocket. This prevents the lens from slipping out of the pocket (ouch), and makes the jacket look less like something you could be hiding something in (wave it about carelessly, it is after all just a jacket . . . ). Place one arm through the camera strap, which then goes over your head so that the camera sits snugly in one armpit. Okay, for a Nikon D700 "snugly" doesn't really cover it . . . uncomfortably and awkwardly more like it. And you might have to walk like a poser with one hand on your hip (to give your upper arm the angle necessary for the camera to fit into your armpit). Get loaded up, then work out the least silly stance necessary for it to all fit.

In summer, wear a very loose shirt to accomodate the camera in the armpit, making sure it's not so LOOSE that the camera strap is visible. If you can get away climatically with a light jacket, the problem of hiding the lens is solved. If not, "cargo" pants (with large pockets above and to the side of the knees usually) can suffice--if your lens fits in one of the pockets, good and well. ALTERNATIVELY, you might have to engage the services of your partner: find a bag with a strap that the lens will fit into, and get your partner to "wear" it under his/her armpit. Ta da. PLEASE NOTE: It's "LOOSE" when it's not tight, and "LOSE" when you make something lost--please don't try to tell me, as one enlightened child of the digital revolution did recently, that they're both spelled "LOOSE" ffs. And "alternate" is not an alternative word for "alternative" . . . . but enough free language tuition . . . /soapbox . . . .

You're nearly there. Now, when you approach the security check, it is a very good idea to engage with the security guards. Be friendly, chat, and most of all . . . give them something to look through. A very small backpack with perhaps a blow-up cushion ("got a sporting injury, sometimes need the cushion when I have to sit for a long time"), perhaps a paperback and a light raincoat. Gives them something to look at (distracts them from your unusual stance), makes them feel they are doing their job, and gives you a chance to engage with them and appear to be totally cooperative. Have it unzipped as you plonk it onto the table in front of them (see how cooperative I am), even move things around so it's easier for them to inspect (look how helpful I am). In other words, display trustworthy behaviour (while you are being decidedly untrustworthy) and you lessen the chances of attracting their suspicion. You deserve it more, but attract it less.

4. You're in, just need to get the shots.
Initially, do not unpack your gear until you are sure you can do so without being spotted by an alert security guard. This may mean waiting until the show begins. So be it.
Then, choose a shutter speed, f-stop and ISO setting and take a quick test shot once the concert has started. Then check out the histogram (or preview image) and adjust settings to suit. Then you can forget about settings until there is a significant change in lighting levels, when you can usually accurately guess the adjustment and make it quickly. Remember, concert lighting is actually quite good: if a white spot is being used, I start my settings around ISO 800, f/4, 1/125 sec., and adjust to suit. As the lighting gets darker (and it won't ever get lighter than a single bright white spot), I usually adjust the ISO. The f-stop is about as wide as I like to go when manually focusing, and I'd prefer to not go slower than 1/125sec when using a 180mm lens.

Tal Wilkenfeld accompanying Jeff Beck. Perth 2009. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011
Tal Wilkenfeld, accompanying Jeff Beck (Perth, 2009)
Nikon D200, Nikkor 135mm f/2.0
ISO 800, f/2.8, 1/80
 Shoot one or two shots at a time max. Don't have the camera to your eye for any longer than necessary. And allow lengthy periods where the camera isn't visible--if someone does notice you, they may lose interest if they see nothing for 5 or 10 minutes.

Don't lean forward so your camera is inches from the ear of the person in front of you--even in a loud concert, the sound of a dSLR rattling of a few shots inches away from your ear can be very annoying. And the last thing you want is to piss off other patrons.

If you're caught.

If you do get spotted, keep one thing in mind: despite all we may think, the security folk are just doing their job. Even if you think they're shoving their weight around, are arrogant or rude or not listening to you . . . bottom line, they are doing a job, and you really have no argument against that. So don't argue.

If you're spotted, you may get a light shone in your face and a stern look from afar. Either stop then and there, or find a way of not being spotted again . . . me, I'd stop, and probably stay stopped. 

If you're spotted, you may be approached and asked to stop. If so, stop, and stay stopped. Or risk moving onto the next phase:

You may be asked to leave the venue. If so, leave the venue without fuss--they are well within their rights to require you to leave. Okay, you could beg and promise to not do it again etc etc, and it may work . . . but if it does work, because you promised to not do it again, DON'T DO IT AGAIN. You'll just make it harder for the next poor bugger who gets caught. And believe me, if they let you stay, they'll be watching.

