Smoke and Mirrors

It’s Sunday morning as I look out the window I discover it’s overcast, humid and storms are forecast to roll in within the hour – Another typical weekend during spring storm season.  There go the plans to get out into the sunshine and enjoy a walk in nature with my camera.

I have two choices in front of me, I can curl up in my favourite chair in the family room with a good book, a cup of tea and a tim tam or I could head into the studio for a little rainy day fun play.

As enticing as curling up with a book is I am itching for a little camera time.  So heading into the studio wins, time to have some fun with smoke photography.  You don’t need much equipment to play with this type of photography, all you need is incense burner tray, some incense, lighter, camera, macro lens, 1 or 2 flash units and some triggers.

In the studio I set up a black table with a black fabric backdrop behind the table.  Placing the incense in the burner tray and setting 2 flashes with their triggers (one on each side of the burner) making sure they are close but far enough away so the flash won’t be in the frame within the photo.

Now let’s have some fun – I grab my camera, light the incense and start taking some photos.  (Photo Tip – Make sure that you focus on the tip of the stick of incense as the camera will not focus on the smoke.)   With smoke photography, in my opinion, there is no right or wrong photos – each photo is unique is dependent how the smoke reacts.   You will see so many patterns form depending on what you do.


To add some variety and to see what happens with the smoke, I added a fan on the floor to create a wind effect, I also tried the “whack it” approach (I was taught this special technique from some very experienced tutors).  For clarification and a safety warning – you whack the table whilst at the same time being careful not to knock anything over or send your flash flying, it really is an art form you need to master.


At the end of the day it is amazing what you capture just by the movement of smoke.  Why don’t you give it a go yourself this weekend.  (Another quick tip – I have found it much more fun to have a couple of friends around whilst playing, you may end up laughing more than taking photos – a great way to spend a rainy day  🙂 )

Until next week.


ND Filter Play

It’s a nice warm Saturday morning and after some time in the office it was time to get out and enjoy the sun.  A perfect opportunity to grab the camera bag and finally try out my new (well I have had it since April) ND Filter.  I have a specific photo in mind that I am wanting to capture so it’s a trip to the beach, somewhere with rocks.  I know just the place, time to head south.

Arriving at Hastings Point around 11.30 I find the tide is on the way out, a little further out than I was hoping but why let that get in the way.  So I head off down the track to the beach from the point lookout scouting the location for a good spot to set up.

Now most people who understand photography would be screaming that it is the wrong time of day to get great photos, the sun is high and harsh – balancing light is a real challenge.  This is where my new ND Filter comes into play.  It’s a Hoya ND 500 (for the tech heads that’s 9 stops of light loss).  I can still achieve that slow silky water look by adding this filter on my lens.

Finding a somewhat good location I proceed to set up my tripod keeping it quite low, almost dangerously close to the water should a good wave come in.  After setting up and turning on the live view option on my camera (thinking that it will be easier to see what I am about to photograph) right you may think – wrong.  The sun is streaming down restricting my view of the screen, the tripod is so low that unless I am going to become a mermaid I can’t see through the viewfinder.

Plan B, pick a focus point, put camera back on tripod, switch to manual mode, screw on ND, dial in settings, push button on cable release and hope for the best 🙂 (yes, that’s right – hope for the best).  On first attempt I used a shutter speed of 30 seconds, image looked a little over cooked (over exposed or blown out), so I dial it back to 15 seconds and go again.  Now to see if I am actually capturing anything decent, I pick up the camera (tripod and all) and head over to my bag, using my tshirt and hat I cover the screen to see how my photo looks.  YES – success of some sort, now my horizon is completely falling off the universe (sorry Aug 🙂 ) so will have to fix that in processing (note – not a good habit to get into).

Ok 2 photos down now to try again in a slightly different position.  So I start the process all over again.  This goes on for just about 1/2 an hour and then I decide I must get a photo from another angle, problem is there is a rock in the way and the water is coming in the area I want to put my camera.  So another plan B – I use the rock to hold the tripod from going into the water.  Just to make sure whilst taking the photo I have one hand very close to holding the tripod just in case the water takes the tripod and camera.  Very happy I made that decision as just before I go to take the next shot the wave comes in, drenches my jeans but missing the tripod and camera.  Time to pack up and head home.

