I dropped my camera bag...

It was 1990 and I was a staff photographer with The SUN newspaper in Brisbane.
I was working a Sunday shift and, like most Sundays, it was pretty quiet. However, there were a couple of jobs to the north of Brisbane and the boss gave them both to me.
The first was a BMX event in Redcliffe, an area on its own peninsula 40-odd km north of Brisbane. On the way back to town I had to stop off at Sandgate, a bayside suburb, and photograph a 'beach' horse race happening there - by 'beach' I mean a race along the mudflats at low tide.
I made it to Redcliffe on time and, as sod's law dictated, on the one day when I wanted everything to run smoothly, there was a delay. What that delay was, I can't remember, but there was one. Normally Sunday shifts were cruisy but with only the one beach race at Sandgate, I had to get there or else.
After waiting around in Redcliffe I finally got a photo I was happy with and made a dash to Sandgate.
I knew I would be cutting it fine but dash I did and arrived with minutes to spare before the start of the race.
I drove along the foreshore and there was quite a crowd assembled. Sandgate is a bayside suburb, so many had walked down to the water's edge. However, quite a few had driven and parking was a premium.
I drove along the waterfront, looking up al the streets leading away from the water but there were no parks. I finally found a sidestreet with a few spaces at the far end of it and sped to park the car.
I grabbed my camera bag and began running to the waterfront. As I approached the end of the sidestreet I heard the 'bang' of the starter's gun.
I picked up speed and, having made it to the end of the street, I ran across the road running along the waterfront and looked in the direction of where the 'bang' had come from. I could see the horses picking up speed at the far end of the mudflats and knew I had had to act quickly.
Normally in situations like this, I like to get to the job early, have a look around, work out the best position and set myself up. However, in this instance, I was unable to do any of this. I was going to have to do with whatever I had to work with.
With the adrenaline surging through me, and as politely as possible, I wiggled my way through the assembled crowd until I had a clear view of the mudflats, whereupon I dropped my camera bag on the ground.
Without even assessing the situation I reached into the bag and, in one motion, grabbed a camera body and my 80-200mm f4 lens, fitted the lens to the body, swung the camera up to my face, focused the lens (this was the days before auto-focus) and started firing. Thankfully I'd already used the camera in Redcliffe so the settings were set for the conditions.
By now the horses were in full stride and I pressed down hard on the motor-drive, focusing somewhat blindly as they approached where I was standing and sped past. I didn't have to time to properly compose the photo and was running on pure instinct.
I had no idea I'd taken the photo you see here until I got back to the office. It had all been a blur of adrenaline and panic.
As it turned out, this photo didn't get a run in the newspaper. The SUN was a tabloid and silhouettes were 'frowned' upon - too esoteric. A photo was used but it was a far less dramatic one I took after the finish of the race (from memory this photo may have also been used, but the size of a postage stamp).
I love looking at this photo and admiring everything about it - the beautiful composition, the silhouetted seagulls and horses in full stride, the 'beach' setting - and then remembering the mayhem surrounding it and the pure 'arse' of it all!

Gear used - Nikon FM2, 80-200mm f4 lens, HP5 film, 1/250 sec f5.6 (or thereabouts)


I was bloody cold...

