The foyer sucked as a backdrop

Lenny Clark was a young giant of a ruckman, standing at 203cm, for the Brisbane Lions AFL football team when I took this photo in early 2006 (for those of you not familiar with Australian Rules Football, ruckmen are the big blokes who leap up to tap the ball down to their team-mates...several examples can be seen HERE).
I was working for the Courier Mail newspaper in Brisbane and it was a miserable afternoon when I got the job to go to the Gabba, the home ground of the Lions, and photograph this 'big bloke', Lenny Clark. All the way out I was thinking, "What can I do to show how big he is?" I had a few ideas but they all seemed so cliched.
To make matters worse, when I got to the Gabba, it had started to rain and I was faced with the prospect of having to do a photo inside. 'Inside' photos of people who do 'outdoor' things invariably suck. When the journo and I arrived we met Lenny and an assistant coach in the foyer of the club. They didn't have much time and were keen to get things wrapped up as soon as possible. The journo started talking to Lenny and I hoped to goodness they weren't expecting me to take the photo somewhere in the foyer. If they did, the photo had every prospect of sucking big time - one big bloke, one foyer, lots of crap in the background (the sort of crap I didn't want in my photo) and not much else to work with. If I was searching for ideas on the drive to the Gabba, I was now at a total loss.
Thankfully the journo spent a few minutes interviewing Lenny, so I had a brief window of opportunity to hopefully come up with my Eureka moment. My brain was, by now, churning as the adrenalin surged through me. I was almost frantic but tried not to show it.
The interview finished and I said, as calmly as possible, "There's nothing here I can work with. Can we head out onto the ground for a few minutes?"
Even though they said they didn't have much time, I think they realised the foyer sucked as a backdrop and agreed. As we walked through the bowels of the stadium in the direction of the pitch, I was still bereft of ideas.
I followed Lenny up the race and onto the ground and saw the massive light towers loom over him. It was at that moment the adrenalin weaved its magic (as it so often did in situations like this) and I thought back to a photo I'd seen of an air force pilot supposedly picking up his jet.
The photo was a visual illusion along the lines of the well-worn holiday snapshot of people 'leaning against', and 'propping up', the Leaning Tower of Pisa. The jet had been about a hundred metres behind the pilot and the photographer had used a wide angle lens that not only accentuated the size of the pilot in the foreground compared to his plane in the distance, it also made everything in focus. Thus, when the pilot leaned over and, with a bit of crafty hand placement, appeared to be grasping his jet, it looked as if he was about to pick it up.
Having remembered this photo, I knew what I wanted to do. The nervous bubble inside me popped and a wave of relief washed over me.
I was now excited and began working quickly. I explained to Lenny that I wanted to make it appear as though he was grasping one of the light towers. He wasn't quite sure what it was that I had envisioned but he was happy to go along with it.
It had been drizzling for some time so I spread out my waterproof poncho on the grass so I could get as low as possible to accentuate Lenny's height. I increased my ISO to 1000 in order to close down my aperture and get as much depth of field as possible (to cut a long story short for those not au fait with 'camera speak', I did this so I could get as much in focus as I could). I sat as low as possible, moved Lenny into place and got him to position his hand in mid-air so it appeared as if he was grasping the light tower.
This wasn't as easy as it sounds. To get everything just right I had to make sure his hand was in the right place, his 'grasp' wasn't too much or too little (so the light tower fitted perfectly), his hand was as still as possible and I was a still as possible. To get the aperture down to f11 I had to drop the shutter speed to 1/30 second and I had to keep as still as possible, quite a feat when you're sitting and bending over to get yourself as close to the ground as you can.
I did all this and then noticed that, due to the lateness of the day and the heavy cloud cover, the light was really dim and Lenny's face was quite dark due to the fact he was looking downwards. I knew Lenny was pressed for time but there was no way the photo would work the way it was. I explained the situation to him and told him I needed to get my flash. He was fine.
I fumbled for my flash in the tiny canmera bag I'd brought with me and attached a cable from the flash to the camera so I could use it 'off-camera'. It was going to be difficult for me to juggle both sitting as low as I could while holding the flash, so I did what I always do in situations like this - I called on the assistance of the journo.
I positioned the journo, gave him instructions on where to point the flash (it may have seemed obvious where to point the flash, but you'd be surprised) and, with everything and everyone in place, I began shooting.
After half-a-dozen frames I checked the back of the camera and there was one frame - the one you see - where everything worked perfectly. I like to work quickly at the best of times and didn't waste any more of my time, or Lenny's, getting more photos than I needed.
I showed Lenny the photo (he was impressed) and the journo and I raced back to the office. The page the photo was slated for had an early edition time and people were waiting. The following day the photo got a massive run in the sport pages. Adrenalin had done the trick yet again!

