Totally Confused

Birds were so much easier back in England. I wrote earlier about how Australian Robins come in an assortment of colours and not just the red breasted ones I grew up with. Well walking down the river bed the other day I see this.

Mistletoebird, by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Mistletoebird, Dicaeum hirundinaceum. The Nyoongar name is Minnijit. York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 6d with Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f8 at ISO 1600.

 

It’s obviously some sort of robin thinks I as I walk along pondering this new bird. WRONG!!!! It’s a mistletoe bird. First robins come in multiple colours and now birds with red breasts aren’t robins. I think I’m going to stick with penguins – they’re black and white and easy to identify.

 

Penguin Island by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Little penguin or fairy penguin (Eudyptula minor). Penguin Island, Western Australia. Canon EOS 5d with a Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM lens and Canon x2 extender. Exposure: 1/250, f5.6 ISO 1600.

 

 

Photography …

… it’s a bit like fishing. There’s always the one that got away. It doesn’t matter how prepared you think you are the opportunity presents and disappears in a nano second. One of my photography lecturers used to talk about what he called ‘the retrospective drive home’ where you analyse everything you did and didn’t do that contrived to create that missed opportunity. The frustrating thing is as you try and tell someone about it they invariably say “A photograph or it didn’t happen”.  Well this time I’ve got the photos to prove it! Sort of.

The other day I was walking along the Swan River foreshore at Claremont when I saw an Osprey drop like a stone from the air and scoop up a fish.  In less than the blink of an eye it was over. I was ready the camera was out of the bag and had a long lens fitted, it was switched on and the settings were optimised. So what did I get?

The osprey making its escape with catch of the day.

With some Photoshop magic this is what I got.

 

That was the best I could get – pathetic isn’t it? There I am with (hang on the other half may read this) an untold amount of money tied up in photo equipment and this is it! I remember watching the original Bladerunner where they had a fancy doodad that could extract a useable photo out of some ridiculous enlargement. You know that film was set in 2019 and it is now 2018 and we haven’t got that fancy photo doodad let alone flying cars. The future is such a disappointment. So as I walk away from the scene looking dismally at the LCD on the back of the camera I’m mentally kicking my backside.

Half an hour later I hear a commotion coming from the water. A shoal of fishing flapping on the surface coming on to the shoreline. Low and behold a fin and then a head break the surface. It’s a pair of bottle nosed dolphins driving fish into the shore. With the relaxes of a dead cat I leap into action and fire off a burst.

 

Claremont Foreshore Walk by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Indo-Pacific Bottle Nosed Dolphins can often be seen in in Freshwater Bay. They often drive shoals of fish into towards the shore to make hunting easier. They also feed on the crabs found on the sandbar.

 

Well this time I got a sharp photo of something recognisable as a dolphin. But that is the best I got. This wildlife photography lark is hard – the wildlife aren’t giving me chance.

Hell Or High Water

Hell or high water is the new motto for the Avon Descent and was adopted because recent years have seen decreasing amounts of rainfall falling and competitors have had to carry their craft where there was insufficient water. This year, 2017 and the 45th occasion of the race, the water levels were high which meant potentially new records could be set. The Avon Descent was first held in 1973, and there were only forty-nine competitors. This year there were 370 competitors with many coming from interstate and overseas. In more ways than one it deserves the title the “world’s greatest white water event”. The 124 km or 77 mile two day event starts at Northam and finishes at the Riverside Garden in Bayswater with an over night stop at the Boral Campsite just outside Toodyay. For the majority of entrants the aim is just to complete the course, but for the elite athletes it is a chance of competing in a unique endurance race.

