People you meet

People are fascinating subjects, providing endless variety for the photographer in search of an interesting picture. No matter how many portraits we see, the human face's seemingly infinite variability of shape, colour and expression keep the subject fresh. It's one thing to get a professional model into a studio where you have control of  timing, background and lighting, but street portraits are something else entirely.

First you have to work up the nerve to ask. Not easy at any time, but if the person is is engaged in performance, customer service or even just wearing a silly hat, it can be a bit easier. Perhaps even more challenging are the technical aspects of getting the shot. All the things taken for granted in the studio go out the window in the street. Lighting is rarely ideal, backgrounds can be a distracting nightmare, and you don't have the luxury of taking your time - you are after all imposing yourself on peoples busy lives. However, when it comes off, it can be really rewarding, which provides all the encouragement you need to keep trying.

Spring has sprung

I download and listen to a handful of podcasts each week, mostly involving photography. There was one - the name of which escapes me - which I haven't listened to for a couple of years, but which nevertheless left me with a quote I still remember. "There are photographers who are famous for their portraits, and photographers who are famous for their landscapes, but none who are famous for photographing flowers." Which is not to say great photographers haven't photographed flowers, just that it was probably more of a pleasant sideline than the reason they became great.

I used to photograph lots of flowers. They are, after all, attractive subjects and you can generally snap their portrait without any complaints. I tend not to do it so much these days - it's a combination of been there, done that and the search for more challenging subjects. But it's spring Down Under, and new growth is bursting out all over. A visit to the beautiful Garden of St. Erth at Blackwood provided ample opportunity to enjoy and photograph beautiful blooms. It took me a while to get into it, but in the end I had to be dragged away.

Saw it coming

Driving home from the country recently, the sky had that peculiar look that said it was likely to put on a performance at sunset. Nothing I could accurately put my finger on or describe, just something about the clarity of the air and the way the clouds were forming up said "showtime". We got home and unpacked the car and I headed off for a bayside vantage point at Half Moon Bay about an hour before sunset. The sun wasn't quite setting in an ideal position behind the wreck of the Cerberus, but it was near enough so I settled down on the jetty and waited.

The sky became redder and redder, and the clouds formed up on the horizon providing plenty of drama. But when a couple of girls paddled out of the harbour on their stand-up boards, I sensed something even better was coming. For a few minutes they obstinately paddled around in the shadows of the Cerberus while I willed them to move into line with setting sun. They finally obliged and I snapped away as they moved back and forth across the tranquil bay. When they finally reached out and touched hands, I knew I'd struck gold as rich as the sky. The sun soon faded and I headed for home, happy to have seen it coming.

What's for lunch?

Melbourne's CBD has been the beating heart of Melbourne for for more than 170 years. Not only was it the retail and financial and entertainment hub of the city, but it was also home to significant manufacturing enterprises. Flinders lane, for example, was the center of Melbourne's garment industry. Of course, all the people involved in making Melbourne tick had to eat, but eating establishments, with the exception of a few rare fine dining restaurants, were almost an afterthought.

That has long since changed. I read three or four years ago the startling statistic that the number of food related businesses had grown to the point that they outnumbered every other business combined. From hip little coffee shops built in impossibly cramped nooks up back alleys, to the swankiest restaurants, they're everywhere. And, of course, they all have to have a menu. From the artfully chalked specials board to the oh-so-cute recycled Little Golden Books, the bill of fare is almost as endlessly varied as the dishes they describe.

I'll have the fried chicken donuts with a side of blue cheese macaroons, thanks.

Paralysis through analysis

Three years ago when I first started posting pictures to this site, I was happy to put anything out just to get a couple of posts up per week. Not that I'm saying the work was necessarily bad, just that I didn't spend a lot of time thinking about it. Whatever I'd shot that day would go up with a few choice words. These days, I'll go out shooting and come back with what I consider good images, but I'll spend a lot of time wondering if they're good enough. The question of course, is "Good enough for what?". Good enough for me, good enough for you, good enough for the world? 

Part of the problem is no doubt is that I feel that much of what I'm doing has been done before. By me or by others doesn't really enter into it. While I was overseas, everything was new and fresh - to me at least - and it didn't matter that everything I saw and photographed had been seen and photographed by innumerable eyes. Now that I'm mostly treading the worn paths of inner Melbourne, it's hard to see it through anything but jaded eyes. And yet I'm constantly finding new ways to see it, so I just need to take a breath and stop thinking about it so hard. A case in point are the innumerable arrows painted on roads and driveways that I seem to keep finding ways to incorporate into pictures. Perhaps there's a project in there somewhere.

