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<   No. 3343   2014-08-03   >

Comic #3343

1 {photo of a sleeping koala}
1 Caption: Photo stories

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A few weeks ago I tried a new format with larger photos, mainly to help fill out a hastily written and shorter than normal annotation. But several people wrote to tell me that they really liked the larger photos. So I thought I'd take the opportunity to show off some of my photography, and embellish the photos with some stories about them. So I've looked through Flickr's ranking of my most "interesting" photos[1] and picked out a few to talk about briefly.

The title photo (above) is one of my all-time most favourited photos on Flickr. It's not hard to figure out why - photos of cute fluffy animals tend to get lots of favourites. And perhaps it's not entirely a bad photo. I took it at the Koala Park Sanctuary in north-western Sydney, which is a small privately run wildlife park specialising in koalas and other Australian native animals. It was on a day trip on which I was showing around Steve Jackson, the game designer and owner of Steve Jackson Games. He was visiting Australia to attend a gaming convention in Canberra, and spent a couple of days in Sydney. Since I had written some material for his GURPS roleplaying game, we knew each other and I was happy to take him on a sightseeing trip.

There's not really much to say about the taking of the photo, except that it was with a long lens. I processed the photo to darken the background of trees and leaves and convert it to black and white. I fear this may be my most stolen photo of all-time. Paste it into Google's image search and you will see just how many times it has been copied and re-used (all without my permission) on the Internet. Unfortunately, posting photos on the net almost inevitably leads to other people using them without your permission, and there's not really much that you can practically do to prevent it. (You can watermark the hell out of your photos, but that ruins them, and I'd rather post them unadulterated so people can enjoy them.)

After the rain

Here's my second most favourited, and second highest interestingness photo. This is a photo of my good friend Andrew and his wife Von, taken before they got married. They both admired my photography and decided to ask me if I would photograph their wedding as one of two official photographers, along with another friend of ours. I'd photographed weddings before, but never as the "official" photographer, and had never earned money as a photographer. So I was a bit reluctant, pointing out to them that I was just an amateur. I said I'd be happy to give it a go, but they had to understand I couldn't promise a quality anywhere near what they'd get if they hired a professional. They were happy to accept that, and so I took the job.

To give me and my other photographer friend some warm-up experience, we scheduled an engagement photo shoot several weeks before the wedding. We picked a place by the riverside which was scenic, and arranged to meet late in the afternoon so we could photograph with the early evening light. The day turned out to be wet and miserable, but the forecast was for clearing, so we decided to go ahead and meet up at the rendezvous. As I drove there, the rain was pelting down, and I felt sure we'd have to abandon the shoot. But as everyone else arrived the rain pulled back and the clouds began breaking up, giving us a spectacular sunset. We began the shoot with Andrew and Von holding umbrellas - which is not bad, because umbrellas make great props for portrait photography.

Then the rain stopped, the ground was left slick with water, making beautiful reflections, and the light became simply gorgeous. I had my wife stand to one side of Andrew and Von, holding a flash unit remotely triggered from my camera, and I knelt down to look up at the two of them and line up the sky behind them. The flash filled out the light on their faces, and I captured this moment. It always reminds me of a scene from the end of some classic film or other - maybe Casablanca but with a much happier ending. This photo means a lot to me because it means so much to friends of mine.

Yellow Water Dawn

In 2008 I went for a driving holiday through the Northern Territory of Australia with my wife. Neither of us had ever been there before, and we'd decided it was about time we took a look at this part of our country. We began our trip at Uluru, hiring a car from the airport there, and over the next few weeks drove north through the desert landscape, eventually ending up in the tropics and Kakadu National Park. We stayed in the park at a small tourist lodging called Cooinda, which is near some extensive wetlands called Yellow Water. We rose before dawn for a morning cruise to see the wildlife and the scenery. Our small boat departed in the dark, and a few minutes later we witnessed one of the most amazing sunrises I have ever seen. And this was just the beginning.

Through the rest of the cruise we saw numerous large crocodiles, and a vast number of birds of different species. Living in a city, it is both amazing and exhilarating to visit a place like this where huge numbers of animals live and humans are merely occasional visitors. This photo is a reminder of that for me, and a large canvas print of it graces the wall of our living room at home.

