Croquetwest Grip and Grin

Beloved Significant Other collecting an armful of trophies from Emma Cole, mayor of the City of Vincent, at the recent Croqetwest awards presentation for 2018-9.

Well Beloved Significant Other (BSO) Helen Amyes had a stonker of a year on the croquet front and was invited to attend the Croquetwest 2018-9 trophy presentation. Yours truly was tagging along as the +1 with aim of taking just a couple of photos for her clubs Facebook page. The inevitable happened. Turn up with a camera, couple of lenses and a flash and suddenly you are the “official” photographer and taking the photos for the press and social media. As I’ve said before grip and grin is not my favourite form of photography. There wasn’t a lot of wriggle room for an alternative approach this time so it was pretty basic event photography. At least it was helped along in the form of a jolly jape where fake awards were interspersed with the real ones. Even the recipients were left wondering what they’d actually just won.

Brett McHardy and his partner Janine were winners of Golf Croquet Under Age Doubles. Brett is trying to work out what he’s just won.

 

Chris McWhirtter receiving the prize for being the winner of the Golf Croquet open singles from Emma Cole.

 

All in all it was a fun afternoon

Burn Off Sunsets

Burnoff Sunset by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The smoke from the farmer’s burn off makes for some amazing sunsets in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia.

It’s that time of year again. The farmers of the Wheatbelt are burning their fields in preparation for sowing. The smoke hangs thick over the Avon Valley and makes for a quite unpleasant experience for anyone who suffers from respiratory ailments. The upside is that the smoke particles in the air make for rather splendid sunsets. I snapped this one on my phone while cycling home. The next few were all shot while going out to get some beer on my Olympus OMD EM1 with 12-40mm f2.8 lens.

 

Burning Off by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The smoke from the farmer’s burn off makes for some amazing sunsets in the Wheatbelt of Western Australia.

 

Burning Off by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Fields being burnt off prior to sowing seed. York, Western Australia.

 

Burning Off by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The smoke and haze creates an apocalyptic atmosphere.

 

 

Burning Off by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The road to Armageddon.

While making for some tremendous photos the practice puts a lot of carbon up into the atmosphere. Unfortunately Australian farmers will not stop the practice as this a far cheaper way of clearing fields than tilling. Profit always wins out.

Perambulating With Penguins

Penguin Island by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Penguin Island is home to a colony of approximately 1,200 little penguins, the largest population of the birds in Western Australia. The Penguin Discovery Centre is home to a small population of rescued birds which cannot be rehabilitated to the wild.

 

This week’s episode of Paul’s Pootles takes us to Penguin Island.

 

 

This is another walk from my book which is available from all good Australian book stores.

 

Where’s Rod?*

Eddie The Emu by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Emus are a big (1.6-2m) flightless bird that can be found throughout Western Australia. Oyster Bay, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with OLYMPUS M.12-40mm F2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/160 s at f/2.8 at ISO 200.

 

 

*Rod Hull was an English entertainer from the 1970’s and 80’s who did a comedy act with a puppet emu.

 

Mistakes and Failures

Rural Idyll by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Rural Idyll. The sun sets on the canola by Mount Bakewell in York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with Olympus 12-40mm f2.8 lens and Cokin 3 stop ND and 3 stop GND filters. Exposure: 1/13th sec, f8 ISO 200.

 

Photography and video are both media that allow the artist to play with the concept of time. Up until recently I primarily worked using still photography. With the advent of good quality video being added to most digital cameras I started playing tentatively with moving images and enjoying the whole idea of capturing movement in another way. Now I’m playing with time-lapse which is a way of using still photos to play with movement that the eye doesn’t normally perceive.

 

Canola Sunset by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Sunset over the canola fields. York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with Panasonic Leica 8-18/F2.8-4.0 lens a Cokin 3 stop ND and a 3 stop GND. Exposure: 1/50th sec, f8 at ISO 200.

 

 

The last couple of weeks have seen me shooting the canola fields around York. I’ve yet to do anything with the resulting video footage, but the pictures illustrating today’s post are still out takes. It is just a matter a shooting hundreds of shots of the same scene over a defined time period. My normal landscape gear and technique are used. I’m also experimenting with adding my own movement in the form of pans, tilts and slider moves. Thankfully my camera has an electronic shutter so I’m not burning through the shutter life.

 

Abandoned by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Abandoned. An old colonial farmhouse amidst the canola. York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens and Cokin 3 stop GND. Exposure: 1/30th sec, f8 at ISO 200.

 

 

The thing with experiments is to allow ourselves to make mistakes. This can be difficult if you have, like I have, been practicing in a medium for many years because you tend to develop a certain competence/mastery (pick whichever is the most appropriate) and expect a certain result for your efforts. So when confronted with learning something new and seeing all the mistakes and failures it is tempting to run back to the security of our old established ways of working as it is more ego friendly. In our society the notion of mistakes and failure is seen as a negative, but they really should be embraced. We need to give ourselves freedom to explore and experiment in a nurturing environment so that we can learn and progress. At the moment I’ve got a couple of dozen time-lapse clips sitting on my hard drive, two of them are OK the rest suck big time. Looking at them objectively and looking at the work of people who are considered masters of this art form I can see where I have made my mistakes and so I can now work to avoid repeating them. Who knows in another couple of years I might actually get good at it.

