Camping @ Cockatoo Island on Sydney Harbour…

Over the past weekend my daughters School had their annual campout and this year it was held on Cockatoo Island which is in the middle of Sydney Harbour.

We only stayed overnight on Saturday night but it was an absolutely awesome location and the weather was essentially very kind which was a big plus. They even had a free Jazz concert from 5 to 7PM.

Having about thirty families camping together in such an interesting and scenic location afforded the opportunity to take all sorts of photographs, including lots of portraits of our very photogenic children of course (including a number during the late afternoon and early morning golden hours with softer glowing light) and the island also supplied many other very interesting subjects to photograph.

From old abandoned machinery and buildings, tunnels, incredibly moody skies over the harbour, sunset images to a bit of kids doing long exposure light painting with sparklers and my wife waking me at 4:45AM with “the sunrise is beautiful – go and take some nice pictures of it!” – the clouds made it fabulous.

Note: These images (especially the wider panorama shots) look much better when larger – so click any of the images below to see larger versions in an inline overlay gallery viewer.

Here is a very wide angle view of the campground from high up on the cliffs above.

NIKON D90 + 8.0-16.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 8 mm, 1/60 sec at f / 5.6, ISO 320

There’s a seagull colony on the island so there were hundreds, perhaps thousands of birds around the island. Here is a view of one nesting on some eggs high on the cliffs above the campground.

NIKON D90 + 70.0-300.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 145 mm, 1/1600 sec at f / 4.8, ISO 200

Whilst I was wandering the island I spied the silhouettes of one of my daughters and her friends at the far end of one of the tunnels which crosses the island so with a long lens I grabbed the following image.

NIKON D90 + 70.0-300.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 230 mm, 1/60 sec at f / 5.6, ISO 250

On the Saturday afternoon (just after 4PM) the clouds and sky put on an awesome show – with heavy moody clouds rolling in, shafts of sunlight beaming through the clouds and gaps, and also a some rain and thunderstorms in the distance.

Metering in these conditions was tricky and in the end I bracketed some exposures (at 0, -2 and +2EV) and used HDR techniques to blend the exposures and then converted to monochrome for effect.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 18 mm, 1/400 sec at f / 11, ISO 200

Towards sunset the weather settled down and we were spared the heavy rain on the island. The following image was taken before sunset at around 5:40PM.

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/250 sec at f / 11, ISO 200

In the late afternoon sun (this was taken around 6:30PM) I was able to capture some fantastic portraits of kids – as seems always the way all my best ones are of children not my own however here is one of the ones of my youngest daughter which isn’t too bad.

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/160 sec at f / 1.4, ISO 200

A little after 5AM (soon after sunrise) I was able to capture a few shots from various vantage points on the island including up high on the cliffs looking east towards the iconic harbour bridge. The first was taken with an extremely wide angle 8mm lens which allowed a very panoramic view of both the harbour and the cloud littered sky, the second was taken with my new 50mm f/1.4 lens and in this case includes the sun pushing through the clouds directly at the camera.

NIKON D90 + 8.0-16.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 8 mm, 1/1000 sec at f / 5.6, ISO 200

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/800 sec at f / 8.0, ISO 200

This last shot is another HDR converted to monochrome of one of the oldest abandoned buildings at the top of the hill on the island – in this case an old stone building with no roof and thus was open to the sky. I needed to use a wide range of exposure to capture the detail both in the shadows inside the building along with the bright open sky.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 18 mm, 1/160 sec at f / 9.0, ISO 200

Portraits with a 50mm f/1.4…

I’ve had this new Sigma 50mm f/1.4 lens for just a few days but as it happens my eldest daughter was in the annual school play which was performing both that night and the next (thursday and friday) and we also had our annual school camp over the weekend which provided ample opportunity to test out the new toy – in fact over the four days I’ve taken almost 750 shots with this lens alone. As I’m sort of the unofficial school photographer it was a perfect opportunity to try out candid childrens portraits, indoors ambient low light photography and some outdoors photos in interesting settings – the first two especially are essentially the prime reasons I bought the lens in the first place.

