“You can have a nice garden, or a dog. You cannot have both”.
Leonard Savage, my late Grandfather, on several occasions.
The garden of the house we rent is far from straightforward to manage. Gardening in general can be a thankless task in Australia, with the extremes of climate, most acutely high summer temperatures and little rain and also quite poor quality soils. This garden drops at least six to eight metres in elevation along its West – East axis, with the most acute drop just behind the house. When we first moved in, the lawn was present but comprised a variety of grass types, plenty of weed and was quite threadbare in places. During summer it would appear to die off, then stage a fight back come spring. In recent years though, the combination of drought and dogs has wreaked havoc. As patches of grass disappeared completely, soil erosion via rain and wind conspired to prevent the spring revival. A few aborted attempts to resew grass failed under the paws of Schaefer in some cases, or in one case of unfortunate timing, a heavy rain storm the same day washed the new seed and soil down to the bottom of the hill. One of the achievements of the garden had been the slope we look out upon, underneath a large old gumtree. Come summer, it would be a sea of various greens that was always great to look at as the sunset, with light dancing off and shining through the foliage. Alas, the dogs got to that too.
Gardens in Australia have traditionally attempted to emulate the European ancestry of much of the population. The long drought in Victoria during the first decade of this century, with the necessary water restrictions, led to a greater interest in using native, or indigenous Australian flora to populate the garden.
Our intention is to try and retain the plants that are in the garden, including some beautiful roses and agapanthus, but as far as possible only add native flora to give it the best chance of success. An obvious exception will be the lawn, because native lawns are extremely difficult to cultivate. If there were no financial considerations and it was our lawn, we would definitely consider wallaby grass or similar.
There are three key elements to the plan.
Rehabilitate the lawn
Restore the work Carolin had done on the upper slope
Create a bushland feature on the back slope.
The main constraint is budget. We are renting and at some point, we will have to move on. Therefore, we need to be careful about how much of our money we put in to the project.
Before the summer hiatus on the blog, I posted an article about The Shed That Granddad Built and included a photograph of the shed, taken with an old Sony Cybershot camera in the early 2000s. My recollections of that camera are almost entirely negative, but whilst preparing the image for posting I was pleasantly surprised that with some work on the saturation, the image was actually very usable. Around the time of that post, I was actually in a bit of a low where my photography was concerned. I have discussed my limitations as a photographer before.
I was beginning to feel as though digital photography, particularly with the advent of smartphones, instagram and so on, had become a bit of a millstone. A day trip that once may have resulted in two or three shots on a 24 exposure film can now generate literally hundreds of shots. I cannot speak for others, but my approach to digital images is to review, delete as many as possible to ensure a well curated collection remains and to then process and ‘develop’ them in Lightroom. Sometimes, one cannot be certain what to delete until some processing has taken place. It does not take much to fall behind and all of a sudden, there are several hundred photographs waiting to be reviewed and edited. Getting the mojo up to go through those can be a problem. There was a good article on The Conversation a few years ago on this subject.
I had become quite lazy with my DSLR and taken to using my iPhone. Whilst the images from the DSLR are undoubtedly better and the camera offers more flexibility, it is cumbersome to carry around. The iPhone is always there and means photo-opportunities that would otherwise be missed are captured. On the flip side, my iPhone 6 Plus takes great snapshots but there is often a sense of regret in Lightroom that I had not used the DSLR for a shot that is borderline in terms of detail, noise or low-light exposure. Over Christmas, a colleague from work lent me a Canon 50mm prime lens, which was a new experience for me as I have always used zoom lenses. My EOS 600D has an APS-C sensor, which means the 50mm is actually an 80mm equivalent lens. Additionally, the lens also had a much bigger aperture than I have used, at f1.7, meaning I had to be much more precise with my focal points when doing portraits.
