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Finding Fuji-san

Finding Fuji-san

We visited Japan in September 2018, and we were greeted with typical September in Japan weather—overcast and often rainy. Kind of what you might expect when you visit in the latter part of the typhoon season.

One of our goals was to take in some of the spectacular views of Fuji-san, but the weather certainly limited our options. You have to approach this kind of objective with a healthy sense of humour, a dose of persistene, and planning to give yourself the best chance of winning.

In an effort get great views, we booked a few nights at Kawaguchiko, a famous location for views of Japans iconic mountain. Having three nights here meant we had maximum chance of seeing Fuji-san, and we got to stay in a nice Japanese style hotel in a really beautiful part of Japan.

One of our goals was to see (and photograph) the famous vista taking in the Chureito Pagoda,with Fuji-san in the background. Instead we got stunning views of the pagoa against a dramatic sky. Happy with the image, and will have to go back for the iconic view.

Chureito Pagoda

On the second day we took a trip up the Mt. Fuji Panoramic Ropeway more for the experience and views of the lake, not really expecting to see Fuji-san. Happily we were greeted with our first glimpses of the mountain, peeking out from behind the clouds.

First Glimpse of Fuji

On the third day I got up at sunrise and walked down to the Lakeside from the hotel, hoping to see Fuji-san, but expecting to shoot the lake. I was greeted with this view, and worked hard to find a scene that had a beautiful reflection.

Reflections of Fuji-san

One of the keys of landscape photography is the willingness to spend at least a few days at any one location, maximising your chances of getting the shot.

So I was pretty happy with this.

Now its clear that visiting in September means that you are visiting in Autumn, and the iconic snow peaks of Fuji-san are mostly melted, and of course you have higher chances of overcast weather. On the plus side, crowds were small.

Every season has something to offer, and I am very happy with the beautiful reflections of an iconic mountain.

Malta’s Blue Arch

Malta’s Blue Arch

The Blue Arch in Malta is a spectacular location for wonderful seascape images.

There are multiple compositions here so it pays you to get the iconic images, and then move around and find something that helps to tell your story.

For me, the ‘Blue’ story in this location is that of the sea. So I composed to show a key aspect of the arch, with lots of blue sea (and a little blue sky) as the negative space. The little island in the background helped to provide scale.

Malta as a whole is one of the most spectacular places I’ve visited, and present countless photo opportunities, including stunning seascapes, a rich history and a very diverse culture.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Stonehenge

Stonehenge

Back in 2015 I visited the U.K. (among a number of other countries1), and visited Stonehenge.

This place is set up for tourists, with a major visitors centre and car park a couple of kilometres from the actual site, with constant people carriers ferrying visitors back and forth. Or you could walk (which my colleagues and I did).

With the crowds you might think that it would be hard to find a composition with few people. But if you worked your angles carefully and shot tight, it was possible to have just a couple of people in scene. In this image I only cloned out about four individuals.

The sky was quite dramatic on the day, but the SOOC image had a fairly washed out sky. This was restored using Photoshop and the Color Efex Pro 4 filter that is part of the Nik Collection by DxO package.

Stonehenge was a great location to shoot an iconic landmark and to enjoy the British countryside.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr


  1. Join the Navy see the world! 
Lookout

Lookout

This image was made in the same general area as my Wanaka Wandering image, and apart from demonstrating the value of getting to some unique, off-the-beaten-path locations, it also demonstrates another value of a photo tour.

In this case the tour guide not only volunteered to be a model, but new a great spot that could use a human element to bring perspective to the immense landscape. There’s a reason that the Lord of the Rings trilogy was filmed in NZ, including in this very area.

People don’t feature in many of my images, but I have to admit that in this instance the human element added to the image, significantly.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Image Data

  • C: Panasonic Lumix DC-G9
  • L: Panasonic Leica DG Vario-Elmarit 8-18mm f/2.8-4
  • E: Lightroom CC Classic, Photoshop, Nik Collection
Wanaka Wandering & the value of photo tours

Wanaka Wandering & the value of photo tours

Wanaka Wandering

A photo tour in Wanaka, NZ, took us onto private property in the hills high above Lake Wanaka.

It was a magical location, off the beaten track, that provided for some unique images that showed the scale of the lake and surrounding mountains and valleys.

