29 Dec. 2010

Best of 2010

It's time to round up the year. I feel in one respect, this is a little unfair - I only started photography lessons in October, and if you see how far I have come (look back into the scary past here), it's no surprise most of my favourite photos are recent.

I have had a hard time deciding which of my photos are the best - partially because they are all so good (yeah, I just said that! But I am comparing my recent snaps with my old ones - not comparing mine with real photographers.) I have also got to a stage where I can quickly delete the photos that hold no beauty or sentimental value, so everything that is in my "good folder" is actually that, pretty good (for me.)

So I have narrowed it down to 15. Please don't fall asleep while scrolling all the way down - I'm really proud of them. And leave me a comment - I'd be interested to know which one you like best. And of course if anyone would like to pay me lots of money for one, that would be good too. Here's dreaming...

26 Dec. 2010

Three weddings and a quick escape

Last week I was in India. It came as payback because I am a very understanding wife who allows her husband to spend stupid amounts of money on surfing trips to the Maldives. On his own. Leaving me with the children. At home.

So one week before Christmas I cashed in our skyward miles and flew to the Kerala city of Thiruvananthapuram (Trivandrum to the thick tongued), and decamped at the Kempinski in Kovolam, taking two of my lovely female friends with me, and leaving all stresses, children and husband behind. Did I miss them? Is it bad to say that for 6 days I didn't?

One morning while sauntering down the hill from the Ayurvedic spa and my daily yoga session I was shocked to find an elephant standing outside my room. Eleven feet high with a gold headdress and a look of mild annoyance.

16 Dec. 2010

Getting ready for Christmas

It's hard not to get in the mood - everyone's talking about it. No words today - I'm off to India for a week - wooooo hoooooo! See you soon x


13 Dec. 2010

Lesson 9 - Blur

We've talked about this before, haven't we...?

But that was ages ago (at least 5 weeks), when I was still using the Canon Powershot, and it was doing all kinds of compensation for me, trying to fix my photos when I didn't want them fixed. (although at that point I did not realise that I didn't want them fixed. How far I have come...)

Now we have the photo-educated (at least partially) me, and I know there is blur... and there is bleh (rhymes with meh, and is usually accompanied by a downturning of the lips and a non-chalant shrug). I am learning that there are different ways we can use our cameras to convey a story in our images - I no longer take a photo of what I want to remember, I create an exposure from life that conveys the feeling of the moment. Blur can help us mould the image into the story we want. Bleh is simply a mistake with focus or shutter speed.

6 Dec. 2010

Assignment 8 - Chilling out

This week has got me down. All the Blogging world is getting pumped about winter, and we don't have one here in Dubai. I suppose I would also be in a temperate zone in my other home down under, but at least winter comes there (if not at the right time). But Dubai is firmly 27 degrees (81 Fahrenheit for all old schoolies), and so  given the theme "chill" (photofriday),  I have decided to take the advice of my brother when he was 13. I'm gonna chill, but like the pill.

Now I don't know if it's because last night I tuned to Discovery Science just in time to catch the beginning of Steven Hawking's Universe - Time Travel, but I have decided to connect the theme of chill with slow, and talk about shutter-speed. (By the way - he says it can't be done. The best he can get is slowing down the aging process, and I can get that done at a clinic down the road)

3 Dec. 2010

It's all in the Details

As you may have figured out, I have completed my photography course, and I have no more lessons and assignments. So I have decided to search the world wide web and complete online challenges that I believe may help my skill grow. This week at Webshots the theme is "Delicate", and this also fits in with "Macro Monday" over at Sunday Stills photography. Because I am enraptured with my new wide-angle lens, I thought it would be the perfect excuse to get it stuck in all kinds of unreasonable places, and see what it could do.

29 Nov. 2010

Lesson 8 - Camera Lux

Our final lesson. I mentioned in the previous post that I am desolate. In my everyday life, Tuesday mornings were my highlight, and now the beginners photography course is finished, I am probably going to have to go and do something ridiculous like pilates. It is Monday today, so I'm expecting quite a bit of grief tomorrow. Zahra, if you are reading this, please hurry up the intermediate course before I go and do something stupid like sign up for decoupage.

