Tuesday, March 27, 2012

To Beach Or Not To Beach

It's not rocket science to realise why taking your camera to the beach might be a bad idea. I can pretty much sum it up in one word: SAND. Well... maybe two: SAND & WATER. There is an abundance of both of them, which makes taking your camera to the beach kind of dangerous.

The danger of water is two-fold. There is the water that makes up the ocean (ie. Do not take your camera into the water with you unless you have a waterproof cover for it) and then there is the mist that is thrown up by the wind that can cause about as much damage as, well, mist! Moisture is not a good thing for your camera. You don't want it!

The danger of sand is slightly less obvious, but makes sense if you think about it. Sand gets everywhere. Anyone who has spent any amount of time at the beach will have realised this. You spend the days after visiting the beach discovering the new and exciting places where the sand has hidden itself. And you do not want your sand to hide itself anywhere near your camera. A grain of sand, as small as it is, can cause a lot of damage when it gets into the wrong place and, with the addition of wind, can be really harmful to your camera. You don't want the sand to get into the zoom mechanism. You don't want it blowing against your lens or getting into the crevices of your lens cap. When I say you don't want sand, I really really mean it! Keep it far far far away!

And yet, the benefits of taking your camera to the beach are clear. Just look at the amazing photos of the beach and you will see what they are. Those aspects that are a threat to your camera are a dream for your photography! So, the real question would be: Is it worth the risk?

I decided to take my chances last week when a public holiday presented itself and I found myself with nothing to do. The weather was supposed to be perfect, so some friends decided that it was the perfect opportunity to drive to Kenton on Sea, about an hour outside of Grahamstown, and take advantage of it. I hmmed and haaed about whether to bring my camera along and eventually decided to go for it. I packed it in my small bag (not wanting to take my full kit with me) along with a spare lens and headed off.

At first, there was no doubt in my mind that bringing the camera had been a great idea. The sky was the perfect shade of blue, the water was stunning and everything was just coming together to create great photo opportunities. We walked up dunes, down sand banks, around cliffs and eventually found ourselves in a secluded paradise. The water was turquoise and relatively warm considering the time of year. We found ourselves a nice spot out of the way and left our stuff behind while we ran into the open arms of the ocean. (Which reminds me - another negative about taking your camera to the beach can be safety if everyone you know is heading away from your stuff, leaving it susceptible.)

And then, from nowhere, the weather turned. The wind picked up into a minor storm and people raced from the beach as fast as they could manage. Having driven an hour to get there and only having had about 5 minutes of beach time, we were reluctant to give up. Instead, we wandered through the sandstorm trying to find a shaded spot. Which we eventually found. But, remember what I said about your camera + sand + wind? Not a good combination! I tried to keep it in the shelter of my handbag, but alas there was sand in there too. Once the wind died down a bit, I retrieved the camera once again and, lo and behold, there was sand on the lens and pretty much everywhere else. And yet, that didn't stop me. I managed to wipe off most of the sand from the camera itself and used my blower to get rid of the grains that were residing on my lens, and I kept shooting. And I got some great shots! I was really happy with the photos that came out of the day!

So was it worth it? To be honest, I am in two minds. I am thrilled with the pictures that were taken, so much so that I want to go back as soon as possible. And yet, I am still worried about my camera and the wear and tear that it may have taken from the outing. Taking your camera to the beach with you is a risk. If you are prepared for that risk and for anything to happen, then I would highly recommend taking it, particularly if you are heading somewhere picturesque. But don't take your camera with you unprepared. Bring your cleaning kit, bring an extra (sand-friendly) bag and if any dangers present themselves, run like the wind. Or hide your camera and keep enjoying yourself. Either way will work :)

What dangerous circumstances has your camera faced recently?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Breaking Barriers

World Record Attempt

Shaun Gordon and Kevin McMenamin
73 hours and 34 minutes

72 hours and 2 minutes. That was the time to beat. A full three days of non-stop pool playing to win a world record. Personally, I think it is nuts. I like my sleep, rather a lot in fact, and am not much of a pool player. But for those who are avid players and are willing to try, it is a daunting task. Three days of no sleep, no rest, no leniency. And now it is even longer.

It started on a Thursday morning, though the idea behind it likely started long before then. The idea itself probably started when the topic of the annual 24 hour pool challenge was brought up. Shaun and Kevin had both done the 24 hour a couple of times before. It was no longer challenging to them. They needed something better, something that would draw more attention to the club. What was the record? 72 hours? Pfft. They could totally beat that! And so they advertised and they prepared and they hired a photographer (who happened to be practically family) to cover the event. Sadly, the photographer was not prepared to stay up for the 72 hours with them. Not that it would have helped - being practically family meant that she couldn't witness for them anyway. But she was there at the beginning. Or at least, she was there at what was supposed to be the beginning.

