Category Archives: behind the image

Alpine creek

This is one of my favourite photos – the movement of the water fascinates me. It was taken in a rush at the end of a skiing holiday in Thredbo, NSW before packing up the car and heading home. Carrying all of my gear, I wandered up and down the creek until I found elements that I could isolate – a simple interplay between rocks, water and light. The rest is merely technical – focus, a shutter speed that shows motion but retains detail, and exposure to ensure that everything fell into the 5 stop range afforded by black and white film.

Quiet corner

During my shoot for All Mankind, this quiet corner drew my interest. I struggled with the composition – my gut said it was right but my viewfinder said it wasn't. Eventually I ignored my viewfinder and took it anyway, and I'm pleased I did. 

Presumably my difficulty was that nothing in the image was symmetrical, but there are converging lines – the brick wall on the right, the shadow and the angle of the wall on the left, that somehow make it work. Not a life-changing work, but a quiet corner that I like.

Tamarisk Steps

This seagull roosting on a house below the Tamarisk Steps in Hastings Old Town caught my eye.

There's probably not much else to say, except that the beach in the background was given to the fisherman over a thousand years ago and now hosts the biggest beach-launched fishing fleet in England.

All Mankind

The Richard Beeston Band (now All Mankind with a fourth band member) needed fresh images leading up to a US tour.

On my recce the previous day, I found a pedestrian footbridge in Silverwater, Sydney – I had no idea what we’d shoot there but I liked the feel. With the guys sitting on the bridge it all fell quickly into place – I brought the camera to their eye level, ensured that all the lines were symmetrical and would all draw your eyes to the same point – disappearing into the distance behind Gavin’s head. Fortunately the weather was mostly overcast which contributed to the muted colour palette (I haven’t reduced the colour saturation) and helped ‘cool’ the image down, bringing out the blue in the steel. For some reason the end result makes me think of The Bronx, or at least as I imagine it from television shows of the 70s and 80s.

In the morning we’d spent our time at an abandoned brickpit in Eastwood – as kids the band members had played here, so they knew it better than they, er, should. We took shots in multiple locations but this one stuck as something quirky that could be used as a back cover image. I didn’t know why I liked it at the time (and I still don’t) – but it worked well enough for it to be used.

Lofoten Islands, Norway

In my twenties I lived vicariously through Climbing magazine, a glossy publication that granted me access to the world of mountaineering and sport climbing through images like these. The September 94 issue had stunning images of the granite walls of the Lofoten Islands that I dreamed of visiting and climbing. A decade later we had the opportunity to visit Norway and finally see (but not climb) these walls.

We flew to Oslo and took the train to Bergen, a pleasant but uneventful town. Then we boarded a Hurtigruten ferry, a coastal service that provides mail, vital supplies and transport to those who live in isolated coastal townships.

Richard With ferry Norway

As we approached Bodo, we crossed the Arctic Circle – this image was taken at around 2am:

From Bodo, we took the ferry to Svolvaer Harbour in the Lofoten Island of Austvagsoya, where a statue of a fisherman’s wife greets returning fishermen and climbers jump across the horns of the Svolvaer Goat. The lattice work in the background are racks where fish are dried to make a delicacy called stockfish.

We hired an old Corolla from a no-frills car rental business and drove toward the tip of the islands, using the bridges that connect the major islands:

And visited lakes where angry Norweigan seagulls made a painful and sustained attack after I walked on their mud flats to take this photo:

The next day we drove to Reine Harbour where we stayed in a Rorbu, a fisherman’s hut. You could even fish from a hole in the kitchen floor.

And this was taken at around 1am from the southernmost point on the island of Moskenesoya:

We then drove back to Svolvaer, took the ferry back to the mainland and boarded a train back to Oslo. As a holiday it was painfully expensive but exceeded my expectations, even those built up over a decade.

Rub-a-dub-dub

 

In my first year of as a commercial photographer, I wanted to make a dedicated image to put on my client christmas cards, something that spoke to creativity and technical proficiency. Somehow I came up with ‘Rub a dub dub, three men in a pub’ and convinced a pub and five people to help me make it. The butcher really was the local butcher, the baker is my uncle and the suitably mad candlestick maker a friend from church. Makeup was done by a student artist and another friend helped me move all the gear.

The only natural light in the scene is the light globe at the very top right. The foreground was lit with three studio strobes, including a (then) brand new type of light reflector that provided a large, directional light source to simulate sunlight (through the windows of the bar). The background (the bottles in the bar) were lit with a typical camera flash unit on a slave trigger and a sparkler was lit to create a welding spark.

