Mastering light in photography

Mastering light first is a smart move

Yes, size does matter in photography but before you get too excited about how big your megapixels are, it’s smart to think about the destination first.

Friends, family and colleagues often ask me to recommend cameras for them but before I answer, I  usually ask what he/she wants to do with their images.

There’s no point spending $900 on a Canon 60D Digital SLR with its 18MP sensor when the photos will go no further than social media where web size images at 1024 x 768 pixels and 72dpi will suffice.

A Smartphone camera such as the 8MP iPhone 5 with its f2.4 aperture is more than adequate for web use and small prints up to 4″x 6″.

When used by someone with a keen eye for unique subjects, composition and lighting, Smartphones can produce good images. As technology improves, the colour and sharpness of Smartphone photos will get better.

Smartphone cameras shouldn’t be discounted as legitimate cameras – my Instagram profile photo is a selfie taken with an iPhone 5 in natural light and no Photoshop tweaking. Check out Digital Photography School’s tips on how to take better Smartphone photos.

So, if you simply want an entry-level camera without spending hard-earned cash before knowing what you want from a camera, and if you own a Smartphone, then I suggest using it to brush up on composition and natural lighting techniques before shopping for another camera. You won’t spend a cent over your normal phone service costs (unless you print the images) and you’ll gain valuable skills in the process.

If you want bigger prints, to create photo books or have your images on canvas or acrylic wall hangings, then you will need a camera with more grunt.

Compact cameras will handle prints up to about A4 but for mid-size prints at least an entry level SLR such as the Canon EOS 60D would be a better option. To successfully print canvasses and poster or billboard size prints, or to sell to magazines, a professional SLR camera is needed.

With compact cameras, there are some fantastic models on the market now. Industry talk is that as technology continues to advance, these cameras (and Smartphones) will take over from the current entry level SLRs while the high-end professional cameras will also continue to advance.

I have two compact cameras – Panasonic Lumix TZ40 and Nikon Coolpix P330. (Later Nikon Coolpix models are now on the market.) Both cameras are fantastic for family outings or dinner parties when I don’t want to lug my big camera around, or if I don’t need large prints or wall hangings.

Of my two compacts, my favourite is the Lumix TZ40, except it doesn’t do RAW which allows for ultimate post-processing control. The Nikon Coolpix P330 does RAW but for people who aren’t into post-processing with software such as Photoshop, RAW isn’t necessary.

The Lumix TZ40 is billed as an ideal travel camera. I bought an earlier model for an overseas trip in 2012, leaving my Canon EOS 5D Mark II at home and found the experience liberating.

The compact camera did most things I wanted and as I wasn’t planning to use the images any larger than needed for an A4 photo book, I found it better to travel light. Unfortunately I lost that camera at the Arbi Darbi airport on the journey’s home leg, but thankfully it was the compact camera and not my Canon EOS 5D Mark II!

To compare the key features of the Lumix and Coolpix:
• Panasonic Lumix TZ40 ($330) – 18.1MP; f/3.3-6.4; 20x optical zoom lens (24-480mm 35mm equivalent), providing wide angle and telephoto shooting options.
• Nikon Coolpix P600 ($498) –16.1MP, f/3.3-6.5; 60x wide optical zoom (24-1440mm 35mm equivalent), providing wide angle and telephoto shooting options.

When it comes to brands, my personal cameras are mostly Canon and while I don’t mind indulging in friendly banter with my Nikon friends on what brand is better, the reality is both Canon and Nikon are excellent brands, as are many others.

My workhorse is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens. I have other lenses too but this is my favourite all-rounder.

However, without a good working knowledge of composition and light, don’t waste money on a professional SLR camera – the tool itself won’t make you a better photographer. It’s what you do with the tool that counts!

There are plenty of free tutorials online, such as Digital Photography School, from which to learn.

To quote Matt Hardy: “Beauty can be seen in all things. Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”

Another favourite quote from an unknown author is: “Amateurs worry about equipment, professionals worry about money, masters worry about light.”

Charmed by the Irish at Maleny Hideaway

Maleny HidewayLISTENING to music reminiscent of the Irish dance party from the 1997 epic film Titanic was an unexpected bonus during our short stay at the Maleny Hideaway.

When booking the accommodation online, I couldn’t have imagined we’d be sharing the B & B guesthouse with Irish citizens from Dublin and Belfast who had flown half way around the world to attend a wedding, timed to fit neatly between two British & Irish Lions rugby tests in Australia.

Succumbing to the Wallabies in the second test failed to dampen the spirits of the Irish group, who partied into the wee hours of the morning.

Earlier in the night, we were kindly invited to join them for dinner. The conversations were many and included the sharing of information about local hair, beauty and transport services that we will need when we visit again for a wedding in September.

The group also generously invited us to join their after-dinner party but we didn’t want to intrude on their family celebration and politely retired to our room.

I was tempted to join them later, however, when renditions of Oh Danny Boy, Don McLean’s American Pie and many other favourite songs could be heard in the distance as I drifted to and from the land of nod.

Cobe, Ireland.

Irish turn out in the thousands to welcome the Titanic Memorial Cruise in April 2012.

Their wonderful music reminded me of my own  Irish ancestry, the Lowry family from Ballybogey near Belfast in Northern Ireland. A fond memory from the Titanic Memorial Cruise in April 2012 also entered my thoughts.

