I didn't want to do it in wet undies!

I was on my way home from work at ABC News Online and was sitting on the bus as it headed into the Brisbane CBD. I was going to have to change buses in the city, which is no big deal. However, as we made our way down Coronation Drive, next to the Brisbane River, I could see this big, black, gnarly storm front sweeping across the suburbs on the other side of the river at a rapid rate of knots.
I did a bit of math in my head and it appeared the storm front was going to hit the CBD at around the same time the bus I was on was going to arrive. I only had to walk 50 metres or so from where the bus dropped me to where the second bus picked me up but I didn't have an umbrella (which, I thought at the time, might prove useless anyway) or anything remotely waterproof. Brisbane rainstorms can be big, scary things and, unless in head-to-toe waterproofs, forget it.
Raindrops - bloody big ones - started hitting the bus windscreen a few hundred metres from where I had to get off and by the time we got to the bus stop the heavens had opened, accompanied by fierce winds.
The red 'don't walk' man you see in the photo is where I have to cross the road to get my second bus. I jumped off the bus and straight into the pouring rain, now being blown sideways by the wind.
The bus stop is next to the Supreme Court building which, when a storm isn't blowing through the CBD, is a lovely building to walk around and through. However, when the wind is swirling and the rain is being blown every which way, it offers no protection and is bloody useless.
Not caring about anything in my path, I turned GI Joe and headed cross-country i.e. through garden beds, for what looked to be an area of some protection from the storm. This turned out to be an empty fountain against a wall partially sheltered by an overhang. I stood there, out of the rain...just...and marvelled at what was happening beyond my 'sheltered' corner of the Brisbane CBD.
Moreover, I was amazed at the amount of people out in the storm, many of whom were using bags, folders, briefcases and an assortment of other devices as wet weather 'protection'. All of which were totally useless. I couldn't understand what was so pressing that they needed to be getting themselves drenched in such a manner. I doubt any of them had a change of clothes, let alone a towel, back in the office. I was more impressed by those with no protection at all. They were true diehards.
As I marvelled at the sight before me, the news-gene that had implanted itself in me over the previous 20-odd years, kicked in and I dragged my camera from the very dry confines of its bag. I'm sure it wasn't impressed by this but such is life. I knew there had to be a photo out there somewhere.
While my news-gene had kicked in, my self-preservation-gene had kicked in alongside it and I was going to stay where I was to get a photo. There was no way I was going to get drenched for my art. I had a bus ride to sit through and didn't want to do it in wet undies!
Still pressed against the wall, I lifted the camera to my face and began firing. I did afford myself the opportunity to move along the wall but stepping away from the wall brought me closer to the wind and the rain an this was a no-go area as far as I was concerned.
There were still alot of people rushing through the rain but nothing really grabbed me. I had an idea in my mind's eye what I was after but nothing was living up to my expectations. Then I saw a bunch of people huddling under a narrow awning across the street from where I was.
I had a clear view of them and could see the woman in the photo was keen to cross the road but kept 'false-starting'. She appeared to have no protection but this obviously didn't faze her.
Finally the little green man lit up and, in what I can only assume was a case of bad luck, she broke from the sheltering pack as the storm really hit its straps. However, she had committed herself and wasn't turning back. I saw her plunge - almost literally - into the wind and the rain. It was an admirable sight. Little did she know that, at the same time she was giving her clothes a free wash, around 50 metres away a photographer's eyes were lighting up.
I fired off around half-a-dozen frames and turned back to face the wall, in order to protect the camera from the same wind and rain that had afforded me the photo. Still facing the wall, I pressed the camera against my body and checked the sequence on the LCD screen. I smiled.
I fired off a few more frames of other scenes but the storm was gradually abating. Then, as suddenly as the storm had started, it finished. I walked the 50m to my bus stop, caught the bus home in dry undies and emailed the photo you see here to the office.

Gear used - Nikon D5000, 28-105 f3.5-4.5 lens, 1/125 sec f5 (therabouts), 1250ISO.


A media sh*t fight was in the offing...

