Latest Acquisition: Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM

I’ve just come home with my latest lens (and the first lens purchase in over six years): a Canon EF 400mm f/2.8L IS USM.

When out shopping in the city yesterday, I visited a few camera stores, one of which happened to have one available for sale at a very good price.

For a few years I have wanted a Canon EF 500mm f/4L IS USM (either the original or the lighter, newer mark II) for wildlife photography in Africa.

The 400/2.8L IS is a lens after which I have lusted for nine years, but one I never really expected or planned to buy.

When I discovered this one yesterday, it was too good to pass up.

With my Canon Extender EF 1.4x II and Canon Extender EF 2x II,  I will achieve 560mm at f/4 and 800mm at f/5.6 respectively, which should cover our next African photography safari quite nicely, allowing me to achieve tighter, more selectively-focused images of the incredible wildlife there.

Last time I took my Canon EF 300mm f/2.8L IS USM, and achieved longer focal lengths of 420mm at f/4 and 600mm at f/5.6.

I’m looking forward to exploiting the 400/2.8L IS’s well-documented capabilities, and landing images with the signature look this lens provides.

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Away with David and Clare Oliver

Last weekend I ventured off to the Hunter Valley to attend a portrait and landscape workshop hosted by David Oliver, GM Photog., and his daughter Clare — the creative father-daughter team behind David Oliver Photography.

The two-day workshop consisted of two portraiture sessions using natural light, an afternoon landscape shoot, an early-morning aerial landscape shoot and some post-processing and Q&A.

During the weekend I captured three very pleasing images, and also learned more from these greats of photography.

While I have shot portraiture for years, using both available light and artificial light, the one key learning point from this weekend was the quality of window light from a south-facing window.

It is absolutely beautiful light for portraiture, and I can see why David and Clare use it extensively in their portraits.

Here are the three stand-out images I captured during the weekend:

Clare Oliver

Clare Oliver

Clare Oliver is an accomplished wedding and portrait photographer, who doubled as a model for the workshop.

In this portrait early into the first portraiture session, we used window light from a south-facing window.

While I have used natural light in a number of my portraits, I definitely found the natural window light from a south-facing window to be very soft and pleasing.

Father and Daughter

Father and Daughter

This is David Oliver, AIPP Grand Master of Photography, and his daughter Clare.

Together, these fantastic people are make up the father-and-daughter team of David Oliver Photography.

During this session, both were posing in David’s Hunter Valley gallery during the delivery of a portrait and landscape photography weekend workshop.

However, to me, this shot is more than a “workshop shot”, as it depicts a genuine, warm moment of the father-daughter bond which exists between David and Clare. I was fortunate enough to have captured this fleeting glimpse of emotion during the otherwise clinical business of delivering a workshop.

Both Olivers are well known for their work behind the camera, but in this shot their work in front of the camera is as equally powerful to my eyes.

Valley of Mount Richardson

Valley of Mount Richardson

A view towards Dungog from high above Mount Richardson in the Hunter Valley, taken early in the morning with David Oliver during his portraiture and landscape photography weekend.

This was the second time I had shot this area of the Hunter Valley from a helicopter (a Robinson R44 for heli-nerds).  In my experience with aerial photography, one takes many shots, but all one needs is one or two stand-out images, and in my case, this image was “the one”.

I had it printed on Epson Hot Press Natural paper from David’s Epson printer, and it looks absolutely stunning in print — far better than the on-screen version can convey.

All in all, it was a fun weekend, in which David and Clare shared their huge collections of experiences and tips, and where the quality of south-facing window light stood clear in my mind as a key tool to use in future portraiture sessions.

Posted in Aerial Photography, Indoor Photography, Landscape Photography, Outdoor Photography, Portraiture, Workshops | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Highlights of Jenolan Caves

In May we headed to Jenolan Caves for a few days as a getaway.  That was almost two months ago, but time has sure flown since then.

We drove down to Jenolan on Thursday, and had two cave tours booked for the day.

After arriving mid-morning, we soon headed to our tour of the Lucas Cave, where spectacular calcite crystal formations awaited our viewing pleasure.

Shawls of the Lucas Cave

Shawls of the Lucas Cave

These incredible calcite crystal formations are called shawls.

Developing over hunderds of thousands of years, rainwater seeping through cracks in the limestone rock follows the surface of the rock shelf and grows outwards, layer upon layer, forming delicate and often wide shawl structures.

One of the other feature formations in the Lucas Cave is called “The Curtain”.

The Curtain

The Curtain

One can see why this amazing, ancient feature is so named, as it very much resembles the subject of its title.

No visit to the Lucas Cave is complete without seeing the Broken Column, which is one of the iconic sights at Jenolan Caves.

The Broken Column

The Broken Column

This feature is incredibly difficult to photograph, as the chamber is very dark and the lights highlighing the column are exceedingly bright relative to the dark surrounds, thus causing parts of the feature to blow out where the light reflects most strongly against the calcite crystal.