Although such a lens, at 80mm equivalent, is much more narrow angle than I am interested in, something about using a higher quality lens compared to my kit lens and trying something else, stimulated a new line to pursue with photography and I set about actively looking at getting either a new camera, some prime lenses or both. I started to investigate mirrorless and full-frame, but was deterred somewhat by the cost.
Over the past couple of years, I had been contemplating purchasing an old film SLR camera as a way of doing something different with my photography. The appeal was the idea of photographing knowing the capacity to photograph on a given occasion was finite. 24 or 36 shots. The challenge was to see whether I could take what I have learnt about composition and exposure over the years and achieve satisfactory results on film, without knowing instantly whether I had succeeded or not. Recently I had been watching a few adverts on Gumtree or eBay and had almost taken the plunge, when I heard about a local retailer of old cameras and lenses. Samuel was looking at a new project for school and so between us we resolved to make exploring film our new project.
Our first camera was a Minolta XG1. The chap in the shop recommended it as a good entry-level SLR, particularly combined with a Minolta 50mm f1.7 lens. Being a 35mm negative SLR, the 50mm is 50mm. Equipped with the included roll of Kodak ColourPlus film, we set off. I had been thinking about a Canon AE-1, which gets a lot of press, but it was quite pleasing to get a Minolta, for my first SLR, a relatively modern one at the time, was a Minolta 404si. For me, it was a pleasing return to a different process. For Samuel, raised on digital as he has been, it was a voyage of discovery. Working out how the image was recorded, focusing manually, considering every aspect of the exposure as well as the composition and evaluating in advance whether the shot was worth it, or whether a better option lay ahead. It was great to watch and to share that experience with him. For my part, I found it quite liberating to give such consideration to each exposure and then have the suspense of waiting until the whole film was exposed and developed to see the result. I must confess, we did not take an entirely luddite approach to things. We used our iPhones as light metres and on occasions, the Canon DSLR to help metre the shots, but as the Minolta has less flexibility (the ISO is what the film is, the shutter speed does not go faster than 1/1000) it was down to the final choice of parameters we selected, rather than an algorithm. The most rewarding thing was perhaps the way it made us seek out opportunities. For both of us, our photography had become a sense of “shoot that in case it is good”, rather than “that looks great like that, the light is here, this would be an interesting exposure, let’s do it”. I think it might be fair to say that shooting film and contemplating whether to take a shot actually allowed us to see things in more detail, or with more consideration, than if we had randomly photographed with our phones or the Canon.
We spent a day together travelling clockwise around Port Phillip Bay, using the Sorrento to Queenscliff ferry to cross the heads, exploring the Bellarine Peninsula and then Wiliamstown before coming home. Along the way, we expended much of the first film and excitedly took it to developers the next day. This was interesting in itself, because along with our joy at seeing what we had captured, came the slightly bitter sense of failure that was familiar to film-users for decades. Sadly, the Minolta had a light-leak or a shutter fault and so a number of negatives had been spoilt. Nevertheless, we managed to crop and balance a few and came out with a collection we were happy with. We returned the Minolta and came away with an alternative model and another roll of film. I was so enthused with the concept, that I also purchased a 28mm lens. Also manual everything. Samuel was so captivated that he took my cousin up on the loan of a large-format, bellows camera and we are sourcing negatives for it currently. That will be a whole other project.
The images from the Minolta have a tone and grain that make them quite alluring, although perhaps more grain than I recall from an ISO200 film. A well metered and exposed negative has phenomenal dynamic range. They cannot hope to compare to a modern full-frame digital in terms of sharpness, colour and flexibility to edit, but I like them. Shooting film and digital will complement each other nicely and I will buy that full-frame DSLR/Mirrorless within the next couple of years. Digital photography has, after all, allowed me to develop as a photographer via multiple shots and freedom to experiment without concern about the cost of developing and printing. It’s nice to have my mojo back.