You may also be asked to delete the photos you took. YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DELETE THE PHOTOS -- well, not in Australia at least. Security, or the police for that matter, cannot force you to delete your photos, nor can they delete them. And nor can they confiscate your equipment, unless you are arrested. However, if you think it's to your advantage, deleting the photos is not a problem as far as the actual photos goes . . . you just retrieve them with any of the free card-retrieval programs out there once you get home (and if you bought "good" cards you would have a copy of such software anyway). But I do advocate not deleting them, so as to not reinforce the commonly held misconception that you can be made to do so.

Now, what about this scenario: you are at the last, last, last, last, never-to-be-repeated concert of your lifelong musical heroes. They/he/she will never again appear in public. You have managed to get your camera and lens in, but a security person has parked where you are within reach and directly in their line of view. The second you show your camera you'll be busted. What do you do?

Well, in this case I'd get everything ready and wait until the first encore. Then I'd start shooting until I was approached by security. I'd shoot until I absolutely had to stop (raised voices from security perhaps). Then I'd gladly leave, mission accomplished.

So, excluding the extreme example immediately above, the things to remember are:

be nice, and do not get arrested . . . be careful, be polite, and don't take unnecessary risks . . . unless of course there's just no other way to get original photos of Elvis on stage . . .

Good luck at the next concert.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

Ladies and Gentlemen, presenting . . . Elvis Presley!!!!!

No.

Never.

Probably wouldn't have even if I'd had the chance . . .

. . . oh alright, if I'd had the chance I probably would have gone to see Elvis perform live. And if I had, his photo would be amongst the other in this post.

But I didn't, and it isn't.

But I have seen many others (and even photographed some of them):

ELO, Steeleye Span, 10cc . . . . Led Zeppelin (February 16th, 1972, Subiaco Oval. Loud!!) . . . Deep Purple, Santana, Neil Young, the Pretenders, Tom Waites, Eric Clapton . . . .

Eric Clapton. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

Bob Dylan . . . Frank Zappa, Hothouse Flowers, Paul Rodgers, the Kransky Sisters, Ry Cooder, the Bee Gees, Dan Sultan

Dan Sultan, appearing with the Black Arm Band. Fremantle 2008. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

 Cold Chisel, Joe Cocker, Yothu Yindi, Joe Jackson, Melanie Safka, Gurrumul Yunupingu, Leo Kotke, Crosby Stills and Nash,

David Crosby, of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

Stephen STills, of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

Graham Nash, of Crosby, Stills and Nash. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011


Elton John, Pearl Jam, Mike McLellan, Touchstone, the Dubliners, Doug Ashdown, Ralph McTell, Loudon Wainwright,

Loudon Wainwright. Fremantle 2008. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

 Sky . . . Black Sabbath . . . Manfred Mann, Chain, Billy Thorpe, Stevie Wright, Split Enz, Archie Roach and Ruby Hunter

the late Ruby Hunter with Archie Roach, as part of the Black Arm Band. Fremantle 2008. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

 Jethro Tull, Moody Blues, Fureys, James Taylor . . . Leonard Cohen . . . Sonny Terry and Brownie McGee, Daddy Cool, Eagles, Normie Rowe, Dragon, Ronnie Burns, Redgum, Shane Howard

Shane Howard, as part of the Black Arm Band. Fremantle 2008. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

Goanna, John Schumann, Richard Thompson, Paco Pena . . . Yusuf Islam (Cat Stevens) . . .Tom Petty (and the Heart-Breakers), Tracy Chapman, Jeff St John and the Id, the Pigram Brothers, Toni Childs, Max Merritt, Roberta Flack, Jeff Beck

Jeff Beck. Perth 2009. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

 . . . did I mention Led Zeppelin? Deep Purple? Dylan? Sabbath? Cocker? Cohen? Yeah, well, I have lost (through a very nasty burglary some years ago) more photos than I care to remember, but I have rebuilt a bit of a collection over the past few years.

Two things about this.

First thing: if you don't know any of these acts, tough. Your loss. I couldn't care less, so please don't bother commenting along those lines, I ain't listening

Second thing (but only if you promise to not tell anyone who works in the security business in Perth, Western Australia). Okay, here it is: I've managed to photograph many of the musicians above on my "professional-type" digital SLR. In fact, every photo in this post was taken by me, from regular paid-for-just-like-everyone-else seats, despite the efforts of some as described below. The original of every image shown here is sharp as a tack, and look bloody fantastic as large framed prints on mine and a lucky few others' walls.