In our first lesson, Zahra took us right back to the beginning, when the camera was simply a box with a pin-hole in it that would replicate an image (upside-down) on the back wall. It was a dark room, so in the language of the day (Latin), this kooky little contraption became known as the camera obscura. Things have come a long way since then, and now we not only have digital SLR cameras (interesting that the name of our photographic contraptions translates simply as "room". The Italians must wonder what the hell we're doing, all walking around with rooms in our handbags...), but we have technology for after-photo treatment. In our lesson this week, Zahra gave us a brief introduction to Lightroom, which is an excellent place to start adjusting your photos if you are a little too immature in your photographyness to embrace Photoshop. I have affectionately renamed it in latin, Camera Lux.

26 Nov. 2010


I had my last lesson only a couple of days ago. I'm desolate....but at the same time, also inspired. I think I am actually going to keep it up. If anyone knows of any proper courses (I'm talking about the kind of thing I come out of with a bigger brain and a piece of paper with a big red star on that I can put on my wall next to all my photographs), please let me know.  Preferably it would be one that I can do in Dubai, because as much as I love photography, I'm not ready to leave my family for it. Besides, they would just track me down - my three year old has a nose on him like the mafia. (please mafia, don't come after me for saying that...)

I still have lesson 8 to summarize (a brief rundown on Lightroom 2), and an assignment that I have given myself - architecture - because Zahra gave us some great tips on getting the best out of it - and I do live in the city that has a skyline that looks like a drawer of kitchen impliments.

In the meantime, I have discovered that there are all these great blogs out there that keep us on our toes with weekly photo challenges. Photo Friday is currently asking for hands.
This is my son fiddling with the Lord's Prayer at a wedding I attended recently.

What do you get for taking up the challenge? Probably a hand...better than a finger...

22 Nov. 2010

Assignment 7 - I've never been to me

When Zahra announced the topic for this week, there was complete silence for at least thirty seconds. That doesn't sound like much, but when you are in a stuffy room with only the whir of the projector and your own crashing thoughts, it's enough time to see your life going before your eyes.

Self Portraits.

A couple of weeks ago, Zahra showed us the work of Shirin Neshat, and Iranian artist born in 1957 who has taken scores of self portraits. They are amazing. Not only because she is beautiful, but because she is passionate about her history, her sex and her race. And she has a story to tell. She is an American born Iranian, and has grown up with the contrasting views of Muslim Iran and the West, and her country has gone through a revolution that rocked the world.

I am a thirty-something sedentary housewife that is particularly lazy and gets my maid to do everything. I come from Australia (where I didn't have a maid), and the closest they have come to a revolution is a referendum concerning the English Monarchy that proved Australians are very happy with ER. (Don't know how they are going to feel about queen Camilla though...)

18 Nov. 2010


This week it is Eid al-Adha, and so there has been no photography course. It has left a surprisingly gaping hole in my planner - not because of the length (only 2 hours once a week), but because it was the only weekly activity I really looked forward to (except the thursday or friday night getting away from children thing).

Eid al-Adha is a Muslim celebration that centres around the sacrifice demanded of Abraham by God - that of his son, Ishmael. God was really just playing a dirty trick on Abraham - he wanted to see how much he was adored - test the relationship so to speak. In the end he substituted Ishmael with a ram, and so Abraham got to keep the love of God and the life of his son. Fortunately it was not me going up Mount Arafat, because I would have been asking a hell of a lot of questions.

What it means today is three days off work, inflated hotel prices, and a whole load of goats in the back of utes. Yesterday I saw a man with a shaggy nanny draped across his shoulders. Casual as anything, walking down a main road in Abu Dhabi, holding all four feet together in one hand - he'd definitely done this before. The poor old goat was just staring off blankly into the distance. I didn't have my camera ready, but remember thinking how infrequently one might see something like that on a Melbourne metropolitan street.

13 Nov. 2010

Lesson 7 - Let there be Night

I recall at the beginning of these sessions, that Zahra (teacher) had told us about the evils of using the in-built flash. It is designed for the novice, and is the brightest of all known lights. It strips your exposure bare, washes out the colour, and gives anything with eyes that 'rabbit trapped in headlights' expression. Not to mention the fact that on my lily skin it overexposes to the point that the sensor on the camera recognizes my skin as dead pixels (ie. no colour at all). We had been told to use low shutter speeds and wide aperture to compensate for darkness, and not to forget that we could also use higher ISO (although I find that anything over 400 makes my exposures unacceptably grainy. I have been told that this can be artistically pleasing, but I don't think I have the knack yet).