When I came up with the idea to blog again, I sketched out a plan for a podcast and companion blog that would allow me to fulfil my ambition to create and publish a podcast. I simply needed to finish my exams at work, then I would have time. As it transpired, when the exams were done I found the last thing I wanted to do was spend more time afore a computer, working on nearly anything. It was time for the outside world, some old hobbies and some new and certainly nothing that would prompt me to spend anymore time sat at the computer. So I shelved it. I’ve kept the notes, so who knows, perhaps the podcast will happen at some point. Meanwhile, I’ll write from time to time.
The Australian summer has not been a quiet time though and I have really enjoyed a number of things. I have aspired to make life a little simpler and am pleased to reflect that I have been successful. Posts on these matters will follow. As well as completing my Specialist Training at work, I scratched an itch that had been present for almost as long as I can remember and joined the fire brigade as a volunteer firefighter. I am now coming towards the end of my recruit training and hope to be operational within the next four to six weeks. Being part of the team certainly beats walking past most evenings
My maternal grandfather, Denis, was a tremendous craftsman, although he had little in the way of formal training. As I write this, it occurs to me to wonder how he acquired his skills because for a large part of his 83 years, there was no internet or YouTube to learn from. When computers and the internet did emerge, he wanted no part of them.
His particular skills were in carpentry and woodwork, although he was capable of building an entire house, except for gas installation and electrical wiring. When my parents brought their home, which required significant renovation at the time, Granddad built a large shed at the back of the garden. I believe this was around 1974.
The shed stood for decades. It may still be there, but a Google Earth view is not clear enough for me to tell. It spanned the two-thirds of the width of the back garden, had a wood store in the roof with a hatch through which planks could be fed and two windows that could be propped open. Inside was a large work bench and all the other junk a family accumulates over time. Dad had run an electric supply up to it, so it had lightning and power. Both Dad & Granddad had overlooked a source of heating though, so it could be quite chilly in the winter.
I used to enjoy pottering up in the shed, somehow thinking I was engaging in woodwork or other construction activities, but in reality simply fiddling about with tools I did not understand whilst trying to make things, despite not being entirely sure what I was trying to make. I credit my passion for sheds to the many hours I spent there.
In my teens, I had an old radio, that had belonged to Great Aunt Edith, which was in perfect condition. I would contentedly listen to the radio whilst drinking tea and achieving not much else.
Sometime in the third decade of the shed’s existence, the side of the shed that contained the door developed rot, due to pooling water and the frame was in danger of giving out each time the door was opened. Undaunted by a singular lack of ability in the area of construction and unaware, at that time, that Granddad mixed concrete that will resist nuclear explosion*, I set about effecting a repair. I decided to cut out the entire rotten section, slide in a new piece which could be secured with various splints and screws to the existing frame, then drill the new piece into the armageddon-proof concrete and paint it. Simples.
I purchased the required wood, cut it to size, extracted the rotten section and pushed in the new one. So far, so good. Securing the new section to the frame would be similarly uncomplicated. I paused for a cup of tea, delighted with my progress and surprised that thusfar, my usual DIY misadventures had not shown up to hamper me.
It was at this point that inspiration struck me. The replacement section would surely benefit from a nice metal plate covering it, in order to protect the wood from chips as bicycles, lawn mowers and so on were pushed in and out of the shed. We were in the process of dumping and old metal filing cabinet that no longer had opening drawers, so I took a hack saw to part of it and fashioned a three sided plate to fit around the section of wood under the door. I elected to drill through this with a metalwork drill bit, through the wood with a woodwork drill bit and finally into the concrete to site plugs and masonry screws to secure the frame, via the new section, into the base. This is where the wheels fell off. Drilling the metal and wood was fine. Drilling the masonry cost me three masonry drill bits and a trip to the DIY shop to buy new bits, before there were holes sufficient to admit the plugs and screws. This inconvenience led to much muttering and cursing on my part, but was soon forgotten once I had put the section in place, proudly bonded to the end-of-the-world resisting concrete, secured it to the frame and painted both the wood and, later, the metal. It looked as good as new. Later, on a visit to the UK, the great man himself, Granddad-Who-Built-The-Shed, surveyed it and gave a seal of approval.