The beauty of this race is that you can pick out a few vantage points from a list put out by the race organisers on their website and follow the whole event documenting the whole story rather than just getting an isolated snap shot. In previous years I’d covered the race for magazines shooting stills and then writing the story. This year I had intended to cover the entire event from start to finish and it was to be first time I’d covered it shooting video. Having planned my weekend around the race it was time to check the maps and the approximate timings for each stage. For instance there was no point heading to the first stage after the start as I would not have had time to get there by car, park, and then walk along the river to find a good location to set up. Also I had to think about the weather conditions, because at some of the viewing points you are bussed in and that would mean I’d have to carry everything with me. As the forecast for the weekend was a cold start it was thermals, and fleece. he key was light layers that could be added or taken off as conditions permitted. Camera and lens choice was hard, and I found it difficult to make a decision. For the Friday shots I could work from the back of the car and it was all to be people shots around Northam and for the sake of mobility using either a monopod or a gimbal. In the end I decided to use the Sony A7r and with Olympus OM Zuiko lenses – the 20mm, 50mm and 135mm. This and the gimbal went in a belt pack. Saturday involved shooting at three sites and I wanted to shoot some time-lapse as well as video footage. So I chose the Olympus OMD EM 1 with 40-150mm f2.8 lens for the video work and the EM10 with 12-40mm f2.8 for the time-lapse. I couldn’t set up a tripod at the start as I was going to shoot on the swing bridge so I used a monopod for the video and for the time-lapse I clamped the Syrp Genie Mini to the bridge safety barrier with a Manfrotto super clamp. All this went into my photo back pack. Sunday was the biggest problem with no car access to Bells Rapids everything had to be carried. So I took the Canon EOS6d with 24-70mm, 70-200 and a x2 converter. I’d also need plenty of batteries and memory cards as there would be no nipping back to the car. I decided to carry all this in pouches on a belt as I needed to be able to scramble up some rocks to get a good vantage point. At Bells I mounted the camera on a tripod but at the finish line I shot just using a monopod.

The race happens on the first weekend of August every year. It kicked off on the Friday with the competitor registration at the Northam Swimming Pool and then their craft were taken down to the race marshalling area on the banks of the river. Late in afternoon and into the evening was the Avon River Festival with a huge fireworks display on the Avon River, stage shows featuring a variety of local talent, a family fun zone, rides for all the family, sideshow alley and roving entertainment, a community street parade, markets for avid shoppers, and food. On Saturday morning the event kicked off proper. As I arrived I could see hot air balloons drifting lazily above the river. The power craft were away quickly and smoothly and then it was the turn of the paddle craft. I was surprised to see that someone was competing for the first time on a Stand Up Paddleboard (SUP). Barely had half the paddle craft left than the news came through that the first power craft had reached Toodyay. It was going to be a very fast race with little hope of getting shots of the power craft. I spent a total of an hour and half standing on the swing bridge -it is a wire suspension bridge that bounces a lot, the police constable standing next to me complained of feeling seasick from the constant motion. It didn’t effect me but it really made me glad that I had the in body stabilisation activated on the cameras. After the start I went to Williamson Weir stayed there for an hour and a half. The Weir is man-made and its concrete lip and rock wall are hazardous to boat and paddler alike so around half the competitors choose to portage around it. Thankfully the other half run it and you get the thrills and spills with plenty of encouragement from the watching crowd. Finishing up in Toodyay for the day is great. There is always a great vibe with a tremendous crowd and a party like atmosphere. When I got there the town was packed and in full on carnival mode. It took an age to find some parking and get down to the river. Here there was a team change over area, and along the riverside were lots of anxious looking paddlers all staring up river for any sign of their team mates. As the first canoes started to come round the corner and pass under the timing gate they got their first sight of their team mates and their faces would burst into a huge grin of relief. The spectators would burst into rapturous cheers as the fresh team-mate paddled away heading for the Boral Campsite that marked the halfway point and the end of day one.

I couldn’t face getting up at 4;30am in the dark and freezing cold to get to the start at Boral Camp for day two so I just headed out a bit later and went straight to Bells Rapids in Walyunga National Park. You have to leave the car at the nearby state equestrian centre and then you taken in by bus. From there it was a quick walk to what I call the media rock. It’s a nice big rock that juts out into the river which gives a good view of the competitors coming under the bridge and through the rapids. I got there just as the TV crews were claiming their spots and setting up. I squeezed onto the end closest to the bank and put my tripod up to mark my territory. When the press photographers arrived they gave us a filthy look, but as they were shooting hand-held they didn’t need as much space. A little while later a hopeful photo enthusiast asked if could join us on the rock, one of the guys I know from the papers said it was OK if he didn’t talk about equipment – his or ours – and if he did he’d get thrown in the river. He decided that he couldn’t not talk about kit and took himself off somewhere else. After a couple of hours I knew that I’d have to get my skates on if I was to get to the finish line.