The first stop after leaving Southampton was the Irish town of Cobe (pronounced Cove and known in 1910 as Queenstown). Almost the entire county turned out to welcome our cruise ship, Balmoral. We felt as though we were celebrities with thousands of people waving and cheering as the ship docked.

Because rough weather had delayed our arrival, a previously arranged tour was cancelled. Instead, we enjoyed an impromptu evening, singing and dancing in Kelly’s Bar with the locals. That evening became a significant highlight of the entire trip.

Returning to the present, I drifted off for a relaxing night’s slumber.

In the morning, B & B owners Kerrie and Grant greeted everyone with a generous country-style breakfast, over which we again enjoyed the company of our new Irish friends.

We enjoyed our stay at Maleny Hideaway so much that a return visit is planned for our son’s wedding in September. With any luck we might get to meet more Irish visitors.

The Maleny Hideaway country bed and breakfast retreat is located just outside Maleny in the Sunshine Coast Hinterland and set in 20 acres of the beautiful Blackall Range.

For more details, click on Maleny Hideaway.

– Story and photos by JOCELYN WATTS.

Maleny Hideway

Fraser Island Photography Expedition

Walking on the wild side of Fraser Island

By Jocelyn Watts

He has locked eyes with lions in Africa and anacondas in the Amazon but facing his wife’s stare as he returns from a Fraser Island beach tour with a salt-ridden car is more daunting.

“Don’t tell Julia,” Darran Leal calls out as the tyres of their 4WD sink lower into the sand.

Ruing his decision to stop five seconds too long on Fraser Island’s boggy beach, for the sake of a better photo, Darran asks his passengers to honour the old adage “What happens on tour, stays on tour.”

Too late – this photojournalist is onboard.

Darran has Buckley’s chance of escaping Julia’s salt patrol anyway. The self-confessed clean fanatic is wise to her husband’s ways, and waits with fresh water and towels in hand for his return.

And she is well rewarded for her efforts with early morning cups of tea – before he heads off on more photographic adventures.

Based on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast, Darran and Julia own and run Safari Wise Australia, the county’s only licensed travel agency specialising in photography tours and workshops in areas as far away as USA, Africa, South America and beyond.

Since February alone Darran has been to Norfolk Island, Tasmania, Kimberley and Fraser Island. Cape Town (South Africa) and Namibia (South-west Africa), Bhutan (Mountain Kingdom), Wild West (USA) and Yellowstone National Park (USA) will fill the remainder of the year.

BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year

Catching up with Darren on Fraser Island during the 9th annual Bird Week in May, the BBC Wildlife Photographer of the Year said his work had been published around the world and used in books, magazines and commercial products.

He has appeared on television several times and has been commissioned by Qantas, Warner Brothers, the Qld Government, Australia Post, Steve Parish Publishing and many other companies … and published six of his own books.

The former Qld National Parks and Wildlife Service photographer said “My life has never been one of sitting around and waiting for things to happen. Rather, I get out and explore, touch, catch, view, experience and savour every unique moment. I don’t specialise in one area but shoot everything from the smallest insect to the grandest landscape or unique culture.”

Darran’s widespread success suggests complex techniques are at work but they are surprisingly simple.

Keep it simple, says Darran

“I take the KISS (Keep It Simple) principle seriously,” he told shutterbugs attending his week-long workshop on Fraser Island. “We have the technology now – just understand light and metering and let the camera do work.”

Darran said most of his stunning images had been taken with hand-held cameras, using the same techniques he learnt 30 years ago. The limited use of tripods frees him to capture fleeting moments at the blink of an eye.

Getting the images from idea to print or canvas doesn’t happen overnight, however. He and Julia, a travel consultant of 28 years, spend months or sometimes years researching remote regions for possible images before Darran takes to the field and returns to process, catalogue and print the results.

“The most gratifying aspect of my work – after all of the expense of equipment and travel and the many hours in the field – is to hear someone else enjoying that same split second with me.”

Darran’s passion for photography is infectious.

Group general manager at Fraser Island’s Kingfisher Bay and Eurong resorts, Ivor Davies, is one of his converts.

Ivor said he had little photography experience until Darran started running workshops during the annual Fraser Island Bird Week, attended by bird watchers from throughout Australia.

The artist and former military chef bought some of Darran’s “hand-me-down” camera gear and has become an expert in the field. He now presents photography sessions for birdwatchers and joins Darran’s excursions, driving a 4WD and helping students with their work … and serving up tea, coffee, biscuits and muffins during the breaks.

Every year Darran and Ivor devote their time throughout the week to presenting theory sessions, helping camera buffs spot birds and wildlife at the Kingfisher resort and leading tours through the island’s rainforests and along beaches where opportunities to capture unique and creative images abound.

Travelling in teams was certainly handy at this year’s event – particularly when one driver, despite his vast experience trekking through the world’s most remote wilderness areas, stopped five seconds too long on wet beach sand.

Watching the towing was all part of the island’s 4WD experience and offered Darran’s students yet another great photo opportunity – not to be used as evidence, of course.

For more information on Darran Leal’s World Photo Adventures and workshops log into

Kingfisher Bay Resort details can be found at

By Jocelyn Watts. Click here to view the Published article
Fraser Island

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