This photo was taken in January 1993 in Edinburgh, Scotland. It is a favourite of mine.
Once again, it was something that came from nothing - a constant theme among the photos in this blog.
I was working for the Edinburgh Evening News and it was a particularly cold winter's morning. I was out looking for a photo to depict the conditions and was trying to avoid the usual photo of someone wearing a scarf looking cold etc.
In the middle of Edinburgh is a large 'hill' called Arthur's Seat. It's actually an old volcanic plug that rises up out of the landscape and is quite imposing. It's not really all that well known to those outside Edinburgh/Scotland, as it has to compete with Edinburgh world famous castle and a host of other more well known tourist attractions, but it's there in all its imposing glory.
Winding it way around Arthur's Seat about halfway up is a road and it was along this road I was driving early that winter's morning in 1993. When I say early and winter, I actually mean it was around 8.30am. While this isn't super early, the sun rises late and sets early during a Scottish winter, and the sun was just peeking over the horizon.
I wasn't sure what I was going to find that morning but I was driving around hoping to come across something different. Not surprisingly, not many people were out and about so I was short on finding any models to use in any photo I had in mind.
I made my way up the afore-mentioned road at Arthur's Seat and was just starting to make my descent when I looked over the edge and saw the early morning sun casting its shadow across the undulating hillochs of Prestonfield Golf Course.
'That looks nice', I thought and stopped the car.
I got out and attached my 300mm lens (on a monopod) to my camera. I walked to the edge of the road and looked down on the golf course. I sized up what I thought was the best looking photo through the camera and snapped a couple of shots. If anything, the shadows looked nice.
'All I need is someone in shot', I thought.
From where I was I could see the entire golf course, so I looked up and scanned the links. Away in the distance I spotted two players - the only two people on the course that cold winter's morning.
I sized them up through the lens but the photo looked crap - they were too far away and there was too much distracting 'stuff' in the frame. I needed them to be where I'd taken the couple of shots of the shadows.
I was bloody cold - freezing in fact - but I had nothing else to do and decided to wait and see where they went. Slowly they made their way down one hole, then the next - all the while getting closer to where I wanted them to be.
They finished playing the second hole since I'd spotted them, walked a few paces, turned in the direction where I wanted them to head, and tee-ed off. A quiver of excitement ran through me. Having tee-ed off, they proceeded to walk down the fairway in the direction of 'my photo'.
I pointed the lens where it looked best and the players walked into frame exactly where I wanted them to be! I couldn't believe it. They couldn't have done a better job if I'd (somehow) asked.
I fired off several frames and jumped for joy (I needed to - my feet were starting to go numb). I almost shouted out to them a big 'thank you'!
Unlike a sporting or news event, where something happens in a fraction of a second and you're often not sure if you've got 'the photo', this had unfolded very slowly and I knew I had something that looked good...possibly great.
There's no better feeling than knowing you've got 'the photo', so I excitedly raced back to the office and printed up a large copy for the boss. I left it with him and went home, not sure of what they'd do with it.
The following day I found out. I was working another shift for the Evening News and when I got into the office one of the photographers told me to turn to page 17.
Normally page 17 is considered a crap page to have your photo run (the further from the front of the paper the worse), so I flicked through the pages of the newspaper not sure of what I was going to see.
However, when I turned the page to reveal page 17, there was my photo filling the entire page! There was no copy - just my photo with a byline. The Saturday edition of the Evening News was a tabloid edition but, nonetheless, a full page is a full page! And none of my photos had ever been run as a full page shot before (or since).
While I will never know the identity of the two blokes in the photo, they don't know how much I have to thank them for!

Gear used - Nikkor 300mm f2.8 lens, Nikon FM2 camera (with winder), Fuji 800ISO film (possibly pushed one stop to 1600 ISO), probably 1/250 f5.6 (or thereabouts)


The backdrop was my doona cover

The thing I love about this photo is that, while it looks totally serene, the truth is far from this.
It was 1990 and a good mate of mine - the bloke on the right - was in a local Brisbane band called the Appaloosas. I wasn't a big fan of the band name but their music was pretty good.
At the time I was living in a share house with two mates - one a fellow news photographer and the other an old school friend - at Toowong in inner Brisbane.
While it wasn't an out-and-out party house, we were all in our early twenties and the house reflected this - lots of beer was consumed on a regular basis and our hangovers were treated by excursions to the local Hungry Jacks up the road at Taringa.
Being a house full of twenty-somethings, where beer and fast food were the priority, not much thought had been put into an area of the house that could be used as a studio if need be. This was despite the fact two of its inhabitants were photographers.
So, getting back to the photo, I can't remember how it came to be that it was decided to do a band photo at my house. Either way, one night they all trooped over to get a photo done.
The band showed up and were keen to do something similar to the 'Meet the Beatles' album (http://bit.ly/hJofmP), so 'dark' was the theme of the shoot. When it came to choosing locations, we looked at the limited options on offer and decided upon the dining room which was, at least, a room unto itself. We pushed the dining room table and chairs to one end of the room and the band stood up against the wall opposite the table.
The lead singer's partner and toddler had come along too and the toddler, not quite into the whole band photo 'thing', decided to make the table and mish-mash of chairs into an imaginery world and was in kiddy heaven.
If we'd been in a proper photographic studio, there would have been an equally proper black backdrop - preferably material. Being a dining room, however, there was no material - not even a set of curtains - so I had to do with what was on offer. In this case, my navy blue doona cover.
I upset the toddler and took one of the chairs from his imaginery world so I could fasten my doona cover to the wall with the help of some masking tape and a few tacks.
I wanted to get some height for the photo (eye level photos are, invariably, boring) so, realising by now the toddler had forgotten his imaginery world was one chair down, I kept the chair I'd borrowed to use as the step ladder I needed.
The lighting in the dining room consisted one bare, stark light. As far as studio lighting went, it was horrible - crap, even.
I was using an Nikon FM2 and my flash 'set up' in those days was a Metz-45 flash. For those not in the know, the difference between a Metz-45 and the flashes used nowdays is similar to the difference between the first, house brick-style mobile phone and the sleek works of art available today.
The Metz-45 was a massive contraption that was strapped to the side of the camera via a bracket (it's not a Nikon FM2, but similar to this set up - http://bit.ly/hDaFzQ - scroll down to the first photo).
I stood on the chair and sized up the scene. Direct flash (the flash head pointed at the subject) would have left horrible shadows behind the subject, so I pointed the flash head at the ceiling just above my head and used 'bounce' flash to soften the light. I now started shooting, trying several variations of the same theme - 'try looking here', 'try looking there'.
After a dozen or so shots I knew I had something pretty good. The set up was basic but with a bit of work in the darkroom (this was pre-Photoshop days), I knew I could get a great photo, which is what I got.
I know it's not the first time a band has been photographed this way but I love it because, while it looks like the sort of photo I'd have taken if we were in a proper studio, the fact of the matter is:

1. We were in my dining room.
2. I was standing on a chair.
3. Behind me was a dining room table and chairs that had been pushed to one end of the room.
4. My two house mates and the partner of the band's singer were standing next to me looking at what was going on.
5. Their toddler was running around us all...that is, when he wasn't playing in his imaginery world under the dining room table.
6. The 'moody' lighting was my Metz-45 flash bounced off the ceiling a few centimetres above my head.
7. The backdrop was my doona cover.