However today, Zahra ran us through the functionality of the flash, JUST in case we were caught in the dark with no tripod.

8 Nov. 2010

Assignment 6: man v nature

Well, not exactly man versus nature, the task this week was to take pictures that showed a relationship between the civilized and natural world.

My first port of call was a tiny marina in Jumeirah. The bleached sand, craggy rockwalls and azure sea made it hard to take an exposure with poor contrast and texture. Fishermen had left their lobster traps lying in clumps like huge wiry mushrooms. Clambering over the rocks I found an old dhow at anchor, and to my left a sad reminder of what humans so readily do to our stunning environment - rusty boats discarded like chicken bones, and jetsam hiding in watery corners and rockpools.

Second was a trip to the underwater zoo at Dubai Mall. More an expression of "man captures nature", but a relationship nonetheless. Loved dame iguana with her lipstick - reminded me of an old school principal.

Finally I took myself for a drive off into the desert. Seriously, how many people do you know who can do that between nursery drop-off and pick-up? My life is so cool. I found remnants of man in desolation, beauty in powerlines, camels be-shackled, and at the end of the line, Bab al Shams. A hotel that folds itself into the sands as perfectly as if it had grown there spontaneously. As the temperature climbed I found it hard not to strip to my underwear and jump in the idyll pools. Coffee instead. Don't want to scare the residents...

5 Nov. 2010

Lesson 6 - Regaining Focus

Do you remember the assignment where we were asked to play around with manual focus, and I got all depressed? That's because we didn't really know enough about focus way back then (all of 2 weeks ago). Today we found out there are ways of getting good focus (and blur) in your exposures
without actually shifting to MF mode.

With all the other womens' cameras (you know the sexy SLRs with fancypants lenses that I lust after), there is a switch that flicks between Auto and Manual Focus mode. On my camera the focus is automatically automatic unless you manually switch to manual. Let's assume one is happy in AF mode (yes, this one is). If we leave our focus here, we can still guide it to perfection. There are AF settings within AF, and they are for single shot or continuous. In simple Sarah words, single is for when you have a still subject, and continuous is for when you don't.

There is also a AE (auto exposure) lock, and AF (auto focus) lock function, where even if the light changes (this is assuming you are in a cheat mode like AV or TV, where this would force the camera to auto-correct) or you or your subject move positions, the settings of exposure and focus will remain locked until you half-press the shutter again. Zahra had to explain this to our imbesilic group (sorry girls, really just talking about myself here) about a hundred times before we still didn't understand it, and the I realised my camera doesnt have this function so I gave up.

1 Nov. 2010

Assignment 5 - Taking Talking Portraits

This week we were given the task of creating "talking portraits". Unfortunately this did not mean that we were allowed to add comic captions to our family happy snaps. We had to take photos of strangers that had to convey a story - or at least a feeling.

For five days I kept on spotting opportunities to fulfill my obligation, but either didn't have my camera, or was scared stiff of being either assaulted or arrested.  By Thursday, the camera came everywhere with me, and leaving the setting on 'P', I walked through my very ordinary life, finding extraordinary people everywhere I looked. Soon I began to sneak the camera out when I was positive nobody was looking (hence all the back shots), surreptitiously replacing it before I was caught.

On Sunday evening a local wedding started firing up on the opposite block. I started taking photos from my balcony, but the drums and the dancing drew me in. I tiptoed up to the fence and started snapping, even quickly having the nerve to fiddle with aperture and ISO. When a particularly stunning 6ft 6 man (really SHOULD have got a photo of him) started towards me with a couple of trailing henchmen, I had a tiny freakout, and started readying my apologies. I was totally prepared to have to delete all my photos.

They invited me in!

27 Oct. 2010

Lesson 5 - Still in the dark

Evaluative (total scene)
spot metering 
Got slapped around by Zahra today. She has been reading my blog and is highly disappointed that I have been over-simplifying her lessons, and blatantly changing them willy-nilly.