When Pauline Hanson was sent to prison, it was headline news. Not surprisingly, when she was released from prison after her conviction was quashed in November 2003, it was also headline news.
When she was taken to prison it was in the back of a prison van with the windows blacked out and getting photos/footage of her was nigh on impossible. However, when she was released, she was going to walk out a free woman and the media was going to be able to record every moment. They were going to be there en masse.
The way things turned out, One Nation co-founder David Ettridge, who had been imprisoned with Hanson, also had his conviction quashed and was released at the same time.
The mens and womens correctional centres at Wacol on the western outskirts of Brisbane are next to each other and whether by design or coincidence, both Ettridge and Hanson walked at the same time.
Despite the correctional facilities being next to each other, all the media outlets had sent reporters/photographers/TV crews to cover both exits.
I can't remember who walked first but one, then the other, appeared from their respective exit. Friendships and acquaintances went by the wayside in the name of journalism i.e. getting the quote, vision, photo, and the usual pushing, shoving and jostling among the assembled media took place.
When Hanson and Ettridge made a beeline for each other it became obvious a media sh*t fight was in the offing when the met. Indeed, it was like two waves smashing into each other head on as the two already sizeable press packs morphed into one giant, seething mass of spitting, snarling, pushing, shoving, yelling humanity. Elbows became the weapon of choice and it was the survival of the fittest. The whole affair took on the appearance of a Medusa - a writhing mass with dozens of heads.
It was a great time to take out revenge on anyone you may been feuding with - an elbow to the head or a knee to the general groin region could all have been done in the name of 'getting the job done'.
I can't speak for others but at times like this I do try and watch for other photographers. Of course, TV crews are fair game - they're always getting in the way and f*cking up our photos, so it is a great chance for payback.
Anyway, I can't remember who I was initially following but I soon became one of Medusa's heads and it was all on. It was one of those strange occasions when the adrenalin kicks in and instinct takes over. It's times like this that you appreciate having all those years experience under your belt.
I tried shooting with the camera to my face but there was so many people, cameras and microphones in the way that it was impossible to get a clean shot.
One of the things that pisses me off about movie 'press packs' is that photographers are always lifting their camera above their head to take a photo, even if they're standing in front of the person they're photographing. I can count the amount of times I've lifted my camera above my head on one hand. I feel like a toss-pot every time I do it and try and avoid it at all costs. Anyway, in the name of wankery, this was one time when I just had to do it. There was far too much crap in the way and I was wedged where I was. That press pack was as tight as a fish's bum and if I was going to get anything decent the camera was going to have to get 'airborne'.
Situations like this are one of those weird times when a matter or seconds seems like a mini-eternity.
I remember as I lifted the camera up it freed me up a whole lot more. Each time someone had bumped into me when I was looking through the camera, the camera jolted. Having my arms above my head eased this problem. I had to sacrifice less control over what I was doing but all I needed was one half-decent shot. To make sure I had every chance of getting a decent photo I half-watched my camera to make sure it was pointing in the right direction while also keeping an eye on my two subjects All the while I left myself to the will of the throng and moved with the crowd.
With the camera above my head, I kept firing the whole time. It's not totally blind firing as, like I said, I was aware of where the camera was pointed and I was doing some rough math in my head as to what angle might work best.
After the two had embraced and the initial sh*tfight ended, the media throng actually retained some level of normality. I kept taking shots and it wasn't until they'd both departed the scene in a car that I had the chance to stop and look at what I'd taken. Amidst the mess and slop was the frame you see here.
From an aesthetic view, it's spot on - the composition funnels the viewer straight to Ettridge and Hanson, whose red hair shines out from the surrounding greyness of those recording the moment. Many other photographers resorted to the 'airborne' tactic and everything in the photo is directed at the subject matter. This is one of my favourite news photos and, like so many other photos in this blog, it came from pretty close to nothing. While I was trying my best to get a decent shot, the reality was I had little idea of what I was getting.
What made it even better was that it was run right across the front page of the Courier Mail (who I was working for). There's nothing better than seeing a photo you are really proud of splashed across page one - the thrill never tires.

Gear used - Nikon D100, Nikkor 20mm f2.8 lens, 800ISO, (probably) 1/250 f8



If only I got paid royalties

There's not alot to the story behind this photo - like the band photo earlier in this blog, it's more a case of using what's there and the fact you don't always need all sorts of fancy lighting and/or props.
In my role as photo editor with ABC News Online - www.abc.net.au/news/photos - I am always hunting for generic photos of all sorts of things. One of the most common requests I used to get was a generic photo to go with drug stories, especially drugs in sport stories. I'd searched everywhere I could think of looking for a decent generic photo and had no luck, so I took matters into my own hands and did one myself.
I didn't have to travel far to get this photo. I was at home one night and went to the bathroom cabinet, took out a bottle of pills and found a small syringe (I was house-sitting for a mate whose wife is a doctor...seriously). I then got my bedside lamp and cleared a space on the kitchen bench. I tipped out the pills, arranged them around the mouth of the bottle, placed the syringe in the background, far enough away so it would be out of focus but near enough so it was still obvious what it was, and set up my bedside lamp on the bench so it was shining back towards the camera, backlighting everything (adding mood to the photo). There was no needle with the syringe, so I had to do with the syringe on its own, and I turned the pill bottle so the label couldn't be seen.
I stood back and fired off half-a-dozen frames. Done!
If you go to the ABC News Online website (above) and type 'drugs' into the search engine, you won't have to go far before finding this photo. It's been used a stack of times...if only I got paid royalties :)

Gear used: Nikon D100, Nikkor 18-70 f3.5-f4.5 lens, 1250 ISO, 1/125 sec f4.5.


