Thursday, August 26, 2010

some photography tips & tricks I did for some gay dads groups

Hi Folks,

Ok, for those who don’t know, I’m an amateur photographer, quite a keen one and also it seems quite a good one (but that’s entirely subjective) – I still have so much to learn and much further to go. Anyway, I’ve had work exhibited both here in Melbourne on numerous occasions and also once in New York in an interactive exhibition (that was very exciting!). I’ve also had a couple of photos published - which was also very cool.

So I was thinking that it might be a good idea to compile a tips & tricks document that will hopefully become organic in nature. I’m not the world’s best photographer and I don’t claim to be.

For those who haven’t seen them:

My two flickr sites

My own -> (which pretty much has everything I do in it! The good & the bad!)

My family photostream ->

Now down to the nitty gritty…

Your equipment shouldn’t matter (how many times have you heard this line!). You should be able to achieve good photos with any camera. Better cameras don’t make better photographers. Please don’t even think that to take good photos you need to spend the money on a dSLR. Learn what your camera can do. Read the manual (I don’t think I’ve ever read a manual start to finish to be honest). Learn what each mode does and what you can achieve with it. Find what you like and run with it :) Or basically play. Select the mode, shoot a couple of snaps and see if you like the result.

Take multiple shots. Memory is cheap – buy multiple memory cards. I suggest multiple shots for a number of reasons, children move fast! I’ve learnt this. Also I think its better if your shots of people with their eyes open rather than their eyes shut.

Auto. This can either be a bug-bear or a saviour. Most “real” photographers will tell you not to shoot in Auto. Ignore them – as a friend of mine said – camera companies have spent millions on developing these modes, there’s no reason why I shouldn’t use them. I personally will only use Auto when I can’t the image I want to work using my presets (normally shooting in full sun).

Flashes… well yes. Not a fan. I think in the nearly 11 months plus of the girls life I have used the flash maybe 3-4 times. I really try not to use the onboard flash as they are incredibly bright and while I may be over-reacting I am concerned about the potential damage that incredibly bright light can do to little eyes. This is entirely personal choice! But this ties into my next point.

Be aware of light and where light is coming from. Use it to your advantage. This is one of the things in my mind that takes a photo from ordinary to extraordinary. Be aware of the direction of the light and what it’s going to put in shadow. Also keep in mind you are much better taking photos in the shade/indirect light then you are taking photos in full sunlight. Now post-processing can help (I use CS3 but I don’t know nearly a tenth of what it can do) some images but the old adage is really true – crap in, crap out (or garbage in, garbage out). iPhoto from what I understand also has some pretty powerful, basic photo editing tools. Not sure about PC based programs sorry – I haven’t used a PC in a number of years.

Composition (or how you frame/shoot your photographs). At the end of the day this is what makes or breaks a good photo. A badly composed photo is a badly composed photo. We’ve all seen photos with people’s heads cut off etc… this isn’t really about that. This is more about space and negative space. Be aware of negative space and how you can use it to your advantage. As in if you have a child up against a wall maybe move back a bit to make it more interesting. Be aware of background elements in the photo you are trying to take as they can detract or add to a photo. Also don’t feel constrained to shoot in either a horizontal or a vertical mode. Mix it up a little, shoot on an angle. Get closer to your subject, get further away etc… again just play and have fun with it. Another idea is maybe try to get candid shots of people with your baby/babies. I think we’ve all seen the overly forced smile photos – you know the ones I mean where people either look constipated or in physical pain – a lot of people don’t like having their photos taken so try to be more obtuse about it and there is a certain sweetness or elegance that come through candid shots.

iPhone apps – there’s a number of iPhone apps that can be fun to use to create interesting and quirky pictures. There’s some for android equipped phones again but as I’m an apple fanboy, I have no idea about these things ;)

Amongst my favourites are hipstamatic for that wonderful toy camera feeling and Best Camera which allows a number of different treatments (fake polaroids for example). Cameraphones are very good for having on you at all times as you never know just what’s going to happen. I shot mostly with a dSLR but I have a point & shoot in the nappy bag and I always have my iPhone with me.

