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
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
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
And Thailand has exotica galore!
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
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
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
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.