Crosby Stills and Nash. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

 So what? I hear some of you say. Gasp! I hear fellow West Australians splutter. You WHAT? from an ex-security staff

Well, I don't know about your part of the world, but here in Perth we have an entertainment-industry security commandment . . . under no circumstances are ordinary punters allowed to take photographs of musicians on stage

I think that means photos like this one . . . . and the others . . . . oh dear . . . .


Eric Clapton going acoustic. Perth 2007. Copyright Sheldon Levis 2011

The problem with such prohibitions is that they are often left behind . . . in the case, left behind by mobile phones with cameras.

Go to any concert now and as soon as the act begins, like the studio audience of a 1970s "live" music show, thousands of arms reach for the sky. However, unlike 1975, instead of waving side to side like hypnotised worms, today each upstretched arm is topped by a mobile phone or tiny point 'n shoot camera, showing small rectangles of light to all those behind. I must admit, an idiot popping off a camera-flash to get beautifully illuminated photos of the backs of heads in the three rows immediately in front of them is annoying, but nowhere as annoying as thousands of little rectangles of bright blurry blobs between you and the act for whom you paid substantial amounts of money to see (and photograph dammit, put your bloody arms down!!).

I've heard rumours of a nursing home on the outskirts of town, reserved for security staff and venue operators deeply damaged by the advent of mobile phone cameras. Can you imagine trying to stop thousands of people from taking photos at a concert with their mobile phones? Can you imagine searching people's bags for illicit drink and hidden cameras, knowing that every mobile phone is in fact a camera? Can you imagine trying to ban everyone from taking their mobile camera into a concert? Like I said, prohibition outflanked.

To save the sanity of those security folk still able to function, venues now ban "professional-type" cameras. This seems to mean anything that looks complicated or expensive, which in turn means you've got Buckley's of being allowed to take an SLR and lens into a concert. Which in turn means you're just not going to be able to get anything better than a mobile-phone photo, right? Well, I for one don't accept that, so I'll post soon on how to get high-standard photos of your favourite artists, despite the efforts of the security personnel sworn to prevent you from doing so . . . as long as you can get a clear view through the forest of phone-camera wielding arms.

Stay tuned.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Alamy, and why they should change their rules . . . .

Okay, this post's title is a tad misleading. I don't think Alamy should change their rules . . . . but a few Alamy contributors certainly do.

What is Alamy? Well, Alamy is a huge UK-based stock photo library that I and about 25,000 other photographers use to get our images out there in front of buyers, perchance to sell a license or three. And a bloody good library it is too: it pays the contributor 60% of what the image license sells for, and it has no interest in how "good" anyone thinks your image are--Alamy only have one concern, and that is the technical quality of each image submitted.

According to Alamy, 95% of all submissions pass their quality control. So when you consider that they add an average of 15,000 new images a day, that's a bloody lot of people who manage to pass Alamy's quality control.

However, there are a handful of contributors who, for whatever reason, cannot consistently meet Alamy's technical quality requirement. And because they cannot consistently meet Alamy's technical quality requirement, a small number of this tiny percentage of Alamy contributors clog up Alamy's contributor forum with complaints and suggestions (in many cases outright demands) that Alamy change their requirements.

It ain't going to happen of course: Alamy have a pretty successful business model, and I hardly think they're going to change it to cater for the incompetence of a few contributors (or wannabe contributors). But some of this handful of folk who struggle to produce images that are in focus, sharp where (and if) the image dictates they should be sharp, with a "good" histogram and meeting minimum size requirements, this tiny percentage of contributors continuously try to shift responsibility for their not meeting Alamy quality control back on to Alamy. In other words, it isn't their (the contributors) fault, it's Alamy.

Makes a change I guess from blaming your camera.

Perhaps the greatest thing about digital imaging is the fact you can rattle off a series of pics, changing different parameters for each one, allowing comparison and analysis and adjustment and . . . . imrovement. Learning. Increasing skills. Experimenting. Evolving technique.

Add to this the access the internet gives to information/advice/critique/discussion, and any photographer has no excuse for not being able to improve whatever aspect of his/her images he/she chooses to improve. In the case in point, no Alamy contributor or wannabe contributor has an excuse for not being able to improve their images to remedy whatever shortcomings (from an Alamy quality control perpective) they currently have.

Unfortunately, it seems for some it's easier to just keep complaining and blaming Alamy.

