Pinny Beach at Dusk

Pinny Beach at Dusk

Purple skies
Clear water –
Memories of another life
Long ago

I took these photos a couple of weeks ago. I had been planning to arrive for a sunset shoot but I ended up being slightly late and missed it. The dusk was still beautiful though and I think the photos turned out well anyway as the light was so interesting.

It was a bit of a strange photowalk for me as this part of Pinny Beach actually adjoins Caves Beach, the suburb in Lake Macquarie where my mother and I stayed with my grandparents after we had to leave Sydney following my father’s suicide attempt.

It was actually almost exactly five years to the day that we left Sydney when I took these photos and going back was a bit surreal. Caves Beach is a beautiful, peaceful place but it was not a happy time and I still see echoes of our experiences there when I walk around, particularly of our early days there and my grandparents’ dementia.

In retrospect I probably should have picked a different day and week to go but I’m glad these photos came out of it at least. Photography has been one thing that has really helped me to process and heal during these last five years… it’s very cathartic and I’m glad that I could capture the beauty there that day. Five years ago I probably wouldn’t have been able to recognise it and I guess that shows how far I’ve come.

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2018

My Favourite Photos from 2016

A belated Happy New Year to everyone. I hope 2017 is a good year for you and a better one for the world in general.

I thought I’d start off the new year by posting some of my favourite photos from last year. They’re a mix of landscapes, portraits and street photos and there are a few images here I haven’t shared before so I hope you like them.

2016 was a pretty good year for my photography. I had several sales, started doing some portraits and in general I think my photography improved a lot during the year. I had a few setbacks as well – most notably a broken foot which has sidelined me for a while – but overall I’m pleased with how the year went and I’m happy with how all of these photos came out.

My main photography goals for 2017 are to keep improving and testing myself and to increase my exposure locally. I’d also like to experiment more with using flash creatively – which probably means buying another flash, so we’ll see!

I hope you enjoy the photos. How was your 2016?

Self Portrait in Black and White

Self Portrait in Black and White

Sometimes I wonder
Who I am in this strange world?
I am simply me

I took this photo as a bit of an experiment. I’ve been playing around with flash in my spare time, trying out some different settings and ideas so I know I’ve got a few more styles to default to for portraits when I need them.

I’ve been using myself as a stand in and wasn’t expecting to use any of the photos but I actually really like this one. In this case I was experimenting more with creating mood and atmosphere and I think it’s quite effective, particularly in black and white. Reminds me of some of those dramatic sports profiles you see in magazines sometimes.

For anyone wondering how to create a look like this, it’s actually quite simple. I only used one flash (off-camera) and used a black reflector behind me to create the background (a black bed sheet or piece of fabric would work well too).

I had my camera on a tripod and sat about half a metre in front of the reflector and angled the flash across the right side of my face. At about 1/8th power that allowed the flash to illuminate just that side of my face without reaching the background.

It’s a simple setup and while this looks moody and dramatic, it works well for normal portraits too. It’s very versatile and a good setup to learn if you’re just starting out.

I don’t take that many self portraits but I’m fairly happy with this one. Might have to keep experimenting and do some more of them.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2016

Sunset Reflections

Purple Reflections

Reflections stretch
Across the lake
As I sit and think
About the world

I took this photo a couple of days ago. It was the day after the US election and I went down to the lake in Belmont to try to clear my thoughts.

I’m not going to say too much about the election as I plan to touch on it in a Q&A post soon but I will say that Trump’s win shook me a bit. Obviously I’m an Australian and not directly involved but the US sets the cultural tone for the world and affects all of us; we often say that when the US sneezes, the rest of us catch a cold, and that’s why we were following the election closely too.

It was an extraordinary result but I’d be lying if I didn’t say that many of us aren’t concerned by it and that was my immediate reaction. Not just because of Trump’s rhetoric but particularly because internationally we have little idea of what to expect from a President Trump and his presidency leaves the US-Australia Alliance, NATO and the future of the Asia-Pacific region up in the air.