Here are a couple of my first portrait shots with the lens – interested to see what you think… having never owned or used an f/1.4 lens before obviously my temptation is to shoot everything at f/1.4 and have insanely shallow depth of field and creamy backgrounds. Whilst these three examples were all shot at or near f/1.4 I did take many other shots at other apertures (generally ranging from 1.4 to 5.6) I promise 🙂

As this was all candid photography and pretty fast paced (especially those during the play) I used auto focus for everything but I do generally manually select which focus point I use (so I can place it over the point of interest) – however I can see that I have to be much more careful with focus at f/1.4 and if I take more formal portraits with time available I’d probably use manual focus and take my time. f/1.4 has insanely narrow depth of field – I’ve discovered that for many shots even a mere few millimetres out means the difference between tack sharp eyes and tack sharp eyelashes or cheeks instead or even one eye perfectly in focus and not the other – which is nice if thats the effect you’re going for 🙁

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/100 sec at f / 1.4, ISO 200

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/4000 sec at f / 2.2, ISO 200

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm, 1/160 sec at f / 1.4, ISO 200

The Burning Sky…

I’d mentioned that I’d just purchased a new Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM lens for my Nikon D90 and I’ve since taken quite a number of photos with the lens for which I’ll post up some examples soon in some follow up posts.

For now however as I had the lens on the camera at the time (my first day with the lens) and I saw this amazing early evening sky as the sun was setting (thursday just past @ 6:35PM) I had to grab this shot…

NIKON D90 + 50.0 mm f/1.4 @ 50 mm,1/60 sec at f / 2.8, ISO 400

Thailand Memories…

We recently (well I guess not so recently now) returned from our family holiday in Phuket, Thailand where we spent nine days during the first two weeks of October.

The weather was overcast for much of the time that we were there (no clear blue sky days) but the biggest thing from a photography perspective was that it was very hazy much of the time. It rained on a number of evenings/nights but it was still quite hot (and humid) and the days were usually mostly rain free which allowed us to get out and explore on most days.

We stayed at the Outrigger Laguna Resort (part of the Laguna group of Resorts on Bang Tao Bay). Many of the Laguna properties are on the beach itself (Sheraton, Beach Resort, Dusit, Banyan Tree) whereas a number are also inland. The Outrigger is a little more isolated but it has large villas (2, 3 and 4 bedroom) – we stayed in a huge 3 bedroom villa with it’s own private pool.

Sunset near the Dusit and the Laguna Beach club resorts. We had dinner in one of these restaurants on the beach. Whilst the view was very nice the food was the worst (and gave my daughter and I a little food poisoning gift the next day :(). Everywhere else that we ate in Phuket however was good and we had no other problems with the food.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 35 mm, 1/60 sec at f / 4.2, ISO 1600

We visited Patong Beach for a day (and that was more than enough) – this is the main tourist location in Phuket. The girls all had their hair braided and beaded – for the princely sum of 1200 Thai Baht (about $40) and three hours work for all three girls. Walking the streets of Patong we visited many market shops; everything is geared towards tourists. The streets of Patong are also littered with Tuk Tuks and their drivers trying to get you to hire them at every turn.

Sunset over the resort where we were staying.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 36 mm, 1/25 sec at f / 8.0, ISO 3200

We went to see a fantastic show at FantaSea. The huge stage production lasts 90 minutes and showcases many performers and animals (including more than 20 elephants on the stage). The main theatre where the show is held is a huge elaborate affair, the girls and us adults all really enjoyed the show. It cost about 12000 THB – around$425 for the show and dinner for the five of us.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 18 mm, 6.0 sec at f / 11, ISO 200

We visited and swam in the winding snakelike pool at the Sheraton Grande Laguna Resort. The baby elephants walk through the resort at the Sheraton each morning and afternoon and it was another chance for the girls to feed, pat and ride which they thoroughly enjoyed 🙂

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 150 mm, 1/250 sec at f / 6.3, ISO 200

We booked and had Sunday Brunch @ Oriental Spoon restaurant at the Twinpalms Resort on Surin Beach. This was a ‘relatively’ expensive buffet (1190 THB – approx $42 per person) but the quality and variety of food was outstanding. Once the girls discovered the limitless supply of fresh fruit and the chocolate fountain they were in heaven.

