I shut my eyes and ran like hell!

I can count on one hand the amount of sunsets I've photographed. I've always thought that capturing them 'on film' doesn't do them justice so I've never bothered. This was, I think, the first exception to my rule.
For several years during the late nineties/early 'naughties' I was the photographer for the Australian Science Festival which was held annually in Canberra. This meant jaunting off to Canberra for a couple of weeks every year to photograph all manner of things 'science'...sunsets not included, though.
This photo came about late one afternoon when I was walking back to my car, which was parked in a large, open carpark in Civic (what Canberrans call the CBD), after a job. I could see the spectacular orange colour filling the sky and thought nothing of it. Like I said, I normally leave sunsets (and sunrises) alone.
However, when I turned a corner and saw the striking pointy shape of Telstra Tower, a large telecommunications tower on the summit of Black Mountain, silhouetted against the orange, my photographic juices started flowing. I knew I had to get a photo of the scene.
The only problem was that between myself and Black Mountain/Telstra Tower was power lines, several trees and a small, very low hill. I wanted a totally clear shot of the scene but all I had in front of me was mess.
I started to panic - I knew I didn't have much time to play with before it was going to be all over. I took a couple of photos in case it was all I was going to get but deep down inside I wasn't happy and knew I needed to do better - this meant having to get to the other side of the car park...somehow, anyhow!
The carpark surrouded the small, very low hill and my car, which I was now standing next to, was parked on the wrong side of the hill. I looked at the scene before me and I weighed up whether or not I could live without taking what I knew would be a spectacular photo. It was all there right in front of me but there was still all sorts of mess in the way.
I to-ed and fro-ed about what to do and, before I knew it, I had broken into a jog, making for the far side of the carpark. I kept looking up at the tower but every time I did there was still mess of some sort in the way. My jog soon escalated into a canter as I made my way across the carpark - mess, mess, mess the whole damned way!
All the while the colours got richer and richer and, as the sunset become more and more spectacular, I became more and more obsessed with getting the photo.
I began running blindly, my gaze fixed on the sunset. I was lucky I wasn't taken out by someone trying to park their car.
I finally made it to the far side of the car park where, lo and behold, one last powerline stood between me and an amazing photo.
The one thing I haven't mentioned so far is that running around the bottom of the hill is a 6-lane major road which, at that time of the afternoon, is very busy (even by Canberra standards). This was my one last hurdle between myself and great photo.
The area of hill/car park/road where I was isn't pedestrian friendly, so getting across the six lanes was going to be more of an act of stupidity than bravery. Still, the will brought on by creative juices is a powerful one and I had to get across it no matter what.
With the orange getting even more orange and the juices surging through me, there was finally a break in the traffic and I made my move i.e. I shut my eyes and ran like hell!
When I felt grass under my feet I opened my eyes to discover I was in a place where there was no mess between me and my photo. To say it looked spectacular was an understatement.
I raised the camera to my face and began firing. The sense of relief (achievement) was palpable and what you see here is the end result.

Gear used - Nikon D100, Nikkor 80-200mm f2.8, 800ISO, (I think) 1/250 f8


There were no warning signs...