Further resources:

MIT has a bunch of photography related courses online ->

The Melbourne Camera Club in South Melbourne has an introduction to photography course that we (Larry & myself) found quite educational ->

The classes go very fast though! I think it’s $250 for 8 or 10 weeks from memory.

If anyone has any questions please feel free to fire away – more than happy to answer them :)



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Election 2010 and how I'm voting

I still haven't decided how I'm voting. There's 6 candidates in my safe(ish) labor seat. The incumbent Labor member, an openly gay Liberal candidate, a greens candidate, a family first candidate, an australian secular party candidate and an australian sex party candidate.

Apparently Melbourne Ports has since been classified as a marginal seat... Don't ask me I don't get it.

So first the no's
I'm not voting for Family First. I absolutely, completely refuse to on principle. This is a party that espouses family values are more important than anything else and they are generally the most narrow minded and bigoted people you will encounter. Like pretty much being told that me raising my family is akin to child abuse because I have denied my children the right to a mother and a father.
I am not voting for the Australian Sex Party. I can never work out if these people are serious or not. I really can't. It always feel like it's a piss-take of some description or another. From their policy statement "The Australian Sex Party is a political response to the sexual needs of Australia in the 21st century. It is an attempt to restore the balance between sexual privacy and sexual publicity that has been severely distorted by morals campaigners and prudish politicians."
The Australian Secular Party is another I just don't get. They're all for the seperation of church & state but their philosophy confused me.
So the Labor sitting representative. Now I've never seen my local representative. I get the odd newsletter here & there which is the usual crap about what a fabulous job he thinks he's doing... Now he is his party's representative so I am judging him on that. I completely disagree with the ALP's stand on the proposed internet filter, this is a democracy, the government doesn't not have the right to censor information without the populations knowledge. We have the right to discuss, question and contest it - as we do now with our current classification guidelines. I also think NBNCo is a massive waste of money - wee fibre to home networks when large numbers of people are moving to wireless technologies... Then there's the leadership coup, that left a really bad taste in my mouth as to what our elected officials are capable of. And then there's the cheap vote buying ala this was in one of my local papers this week - "Danby flags shift on same-sex laws. Labor Melbourne Ports MHR Michael Danby told a crowd of voters at St Kilda Town Hall that he believed a policy shift on same-sex marriage was "coming". Although he supported Labor's stance leading into the election. He flagged the possibility of "serious movement" on the issue, saying many politicians supported overturning the same-sex marriage ban introduced in 2004." I find this really insulting personally. I do.

Then I'm torn between the greens candidate and the liberal candidate. I'm getting more conservative as I'm getting older (and also because I now have a family) which is part of it. I'm hestitant to vote for the Greens candidate as I don't want the preferences going to Labor and I really, really hate preferential voting. I also find the liberal candidate kind of endearing but also kind of irksome. He's "openly" gay but yet he refers to his partner in gender neutral terms, that annoys me...

I suspect I'll end up voting Liberal...

And I'm voting Greens in the Senate. I don't want either major political party with control of both houses.

Mumbai Memories

I really didn't like Mumbai.
It's hot, dusty, smelly, dirty, filthy, dirty, filthy. I know there's a reason for some of this namely poverty and being India's largest city people will migrate to it in the hope of making money or breaking free of the cycle of poverty - I admire them for that. But there was stuff that just made me shake my head. There'd be people squatting on the street and there'd be a toilet maybe 20-30 metres away from them (now I have never been in a public toilet in India and I feel that was probably a wise move!).

It really was a culture shock for me. I was confronted on an almost daily basis on the contrasts between the haves and the have-nots and just how people survive. I was miserable and I think I made your father miserable too! You also have the insanity of the Mumbai commuter trains. It's fun to watch (in hindsight) how intimidated tourists are to try to get on one of these trains. They are packed to the absolute brim with people still hanging out the edges and there seems to be some form of coordination to the chaos that took your father and myself a couple of trains to work out - we basically just took the plunge and jumped on the train. We were trying to get tickets to Delhi as that was the next place your father and I wanted to go to. This is where we met the next part of what I found to be really frustrating about Mumbai - everyone is out to scam you or alternatively there are just so many layers of bureaucracy it's crazy. So we were told that we had to go to a certain station to get tickets for the Rajdhani Express. So we go to that station - stand in a line to get a token, to then stand in another line to get to a ticket window to be informed we have to a different station (foreign national ticket office) to repeat the process... rinse, lather, repeat.