Gear used - Nikon D100, Nikkor 18-70mm lens, 1000ISO, 1/30 sec f11


'That looks interesting...'

The two 60km/h signs in the photo are found when you drive north over the Story Bridge, on the edge of the Brisbane CBD, and take the Fortitude Valley exit. The road heads down past the signs and sweeps to the right and under the road heading in the opposite direction.
Like I've said before, circles are dominant shapes and I liked the symmetry of the two round signs opposite each other. I knew they lit up at night and thought they would look good at dusk, when there was still enough light on the surrounding landscape so that it just showed up in the photo - but the signs were very much the dominant aspect of the photo.
With that in mind, I fetched my tripod and made my way there late one afternoon.
I set myself up and took a few shots of the signs on their own and a few wider shots of the signs with a bit of peripheral landscape in shot. Cars were constantly driving down the road and past the signs and this looked quite good, the bright red of their tail lights piercing the dark blue light of dusk as they braked to take the bend just past the signs. A slow shutter speeds would blur them sufficiently as a contrast to the sharp (in focus) 60km/h road signs.
The only problem was that cars were also driving past me in the other direction (from the road passing above the signs) at a steady rate. This really pissed me off because every time a car drove down through the signs where I wanted it to be, traffic would inevitably pour past me in the other direction and get in the way of the photo I was wanting to achieve.
I managed to get a few okay shots but was a bit nonplussed by it all. I knew it would look good if it all went to plan but it just wasn't working for me. Plus I was losing what light I had to work with. Anyway, it was around dinner time and I had to be somewhere...in front of the TV with a plate on my lap! It wasn't like I had to get something that night and I could always come back. I fired off a few more frames for the hell of it and packed up.
The following day I downloaded the photos and had a look through what I'd taken. None of it grabbed me until I half stumbled across the photo you see before you.
The panoramas I take are shot on a 35mm digital SLR (Nikon D5000), so I envisage the panorama crop within the whole of the 35mm frame (I've become good at cropping photos in my head). Sometimes I'm looking for one thing when I see another within the frame and often times I don't notice something because of all the extraneous information within the 35mm frame. This was one of those occasions.
As I was going through the images I saw this photo had in it one of 'those' cars that was pissing me off by driving in front of me when I was trying to get the photo I was really wanting. As a result, I didn't take any notice of it because it wasn't what I was looking for.
I went through all the frames and, from the comfort of where I was, wondered if I could really be arsed going and re-shooting it if I had to. The answer was leaning toward 'no' so I had another, slower, look at all the photos I'd taken. Maybe there was one in there I could live with...
I methodically went through each shot again - 33 frames in total. As I got to around frame 30 I started to think 'reshoot' and my mind began wandering. I got to this frame and was about to his the 'next' button when, through my glazed eyes, I noticed the blur of the car's headlights and the fact the 60km/h sign was disfigured through the car's back window. I cropped the photo in my head and thought, 'that looks interesting...'.
I opened the file in Photoshop, cropped it for real and, 'hey presto', I had my shot. It was totally unexpected but I was going to take it nonetheless!
While it wasn't what I was wanting, the effect of the 'stop-pissing-me-off' car - blurred headlights and distorted 60km/h sign - had worked wonders. What made it even more amazing was that as the light dropped I had started using a 5 second shutter delay so there was no camera movement on the tripod, and the car in the photo was, in effect, captured by chance.

To see more photos like this, go to www.giuliophotography.com.au

Gear used - tripod, Nikon D5000, 80-200mm f2.8 lens, 1/20 sec f5.6


I had my Eureka moment!