Many of the photos in this blog have arisen from spontaneity. This photo doesn't fall into this category. It falls into the "photographers often have to wait and wait and wait to get the photo they want" category.
I was spending the day taking photos (panoramas) on the Gold Coast, an hour's drive south of Brisbane. I had no idea what I was going to get and was 'wandering' aimlessly. I'd arrived in the morning and had taken a few photos I knew looked good. I was liking the way the day was panning out when I found myself wandering along the shorefront at Nobby's Beach, south of Surfers Paradise but still a part of the Gold Coast (which is a long, thin strip of 'built
environment' stretching 50km or more).
I noticed a small headland in front of me and climbed the steps to the top. I walked over the headland and had a look at what was beyond. Nothing in particular grabbed me so I turned and headed back the way I'd come. As I walked to the top of the headland I saw the vista of the Gold Coast skyline stretching out before me. I liked the way that the highrise crammed together seemed so small against the vast expanse of the ocean.
I stood on the path and fired off a couple of frames. It looked good but I wanted to get a cleaner view of the skyline, as there was a tree in the way that was screwing up my photo. There was a small wooden fence next to the pathway, beyond which the headland carried on for 20 or so metres before dropping away to the beach and ocean. I needed to be on the other side of the fence to get a clear shot of the skyline and ocean.
There were no warning signs - it was assumed people would know which side of the fence to keep on - so I stepped over the fence and walked closer to the edge of the headland where, as expected, I had an uninterrupted view.
I framed the shot so the skyline was in the far left of the frame and the ocean stretched away to the right (bit.ly/cDacA2) and took several shots, varying the focal length of my lens so the ratio of skyline to ocean varied. I liked what I saw and was about to call it quits when I looked at the same scene but from a vertical perspective, with the wash of the waves as a line running down the vertical panorama I envisioned in my mind's eye (I use a 35mm camera and crop the panorama format in Photoshop).
I moved closer still to the edge of the headland (I'm not great with heights, so wasn't 'teetering' on the edge) in order to get as much of the beach in shot. I framed it up, with the skyline at the top of the frame and the wash running down the middle of the frame (pretty much what you see here).
As sod's law dictated, I framed up the shot and a woman I'd spied at the bottom of the frame, who balanced the image nicely (against the skyline at the top of the frame), walked out of the surf and out of my composition. I'd missed 'snaring' her by a few seconds.
I quietly swore to myself. Having seen her balance the shot nicely, I knew I needed someone at the bottom of the frame to make the photo. The wash and the skyline looked good but I needed that extra piece of the 'composition puzzle'.
I stood where I was and waited. I had no hat with me and could feel the sun on my nose. I placed one had at the top of my forehead as a visor of sorts and my other hand on my nose. Having struck the pose, I wandered what the passing parade might have thought of the scene...a bloke standing next to the edge of the headland, camera over his shoulder, using one hand as a visor and the other over his nose. Thankfully I knew I'd never see any of them again and didn't care what they thought.
When I'd first stepped over the fence and started taking photos I noticed that the beach below where I was standing had a few people walking along it and swimming in it. Of course, now that I wanted someone in my photo to balance the composition, the beach had totally clear of anyone.
I did all I could do and waited...and waited...hands duly in place as temporary visors. I watched people walking down the beach, willing them to keep walking into frame where I needed them to be. A couple of women wandered into frame and I fired off a couple of shots but I knew they weren't exactly where I needed them to be. I needed someone to be in the actual wash of the surf.
I then found myself taking photos 'for the hell of it'. This is a strange phenomenon whereby photographers (and I can only speak for news photographers), if they haven't taken a photo for a few minutes, fire off a frame. I'm not sure why we do this - to ease the nerves...in the hope something will miraculously appear the moment we take the photo. Who knows?
I did this a few times and then started getting annoyed that, despite being a warm day and the population on the Gold Coast being well in excess of half-a-million people, many of whom were wandering up and down the beach, no one was on 'my' patch of beach.
I didn't want to pull the pin - it wasn't as if I could just pop back down the Gold Coast one afternoon during the week and try shooting the photo again. I was there specifically and knew I either had to persist or be happy with the series of skyline/ocean photos I'd taken.
The half-hour mark passed and, as I debated what to do, I noticed a bloke walk onto the beach below where I was standing, drop his towel on the sand and keep walking into the water. He was exactly where I wanted him to be and I started shooting.
He dived into the surf and disappeared out of my frame so I waited until he started wading out of the water before shooting again. I knew I was going to be happy with what I was getting - it looked good through the camera - and watched him walk into the shallows. For some reason he then started walking directly up the beach and, more to the point, directly up the middle of my frame!
I watched him become silhouetted against the wash of the waves and, to make matters even better, he walked with his arms away from his body, further enhancing the silhouette. If I'd set up the photo myself, I couldn't have asked for a better result. I fired off frame after frame as wave after wave, and wash after wash, silhouetted him.
I kept firing until he turned and walked up the beach. I excitedly turned the camera so I could see what I'd got and scrolled through the shots I'd taken.
There were several like the one you see here but the thing that sold this one to me was the person higher up in the frame bending over.
I couldn't have scripted the photo better myself and the half hour I'd stood there waiting dissolved into nothing. The walk back to the car was a good one.

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

Gear used - Nikon D5000, Nikkor 28-105 f3.5-4.5 lens, 200ISO, 1/500 f8


"That looks like shit!"