Surin beach is in the next major bay to the south of Bang Tao Bay and is just north of Kamala beach (which is itself north of the bay which holds Paton beach).

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 32 mm, 1/320 sec at f / 11, ISO 200

Whilst we were waiting in the Lobby in the Twinpalms resort for our ride back to our place we were asked by this resorts guest relations manager if we were busy the next day and if we’d be interested on a day trip on their luxury yacht (at a greatly reduced rate – three children for free – normally 5900 THB per person).

We spent the day crusing some islands on the very comfortable 76′ Twinpalms One. The Yacht was huge with four bedrooms and three bathrooms below deck and a large main living area indoors.

Islands in the mist.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 65 mm, 1/250 sec at f / 8.0, ISO 200

The girls enjoyed roaming around the large outer deck and upstairs open cabin area as we cruised between islands.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 46 mm, 1/160 sec at f / 8.0, ISO 200

Kai Nok Island. Our yacht anchored off shore and we transfered onto the island using the smaller powerboat on the back of the yacht. We did some snorkelling here in the warm clear waters and fed bread to the brightly coloured fish.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 48 mm, 1/640 sec at f / 4.5, ISO 200

A panoramamic view (about 270 degrees view from side to side) in Phang Nga Bay.

NIKON D90 + 8.0-16.0 mm f/4.5-5.6 @ 8 mm, 1/320 sec at f / 11, ISO 200

There was a large chinese festival (over about 9 days) going on whilst we were in Phuket. The local streets were covered in stalls and night markets and the streets were jammed. I stopped off on the way and bought some large fireworks to set off when we were back at the villa.

NIKON D90 + 18.0-200.0 mm f/3.5-5.6 @ 200 mm, 1/320 sec at f / 5.6, ISO 200

If you’d like to see more of the photos from the trip the following is an adobe flash based web gallery of images and I’ve added some information below most of the photos to give you a bit of the backstory if you’re interested. Depending on how large your browser window is (and I suggest you maximise the browser window for best effect) you may need to scroll this text up and down using the small arrows on the far right to read it all.

http://www.rc.au.net/phuket_2010/

Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM lens…

I havn’t blogged in some time… now it isn’t because I havn’t been taking any photos (I’ve actually taken swags :)) – however I’ve been very busy and my family have been away on holidays recently for about ten days in Phuket Thailand (photos coming soon).

In the meantime I’d like you to meet my newest photographic acquisition – the Sigma 50mm F1.4 EX DG HSM lens.

I bought this lens essentially to update/replace my existing Nikon nifty fifty lens (the Nikon AF 50mm f/1.8) which is a fantastic lens – however I’m being seduced by the Bokeh, the limited depth of field and that extra 2/3rds of a stop of speed. The reviews for this lens (assuming you get a good copy) show it to be a top performer and I’m really looking forward to testing it out (I’ll be taking photographs at our local schools annual performance tonight and tomorrow).

When I originally bought the Nikon 50mm lens I really didn’t think I would use it that much however I’ve discovered that I use it quite a bit (especially for portraits where it’s effective 75mm focal length and wide aperture is ideal; and for indoors ambient low light use – e.g. many school hall functions).

The Sigma 50mm RRP’s here in Australia for around AUD$800 however I was fortunate enough to be able to get it price matched from the Australian distributor (C.R.Kennedy) for AUD$454 delivered. Not only that I ordered it Tuesday afternoon and it arrived on Thursday morning – gotta be very happy with that. Big kudos to Clem for his awesome work.