Monday, 28 February 2011

Journey’s end – for now ….. Guest Blog by Augustine Mathews

One of my favourite poems is My Country by Dorothea Mackellar
“I love a sunburnt country, a land of sweeping plains, of ragged mountain ranges, of drought, and flooding rains”. We’ve all heard it and there is, for me, now an extra element that I have gained an appreciation for - our farmers.
As a city kid I have never really given too much thought to the ‘man on the land’ other than when they appear in the headlines as those doing it tough in the drought. Now I feel completely differently.
The time I spent in the growth region that extends from the Great Dividing Range west to St George has really served to open my eyes. Talking to the people whose livelihoods depend on fickle Mother Nature has given me a far greater appreciation of the tightrope so many of our growers tread. Rain on a ready crop of cotton or wheat will decimate a crop, while not enough water makes it impossible to grow anything. A big ask of a country where rain seems to come in two types – too much or too little.
Our homeward trip was an expedition of crop naming for me; cotton, sorghum, cattle, sheep, fields waiting for wheat. When I asked Danielle if we could go into a field to photograph the sorghum I was horrified to learn that my innocent desire for a photograph could cost a farmer their livelihood. There is a fungus that can be walked into a field and devastate the crop not only for that year, but also for future usage. 
Acres of sorghum
Image by Augustine Mathews
We came across a field where the header (the machine that harvests sorghum and wheat) was taking a sample and we were given permission to come in and take some shots. I have to say – it is a photographers paradise. I could have stayed for hours.
 The header clips the sorghum then separates the grain from the chaff
Image by Augustine Mathews

Our mission as we headed west was to teach photography to those who would learn in St George, but on reflection, I think I learnt more than I taught. I’d like to thank the marvellous people who came along for their hospitality and their willingness to teach the city kid a few things. 
 Mountains of sorghum 
Image by Augustine Mathews

For my city cousins I say – go west. There is an amazing part of the country with visual images to stun and people who will welcome you and share their stories. I’m home again now but I have to say – I’m looking forward to my next chance to head west again … I hear the early April harvest of cotton from the dazzling acres of white is pretty impressive.

Saturday, 26 February 2011

And the lessons just keep coming…. A Guest Blog By Augustine Mathews

There is a lot to be said for the ‘hospitality of the outback’.  There is a magical quality to the air and I think that it must rub off on the people who live here.  (A lady today told me it is the dust and that there is nothing magical about dust, it just involves a lot of cleaning).
In the 2 days I have been in the St George region I have met so many wonderful people. Yesterday Danielle took me out to meet some friends that have a place a little way out of town. That should read as a 52,000 acre property 60+km from town!
Rounding a corner on the dusty scrub sided road we came to Rosehill Station and the oasis that is the home of the Beardmores. Elaine had started baking as soon as she heard we were coming and John was warming up the vocal chords to spin a few yarns. I have to say that Elaine bakes a mean jam drop biscuit and their home was peaceful and relaxing. Listening to John relate stories from his youth (which was a little while ago) took me on a journey to a time that was full of adventure and the thrill of property life. I was filled with city girl envy for those times and the different-ness of life on the land.

Danielle, John and Elaine
Image by Augustine Mathews

Today we got to meet 18 keen photography students who were participating in our regional St George workshop. I am quite comfortable speaking to groups while teaching and can get a real flow up as I explain about the rural scene depicted in many of our power point slides. Today, however, was different. There is something slightly off-putting about telling country folk about the cattle sale yard photos when I know they know more about it than I do. And of course Danielle had filled them with tales of my wide eyed city girl wonder. I have to say though, no one laughed at me, only with me and reaffirmed my love of all things country. Can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings J
P.S. For those frog lovers - head out this way. There are green tree frogs everywhere.
Image by Augustine Mathews

Friday, 25 February 2011

So much to learn – so little time!!! Guest blog by Augustine Mathews

Often when Danielle goes on her out of town work she gets requests left and right for folks offering to “carry her bags” just so that they can join the journey. As with most things in life there is never enough room in the schedule to include a “fun” side trip to be able to share her travels. Lucky for me we had enough people booked into the classes Bluedog is presenting in Saint George (South Western Queensland) that an extra tutor was needed and I got the call up.
Now people often tell me that I have the best job on the planet – taking photos all the time but the reality is that often I am the last person to pick up a camera and snap away as I am busily helping others achieve their photographic ambitions. This time though distance was on my side. It has taken 2 days of, admittedly, fairly ‘easy’ driving to get out here to St. George so the opportunity to pause for a photo op is not one I would overlook. Now when I say easy driving, for those like Danielle who grew up in outback Queensland it might be easy, but I have to say – those big trucks with their 3 trailers swinging all over the road had my pulse rate rising a few times as we overtook them half on, half off the road, but thankfully Danielle knew when to sit back and when to pass.
And this was only the first lesson of many. We had the chance to visit the Nindigully pub and again, city slicker naiveté kicked in. This place is the oldest pub in Queensland and is a classic long verandah beside the river type of place with hitching rails out the front and corrugated iron on the roof. I asked was it working? “What do mean working?”, “Well, does it still serve beer?” Ooops! Apparently out here things are not just for show but actually are fully operational. “Cool! We have to go in for a beer!” was my cry and a beer was what I had. It was like a step back in time with ringers hats lining the walls and the original cobb and co. timetables still advertising coach trips. Absolutely brilliant.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Image by Danielle Lancaster

