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Photographing Melbourne in Melbourne  

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They call it Marvellous Melbourne. Situated on the banks of the Yarra River, Australia's second city is one of the greenest cities in the world. A walk down its streets is a dream that we hope to capture in our pictures.

We have the essential, our rucksacks, a tripod, battery torches and three zoom lenses: a 10-20mm wide-angle zoom lens for landscape photography; an 18-55mm portrait lens and a 50-200mm objective lens for capturing the details that attract our attention.

Step 1: Light painting

The suburb of Footscray, 5 km west from the centre of Melbourne, is a kaleidoscope of fragrances. At the lively market (marketsvictoria.com.au), we are tempted by traditional Italian, Greek and Asian food and it’s just natural to start breaking the ice with the multi-ethnic Australians: we start taking pictures of passers-by. We soon realise though, that it’s better to ask for silent consent with a determined exchange of glances, rather than just steal a shot.  We start liking our uncommon sociological investigation: we are giving people the time to strike a pose, allowing them to choose how to present a piece of Melbourne together with themselves.

Williamstown spreads at the foot of West Gate Bridge, 8 km south-west from the town centre and can be easily reached by ferry. Particularly interesting is the park near the sea, where a large number of opossums lives on eucalyptus trees. This is where we carve out a space for ourselves in the dark when the night falls, tired as we are of light pollution, to play with light. The technique is called light painting and it is based on the use of artificial light through one or more different coloured torches to draw shapes and lines. After having placed the camera on the tripod and set it to Bulb, we point the torch on a eucalyptus trunk and we trace its surface at the speed we like and highlighting its shapes using our imagination: the more we shine our torches, the more intense the bright part of the frame will be.

Step 2: Slow sync

Melbourne has an intense sport events schedule. Melbourne Park is the setting of the Australian, the first tennis Grand Slam tournament of the year, which in 2010 will take place from the 18th to the 31st of January (www.australianopen.com). Also in 2010, the city will host the world road cycling championships from the 29th of September to the 3rd of October. Furthermore, since 1996 Melbourne hosts the Australian GP, the first race of the Formula 1 season. The next race will take part in the usual Albert Park circuit from the 25th to the 28th of March.

We cheer at the idea of giving a go at sports photography experimenting the ghosting effect, which can be obtained with slow sync flash: slow shutter synchronization. If we use the flash in an illuminated ambient to photograph a subject in rapid movement, two overlapping images will be created:  one still image, exposed for a very brief time to the flash and another one blurred due to a slower exposure to natural light.  It is exactly this second image that produces the typical ghosting effect, which appears like a luminous wake in front of or behind the subject with respect to the direction of a F1 car, a cyclist or a tennis ball, according to whether the flash was synchronised on the first or second shutter curtain. The ideal conditions for a perfect slow sync are obtained with the subjects at maximum 3m from the flash and in movement on a dark background with a shutter speed over 1/60s.

Step 3: HDR

The National Gallery of Victoria was founded in 1861 and is one of the most prestigious museums in Australia with its art collections ranging from Ancient Egypt to the European Renaissance.  We are hit by the realistic luminosity that the Venetian Giovanni Battista Tiepolo managed to give to his Cleopatra’s Banquet, so we decide to emulate him with our cameras, hoping to bring back home an ideal shot of Melbourne as a souvenir of this trip. 

We go up Eureka Tower, which with its 300m is the tallest residential tower in the world, in the heart of Southbank. The terrace on the 89th floor gives us a breathtaking view, which stretches to the hinterland mountains. The low sunset light is the ideal condition for not losing our challenge straight from the start.  

We know that the human eye can distinguish maximum/minimum brightness values with a 10.000:1 ratio, which is much higher than that of images on paper (255:1). For this reason, many images taken in full sunlight have totally black areas associated with totally white areas, in spite of Tiepolo’s chiaroscuro. The solution is the HDR technique, acronym of High Dynamic Range: We take multiple images of the same shot, selecting different exposure values and merge them into one high dynamic range frame. A tripod is necessary to obtain perfectly overlapping images. The landscape framed by the camera lens includes the protruding architecture of the skyscraper in the foreground, the buildings and parks at a medium distance and the sea dominated by bright clouds in the background: only HDR allows the correct exposure of all the elements with a more realistic reproduction, thus reproducing with more realism the naked eye view, optimising nuances and contours.
Just like Tiepolo had dominated the elusive light of Venice, we manage to capture the colours of the Marvellous Melbourne.

Useful info

Difficulty levels: 1 2 3 4 5

Documents and currency: To visit Australia you need a passport with minimum validity of six months and a tourist visa, which allows you to stay for a maximum period of 90 days (www.tourism.australia.com).

Duration: One week allows enjoying the lively cultural and artistic life in Melbourne.  

When to go: The weather in Melbourne is quite unpredictable and is mild and changeable all year round. Summer goes from December to March. February is rich in music events culminating on the 21st with the Good Vibrations Festival. From the 18th to 31st of January there is the tennis Australian Open; from the 25th to the 28th of March the Formula 1 Grand Prix; from the 29th of September to the 3rd of October the world road cycling championships.

How to get there: Tullamarine Airport (www.melbourneairport.com.au) is the second busiest airport in Australia after Sydney and is 23 km from the city centre, 30 minutes away by taxi. Qantas is the busiest airline in Australia (www.qantas.com.au).

Photos and videos: Melbourne Photography Tours organises interesting photography tours of the city (melbournephotographytours.blogspot.com). Photography accessories can be purchased at a good price at Michaels (www.michaels.com.au).

Reading, films, voluntary associations: Picnic at Hanging Rock, the intriguing 1967 novel by Joan Lindsay is set at the mysterious geological formation of Hanging Rock, 70 km from Melbourne. Remembering Babylon by David Malouf is a more introspective novel. You cannot miss to listen to the traditional rhythms of David Hudson’s didgeridoo. Michael Balzary, aka Flea from Red Hot Chili Peppers, probably one of the greatest bassists of all time, was born in Melbourne before relocating to the U.S.  The 2001 film And he died with a felafel in his hand by Richard Lowenstein is a collection of picturesque characters who live in various Australian cities; the documentary film Where the green ants dream, by German director Werner Herzog, relates with visionary gaze of a land feud between the Aboriginal community and a mining company.  Details about voluntary work in Melbourne can be found at www.bcl.com.au/melbourne/intgroup/volunteer.htm

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