So yes, like everyone I was a bit shocked by the result and as it continued to dominate the news the next day, I felt like I needed to clear my head and try to get away from it for a while. So I went down to the lake for the sunset.

It was a beautiful sunset and I just sat and watched it for a while as the sky turned a beautiful shade of purple and the reflections started to stretch across the water. After a couple of minutes I set my camera on my tripod and took a couple of long exposures to try to do the scene justice. This was one of them and I’m happy with how it came out, particularly the vibrant colours.

I felt better for my time by the lake. It was very peaceful and I think sometimes it helps just to get away from the world for a little while and not think about things too much. This definitely did that for me.

Sunset

I saw this woman walking her dog by the lake a little earlier as well and took a quick photo. She spent quite a few minutes standing there, watching the sun go down. I guess maybe she was reflecting on things too.

Photos and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

Pigeons Above the Gate

Pigeons Above the Gate

Life is
Full of surprises ~

We must try to welcome them
When they come

The weather has been really weird around Newcastle lately. We’ve had some really nice, warm days and then some bitterly cold, wet ones – sometimes we’ve had both in the same day and it’s been very frustrating.

That’s pretty much what happened yesterday. I was going to meet a group for a photowalk around the Newcastle Baths in the evening but I didn’t get there in the end as it poured with rain. I got about as far as the Customs House Hotel before the rain came and then it didn’t stop for hours.

I managed to find cover underneath an awning in Foreshore Park and while I sat around for a while, waiting to see if the rain would stop, I spotted this interesting gate nearby.

I found the different textures and the colours quite striking and I also liked how the pigeons were all in a row, sheltering from the rain. So I snapped a quick shot and I’m really pleased with how it turned out and the symmetry in the photo.

When I left to go to the Newcastle Baths yesterday I had a few ideas in mind but I certainly didn’t imagine I’d come across a photo like this. And I probably wouldn’t have if it hadn’t rained. It just goes to show how you should always be open to the world around you and not focus on just one idea or thing. You never know what you’re going to find.

Photo and haiqua © CJ Levinson 2016

Water on the Rocks

Water on the Rocks

Nature’s full power
Can be a terrible thing
But beautiful too

It was very windy this afternoon and the water was very choppy on the lake when I went for a walk earlier to watch the sun go down.

I tried taking a few photos of the water but the choppiness made the images seem a bit too busy so I thought I’d try to give the water a smoother look instead.

I took this at 1/3 of a second and I like the effect; it’s smoother but you still get a sense of movement and power which is what I wanted too.

I actually took this handheld as I didn’t have a tripod with me. The image stabilisation in my Pen F is excellent and helps me to get sharp shots I never would get otherwise. I can’t imagine shooting without that stabilisation anymore.

Photo and haiku © CJ Levinson 2016

I’ve Opened a Store!

My Etsy Store

Just a quick note. From time to time I get emails from people who like my photos and want to know if they can buy them or if there is a way to help support my blog. Until now I’ve mostly done all of that via email but hopefully now I won’t have to…

… because I’ve finally opened a store! 😀

It’s something I’ve been thinking about doing for a while and after getting another few emails recently, I thought now was a good time to give it a try.

I’ve set it up with Etsy and for now I’ve added a selection of my favourite photos and will be adding more soon.

All the photos are digital files so people can print them themselves or through a printshop (saving money and time on postage). Or alternatively they can be used as wallpaper, printed on canvas or however else someone wants to use them.

Each photo is $5 and I thought that was fair given they’re digital files… about the same price as a cup of coffee. There’s also a 20% discount for buying 3 or more.

I’ve called it Shutter & Pen to match this site and over time I plan to add some pieces of my writing as well, like my haiku printed on some of the photos and possibly an ebook I’m working on.

Anyway it’s all set up now so if you’d like to check it out, I’d love to know what you think.

