Saturday, March 17, 2018 - March 23, 2018
DOF and Duh!
Taking photographs is not all that
difficult these days. The “Auto” mode with most cameras takes all the
guesswork out of photography. And sure, you will always get an image, but is
it the best that you can get? Unfortunately no. A for Auto will give you A
for Average images. One feature in great photographs is the Depth Of Field,
known as DOF.
What’s DOF? Quite simply, it is Depth
Of Field, and mastery of DOF really is the second rule of photography in my
opinion. Before you ask, the first rule is to walk several meters closer to
the subject to fill the frame!
The Depth Of Field seen in any picture
can often make or break the entire photograph, and knowing how to manipulate
the depth of field improves your photography instantly!
Depth of Field really refers to the
zone of “sharpness” (or being in acceptable focus) from foreground items to
background items. This is different from what the eye sees, as the eye can
instantly focus on near and far objects, giving the brain the impression
that everything in your field of vision is in sharp focus. The camera
electronics cannot do this, no matter how smart they are.
The first concept to remember is “1/3rd
forwards and 2/3rds back.” This is an oversimplification, but ‘works’ very
well. Again this is from the law of optical physics, but means that the DOF,
from foreground to background in your photograph can be measured, and from
the point of maximum focus in the photo, extends towards you by one third
and extends away from the focus point by two thirds.
For those of you with SLR’s, especially
the older manual focus SLR’s, you will even find a series of marks on the
focusing ring of the lens to indicate the Depth of Field that is possible
with that lens.
For each focal length of lens, the DOF
possible is altered by the Aperture. The rule here is simple – the higher
the Aperture number, the greater the DOF and the lower the Aperture number,
the shorter the DOF. In very simple terms, for any given lens, you get
greater front to back sharpness with f22 and you get very short front to
back sharpness at f4.
For example, using a 24 mm focal length
lens focused on an object 2 meters away – if you select f22, the DOF runs
from just over 0.5 meter to 5 meters (4.5 meters total), but if you select
f11 it only runs from 1 m to 4 m (3 m total) and if you choose f5.6 the
Depth of Field is only from 1.5 m to 3 m (1.5 m total).
On the other hand, using a longer 135
mm focal length lens focused at the same point 2 meters away, you get the
following Depths of Field – at f22 it runs from 1.9 m to 2.2 m (0.3 m) and
at f5.6 it is 1.95 m to 2.1 m (a total of 0.15 m).
These figures may look confusing at
first, but by mastering the concept, you end up with mastery of the DOF and
how this can ‘sharpen up’ your photographs.
Analysis of all these initially
confusing numbers shows the higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF;
the smaller the Aperture number the smaller the DOF; plus the longer the
lens, the shorter the DOF, the shorter the lens, the longer the DOF (just
remember the ‘opposites’ – the longer gives shorter).
Now to apply this formula – when
shooting a landscape for example, where you want great detail from the
foreground, right the way through to the mountains five kilometers away,
then use a short lens (24 mm is ideal) set at f22 and focused on a point
about 2 km away. You are now shooting like Ansel Adams
On the other hand, when shooting a
portrait like Richard Avedon, where you only want to have the eyes and mouth
in sharp focus you would use a longer lens (and here the 135 is ideal) and a
smaller Aperture number of around f5.6 to f4 and focus directly on the eyes
to give that ultra short Depth of Field required.
There you go, now a master of DOF.
Saturday, March 10, 2018 - March 16, 2018
Never share a stage with kids or animals
There is an old saying
from vaudeville, “Never share a stage with kids or animals”. For the weekend
photographer, you could almost say the same, but make that photographing
kids or animals.
Here’s why this is
true. The techniques required are almost the same, everyone has high
expectations for the results, and the final photograph has probably got less
than 40 percent chance of being to the satisfaction of the mother/owner/zoo
keeper! Make no mistake about it, photographing animals is not easy.
To begin with, let us
state that the animals to be captured on film are usually domesticated pets.
Photographing man-eating lions in their natural habitat is even more
difficult. And dangerous! Use a 2000 mm lens and pray a lot.
