Australia Day 2017: Mudgee

For the Australia Day weekend, we decided to take a trip to Mudgee for a few days.

Mudgee is a large regional town in the central west of New South Wales, and it is a three-to-four-hour drive from Sydney.

The main purpose of the trip, other than getting away for a few days, was wine and wineries; but naturally, I packed my default photography rig, with the intention of capturing some of the sights of Mudgee at twilight.

We based ourselves at the Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel, where our deluxe queen room provided fantastic accommodation, as seen in this image of the separate lounge in our room:

Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel - Deluxe Queen Room Lounge

Cobb & Co Court Boutique Hotel – Deluxe Queen Room Lounge

After dinner and a nice bottle of Mudgee red, we took a two-minute walk down Market Street to St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, which I had spotted and trial-photographed earlier in the day, and identified as my primary photographic subject for later that evening.

During the ‘blergh hour’ (my name for the scungy, drab light in between golden hour and evening twilight), I set up my camera and tripod, and composed the view I wanted to capture.  It was just a matter of time before the light would be right.

As it was Australia Day, the streets were practically empty, except for us and three late-teenage or early twenty-something boys who graced us with their presence as they continued upon their mission to become inebriated.

After a few laughs and a photo I captured of the lads standing in front of the church, they departed in search of more alcohol and a good time, and I set about capturing my image.

Here is the result:

St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Mudgee

St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, Mudgee

I found my new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens to be an excellent lens for capturing this scene, as the leading line of the path draws the eye towards the imposing spire of the church a short distance away.

Very soon after photographing the church, I turned around 180 degrees and crossed the road onto the roundabout at the intersection of Market Street and Church Street.  On this roundabout is Mudgee‘s clock tower, a central feature of the town.

I found it difficult to photograph the clock tower with my 14mm lens, as it was just too wide — something I am not generally known to say or experience!

There was too much visual pollution due to street lights, the street itself and other unsightly subject matter; I just wanted the clock tower in a nice, clean image, or at least with pleasing surroundings.  I switched lenses, opting for my Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM, which I have not used since mid-2014!

Here is the image I captured as the evening twilight became more rich and intense:

Mudgee Clock Tower

Mudgee Clock Tower

After capturing this image, we headed back across the road to St Mary of the Presentation Catholic Church, where I shot some quirky angles of the stonework, looking up towards the royal blue sky.  (I have not processed any of those images at the time of writing.)

After a few more shots around Mudgee, we headed back to our hotel as the evening twilight gave way to the darkness of night.

The next day was all about wine, but we did venture out after dinner for another twilight photoshoot, which I found frustratingly difficult, as I could not achieve a pleasing composition.

The subjects I wanted to photograph looked great with my own eyes, but through my lenses, a combination of proximity and surrounding subject matter resulted in no pleasing compositions.  I did capture a few images, but by and large, I was not content.

Never the less, it was a great few days away, and we came away with more than just a few pleasing images.

My New ‘Grab and Go’ Rig

Last year I bought a Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II camera backpack for an international trip.

I found it to be an excellent backpack which allows me to carry a good amount of photography gear (including a small tripod) as well as my 17″ MacBook Pro.  I was tired of carrying a separate laptop bag as well as my then main camera bag (a Lowepro Nova 190 AW).

Having gone for a few shoots this year, I decided it was time to properly, and somewhat permanently, equip my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II with a camera rig which will cover 95% of my shooting requirements, and which I can literally ‘grab and go’.

Here is what I keep packed in it:

  1. Canon EOS 5D Mark II with LP-E6N battery and SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF card
  2. Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM
  3. Canon EF 35mm f/1.4L USM + hood
  4. Canon EF 85mm f/1.2L II USM + hood
  5. Canon EF 135mm f/2L USM + hood
  6. Canon TC-80N3 Timer Remote Controller
  7. Canon LC-E6E battery charger + AC cable
  8. Canon LP-E6 battery (spare)
  9. SanDisk Extreme 16GB CF card (spare)
  10. SanDisk Extreme IV 8GB CF card (spare)
  11. Hotshoe-mounted spirit level
  12. Princeton Tec FUEL headlamp
  13. Lenspen
  14. Neoprene lens cleaning cloth
  15. Giottos Rocket-Air blower
  16. Business cards
  17. Print of Street Photographers’ Rights fact sheet
  18. Apple 12W iDevice charger + 1m USB cable
  19. Shintaro SH-XCR3 CF card reader + USB cable
  20. Manfrotto M3293A4 tripod and Manfrotto 494RC2 ball head

The tripod is on the outside of the bag, and is affixed to the bag via an in-built tripod foot pocket, and a strap to keep the legs close to the side of the bag.

