Ferocious Koalas

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 2nd, 2011 by MadDog
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Ali Raynor, my host while I was at Toogoolawah in Queensland, told me that she thought that it was a pretty rare thing for a tourist to get a chance to see and photograph koalas in their natural habitat. I reckon that she must know what she’s talking about, since she conducts regular trips to the bush for koala spotting.

At first I couldn’t see them at all unless I followed her pointing arm. From the distance we were initially seeing them they looked like black dots in the gum trees. In all we saw about a dozen of them. The place to where she took me is not widely known. In fact, I heard Ali tell one inquirer as to where we were going to see them that, “If I told you, I’d have to kill you.” That seems a bit drastic to me, but the idea is, I guess, not to have a gozillion people tramping through the area scaring the ferocious little beasts.

I do, of course, use the word ferocious in a tongue-in-cheek manner. The very idea of a ferocious koala brings to mind the Killer Rabbit of Caerbannog from Monty Python and the Holy Grail.  However, later on you’ll see a shot which gives you an idea of the size of their claws. I would not want an angry koala, high as a kite on eucalyptus oil, to land on my face.

The thing koalas do best is to look extremely laid back, comatose, in fact. Here is a nearly comatose koala:

This is the most common pose which I observed. They do notice you walking around. I guess “drowsily observant” would be a good way to describe their natural state. No matter what position they were in, they seem to favour slowly snuggling up to the trunk of the tree to try to blend in. I suppose that they believe they are hiding. It doesn’t work, but it is cute. Cute is a word which keeps popping into your mind like a pesky mosquito buzzing around your ear at three in the morning.

You will quickly bore of sleeping koala images, so I’ll break this up by showing you this sad excuse for a kangaroo picture:

When I took the shot, the kangaroo was so small, even at the full 26X zoom of my Olympus SP-590UZ camera, that I thought that I’d missed it. It wasn’t until I got the image up in Adobe Bridge that I noticed that the kangaroo was still there.

Okay, back to the koalas for a while. This was my only shot of a koala on the move:

Truth is, they simply don’t move around that much. This one was climbing a branch at what I’m sure was a breakneck speed for a koala in a vain attempt to run from us.

As a serious amateur photographer, I can’t say that I’m proud of these shots, though I did put a fair amount of effort into making them as good as I could. I was up against a couple of serious problems. First, the light was absolutely ghastly. There is hardly any worse light than a bright grey sky. It washes the colour from everything and makes any sense of depth go as flat as a pancake. If you are shooting upwards, it’s even worse. I took about a hundred exposures, half of which were unusable.

The other problem is the miserable performance of the early super-zoom lenses. My Olmpus was one of the first of the super-zoom consumer grade camera. I don’t buy professional equipment, because I can’t afford to pay thousands of dollars for a high-quality camera and lens. Some things are simply out of my income range. So, I make do with the best I can afford. If I do buy another super-zoom camera, I’ll insist on doing some shooting with it first so that I can check the lens perfomance. It took supreme efforts to get these in shape to put here for your enjoyment. Even with all that, if you click to enlarge them, you will see the effects of stretching the camera beyond its reasonable limits.

Uh, did I mention claws? Imagine these tearing into your flesh. Don’t let that sleepy look fool you:

It’s only a ploy to lure you within range. This is the rare carnivorous variety of koala.

I noticed many trees with power line insulators banged into them. Ali said that is has only been about five years since the practice was abandoned by the utilities company in this area. It seems terribly rustic:

Once in a while you can spot a koala which seems to be uncommonly alert:

I fact, this one looks a bit peevish. Perhaps it found our presence an affront. Maybe it was just curious.

Of all of the poses, I liked the “Nyaa, nyaa, you can’t see me!” the best:

They will try to edge around the tree to become less visible. It’s comical to watch a koala when two people begin to walk around the tree in opposite directions. It will slowly turn its head from side to side while trying to decide which way to go. Then it gives up and hugs the tree harder. It’s too bad they are so fat. If they were flatter against the tree they would be hard to spot, since the camouflage in their fur is quite effective.

I’ll leave you with a shot of the Old Town Hall in Gympie:

It’s about as curious a conglomeration of architectural features as I have ever seen, though the overall effect is not unpleasing. I’d be willing to bet that it was designed by a committee.

Keep in mind that I know absolutely nothing about architecture, except that I love Frank Lloyd Wright’s Fallingwater house. For me, that’s enough. How wonderful it would be to live in that house.

