Here’s an Incredible Story – What I was doing in Tanzania

29 01 2011

I finished cutting the video that I shot last week in Tanzania for the School of St. Jude.  If you have 10min and want to see the most amazing accomplishment by an Aussie girl (Gemma Sisia), then I urge you to check out this video.  It really is an incredible story what she has accomplished in one of the poorest countries in the world.



If you want to find out more about St. Judes, click here to visit their web site.

Faces Of Tanzania – Portraits

25 01 2011

So this morning I got back from Tanzania.  What an incredible trip!  I was doing some charity work for a school over there called St. Judes.  This school was started by an Australian lady called Gemma Siske and what she has built there is nothing short of astonishing.  She has built a school that rivals the best private schools in Australia.  She is offering world class education to over 1500 under privileged kids in Tanzania absolutely free.   The schools mission is “Fighting Poverty Through Education”.  My job there was to shoot some photos for the school and to shoot a video to help them with their fund raising.

While I was there I wanted to really focus on refining my portrait work, so here are some of the portraits that I took along with some information about the individuals and the lighting used.

I recommend you click on each image to see the image at a half decent size if you really want to critique lighting etc.

This is Jonathan Ungusie.  He is the father of one of the girls that goes to St Judes.  I went to his house (well mud hut actually) and interviewed him on video.  He is 58 years old and is the father of 8 kids.  He and his wife raise the 8 kids in the small mud hut behind him which is about the size of a single-car garage.  Jonathan broke his wrist in a bad fall at the flour mill and when it healed it did not set properly, so he has pretty much lost the use of his right hand and can’t work.

His wife works as a contractor at the flour mill and gets paid just under US$2/day.   And they have to feed 8 kids with that.

I shot this with a softbox just outside of frame on camera right.  My SB900 was on full power as I was trying to overpower the sun.  This is what has created the light on his face.   I like this portrait alot as I really feel it captures Jonathan.

This is Seone Silervo. She is a Masai and lives with her family in a traditional Masai hut in a traditional village.   They decorate the interior walls with newspaper.  These huts are very dark and only have light coming in from the small doorway.

To make this portrait I initially shot with natural light and a fast lens (f1.4), however I wasn’t getting enough of the background exposed with natural light, so I used a softbox with SB900 flash about about 1/64 power aiming at Seone.  This provided enough scattered light to create a good exposure on the background.


This was a grab shot, but I really like it because of the expression and grittiness of the image.  They boy and his friends were following us back to the car after shooting in their village.  The kids in the background were laughing and giggling but this little boy was really checking me out.  I grabbed my camera and fired a couple of quick frames before his expression changed.

This was shot using natural lighting and a wide aperture (f2.8)

It was very dusty in the Masai village which coated all the kids in a covering of dust, however they didn’t seem to mind it at all and were  quite happy.


This old lady is amazing.  We were doing a tour of the local village around one of the St. Jude campuses when the group of Year 7 girls took us up to one very small mud hut and asked if we’d like to meet the old lady of the village.

These school girls regularly take food to the villagers to help them out and they know the villagers very well.  They bought out this lovely old lady.  She’s not sure how old she is, but we met her 72 year old daughter a bit later on, so she must be somewhere between 90 and 100 years old which is incredible for Africa.

This is a natural light portrait of the lady.    One thing is clear after this visit.  Growing old in Tanzania is not an easy life.



One thing I have noticed about photographing in Africa is the amazing difference in the quality of the light.  I’m not sure whether this is due to the pollution or dust in the air, but the light seems so soft.  Lovely soft colours and incredible light whenever you are shooting indoors.

I’ve got some lovely prints from this trip that I will enjoy hanging on my wall.

I’m definitely heading back to Africa later this year.

Off To Tanzania

17 01 2011

I’m sitting at Dubai airport on my way to Tanzania for a week.  Our company supports a number of charitable causes in both Australia and Africa and I’m on my way to The School of St Judes in Arusha to produce a fund raising video and some photographs for them.

It’s great to be able to use photography in this way, helping a school for the underprivileged raise money.  It’s an amazing story.  This school was started by an Australian lady, and she has built it up to over 1500 students and is providing them with world-class education.   Each year thousands of kids try to go to this school, but to qualify, you must

  • Be from an incredibly poor family (ie. no electricity or running water in your house)
  • Have the academic potential to succeed.

I’m going to be spending quite a bit of time out in the poor villages interviewing and photographing the parents and siblings of the kids that have been accepted to St. Judes.

I’m taking a very lightweight strobist setup

  • 2 X SB900 speedlights
  • 1 umbrella adapter
  • 1 28″ Apollo softbox (I love the control, speed of setup and simplicity of this modifier)
  • 1 Monopod
  • Set of triggers
  • Grid, snoot, and coloured gels

And my 14 year old son Tim as my camera assistant / lighting grip.

Hopefully I’ll get some interesting environmental portraits that I’ll post to this blog from Tanzania.

More to come


New Workshop Dates Announced

13 01 2011

Hey Folks

Just a quick note for those interested in attending the next workshops I’m running. Here are the dates for the next lot of workshops.