I had half an hour - no more, no less. It was, after all, the busiest day of the month for the company, the day when all of the invoices are sent out and we are inundated with calls from clients who believe that they have been overcharged, undercharged or should not have been charged at all. Suddenly cancellations for services pour into the offices and, as the Accounts Manager, I kinda have to be there. But I had also been hired as the photographer, had promised that I would be there. I couldn't exactly let them down. And so, there I was, running out of the office at 8:40 in the morning to get some shots of the duo starting out on their journey to fame and (perhaps) fortune. But alas, 9am came and went and the record attempt hadn't even started.
"No worries," Shaun announced. "We'll start at 9:30."
He announced it in a carefree tone. It was up to them when they started, after all.
"What's half an hour compared to 72?" Kevin asked jokingly, not for the first time. And he was right. In the space of 72 hours, half an hour can either flash by or drag on endlessly depending on how long you have been awake.
Unfortunately, to me, half an hour was all I had, and I made my way back to work, disappointed with how things had started. I had grabbed a couple of photos nonetheless, the pre-record photos, the ones that showed four of them (two teams who were going to make the attempt) happy and smiling, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and ready to face the world. They were even practicing their shots. Hell, it might be 72 hours of playing, but that was no reason not to try!

I returned after 5 that evening, once work had calmed down a bit, and found the club house fuller than I had left it. There were people stopping in to support those participating and there was a bar running to supply them with fluids. Red Bull had sponsored the event and brought through two cases of the stuff, one sugared one and one sugar-free. Grant stopped by as well, wanting to support his brother as far as he could, and we brought along our takeaway dinner of sushi. Which, compared to their dinner of sponsored Scooters pizza, was helluva healthy. Shaun and Kevin were still in high spirits, almost 250 games in and trying hard to best each other with their shots. The other two were looking a little rough, but considering that they'd been playing non-stop, it was hardly surprising. I stuck around for dinner and a little after and then made my way home. It had been a long day and it was definitely time to rest up.

After work on Friday, I stopped by again only to find out that two of the guys had dropped out and it was just Shaun and Kevin left to break the record. Which was good in some ways - only one team could make it into the record book, and it meant that if Shaun and Kevin finished, they were going to be in it for sure. But it  also seemed pretty demotivating to me, as a spectator. No matter, the guys didn't take it to heart and were still going strong 36 hours in. Chairs were placed beside the table and they would sit down in between shots to save their strength or stand and stretch their legs by taking a brief walk outside in the minute or so that they had while the other was playing. They were tired, there was no doubt. But they were still going strong, still chatting and laughing and joking around, and it was certainly encouraging to see.

Saturday saw Grant and I up bright and early and stopping by to see how the boys were doing. Still going, but slightly less strong than before. With only 24 hours to go, some of the strength that had left them in the early hours of the morning was returning and they were still even being a little competitive, trying to win the games. People came and went regularly, but there was always someone milling about, playing a game of pool, having a drink or just spectating. The boys were starting to slip up a little, forgetting whether they were stripes or solids or forgetting whether they had the ball in hand, but they were still going strong and there was no more doubt as to whether they would make it.

And so, Sunday morning arrived. I set my alarm for 9am and was up and about, ready to go half an hour later. We made our way to the Purple Horse and found the boys there, still going, but only just. There was no more sitting down, not after Shaun had dozed off in between shots. The slip ups that had started the day before were only getting worse. Instead of hitting the white ball at the stripes or solids, they would sometimes get confused and hit the solids and stripes at the white ball. With every shot, they needed to be reminded of which ball they were aiming for, had to be reminded how many shots they had, how many they had taken and whether they could move the white. It was no surprise. It had been 72 hours. Most people struggle to stay awake that long, never mind staying awake and playing a game of pool! But, nonetheless, they had done it. At 10:02, they passed the record and celebrated with a quick hug in between shots. Breaking it was one thing, setting the new record another. A day before there had been talk of playing to sunset, perhaps even after dark. Now, they were considering giving up after a couple of hours. In the end, they pushed the mark by an extra hour and 34 minutes, and that was enough for them. Kevin could hardly stand, Shaun was almost as bad. And yet, it wasn't over! There was still the interview to do for the camera, the packing up and, finally, the trip to the sanatorium to make sure that their three days of non-sleep, Red Bull and Scooters hadn't affected them too badly. Kevin, after all, was seeing things and that was never a good sign.