This image was made in the evening with beautiful blues, greens and golds in the countryside.

View this image in my Photo Gallery or on Flickr

Value of Photo Tours

As an experienced scuba diver1 I am comfortable diving in most diving situations, yet when I go to new places I enjoy the opportunity to dive with a local guide. Even though I might have greater experience or qualifications in diving overall, local dive guides generally know a lot more about diving in the local environment that I do.

I’ve had the opportunity to take several dedicated photo tours, including one in Ubud, Bali and one in Wanaka, New Zealand. While I hear some experienced photographers question the value of such photo tours, sometimes of belittling the participants for ‘stamp collecting’ images, I think that such tours can have several advantages.

General Advantages

The right pace. Photographers often lament that when travelling in general tours the pace of the tour is too fast to allow them to stop and create great images. Other participants will complain that the photogs are slowing the group down. Specialised photo tours mean structure the pace for photographers, and everyone knows what they are getting themselves into.

Locations are picked for the conditions. The photo tours I’ve undertaken have had a general list of locations, but always advertise that conditions will be selected for the day. To suit photographic conditions.

Meet others with similar interests. On photo tours you might meet with other photographer who share similar interests. This might provide shooting partners for other days in the area.

The chance to talk photography with other enthusiasts. The travel to and from locations, the breaks and meals are times when participants and guides will strike up conversations. You can talk photography, knowing that everyone is a willing participant in the conversation ;-).

Advantages for the novice

Experiential instruction. While not courses, per se, photo tours offer guides who understand photography, and can offer tips and tricks.

Chance to try out equipment. Some photo tours will supply specialised equipment for the type of photography. This might include tripods, filters, etc.

Permission to play without being rushed. Not having non-photogs around means that the photogs can focus on the task at hand.

For the experienced photographer

Get you to the best photo spots. Many of my favourite photos have come from once in a lifetime destinations2. While I research my locations before travelling, it is nice to have someone who can take you to the best locations, at the best times.

Access to unique locations. The photo tour I took in Wanaka, NZ, went high into the hills above the Lake, overlooking the town in the distance. The location was on private property, and the operator, Ridgeline Tours had exclusive access to the site. It was a unique and magical site for late afternoon and sunset images.

Tips / tricks / critiques from another photographer. Regardless of how experienced we are, there is always someone better. The guides on photo tours generally really know the photographic techniques for the areas they are in. This critique can shorten the learning curve.

Opportunity to try out new forms of photography. You might be a great landscape photographer, but perhaps a photo tour will provide the opportunity to try out nightscapes.

Final Thoughts

I would not, nor would I recommend, making photo tours a daily activity on a holiday or adventure. But there are reasons to consider that they might be advantageous from time-to-time. If a photographer enjoys the occasional photo tour, all power to them.


  1. As a PADI Course Director I teach all levels of scuba diving from beginner to higher level instructor courses. 
  2. Or at least locations I will visit only rarely. 
Pre-setting your camera for likely images

Pre-setting your camera for likely images

My photographic origins in the underwater world have taught me the importance of thinking through the photographic objectives for a shoot (dive), and pre-setting your camera.

In underwater photography one key mantra is to get close – minimising the amount of water between subject and your camera1.

For this reason, and the fact that lenses cannot be changed underwater2, most UW photo situations revolve around one of a small number of basic setups.

  1. Wide angle lenses that allow the photographer to get close to large subjects.
  2. Close up lenses that get the photographer close to small subjects.
  3. Macro lenses that allow images to be made of small to extremely small subjects.

In reality a good macro lens is also a very capable close up lens, further reducing the number of setups to just two.