So before I corrupt her teachings further with a summary of today's adventure, I need to tell you that YOU ARE NOT ALLOWED TO SWITCH WHITE BALANCE ON AUTO. The camera is more clever than me in many ways but lacks a proprioceptor system, so it cannot tell what kind of light globes you are standing under.

Got it? Good. Now she will slap me around again for making her appear like a raving harpy (which she isn't).

Ok. Now I think today was about light distribution, and the light metering settings. But I forgot my notebook and Zahra forgot the handouts, so it may be called something completely different.

26 Oct. 2010

Assignment 4 - Losing focus

I hit a low this week. Our assignment was to practice using the manual focus, and I had already been mucking around with this - so no new thrills. In addition, I had been complaining in the previous lesson that my camera was far too helpful, and always put everything in focus. I've been struggling to get nice blur (once I thought blur was a bad thing!) and like all poor artists I blamed the equipment. (in my defense, I have a Canon Powershot SX20, not a SLR like most of the others)

Therefore, instead of getting right into it, I spent all my spare time researching SLRs on the internet. Then I told my husband that I needed to go out and buy the Canon Eos 550 at 3500 dhirims (about $1000).


And nothing (I mean NOTHING!) I could do could change his mind.

22 Oct. 2010

Lesson 4 - Cheating

Our instructor Zahra (incedentally her website is www.zahraj.com) is playing fishing games with us - she draws us in. She lets us loose. We get all tangled in the line. She draws us in again. For now she has me hook line and sinker. I wonder if she is going to kiss us and throw us back once she has finished? Probably. Let's hope we all swim off and grow and learn, rather than get infected then die and bloat.

NOW I find out that there are cheat functions we ARE allowed to use, and they are halfway back to my old comfy home, "auto". These are P, AV and TV.

P is almost exactly like auto. The camera chooses the ISO, aperture and shutter speed for you. To be honest I don't really understand any major differences to "auto", (which remains  - like the chocolate on the shelf reserved for ungrateful Halloween urchins - enticingly in plain view but entirely forbidden) except that the camera seems to assume that you don't want to use the flash, and it will allow you to fiddle with the ISO if you wish. This is a great setting to use if you are completely lost and want a starting point for all your settings - just pop it on P, and check in the display to see what the camera chooses.

20 Oct. 2010

Lesson 1 - again. Woopsie!

In what is a typical move for me, I have ignored an important issue in my rush to move onto the next big thing. Before I go any further, I must rectify this and talk about aperture.

Aperture refers to the little contraption in the camera that looks like an iris (in the eyeball, not the garden). Open wide means lots of light gets in, and closed up means little.

The really annoying thing is that the numbers on the camera are the opposite way around. Eg aperture F8 is almost closed, and F2.8 floods the light in. Can't believe I have been doing this course for 4 weeks and I still always turn the dial the wrong way.

18 Oct. 2010

Lesson 3 - White balance and Focal Point

Thursday last week saw the first true clouds above Dubai since May, and with it came a breeze that silently drove out the blasted humidity. Instead of being 35 degrees celcius and feeling 46, it was 35 with a sea breeze and just enough moisture in the air to make it smell good. This had to be celebrated with Gin and tonic, and much of it. So by the time my next lesson came around I was at the end of a 3-day hangover, and sat in the corner with my sunglasses on for the duration. Fortunately there were handouts, because things are starting to get interesting.

White balance was not my highlight, because this is often automatic and apparently the only 'auto' function we are officially allowed to use. However, it can be particularly useful in creating fake suntans on yourself and completely washing out all your attractive friends. Like black and white photography, it can also be used to create interest in a picture that may be a little dull, which I found while walking around Bastakiya (see assignment 3) - dusty brown walls can become warm teracotta, and cave-like white-washed rooms can become cozy ethnic retreats. It's very simple - just a choice in the function settings - sunny, cloudy, flourescent (my setting - instant bronzing for polar bears), tungsten and flash.

17 Oct. 2010

Assignment 2

We get to take pictures in monochrome! Oooooooh - I feel so cultured and intelligent! I believe I am starting to understand why photographs are so different to the real thing, even though they are an exact image.

1. We get to squeeze out all the rubbish, and only show the good stuff (wish somebody could do that with my double chin...)
2. We make a 3d image flat. Sometimes it is better NOT to see around corners (especially those involving my butt)
3. We control the perspective, and show the image the way we want it to be seen.