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Ramblers Skydiving – The Jump

Posted in On Tthe Road on April 1st, 2011 by MadDog
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I really should get in the spirit of things and think of a cool April Fool’s joke to play on my unsuspecting readers, but I’m not nearly so clever. So, I’ll just play it straight. A couple of days ago, I wrote about my rides in the wonderful Cessna Caravan at the drop zone of the Ramblers Skydiving near Toogoolawah in Queensland, Australia. Today, I’ll tell about my tandem jump.

First, I’ll show you a picture of my hosts, Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor. They visited Madang in 2010 and stayed at my house. I was very happy that they returned the hospitality in spades:

As may be obvious, Dave has just landed after a jump. He doesn’t drag a parachute around after him all of the time.

Before I get into the jump, let me show you the wind indicator:

When I first saw this I thought that it was a very poor wind indicator and not positioned right anyway. The vane is too small. It wouldn’t be very sensitive. I supposed that the rock was to keep it from blowing away. By the way, that’s Ali and Val behind it.

Then, upon reading the sign, I realised that the whole thing is a joke:

If you read the text, you might get a giggle.

The fellow in white was my Tandem Master, Moci. That’s pronounced as “Motsy”. It’s a Hungarian name. Moci was a paratrooper in the Hungarian Army before coming to Australia. He’s a very nice fellow and made the experience comfortable and enjoyable:

Here he has me strapped into my part of the tandem rig.

Moci has his own business at the Drop Zone. He is a Master Rigger. He is responsible for the maintenance of all of the parachuting equipment:

This is a shot of his rigging loft.

It may appear as if we are praying fervently here, which is not a bad idea, but we are only discussing the finer points of hurling ourselves out of the door of a speeding airplane:

The praying came later.

Here I am with Moci, making my way to the Caravan:

It is very uncomfortable to walk with that harness on. It exerts unwanted pressure in awkward places. You walk very much like a duck.

Here I am strapped firmly to Moci and exhibiting gobs of confidence:

This second tandem jump was much better than the first. I had more time to work up to it and I knew the people with whom I was jumping. I felt no anxiety at all. In fact, I was fairly panting to get out in the slipstream and have a look down.

Once at the door, one has little time to think the situation over. You are going and that’s that. As it was, I looked forward to the fall. We jumped from 14,000 feet:

Sadly, I have no images of us hurtling through the air with my hair on fire. If you like, you can check out my first tandem jump to see the “Bart Simpson hair”. The free fall segment was terrific. It seemed to last longer this time. It was very cold up high, but you could feel the air warming during the fall. That is a weird sensation. I wasn’t prepared for the canopy opening, so it caught me by surprise. I probably didn’t hear Moci warn me, as I was screaming like a banshee. It just makes you want to holler!

I don’t know if I will ever get another chance to do this, but I’m grateful that this item on my Bucket List is now well covered.

Now I will show you something which I will bet that most of you have never seen:

I seriously wanted to get some Kangaroo shots while at the Drop Zone. I saw many, but could not get close enough for a picture, even with the 26X zoom on my Olympus camera. So, I did the next best thing. I took a picture of Kangaroo dung. I hope it amuses you.

I can’t leave the area without paying homage in pixels to Beautiful Downtown Toogoolawah:

What you are seeing is about half of it. If I had turned around and faced the other direction, I could show you the other half.

Sometimes civilisation comes in small packages.

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Ramblers Skydiving – The Rides

Posted in On Tthe Road on March 30th, 2011 by MadDog
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You may note that I have once again been absent from Madang – Ples Bilong Mi  for a week. This is not my fault. It is the fault of the Great Australian Outback, where a web connection is a rare thing. I was, of course, nowhere near the real outback, which is way out west from Toogoolawah, where the Skydiving Ramblers Drop Zone is located. I was the well-treated guest of Dave McEvoy and Ali Raynor, two friends I met in Madang when they visited there. Dave carried the Ramblers torch and founded Ramblers Parachute Centre in 1974.

I really had expected to hang loose at the drop zone for a few days as an observer and general all-round pest. I ended up doing a tandem jump and getting two rides in the drop plane in the bargain. This was an unexpected pleasure.

Here is a shot which I took of the drop zone from the wonderful Caravan:Which I will get to in a moment.

First, I want to show you one of the wonderful sunsets which one can expect here when the weather is fair:Colourful, eh?

This is the amazing Cessna Caravan. It is not only beautiful, but it is an absolute pleasure to ride in:I have never been up front in a plane with a “glass cockpit”. There were only a handful of conventional instruments visible. There were two large management displays such as this one (one for the pilot, one for the co-pilot) with a huge GPS navigation display between them. Flying this plane is pretty much a push-button operation:I was flabbergasted to hear how much this plane cost.