Before a dive I spend time setting up my camera rig for the setup – not just the lens and ports, but also choosing strobe (flash) arms and getting everything about right for the dive. I make sure that I have a formatted

As I became a more experienced UW photographer it dawned on me that I could extend the preparedness concept to include camera settings. In each different style of photography I could reasonably anticipate the settings, and then prepare accordingly, saving the need to fiddle with adjustments underwater. The following table shows some examples of common pre-sets that I use:

Macro Close-Up W/A – Reef/People Big Fish, Moving Fast
Lens 30mm 30mm 7-14mm zoom 7-14mm zoom
Port Flat Flat Dome Dome
Strobes 1-2 1-2 1-2 0-2
Arms Short Short-Medium Long Long
Camera Mode A A A S
Likely Aperture f/16-f/22 f/11-f/16 f/5.6-f/11 N/A
Likely Shutter Speed N/A N/A N/A 1/125–1/500
ISO 200 200 200-400 200-400
Strobe Power ¼-½ ¼-½ ¼-½ ½–Full

Before I enter the water with a close up / macro right, then I will likely preset as follows:
– Shutter mode: Aperture Priority (A)
– Aperture: f/16
– ISO: 200
– Strobes: ½ power

Chromodoris lochi on the march by Des Paroz on 500px.com

With this setup, any changes for the first subject scene I come across are likely only to be a click or two on a dial or two. I have similar checklists for my wide angle photo scenes.

The concepts extends to my topside photography:

Landscape Seascape Street
Lens 12-60mm 8-18mm 20mm
Mode A A A
Starting Aperture f/8 f/11 f/6
ISO 200 200 400
Image Stabilisation 3 Off Off On

Obviously the above table can (and should) be extended to different lighting situations – blue hour, golden hour, daylight, night, etc.

I hope this post seeks to provide some insight into how I think about my photography before a shoot. There are variations to the above, and equipment, shooting genre, artistic style, etc, should all influence how you pre-set.

In any case, thinking ahead and creating simple checklists including these settings and perhaps a reminder to have a formatted memory card, fresh battery and even to check the camera’s date and time settings, can help to allow you to focus on your photography when on a shoot.


  1. Water filters light, removes colour and refracts light in a way that causes a subject to lose sharpness and colour, as well as adding gunk (technical) terms that further kills the quality of an image. 
  2. There are some low quality or super-expensive rigs that do allow changing of lenses, but the majority of setups do not. 
  3. For landscape and seascapes I am generally shooting on a tripod or clamp, so stabilisation should be off, while shooting handheld (i.e. street) stabilisation should be on. 
Do You Make or Take Your Photos

Do You Make or Take Your Photos

The following article was originally published on my website BlueBeyond.com.au. I’ve decided to move it over here for reference.

Recently I read a great book called The Inner Game of Outdoor Photography by Galen Rowell , a renowned outdoor photographer from the US. This book is one of the best photography books I have read, even though it hardly even touches on technical aspects – there are no explanations of apertures and shutter speeds, except in discussing how to capture a particular image.

Instead, this is a book that delves deeply into the “inner process" of photography, and the important philosophical approaches that differentiate the snapshooter from the serious photographer. Irrespective of whether you shoot underwater or topside, outdoors or inside, close-up or wide-angle, your thought processes help you to identify potential subjects, backgrounds, compositional opportunities, lighting approaches and technical requirements to express your vision through a photograph.

One of the things that struck me on reading this book, and set my mind thinking, was that the essence of the language used by Rowell expresses his philosophy. Rowell never uses the phrase “taking a photo“ – instead he contemplates “making a photo”.

From our earliest introductions to photography, we are exposed to the phrase “take a photo", and indeed the common vernacular enshrines this expression as the standard amongst all of us. But if we stop for a minute to consider the expression, we note very quickly that it suggests a passive approach to photography – one of recording the moment.

It is no secret that the vast majority of photographers are snapshooters – people who are simply recording the moment. These “momentary records" have an important place – they show family, friends and scenes that are important to the individuals. They have a context and value to the snapshooter and those close to them. In many cases, however, these momentary records are otherwise unremarkable.

Early Light

Likewise, many underwater photographers are snapshooters, and again, their photos have a meaning to them that is also implied and contextual. They take good photos that trigger a memory for them.

In an effort to move beyond the simple snapshot, we invest time, money and effort into the process of photography. We get better equipment, we study composition and lighting, and we try to take control of the photographic situation. We are no longer passive “takers of photos" – we are looking for more than the momentary record.

We are now actively “making" our photos, not taking them.

To be active in the process of photography, whatever the setting, we need good technical skills, and good equipment. We also need a thorough understanding of our environment, the behaviour of our subjects, and how we can interact responsibly with them. We then need the mental approach to put all that together to make great photos.

Do you take or make photos?