Whenever I look at this photo I see serenity but I always think of the mayhem going on around me.

Gear used: Nikon FM2, 24mm f2.8 lens, HP5 400ISO B&W film, Metz-45 flash, 1/250 sec, f8.



I felt the size of a peanut...

I have to admit that, compared to the other photos in this blog, this isn't the best. In fact, it's cod-ordinary. However, there's a reason why...
In 1998 I hitchhiked all the way around Australia photographing everyone who gave me a lift and writing about each hitch (http://soididbook.blogspot.com.au/).
This was my 38th hitch - Sally Sahir. She was one of only 2 lone females to pick me up on my journey. Oddly enough, one took me into Alice Springs (Sally) and one took me out the following day.
Sally picked me up hitchhiking north from the Desert Oaks Resort Erldunda, on the corner of the Stuart and Lasseter Highways and pretty much smack-bang in the middle of Australia (the Stuart heads north/south and the Lasseter heads west to Uluru).
She was in a good mood, having just landed a job, and was celebrating the fact with a beer (a can of VB cradled in her lap). It was around 10am. She offered me one but it was about 8 hours too early for me.
We set off and, like all my hitches, after a few minutes I told her what I was doing and would she mind if I photographed her? I do remember her saying, somewhat quietly, 'Oh'...then, tentatively...'sure', but I was too preoccupied with the beautiful day outside and the fact I was hitchhiking through the middle of Australia, loving every minute of it. I didn't stop to think that a single woman being asked this question by a hitchhiker she'd just picked up might start alarm bells ringing. Anyway, I knew I was a big, friendly bloke, so what was there to worry about? Plus the fact, by the time I'd met Sally, I was well into my journey and was used to people being more than happy to let me photograph them.
I knew what I wanted to do for a photo and it involved using a layby which we could pull into. I told Sally this and once again, she quietly said, 'okay...'.
Meanwhile, Muggins i.e. me, was totally oblivious to how Sally might be feeling. We chatted amiably as we drove and, after around half-an-hour or so, I said, 'Can you pull into the next layby and I'll do the photo?'
At the next layby Sally duly pulled in. There were people there and I'm sure Sally must have breathed a huge sigh of relief. I had a look around and knew it wasn't what I wanted. It was then that Muggins said, 'It's not what I want. Can we drive to the next layby?'
As I said this I turned to face Sally.
Now, there are lines from movies, songs, books, poetry that stay with people forever. The short sentence I heard next will stay with me 'til the day I die.
Sally, cowering into her seat and with eyes the size of dinner plates behind her huge, 1970s Charlie's Angels-style sunglasses, feebly uttered the now-immortal words, 'You're not going to go all weird on me, are you?'
In that instant, her short sentence sent everything crashing down on me like a ton of bricks as the magnitude of the situation hit home. I felt the size of a peanut, with a brain to match, and spent the next minute or so apologising profusely. Understandably, she took some reassuring as she must have spent the entire time I'd been in the car worrying for her safety.
Any idea of using other laybys for photos now went out the window. No matter how much apologising and reassuring I gave her, there was no way she was going to move from where we were for the sake of a photo. Whether I wanted to or not, I was going to have to take her photo there and then. And I was going to have to be quick. She was in no mood for modelling.
We got out of the car and I looked at what I had to work with. It wasn't much. Sally wasn't going to venture far from the relative safety of the car, so I had to make do with what was there.
I tried a few basic combinations of her standing in the doorway of the car, making sure the car was between us the whole time, and working as quickly as possible in case she pulled the pin on me. The adrenalin was surging through me but more out of horror at my behaviour than out of concern for getting an award-winning photo. I was going to get whatever she gave me. Even though she's smiling in the photo, it wasn't a comfortable smile!
I took maybe 10 frames and called it a 'wrap'. I knew the photo wasn't great but I had something in the bag.
My apologising must have worked and Sally allowed me to get back into the car with her, whereupon we set off.
When Sally picked me up, she was quite content to enjoy the day and asked if I minded if we cruised along at 70-80km/h. After the 'photo shoot', however, we averaged 110-120km/h the rest of the way to Alice Springs!

Gear used - Nikon FM2, FP4 125ISO B&W film, 1/250 sec f8. Minutes spent apologising and grovelling - many.