Fine Art Print #3 - Sydney Dust Storm

Of all the photographs I have ever taken, this is the most surreal. 

In 2009, I moved to Sydney with the intention of never coming back; and I would have gotten away with it too, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids…

While we were sorting ourselves out with somewhere to live, we were staying with friends in Neutral Bay; which spoiled us a little bit, because that had set the standards of living way too high for the meagre rent we could actually afford - but c’est la vie…

Anyway, Neutral Bay is just a short walk from the Harbour Bridge and we often went for walks around the shore to take in the beauty of the most stunning, picturesque city in the world. I don’t think there is a single view of Sydney from anywhere that isn’t anything other than completely gorgeous and it is not hard to see why everybody falls in love with it. 

I think it was only a week or two after I arrived in September 2009, that I was excitedly awoken at six AM proclaiming that the apocalypse had arrived. 

Outside the window, and all around as far as the eye can see, was an orange fog. As thick as the thickest winter fog here in the UK and visibility about as far as the other side of the road; it was eerie. Everything was still, there was no noise and it was very disconcerting. 

This was what a dust storm felt like. This was apparently a once in a decade occurrence, where the wind currents bring in dust from the deserts out West, blanketing the city and grinding it to a halt until it settles and is gone. 

My first thought was to go outside with my trusty old Canon 1Dn Mkii (these were old times) to capture it and fire off a few frames to the agency back in the UK. 

For anyone out there asking the question ‘can you change lenses in these sort of conditions without completely screwing up the camera?’ The answer is: No, no you cannot and it will set you back a fair wad of cash getting it fixed and serviced. 

I had to grovel to my friend I was staying with to let me borrow his because I sensed a sale or two in this. 

So I had to scope out how to use a different, smaller camera, chuck my lens on it and get down to the bridge sharpish. 

This is the shot I ended up with, but it wasn’t the one I planned in my head. I wanted to get the Opera House and bridge in frame because that would increase the chance of a sale - but as you can see, the visibility meant that I had to get really close up to anything at all, and I didn’t have time to get over to the other side of the harbour to the Opera House. 

While I was never a news photographer per se, I shot a lot of stuff that was news worthy. It’s a different skill set to PR photography, landscape photography or anything else where you have the luxury of planning, time and proper post production. The ability to think quickly, find an angle, get stuff edited quickly, captioned and wired out trumps anything else and these are the rules I learnt and lived by at the beginning of my career. It’s also to my detriment that I wasn’t able to plan for the best shot in my head, such was my inner voice shouting ‘GET THE SHOT AND RUN!’ which I always cursed at when I saw much better shots published ahead of mine. When shooting news, there is an editorial code that we have to follow, and for photographers that means that photos can not be manipulated. Editing wise, you are allowed to colour correct, crop for framing and sharpen; that is about it. For the longest time I have lived by that code. I think it has contributed to my style, and my mantra, even now, when shooting weddings, PR or portraits is that if I can’t make it look good in ten seconds, it’s deleted. 

Given the circumstances, I like how this shot turned out. It documents a moment in time that people talked about and gave me a lasting memory of my first few weeks in Sydney. It was also used a fair bit in the UK press, which bought me a few Irn Bru’s in those first few months in a strange, foreign place! 

So - for the next seven days,you can get this A4 colour print for only £12.75 (plus P&P) using the discount code 15OFF at checkout. All transactions are secure and handled by PayPal.

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