The finish line is in Bayswater a suburb of Perth. A huge screen had been put up and there was a live commentary being given. I positioned myself by the finish line as I find that the images taken as the paddlers beach their boats and walk ashore tells a very powerful story. It does not seem to matter whether they are newbie’s in their first race or veterans each face has a similar look etched upon it. It is a mixture of pain from the sheer physical effort, relief from finishing, and disbelief that it is all over. Some will swear that they will never do it again, but most know that even as they hit the finish line that they will be back next year.

So now a week later, I’ve edited the 50Gb of footage and made a 7 minute clip. As I write this I’m thinking about how things went and what I would change if I were to do it again. Well to start with I wouldn’t bother with the Sony. It produces very nice images, but the screen is terrible. It is winter here and the days aren’t as bright as they can be, but the Sony’s rear LCD panel is virtually unusable. The other thing that puts me off is that the user interface isn’t very intuitive and so adjusting some settings in a hurry is a pain in the nethers. The OMD EM1 mk i is constantly a surprise when shooting video. The touch screen is a pleasure to use and the phase detect auto focus does very well. It is tempting to run off and get a mk ii for the 4K and the improved focusing. The Canon EOS 6d was the surprise, the autofocus is crap, but Technicolor’s CineStyle Profile and Canon’s superb lenses produce gorgeous images. All it needs is a flippy flappy touch screen and dual pixel auto focus and it would be perfect. “The 6d mk ii has that!” I hear you say, but (and there is always a but) the mk ii’s video compression is worse than the mk i. What Canon give they take away! There is always the EOS 80d. I might try to hire one for the next project I shoot. I wish I’d used the gimbal more instead of the monopod, accepting the fact that I couldn’t use it for the long lens shots. Sound could be a lot better – it is the aspect of video I always struggle with. I’m also beginning to think that I’ve out grown iMovie – a better editor would give me some more options. I’ve downloaded DaVinci Resolve to give that a whirl on my next project. In many ways I’m no different to the competitors in the race – I’m already starting to plan for next year!

To Twitch…

…  or not to twitch. That is the question. I fear I could be on the brink of another obsessive hobby – photographing birds. It is a worry. Oh well at least it’s not train spotting! Now where did I put my parka and thermos?

Striated Pardalote by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A striated pardalote (Pardalotus substriatus) found on the Avon Walk Trail in York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM-1 with OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/2000th sec, f7.1 at ISO 800.

 

White-faced Heron by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
White-faced heron ( Egretta novaehollandiae) on the banks of the Avon in York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM-1 with OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1600th sec, f8, ISO 800 and +1.7 stops exposure compensation.

 

Red-capped Robin by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped robins (Petroica goodenovi) can be found in the sheoak trees on the banks of the Avon River. York, Western Australia). Olympus OMD EM-1 with OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1250th sec, f7.1, ISO 800 with +0.7 stop exposure compensation.

 

 

Willie Wagtail by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Willie wagtails (Rhipidura leucophrys leucophrys) can be seen bobbing around catching insects along the banks of the Avon River, York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM-1 with OLYMPUS M.75-300mm F4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/160th sec, f8, ISO 800 with +1.3 stops exposure compensation.

 

 

Zebra Finch by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A female zebra finch (Taeniopygia guttata) perched near the Avon River in York. They are not native to the mid Wheatbelt, but can be found further north. They are common in York and are most likely the offspring of escaped cage birds. Canon EOS 6D with EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2x converter. Exposure: 1/2000th sec, f7.1 Iso 800.

 

 

2016 In Review

Faversham
The Faversham vintage van in Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM-1 with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens. Exposure: 1/200 sec, f5.6 ISO 400.