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!

On The Road To Nowhere*

Kondinin Lake by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Kondinin Lake is a large Salt lake 5km west of the Kondinin townsite. After sufficient rain there is an abundance of water birds. iPhone SE panorama mode. Exposure: 1/1900, f2.2, ISO 25.

 

 

 

Talk to a lot of people in Perth (Western Australia) – especially migrants – and many haven’t left the metro area. They know nothing of rural Western Australia at all. Few people realise that the Wheatbelt has a large number of lakes such as Kondinin Lake pictured above. The assumption is that because the rainfall is low there can’t be any large bodies of water. The truth is that the Wheatbelt has a very low drainage profile which means that water collects in large shallow depressions. During the hot summers the rate of evaporation is high and tat creates these salt lakes. Kondinin Lake is huge – it covers an area of 15 square kilometres – and after a decent bit of rain it attracts a huge variety of wild birds. It is also a popular boating and water ski destination. Now who would have thought that.

 

Unknown Pauper by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The grave of the unknown pauper outside of the Kondinin Pioneer Cemetery. Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/1000, f2.8, ISO 200.

 

On the shore of the lake is the Kondinin Pioneer Cemetery. A final resting place with a nice view. It’s not the most interesting cemetery but it does make you think  at what life must have been like as you walk around. The saddest part of the cemetery the grave of the “unknown pauper” who in 1934 shuffled off of this mortal coil. The people of Kondinin couldn’t find it in their hearts to bury the poor wretch in the cemetery itself so the grave lies outside it. Unfortunate in life and unfortunate in death.

So if you are driving to Esperance or Hyden, then do a bit of a detour and see the lake.

*Today’s musical reference is of course Road To Nowhere by Talking Heads.

 

Hyden Seek

Wave Rock by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Wave Rock at sunset. Hyden, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/160 th sec, f5.6, ISO 200.

 

Every day tour buses stop over in York on their way to Wave Rock near Hyden. The Northern Territory has Uluru (formerly known as Ayres Rock) and Western Australia’s tourism industry markets Wave Rock as our equivalent. I often feel sorry for the tourists, particularly the Chinese and Japanese ones, as they drive out from Perth to the middle of nowhere to see a large rock that looks like an enormous ocean wave frozen for posterity. I wonder what they think when they get there.

A week or so ago we went out to Hyden to visit Wave Rock. It’s not the first time we’ve visited, we first went in 2008. I find it very hard to be enthusiastic about it – it is just a curved rock face. My over all feeling is that Wave Rock is more marketing than substance. What I find more interesting is the way people interact with it. The majority of people just pull up in the car park and jump out to quickly take a selfie with their phone or a couple of seconds of video on a GoPro on one of those annoying sticks that they nearly poke someones eye out with as they are too busy on making strange faces for the camera. They then jump back into their cars and race off to the next destination on their itinerary. The next group of people are harried parents herding their bored looking children around and eventually persuading them to have their photo taken while they pretend to surf the perfect stone wave. The best was a young Chinese couple – he was shooting “glamour” photos of her while she was standing halfway up the curve in skimpy attire and the most incredible high heels – the sort that you need a ladder to get into and induce vertigo. My immediate reaction was not to perv the girl, but one of how the hell did she get up their dressed like that. The answer was obvious – when he finished taking photos he threw a bag up to her and she changed into a pair of track pants, a t-shirt and trainers and slid down on her backside.

 

Mulka's Cave by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Mulka’s Cave in the Humps Nature Reserve is a site of special significance to the Nyoongar people. Apart from being the subject of local folklore it also has the largest collection of rock paintings in the south of Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40 f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/30 sec, f5.6, ISO 3200.

 

Sixteen Kilometres north-east of Wave Rocks is The Humps Nature Reserve. It’s not a very appealing name and probably doesn’t help with marketing to the tourist hordes. The Humps are a massive granite outcrop some 2 km x 1.5 km in area and rises to 80 m above the surrounding plain which was and is of huge cultural significance to the Nyoongar people. Mulka’s Cave is a gallery for 452 motifs which makes it the largest collection in southern Western Australia.It is thought that the paintings were produced over the last two or three thousand years and it feels like the people who made them are reaching out from the past to the present day. It really reinforces the impression of spirit of place and of belonging to the land. To me this is what makes The Humps more special than Wave Rock, it engenders a feeling to that felt at Uluru or Ubirr. Powerful stuff. Mulka’s Cave is named after one of its inhabitants about which there is a gruesome Dreamtime story.

‘Mulka was the illegitimate son of a woman who fell in love with a man to whom marriage was forbidden. As a result, Mulka was born with crossed eyes. Even though he grew up to be an outstandingly strong man of colossal height, his crossed eyes prevented him from aiming a spear accurately and becoming a successful hunter. Out of frustration, Mulka turned to catching and eating human children, and he became the terror of the district. He lived in Mulka’s Cave where the impressions of his hands can still be seen much higher than those of an ordinary man. His mother became increasingly concerned with Mulka and when she scolded him for his anti-social behaviour, he turned on his own mother and killed her. This disgraced him even more and he fled the cave, heading south. Aboriginal people were outraged by Mulka’s behaviour and set out to track down the man who had flouted all the rules. They finally caught him near Dumbleyung 156 km south-west of Hyden, where they speared him. Because he did not deserve a proper ritual burial, they left his body for the ants – a grim warning to those who break the law.’