So we buy the tickets to Delhi. Your father wanted to go first class as the Rajdhani Express is meant to be quite an experience in first class. We ended up in Second Class as tickets are booked out months and months ahead for first class and there's only so many allocated to foreign nationals.

I will be honest and admit at this point that I love Indian Food, I especially love Indian Food in India (although I know it's not referred to as Indian Food). But it's so good, the thalis, the masalas, the sambar, the poha, the wedu... etc ;) I would get fat living in India! There was also a rather interesting restaurant that was attached to our hotel called Out of the Blue that did fusion foods. So a blend of western & Indian cooking - that was so good! I can still remember it a penne served with a creamy green chilli masala. Blew me away!

We did some of the typical touristy stuff before we left for Delhi - checked out Mumbai, the Elphanata Caves. India has such a sense of history that most places in the world can't come near and there's something very spiritual and humbling about it all.

We were in Mumbai for 3 days before heading off to Delhi. There was something else I was going to say I have completely forgotten now!

Thursday, August 12, 2010

American Airlines

Just wow
Just wow...

We left Dulles on the 9th for what should have been a relatively straightforward flight to LAX. Should have been... The plane had a damaged spoiler they decided to tie down which then meant that we had to stop in Tulsa to refuel. The woman at the Admiral's Club reassured us that we'd make our connecting flight as the refuel only takes 20 minutes - HA!

So we're on the plane.
It's the usual bitter, twisted, miserable and rude staff. Dear American Airlines Air Crew if you hate your jobs that much - find a new one! Please!
Everything is too much effort. Mind you were given free headsets rather than being charged the usual $2 for them. The sound on the movie wasn't working properly as Larry was rather curtly informed when he was the 20th person to tell the crew the sound wasn't working.

Sorry I skipped ahead slightly.
The pilot had informed us that they had a choice of kicking 30 passengers off or flying slow & low and refuelling in Tulsa. They took option 2. Ok...
Refuelling took an hour...
We get to LAX an hour late. We obviously miss our connecting flight. We're directed from the international connections desk to the customer service desk. The girl at the customer service desk basically tells us that she doesn't care as her shift is over and there's not going to be anyone to replace her. So we have to go to the ticket desk to be reticketed... (I could have screamed at this point). Told everything is ok and that we'll be put on the next available flight to Melbourne (the following night) so in the interim we're being put up in the LAX Marriott for the night. It's currently after midnight LA time. So we head to the hotel... check in and there's one restaurant open and no 24 hour room service! Beyond that it was actually a very nice hotel.

So the following morning Larry rings Qantas to find out what is going on. They can't help us - so Larry rings American Airlines - they can't help us (this was about 2 hours on the phone). So he decides to head to the airport to talk to the Qantas and American Airlines desks. This was also an exercise in futility. Apparently there's only certain staff from American that are trained in the Qantas system so we had to wait for them to start.

So at 4pm we all track down to the airport (the cute baby factor can help!) to see if we can get home. So all seems well. We have tickets - we have bassinets for the girls. We also have a connecting flight through Brisbane but that should be ok. We ask after the luggage and are assured that everything should be ok.

So we head over to the airport again around 9pmish to wait for our flight. We get on the plane and all is easy. The girls sleep most of the way to Brisbane. And really it is amazing how different Qantas really is. We have to collect our luggage in Brisbane as we have to escort it through customs before flying to Melbourne. We're standing there and standing there and standing there... Larry had made a comment when we were walking through immigration that it would be funny if our luggage was lost.

Still standing there...
Larry wanders over to the lost baggage counter and I'm still waiting. I'm then informed that the last of the luggage is out. Our luggage is "lost".

It was en route to Melbourne on the plane we had originally been re-ticketed on... it actually beat us to Melbourne... The Qantas flight to Melbourne was lovely - all of the air crew were more than willing and happy to help us. So my fellow Australians the next time you whinge about how bad Qantas is - try flying American Airlines.

I really never ever want to fly American Airlines again!