 

If you have slightly geeky bent, and to be honest if you are reading a photography blog it’s pretty much a given that you have, then Adobe’s Lightroom has several useful tools. One of the ones I’ve been looking at is the ability to look at your photographic work for a specific time frame, and in this case it’s for the year 2016. You can also look at the cameras and lenses you used for that period which enables you to see what patterns of equipment usage emerge. It might ultimately save you money i.e. if you have a hankering for an expensive lens you can look back on your past year to see if that focal length/s you used and whether the objective lens of your desires is one you’d actually use or not. This has actually happened to me – a while back I was working on my project Broncos and Bulls and I felt that the Canon EF 75-300 f4-5.6 IS was costing me shots as it wasn’t the fastest lens to focus and the images at the long end were pretty soft. I wanted a Canon 100-400 L IS but my then preferred local dealer didn’t have one in stock and after waiting nearly 3 months they informed they couldn’t get one. I allowed them to talk me into buying the Canon 70-200 f2.8 L IS with the Canon x2 converter which they had in stock. Their logic was that I’d end up using the 70-200 much more and would hardly use it combined with the teleconverter. Now looking back through my Lightroom library I can see that I’ve hardly used the 70-200 at all on its own and virtually all the times I have used it was in conjunction with the teleconverter. I should have stuck to my guns and gone to another dealer and that way I’d have a lens that met my needs gave and gave good image quality rather than put up with a convenient compromise.

 

Gotcha!!! by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Gotcha. Steer roping, Boddington Rodeo Western Australia. Canon EOS 5D with Canon 70-200 f2.8 IS L and x2 converter. Exposure: 1/800 s at f/5.6 ISO 200
 So what have I deduced about my photography for 2016? Well I’ll start with commenting on 2015 – for that year over half my photographic output was shot with a DSLR (50:50 split between full frame and APS-C). In 2016 that dropped to 10% the other 90% was shot on mirrorless. The DSLR was only used for some macro work (radio controlled TTL flash), some architecture (a specialised lens) and one event where I had a crisis of confidence and didn’t think the mirrorless cameras would cope with high ISOs and low light focussing. When I look at lens usage it comes as a big surprise that one-quarter of the images were taken using adapted lenses and these with a focal range of between 15-135mm in full frame terms. Hmmm well I knew I preferred shorter lenses than

 

Quairading Railway Station by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Aboriginal art at Quairading Railway Station, Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 24mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/4000, f8 at ISO 400.

longer already, the main thing is that I enjoyed using legacy lenses and was more than happy with them in terms of image quality. I don’t have to use legacy lenses at all as I have 20 to 600mm covered by modern dedicated AF lenses. For work where it is appropriate I will use the legacy lenses because they give a certain aesthetic that I like which is a less digital and clinical look.

 

York Mill by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
As you drive into York on the Great Southern Highway standing tall on your left is the historic York Flour Mill built in 1892, home to The York Mill. Sony A7r with Voigtlander 15mm f4.5 Super Wide – Heliar lens. Exposure: 1/25 sec, f16 at ISO 100.

Well what will 2017 bring. Well for 2016 I experimented with finding a certain look. For 2017 will be more project driven as I have found the style I wanted and now want to put it to practice. There will be at least one new book (work on that has already started) and there will be some multi media projects. So exciting times indeed.

 

Hillside Farmhouse by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Hillside Farmhouse was designed by Sir Talbot Hobbs, a leading architect and built in 1911 for Morris Edwards in the historic Wheatbelt town of York in Western Australia. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 35-105mm f3.5-4.5 lens mounted via a Fotodiox adapter, Cokin circular polarizing filter and +3 stop graduated neutral density filter. Exposure 4 seconds, f16, ISO 50.

 

I hope for my readers that 2017 will be all that you hope and that you’ll be healthy and happy.

 

Everlastings by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Everlastings on Mount Brown in York, WA. Sony A7r with Olympus OM Zuiko 135mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: aperture priority with +1 stop exposure compensation, 1/1000th sec, f2.8 at ISO 100.

 

 

Welcome

Welcome Swallows
Nesting Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena) on Avon Terrace, York WA. Canon EOS 550d with Canon EF70-200mm f/2.8L IS USM +2.0x Extender. Exposure: 1/200 sec f8 at ISO 1600.

 

Most days post canine perambulation I call in on at my favourite cafe for a drink. The last few weeks I have been enthralled with the activities of the Welcome Swallows (Hirundo neoxena) which have nested under the eaves. The parents have for the last for the last three weeks been frantically working to feed the chicks. The chicks fledged this week – tentatively making their first flights anxiously watched by mum and dad on Monday – and when I went for my morning drink the nest was quiet and empty. Job done!

 

Welcome Swallows
Welcome Swallows on Avon Terrace, York, Western Australia.