After downloading my photos I am pleasantly surprised with the results but as with all things in life, mastering the techniques required is a work in progress and I can’t wait for the next opportunity to play again.

Close to my vision Black & White mist with rocks and water

Close to my vision
Black & White mist with rocks and water

Colour Versions  Left side - Abstract Pastels Right side - Colours of Sunshine

Colour Versions
Left side – Abstract Pastels
Right side – Colours of Sunshine

A few things I learned from today –  Looking at the RAW images I could have pushed the shutter speed to around 20 seconds and got a little better exposure straight out of camera.  I need a back up plan for viewing images and less clothing 😉 .  A few more tips when doing this type of photography, make sure when your camera is on a tripod you turn off any image stabilization on your lens and most importantly clean all your equipment when you get home from the beach – that includes giving your tripod a good long shower (yes, you heard right) as salt water and sand will damage and seize up your equipment real fast.

Until next week.


Photography Workshops and Retreats Tips

You are really in for a treat this week.  I am honored to bring you a guest blog from Photography Workshops and Retreats, who are based here on the Gold Coast.

So many of us love to photograph the food we eat, we snap it on our phones and share it on social media to tease our friends. With all the festivities at this time of year we thought we’d share some great tips to help you snap some delicious food shots that are sure to make your Instagram and Facebook friends jealous.

Lighting is everything. Shoot in natural light when possible. What do we mean by natural? Find a light, bright space, ideally a room with natural light streaming through a window. If the light is mostly to one side of the dish, it will add contrast and texture to your image and that’s a good thing! 

Pay attention to composition. Composition is how the food is arranged on a plate or the placement of the plate of food within a table setting.

Try different angles for different food types.  Try taking a photo looking slightly down on the food/dish rather than straight on. There will be times when a photo from directly above will work really well.

Experiment with styling. White plates are beautiful and most food will nearly always look great on them, but different is great too. Christmas time allows you to use beautifully coloured plates to give a fun, festive feel to your table. Try placing bonbons or festive decorations around the table to create an extra element of interest.

How close is too close. You want to be close enough to capture the texture and colour of your dish but not so close that you loose focus. Either fill your entire image with food only or pull back enough to see the whole plate setting.

Fresh is best. Photograph the food while it is as fresh as possible. Enjoy!

One final tip:  In the wonderful world of digital images it doesn’t cost you anything to try a variety of shots, angles, compositions and styling methods. If you only remember one thing, it’s this, photography should be fun, so get clicking, enjoy creating new images and remember to take the photos before too many bottles of bubbly have been consumed 😉

Photography Workshops and Retreats run weekend photography retreats at Couran Cove Island Resort. How to photograph food is one of many tutorials covered during their weekend photography retreat. We hope you enjoyed these ‘teaser tips’ which are sure to help you capture great images this festive season. A special thank you goes to Chef Chris of The Restaurant at Ramada Couran Cove for preparing such delicious food for us to photograph. *All images were taken during one of our tutorials on our Weekend Photography Retreat.

Thank you Kassy for featuring us this week.

Photography Workshops and Retreats is run by award winning professional photographers, Sheryn Ellis and Anita Bromley. They have been sharing their photography knowledge and teaching photography workshops for 5 years now and between them they have already tutored more than 3000 people.

Their teaching method is fun, relaxed, no jargon and hands on. All of your questions are answered, techniques shared, notes provided and most importantly you will be given assistance even after you’ve attended a workshop or retreat.

Photography Workshops and retreats offer a variety of short courses as well as Weekend Photography Retreats for anyone with an interest in photography and a love of light. If you’d like to learn more, please subscribe to them HERE or check them out on Facebook or simply email your questions directly to them:

Why Add A Texture Or Background To An Image?

What is the benefit of adding a texture or background to an image?

I believe adding a texture or swapping a background in an image can often be the difference between having a ‘good photo’ and creating a ‘great image’.

