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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman

 

My favorite photographer

If you are interested in photography (and I presume you must be if you are reading this column) then you probably have bought a few photography books, and by now you have a favorite photographer.

You do have a favorite photographer, don’t you? No? Well, you should! Everyone should have a photographer whose work stimulates you to greater heights. For me, I have many whose work I enjoy – Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton and Jeff Dunas all rate high, but one photographer who inspires me not only with his images, but also with his words, was the late Larry Dale Gordon.

Now when I say that your favorite photographer’s work should inspire you, that does not mean that you should rush out and slavishly copy their work. Don’t laugh, I have seen it done so many times in camera club level photographers who have been most upset when I mark them down for copying, rather than being creative.

When I say “inspire” I mean that you look at the work and say to yourself, “How did he/she do that?” You should look at the end result and work out how you can use that technique, to produce your own shot. Half the fun in photography is working out “how to” with the other half being the enjoyment of looking at the final image.

So why does Larry Dale Gordon inspire me? There are many reasons. First off, he is a self trained photographer, who believes that the way to learn is to do it. Let me quote you from one of his books, “I learned photography through experience; by putting film through the camera, peering through the lenses, trial and error, and pondering every facet of light. It’s the only way. If you think there is another way, or a faster way, write a book telling how and you will make considerably more money than by being a photographer.” These are very wise words. Cut them out and stick them on your bathroom mirror and read them every day! In fact, renowned Thai photographer, Tom Chuawiwat, used to tell me that professional photography was the only job where the client paid you to learn!

I’ve tried to see just what it is about Larry Dale Gordon’s pictures that appeal so much to me and I’ve come up with two basic concepts. Simplicity and Color.

Simplicity makes any photograph more readily understandable. Your photos should also have a strong, dominant color to attract the eye to the photo.

So look at the photo I have chosen here. A sunset, which can be deduced by the orange color, and a kangaroo on the beach which places the photo in Australia. This is a classic genre which can be duplicated by anyone with a camera. So saying, all you have to do is nip down to Pattaya Beach late afternoon with your pet ‘roo’, or if you want to make it Thailand, with your pet elephant!

Let’s not make slavish copies! But instead, let’s look at how we can accomplish the effect of a monochromatic picture and silhouette. To make it easier for you, pick your favorite beach or riverside at a time when the sun can be behind your subject – be that people or things. Now you need a tricky filter, called a “tobacco” filter. On that bright sunny day, with the light behind your subject(s) hold this brown/orange filter over the lens and pop the shutter. Stick it on Auto if you will, the camera will do the rest. Even experiment with different colors to get strangely wonderful or weirdly dreadful results.

The only point to really remember is to get the light behind the subject. You will be able to get this “pseudo sunset” look any time after three in the afternoon. Try it and amaze your friends with a classic silhouette!

Gene Butera one of Larry’s favorite Creative Directors, says it all, “Larry discovered long ago that he has two consuming drives in life; travel and photography. He also realized that by combining the two, he could create an ideal career. Some thirty years and 70 countries later, Larry shot exotic subjects with equal enthusiasm and creativity.”

And Thailand has exotica galore!


Absorbing and reflecting

Ready to absorb? And reflect later? Information columns such as these are designed to give you something to absorb, and then after application, to reflect on the results. However, nothing quite so philosophical - I want to show you how some very simple reflectors and absorbers can be used to give your photos some sparkle and mystery.

Remembering that all of photography is really just “painting with light”, let us look at manipulating the available light using very simple reflectors and absorbers, and both cost next to nothing! Yet the difference these can make to your photos is remarkable.

I was given a silver and a gold reflector, very natty, fold away, store easily, carry easily reflectors. These particular ones even come in their own little zip-up bags to keep them warm and dry. They unfold to make a one and a half meter diameter circular reflector. Both are white on one side, but on the other, one is gold and the other is silver. However, they are very simple to make.

But first, why do you need a reflector? If they are so damn good, why aren’t we all rushing around with silver and gold reflectors tucked under our arms? The simple answer is that we get too complacent and we end up saying that the results we get are “good enough”, or we were just taking snapshots anyway. However, if you really want photos that leap off the page, think about reflectors!

The first thing a gold reflector can do for your photographs is to give skin tones that “golden glow” that just makes portraits look that much more pleasing.

So what else does a reflector do for your photographs? Well it allows you to photograph “contre jour” as they say in the classics. That is having the light behind your subject (generally the sun) and then you can throw some reflected light back into the subject’s face. If you do not do this, the usual result is something closer to a silhouette than a portrait – a bright halo around the subject which then becomes so dark in the face that you cannot distinguish the features. But with the reflector, you can push the light back in and pick up the details.

So that was the gold reflector – what about the silver one? Well, if you want “clean” and bright light on a subject anywhere, the silver reflector will do that for you. Use this type of reflector when photographing silver jewelry or even motor cars, for example. Mind you, if you are photographing gold jewelry you must use a gold reflector or otherwise the gold necklaces look silver in the photo.

Now, here’s how you make your own. Get some “foamcore” – that lightweight plastic material that is often used to make signs (any signmakers will have some). Around one meter square is OK. Now go to the newsagents and buy some gold wrapping paper and some silver wrapping paper. Cover one side of the “foamcore” with silver and the other side with the gold paper and you have lightweight, portable (you can fold them in half easily) silver and gold reflectors. And it has cost you less than a couple of hundred baht.

Now “absorbers”. To give your shots some shadow, or even an air of mystery, it is good to manipulate the amount of shadow in your portraits. You do this by placing something on the side of the subject away from the light source, to absorb (and not let light be reflected back into the subject) and allow a natural fall-off of light. The best absorber is black velvet. You bring the black velvet absorber as close as you can to the subject, without it coming into the viewfinder. It is that simple.

To make this absorber, use another one meter square sheet of foamcore and cover one side with black velvet material. You pin or clip the material to it and that is it.

You will really be amazed by the way the use of a reflector and absorber can put a different atmosphere into your photographs – especially portraits. Try taking the same shot using different reflectors and note the difference for future use.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

My favorite photographer

Absorbing and reflecting