A Royal Australian Air Force  F/A-18F Super Hornet flies in to Darwin
for exercise Pitch Black 2014
Exercise Pitch Black, the biennial war exercise in the skies of the Northern Territory hosted by the Royal Australian Air Force is now a routine part of the top end lifestyle.

For a few weeks every other year the RAAF and air forces from our friends and allies simulate war games to practice Offensive Counter Air and Defensive Counter Air combat to keep their pilot's skills honed and strategically current.  It's also a great chance for photographers, military buffs or aviation fans alike to get an eyeful (and earful) of some great military hardware.

I remember in my primary school years climbing on to the roof of my parent's house and watching in amazement as a USAF F-16 Falcon twisted and turned directly overhead. engaged in dogfighting maneuvers with the RAAF fighter of the day, the Mirage III.  Those days are long since gone, the Pitch Black format has changed considerably over the years, mostly due to public noise complaints.   The public opinion is as divided on the Pitch Black noise issue as they are on Territory Day Fireworks noise.  Interestingly enough though I managed to ask the director of pitch black media what the statistics were on noise complaints, the answer was surprisingly low.  In fact like a lot of things that are portrayed as being a big "public issue" it is a very vocal minority who actually cause a fuss and get the coverage solely on hype.  The majority of residents do not seem to mind the noise interruption for the few weeks window every two years.

Fortunately we still see the planes fly in and out of Darwin air base but their exercises are now done further afield on defence bombing ranges and over crown land.

Exercise Pitch Black Video

RAAF F/A-18F Super Hornet maneuvering display at Mindlil beach sunset markets. Darwin, Australia
I Want You To Know - Making the music video, frontman Sam Weaver
I am currently putting the finishing edits on the music video for NT Song of Year Winning track “I Want You To Know” by Darwin band "Skarlett"

The song is featured on their latest album Highway Girls & Well Dressed Boys and displays a new and diverse range of sounds from the talented lads.

The concept of the video is very simple and clean cut but showcases the message of the song well and it was thanks once again to the management of Ducks Nuts who let us use their Vodka Bar venue for a Sunday afternoon shoot.

As you will see the boys are now super comfortable in front of the camera and were very easy to work with.

Check back soon as I will be posting the video here once it is released!...
Dropping in the Northern Territory flag.
Skydivers open the event at Mindil beach in 2014
Territory Day, the day we celebrate self-governance here in Australia's Northern Territory.  This year is the 36th such celebration in this country's outback as we proudly proclaim ourselves to be, but who am I kidding?  Citizenship ceremonies and flag raising aside, ask any Territorian and you will find that FIREWORKS is really the dominant theme of the day, independence seems only a distant afterthought as thousands enjoy the thrill and freedom of buying and letting off their own with family and friends.

Such a great time of year to have a celebration outdoors too, with near perfect cool clear nights.  This year I've opted to enjoy one of the many public displays happening around the place, the one at Mindil beach near the SkyCity casino is the one you see here.  It's been a while since I tried capturing fireworks, what a great way to practice.

Click on any of the samples below to see the bigger picture.

As is the norm nowadays I tend to carry one of my video cameras with me just in case anything exciting happens. Easy enough to get a high vantage point with the tripod mounted on the back of the hilux tray at most locations so I set it going to record the show.

 20 minutes of fireworks is probably a little too long for anyone to watch on video unless it's a massive new years display at Sydney harbour, so I have only uploaded the last 60 seconds or so. Click play to watch the Territory Day Fireworks Video below:

Territory Day Fireworks

If you have an idea you want to try ... just do it, you'll achieve more!
Filming a music video on a budget with DSLR's.  Photo by Mark Hamilton
Over the years I've found a few things to be true about the world around me, it's not flat for example, good things generally don't last forever and human behaviour can roughly be divided into categories; those who do things and those who talk about doing things, broad generalisations to be sure but an important distinction in my opinion. The realisation of this distinction hit me quite a few years back now as I was starting out on my own adventure into the world of photography and video.

Unless you are lucky enough to know people who can impart their knowledge to you personally the internet is usually the one stop shop for learning any craft and, for the uninitiated, it is a minefield of information. It is filled with options and opinions so diverse that rather than help it will often times confuse the newbie seeking assistance and paralyse any constructive action to further their interests.

Auki Henry
"I'm not a technical photographer, I shoot by feel.  If I don't like a shot
I just test, adjust and try it again"
Having grown up in the era of forums and bulletin boards these were naturally the first stops on my own knowledge seeking journey. I am not an internet search novice by any standard but page after page of seeking helpful advice reached a dead end. Returned discussions that were quickly filled with what I call 'snapperhead' jargon ... and I don't use the term affectionately.