Milano Duomo

In 2001 my wife and I took our first really big trip together. We'd been to New Zealand for a slightly delayed honeymoon a few years before, but this was the first time we'd gone more than a 3 hour flight from home together. We decided to tour Italy, starting in Rome, travelling north by train to Florence, Milan, Venice, then back south to the Amalfi coast and then all the way down through Sicily to the Aeolian Islands, before returning to Rome for the flight home. I took the 35mm film SLR camera which I'd had since I was in university, three lenses, and a cheap aluminium tripod. I used the tripod in Rome to take several photos at night. In those days you had to estimate your exposure, expose your film, and then wait weeks to develop your film and see the results.

By the time we got to Milan, I'd grown tired of carrying around the tripod everywhere at night, so we left it in the hotel room. But when we got to the wonderful Gothic Duomo, I knew I wanted to take some photos. I had a tiny pocket tripod in my camera bag at all times, but its legs were only a few centimetres long, so I couldn't rest it on the ground and sight through the viewfinder. It did however have a Velcro strap, so I found some handy metal barriers and strapped the tripod to that. You can see the barrier poles extending into the photo from the bottom left. I estimated the exposure, rattled off a few shots, and forgot about them until we got home a few weeks later. When our photos came back from developing, I knew this was the shot of the trip. I had to scan it to post it on Flickr, and I'm not sure the colours came out quite right - it looks better as the 8×12 inch print we have framed on the wall of our hallway at home.

Brown Pelican in Flight

In 2011 we took another trip, this time to South America. One stop was the Galapagos Islands, which are another remarkable place in terms of wildlife.We were walking around on a beach on Española Island, admiring the sea lions, the blue-footed boobies, marine iguanas, and so on. Suddenly I saw a large bird flashing by, fairly close to us. Instinctively I raised my camera, panned it rapidly to follow the bird - I wasn't even sure what sort of bird it was at the time, it all happened so fast - and shot off a couple of exposures. It was only when I reviewed the images on the back of the digital camera that I realised (a) it was a pelican, and (b) I had been incredibly fortunate to capture the bird in this one crystal clear shot when my camera happened to be aimed perfectly and its wings were raised in this beautiful pose. I consider this to be one of the luckiest photos I've taken.

In step

On a trip to England, we stopped for a couple of days in the city of Shrewsbury, near the Welsh border. (We'd just driven up through Wales from Cardiff.) It's a beautiful city with a lovely old historical centre for walking through. The British summer caught up with us one day, and the heavens opened for a brief rain shower. We ducked into a cafe for a bit of a rest while the rain tumbled down, and ate some ice cream. While sitting at our sheltered table, I saw this couple walk past, and snapped this photo. See, I told you umbrellas are good props! I have no idea who these people are, but I think this might be one of the best photos taken of them. (At least it is in my mind.) And even though I don't know who they are, this is one of my favourite shots from that trip.

Good Day Sunshine

Sometimes I get up early, well before sunrise, and drive out to the coast. Sydney is on the east coast, so the sun rises over the sea. For photography, this means we have great sunrises, but not great sunsets. So to get spectacular natural lighting you have to get up early. It can be a crapshoot, of course, because you can't tell what the sky is like before the sun comes up. You want a few clouds, but not covering the horizon. Anyway, on this particular day I got up early and drove to Mona Vale, a suburb on the far north shore of Sydney. There is a rock pool there, carved out of a sandstone rock shelf by the beach. On this day I was lucky, and the sky put on one of the most incredible shows I have seen. This swimmer arrived in the dawn twilight to do a few laps, and when he got out and starting drying off I turned on my flash to illuminate him from behind as he faced the sun.

Sitting on the pole in the middle of the photo is a pelican, by the way.

[1] Flickr assigns photos an "interestingness" rating, which appears to be some combination of number of views, number of favourites, number of comments, and perhaps a few other things. You could probably run a statistical analysis and figure out their algorithm, but that sounds like too much hard work for me to want to try.

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