I still don’t know what I think of this image – as I made it completely from scratch it’s one of the images I feel most naked showing to other people. It took a long time to make and used more of the models’ time than I had hoped, particularly the butcher who needed to get back to his shop (and he couldn’t even drink his beer because I’d put salt in it to keep its head). Plus there are a number of technical flaws that I won’t point out but personally can’t ignore. Fortunately, however, my clients loved it.

Harbour Bridge

Taken at 2am on a warm summer night, this is a structural element of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
I had spent an hour or so wandering back and forth along the pedestrian walkway looking for the right element – I wanted something minimal and strong. Following 9/11, a security guard patrols the bridge at night and on his first pass I was greeted with suspicion and a bag search. By his second and third pass, he realised I was serious about getting an image and I became a welcome distraction.
At this time on a weeknight, few vehicles cross the bridge but each causes noticeable vibration – a problem for a one minute exposure on a relatively long lens (165mm on a 6×7). As I couldn’t anticipate the arrival of vehicles, the first few were ruined by buses and trucks passing so I kept shooting until I had a vibration-free image. Then I wanted to bracket the exposure and use two film backs for redundancy so all told it took perhaps an hour to capture all of these frames. The long exposure also allowed capture of faint bird trails in the background – in summer birds feast on moths attracted to the lights.
You’re welcome to make a print for personal use: 10×13 inch, 300 DPI JPEG

Jacket

 
Yes, I cut much of Sonja’s head off intentionally. Many people really don’t like this photo – we really do consider the eyes to be the ‘window to the soul’. I think it’s sultry, although her clothes are sadly dated and we could have done more with her hair – perhaps we could have taken it all up to show just Sonja’s neck. But I still like it.
This was a simple set up – on the way to another location, I noticed the sun setting through the trees. We parked the car quickly, picked a jacket that would shimmer in the light and my assistant / make up artist held a large white reflector to light the jacket but not Sonja’s face.
The aperture was wide open to throw the background out of focus, her body aligned to the rule of thirds and I balanced her hands vertically against the bottom of her face. The tripod height and camera angle were chosen to be level with the jacket but also to have an out-of-focus and overexposed area behind Sonja’s unlit face for contrast. Total setup and shot time was probably fifteen minutes.

Veteran and grandson

 
I visited Canberra for four days to take photos to NSW Tourism’s specs. It wasn’t a commissioned shoot but I ended up selling them enough photos to make it worth my while. Trying to fit a large number of good photos into four days isn’t much fun – you’re either doing reconnaisance or racing from location to location during periods of good light – daily work hours of 5am to 11pm.
 
On one of those days I was at the Australian War Memorial, in the middle of the day (bad for light except for some cloud cover) and without a shot in mind. Standing there wondering whether I was wasting my time, a dignified veteran arrived with his grandson and kindly agreed to be involved. Between busloads of tourists and periods of harsh sunlight we captured these two images over perhaps half an hour.
 
I connect with both of these images, particularly that of the grandson whose benign expression and direct eye contact are more powerful than I could have hoped. So powerful that only now – after ten years – have I realised that his right hand is clenched. I never left his eyes long enough to see it.
 
Originally I tried to photoshop out the brand name on the grandson’s sweater but (having failed to make the end result look natural) I realised that they link to the veteran’s war medals – there’s certainly a visual link and one could argue that as this veteran’s life is (no doubt) defined by his military service and brotherhood with those who served, ours is defined by commercialism and brand tribalism. You might say that we have been made free by those who served, only to enslave ourselves in other ways.
 
I remain frustrated that in this second image we couldn’t get a background free of tourists – they came by the busload, each new group arriving before the last had meandered out of view. After unsuccessfully waiting at length for a clear background I felt I’d crossed the bounds of politeness in using this gentleman’s time, thanked him and watched him walk with his grandson into the war memorial.
 

Derby mud flats

 
In 2003 we drove from Broome, Western Australia to Darwin in the Northern Territory. Along the way we visited friends in Derby who live near an expansive mud flat subject to the world’s second largest tide. They also have a decent front fence “to keep the crocodiles out”, but I think they might have been pulling my leg.
 
In the late afternoon we wandered out onto the mud flat which had been dry for a number of months, giving it this cracked appearance. I took this image looking straight down with a 28mm lens – it’s as wide a view as I could take using my 6’4″ frame.
 
Then the tide came in – at walking pace. We walked with the tide for a while until the sun set and went home for a sensational barramundi dinner from the restaurant on the pier.