He will do ANYTHING for a photo...

Some people are complete pains in the arse to photograph. Everything is a chore, even if they have to sit there and do sod all, or they're smart arses, or they're just plain old $%#@wits!
On the other hand, others are a total delight.
This bloke, the botanist David Bellamy, falls into the latter category.
He is my all-time champion person to photograph. He will do ANYTHING for a photo and we've (me and other photographers on the job) had him knee-deep in a duck pond and even up to his neck in a water display at an aquarium. And for both he didn't have to be asked twice. It was if he's thought of the idea himself.
Unfortunately I don't have the duck pond or the water display negatives, however I do have this.
This photo was taken on a PR job I was shooting in the mid-1990s when I was freelancing in Edinburgh, Scotland.
I was doing the job for a window frame company at, of all places, a hothouse at Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens. The only reason I can think it was at such a location was because the wooden frames must have been made of recycled wood...or something like that.
Anyway, the PR company wanted me to do the job for them but also see if I could get a photo in the newspapers, who they knew I also worked for.
PR photography and newspaper photography are two very different beasts. PR is all about the product whereas, for the most part, news photography is about getting a great photo. Often the two cross paths but, for the most part, news photographers hate rolling up to news jobs that are thinly veiled PR jobs. We delight in trying our very best to make sure the product isn't in shot - anything to piss off a PR person. However, this day I had both hats on and I couldn't piss off the PR person - they were my meal ticket!
The one thing in the PR company's favour was that Bellamy was (is) a household name in the UK, meant there were a few news photographers there.
The obligatory photos were taken of Bellamy leaning through the window frame, looking out through the window frame - doing all sorts of things with the window frame. It was cheesy at best but Bellamy was his usual great self and doing whatever was asked of him, even coming up with a few ideas himself.
While the PR company loved what they were seeing, most of the other photographers were a bit restless. Even I was wondering what I could do to make it look interesting for the papers.
With the PR photos done, we all took Bellamy and wandered off into the hothouse, as a few of the other photographers had come up with ideas while I served up the cheese i.e. PR photos. I was scratching my head a bit but wasn't too stressed. At worst, I could send out the least cheesy photo I'd taken and feign sorrow if none of the papers used the photo (I'd still get paid by the PR company). Getting a photo in the paper was a bonus for PR companies but they didn't put all their eggs in that one basket.
I trailed off the back of the pack and started looking around. It was then that I saw the lovely soft light illuminating the fronds (that's what I'm calling them) of the plant you see in this photo. It was a simple idea but the thought of Bellamy poking his face through, surrounded by the fronds of the plant, really struck a chord - how apt for a botanist!
I waited for the others to finish taking their photos and explained what I had in mind to Bellamy. His eyes lit up and, before I could say 'that frond over there', he was off into the bushes. Being a botanical garden he had to be a little light of foot, but he was off all the same.
He poked his face through two of the fronds but it wasn't quite right, so I suggested another and 'bingo'!
I got in close with the wide angle lens and, while it looked okay, I knew the 80-200mm zoom was the way to go.
By now the other photographers had seen what I was doing and, as I positioned myself with the 80-200mm, three other photographers perched themselves around me, getting the same photo (they're called parrots because they 'sit on your shoulder' - we've all done it).
And that is the photo you see here. I tried him looking up, straight ahead, at me...and a few other poses, but this was the shot. The light was so beautiful and soft - from memory it was the start of winter - and bathed his face in a gentle glow.
If this isn't my faourite portrait, it's pretty damn close. This is as much as anything for the reason that whenever I see this photo of Bellamy I think of him on that other occasion we had him up to his neck in water and he was still smiling happily and obliging for all of our photo requests. A truly great bloke who understood the benefit of giving photographers what they wanted.

FOOTNOTE - I had this photo enlarged to one metre and framed, and had it hanging on the living room wall of my flat in Edinburgh. When I returned to Australia I couldn't bring it with me and donated it to Edinburgh's Royal Botanical Gardens. I hope it's still there.