Innocent questions from newbies (such as I was) quickly deteriorated into inane flame wars about what lenses, numbers and measurements made one brand or one model superior to the others were debated to the nth degree.

In those early months I wasted many a lunch hour vainly browsing posts to help me decide which lenses and camera bodies to buy on my limited budget, only to encounter that unique breed of photography keyboard warrior willing to argue the physics of sensors to the number of photons and vapid discussions about lens chromatic aberration that was visible if you zoomed into 500% magnification (seriously don't laugh, these were some dedicated keyboard warriors!) No constructive help in sight here, but lots of  'Avoid this model at all costs' and 'You'd be stupid if you get that one' comments.

More of these same encounters were to be had when seeking helpful photography techniques, all which inevitably devolved into basically what amounted to a bunch of opinionated boasters arguing about what was wrong with everyone elses techniques. Don't get me started on what I saw in the 'critique my photo' sections of these places but the posters must have had a certain degree of masochism to run the gauntlet.

So how exactly does someone interested in taking nice photos or video actually learn when surrounded by all this? I have some sound advice for you if this is what you are looking for.

This is the first piece of advice I will give you as it was ultimately this that helped me see through the fog of confusion. The snapperheads, the keyboard warriors, the debaters, the opinionated critiques. A large percentage of these people will inevitably upload a photo of their own that they've done, and you know what my general experience was with these? Most of them were VERY ORDINARY photos. So much for their endless discussion and debate about the finer points of technique/equipment whatever. Lessons learned: photography and video are visual mediums, just because someone talks the talk .... the proof is in what they post up!

This one is for those who have been paralysed by indecision about which bit of equipment to upgrade to because you've been confused by the snapperheads arguing about how the number of aperture blades is the difference between 'good and shit bokeh'. Many times I have had people ask me for equipment advice, "I looked at Lens X and Lens y but then read something about Lens y having slightly sharper focus under these conditions ...." is a common example. For the beginner there's really no need to take too much stock in this. Find samples of photos taken with the equipment you are researching, the internet is your friend. If you like how the photo looks and it suits your budget then get it, regardless of the snapperhead downtalk.

I must admit I have been in this boat myself too and had to take a step back to look at the trap I had fallen into to get out of it. Too many people are waiting for the next upgraded bit of equipment before they go shoot some pictures. "I'm waiting for this new flash" or "I'm waiting for this camera dolly" are examples of not just going out and getting shots. Borrow a flash, use the flash that you've got. Substitute a trolley or wheelbarrow for a dolly, whatever gets you out there. Shooting is practice and you will soon find that all these specialised tools are just refined optional extras, you can still get great results without them ... if you try.

One of the best bits of advice I can give you. I decided very early on in my photography/video adenture that I would rather fall into the category of "people who DO things" than the "people who TALK ABOUT doing things" besides trying to distance myself from all those negative photography forum snapperheads who bicker on ad-nauseum, this is about helping yourself achieve whatever creative vision you see in something.

Our second ever music video, better gear but still filming with DSLR's.
Use what you have and just have fun with it!
Whether it be something as simple as wanting to take a photo of a location at sunset or requesting security clearance to film a music video at an international airport it all really is just about taking the steps to DO it.

Set yourself an alarm and drive to that sunset location, type an email to the airport people stating what you want to do and asking permission. The only difference is the situation. 

Now, what would I like you to take away from all this?  I can shorten it to a very simple statement for easy digestion.  When you DO, you achieve something. No one ever achieved anything just by thinking about it.

So go, get out there and have some fun. Be creative, don't worry too much about what others think, after all 'subjective' is part of this game.  If you look at other peoples work and you like it try to understand what it is that you like about it and that will give you the best hints and tips to trying it out for yourself.
Bringing back girls with cars, Darwin style.  Image: Auki Henry
Girls and cars, I work with a lot of both. As a photographer, girls (and occasionally guys) are necessarily part and parcel of the fashion and glamour gig.  As a producer on +HighRPM, cars are the obvious crowd attraction, and like most other things in the realm of public entertainment it seems the two mesh as almost as a necessity.

Just take a look at almost any popular sporting event you see for examples of how well it works. Cheerleaders at football games, ring girls at fight events, grid girls on the race track, in fact there are 'calendar' girls for many types of sports, and indeed pastimes that are not necessarily even considered sports. Regardless of where your opinion sits on the practice of mixing glamour girls in with sport it remains an inescapable truth that the marketing just plain works.  I am definitely not going to argue with the statistics, I've seen it.