Granddad was responsible for a number of sheds in the family and I helped him to build at least one of them, at Roy’s house. I suspect this one is probably not still standing. Mostly because we built it on plinths of paving slabs, as Roy had not got the base quite ready. From memory, there were six plinths. One at each corner and one each in the middle of the longest sides. The last I knew, when Roy sold the house some years ago, and many years after Granddad and I erected the shed, the base had still not quite been laid.
*I wish I could remember the ratios of cement powder to sand and ballast that Granddad used, but despite him telling me many times, I cannot. Suffice to say that when a builder saw him mixing cement once, he observed that he would never be able to employ Granddad because the cement bill would be too much for the business to bear.
During the summer, I crew on a Couta boat for various races. Usually, the Twilight races at Mornington Yacht Club on a Thursday evening. The boat, C1992 Camilla Rose, has spent the winter ashore at Corsair Boats having a bit of work done, the annual out of water check-up if you like. Today, another crew member and I met Mark, from Corsair, and his colleague and between us we launched Camilla Rose.
A Couta boat has a significant amount of lead in the keel to act as ballast. In our case, between 1.5 and 2 tonnes. This takes the form of 7 – 8kg blocks. They all come out before hauling her out and all must go back in once she is afloat. Then, the mast needed to be re-stepped and the boom and gaff replaced.
Thereafter, Darren and I motored her from Mt Martha up to Mornington Yacht Club, where she is now moored awaiting our further attention and racing. Before we can race though, we need to get the sails back on. Hopefully we will do this next week.
This picture is just after she went afloat, sans lead, hence she is sitting so high in the water.
Here is a film I made earlier this year. Whilst visiting family, I took my teenage son to the park he used to visit as a youngster. He wanted to have a play on the climbing frames he remembered so well.
It was a spring day, the sun was shining, but still low in the sky given the time of year. The light it cast across the park was quite special.
I had recently downloaded Filmic on to my iPhone 6 Plus and so, quite spontaneously, Joshua and I decided to shoot a bunch of scenes for a film. We lacked a particular concept, but as I filmed and then edited, thoroughly enjoying the control that Filmic offers, a short movie emerged that we think shows the wistful nostalgia of a teenage boy enjoying the climbing frame, the park and the trees, but knowing that a time of great change is approaching.
We hope you enjoy the movie and look forward to any comments you might have.
Back in July 2016, we went whale watching during a circumnavigation of Phillip Island. We were fortunate to see a Southern Right Whale on our excursion, as well as numerous dolphins. It really was breathtaking to see these wonderful creatures close to and I look forward to repeating the trip next year.
This photo means a lot to me. I took it from the back door of our home in Attleborough, Norfolk, in May 2009. I remember the morning very clearly. It was a beautiful spring day.
Our home was a small, one and a half bedroom, starter home. We moved there in 2003 with Samuel, Joshua was born the following year, then we left in 2010 when we migrated to Australia. The house was so tiny but very cozy and we were extremely happy there. We shared the home with Micky, the collie in the foreground who was the most wonderful and devoted pet for thirteen years. Gina, just in front of him, was an independently minded cat that we had as a kitten. We re-homed her before we left because the area of Australia that we now reside in has a ban on cats being outside. It would have been intolerable for her to be a house cat, not to mention completely confined during quarantine so sadly we had to leave her. Micky survived his flight and 30-day quarantine, and lived the last five years of his life here in Australia, enjoying trips to the beach and local walks. He was truly a wonderful dog.
