Sunday, November 8, 2009

Schmap Brisbane Guide

One of my photos has been included in the latest (ninth) edition of the Schmap Brisbane Guide! You can see it here.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Weekend Landscapes

DPSCane season (by Ian B-M) had a Weekend Landscape Photography Challenge this weekend. So I went for a drive this afternoon and took a few photos. Here's what I came up with.

Creative Commons License This work by Ian Bailey-Mortimer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by request.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Why bother taking photos?

I asked my friend Allison a few tricky questions about her poetry, because she was looking for things to blog about. In answering my questions, Allison turned the tables and has asked me a few in turn. Let's see whether I can give suitable answers.
  • Inspiration. What inspires you to take your camera out to take a shot?
Mostly just because I see something I like, something I want to share, or something I think “would make a good photo”. Serendipitously, this sometimes even results in a beautiful image!

If I don't have my camera with me (gasp!) I'll use my new camera-phone, or plan a return trip. I have even been known to plan well ahead for some photos (weeks or even months). There's a particular picture I have in my head, or a place I've been more than once but don't feel I've yet captured the essence of, or a new technique I want to try.
  • Construction. How do you go about composing a photo as you take it? How do you get from there's-this-idea-in-my-head to ah-what-a-nice-finished-photo?
Practice, practice, practice. I've been doing still photography for so long that I no longer even think much about the mechanics. I suppose I can detail it, though. It goes something like this:
1. Visual. Look. Look again more carefully. What do I want to capture, and what is a distraction? Now put camera to eye. Do I like what I see? Adjust position and zoom until I do—or put the camera away and forget about it.
2. Technical. Is the camera in the right mode? Will the default/current settings work for the effect I want? Adjust as necessary.
3. Review. Shoot. Check preview on back of camera. Don't like it? Try again from step 1—or give up if unsuccessful more than two or three times.
4. Review again. After a break (e.g. once downloaded onto computer or developed), review the image again. Did I capture what I wanted? Does it take me straight back to where I was when I took it? Is it technically well-executed? Would Laetitia like it? If the end result is no good, plan another trip to try again. But think some more about what to try differently before then.

Notice that only step 3 has changed since I switched to digital. I used to routinely take two or three different approaches to every photo (who am I kidding? I still do—old habits die hard I guess) because I had to wait days or weeks before I could see the results. Now with digital I can reject bad ideas that much sooner.

And there's a lot of reflection in there. I grew up on film, which gets expensive. Every frame counts.
  • Editing. Do you edit as you go with digital images? Do you take a lot of photos, then edit after?
Definitely the latter. I do only minor editing as I go—specifically, deleting photos that are technically poor or don't achieve anything like what I'm after. Otherwise it's “shoot first, ask questions later”. I prefer the delay between photographing and review; it helps me lift the quality of my final published work—which incidentally is less than about a quarter of the photos I like enough to keep.
  • Style. How do you feel about particular styles of photographs - black and white, portraits, abstract (Have you tried them all?)
No way have I tried them all! But I have tried these.

Until recently I was predominantly a landscape/nature photographer. My early work shows this bias very heavily. But I've been trying to branch out.

Abstract I think I have a good handle on; it's how my brain thinks most of the time anyway. My portraits are gradually improving since I decided to work on them as a special focus. Research on Strobist and a new external flash are helping to stretch my skills. Flash photography is one of the technical areas I still have to think through very carefully—available light being the only real possibility for landscape photography, I'm not yet familiar with how to use flash well. But I'm learning.

Black & whites I think I used to do better when I used film. There's something about having a black & white film in the camera that really makes me think about what will work and what won't. With a digital camera it's too easy to think, just take colour photos and convert them later. But that doesn't work nearly as well. Same with changeable ISO settings. Having a roll of film that's hard to swap makes me more creative with how I take photos, to use what I've got to make a good image. (And remember, with film, every frame costs.)

But what else? Landscapes and a sense of place I think I'm good at. I love exploring the beauty of musical instruments—mine and everyone else's. I've been dipping into the delicious world of digital infrared. But there's still way more things to try…

Bonus funny story: Before I discovered Flickr, I thought I was somehow unusual because I occasionally liked taking odd self-portraits. I had an epiphany when I discovered the 365 Days project!
  • Why do you take photos anyway? Aren't there enough starving photographers in the world already?
Well, it's true: If I wanted to make a bazillion dollars selling my photos then I really needed to start about twenty years ago. Digital photos and online storage are now so cheap that anyone can do it—and everyone does! And the stock photography market is seriously flushed because so many photographers are quite happy to make even a handful of cents for selling an image—besides, it's impossible for me to compete with the likes of Yuri Arcurs. So, it's certainly not about the money.

I take photos because I have to. I know that sounds like a cliché, what every creative artist says. I see something I like, and I just have this urge to capture it with a camera and share it. Sometimes because it's aesthetically pleasing. Sometimes because it's a technical challenge, and I'm a born problem-solver. But always because I have to, to satisfy something deep inside. I love making still images that capture a moment, a feeling, a place, an idea. And especially if by doing so I can reflect a little of God's glory back to him. He's a fabulous artist!
  • Is there a photo you have seen that someone else has taken that has inspired you and how you take photographs?
Absolutely, all the time. My flickr buddies are a continual source of inspiration. Here's a favourite, Krissy Anne's photo on the left inspiring mine on the right:
Kristins in the Kitchen (by Krissy Anne) Ians in the front yard (by Ian B-M)

My professional reading leads me to many more ideas. Strobist and DPS keep me connected to new ideas all the time, the former on flash and portraits (my current focus—pun intended) and the latter more generally.

