Above San Pedro de Atacama, Chile. Phase One 645DF, IQ180 back, 55mm Schneider lens, and lots of sand.
Qantas flyers may think they have seen this photograph before and they'd be correct. It featured in a photo essay on Chile late last year for the inflight magazine. It is also one of the images I've been using as I prepare for a presentation next weekend on designing and printing photo books (it's on at the Digital Show courtesy of Momento - details in the banner above).
Where do ideas like this location come from? Answer: other travel photographers.
Is it okay to copy other photographers' locations? I mean, I ranted about plagiarism a few weeks ago, what's the difference here?
Plagiarism is when you copy the work of one photographer, inspiration is when you copy one hundred other photographers! Taking the idea of this location and then heading out to investigate it yourself is not plagiarism. In fact, when you're working professionally, I'd call it essential research.
I was staying at the Explora Hotel in San Pedro de Atacama and somewhere in their brochures I saw a photo taken looking out over this vista, with the Licancabur volcano in the distance.
It's also a popular vantage point for the horse riders (the hotel has its own stables), so when I mentioned the location to the guides at the hotel, getting me there wasn't a problem.
The biggest challenge on this particular afternoon was sand. Those beautiful foreground dunes didn't appear overnight, they are the result of hundreds, if not thousands of years of erosion, with the light sand from the plateau up above and behind me gradually accumulating into these massive sand dunes. Keeping the sand out of my cameras was challenging on a particularly windy afternoon.
Also challenging was the contrasty light. Perhaps a better time to shoot this location would be after sunset with just the skylight illuminating the landscape. I was kind of hoping this was going to happen, but cloud along the western horizon didn't permit the sky to light up as required. Still, I'm not complaining about the shot I have taken.
And there's always next time. In fact, I'm leading an exclusive trip there in August next year. If you're interested, check out my brochure by clicking here.
Vik, Iceland. 30 second exposure.
Every photography trip and workshop is an adventure. I've just returned from Iceland where Christian Fletcher, Tony Hewitt, Antony Spencer and I were entrusted with the lives of 20 stalwart photographers.
Yes, I'm giving these photographers a lot of credit because for nearly two weeks, they put up with Christian's poor jokes and Tony's equally poor apologies. Fortunately, Antony had so many amazing photos on his iPhone, of locations we were going to visit in the next day or two, that he was able to keep the peace - and interest!
We all put a lot of trust in Antony who has visited Iceland over 30 times, but half way up the side of a hill, I was having second thoughts.
One of the things you know about Iceland is that it has amazing weather. Of course, that amazing weather is sometimes horizontal rain, hail and snow, which in turn can affect the roadworthiness of access tracks to great photographs.
Antony mentioned an amazing view over the sea stacks at Vik on the Icelandic south coast. We could see the stacks from the hotel, as well as the road leading up to them. It didn't look too hard and our vans were 4WD or AWD.
I was last in a procession of four. Tony was in front of me, an expert 4WD driver (his dad was a 4WD instructor), but when he struggled to make it over some deep rutts on the last section of a particularly steep hill, I was a little worried. So, it appeared, was Tony, because he got out of the vehicle to check things out and it took him three goes to get through.
Now, I'm a city slicker, but in the back of my car I had a couple of travellers with lots of 4WD experience. "Just gun it, Pete. Keep moving and you'll be fine."
At the top of the hill, my legs were shaking, but my advisers were correct and we had arrived at the top without incident. And we had this amazing view of the Vik sea stacks below us!
One of the reasons I turned this into a black and white was because, after recent rains, the water below had a range of different colourations from mud and run-off, and so the easiest solution was not to deal with colour at all!
If you're interested in coming on an amazing photographic workshop where I promise not to drive a 4WD van, click here for some 2016 tours - Atacama and Patagonia, Bhutan (nearly sold out), Arnhemland, Karijini and New Zealand.
Jakar Dzong, Bhutan. The huge prayer wheel and the small monk were blurred with a long exposure. I'm sure I'm not the first photographer to have used a long exposure for this subject, but as long as I am not copying someone else's photograph, I have nothing to fear! David Oliver and I are leading a group to Bhutan next year - only a few places left, so get in touch if you're interested.
In the AIPP's The Working Pro newsletter this month, I wrote a piece about plagiarism - the direct copying of someone else's work. In the old days of painting, it was usual for a student to directly copy the work of his master as a process of learning. For photographers today, that process is still highly recommended, except if you do copy someone else's photograph, don't enter it into a competition or post it on social media as though it were your own.
The problem isn't in the copying, it is in misrepresenting the photograph as being your own work.
So, what about subjects that have been photographed before? We've all seen photographs of the Sydney Opera House, so does that mean when we take our own photos of the Opera House we are plagiarists? Of course not - unless we take along someone else's photograph of the Opera House and seek to copy it directly.