We then went out to visit one of Danielle’s long term friends who has a little place just up the road. (I’ll tell you about him tomorrow except to say that his little place is 52,000 acres). As we were barrelling up a red dirt road we reached the turnoff onto the property and a sight I never would have believed had I not seen it myself. At the fork in the road stands a tree with the most grisly assortment of Christmas decorations I have ever seen. Desiccated dingos hanging by their back legs.
Now as a city slicker I had read of the “doggers” who trap the dingoes to aid the sheep farmers but I had never seen their handywork. It is amazing. The dingoes cause such problems with livestock losses that the doggers come in and trap or shoot the animals and are awarded a scalp price by the shire. To show that they are out and about working, the carcasses are hung to dry at the road junction. Now while I understand that this seems gruesome it is a part of living on the land. Visually, while a little disturbing, it was an incredible photographic opportunity. And I think the thing that makes it best for me, I had a country girl right next to me who knew what it was about and why it was done.
Image by Augustine Mathews

I tell you, if you ever want to learn about south-western Queensland, come join Danielle and get a real lesson.  Having a ball so far and the trip is a long way from done.

Thursday, 17 February 2011

Camel Trekking and Point N Shoots

This week Linden Neill touched down and the landing back to reality after the adventure of the past six months has been a hard one. In this blog he shares some of his thoughts on his travels, advantages and disadvantages of using a point and shoot, why he choose one and a few of his tips learnt along the road around the world.

Below are some tips and thoughts on travel from my experiences so far.
Watch out for dust.
Dust was probably the only major problem we encountered with our gear. If you think of dust, water and shock as the major killers of cameras, I think dust is the one we are least aware of. We all know when it’s raining or humid and we are all careful not to smash our cameras but dust is very sneaky and gets in their while you’re off enjoying yourself.

Depending on where you’re travelling this may not be an issue but in places like Turkey and Morocco where we went it is very dusty all the time. To try and minimise the dust getting in to the lens I tried to keep the camera (Canon G11) turned off so the lens was retraced and covered and fired it up to take a picture. This also stops the lens being crushed when it is extended. Allot of the areas we were in were really crowded with people bumping into each other all the time so keeping the lens retracted is a good idea for point and shoots. I also had a cleaning kit with me in including a Rocket Blower and wet cleaning kit.

I’m sure you all carry a Rocket Blower (If not then you really need one) but the wet cleaning kit might not be something you always use. I haven’t had to use one at home as usually a lens cloth is enough but I was getting all sorts of blobs and splashes of stuff on the lens, which the wet cleaner had no problems getting off.
 Marrakech Medina
Image by Linden Neill
Gorilla Pods
For those who haven’t seen them a Gorilla Pod is a small tripod with legs that are flexible and can be wrapped around things. If you need a tripod for a point n shoot then these are probably the way to go. I bought the biggest one at the time (there is now a larger one) and a ball head which worked out perfectly with the G11.

There were times when I missed shots because it’s so small compared to a normal tripod and I couldn’t get the height needed (think a landscape with no trees or posts to attach the Gorilla Pod too) but I was also able to get shots that other people with full size tripods weren´t. One example was in Plitvice National Park in Croatia. The park is home to some waterfalls and dams made of living rock, so they have built a thin boardwalk all through the park to keep people of the ground. There was nowhere for people to put a tripod to take nice picture of all the waterfalls but I was able to just wrap the Gorilla Pod on a tree and get shooting.

Most of the time I was also able to use it in places where tripods are not allowed but you need one to get good shots. Places like insides of historical sites and museums. Only once did someone ask me to not use it but I would have had no chance anywhere with a normal tripod. 

Cold Weather and Altitude
We had to be careful in some of the places we visited when bringing the cameras from the snow to the heated rooms. If the camera is brought straight in from the cold, you get the same effect as the outside of a nice cold drink on a hot day. Condensation will form all over and more importantly inside the lens/camera. To get around this we put our cameras in a zip lock bag before bringing them inside. The condensation then forms on the outside of the bag as the camera comes up to room temperature. Probably a good idea to just to seal the bag before you put the camera in to check it hasn’t got any holes in it.

Also for those that have a "tough" camera that’s waterproof be careful of altitude. We went into the Swiss Alps to 3.6km altitude and then went swimming at sea level the next day. We didn’t equalize the camera by opening the seals before we took it into the water and it lead to the camera sucking in water. Afterwards we filled it with white spirits and somehow it came back to life. We have drowned it twice now in salt water (we left one of the latches open the first time... oops) and somehow it still takes pictures so that’s pretty amazing. Still wouldn’t recommend it though.

