American Style

Nankeen Kestral by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Nankeen Kestrel with prey at Marwick’s Barn in York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 550d with Sigma 150-600mm f4-6.3 OS. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 320.

 

The other day I’d been up on Mount Brown (which is a grand name for a moderately sized hill) looking for interesting birds to photograph. The conditions were great, but the birds uncooperative so I gave up and started driving home. At the bottom of the hill I caught out of the corner of my eye a nankeen kestrel hunting on an empty block. It swooped down into the long grass and quickly took off again obviously holding something. So I did something I’d never thought that I’d do. I’ve just been really getting into this bird photography malarkey and have been watching YouTube videos for tips. Mostly British videos, but the occasional American one. I’d noticed that quite a few of the American ones had the photographers driving around looking for birds and photographing then from the car. Well I started to follow this bird in the car. It didn’t go far. It landed on the power lines outside of Marwick’s Barn obviously to catch its breath. It obviously decided that the power lines was no place to deal with the kicking and struggling mouse so it moved to the top of a nearby power pole. So I pulled up on to the dirt shoulder and hanging out of the driver’s side window I photographed madly.

 

Nankeen Kestral by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Nankeen Kestrel with prey at Marwick’s Barn in York, Western Australia.

There were no niceties, the kestrel didn’t even both to dispatch its prey before eating – it just pulled the mouse apart. I continued snapping frantically. When everything was finished the kestrel noticed the sound of the camera and gave me a hard stare. Rumbled! With a look of disdain it flew off.

 

Nankeen Kestral by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Nankeen Kestrel with prey at Marwick’s Barn in York, Western Australia.

 

 

Marwick's Shed by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Marwick’s Shed also called Marwick’s Barn. Constructed from 1876. Was used for transporting supplies to the goldfields prior to the completion of the Perth-Coolgardie railway line. Olympus OMD EM10 mk I with Olympus 17mm f2.8 lens. Exposure: 1/400, f8 at ISO 200.

 

 

Dry River Bed

Australian summers are hot and dry, and while we are not in a drought cycle like the Eastern States, it does get very warm here in York. 45º C is not unheard of. The hot weather and the lack of rain means that the Avon River largely dries up with the exception of a few deep pools, and so I often go walking along the dry river bed with Frida my faithful canine companion as it allows me to view quite a variety of wildlife that congregates around the pools.

Western Whistler by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Female Western Whistler, sometimes called the Western Golden Whistler, (Pachycephala occidentalis). York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM10 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1000sec, f7.1 at ISO 500.

 

Southern Scrub Robin by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A Southern Scrub Robin, Drymodes brunneopygia, achives vertical take off. The Nyoongar name is Djibot. York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM10 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f7.1 at ISO 500.

 

White-faced Heron by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
White-faced Heron (Egretta novaehollandiae). York, Western Australia. Panasonic Lumix G85 with LEICA DG 100-400/F4.0-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 250.

 

Brown Honeyeater by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Brown Honeyeater, Lichmera indistincta.The Nyoongar name is Djindjoko. York, Western Australia. Panasonic Lumix G85 with Panasonic LEICA DG 100-400/F4.0-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 3200.

 

Sacred Kingfisher by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Sacred Kingfisher, Todiramphus sanctus. Known by the Nyoongar as Koonyenok. Avon River, York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 550d with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 250.

It’s not just birds we see, there are small fish in the ponds (difficult to photograph) and masses of different insects like this damselfly below.

Blue Ringtail Damselfly by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Blue ringtail damselfly (Austrolestes annulosus,) at rest on the Avon River, York, Western Australia. Canon EOS 550d with a Sigma 150-600mm f/5-6.3 DG OS HSM Contemporary lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 1250.

 

Frida usually takes my photographic hijacking of her morning walks with good grace. She usually waits for me either in some convenient shade or as shown below standing in some water. She’s not as daft as she looks!

Keeping Cool by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Frida waiting patiently in the cool of a water pool.

