Friday, February 28, 2014

Lions, bats, hawks and dragons.

Unfortunately I didn't shoot any of those animals, a dragon would be cool, maybe even cooler than a unicorn, but we all know how hard they are to find and shoot.

Chinese new year just passed earlier this month and they sent me down to Crown street mall and the Nan Tien buddhist temple to shoot some lunar new year celebrations. Nan Tien is beautiful, it's the largest buddhist temple in the southern hemisphere I hear, architecturally very beautiful with fantastic gardens as well. Having spent the last couple of Chinese New Year's in Gladstone it was nice to come to a city where they had a lion running and jumping around. Obviously it's not Melbourne, Sydney or Asia but hey, it's better than nothing.

Sometimes in my job I have to go and photograph things that are pretty confronting, things that make me feel uneasy, usually i'm not too bothered by things, i've been to my fair share of fatals, sure they're bad, I don't enjoy seeing people die, but i'm usually pretty distant from it. I'm an observer just documenting what's happening in front of me, however this time it was different. 

I wasn't at a fatal shooting someone who had driven into a truck and killed themselves at 100km/h, or someone who had been murdered by their significant other, it was a bat, a grey fruit bat. We covered a story about people putting nets over their fruit trees because they didn't want birds or bats eating their fruit, sounds fair enough, when I was growing up my uncle would always put nets over his apple tree to deter the birds - and it worked - however I never thought about what would happen if they got trapped or if they ever injured themselves on the nets. 

The job description for this was pretty basic "meet such and such who is a carer of fruit bats." in my head I had the perfect shot, she would be smiling at me and her arm would be out with some bats hanging off her. Brilliant photo, lets go. 

I walked up and introduced myself and prepared for my shoot, I asked to see the bat we'd be shooting. She scurried off to the other room and pulled a bat out of a cage who'd been severely injured when caught in nets. 

It was not what I expected, he was dying, practically dead. She pulled him out slowly and he let out what seemed like his final breath, the smell of rotting fruit is what struck me. Here was this little creature about to die, dying right in front of my lens. 

I'm usually not bothered by these things but anything to do with animals hits me right to the core. We shot him for about 10 minutes and when we put him back, Sandra, the fruit bat volunteer told me. "He's gone." She slowly put him back in the cage and covered him with his blanket. 

Feeling pretty despondent I asked to see if she had any bats which were on the up, not so.. dead, to be blunt, luckily she had some.

Speaking of 'on the up' the Wollongong Hawks won their 4th game in a row last week against the New Zealand breakers. The hawks have been pretty up and down this year, unfortunately NBL is no where near as big here as it is in other countries, there are rumours of clubs shutting down due to lack of funding and low ticket sales, but the Hawks are one of, if not the only original club left since the inception of the NBL in the 70's. They're playing for their 5th win in a row tonight, fingers crossed they get there.

Last week I shot my first NRL game, I don't know anything about league but being in a stadium with thousands of fans cheering really gets the hairs on your neck to stand up. I've shot league before but never at a professional level. I don't know any of the players, hopefully I can learn them within the next few months so shooting them and identifying them will be a LOT easier. 

End of an era

When I drove into Wollongong for the first time nearly 6 months ago, the first thing I saw on the horizon was the Port Kembla stack. It's hard to not notice it, standing nearly 200m high it was the tallest thing in the Wollongong skyline.

Within my first few days of working at the Mercury, I was told that the stack was going to come down, it was going to be blown up. How could you not be excited about that?! I'd never seen anything get blown up or demolished before, so as you could guess, I was pretty excited.

However, the months passed and the stack was still standing, I grew to really like the stack. As a non Wollongong local, it was always reassuring to drive into Wollongong and see the stack standing so high in the skyline acting like a beacon to navigate your way back.

When the date was finally confirmed as to when the stack was going to come down we went in a frenzy shooting everything and anything stack related. As the weeks went by it seemed that we shot something stack related everyday, safe to say, we were all pretty relieved when it was all over and done with.

On the day of the stack demolition I made sure to wake up nice and early, 5am early, to get some sunrise shots of the stack for the last time. Unfortunately where I was situated I had a pretty average sunrise, the skies were pretty washed out and the light was in a less than ideal place to get nice colours in the sky. I set myself up with a 200mm lens with a 2x converter to get in tight enough to see the stack but not so tight as to cut out the lake and houses on the horizon.

And just like that, it was over and done with. 4 years to build, stood high in Wollongong for 50 years, felled in 20 seconds. 

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Meikon underwater housing review

A few of weeks ago I pulled the trigger and bought an underwater housing for my NEX, I had a long weekend coming up and paid for express shipping hoping that I would arrive in the 3-5 days like it said. It didn't, it took 2 weeks and last week I finally received my underwater housing for my NEX after a delay due to the eBay store having issues with their supplier.

When it finally arrived I was immediately struck with how well the housing was built. To be honest, I haven't played with many underwater housings but this certainly didn't look or feel cheap considering it was only $120AUD.

The Meikon housing is rated to withstand depths of up to 40m. I tried to find some information on the Meikon housings for NEX but it was pretty hard to come by. From the few pages that I did find, people said that the camera started playing up around 20m due to the pressure it had on the housing. Luckily as a snorkeller I have not encountered any problems and find it to be a perfect housing for free diving <10m nbsp="" or="" p="" so.="">

There are 2 models for the NEX, the 16mm and the 18-55mm. I opted to go for the 18-55 because I didn't want to be restricted to only using one lens. The 18-55 gives me a few more options when it comes to shooting underwater as I can zoom the lens a little bit if I don't want something too wide and I can also put my 35mm lens into the housing which I have found to be a great lens underwater.

Like I mentioned before, the housing is built extremely well considering the cost. It has all the buttons to allow full control of the camera, which can be handy if you want to do any full manual controls underwater. I'm pretty lazy and leave it on aperture priority and let the camera do the rest. The buttons are useable, but underwater they can be a bit of a hassle to use.

The case adds a fair bit of size to the NEX and as a result, the ergonomics are a bit difficult to get used to when compared to using the NEX natively with no case. The shutter button is in a little bit of an awkward position due to the added size of the case and some of the buttons require a bit of force to push in in order to get them to respond. It's not overly difficult but can be a little annoying when you're wanting to do things relatively quickly.

My biggest surprise when using the housing was how buoyant the actual case is. It does not sink. at all.

The waterproofness of the case is pretty good, there's a tight seal around the edges of the housing with an O ring and also comes with some water resistant lubricant which should be used every time you go in the water. The case has 2 locks or hinges to unlock before the case can be opened, there is a top hinge which doesn't really do much in terms of keeping water out and actually doesn't do much at all. The main lock is located on the right and makes up the grip of the housing, it requires a pinch action to unlock two hinges which opens the housing. I'm always a little paranoid that I will accidentally bump the latches and the case will open underwater - fortunately it hasn't happened yet, touch wood.

Overall i'm extremely happy with the Meikon underwater housing. The only gripe that I do have with it, is the inability to pop the flash up or down when it is inside the case. This is only a small gripe, but sometimes I don't want the flash to fire and the only way I can turn the flash off is to open up the case and pop the flash back down. This is only a small issue, but for $120 I really shouldn't be complaining.

Until next time.