(if you are thinking about submitting to Alamy and have any questions not answered from the Alamy website, drop me a line and I'll see if I can help. With nearly 2,000 submissions, I've never had a quality control fail :-)

Monday, 1 August 2011

Mine's bigger than yours . . .the Megapixel Myth

Well, I've taken the last photographs of the Australian National Indoor Cricket Championships, now there's just a few days of editing and publishing photos on the website to go (read my posts on the Australian National Indoor Cricket Championships and see photos of the four Australian Champion teams HERE).

I've been asked a lot this past week about photographing sport, camera gear, websites, selling photographs, how to get started in photography, and the most asked question: "how many megapixels is that camera?".

Okay, in this post I'm going to try to address that last question--well, more specifically, I'm going to address why that last question is totally meaningless. But if you know all about the Megapixel Myth, perhaps you'd like to put the kettle on and have a cuppa while I carry on.

Not long after buying my Nikon D700, I had to concentrate and specifically remember exactly how many megapixels my camera had. Not because it's all that important (trust me, it's NOT ALL THAT IMPORTANT), but because I got asked it so many bloody times and people thought I was lying when I replied "I don't know" and/or "number of megapixels isn't important". I still say that, but I then add the number to make folk happier. There are a host or reasons why the number of Megapixels is not important. I'll concentrate on the most obvious.

Comparing number of megapixels in different cameras is about as helpful as comparing number of seats in different cars. It doesn't help determine which camera/car is "better" than another camera/car. Let me explain: car A is better than car B because car A has 6 seats, whereas car B only has 4. So car A has to be better, right? Okay, what if car A has those 6 seats crammed into a car as big as a tiny little BMW Mini, and car B has its 4 seats in a body as big as a Land Rover? As far as comfort for its passengers, which car is "best"? And what about road-holding? Speed? Cornering ability? Fuel economy? The number of seats tells you pretty well nothing other than . . . the number of seats.

So it is for megapixels. Please note, the following discussion takes some small liberties with exact scientific definitions, but it is accurate, so please, no scientific arguments on the exact nature of such matters.

Pixels are tiny little electronic receptors that "see" light. Individually they are just a dot in a photo, but put them all together and you have your photograph. Aha I hear you cry, so the more of them you have, the more detail in a photograph. Well no, not quite.

Pixels are located on what is known as a "sensor". For those who know what I'm talking about, the sensor can be considered the same as a piece of "film". So 5 megapixels is 5 million pixels (no, "mega" doesn't just mean "big", technically it means "million"). Sensors come in a wide range of sizes . . . you can see where this is leading, right? Good, read on.

To accurately record the light they "see", pixels need to be a very particular and exact shape. The smaller they are, the harder it is to make and arrange them accurately. The more you fit together on a sensor, the smaller they become. It reaches a point where they become so small that they lose some of their accuracy and do not give you as sharply detailed a photo.

Another thing about pixels is that each and every one of them is connected electronically to the camera's processor. Like all electronic devices, pixels give off electronic "interference", and in turn are affected by electronic interference of nearby appliances. Operate your power tools next to your television and you may just see what that interference looks like on your tv screen.

With pixels, if they are too close together, they too suffer from the interference generated by their neighbours. In digital cameras, that "interference" shows itself as "noise" . . . take a photo in very dark conditions and you will see ugly blotches of colour especially in dark areas of the photo. This is "noise", and is caused by the electrical interference of one pixel on another. So again, if you have too many pixels on too small a sensor, you will suffer from extreme noise on your photos, making them almost useless.

Back to the two cameras I used to photograph the indoor cricket this week, a Nikon D700 and a Nikon D3s. Both are "only" 12.1 Megapixels. On hearing this, I have had many people look aghast and snootily inform me that their small point-and-shoot has 20 Megapixels. Guess what they mean is that their camera is "better" than mine. And in some ways of course it is: you can put a small camera in your pocket, you can't hide mine in a pillowcase; small cameras weigh nothing, mine weighs a ton; small cameras are easily smuggled into concerts, mine has been smuggled in many times but it necessitates carrying a huge jacket (get strange looks in the middle of summer) and wearing a very loose shirt; for pick-up-and-take-a-snap photography, small cameras do a fantastic job. And large sensors are extremely expensive to make, so cameras with small sensors are much cheaper. But the smaller cameras have one major drawback: they have a tiny, tiny sensor. So all those zillions of pixels they have are crammed onto a sensor sometimes smaller than your fingernail. Whereas my "only" 12 megapixels are comfortably spread out over a sensor measuring a whopping 36 x 24 mm. This means two very important things: the pixels on my camera are much, much bigger (less pixels on a much larger sensor) and therefore more precisely accurate in construction, and the pixels on my camera are much further away from their neighbours (again, less pixels on a much larger sensor) leading to a dramatic lessening of electrical interference (and therefore much less "noise"). So the 12 million relatively huge pixels on a relatively huge, HUGE sensor will give a much more detailed, noise-free image than the same amount (or more) of Megapixels on a smaller (sometimes tiny) sensor. Even with other professional-quality Digital SLR cameras, the number of Megapixels in itself is not a basis for any meaningful comparison between cameras. A $10,000 24 megapixel Nikon or Canon will not shoot as "clean" in low light as either of the two 12.1 megapixel cameras I used at the cricket (which is exactly why I used those particular cameras).