There's nothing like adrenalin to get the creative juices flowing. So many times I've been on jobs when I've had no inspiration what-so-ever, then the adrenalin has kicked in and, before you know it, a masterpiece has appeared out of nowhere (masterpiece might be a bit 'over the top', but you know what I mean). The photo you see here was one of those times.
Every new year's day the one job that remains the same is photographing the new year's day baby i.e. the baby that was born as close to midnight on Jan 1, thereby being the first baby born that year. Photo editors write that job down as soon as they get the following year's diary.
On January 1, 2000, I was working a newspaper shift in Brisbane. The new year's day baby had already been photographed and I thought I was in the clear. Then a late call came through. The not-so-big Redland Bay Hospital had recorded a large number of births and I was to go and get an additional photo for the 'new year's baby' story.
I grabbed my gear and headed for Redland Bay. Being late in the day, edition time was looming, so I couldn't waste time. Get the shot and get back!
I had no idea what to expect and when I arrived I was confronted with 8 babies. The old addage of 'never photograph children and animals' was running through my head - what am I going to do with 8 babies???
They can't pose for me. They'll look where they want and do what they want - smile, cry, sleep, yawn, all of the above - no matter how much 'look at the birdy' I do.
The new year's day baby is easy when there's one baby and a mum/dad/family. The mum/dad/family can pose for you and then it's a case of waiting for the baby to do what you want (and the mum/dad/family can tilt the baby's head etc where it needs to be).
As is the case with most things in life, 'less is more' - 8 babies with 8 sets of parents was shaping to be my worst nightmare. What was I going to do with them all?
So, I walked into the hospital and 8 sets of parents looking at me expectantly. I could see them thinking, 'He's a professional photographer. He'll know what to do...'.
At times like this the old addage of 'if you can't dazzle them with brilliance, baffle them with bullshit' really came to the fore. Without showing any of the ever-increasing panic surging through me (what the hell was I going to do for a photo?!), I assessed the situation in as professional a manner as I could. This meant standing back, then walking a few paces to the left and right, assessing the scene as if conjuring ideas. The scene in my head? Blank, blank, blank (think Homer Simpson).
I could sense unease among the parents. I think they also knew the '...brilliance...bullshit...' addage and suspected the latter was unfolding before them.
Still with no ideas and grasping at straws, I suggested the parents lay all the babies on the couch in a circular style arrangement.
"I'll try photographing them from above," I lamely told the assembled, in the hope that getting them to do something might stall things long enough for me to come up with an idea.
The babies were arranged and I stood on a chair to get some elevation. It looked kinda cute but at the same time it was a bit 'ho hum'. Eight newborn babies in a circle doing nothing in particular - big deal! I needed something to happen. And with that, something did.
As I looked through the camera, a set of hands appeared in the side of the frame and lifted a baby's head. I peered over my camera to see one of the parents doing what parents do - showing concern for their newborn baby. They pulled their hands away and, trying to show restraint, I remarked, "Can I get you to do that again?"
They placed their hands back on their baby's head and I looked through the camera. One set of hands looked really nice. Now, what if all the parents did the same? It would look great! Fantastic even! I had my Eureka moment!
Trying to sound as nonchalant as possible, I said, "That looks really nice."
Then, looking over my camera once more, I said to the other parents, "Can I get you all to reach in and hold your baby's head?"
I made it sound like this was the photo I had intended all along. In reality, my knees went weak and I nearly fell off the chair with relief.
I fired off several frames (including the photo you see here), grabbed all the details I needed, thanked everyone and bolted for the door.
The following day I searched the pages of the paper to find my adrenalin-fuelled 'masterpiece' had been reduced to the size of a couple of postage stamps on the 'new year's day baby' story.
Ho hum.

Gear used: 35mm f2 Nikkor lens, Nikon F4 body, Fuji 800ISO film, around 1/60 sec, f5.6 (available light)