One of the more interesting aspects of my two flights (this one with pilot Carl, in the image) was that I had to strap on a parachute:Some of you will know that I’m an old pilot, mostly helicopters. Everybody knows that helicopter pilots don’t wear parachutes. How would you use it, exactly? However, I’ve done a fair amount of fixed-wing flying, also. It amused me that this is the first time I have ever worn a parachute. It amused me further that the Caravan is possibly the safest aircraft I have ever had the pleasure to fly in, discounting commercial airliners, of course (how safe are   they?).

Here is Roger, my first pilot. I include his image only so that I can mention that I was suddenly caught up by the idea that I’d never flown with anyone names Roger and I could not get my mind off of the novelty of saying, “Roger, Roger.” every time he spoke to me. I think it got a bit annoying after a while, so I stopped doing it:

Roger’s a forgiving bloke.

There were many other amusements at the drop zone. The bird life and kangaroos were great fun. These lorikeets were always about, making more noise than one would think possible:I found myself strangely incapable of getting a single kangaroo picture. I simply could not get close enough for a shot. However, I did get some great koala shots, which I will show as soon as I can get them off my Olympus camera. I forgot my cable and the card adapter, so I have no way to transfer the images to my computer.

Here is a self-shot image of me sitting in the co-pilot’s seat of the Caravan:I’ beginning to look like Gabby Hayes. It’s time to trim the beard.

I’ll finish with another Toogoolawah sunset:This one shows a crepuscular ray just to the left of centre. Well, we’ve all seen them before, even if we didn’t know what to call them. Only the hopelessly geeky know those kinds of things (did I say that?). Anyway we see these rays all the time. This one struck me as a little out of the ordinary because it is shining like a big orange searchlight on the bottom of a cloud above the horizon. If you click it to enlarge the image you’ll see it better. You’ll also see five birds which happened along just as I was taking the shot.

I’ll be back tomorrow with shots of my tandem jump. Geronimo!

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Ali’s Roos – Guest Shooter Alison Raynor

Posted in Guest Shots on December 28th, 2010 by MadDog
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Sometimes an image has nothing at all to do with photography and everything to do with the subject. A wonderful example of this is the stack of shots which I received a few days ago from my friend Alison Raynor of Queensland, Australia. You’ll find Ali here as the guest shooter in several posts. Ali lives in a magical place and has what seems to me to be a magical life. I think that these images, taken at long range from her veranda, support my somewhat romanticised vision of her habitat. I’ll let Ali explain:

I know that there is no quality to these photos at all, but the subject matter and sharing these incredible moments with you is what is important. Taken from the veranda on max zoom – they were not good and so I played with them in my Mac Photoshop . These juvenile male roos were playing at being the “big boys”. They would fight to the death in a real battle. The big buck at the right of this picture is the boss man, big daddy, and he is overseeing the young ones. The 3rd photo cracks me up. I would love someone to write a caption. Number 5, standing on their tails to do battle, you don’t often see it let alone get the privilege of wrapping your shutter around it. Hope you like them Jan. They are really only for you to look at and enjoy.

Well, I’m certainly not going to keep these to myself. Within the constraints of the image quality of consumer grade “super-zoom” cameras, these are beautiful shots. The extra-long zooms lenses on some cameras loose a great deal of quality when stretched to their limits. They yield usable, but not sparkling images. I’m happy to live with this, considering that an equivalent 600-800 mm zoom lens mounted on a high range digital SLR camera would set me back a significant portion of my yearly income. I would have to give up eating.

Ali did a good job of cleaning up the images. The only thing that I did was to run a noise filter and then balance them so that they are more or less the same tone. Colour noise and fringing are real problems with these super-zoom images, so I followed Ali’s lead and reduced them all to near monochrome. The roos are the story, not the photography.

Here’s “big daddy” supervising a sparring match between a couple of youngsters:

And this is the classic “boxing kangaroo” pose:

The boxing kangaroo was featured on the flag of the Australian entry into the Ameraca’s Cup race in 1983. I remember driving through the Ramu Valley in that year, listening to the race on the radio and cheering Australia on. It’s also used on the flag of the Australian Army soldiers clearing mines in Afghanistan.

This is the one for which Ali would like a caption. Care to leave one in a comment?

That shot really captures a moment.

Here’s another one worthy of a caption:

I don’t even know what to say about this one:

How can they do that?

Finally, when they tire of the game, they hop away.

I remember Eunie telling the story to anyone who asked us how we managed to convince our eleven year old son, Hans, to go peacefully off to Papua New Guinea. Hans had only one request. He said that we could go if we promised him that he could go to Australia and see kangaroos in the wild. His favourite childhood toy was a fuzzy kangaroo.