The other morning we were quite surprised to have a fox pop out of the long grass on the river bank and on to river bed. Initially it took off, but when it saw that Frida wasn’t in hot pursuit slowed down and turned back. The fox and Frida then played a mad game of chase up and down taking it in turns to be the chaser and the the chasee. Quite delightful to watch. It was like the canine equivalent of Kevin Costner’s film Dances With Wolves. Unfortunately by this time the battery in the camera had run flat so I was unable to take any photos of this rather special occurrence. Although this being a predominantly farming community most round here would not regard it as such as they belong to the “only good fox is a dead fox” brigade. A couple of days later we went back to see if the event could be repeated and I had a pocket full of batteries to ensure that I got some photos. We did find the fox in the same location but this time both it and Frida were indifferent to each other and the fox disappeared into the undergrowth on the opposite bank. Again I stuffed up the photography and all I got was the slightly blurred image below. Perhaps we’ll try again.

 

Red fox (Vulpes vulpes) on the Avon River river bed. York, Western Australia.

The soundtrack for summer in the Western Australian bush is provided by Broome based band the Pigram Brothers and their track Dry River Bed provided the title and inspiration for this blog entry.

 

When your drifting on the ocean
and the sea is a perfect blue
But those storm clouds on the horizon
are keeping you true to who are you
So take me away ‘cross the spinifex plains
where the true mirage never ends
And the smell of the rain is a long way away
lay me down on my dry river bed
Don’t have no white picket fence,
don’t have no green english lawn
Just got heat waves dancing for me,
on the red dirt where I was born
Feel the heart of my country,
beating to them lonely blues
Gotta get back there, gotta get back there,
I’ll be back there real soon
Pigram Brothers – Dry River Bed
Music and Words: ( S Pigram/A, D, G, P, S Pigram, P Mamid)

Seeing Red

Red-capped Robin by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Red-capped Robin,Wei. Avon Walk Trail, York, Western Australia. Panasonic Lumix G85 with Panasonic Leica 100-400mm F4.0-6.3 lens. Exposure: 1/1000 sec, f6.3 at ISO 640.

 

Being originally from England I automatically associate Christmas with cold weather, and by association Robins as they are part of iconography of the festive season. So when walking along the Avon River on a 40º C day seeing these Red-capped Robins seems a little incongruous. For such a small bird they are as bold as brass and will let you approach quite closely. The other confusing thing about Australian robins is that they don’t just come in red.

 

Lake Leschenaultia Lakeside Walk by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The Western Yellow Robin (Eopsaltria griseogularis). Lake Leschenaultia, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM1 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 75-300mm f/4.8-6.7 II lens. Exposure: 1/400 sec, f8 at ISO 800.

 

When we were in Tasmania we had proper winters with snow, and that meant we had robins in their proper setting, but not at Christmas. Oh it’s all very confusing!

 

Pink Robin at Silver Falls by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
A pink robin (pink) at Silver Falls, Mount Wellington in Tasmania. Olympus OM-D E-M10 with Olympus M.Zuiko Digital ED 40-150mm f/4-5.6 R lens. Exposure: 1/160 sec, f5.6 at ISO 200.

 

 

Christmas Spider

Christmas Spider by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The Christmas spider, aka jewel spider, (Austracantha minax astrigera) so-called because they are most commonly seen in December and January. York, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM10 Mki with OLYMPUS M.60mm F2.8 Macro paste and Metz 15 MS-1 ringflash. Exposure: aperture priority 1/20 sec, f8 ISO 200 with -1 stop exposure compensation.

 

Spring Is In The Air

Handspring In the City by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Hand Spring in the city. Hay Street Mall, Perth, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM10 with Panasonic Leica 8-16mm f2.8-4 lens. Exposure: 1/160, f5.6, ISO 200.

 

 

 

Spring by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Floating floral wreaths. Spring in the city. Hay Street Mall, Perth, Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM10 with Panasonic Leica 8-16mm f2.8-4 lens. Exposure: 1/1000, f5.6 at ISO 200.

 

 

 

The Grass Is Greener

Diamond Princess by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
The Diamond Princes at dawn in Hobart Harbour.

 

 

 

“Few things are as exciting as the idea of travelling somewhere else. But the reality of travel seldom matches our daydreams.”