And finally, my wife. Laetitia learnt how to be a good photographer through my lending her a camera many years ago and telling her to practice. But her approach is not like mine at all; her mind's eye sees things differently, and sees different things. If we both enter a photo competition, she'll win every time, I think because her vision is more conventional. I tend to see odd and unusual angles, that may make people uncomfortable and certainly aren't everyone's cup of tea. I may be technically more skilful, but her photos have greater mass appeal.

Allison, thanks for asking. I hope these answers satisfy some of your curiosity!

Creative Commons License This work by Ian Bailey-Mortimer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by request.

Sunday, July 26, 2009

Casual Portraits

I am definitely going to try this idea for impromptu portrait photography. Soon. I might do it with people I know, though.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

What camera should I buy?

People often ask me this. My response, after checking whether they want a digital or a film camera, usually consists of three main points:
  • In the current market, it's hard to go wrong. No camera you buy today (assuming you spend more than about $20) will be a waste of your money. They all work—no, actually, they're all quite good. But some of them won't be good for you, because they won't do what you want. So,
  • Decide in advance what features you want. Do you want a heavy, but flexible and fast, SLR, or do you want a take-it-anywhere point and shoot? Do you want a viewfinder or just an LCD on the back? Do you need to be able to use a tripod, a cable or remote trigger release or an external flash? Does it need to be waterproof, shockproof, childproof, dog-proof? Do you want to be able to take over control of the technical issues, or would you rather trust the camera to figure it all out for you every time?
  • Finally, when you've used your feature set to come up with a short list of possible options, go to a camera shop and actually pick the things up. Try them in your hand for size and weight. Take a few photos: Are you happy with what you see? Is it quick enough for you?
I really cannot stress enough the last point, given how little there is technically between many modern digital cameras. Any decent camera shop will let you play with a demo model before you hand over that much of your hard-earned cash—and you can always find one or two techies on staff who will be happy to answer your questions and help you decide. But please: do consider whether the privelege and service is worth paying a little extra for, before you rush home to buy your camera online for $20 less.

By the way, there's a good list of links to other pages of advice and suggestions in this post by Brian Auer.

Creative Commons License This work by Ian Bailey-Mortimer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by request.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

That beautiful photo feeling

Every now and then you look at a photo you just took, and think, “Ah! Perfect.” Don't you just love that feeling?

My wife and I went to Brisbane for a wedding on the weekend. Now you'll find some of my photos from the wedding in the usual place. But that's not what I want to talk about here.

The day after the wedding, just before going to the airport to fly back home, we went for a wander along a section of the Riverwalk that until now I'd only ever looked down on from above, up on the cliff near the Story Bridge.

And at one point I looked upwards, and liked what I saw. Up went the camera, and here's the result:
Light post (by Ian B-M)

Beautiful! (Well, I think so anyway.)

Creative Commons License This work by Ian Bailey-Mortimer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.
Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by request.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

How to photograph a sunrise or sunset

1. Scout out the location first. If possible, go past during the day. Try to get some idea of where the sun will rise or set, and where you might be able to stand to get a good view. Look where the river or lake lies (reflections). Look out for trees (good for framing, foreground interest, silhouettes). Where will other people be?

Whitsunday sunset (by Ian B-M)

2. Arrive early, stay late. Best light quality and colour is usually up to half an hour on the dark side, and quarter of an hour on the daylight side. Yes, that does mean you might have to get out of bed an hour or two before sunrise! (It’s so worth it.)

Dawn breaking (by Ian B-M)

3. Take your tripod. Light levels will be low. You could hand-hold at a higher ISO, but then you’ll get more image noise. (Me, I’m not a big fan of post-processing to get rid of image noise.)

4. Check camera settings. First, exposure. Your camera is going to try to make the scene a dull grey on average. The sun is very bright. Before it rises (or after it sets), light level will be low—your camera may not even be able to focus, and it is likely to over-expose. But if the sun is in the frame, expect the automatic setting to give you a dark, dull image with the sun a bright spot. To fix this, you have three choices: (a) choose “Sunset” mode if your camera has one; (b) use exposure compensation to modify what the camera thinks is right; or, (c) switch to manual exposure and adjust until it looks good on the preview screen. (I just love digital photography! With film you had to bracket like mad and hope something worked.) As for white balance, choosing “Cloudy” or “Shade” will make the result even warmer than real life.

5. Look behind you. You never know what (or who) you might see, where no-one else is looking.

Watching the dawn (by Ian B-M)

Creative Commons License

This work by Ian Bailey-Mortimer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.5 Australia License.

Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by request.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A little about me

Ok, so who am I and why should you pay attention to anything I say?

Professionally, I'm a mathematics teacher living in Mackay, Queensland, Australia. I'm also an experienced computer programmer.

But I've been taking photographs almost as long as I've been alive—certainly for as long as I can remember! My father was putting cameras (35mm SLR or Super-8) in my hands since I was maybe 4 years old, and encouraged me to experiment and learn. My formal education in mathematics and physics gave me a better understanding of some of the technical details of photography, supplemented more recently by a little background reading in design and philosophy.

Since leaving high school and home, I have invested in my own camera equipment (initially Pentax 35mm SLRs, now a Nikon DSLR) and gradually developed and built my skills and technical repertoire. I have tried a wide variety of films, both print & slide, and I have particularly enjoyed exploring the wonderful, instant-feedback world of digital photography!

You can see some of my more recent photography on Flickr. Of course, most of the photos I've taken in my life were from before I bought my first digital camera in December 2006, and I've only scanned a few of my favourites.