I shot the indoor cricket at ISO 5000, which allowed me to shoot at shutter-speeds of between 1/250 to 1/1000th of a second. Even that $10,000 24 megapixel camera cannot match the outstanding lack of noise and accurate details at ISO 5000 as these two Nikon cameras . . . even with their "only" 12.1 megapixels. Of course, for some different uses the 24 megapixel cameras would be the better choice, and for others, the small point-and-shoot would be perfect -- but it's the use you are putting a camera to that defines its suitability and whether or not it is "the best" or "better", NOT the number of Megapixels.

So the next time you hear someone ask "how many megapixels does your camera have", you might mentally add "what size sensor are they crammed onto?" . . . .

Like I said, number of Megapixels is not all that important, and should NEVER be used to judge one camera against another.

Unfortunately the fact that most punters still think camera A with 5 megapixels is better than camera B with only 4.5 megapixels is proof that advertising works--even if it's actually sprouting bulldust.

Friday, 8 July 2011

Photographing the Australian Open Indoor Cricket Championships

It's official now: Indoor Cricket World/Dusty Dingo Photography is the official photographer for the upcoming Australian Open Indoor Cricket Championships.

That includes all team photos, then ongoing action for the full tournament . . .

I'll soon post more on what I plan, and during the tournament I'll try to post some ongoing "what I did today (photographically)". In the meantime I'm going to catch up on lots of sleep: during the tournament it will be long nights editing and publishing each day's photos.

I earlier tonight published a little rant on the whole issue of marketing of Indoor Cricket over at my Indoor Cricket World blog, for those interested in the promotion of the sport.

For everyone else, stay tuned . . . oh, and if you see anything in an ad on these pages that interests you, please click on it and at least explore it. I get a handful of cents for each ad visited (yes, I know, but every little bit helps keep us online/feed my cat/educate my children). Thanks.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Indoor Cricket Photography

I love Cricket (please note, for the purposes of this post, the definition of Cricket does NOT include that Twenty20 advertising-dressed-up-as-sport, how-can-we-squeeze-more-money-out-of-the-great-unwashed, corporate-greed-driven rubbish).

So I'll say it again . . . I LOVE Cricket.

Test Cricket in particular.


If there is a sport with more variety, nuance, excitement, grace, personality, power and intrigue than Test Cricket, I'll eat my one piece of that indispensable equipment affectionately known as "the box". Non-cricketing folk probably should not seek explanation. Trust me.

Of course, not all of us can play Test Cricket. After all, even some who are selected for Test Cricket can't play it. So we play our own version, usually demanding not five full days (like Test Cricket), but one or two, sometimes taking the whole weekend, sometimes spread over two weekends.

As we move through the years, sports that demand a whole weekend (like Cricket), or even just a whole day of the weekend (like Cricket) are pushed aside for other pursuits that demand at least some of our weekends (like Life). So we either give up playing our beloved sport, or we find alternatives. In Australia and New Zealand (and to a lesser degree South Africa and the UK, and to an even lesser degree India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka), that alternative is often Indoor Cricket.


New Zealand Under 19 girls celebrate a wicket against tournament favourites Australia. New Zealand eventually eliminated Australia from the finals and played the Grand Final against ultimate Under 19 Girl champions, South Africa.
2003 Indoor Cricket World Under 19 Championships, Christchurch, New Zealand. 
© 2003 Sheldon Levis
Now, I'm not going to explain Indoor Cricket here, when I've already done that comprehensively here at Indoor Cricket World

And I'm not going to discuss the finer points of photographing this sport--that is a future project I'm working on.
 