What is not packed, but can be packed when we are heading away, is the following:

  1. Apple MacBook Pro 17” + AC power pack
  2. Western Digital MyPassport Ultra 2TB hard disk + USB cable

What is also missing is ND and GND filters.  Having recently replaced my Canon EF 16-35mm  f/2.8L II USM with a Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM, I need a new NiSi 150mm filter system to replace my Lee 100mm filter system, which at the time of writing I have not yet purchased.

The good news is that my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II will easily accommodate this, and there is still room.

Now, this rig covers most of my shooting needs.  What it does not cover, however, is wildlife, for which I use my three largest lenses.

Fortunately, I have two other backpacks which can accommodate those, as well as fit a lot of the equipment packed in my Lowepro Fastpack BP 250 AW II.

I am very content with both the backpack and the array of equipment I have packed into it.  It holds a lot of gear, is not too heavy, and still has room in the top compartment for more gear if I need it.  Plus, it is ready for a shoot ay any time.

 

Re-Visiting a Scene Six Years Later

During the week, I had the unusual opportunity to shoot a twilight cityscape.

It is not something I tend to do very often, but circumstance created the opportunity, which I seized, including a visit to a few of the big city camera stores.

I figured we would afterwards head over to Darling Harbour for some dinner, followed by a twilight cityscape in the area.

The image I had in mind was one I had shot before, but I did not mind re-visiting it, particularly with my new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens, which I was itching to use again after the previous week’s photoshoot in the city.

Here is the image I captured on this most recent outing:

Summer Night in the City

Summer Night in the City

Whilst having dinner very close to this scene earlier in the night, I recalled shooting a summer twilight in the same area some years ago. As it turned out, it was on the exact day (the 19th of January) in 2011 on which I shot a similar image.

This was the image I captured six years earlier:

 

City Lights and City Nights

City Lights and City Nights

It was not my intention to shoot the same scene (the composition, angle and position are somewhat different), and nor did I realise at first that the date was the same date I last shot this scene.

Sometimes strange co-incidences happen, and this was one of them.

Otherwise, it was nice to be out shooting again, particularly as I can go for months without picking up a camera.  Having a new lens certainly acts as a motivator, and I will endeavour this year to get out and about far more than I have done over the past several years.

New Lens: Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM

Today ushered in a new chapter in my photography, and simultaneously closed another.

A new lens joined its brethren here in my photography den; and an old friend parted ways.

Now, I am not one to buy gear very often.  My days of ‘Gear Acquisition Syndrome’ (GAS) are well and truly behind me; and I have settled on a photography rig which allows me to achieve what I want to achieve.

Being in a position whereby gear is not a limiting factor, is indeed a good position.  Sure, there is always something that would be nice to have; but something that is nice to have, as opposed to something that is necessary for my photographic objectives, is quite a different matter, particularly when it comes to spending money to placate a want rather than a need.

However, every now and then, a new piece of equipment joins my rig, often unexpectedly and rather suddenly.

Today, the spectacular Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens found its way into my rig under those very circumstances.

For some odd reason, I had read The Digital Picture‘s comprehensive review of this lens (amongst others) quite recently, and I had pondered, both recently and a number of times throughout the years, the possibility of replacing my beloved Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM with the wider, 14mm prime lens.

For years it was one of those “it would be nice…” scenarios, but today it became a reality.

At 4:16pm I declared that I was actually thinking about doing this.

At 5:33pm, l declared that I had actually done so.

I have never progressed from “I’m thinking about…” to “I just bought…” so rapidly.

The plan I had was to visit my main photographic supplier on my way elsewhere to see what kind of a deal I could get.  When I visit (which is maybe once every year or two), the guy there always recognises me, talks to me for a while, and gives me a good deal on anything I buy.

The visit was purely for research, but it went a bit further than that, as the lens was there (which I did not know before visiting), and the price was right.  I solved two ‘problems’ in one hit.

Firstly, he discounted the listed price of lens for me; and secondly, he gave me a good trade-in deal on my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM.

As the 14mm prime was intended to replace the zoom, I did not want to spend a significant amount up front and then need to sell my nine-year-old Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, which has recently been superseded by a Mark III version.  A trade-in was perfect.

The salesman was surprised at the remarkably good condition of my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM, to which I responded by stating that I take good care of my gear.  Indeed, I do.