We kept that promise.

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Aussie Flag Over Bribie Island – Guest Alison Raynor

Posted in Guest Shots on December 6th, 2010 by MadDog
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A few days ago Alison Raynor sent to me some long-promised skydiving shots. Toogoolawah up in Queensland in Australia is an action centre for skydiving. Ali is a great source of beautiful photographs and amusing subjects. She has had some very nice Guest Shots on Madang – Ples Bilong Mi. I’m happy to bring you this great story of skydiving in words and images. My thanks to Ali once again for giving me a break from navel diving.

I’ll let Ali tell it:

I took these photos at a Ramblers Display team jump at a Bribie Island community event. Doug Stewart is jumping the Aussie flag and has been doing this as part of the team for about 20 odd years. I think of him as “Fearless Fly.” The huge flag with all its lead-shot weight is packed very carefully into a big bag and clipped to his harness which hangs off his tummy. He lugs it all into the plane along with his parachute rig on his back and after his parachute is open and is flying safely he deploys the flag and weights. Nine out of ten times he lands it on the target in some really “tight spots.” This is one of those tight spots. It’s a postage stamp sized beach with a huge jetty on one side, the Bribie Passage (deep water channel complete with a large flotilla of small ships) on the other and a rock wall with about 500+ people looking onto the beach. There are also giant pine trees. Did I mention the raging SE wind blowing in off the sea? Anyway, these blokes are seasoned old skydiving pro’s with not one dare devil amongst them. These are calculated events. After weighing up all situations and risks the answer is usually . . . “Geronimo!”

The Demo team has jumped into many situations over the years and this was just another day’s work really.

Doug flies a large canopy designed for accuracy rather than speed. It is more manoeuvrable, controllable and much more forgiving on landing.

Dave and Sarge land and wait for Doug and the flag to touch down. Egon, the ground crew rushes to the target to assist Doug on landing.

Doug drifts down. Ahhh, the concentration!

And down . . .

Not yet . . .

And down

The little bit of yellow in the left bottom corner is the edge of the target (not bad accuracy,considering the conditions). The lead shot bag is about to hit the sand and Doug will hit the ground almost simultaneously- note the distance to the ground – it’s all maths for Doug from here really. The bag and harness on the front of Doug is the “flag bag”. He deploys the flag after his parachute is open:

Doug was dragged base over apex while the other two tried to fight their way out from under the billowing flag.

Both Egon and Sarge missed Doug completely as they were enveloped under the flag . . . ha ha!

Sarge is also running to help Doug hand when he lands. It is called “catching” and is also done when tandem jumps are landing in stronger winds. The aim is to grab a steering toggle and pull it out to full length, so as to collapse the canopy and prevent it re-inflating in the strong wind and dragging the pilot, but guess what . . .

Egon fights his way out of the flag and comes to the rescue as Doug digs his knees in to fight being dragged. Meanwhile Sarge is still lost under the flag and Dave is looking and laughing at the circus.

I may have gotten some of the images attached to the wrong captions. I wasn’t quite sure about it. I think that I have the sequence right, but I know little about skydiving. Ali will let me know if I got them mixed up.

Ever since I did my first skydive in Cairns I have wanted to do it again. Since I am going back to Australia again next year, I plan to visit Toogoolawah with my friend Val Jerram who also wants to do some jumps. She has been hang gliding, something which I have not yet done. I was jealous. Now I am even with her. She’s done the hang glide and I’ve jumped out of an airplane. I’m sure that she wants to get ahead of me again in this crazy race.

It’s gonna be fun!

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Alison Raynor’s Magic Garden

Posted in Guest Shots, Photography Tricks on November 5th, 2010 by MadDog
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Today we’re going to do some more of Alison Raynor’s shots from Amazing Australia. How could a place called Toogoolawah not  be magical? I’m getting very bored talking about myself, so I’m giving my ego a holiday. It needs a rest. I will have a few comments to make concerning photography and the the care and feeding of images.

Let’s start with this sunset shot at Mt. Beppo. This probably won’t be hanging on any gallery walls, but it has some interesting features. The first thing which I noticed was the colour of the sky in the upper part of the image. It is most unusual. I tried not to mess with it, so it is pretty faithful to the original, I think. The horizon is slightly tilted. In this shot, it works fine for me. It’s not quite an angled line, which is a good compositional tool, but it isn’t straight either. It teases the eyes just a little, like a picture hanging crooked on the wall. I like the fence post standing right in the middle. The eyes keep coming back to it. There are two trees, but they are very different. This provides some contrasting elements:

All in all, it’s a pleasant, simple shot which speaks with a small, comforting voice. Ali emailed it to me at 1280 x 960 pixels and the file size was about 140K. That is about the minimum size in pixels and the tightest compression which works well for a photography oriented site such as MPBM. You can click on it to enlarge and have a nice viewing experience.