I can also do special one-off orders so if there’s a particular photo you’d like that isn’t there yet, just let me know. 😀

Steampunk Photoshoot

My photography group did a special steampunk-inspired photoshoot last weekend. It was a very fun shoot in a rundown part of Carrington in Newcastle which really suited the theme. Our model for the day Tina and makeup artist Jaymee-Lee were absolutely fantastic and very creative.

This was a bit of a first for me. I’ve done portrait work before, including for friends and clients, but it’s almost always been in a controlled environment with flash. This was a very exposed environment, with lots of reflective surfaces and very harsh midday sunlight. So it was an interesting challenge.

We used reflectors to soften the light a bit and rather than try to avoid them, I decided to use some of the reflective objects and backgrounds as much as I could to create some interesting textures and shapes in Tina’s funky glasses. I also shot a couple of photos in black and white and I think those came out very well, particularly the final photo which is my favourite.

Overall I’m happy with the results. It was a good learning experience and was definitely something I’d like to do more of in the future. These kind of themed portrait shoots and covering convention cosplay are two things I’d really like to get into going forward.

I hope you like the photos.

Photos © CJ Levinson 2016

Some Thoughts on the Election

Like a lot of Australians, I’m still digesting the results – or rather lack of results – from Saturday’s election. I thought I’d share a few thoughts while it’s all still fresh in my mind.