The combination of the initial discount and the trade-in value put the price firmly in the “I can do this right now” category rather than the “tempting, but I cannot justify the expense now” world of misery.

So, the deal was done.  My beloved Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens stayed in the shop, and a brand-new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM departed with me.

I honestly did not plan any purchases this year at all, and while I periodically think about lenses and cameras I would like (there is always something), there is a massive difference between the wishful thought, and the cash-depleting reality.

So far, 2017 has started off quite nicely in the photography department, with two pleasing shoots having taken place.

Tonight, I had plans to expand upon that.  And now I was armed with a new lens and all the kid-in-a-candy-store excitement a new toy brings.

Some people’s photography becomes re-invigorated upon acquiring a new camera or lens; some people’s photography becomes re-invigorated as a result of shooting a pleasing image.  In my case, a combination of both scenarios was achieved tonight, and my initial impression of theCanon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM is that it is a brilliant lens.

I have shot extensively with my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM lens over the past nine years, and according to my lens utilisation statistics, it is my most frequently used lens.

However, I wanted an even wider lens for a more expansive view, and I also wanted to switch to a prime.  Most of my lenses are primes (now seven out of a total of eight), and even though the Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM is a zoom, I rarely ever used its zoom capability, sticking fairly religiously to the 16mm setting, and at times forgetting that the lens’s focal length could be changed, which I realised after moving my tripod rig to a slightly different position.

So, now I have a new Canon EF 14mm f/2.8L II USM lens which opens up new possibilities and has given me a psychological boost.  Additionally, I took it for a shoot only a few hours after purchasing it, and I landed a pleasing series of images (about which I will post separately).

I hope my Canon EF 16-35mm f/2.8L II USM finds its way into the home of someone who will love it as much as I did, and that it will bring years of rewarding images.

I look forward to getting back into photography, and a new lens may just help do that.

Mount Wilson: Cathedral of Ferns

During an exploratory day-trip to the Blue Mountains west of SydneyDave and I decided to look around Mount Wilson, a place of which I had heard in photography circles, but never visited.

We encountered the Cathedral of Ferns, where we stopped to capture a few images of the beautiful, lush foliage.

Here is one of them:

Cathedral of Ferns

Cathedral of Ferns

The weather was on our side on this day, as it was overcast with some occasional drizzle, which made for excellent shooting conditions.

Naturally a fantastic time to visit Mount Wilson is during autumn when all the rich colours are on display; but in spite of being there at the ‘wrong’ time, the weather certainly was on our side.

First Photoshoot of 2017

My first photoshoot of 2017 began eather early in the year, with a visit to Featherdale Wildlife Park on the 2nd of January.

This is only the second time we have been inside a zoo or wildlife sanctuary/park since our travels to South Africa and Kenya in 2012 and 2015 respectively.

For some time, Featherdale Wildlife Park had been on our list of places to visit, and when some friends from Queensland, who come to Sydney for Christmas and New Year’s Eve every second year, indicated they wanted to go, we made a day of it.

I shot quite a lot of photos, and have lots of material to review; but I managed to publish two of my favourite images of birds.

One of my stand-out images of the trip was this profile of a black-necked stork (otherwise known as jabiru):

Jabiru in Profile

Jabiru in Profile

The colours on this jabiru are striking!

Using the 560mm focal length, I was able to isolate the jabiru from her grassy background and render the details of her plumage in razor-sharp detail.

Moving onto a much smaller bird

The Little Penguin

The Little Penguin

When photographing a group of penguins, trying to capture a single penguin in isolation is rather difficult.

Fortunately I managed to capture this cute creature after he moved away from the others.

This image was captured with the stellar, rare, discontinued and highly-coveted Canon EF 200mm f/1.8 USM lens, shot wide-open at f/1.8.

All in all, it was a pleasing and productive day, and I shot more images in one trip than I have shot for months.

More images are to follow.

Tančící Dům at Twilight

Apologies for my lack of updates over the last few months.  I have not been shooting much at all.  I have shot a few images, and published some older images which were worth a visit.

In the mean time, here’s a new image from a mid-year shoot.

A view of Tančící Dům (the Dancing House) in Prague, at twilight.

Tančící Dům at Twilight

Tančící Dům at Twilight

This is a slightly different composition to my earlier image of this unique building.

Here, more of the intersecting roads can be seen, and despite outward appearances, it is not as deserted as it looks.

It was a matter of timing to avoid cars and trams; but a careful look will reveal the streak of a car’s tail lights as the vehicle passed through my frame.