The Yukka tree in the pot and the Eucalyptus behind the play house were my wife’s way of having bits of Australia in her British life. The Eucalypt was free but later cost me money to have cut down when it grew taller than the house and somewhat more fragile. The climbing frame, playhouse and sandpit (under cover) kept the children entertained for many years and in some ways I still miss them. We did dismantle the climbing frame and transport it with us, but it never went back together as intended, stood in our garden for year unsafe to be used and has finally been dispatched.
The house is still ours. When we check it on return visits, we wonder how we managed in such a tiny place, but equally part of me hankers for the simplicity of a small house and a more minimalist lifestyle, the like of which is probably not possible with teenagers.
A few years ago, I stopped using Flickr for a while. I had enjoyed photography immensely and become quite fascinated with it. I felt I was accomplished with the technical side, ISO, aperture, shutter speed etc., and reasonably proficient with post-processing in Lightroom, but still my photographs lacked something. As with music, it seems I am able to learn technical skills, but not artistic skills. The artistic photographer, with a mediocre camera, will create something remarkable that I could not hope to capture with an expensive device, however well I set it up.
Eventually, I reached an accommodation with myself, accepting that I would have to take photographs as best I can and be content with that. It’s better than not taking any photographs at all. The enforced break helped me to think about things and come back a little better in terms of how I approach cameras and photography.
This photograph is interesting on a number of levels that all relate to above.
Firstly, it is taken on an old (four years old at the time) iPhone 4S. Not the Canon DSLR.
Secondly, it’s my second most viewed photograph on Flickr (after the Explore picture) and it went wild shortly after being posted, without actually making Explore. Sort of proves the point about the camera quality versus the picture.
Thirdly, I didn’t take it. My wife did. She would not be certain what an aperture or shutter speed is, nor particularly concerned about ISO. Which proves the point about artistry versus technicality. She is very artistic with a camera, paint or a musical instrument.
To give myself some credit, I enhanced it in post-processing. The original had a reasonably exposed foreground, with poor white balance, no detail in the shadows and a blown out sky. Not completely blown out, clearly, as I recovered detail, but significantly over-exposed. Through Gradient Filters in Lightroom, I was able to create the balanced exposure above and an atmosphere that I really like.
It is my custom most evenings that I am not at work, to walk the dogs in the evening to settle them down for the night. They have their main big walk, swim, play during the morning and this walk is a nice way to round off their day and mine.
We take a couple of short routes, either down to the fire station and back, or out along the highway a short way and back. I have always loved night photography and the different colours and shadows that one gets when photographing at night. Despite that, it rarely occurs to me to actually go and photograph at night, either because I am at work or happily tucked up in bed.
Although I am not in the fire service, I have always felt a degree of associate membership of the global firefighting community as my paternal grandfather, four of his five children and one of his nephews are, or were, firefighters. Granddad served 38 years and finished his career in charge of his fire station. He was a well respected Sub-Officer and had a distinguished career. Dad was extremely passionate about the fire service and equally well respected as a firefighter and junior officer. With the often found hero-worship that sons apply to their fathers, I dreamt of following in his footsteps and becoming a firefighter. My not insignificant myopia prevented me from achieving that particular ambition.
Fire stations and fire engines still hold the same fascination to the adult me as they did the five-year-old me. So walking past the station each night it quickly became my intention to photograph it. For this shot, I used my iPhone 6 Plus and tried out an app called “Camera +” which offers greater control over the camera settings than the standard iOS camera app. Using Camera + I could separately control focus point, exposure and ISO to try and create a clear, balanced shot. Unfortunately, on this particular evening two out of three engines were away, but in many ways, the actual engines were secondary to what I intended to achieve on this occasion. Overall I’m comfortable with the final image, but attempts to reduce the ISO noise in Lightroom did cause some loss of detail.
If I wanted a perfect version of this shot, I would take my SLR and a tripod, it is really the only way to get good night shots. The biggest limitation to iPhone photography is the lack of aperture control, so I have stopped using Camera +. It was worth a try. If I take the tripod, though, my true anorak self will be revealed so I best leave the secret with you…..