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Recent Blogs from Better Photography

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I Shot 343 Frames to Get This One

Sue and her employees, Middlehurst, NZ
Fujifilm X-T3, 200mm lens, f2.5 @ 1/2400 second, ISO 400

This is Sue. Sue and Willy own Middlehurst in New Zealand where Tony Hewitt and I run our annual art photography experience. And I did take 343 frames to get this one, but I probably have 150 frames that are also pretty good.

Sue was out rustling sheep. Okay, so that's the wrong term, but it makes a better blog post! Each year at Middlehurst, Sue, Willy and their employees (dogs and horses) encourage a flock of sheep to run over some beautiful countryside towards our cameras. One of the shots you may be familiar with - the black and white blur of sheep as the dogs round them up. And every year there is something different: the weather, the clothing, where Sue or Willy stand or ride. It's never about just photographing the sheep. Yes, we're there to shoot the sheep, but as photographers it's also important to keep our eyes open for other opportunities.

Here I'm using the shallow depth-of-field of a 200mm lens (equivalent to a 300mm lens on a full-frame sensor) to throw the background out of focus. While blurred, there's enough information to tell you what it is like, but it's sufficiently muted to ensure the subject of the photo - Sue and her employees - stand out. The wider the aperture, the shallower the depth-of-field, but even at f8 or f11, the background would still be pretty blurred with this focal length. Depth-of-field reduces not only with longer focal lengths, but also the closer your focused subject is.

And note how the snow-covered hill in the background surrounds Sue and her horse. By being aware of the background at the time of capture, you can move yourself or your subject into position. Many of the other 343 frames don't have as successful a background - and that's why I was happy to shoot LOTS of frames, allowing me to choose the best one later.

We have now confirmed the second program at Middlehurst this July and have two places left for the 12-18 July week if you're interested. It doesn't look like Australians and New Zealanders will be travelling too far afield this year - and with a location like Middlehurst so accessible, it doesn't really matter! You can read all about the Middlehurst experience here. Or visit www.betterphotography.com, of course!

An Amazing Location - but Only for Photographers with Imagination

Winterton River and tributary, Middlehurst, New Zealand
Phase One XF 100MP with 80mm Schneider lens, f2.8 @ 1/2500 second, ISO 200

This is one of my favourite aerial photographs. Why? I'm often asked about my favourite location, favourite camera, favourite photo and my usual answer is 'the next one'. Yet I keep coming back to this photo. 

I realise for some that it is possibly too simple, too monochromatic, too repetitive, yet these are exactly the characteristics I love. I guess I have always been attracted to the folds of the landscape, the 'Sara Lee' layer-upon-layer-upon-layer effect and around this part of the Inland Kaikoura Range, there's no shortage. In fact, it is the repetition that makes the image so simple, yet complicated at the same time. There's a contrast in the idea - the same subject repeated in many different shapes, sizes and directions. And I have purposely asked the pilot to fly a little lower so I can exclude the surroundings, creating the impression that this landscape extends 'forever' outside the frame.

Yet within the frame, I have other contrasts. The light grassy yellows in the foreground contrast with the rich earthy browns above. The Winterton River, barely visible, makes a natural border between the two, while the more obvious, unnamed tributary disappears into the shadows at the top of the frame - where does it go? Another contrast is the softness of the clouds floating breathlessly above the hardness of the mountains. Some people might find it a distraction, but for me it adds to the 'unknown', asking us to guess what is hidden below - more of the same or something undisclosed?

I think this photo epitomises what Tony Hewitt and I try to encourage on our Middlehurst photography retreats. During the week we're at the station, while we're out every day shooting from the air or down by the side of a river, it's the conversation that matters. And our conversation encourages photographers to be confident about what they like in their photographs, rather than trying to replicate an award winning photo taken at an internationally famous landmark. 'Trophy photography' is a lot of fun and I love shooting famous locations as much as the next photographer, but shooting like this doesn't give me the same satisfaction as discovering something new, something the rest of the world hasn't discovered.

It doesn't matter where or what you shoot, we all have the opportunity to do something personal, something different. Sure, take the hero photos as well, why wouldn't you, but after you've put your tripod legs in someone else's position, look around for something that's personal to you.

And if I have encouraged you in some small way to join Tony and myself this July, now is the time to have a chat. The 19-26 July 2021 Middlehurst experience is sold out, but we're looking to put on a 12-18 July 2021 week if we get the numbers! Please send me or Tony an email, or contact Kim at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. (Kim works Mon, Wed and Fridays).

True Confessions of Someone About To Travel

Pages from the Looking Down Notebook, a personal project of aerial photos. 
Printed on Eggshell paper and spiral bound by Momento Pro.

I love the printed photograph. Originally, it was something printed in a darkroom or using an offset press. Today it is using an inkjet printer or an on-demand press. And if I'm honest, the quality I'm getting today is so much better than anything I produced in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Next week, I'm travelling. Just a small step from NSW to the Northern Territory where I'm running a number of workshops and photo tours with the AIPP. On the itinerary is an aerial workshop for an afternoon a little north of Darwin. When it comes to aerials, I have a preference for the 'squarial', the almost abstract pattern shots that are created by looking directly down from the aircraft and excluding the horizon.

To give the presentation, I thought it would be nice to share some of my work in the printed format, so I put together around 90 images and sent them off to Momento Pro for printing on their Indigo press. I'll also take a few prints made on my Epson SC-906, printed on Canson Rag Photographique. Are there differences? Of course! When you read your paper edition of Better Photography, as good as the reproduction is (also printed by Momento on an Indigo press), a four or six colour device can't match the 10 inks in an Epson printer. And Momento itself offers a premium printing service where it also uses exactly the same types of Epson printers photographers do to print the pages.

What I love about the printed image is being able to linger on the image, to see the detail just by moving my eyes, rather than enlarging and scrolling around. If you don't have your own printer, there's nothing stopping you from having some of your best images printed by someone like Created for Life or Brilliant Prints. Send them a digital file and they'll send back a physical print.

Ignacio Palacios and I are doing a short photo and printing workshop at Sydney's Blue Mountains at the end of June if you're interested in knowing more (here's the link), and while the Darwin workshops are all sold out, there's an evening talk on Tuesday 18 which has seats available (see https://aipp.com.au/events/ for details).

Below are a few more spreads from my Looking Down Notebook. And I hope I've encouraged you to make a few prints!

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