  • At the moment we still don’t know the final result and won’t know until Tuesday at the earliest, probably later. Right now the most likely outcomes look like being either another hung parliament or possibly the Turnbull government just hanging on by the skin of its teeth and forming a slender majority by one or two seats. Either way it’s not what most people expected.
  • My overall impression of all this is, well, what a mess. The prospect of another hung parliament isn’t something I particularly relish; while the 2010 parliament did actually pass some good legislation, the whole process was so chaotic and there were so many wasteful promises that in the end it just seemed incredibly disorganised and unstable. Likewise the Turnbull government being returned with a tiny majority doesn’t seem very workable either as Turnbull would have to keep his entire party in line and that seems unlikely to say the least after this result.
  • Personally I was hoping that, whoever won the election, we’d get a clear result to end the chaos we’ve seen in the recent past. But now it looks like the only way to get that would be through another election, which would be expensive and after such a long campaign already, there’s very little appetite for that. And even if another election were held, there’s no guarantee we wouldn’t end up with a similar result either. So, yes. It’s all looking like a pretty big mess unfortunately.
  • To be honest, though, Turnbull only has himself to blame for this result. This should have been a fairly comfortable victory given his popularity after replacing Tony Abbott last year. But that support disappeared and then the Coalition’s entire campaign felt lacklustre and uninspired – we barely even heard about the main premise for the election throughout the campaign, the government not being able to pass its ABCC legislation, when you’d expect that to be one of the main issues. And that’s just one example. Likewise Turnbull seemed strangely disengaged, like the whole process was taxing and something he was simply enduring before getting back to the main business of running the country. Add a clever campaign by Labor built primarily around Medicare and this is the result, a government that may be on its way out after only one term.
  • So what went wrong? Honestly I think you’d have to say that most of this result is due to people becoming very frustrated with Malcolm Turnbull and the Coalition in general. When Turnbull replaced Tony Abbott as PM there was a feeling of relief in the community, like Turnbull would be able to change direction and align the government more closely with public sentiment on issues like climate change and marriage equality. But the Turnbull who emerged as PM was not the one people expected; he was hamstrung by the right faction of his party and it gave the impression that he stood for nothing and had sacrificed his convictions to become PM. In the end it seemed like very little had changed, just the face of the government, and when you add in the disappointing campaign performance by Turnbull and the Coalition as a whole, it’s not that surprising that people turned to Labor and the minor parties as their trust evaporated.
  • To be fair to Turnbull, much of the public expectation when he became PM was unfair. He was never going to be the PM they wanted, not just because the right would go after him if he even dreamed of trying to be, but also because that simply isn’t who he is as a person or as a politician. He is a pragmatist and realistically the best chance Turnbull had to change the government’s direction was after the election, by winning with enough of a margin to claim a mandate and to slowly move the government more towards where he wanted them to be over time. The irony though is that he’ll probably never get that chance now as the result means he’ll have to be even more beholden to the right to survive – saying he can survive after this result.
  • While the Coalition’s campaign was lacklustre, I also don’t want to take credit away from Labor either. Labor did extremely well in the campaign and Bill Shorten performed extraordinarily well as leader. He transformed himself into a true alternative PM during the campaign and his enthusiasm and enjoyment for the process was infectious, which was particularly impressive given it was such a long, exhausting eight weeks.
  • Looking objectively, Labor ran a very professional campaign, particularly at the grassroots level, and they successfully presented themselves as a party with new ideas for the country. It’s no surprise that they emerged reinvigorated and that is the truly good thing to come out of this election; at the very least it’s shown that they’ll be a strong opposition and as any democracy is only as strong as it’s opposition, that’s a good sign. And they look capable if they do somehow claim government too.
  • The one thing I didn’t like about the Labor campaign though was the Medicare scare campaign. I thought they pushed it way too hard, particularly in the last week of the campaign. I don’t think it was accurate or necessary to go so far as to suggest that the government was thinking about privatising Medicare when there was little evidence of that; there was already enough concern over GP co-payments for Labor to make their case about health and Medicare and it took their campaign into negative territory which I didn’t like at all. But it worked and ended up being one of the biggest issues for them, so I can’t really argue with it, I guess.
  • Labor did very well but I think the big winner, though, was Pauline Hanson. At the moment it looks like One Nation has secured two senate spots and may end up with as many as four. It’s a remarkable resurrection for Hanson and will give her much of the balance of power in the senate.
  • I can’t begin to say how disappointed I am to see Hanson not only back but potentially wielding that much power. As far as I’m concerned One Nation is a party based on fear and ignorance and I despaired when I saw the result. Listening to Hanson today, it seems One Nation wants to abolish the Family Law Court and will be pushing for royal commissions into the science of climate change and to examine whether Islam is a “religion or a political ideology”. All of which sound utterly bizarre to me.
  • One Nation’s views don’t surprise me – it’s the same old ignorance, just with new targets – but I guess I am disappointed that, after twenty years, people continue to not be able to see through them as hollow and xenophobic. But to be honest One Nation’s success is not unique or even that unexpected, if anything it’s just another example of the continued rise of far-right parties and figures that we’ve been seeing around the world over the last few years. The same fears about immigration, muslims, the economy and the decline of the working class that drove the Brexit outcome and are behind a lot of Donald Trump’s support are the same reasons many people voted for One Nation too.
  • Given that trend and how many votes One Nation received in this election, you’d have to say that the main parties have good reason to be worried about the growing power of the far right fringe. It’s becoming harder to dismiss that support as just a small number of people; it’s a growing and very vocal minority that is very dissatisfied with the political system and wants to shake it up or overturn it entirely. I’m not sure what the parties can really do about those people either except to try to find a way to reengage with them, which would be very difficult, perhaps even impossible at this point. Either way, it gives a voice to some of these kinds of views for at least the next few years and will make negotiating with the senate a nightmare.
  • So how is all this going to play out? At this stage I really have no idea; the election is so close that pretty much anything could happen. I think the most likely scenario is a hung parliament with the Coalition getting about 74 seats but I honestly do not know how it would play out from there. If that were to happen I’m not sure I could see Labor securing enough crossbench support to form government, and while theoretically the Coalition could, I’m not sure how workable it would be or how tenuous Turnbull’s position would then become, particularly given the senate.
  • If I had to guess I’d say that I think the Coalition will just manage to form a minority government but I would not be at all surprised if it all falls apart very quickly. I also wouldn’t be surprised if neither party can form government and we have to have another election. Which honestly no one would be happy about but I think would probably be the fairest outcome at this stage.
  • Either way I just hope we get a result soon and that somehow, some way, whoever forms government manages to provide some kind of stability. The chaos has gone on for far too long. But I doubt it unfortunately.
  • What a mess.