What I am doing is letting those interested know that Indoor Cricket World contains the largest collection of original Indoor Cricket Photography on the web. For newcomers to the sport, I also have a small selection of International Indoor Cricket tournament photographs here

But mainly, I'm letting readers know that Dusty Dingo Photography is covering the upcoming Australian National Indoor Cricket Championships, and will feature the photographs of the whole tournament on its pages.

Stay tuned.

Extreme photography

I have not lived a sheltered life . . . . I have bungie jumped. I have snorkelled in deep, known-to-be-frequented-by-shark waters off the shores of otherwise beautiful Rottnest Island. Many times, I have driven a car in Denpasar, Bali. Several times I have crossed a 72-laned Vietnamese highway . . . on foot. And I have, many years ago, worn a "Ban Uranium Mining" t-shirt in my mining-is-sacred home town of Kalgoorlie.

All these activities are sweat-inducing, nerve-wracking tests of resolve and arcane skills.

Photographically, the only thing I've done in the past that compares is photographing weddings and bikie fights. Bikie fights I simply do not recommend. Whereas weddings . . . well, come to think of it, leave them alone too . . . . I learned my lessons early enough to run away still in one piece from both of these pursuits.

Back to the point . . . . last night, I reacquainted myself with the photographic equivalent of bungie-jumping, shark-wrangling, bikie-fighting, bride-complaining, traffic-defying mining-magnate dodging: I photographed a Cheerleading display. From the stands ("from the bleachers" to our North American friends).

Now,  it's not that pointing a camera at the stage area and shooting off thousands of shots is particularly difficult. In fact, that approach is dead easy. BUT (you knew that was coming didn't you?) . . . . once you are known as the bloke who takes photos at the cheer events and then sells prints via his website, a certain expectation settles like a hungry vulture on your shoulders . . . .okay, in this part of the world, vultures are rare. Sort of . . . non-existant. We do have budgerigars (affectionally known hereabouts as Melopsittacus undulatus), but if you've ever seen a budgerigar you'll know the metaphor suffers badly. Let's stick with vultures. Back to the story . . . .

You see, everyone wants, quite rightly, a photo of their daughter (or son, the boys are slowly infiltrating this sport). A good photo of their daughter. Not only as part of the group, but in isloation, doing something really spectacular, with grace and skill and a beaming smile. Not a problem I hear you say . . . just photograph everyone. . . . .

Have you ever watched a cheerleading routine? I don't mean the rah rah rahdy rah stuff you sometimes see at the local basketball. I mean the competitive sport version. It's non-stop, it's fast, and with anything up to around 30 girls and the occasional boy on stage, it's definitely not designed for giving everyone a little cameo with a clear line of sight to the photographer stuck up in the back stalls.


But I some time ago decided to give this a go, to try to shoo the budgie-cum-vulture away by trying to do just that . . . shooting everyone . . . and each in a "nice" pose, doing something at least reflective of the sport. Open eyes are nice, smiles are optional. It means a lot of pics, it means a seriously overworked auto-focus, and it means a minute or two spent on almost every pic, cropping to create at least some semblance of balance and isolation of each person photographed. It also means lots of late nights editing . . . and some of the more satisfying results of the little fling I have going with my camera.


An old mentor said to me a long time ago, "losing a good reputation is worse than not having one in the first place". In other words, once you commit to building a reputation, you commit to the even harder task of protecting it. I think she was right.

May all your vultures be budgerigars . . . . roll on the next Cheer competition.


Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Western Australia . . . leader in heritage protection . . . .

In my home town, there is a lovely heritage-listed building, the Guildford Hotel. It was struck by arson a couple of years ago, leaving the main building gutted and without a roof.. For all that time, the owners have pontificated and promised and umm'ed and aahhh'd and . . . guess what? . . . still no roof. Not even a lousy corrugated iron lean-to to protect what's left of the building's interior from the elements.

There are mean-spirited folk in the local community who see this as yet another example of an emasculated State Government allowing the big end of town to do what they want, when they want. Others see it as yet another example of State-sanctioned "demolition by neglect". We unequivocally chastise such un-neighbourly thoughts. We know there is a very good reason for leaving this iconic and historic old building to stand alone against the elements, year after year. Of course there is. To suggest otherwise is . . . ummm . . . aaahhhh . . . 

So, where to now?

We can take photographs highlighting the neglect:

© 2010 Sheldon Levis


. . . or write a poster supportive of the building's owners . . .

© 2011 Sheldon Levis

. . . . or post the odds of something happening soon . . .

© 2011 Sheldon Levis

. . . . or do nothing. With the heavy winter rains finally here (we're in the southern hemisphere remember) we may not have to think about what to do for much longer.