I don’t add textures or backgrounds to all of my images however there are circumstances where their inclusion certainly creates a wow factor!

Do I use my own images as textures and backgrounds? Yes, the majority of the time I do. Last year I started building a collection of photos for the sole purpose of creating my own texture and background library.

What’s the benefit of using my own texture or background to one I can download from the internet? The main reason I’m building my own collection/library of images is due to a number of photography competitions where the rules state that every aspect of the final image must be 100% created by you.  If I was to purchase and/or use images downloaded from the internet I would not be eligible to enter these competitions. It’s been the driving incentive for me to photograph my own set of ‘stock’ images to use as textures or backgrounds.

As I have added to my library I’ve discovered that there are some images that just don’t work well as a texture overlay however they do make excellent background layers.  For instance, I took a photo of a bright green, timber textured wall. I wanted to see what it would look like if I changed the colour and toned it down – would it pass for a texture?  In this particular circumstance it didn’t work well as a texture however I really liked it as a background. Here are the steps I took to create this image.

Here is the original image – a section of the bright green, timber textured wall.

My original texture or background photo

My original texture or background photo

I processed the image in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom by adjusting the white balance, Temp 12941, Tint +150; vibrance went to negative 62 (-62) and the orange saturation slider was also pushed to negative 48 (-48).

Colour adjusted through Lightroom - New texture

Colour adjusted through Lightroom – New texture

The Lightroom processing was a good start to creating a texture of background. I opened the processed image in Adobe Photoshop, added a couple of filters, adjusted the curves and now I have a base image I’m happy with.

Snapshot of Photoshop working on the texture

Snapshot of Photoshop working on the texture

Now for the fun part, to play and see what happens.  I chose a photo from my glamour photography session earlier this year with Heather.

Original photo of Heather

Original photo of Heather

Then opened my texture/background and moved the texture into the image, creating another layer.  I then dropped the opacity of the new layer to 35%.  In my opinion having the lines throughout (overlaid as a texture) really didn’t work as they were too strong across Heather, even with the opacity turned down.  I decided to mask off the area covering Heather so the texture was now only visible as a background.

Merging the two photos and Playing in Photoshop

Merging the two photos and Playing in Photoshop

To finish off I soften the whole image with a couple of my favourite filters.

My final Image of Heather on the new and improved background.

My final Image of Heather on the new and improved background.

The possibilities truly are endless when playing with textures and backgrounds. You are only limited by your imagination.

Until next week.




Photography Tips – Get Back that Creative Edge

Do you find yourself getting so excited about photography that you get to the location pull out your camera and start clicking away and then get home and wonder why your photos just look the same/similar to others?

During a recent photography outing, I admit I was guilty of doing just that – click and run.  What’s more embarrassing is my non-photographer partner was the one to burst my bubble and state the fact! I began to wonder where my creative edge had gone.

So on my photography outing, (aka location scouting trip) last weekend, I was determined to put this to the test and found a lighthouse to photograph, just a plain white, boring small lighthouse.  I took photos from a distance, photos up close, photos of interesting parts, photos from each side.

I thought I was done but I had again forgotten some key elements, look at the different perspectives and angles, look at the light and shadows, get down low, get up high (if you can) get up close and personal and shoot from afar.

The lessons I look away from my outing gave me the idea to put together some photography tips to get creative juices flowing

  • Look at the subject you want to photograph first, walk around it.
  • Think about how you want to capture it, what do you want the image to say? – spend some time first getting to know your subject – don’t just click and run.
  • Look at the light/shadows, are they creating interesting light and/or patterns.
  • Look at your surrounding elements – do you want them as well?
  • When you pick up your camera, now shoot each element, get down low/high and shoot it “until it’s dead”, you may be surprised at the outcome.
Different Angles & Elements make the Photos

Different Angles & Elements make the Photos

Near or Far, Different Elements or One Element make these photos interesting

Near or Far, Different Elements or One Element make these photos interesting

I hope some of my personal experience will help and inspire you to create something a little different the next time you are out with your camera.

Until next week.