R.G.Gunn, Mulka’s Cave Aboriginal rock art site: its context and content, Records of the Western Australian Museum 23: 19-41 (2006).

 

Reaching Out From The Past by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Nyoongar hand prints reach out from the past in Mulka’s Cave. Hyden, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/100 sec, f4, ISO 1600.

 

There are a couple of walks in the reserve – The Gamma Trail a 1.2km interpretative walk explains the significance of the area to the local Nyoongar people, and the Kalari Trail, a 1.6 Km trail climbs to the summit. The early morning walk to the summit was fantastic. There were kangaroos amongst clumps silver princess trees (Eucalyptus caesia), nankeen kestrels were riding the thermal currents looking for prey and there were hosts of wrens bathing in the shallow pools of water on the rock surface. You get the feeling that this is a place where everything has been stripped back to the elemental essentials. Time was standing still. Of course the moment was lost as the multitudes of tourists pulled up in the car park jumped out to grab a selfie in the cave and use the toilet, their chattering voices carrying up to the summit shattering the tranquility. For a brief couple of hours on top of the humps I was somewhere else quite magical.

 

Rock Pool On The Humps by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Rock pool on the Humps. The Humps are a large granite outcrop to the north-east of Hyden, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/640, f8 at ISO 200.

 

 

Soaring Over The Humps by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A nankeen kestral soaring the summit of the Humps. Hyden, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 mki with Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/500, f9, ISO 200.

 

 

Guns and Roses

 

On the weekend of 19th-21st May 2017 I travelled with my significant other to the teeming Wheatbelt metropolis of Narrogin as she had entered the annual “Guns and Roses” croquet tournament put on by the Narrogin Croquet Club. Twelve of Western Australia’s best players (the “Guns”) would partner eighteen lesser ranked players (the “Roses”). Each “rose” would get the opportunity to play with a different “gun” at each round. The idea, which seems an excellent one I might add, is that inexperienced players can learn off of top players.  My role in this was the self-given task of producing a video documenting the proceedings.

Video is a fairly new medium for me, I’ve been playing around with it but I’ve really not got to grips with it. This was to be a complex multi day project and it wasn’t helped by the fact that it was bitterly cold and there was intermittent heavy rain (yes dear reader we do have cold wet weather in Australia). I ended up using my Olympus OMD EM1 mk i with the Olympus m.Zuiko 40-150mm f2.8 lens as the main camera, an Olympus Pen EP5 with the Olympus m.Zuiko 12-40mm f2.8 for wide shots, a Leica D-Lux for time lapses, and my iPhone for social video in the evenings. For sound I used shot-gun microphones (a Rode VideoMicro on the EM1 and a Rode VideoMic Pro on the EP5) to record straight into the cameras. No external audio recorder was used as I felt I had my hands full enough. By the end of the weekend I had got through nine batteries and ten 16Gb SD cards. The EM1 was used on a tripod (a Manfrotto MDEVE 755XB with Manfrotto MV500AH Fluid Video Head), the EP5 was on a video monopod (Manfrotto 562B-1 Fluid Video Monopod), and the Leica D-Lux was on a photo tripod (a very old Manfrotto 190 tripod fitted with an equally old ball head).

What I learnt from this exercise was:

  • the weather sealing on both the EM1 and the two lenses works very well. At times I got soaked in the rain and the camera just kept going with no adverse effects.
  • I should have used an audio recorder to get better sound and record some general background noise.
  • the 40-150mm f2.8 is not parfocal  (it is not sold as such) and the autofocus kept drifting and in some cases would not lock on at all. Trying to focus on the night games using just the rear screen and no peaking was hard. Either a camera that has focus peaking in video mode or a monitor that allows it would be really good.
  • I shot most of the footage at 1080 at 25fps except for that on the EP5 which only shoots 1080 at 30fps. I used Toast Titanium’s video converter to reconfigure it as 1080 25fps. On the whole it worked out well, but on two clips that I really wanted it dropped frames and lost the sound. So next time I won’t mix clips of different frame rates.
  • With four cameras, each having its own idea of what a neutral colour setting is, made life very hard during editing. This wasn’t helped by the fact that the 8 bit 4.2.0 files didn’t like being pushed too much in post as they would quickly fall apart. It would have been nice to have had a more video orientated camera with a flatter profile and more robust codec.
  • I did the slow motion in post, it would have been nice to have shot at 60fps or higher to get nicer slo-mo.
  • I should have shot more B-roll and tried to interview on camera some of the participants.

As a learning experience this was a very good exercise and I enjoyed the whole process immensely. If money were no object I’d get a more video orientated camera and a video field monitor and recorder, but being as I am fiscally challenged I’ll have to settle for some more memory cards and batteries.