If plagiarism were based on subject matter, portrait photographers would be in trouble because we all take photos of people! It's not the subject matter as much as the way or the manner in which the photo is taken. If you apply your own individual style and approach, that should usually be enough to distinguish yourself.
On social media recently, there have been a few examples of photographers exhibiting images that are incredibly similar to the work of other photographers. What these photographers might not always recognise is the amount of discussion about the similarity that happens elsewhere. It doesn't paint them in a good light. This isn't to say that just because a photograph is very similar to someone else's that it was copied. It could be coincidence and so we should also be careful not to accuse someone of plagiarism before we know all the facts.
It's an interesting subject and one that has many interesting facets and turns!
Early morning in the Phobjikha Valley, Bhutan.
The Canon AIPP Australian Professional Photography Awards(APPA) are coming up soon and, as usual, I'm struggling to work out what to enter.
Over the years, I've realised that entering competitions becomes a game. I've won lots of acceptances and silver awards, so I am pretty comfortable that I can take a half decent photo from time to time. Now the challenge is, can I show the judges something they like as much as I do?
The four photos that leave my studio for APPA, packaged in a weathered print case, are four gold awards in my mind. I imagine all the other entrants are thinking the same about their entries.
And I imagine there are a lot of photographers who are disappointed when their prints come back with scores lower than gold, and severely disappointed when one or two are lower than silver! It's not that the photos aren't any good (I tell myself), just that the judges didn't appreciate my brilliance on the day. The challenge when picking your photographs, I think, is to distance yourself from them and imagine how a judge will react to them. For instance, for me, the photo above brings back wonderful memories of an early morning in Bhutan, but I don't believe it is strong enough for a gold award. So, does that mean I'm not happy with the photograph? Definitely not. I love it, but it's not going to take centre stage in the context of a photo competition. In isolation, it's 'lovely', but when placed against hundreds of other images, it doesn't have the immediate impact needed to impress the judges. At least, that's what I think.
For a book, for an audio visual or even for a large print on the wall, I'm more than happy with this image. But for my competition entries, I will continue to look through my files and hopefully find something with more immediate impact.
If you're interested in visiting Bhutan with David Oliver and me in 2016, please take a look at our online brochure here.
The Better Photography Magazine Photograph of the Year competition is now open. Entries close 15 September 2015. You can enter the competition and also see the top 50 winners from each of the 6 categories in our previous competitions on our dedicated competition website - competition.betterphotography.com.
There's not much difference between the before post-production (above) and after (up top). A little more contrast and I have highlighted the road at the bottom.
Adelie Penguin, Paulet Island. Photographed with a Canon EOS-1D X and the 200-400mm 1.4x super zoom. When you get in close to your subject (relatively speaking), the background is thrown well out of focus and the 'blurring' or 'bokeh' is glorious!
Lying flat on my stomach, I'm sure I didn't look like a penguin. Mind you, I hopefully didn't look like a beached whale either, although with the amount of warm clothing on, I was well padded from the rocky shore below me.
I'm no wildlife expert, by which I mean I'm not a naturalist nor an animal behaviour specialist. However, when it comes to photographing wildlife, I like to think the principles of portraiture and landscape photography apply in equal measure - with one important addition: patience. The more wildlife photography I do, the more I realise that it is time in the field that gets you great shots. Yes, this one's not bad, but there are aspects that could be improved.
For instance, the penguins on the right don't have heads - they might be better out of the way completely, or at least showing a bit more of a bump so animal rights zealots don't accuse me of cruelty. The penguin on the left is not cropped off the best either. Similarly, the penguin partly obscuring the chick isn't in the best position. Unfortunately, when the hero of the photo did its thing, this is how it was, but I'm sure if I had another hour or so, I could have nailed similar antics with a better arrangement of the supporting cast.
Does this make sense? I mean, I love this photo and the moment it has captured, but I can see how it could be better still. And once you've photographed a few hundred penguins, you start to refine your vision. They are still incredibly photogenic, it's just a matter of having all the elements come together at the one time.
Easy for me to say because I'm heading down to Antarctica and South Georgia in November and I will have many more opportunities to perfect my penguin portrait technique. Mind you, Aurora tells me there are still spots available on the Polar Pioneer if you'd like to come with me, plus they are offering to fly your partner to South America and back for free! I guess that means there will be two of you coming along!
For more information, visit www.auroraexpeditions.com.au or click here. And mention the special 'partner flies free' offer (assuming you're taking your partner, of course!)
A few more Adelie Penguins clambering over Paulet Island, Antarctica. Photographed with a Canon EOS-1D X and the 200-400mm 1.4x super zoom.