In a perfect world, one would use a tripod and shoot seven to nine exposures to blend using HDR techniques, but alas, as tripods are not permitted inside the caves, all of my cave photography was achieved hand-held with fast lenses and higher-than-comfortable (for me) ISO settings.

After our visit to the Lucas Cave, I took the opportunity during some free time to photograph the lounge inside Caves House, where we stayed.

This is one of the views inside the warm and welcoming lounge:

Caves House Lounge

Caves House Lounge

In this interior image of this magnificent Edwardian building, one side of the lounge can be seen, featuring the piano in the corner.

The lounge also includes some other tables and chairs and a warm fireplace — a perfect place for a rest with a glass or two of fine red wine after a day out exploring the caves and bush trails in the area.

This is another view of the lounge at Caves House:

A Place to Relax

A Place to Relax

In the corner is a fireplace which was kept running by the staff, providing for a nice place to relax after a day of cave exploration.

During the late part of the afternoon, we headed outside for our second cave tour, which took us inside the Temple of Baal cave, a cavernous and highly decorated cave, and one of my favourite.

Here is a view of the elaborate calcite crystal formations inside the Temple of Baal Cave:

Temple of Baal Cave

Temple of Baal Cave

Later during the tour, we got to see the main attractions of the Temple of Baal Cave — Michael’s Sword and Gabriel’s Wing — both of which are positioned in close proximity within one of the larger chambers in the cave.

Gabriel's Wing

Gabriel’s Wing

Our first day concluded some twilight photography followed by dinner at Chisolm’s restaurant where a delicious steak and a fine shiraz were enjoyed.

The next day, we had three cave tours ahead of us.

Friday began with breakfast in Chisolm’s Restaurant, followed by a walk in the mountains, where we saw Carlotta Arch, the Devil’s Coach House, and the Blue Lake.

Our first cave tour on Friday morning was the Orient Cave, one of the popular show caves at Jenolan.

This magnificent cave chamber, adorned with calcite crystal stalactites, is one of the highlights of the Orient Cave.

The stalactites are formed by slowly dripping water over thouands and millions of years.

Chamber of the Orient

Chamber of the Orient

Our second cave tour of the day was inside the Chifley Cave.  This was the shortest cave tour, and photographically, it didn’t offer as much as the other caves.

After this tour, we had lunch and a few hours before embarking upon a tour of the Diamond Cave.

One of the most interesting features is a formation I call “City Walls”.

City Walls

City Walls

This city-like arrangement of stalagmites appears inside the Diamond Cave.

The Diamond Cave, which is one of the show cave tours, consists of the Imperial Cave (itself a separate show cave tour), plus an extra 30 minutes inside what is called the Diamond Cave.

In this image, the formations in the foreground resemble a mountain ridge on the outskirts of an ancient city whose walls appear deeper in the image.

After our tour of the Diamond Cave, at twilight I had planned to re-visit the location where I had photographed Caves House on the previous evening, as the timing of our late afternoon cave tour meant that I arrived at the tail end of twilight, by which time most of the royal blue colour in the sky had faded.

Our Diamond Cave tour finished 30 minutes earlier than our tour on the previous afternoon, so I scrambled back to our room to fetch my gear, and headed outside into the cold night air, where I captured this image of Caves House:

Edwardian Twilight

Edwardian Twilight

We had dinner reservations at Chisolm’s Restaurant again, so I headed inside and a fantastic dinner was soonafter enjoyed.

Saturday, our final day at Jenolan Caves, saw only one cave tour, followed by the long trip home.

Our last cave tour was also the longest in duration, and most physically demanding of all of the show cave tours: the River Cave.

This cave requires lots of stair climbing, which we didn’t mind at all.

The River Cave features a stunning formation called the Giant Shawl.

The Giant Shawl

The Giant Shawl

This calcite crystal formation, called a shawl, has been named the Giant Shawl, and is one of the main features of the River Cave.

Shawls develop over hunderds of thousands of years, whereby rainwater seeping through cracks in the limestone rock follows the surface of the rock shelf and grows outwards, layer upon layer, forming delicate and often wide shawl structures.

The Giant Shawl is quite a few metres in height, and in this beautiful backlighting, the rich colours, affected by iron, can be seen.

Later during the River Cave tour, we saw the main highlight of this cave: the Pool of Reflections.

Pool of Reflections

Pool of Reflections

The water inside the River Cave system is so still that it produces a mirror effect.

On our way out of the River Cave, we got to visit this scene again, and soonafter, our Jenolan Caves getway had reached its conclusion.

I hope readers enjoy this pictorial account of the several relaxing days we spent there, and Jenolan Caves is a place I’d recommend visiting and photographing.

As tripods are not permitted, all photography must be conducted hand-held, with the use of railings for support.  Thus, I recommend bringing fast lenses (I shot all of my images with my 35/1.4 and 85/1.2) and using higher ISO settings to achieve sharp images, as the caves, despite the bright feature lighting, can be difficult to photograph.

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