Store Keeper
Image by Linden Neill

Point and Shoot Vs DSLR
I chose to take a Canon G11 rather than my DSLR so here are some positives and negatives in hindsight
·         Size. Being able to carry it all day on the shoulder all day is great and it’s easy to just slip it into your pocket if you need to if there is sudden rain or dust from something.
·         Aperture. The G11 has a F2.8 lens so that came in very handy allot of the time in dark areas. To carry the equivalent lens on a DSLR would be very heavy.
·         Depth of Field. With the small sensors on the Point n Shoots, you get a massive depth of field even at large apertures. Again this helps get a nice fast shutter speed in dark areas and still get a good depth of field.
·         Handling. All the important setting can be adjusted using a dedicated dial on the outside of the camera so it is nearly as easy to use as the DLSR.
·         One Handed Operation. We rode on various animals while we were away and being able to shoot and change settings with one hand was great. Would be much more difficult with a DSLR, especially trying to zoom.
·         Speed. Shutter lag and auto focus speed are problems with all Point n Shoots. Once used to it, it’s not too bad but shots are still missed because of it.
·         Aperture. The maximum aperture is F8 so trying to get a slow shutter speed during daylight is sometimes difficult. The G11 does have a 2 stop ND filter built in which helps but there were plenty of times where I still needed a slower shutter speed.
·         Depth of Field. I can’t tell you how much I missed shallow depth of field. I probably will only shoot at F1.8 on the SLR for a few weeks when I get home. The small sensor gets massive depth of field so for some things this isn’t ideal.
Image by Linden Neill

Berber Crepes
Image by Linden Neill

Tuesday, 8 February 2011

North Queensland Comes Back after Yasi!

To say Queensland, Australia has not felt another hard hit this week is an underestimation. Our beloved tropical north with its sweeping sandy beaches and clear tropical waters teaming with colourful fish and coral was hit hard by dual cyclones Yasi, described as the worst cyclone in the country's history and Anthony (yes there was another it’s just Yasi got all the lime light).

In 2006 I headed to the Cape after Category 5 cyclones, Larry and Monica ripped a path of destruction and last year to the Airlie Beach checking out the effect of yet another terrifying low on Conway National Park and State Forest (check out story a few issues ago in Go Camping).

One thing I have learnt from both visiting and once living in north Queensland is how quickly this region bounces back! It’s the little things that come back quickly: the butterflies, insects and frogs croaking fill the still post storm night air once again.

From fallen trees fungi sprout, birds start to nest and gather from the strewn debris and the tides once again come and go gently lapping. Each level seemingly does its bit. The north is familiar with an odd storm or two. Its fauna, flora and people are resilient.

"Tropical cyclones and heavy rain are a normal thing in the tropics of Northern Queensland, and the Whitsundays is very quick to recover from weather events because of our topography and our region's preparedness for such events," said Tourism Whitsundays Chief Executive Officer Peter O'Reilly on the subject this week.

The power is well and truly on, the airports open and the sun shining once again! If you have plans and are thinking of the tropics there’s some great deals to be had at the moment. Tourism Whitsundays is providing regular updates at,, and

We may just have to look into one or two of them ourselves:)

A Birdwing Butterfly
Image by Danielle Lancastser

Jet skiing on Magnetic Island
Image by Danielle Lancastser

Friday, 4 February 2011

Beauty Retouching in Photoshop

Guest post by Julie Martin 

We see it in all the magazines - those perfect complexions and sparkling eyes.  Sometimes controversial, the degree to which images are retouched can lead to comments such as this from gorgeous supermodel Cindy Crawford: "Even I don't look like Cindy Crawford in the mornings!". 

How is this achieved in Photoshop?
Starting with a beautifully lit, well exposed image is important.  This image of Nina was taken using natural light, with the assistance of a diffuser overhead to soften the light, and a reflector bouncing some light into her face.  I opened the image in  Camera Raw to make adjustments to white balance and exposure before bringing it into Photoshop for the retouch. 

The first step was to remove some of the blemishes.  Nina has gorgeous skin, but when doing a beauty retouch, perfection is the aim.   On a duplicate layer, I used the healing brush tool to remove the blemishes, the patch tool to remove some of the skin wrinkles and the darker areas under the eyes were corrected.

Next the eyes received attention.  Another layer was created and I zoomed in to remove those little blood vessels visible in the whites of the eyes.  Whitening of the eyes can be created in several ways, but I used another duplicate layer, changing the blend mode to "screen", before applying a black layer mask, and just painting in the whites of the eyes.  Sounds complicated, but it is actually very simple when you see it done! The same method was used to increase the contrast and the sharpness of the eyes. 

Skin softening achieves that perfect complexion.  Another duplicate layer is created, before applying a gaussian blur filter and again using layer masks you can paint in only those areas you wanted softened.  Adjusting the opacity of that layer modifies the amount of skin softening.

Almost there, my last step involved applying some highlights to her hair, and then dimming down an overbright area just next to her ear on the left of the image. 

Have a look at the "before" and "after" images, and see if you can see all of those changes.  It all may sound complicated but I'm sure once shown, you'll be retouching all of your own images in a flash! 

About Julie: Julie is a new recruit with the Bluedog kennel and along with Kim Stevens will be tutoring in Photoshop, Lightroom and Nik software. For more info email or call +61 7 5545 4777

By Julie Martin
By Julie Martin