After a quick check up, the boys were cleared and the record was set in stone. They had done it! 73 hours, 34 minutes of solid pool playing to be put into the record books. That's all it takes. Who's up for the challenge?

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Bright and Bubbly

Mirabelle and Garth
Wedding day
Yellow Piano, Manley Flatts

I woke up on Saturday with a sense of anticipation. Also a sense of panicky nausea, but mostly anticipation. You see, it had come time for me to attend my second wedding as a photographer. For those of you who do not remember, the first was a minor disaster with my camera dying halfway through the reception and me feeling completely terrible about it for weeks thereafter. And yet, I had been given another chance. And this time, I was being paid for it. There could be no mistakes now!

It was the perfect day for a day wedding - blue skies graced us without a hint of cloud and the sun was shining brightly. The middle of the day is, of course, not ideal for photography, but I was prepared to make it work. I had visited the venue a week earlier to scope it out and find some ideal spots for pictures - the trees that provided a perfect frame for family photos, the hidden swing, the pool around back and the bougainvilleas all providing possibly perfect backdrops while the animals provided interest. I had also, once again, discovered that I would need to bring a flash for the indoor shots and managed to find one with time to spare. Everything was set.

As we arrived at the wedding venue, in convoy behind the bride and groom, the nerves started showing again. I hurried everyone out of my car and rushed to the back to grab my camera and equipment so that I could get the couple arriving, but I was late and found that a lot of the guests had cameras of their own, cameras that seemed to be of the same quality as my own and cameras that made me very nervous. Was I really the hired photographer? Was it a courtesy that the couple had shown me while hiring a real photographer on the side to actually take the wedding photos. But I tried not to let it get to me. Even if I was only a courtesy photographer, I was damn well going to take the best shots that I could! And soon the crowds started dispersing, the cameras with them, and I found myself feeling more confident and I looked down at my viewfinder to review the shots that were being taken and found that they were coming out just the way that I wanted them to. 

Before long, it was time for the ceremony and my scope out came in handy once again. I immediately made my way to the back of the room, away from the bride and groom, up a rickety staircase and onto a small balcony that overlooked the room. It was a risky move, deciding not to take the photos of the bride and groom up close, but it also meant that I was able to get shots of the whole room, was able to get further back than I would have managed otherwise, and with my telephoto lens I was still able to get great shots of the bride and groom swapping rings and saying their vows. It was a risk that paid off in some ways, allowing me to get photographs that I was really happy with, but it was also one that failed in others, the lighting of the room leading to grainier photos than I would have liked.

Once the ceremony was over, it was time for the family and guest shots. Like the first wedding that I photographed, the couple seemed to feel that the wedding was less about themselves and more about celebrating with their friends. This meant that they insisted on having photographs with all of the guests in attendance, an idea that I was particularly fond of. Even though the photographs were taken in the same position and area, every single one has a personal feel that shows the relationship between the couple and the guests. I found that these were some of my favourite photos taken on the day and few of them ended up being "rejected".

The official photos having been taken, it was time for the meal, and a big one at that. The first course arrived and it was assumed that this was the meal that was being provided. Everyone dug in happily to various salads, chicken, honeycomb and more, only to find out that these were only the starters and there was more on the way. With stomachs aching, it was time for a second course of mousakka, lentils, butternut, pumpkin, lamb and stew. Finally, the formalities ended with the cutting of the two different cakes and dessert being served.


With everyone filled to the brim, it was time for the relaxation to commence, and people made their way outside, where it was slightly cooler in the mid-afternoon sun than it was in the stone-walled building. The animals started to make an appearance, which everyone enjoyed, and everyone found spots to relax and take in the wonderful afternoon, whether it was under the shade of the trees or in the green house around the back. The bride and groom made their way around from group to group, chatting and just generally having a good time until I snuck them away for the last few couple photographs.

The swing, it turned out, was a perfect idea, showing off the couple having fun and not requiring too much posing. It was also perfect in that it was out of the harsh sunlight and hidden in amongst the trees, letting in perfectly dappled light. The pool was also a great place for the couple to cool off and just enjoy a few moments of peace and serenity before going back to the crowds and saying a final farewell as they left for their honeymoon.


When going through the photos later that evening, I found that I was really proud of each and every one of them, even the ones that didn't end up being edited due to small mistakes, errors and movement. It was the first time that I looked at over 700 photos and didn't feel like it was going to be a nightmare to go through the editing phase. The editing phase ended up being far more enjoyable than usual simply because the photographs came out so well and I was so pleased with them.

The photos above are just some of the ones taken on the day. If you would like to see more, please visit my website or click here.