Alain de Botton

 

I’ve never been a fan of mass tourism, but over the last few weeks I’ve been reading a lot about the negative aspects of it and in particular with what is happening to Venice. Apparently as many as 44,000 cruise ship passengers pour into Venice a day during the high season. That’s roughly 5 cruise liners worth. When we lived in Tasmania we’d get the boats pull into Hobart Harbour, thankfully just one at a time, and the passengers would be like a tsunami as they headed for Salamanca. I hate to think what 5 times that number would be like.  Along with the negative impact that has on the local population and the environment there is also the fact would you really want to visit somewhere with another 44,000 people? It’s hardly getting away from it all is it? Then there is the whole thing of “Right you’ve got six hours in port and then we’re off to the next location”. Six hours following several other thousand people all traipsing round the same location, looking at the same few things only to herded up at the end of the day and taken somewhere else to do exactly the same thing the next day. It’s a gross version of the 1969 film “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium”. It’s worthy of Dante’s vision of hell. So why do people do it and pay a fortune for the privilege? Essentially people do it because they are bored with the ordinariness of their life and want something out of the ordinary with a touch of luxury.

When I lectured in photography one of the most common complaints from students was that there was nothing to photograph in Perth or Western Australia. They wanted something new, something exciting something that they’d never seen before. The problem was photography’s history encourages that kind of thinking – we only have to look at the photographic tradition of the road trip established by the likes of Robert Frank and his eponymous book The Americans with its hip introduction by Jack Kerouac. Stephen Shore and Alec Soth amongst  others have popularised it to the extent that it has almost become a photographic rite of passage. Indeed at a portfolio review at FotoFreo my reviewer actually said I should go on a road trip as a means of finding myself. But the thing is booking a package holiday to Bali or Vietnam is not going to work as  all you will see are the usual tourist attractions and maybe you’ll take some photos of poor third world people. Invariably you return home and the photos get ignored and languish in a dark recess on your computer hard drive as they look the same as everyone else’s. They are not out of the ordinary. The British philosopher and writer Alain de Botton in his book The Art of Travel said  “Then I realised that the problem with going away is that you take yourself with you.”

I would suggest that if you want to produce interesting work look to the ordinary and easily accessible. Many photographers have taken this path.  Robert Adams documents the changing American landscape and in particular the spread of suburbia. Chris Killip, Sally Mann, and Larry Towell  are all photographers who have done projects about ordinary things on their door steps and have produced extraordinary images. The American photographer Minor White once said “…all photographs are self-portraits.” so there is no need to travel to find your self just keep exploring with your camera. The frequent retort from my students was that everything around them had been photographed before well White also had an answer for that “Everything has been photographed. Accept this. Photograph things better.”.

So what have I been doing photographically for the last week? Well I’ve been out to some local nature reserves, I’ve visited them many times over the last 14 years and it never ceases to amaze me that I always find something new. So I was delighted to find these two flowers.

 

Jug Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Jug orchid aka recurved shell orchid (Pterostylis recurva). Olympus OMD EM10 with Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens and Metz ring flash. Exposure: 1/160th sec, f5.6, ISO 200 aperture priority with -1.3 stops exposure compensation.

 

 

Sugar Orchid by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Sugar orchid (Ericksonella saccharata). Olympus OMD EM10 with Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens and Metz ring flash. Exposure: aperture priority 1/125th sec, f4, ISO 100 with -1 stop exposure compensation.

 

 

 

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!

Mark Twain Was Right

Pterostylis sanguinea by Paul Amyes on 500px.com
Dark Banded Greenhood Orchid. York Golf Course.Western Australia. Olympus OMD EM10, Olympus m.Zuiko 60mm f2.8 macro lens, Metz 15 MS-1 ring flash. Exposure: 1/13th sec, f8, ISO 200.

 

 “A good walk spoiled.”

Mark Twain

I’ve been hanging around the York Golf Course. Not to play golf you understand – I’ve never understood the compulsion to dress up in silly sweaters and shoes and drag a bunch of sticks in a cart around a large field while trying intermittently to knock a ball into a hole. No the reason why I’ve taken to loitering at the York Golf Course is that is home to a significant number and variety of wildflowers. Not on the fairways off course – they are barren bits of grass with the occasional large hole filled with sand. No the interesting stuff lies in the rough between the fairways. It’s not without its hazards mind you. Those people in their funny clothes reckon they can hit a ball straight down the fairway to the flag in the hole – well most of ’em can’t, they slice the shot and the balls land like a barrage of misplaced shells in an American artillery strike. The ground is littered with balls in among the bushes. I thought the rules state that you have to play the ball from where it landed, well the number of “lost” balls in the rough at York plainly shows that this is not happening. It’s so bad that next time I visit I’m seriously contemplating wearing a helmet. You can never be too careful.