Here in my home town of Darwin we are neither short of great cars or girls to go with them, so it was a natural extension of the work we already do to come up with a concept incorporating the best of both worlds and giving people a look at what we do behind the scenes to bring our vision to the viewers who appreciate it.

I am fortunate to be working with Sienna Productions producer +Terry Finocchiaro to make the concept a reality in the form of a series of featurettes where we match up girls with cars of all genres and then mix it all up in a concoction that I can only think of as "part photography reality show meets miss universe with a side of top gear" ... okay maybe that last bit is a little ambitious, lets call it 5th Gear to placate the fans.

With format planning under way it's time to switch my mode from the track to the studio (we do after all have our star race photographers already holding the fort across events around the Territory) and see if we can make a success of this concept.

Girls and Cars? How can we fail?  If your interest has been piqued just watch this space.
Auki filming an ANDRA TV Commercial with the Pocket Dolly v2.0
Hidden Valley Drag Strip - Image: +Edmund Forman 
Recently DSLR video has matured to the point where most anyone wanting that 'filmic' look is using one nowadays, I know amateurs and professional production houses alike using them for everything from short indie films to television commercials.

The creamy shallow depth of field (or that 'blurry background effect thingy' as my friends like to describe it) is the obvious draw card and so common out there in video land now that you really need to employ some interesting camera moves to stand out from the crowd.  Enter stage left; a bunch of affordable film making tools for the budget lens monkey. From cheap jibs and hand held stabilisers to consumer friendly flying camera platforms in all shapes and sizes.  I have used most of these things while filming motorsports events in Australia for +HighRPM.

Now motorsports action, especially close-up, is not the usual domain for the ubiquitous DSLR. The complexity of functions, awkward placement of buttons and ungainly focus/zoom movement are hardly conducive to the quick pace and unpredictability of high octane sports (lets not get into fast pan rolling shutter artefacts in this article).  To be fair, DSLR video was just a happy coincidence on what essentially is photography equipment.  However they do have their place for some shots, you just need to choose your situations, mostly ones that you can predict with some confidence.

Lately the favourite tool of choice in my DSLR support arsenal has been the Pocket Dolly v2.0 from Kessler Crane, this fantastic piece of kit gives me smooth-as-silk movement on a rig that is lightweight, portable, and perhaps most importantly for the environment I operate in ... I can move out the way bloody fast with it!

DSLR Footage on the Pocket Dolly v2.0

Saftey considerations aside, the fact that I can rely on such a fluid start and stop movement every time means no premature clipping of shots in edits, the intended action is there. The dolly itself is very robust and rigid, so no flexing in use. The action of the ball bearing wheel design eliminates any glitching in movement that might spoil a take.

If you've had to lug one of these around, you wouldn't
be complaining about a DSLR/Pocket Dolly combo!
Image by +Jeremy Horvath 
Surprisingly I have heard quibbles from the occasional film maker about how cumbersome the Pocket Dolly is to carry and use but I put this down to them not having experienced on-the-fly action filming before.  I've used a range of kit in motorsports filming over the years from Steadicam mounted rigs to shoulder borne XDCAM gear and I can safely say that it is possible to displace with my Pocket Dolly/DSLR/Monitor rig faster and easier when the situation calls for it (including over concrete barriers) than with most other systems.

Ease of use? Quality of build? Production value? Bang for buck? Final words are that this combo comes approved by me!
Here's this week's zinger in confusing moments, brought to you by Telstra, the number 4 and the letters WTF.

With the NBN currently rolling out to suburbs across Darwin the advertising material for connections has been flowing in thick and fast, letter boxes are jammed with offers from ISP's clamouring to connect you to their flavour of service.

My parents happen to live in one of those suburbs, moving in to their house in 1979 they have lived at the same address for 35 years and have had the same phone number for the entire time.  Now when you live in one place for this long you tend to reach that peace with the postal system where you no longer receive mail for previous residents. So it was perhaps somewhat surprising for them to receive FOUR letters for separate individuals all addressed to their residence proclaiming that 'THE NBN IS HERE'.

The NBN might be here but Renae Yovve, Reliey Tony, Barbara Hope and 'Mrs Troy Thompson' (really? this must be an old record) certainly aren't, and presumably haven't been for some time.

All this of course left my father wondering tongue-in-cheekily whether he has been paying four times as much for his phone bill as he should have.  So what happened here?  Your guess is as good as mine, but I'd be checking under the stairs for extra guests Dad.