This photo, taken of one of my hitches from my 1998 hitchhiking journey around Australia photographing everyone who gave me a lift and writing about each hitch (http://soididbook.blogspot.com.au/), is one of my favourite portraits. However, at the time I took it I thought it was 'shit'.
I was hoping to get a few hitches in trucks - semi-trailers more to the point - on my way Around Australia and really keen to get a ride in at least one in a roadtrain. However, it didn't pan out that way. I'm sure 99% of the reason was the fact I was a bloke. If I'd been of the female persuasion, I reckon I would have had semi-trailers and roadtrains queuing up.
In fact, I only got 2 hitches in trucks (both 'semis') and one followed the other. This bloke, Brian Melbourne, was my 2nd truck hitch. I got a ride with him because my first truck hitch, a guy called Marcus, phoned ahead and lined me up with Brian.
Marcus introduced me to Brian in Horsham, western Victoria. I got into Brian's semi and we soon discovered a mutual love of AC/DC. I also discvered that Brian loved swearing and pretty soon we were getting along like a house on fire. He was, in short, a good bloke.
He was also a heavily tattoo-ed good bloke and I knew early on I wanted to do a photo of him that incorporated his 'tatts'. It was late afternoon and I wanted to get the photo done while there was still some daylight kicking around. I told Brian what I had in mind and he kindly pulled the truck for me so I could get my photo (despite the 'truckie' demeanour, Brian proved a great model and, later on, when he spoke to his wife on the phone, he introduced himself as "Australia's next super model").
Once he'd pulled over I tried a few photos in the truck cab, with Brian resting his arms on the steering wheel and the tatts visible, but it looked pretty ordinary. I was 'umming' and 'aahing' to myself, trying to come up with an idea that would work. Nothing in the confines of the cab appealed so I suggested trying something outside.
We hopped down and I looked around. Nothing grabbed me and I was fast losing light, so I told Brian to lean against the cab with his arm out straight. This is the photo you see here.
Without even looking through the camera I could see that it didn't look great. There was lots wrong with it - for a start, I wanted more of the truck in frame. Out of courtesy more than anything I decided to take a photo as I didn't want Brian to think I was wasting his time.
I put the camera up to my face with every intention of taking just one frame and, as I pressed the shutter, I said to myself, 'That looks like shit'.
I tried a few other things before the light completely died. I wasn't happy with what I had but Brian had a schedule to stick to and I didn't want to piss him off. Anyway, I knew there was something passable in what I'd taken.
Months later, when my journey was over and I was in the darkroom printing up all the portraits of my hitches, I printed some of the photos of Brian in the truck. None of them grabbed me and I thought I'd screwed up royally. Out of frustration I put the negative of this photo into the enlarger and knocked off a quick print. I watched the image loom up at me from the tray of liquid and I couldn't believe what I saw. The photo I'd thought was shit suddenly came to life and almost leapt out of the tray and grabbed me by the throat.
Maybe it was because I'd thought it was shit that it seemed so much better but in B&W the photo took on a whole new dimension. Without meaning to get too technical, the late afternoon light meant there was little detail in the shadows and the photo is very much 'black' and 'white'.
As a result, there is so much mood and atmosphere about it and, most importantly, the tattoo, which was one of the things that initially didn't appeal, really came into its own. I love the fact that this photo took on a whole new life months after I'd taken it.

FOTNOTE - Brian and I have, on and off, kept in touch since we parted ways later that night in Adelaide. When I was doing publicity for the book of my journey, ...so I did, ABC TV's Stateline did a story on my journey and Brian, who happened to be in Brisbane with his semi-trailer, 'starred' in the story. We even recreated him picking me up in his truck in a sequence filmed at the offramp to the Boondall Entertainment Centre (a long way from Horsham!). I remember the producer telling me Brian was 'great talent'.
In fact, the same afternoon I posted this blog, I rang his parents to get a number for him and he was there. It was the first time we'd had a yarn in eight or nine years. He didn't seem to swear as much but maybe his folks were within earshot.

Gear used - Nikon FM2, Nikkor 24mm f2.8 lens, Neopan 1600ISO B%W film, exposure - probably around 1/60sec, f2.8.


My new book

Hi All,

Apologies for the lack of a post this week. I've published my ebook, Deep Fried Pizza, and have been busy spending time on that this week -

Steve Butcher is young, Australian and living in Scotland. He is a tabloid photographer. He is also disillusioned. His life isn't one of Page 3 Girls and celebrities. Instead, his morals and ethics are compromised every day. Thankfully, his life also revolves around beer, football, cable TV and, occasionally, women. It is through these he maintains his sanity.
Set against the contrasting beauty of the seasons, Steve views his world through the eyes of an outsider. He discovers a country steeped in history, a city of intense beauty and a passionate people. However, by the time his fourth Scottish winter – a particularly fierce one – arrives, he is at his wits' end...

I've set up a blog - http://deepfriedpizzabook.blogspot.com/ - on which you can read a large synopsis, reader reviews and excerpts from the book. The blog links through to a page where you can read the first 20% of Deep Fried Pizza and, if you like what you see, buy the ebook and/or soft cover version.

If you visit the above blog and like what you read, please tell others about it. The blog can also be found on the right-hand side of this page.