Gear used - Nikon F4, Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8 lens, Fuji 800 ISO film, 1/125 sec, f5.6



For those non-golfers among you, this is one of the legends of the game - Arnold Palmer, otherwise known as Arnie.
In 1995 Arnie had played his last British Open, which just so happened to be held at the spiritual home of golf, the old course at St Andrews in Scotland.
This photo was taken the old course at St Andrews, in 1996. Arnie was playing in a gold medal tournament (don't ask me what that means) and it was to be his last round of golf at the course. It was by no means a well-publicised occasion and the crowds that would normally be present for a British Open were absent. The media, however, knew about it and quite a few journos and photographers had rolled up for the occasion. I was photographing Arnie for the Daily Mail, a London-based tabloid.
We all arrived at the course and set ourselves up for the 'traditional' 1st hole teeing off shot. The day was glorious and, being the occasion it was, it was all quite casual and light-hearted. Arnie had one of the most distinct golf swings in the history of the game - it was more brute than beauty - but it got the job done. He teed off, we all got the shot and then we all set off down the first fairway. All the photographers stayed with him for 4 or 5 holes and then headed off...except for me, that is. I can't remember why, but the Daily Mail didn't need an early photo and were happy for me to stay with Arnie for the full 18 holes.
As the game progressed, I was getting some okay photos but I knew 'the' photo was going to be the one you see here.
This 'wee stone bridge', formerly known as the Swilcan Burn Bridge, is a famous small stone bridge at St. Andrews and spans the Swilcan Burn (creek) between the first and eighteenth fairways on the old course. It's one of the icons of golf and the previous year Arnie had stopped to be photographed on the bridge with the 18th green, the famous clubhouse, and the grandstands full of spectators all away in the distance. It was a very emotional public farewell.
Even though it had already been done, photographing him on the bridge again was the only way of locating where he was. Otherwise, it could have been any links golf course.
With that in mind, I decided to approach Arnie during the round and ask him ahead of time if he'd mind doing the photo for me.
I'll be the first to admit that I was a bit nervous - this was a legend of the game and I'd been watching him play all my young life - so it took me til about the 12th or 13th hole to figure out what I was going to say and wait until he was on his own.
Finally, I'd worked out my spiel and he was on his own, so I trotted up next to him, introduced myself and launched into my short spiel.
Without breaking stride he turned to me and, with one eye squinting and his face screwed up, said in a really loud, gruff manner, "WHAT?!"
Needless to say, I nearly shat myself.
I nervously blurted out my spiel once more.
No reaction.
Then, with eye still squinting and face still screwed up, he turned and looked at me - "YEAH, OKAY!"
It wasn't a pleasant "YEAH, OKAY!"
It came across as more of a "PISS OFF YOU %!@#...OKAY!"
My bowels nearly emptied.
He sounded pissed off. But why? Maybe he couldn't understand my accent. Maybe I should apologise. But what for?
My sensibility got the better or me and I decided leaving him alone was the best thing.
The game continued and I thought this was good as it might give him time to calm down.
As we neared the 'wee stone bridge' I felt myself getting nervous. How would he react? No matter, I had to ask him. I knew I had to get the photo. He teed off from the 18th and we all started the walk. We got to the bridge and I ran up to him.
"Mr. Palmer, I was wondering if we could take that photo I mentioned?"
He had seen me coming and, with eye squinting etc, said something along the lines and "YEAH, OKAY!"
I hate holding up anyone at the best of times, let alone a possibly pissed off golf legend, so I didn't want to take up too much of his time.
However, golf legends, pissed off or not, are also media savvy, and he walked onto the bridge, lifted his foot onto the side of the bridge, and rested on his golf club. It looked great and was exactly what I wanted. I could have run onto the bridge and kissed him!
All the other photographers had left so it was just me and a few other punters with happy snappers.
I had my two cameras with me (one with a long lens, one with a wide angle) and I took a few frames with both and I was done. I thanked him, he smiled and kept walking. If I'd forgotten to take the lens cap off or hadn't had any film in the camera, "BAD LUCK!" Arnie had 'left the building' and wasn't coming back!
I was as nervous as hell and, even though Arnie was posing for me as I'd requested, I was running on adrenalin. As a result, I kind of knew what I had but wasn't sure. I was just relieved that I'd got the shot I wanted and there was every chance it was going to look good.
The drive to Edinburgh was just over an hour and, being a glorious day, I took my time and enjoyed myself.
Back in Edinburgh, I processed my films. The shots taken on my long lens (80-200mm) looked crap without the crowd in the background, but the wide angle shots, with the burn, the grass and the blue sky as a backdrop, looked great.
The Daily Mail must have also thought it looked great and, for a tabloid, gave it a huge run in the sport pages the next day.

FOOTNOTE - I later found out that Arnie was deaf in one ear and when I had initially apporoached him on the 12th or 13th fairway, I'd been speaking into his deaf ear. Hence the continual loud, gruff "WHAT?!", "YEAH, OKAY!" etc.
I was relieved - I hadn't in some way ruined the day for this golf legend playing his last round at the spiritual home of golf.

Gear used - Nikon F90x, Nikkor 24mm f2.8 lens, Fuji 400ISO colour film, 1/500n sec, f8.