  • Seascape Workshop = 12 & 13 Feb 2011
  • Off Camera Flash workshop = 6th March 2011.


This one is for Wacom Tablet Users – 3 Great Tips!

12 01 2011

If you have been to any of my workshops, then you know that I utterly encourage the use of pressure-sensitive tablets like the Wacoms for post processing.   If your not using one, chances are you haven’t been shown how to use them properly.

I thought I was reasonably decent with the tablet, but a few days ago I watched a Kelby training movie by Corey Barker on “Using the Wacom Tablet With Photoshop”.  Boy did I learn some very cool tricks.  Here’s just a few tricks that will turbo-charge your tablet-driven post production effectiveness.

Tip 1 – This was my favorite tip.  Program the button on the pen to adjust brush size and hardness.

If you are like me, you probably left the button on the pen to the default of launching the brushes menu.  It used to piss me off everytime I bumped it, and I never changed my brush sizes via the menu, always with the bracket keys (or touchstrip).    However Corey showed me a way better way of adjusting your brush size and hardness in Photoshop (works in CS4 and CS5).

Try this out…..

Open Photoshop and open any document.

Select the brush tool,  now hold down the <Cntrl>+<Option> keys down on your Mac (if you have a PC, list it on eBay and go and buy yourself a Mac now)

While you holding down <Cntrl>+<Option>  move your pen (or mouse) left and right….. This adjusts your brush size!

Cool eh?  Now move it up and down…. this adjusts your brush hardness…. Is that not WAY COOL!!!!

Now, here’s what you want to do.  Program that annoying little button on your pen to be <Cntrl>+<Option>, and then you can adjust your brush properties by clicking it, and dragging your mouse around.

To program this on your Pen do the following.

a) Open up the Wacom tablet driver  from your System Preferences.

b) Make sure that your tablet is selected in the first row,  Your pen is selected in the tool row, and Photoshop is selected in the Application row

c) Select the pen button to bring up the programming for the pen

d) I adjust the bottom part of the pen button and disable the top part of the button.  Select “Modifier” for the bottom part of the pen button

e) select <Cntrl>  <Option> and <Click> Check boxes

Thats it, give it a try.

Tip 2 – Make the Eraser Useful

I never use the eraser (because I’m typically painting on layer masks with white and black brushes),  so I never used it, but Corey showed me a great tip to make this useful.  I am often toggling between Photoshop and Lightroom,  so what I did was to program the eraser to be a toggle straight back into Lightroom (would also work for Bridge etc.).  To do this click on the Eraser button  and select “Open Run” from the menu choices and then browse to your Lightroom (or Bridge) application.

Tip 3 – Program up your Express Keys and your Touch strips.

I’ve been programming up my touch strips (left zooms in and out,  right cycles through blend modes), and also my Express keys (lots of goodies on there that I use regularly like Space Bar, B for brush, X to toggle Black and White, Option key, etc.   Don’t be lazy, use them thoughtfully.

Not using a Wacom tablet?

You don’t know what you are missing.  Seriously, I can not process images properly with just the mouse anymore,  it DRAMATICALLY speeds up your effeciency and effectiveness in post production.  The tablet is not a substitute for the mouse (I still use the mouse), but the secret lies in unlocking the pressure sensitivity along with Layer Masks.



I don’t normally do weddings… but…

10 01 2011

Now I have got the greatest respect for good wedding photographers.   I reckon they earn every dollar they get paid.  They are very talented to produce wonderful artistic images under extremely tough conditions such as emotional brides, nervous grooms,  super-tight schedules,  people everywhere etc. etc.

The Groom and his best man

I don’t do weddings… almost.  I’ve now shot two in my life.  The first was for my sister Nicole about a year ago, and the second

one was for Rev Meier and his fiancee Maria.  I photographed Rev about six months ago , and when I had the opportunity of shooting this wedding together with Chris Belyea and Gavin Marchiano, I figured that this wedding was not going to be your typical wedding.

Rev and Maria are both tattoo artists, and so are most of their friends.  They had their ceremony in the Chinese gardens, and their reception in the skeleton room of the Australian Museum.   Very cool setting for some unusual pictures.

Overall I was pretty happy with my pictures,  I used an Alienbee 1600 shooting into a 64″ PLM in order to spray some light at the bride and groom during the ceremony… they were in the shade against a full sun background which made things tricky.

For the formal shots in the Dinosaur room, I set up my SB900 into the 64″ PLM with a diffuser over it high to camera left, and had a gridded AlienBee blasting some light up on the skeletons in the background.

All in all it was a tiring but fun day…. however I won’t be getting into the wedding photography business anytime soon. Thats for sure.  I’ll leave it to the pros.

Photoshop Tutorial – My Cousin Scott

2 01 2011


This is a photo I took on New Years Eve of my cousin Scott.  A cool dude by any measure, and somebody who was keen to see what I get up to when I do my sunrise shoots.  So I planned an environmental portrait that I wanted to make for him as a present.  This tutorial will show you the rather stylistic processing approach that I took to create this image.  I hope you enjoy it.  If you have any questions, post a comment on this blog and I’ll respond.

Happy New Year