I had a piddly lens

When I arrived in Scotland I'd never heard of the 'old firm'. So, three months after stepping off the bus in Edinburgh, I found myself working for the Scotland on Sunday (SoS) newspaper in Airdrie one Saturday in November, 1992, when the boss called. I was being diverted to Celtic Park in Glasgow to photograph what was to be my one and, unfortunately, only, old firm match. I had no idea what to expect.
A brief history lesson...the old firm is the collective term (with differing origins - Google it) given to Celtic and Rangers, or Rangers and Celtic, depending on which side of Glasgow you come from. At the heart of the old firm is religion - Celtic's origins are Catholic and Rangers, Protestant, and never the twain shall meet. As a result, when Celtic and Rangers meet on the football pitch, it is more than two teams playing a game of football. The term battle isn't too far short of the truth and the religious divide between the teams means it is one of the most intense rivalries in football. Not only Scotland, but the world. In some quarters the line between rivalry and hatred is blurred and, while things may have mellowed in the years since I left, there are still elements of hatred between the two sets of supporters. The old firm rivalry started in 1888 and is as much a part of Glasgow's history since then as anything else.
Upon arrival at Celtic Park (Parkhead) I duly picked up my photographer's bib and made my way onto the pitch. Even before kick-off the atmosphere was electric. The crowd - I'm not sure exactly how big but well in excess of 50,000 - was in full voice. I chose one end of the ground and assumed my position in front of what turned out to be the Rangers support.
The design of what is now the old Celtic Park meant that the low stadium roofs acted like a megaphone and the crowd noise was projected out into the middle of the ground. As a result, I was surrounded by noise until the moment the Rangers team ran onto the pitch. As more and more of the crowd became aware that their beloved team was arriving for battle, the roar increased until it sounded like a jumbo jet was taking off behind me.
Soon after the Ranger team appeared, the Celtic team ran out and the noise level rose to beyond deafening. Even though I was a newcomer, I had shivers running up and down my spine. I'd never felt anything like it before and I haven't since.
Another brief history lesson...when I arrived in Scotland, I had no money. In fact, I only had enough for a one way ticket there and some left over to buy camera gear in New York on the way. I had nowhere near enough money to buy a decent telephoto lens and could only afford an 80-200mm f2.8 zoom lens. When it comes to photographing football, this is a piddly lens. It barely reaches past the edge of the goal box. In time I bought a telephoto lens (two, in fact) but early on I had to resort to goal mouth action and hope nothing major happened in the middle of the pitch or beyond.
So, on that day at Celtic Park, I was sat alongside the other photographers like the 'new kid on the block' that I was...looking highly inadequate.
Not having an ample telephoto lens meant I had to be creative elsewhere. Preferably within about a 30 metre radius. Due to this, my attention turned to Andy Goram, the Rangers goalie directly in front of where I was sitting. The old firm passion also extended to the players and Goram reacted to everything that was happening down the other end of the pitch, especially each time a Rangers shot on goal missed the mark. He was quite animated and I knew he might make a more interesting photo if Rangers scored.
I trained the camera on Goram, watching his every move and reaction. Between him and the crowd, I could gauge what was happening outside the tiny piece of Celtic Park I was concentrating on.
I can't remember when it was - I know it was during the first half because I had to leave at half time to get my films back to Edinburgh in time for edition - but suddenly there were several short gasps behind me. At the same time Goram began twitching as he watched the play from a hundred metres away. I made sure I was focused on him and listened. He suddenly stood on his toes and his hands tensed. The crowd fell behind me fell silent as they collectively took a long, deep gasp. It was, in fact, only a fraction of a second but it seemed much longer and, even though I wasn't watching, it was long enough that I knew what was about to happen. Rangers were going to score.
As the ball connoned into the back of the net at the other end of the stadium the massive gasp now bellowed forth on a level that defies description. For many in the crowd behind me, their lives revolved around this moment. The sheer, unadulterated joy released in that instant was like an explosion and I had to do everything possible to keep my camera still.
Despite wanting to turn around and see what was going on, I remained focused on Goram. He was my story. At the same moment the crowd exploded, he turned to his left and, in what seemed to be slow motion, started running straight at me with his arms out wide, like a plane accelerating down the runway. I pressed down hard on the motor-drive of my camera and slowly pull-focused as he moved towards me. With each stride the expression of joy on his face grew larger. After a few paces, and with his arms still spread wide, he turned like a plane banking away after lift off, and weaved his way back to his goal and the Rangers support.
I was in a sea of emotion, both from the Rangers support and also myself. I knew I had something no one else had - they were all focused on the other end of the field - but wasn't exactly quite sure what. It looked good through the camera and I was excited, I know that. So much so that I didn't even make it to half time. I knew I had a great photo of some sort and left. Looking back now, I wonder how we ever managed not being able to look at the screen on the back of the camera like we can now.
All the way back to Edinburgh - an hour's drive - I wondered what it was that I had. Then the doubts crept in. Had all the frames been in focus? Had I been too over-excited and missed the shot? I didn't think so...I hoped not...
When I finally got back to Edinburgh I somewhat nervously put the films through the processing machine and waited. As they emerged from the other end I impatiently tried to see what was on the films as they moved slowly (too slowly!) through the dryer. They finally broke free of the machine and I held one of the films up to the light, hurriedly passing it through my hands. The series of shots I was after - the ones that mattered - weren't on it. I threw it on the bench and grabbed the other film, repeating the process. I stopped when the familiar figure of Goram doing his plane impersonation appeared. I moved them closer to have a look. A smile broke out. They were sharp. They were beautiful. Deadline was bearing down but I still umm-ed and aah-ed over which one to use before finally choosing the one you see here. I got the darkroom technician to print a large copy of the photo and took it up to show the boss, who was as excited about it as I was.
That night I sat in the Jinglin' Geordie, the pub across the close from the Scotsman Publications building, with all the other SoS photographers, and eagerly awaited the arrival of the first edition of the paper. When it finally arrived my photo was splashed across the entire back page. It looked amazing and, to this day, is one of my favourite photos I've taken - the red of Goram's top against the grey of the day, his arms oustretched like a plane taking off, the fact it was the one and only old firm match I photographed.
But, most of all, I love it because I was the only photographer to get the photo. And all because I had a piddly lens.

Gear used - Nikon FM2 body, Nikkor 80-200mm lens, Fuji400ISO colour film no doubt pushed to 800ISO, (probably) 1/500sec @ f5.6