This is another very pretty image. It reminds me of the succulent plants which we called “Hens and Chickens” as children. Ali can tell us what it is, I’m certain:

I got this one in an email also. It came in at 516 x 639 pixels and the file size was 65K. Now we are getting into the range of too few pixels for pleasant “click me” viewing. If you do click to enlarge you will be able to begin to see some jaggie edges and the level of detail has dropped off. It’s fine to view on the page, but when you blow it up, it suffers. According to your browser and your display resolution, it may also not fill your screen.

I hasten to add that I haven’t talked to Ali about any of this yet, so I hope she can forgive me for jumping the gun. Ali shoots lovely images. I want them to keep coming – just a little bigger.

When I first saw this one I thought that someone had woven a spider web out of string. It is a near perfect coating of morning dew. The web is being dragged down by the weight of the water:

This one came in at 480 x 640 pixels and about 70K. It is too small for blown-up viewing. Also, if you do enlarge it you can begin to see chunky little out-of-place bits, especially around the edges of the web, which are produced when the image is compressed down to a too-small file size. You might have to zoom in a little to see this. In Firefox you can hold the CTRL key down and press the “+” or “-” key to zoom in or out. These chunky bits are called compression artefacts. Once they are there, you can’t get rid of them. All you can do is go back to your original file and save it again with less compression, and possibly more pixels. There is no free lunch. This is why I always save a copy of an image which I have edited at the full resolution that it was shot. I use a different file name for the “save as”, but keep the image number in it, so that I have both the camera image and the edited image. I might want to start all over on the editing for a different effect. I don’t want to waste all of my editing work by downsizing the image and compressing it too much. I can then make smaller versions for special purposes as I need them.

Again I’ll note that Ali did not know that I was going to put these up on MPBM, though she should suspect that I’m likely to, because nearly everything that she sends, I like. I’ll also say that I’m a little jealous of that spider web. I don’t have any which are nearly so good.

This is another very interesting spider web shot, because of its depth of field (pretty much in focus from near to far). I really like the washed out colours and the way the building and tree seem to float behind the web. The jumbled twigs in the sky are a nice touch:

This one was about the same size and compression as the previous one. If you click to enlarge, you will see that it also suffers when blown up. It is the same problem, not enough pixels and too much compression. The fewer pixels you start with, the more the image will suffer from too much compression.

This is a very sweet, loud image. It tickles my fancy. It breaks a few compositional rules, but it still pops!

It came in at 1280 x 960 pixels and 213K. Though a little short on my usual standard of 1600 pixels on the longest dimension, it still looks very nice enlarged. Also the larger file size means that the compression was not too great, so there are no nasty compression artefacts. Very pretty indeed, but you don’t want to stare at it for too long. If you do, you will no longer be in Kansas!

I like this Snake in the Garden shot. It is so hard to get close enough to snakes to get great shots such as this one. For one thing, I’m never quite certain what might like to bite me and what the consequences of that might be. This one doesn’t look dangerous, but neither does Britney Spears. Still, I would keep my distance from her:

This one came in at 640 x 480 and 48K. That’s too small and too compressed. If you click to enlarge, you will see another type of compression artefact. Look in the lighter areas especially and you will notice some little squares of colour which don’t blend in with each other. This is because the compression program is breaking the image into little blocks to try to make the image smaller. As you enlarge the image, you can see the blocks.

So, what’s the message? Well, if you would like to send to me some of your tasty images for a guest shot (and I can’t imagine why you would not), just follow this simple formula. Resize your final, perfect image down (remembering to keep a copy at full size) to 1600 pixels on the longest edge. Then, when you are saving, set your compression to make a file no smaller than about 200K. The resulting file will look beautiful on a full screen view.

I can but hope that Ali will forgive me for using her very pretty shots as examples. If I had received them at larger sizes I would have not had the chance for this little excursion into the bone-crushingly boring details of image sizing and compression. So, thank you Ali.

By the way, I cannot resist, at the slightest opportunity, to poke fun at rabid Britney Spears fans. My post  Britney Spears Will Make Me Famous attracted more comments than any other on MPBM. There were many more acid remarks left which I did not allow into the comments. I received no death threats, but there were some which made me glad that I was half a world away from the sender.

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