Not only that, now I am learning to control the amount of light and shade, and even the amount of colour. I find that black and white is a much better way to show light and shade (derr...), and that sometimes a dull image in colour can suddenly pop (I use that word at the danger of sounding like a DIY show host...) when the colour distraction is removed - and that the contrast is surprisingly pleasing.

assignment 3 - magnum force

Assignment 3, go and check out the website: www.magnumphotos.com and browse the photos of all these amazing and particularly famous photographers. (I am such a ninny I had only heard of one of them.) Then, when you have browsed sufficiently to form an opinion on a favourite (this took three and a half days because everything loaded at glacial pace), take their style and copy it.

But my favourite was particularly clever, and all the exact placing of things and forming structure and not making it look really wanky got a bit hard for me, so I reassessed and found something I could copy, and made Bruno Barbey my favourite. No offense intended Bruno - you are a legend.

I loved Barbey's Moroccan photos, and living in Dubai, the settings are something I can find a little of here. Bastakiya is one of the truly old places left in the land of concrete, glass and Louis Vuitton, and at 9am it is guaranteed to be silent and there is nobody there to laugh at little old me putting on my professional hat, albeit wonky. I tried to imitate the way he sought out geometry in his compositions, and the angles, the shadows and the galleries made for plenty of subject matter.

13 Oct. 2010

Lesson 2 - releasing the artist

It's time to stop looking at stuff, and start looking at stuff. We brought in our stunning attempts at photography and discovered that something can be beautiful in real life, but we cannot truly help the camera to capture its beauty unless we frame the picture properly.

Oops - well NOW we know...

Pictures need to tell a story, draw the eye, interest the viewer, inspire them or tug at their heart strings. And the way you do this is by dividing your frame into nine squares and making sure the interesting stuff sits on one of the lines, particularly where it intersects. Amazing! Seriously, it's called the rule of thirds,
and I tried it with all my favourite snaps, and 95% of them had the subject on a third intersection.

Components to make your exposures interesting are subject matters with pattern, contrast and texture. We must consider taking pictures from other positions than eye-level, which is just like missionary - practical, but after a while, a little boring. Then, you mix that with a good splashing of perspective and depth of field, and presto! Life becomes art.

Assignment 1 - ten minute art

So we were all sent off with our cameras, which after one lesson had morphed mysteriously into scarily complicated pieces of equipment, of which we had no idea how to use. All we knew was that switching back to "Auto" is absolutely forbidden.

Take a walk, 10 minutes from your home. Stop. Find beauty in your surrounds and take 10 pictures. Well, really - does she know it is 100 degrees in the shade right now, and humidity is 50%. Ugh. I drove for 2 minutes instead, then got out of the air-conditioned Volvo on an isolated stretch of Umm Suqeim beachfront, and fiddled and snapped until the sweat started to dribble into my eyes and blind me.

Then I gave up and took photos from the car the next day on the way to dropping my son off at school. I managed to get some interesting solar flare results, entirely accidental.

12 Oct. 2010

Lesson 1 - Switching off the autopilot

I bought myself a shiny new camera for Christmas. It has heaps of buttons and features, and is too big to put in my pocket. It is so completely intelligent that it can take my holiday moments and freeze them not just as I remember, but even more romantic, spontanious, fairytale and
dramatic. I am now not just a woman who takes photo, this little black box has made me a photographer.

I have found that I am unable to stop looking at my holiday pictures - and it's not only because they make me feel like I am back there, but that they
provide me with an even more perfect view - they are art. But I never even got off the "Auto" setting. Imagine what I could do if I actually knew how to use the other buttons!

And now I am learning. I have stepped into "Manual" mode. Pictures have become "exposures", and light is paramount. My journey follows......

Lesson One - an introduction to shutter speed and aperture. The faster the shutter speed, the smaller the moment in time - look at the water in the fountain. But also the shorter time there is to let light in - so you need to widen the aperture (the iris of the camera) - which ironically is a smaller number when it is open wider. We took pictures in the heat at the Dubai Ladies Club, and got all sweaty and our Prada Sunglasses fogged up only slightly less than our camera lenses.