Sunday, 26 February 2012

It's vintage time in the Granite Belt

It's vintage time in the Granite Belt and Sam has a grin across his browned Italian face. 'The grapes are looking good this year,' he tells us as we load the camera bags and jump in the back of his 4WD for a tour of the vineyard.

We're at Golden Grove Estate Wines, south of Stanthorpe and just west of Ballandean, at the home of the Costanzo family. Growing grapes in this region is nothing new, it's been going now since for quite some time. The Granite Belt is dotted with wineries, enough to take up more than a day for a serious wine connoisseur. Luckily we found the time to pop in on one or two while there for some work recently. 

The cool summers and the high altitude of around 820 metres provides ideal growing conditions for many of the classic wine grape varieties Sam explains, as his voice is almost lost in the wind and the 4WD clunks into another gear as it climbs the first ridge. Sam is a keen photographer and also a Nikon use and being tempted, on the odd occasion, to a fermented grape juice, I think I may like Sam a lot.

Proud grape grower Sam shows off this years prime crop
near Ballandean in the Granite Belt
 The ripening grapes set to make a fine drop of red wine.

Across the road is a long time favourite of mine, Ballandean Estate Wines, Queensland's largest and oldest family owned and operated winery. The Puglisi family are seeing in their sixth generation soon and have much to be proud of.

It's good to catch up with Angelo's and Mary's daughter Leanne again after many years, though I initially think I have timed my visit too early as I suspect a slightly sore head from entertaining in the cellar the night before. As usual though Leanne is her bubbly self and we venture out to where the wine is being bottled, casks emptied and readied for the crop coming in.

In an unfortunate accident last year Ballandeans' storing cellar burnt to the ground taking with it 180,0000 bottles of wine and some of the best vintages seen from the property. As we chat i-phone photography (yes Anita that's right) Leanne is not so quick to show me the images of the smouldering, devastated mess the family were faced with in the early hours of that shocking morning. In true Puglisi style, the smile returns to her face and the attitude of 'things could have been worse' takes over. 'On and up as they say, at least no lives were lost, and this vintage is looking pretty good,' she says.

I spot a bottle of the 2007 vintage, another acclaimed year of which all but a few bottles were lost to the flames and purchase it. With this and along with my couple of bottles from Sam and his crew, I'll toast the Granite Belt, its wineries, fun loving families and high trap rock country.

If you have never been out this way do yourself a favour: there's loads more to do such as great bush walking, wildlife, National Parks, four wheel driving and heritage and history.
We'll bring you more over the next few months from this truly unique part of Queensland.

 Tasting at Ballandean Estate with Leanne.

Want more info
Ballandean Estate
Tel: (07) 4684 1226

Golden Grove Estate
Tel: (07) 4684 1291

Southern Downs Tourism
Granite Belt Wine and Tourism Inc.

Check out these events they hold:
Ballandean Estate: Opera at the Vineyard
Golden Grove Estate: Sicilian Vintage Lunch

View these giant historic casks at Ballandean Estate.

Monday, 20 February 2012

Photoshop Elements: Who knew?!

Guest Blog and image by Julie Martin

So one day the boss calls and asks me: "Julie, can someone with Photoshop Elements come along to your One Day Beginner Photoshop Workshop?”

"Sure thing!” I reply.  "I'll just have a wee look at Elements and see what the differences are so we can let them know what they'll be missing during the day."

Photoshop Elements is a pared back version of Photoshop, which covers the main "elements" of full Photoshop.  Whereas full Photoshop will set you back around $1000, Elements is around $185 (price in AU and may vary), so I was expecting the differences to mirror the price difference.

So I dutifully downloaded a trial version of Photoshop Elements 10 and worked my way through the workshop tutorials, looking for what is missing in Elements.  The further through the workshop notes I went, the more I discovered that virtually everything I was going to be teaching was possible using Elements alone.  I was amazed, and impressed! For a fraction of the cost it is possible to achieve virtually everything most photographers need to achieve.

What are some of the differences?  Bridge and MiniBridge are not part of Elements, which has the Organiser instead.  However, the Organiser is felt by many to be better than Bridge.   In Camera Raw, there are only three panels - the Basics panel (which covers the majority of what we do in Camera Raw), the Sharpening and Noise Reduction panel, and the Camera Profile panel.  The panels that are missing cover some of the "finishing touches", but I found ways to achieve the same thing elsewhere in the program.

Onto Photoshop Elements itself, I discovered that the layout was slightly different but in a more user-friendly way, with the option to choose Quick, Guided, or Full Edit functions.  The Guided edit option, as it sounds, takes you through the changes you can make to your image, in a way that teaches you at every step. 

Layers are said to be the heart and soul of Photoshop, and they certainly exist in Elements also.  While the adjustment layers don't always appear in the same way or in the same place, every adjustment I wanted to make was possible in Elements.  The majority of the most used tools in Photoshop were present, and in fact the Text tool has more features in Elements than it does in Photoshop.  There is also a Recompose tool (absent in full Photoshop) which comes with complete instructions on how to use it, as well as a link to a video tutorial on its use!  How I wish Photoshop had that for all its features!  Content Aware Fill, an awesome function of Photoshop CS5 is only present within the Spot Healing Brush, but it did a great job here.  

Image by Julie Martin

Monday, 6 February 2012

Using a polariser and neutral density filter together

There has been much written on the use of polariser filters and neutral density filters (ND).

On a shoot the other day I had a classic example of how they work so well together, of course there is more than one scenario, however I thought these two images demonstrated it perfectly.

Why use them together? Well they do two different 'things' and combined those two 'things' can allow you the opportunity to control light and therefore capture an image impossible without them. Let's face it, our cameras can only do so much with the lighting situation we present them with.

After the recent rains in south-east Queensland a friend of mine that some of you have met, Linden and I took off to photograph his jeep crossing the 14 Condamine Crossing four wheel drive road. We knew the crossings would be over and flowing at a good rate and hopefully perfect for an image I had in mind. 

I was also glad he informed me before the first crossing that the jeep had a bung or two missing in the floor so we should ensure our camera bags were up off the floor. The water slowly lapped at our doors, seeped in and the muffler gurgled and smoked on many of the crossings, however the whole day enabled us to have a play with creating long exposures in the middle of the day.

In the first image below only a ND filter was used. The water is slowed to a milky wash but the car's windscreen and windows and other highlights in areas such as the rocks, foliage and sky are over exposed. By placing a polariser on as in image number 2, the reflections are reduced, contrast and saturation are increased to what our eye sees of the scene. The result, I think you would have to agree, is the second image is a much more appealing image.

One of the main problems that can occur from stacking filters like this is vignetting. If you get some make sure you frame your image to allow for some cropping preferably in an aspect ratio suitable for your camera.

When I use my ND fitter and polariser together I always place my polariser closest to my lens. I polarise the scene, pre focus on my subject then turn the auto focus off. I then carefully place my ND filter on the top of my polariser making sure no part of my lens changes position, meter read through the lens and that is my starting point for my exposure and its usually pretty close but I do bracket and of course, I always shoot in RAW and jpeg.

The presumption that the polariser filter does nothing unless the sun is at the right angle I have to say I find a double edged sword as it depends on what you want. If you have a half decent polariser (some are much better than others) in your kit try combining it with a ND. You may be amazed at the final result. They are a fabulous combination when used together for so many scenarios from landscapes and seascapes to busy cathedrals, streets and temples where you can make the hordes of people disappear and best of all they are such easy tools to carry in our kit.

Image 1.

 Image 2.
Both shot on Nikon D700 with a 17-35mm lens set at 24mm