Stairing into space

I've recently noticed a couple of recurring themes (other than people of course) in my street work. The first is stairways. I suspect that something in their regularity of shape and repetition of patterns speaks to some deeply buried part of my brain. The patterns aren't enough on their own though - one or more human figures appears to be an essential part of the recipe. The theme has popped up often enough that I've decided to turn it into a sort of semi-ongoing project. It's not something I'll pursue with purpose, but I'll certainly be keeping my eyes open a bit wider for opportunities. Stairing into space, I suppose.

Walk on by

Occasionally on my lunchtime wanderings, a scene presents itself which just cries out to be photographed. Such was the case when I spotted this bicycle propped enticingly at the corner of Ridgway Place and Little Collins Street. The colours leaped out at me despite the day being cold, wet and dreary. Mind you, it was not all good news. A large white sign on the bikes rack advertising a cafe down the lane was a visual irritant which just had to be removed. Unfortunately though, I didn't have a pair of wire cutters or knife with me to cut through the cable ties which secured it in place, so the removal had to be postponed. 

The other thing the scene needed to complete it was a human figure or two. It was only a matter of time, so I set my camera and propped next to a nearby post and waited. A few passers-by obliged, but I didn't quite get the image I wanted. The bike was still there a few days later, so I expect I'll get more chances to get what I'm after. Unless, of course, the cafe changes its marketing strategy.

A breath of fresh air

Even though I've only been home for a few weeks, the travel bug is still strong. A day trip into the country brings with it the opportunity to breathe fresh air and commune with nature. Even though it's mid-winter, the birds are out and hard hard at work - it even looks like the nest building has begun. However, to complete the picture, I think someone needs to explain the concept of "working dog" to Patch.

Winter chill

I've been back in Melbourne for a bit over two weeks now. After five weeks overseas, it's a still a bit of a shock to the system. My sleep patterns returned to normal after a week or so, and I'm kind of back in the rhythm of going to work each day. But the cold, the damp and the short, bleak days of a Melbourne winter have me longing for warmer climes.

The other thing that's still difficult to come to terms with is my photography. After being spoilt by new and exotic places overseas, Melbourne is just too mundane and familiar. There are no gondolas on the Yarra (actually, I think there is one....), no crashing waves and towering cliffs at St. Kilda Beach and every face in the street looks familiar. But there are pictures out there, it's just a matter of hunting them down.

Irish eyes are smiling

We've been home a little over a week now. The trip was rewarding, but exhausting, and we're still recovering to some extent. To everyone who's followed our travels via the blog, thank you and I hope you stay around for my further photographic adventures.

While in Dublin, I saw a singer refuse a request to perform "When Irish Eyes are Smiling" because it isn't an Irish song. It is in fact an American show tune. Whatever the origins of the song, the Irish are a delightful race, warm and hospitable and with a great sense of fun. When the Irish smile, the smile can really be seen in their eyes. So as my tribute to these wonderful folk, I leave you with a selection of smiling Irish eyes.

Wild ways

The Wild Atlantic Way is a 2,500 kilometre touring route which winds its way along the entire west coast of Ireland. Exposed to the full fury of the North Atlantic, the coastline is rugged and wildly beautiful. The terrain encompases tranquil farmland, small sheltered bays, wide stretches of beach, pounding ocean, towering cliffs and winding mountain passes in endless profusion. There is a spellbining and constantly changing meeting of land and water around every bend in the winding roads.

We travelled only a small part in the south-west corner of Ireland. The weather was mild and the sea relatively benign, but the beauty of the area was evident, despite having to share the road with endless tour buses. It was a tiny taste which left me hungry to experience the whole of this majestic route.

Shut the door on your way out

My first impression of Dublin was that it felt much like Melbourne, an impression based on driving from the airport through mostly newer parts of the city. Once you get closer to the older parts of town, much as you'd expect, it begins to feel distinctly different. There are still medieval remnants, but most of the great public and private buildings date from the Georgian era, and Dublin is home some of the world's great Georgian architecture.

On a smaller scale, the more affluent areas such as Ballsbridge contain a wealth of Georgian era houses. The geometric uniformity of these rows of houses is interrupted by the highly decorative and often brightly coloured doors, which serves to give each house a unique character. Even the more dilapidated doors are elegant and charming, and speak of a more genteel time. There is a popular theory that the practice originated when someone painted his door brightly to help his drunken neighbour find the right house when he staggered home, but there are too many versions of the story for it to be true. Suffice to say that they've become a distinctive and charming feature of Dublin, and almost become a tourist attraction in their own right.