Now, like photographing
anything, the most important factor is the lighting. If you photograph Fido
in a dark corner of the room, you will get a gloomy picture of man’s best
friend. For your pet to look good, you need good lighting. I suggest that
the best places are either outside in the garden, or on a window ledge. With
both of these, you are using the lighting supplied by the great lighting
technician in the sky, and he is hard to beat.
The other important
factor in lighting is to turn off your flash. Using flash will only startle
the animal and after all your labors you will get only one shot - the first
one. The pesky beast will have bolted after the first flash-burst!
The next item to be
looked at is the background. Remember that the “hero” has to be Fido, so you
do not want the background to intrude. And it is not like photographing a
person, you cannot say, “Move half a meter to the left.”
Here is one of the real
secrets of photographing animals - you have to set everything up beforehand.
You cannot do it once the star has been brought out into center stage. You
have to look through the viewfinder and imagine what Fido would look like in
front of that bush, tree, flowerbed or whatever. Dogs and cats have a very
short attention span. It is probably best to try and shoot the critter
against a fairly bland background and a nice grassy piece of lawn is one of
the best. This is particularly so with dogs, as you can shoot down towards
the animal and have nothing but green in the background.
It is often handy to
have a stuffed toy along with you. Putting the toy in position means you can
pre-set the focus, check the exposure details and background before bringing
Fido out to do his thing. I had the world’s most photographed stuffed tiger
as my animal photography assistant.
The next part is the
hardest. To make this animal portrait appealing, Fido has to appear bright
and alert. Since Fido generally spends 95% of his time looking dozy you have
already got in behind the 8 ball before you pop the shutter. The owner will
want the alert dog picture and you will have to produce it.
With dogs, the trick
here is a box of matches. Just before you take the shot, rattle the match
box in your hand. Fido will look up, ears will be erect and you get that
With cats it is even
more difficult. The classic shot is cat licking lips. This can be
engineered, by wiping a little bacon fat on the cat’s mouth and moving
quickly. You have around three seconds to get the photograph before the cat
wanders off and does its independent cat thing.
Probably the easiest to
photograph are pet frogs, but even these look better if you sprinkle some
water on them first. Birds? Hit and miss, just take plenty of shots.
Update Saturday, March 3, 2018 - March 9, 2018
Fore-warned is fore-armed!
Yes, Songkran is coming, and there’s
nothing you can do to stop it as it splashes on for the whole nine days.
From a personal point of view this is 10 days too many, but from the
photographers point of view it does mean you have more opportunities to get
a great shot, and opportunities to practice getting the result you want.
There is no getting away from the fact
that Songkran is a festival you should photograph – even if it is only once!
I will also admit that the first time I experienced this annual water
throwing event, I too thought it was fun. Remember that the Thais talk about
“playing” Songkran, not “celebrating” Songkran.
By the way, despite what you may be
told, this is not a uniquely ‘Thai’ festival, but one that is celebrated in
many countries in SE Asia, so if you want to stay dry go further than the
As a visual spectacle it is definitely
worth recording for posterity, but this should not be done at the expense of
your camera equipment. As mentioned, this is a water festival, and cameras
and thrown water (and powder and ice) do not mix. (For that matter, water
throwing and alcohol do not mix either, which is just one of the reasons for
the horrendous death toll.)
There are several ways around this
problem. The first is to go all out and buy a Nikonos underwater camera at
the cost of many thousands of baht. These are a wonderful underwater camera
but for this instance – totally impractical, unless you want to stand at the
side of the road in a full wet-suit!
The second way is to purchase a fancy
plastic underwater housing for your own camera. Now these can range in
price, depending on complexity. Built like a perspex box to house your
camera, you can operate all the adjustments from the outside. These are not
cheap either, but the cheapest in the range is literally a plastic bag with
a waterproof opening and a clear plastic section for the lens. You open it
up and literally drop your camera inside it and seal the bag. These can be
purchased from major photographic outlets and I did spot one in a photo shop
for B. 750.
In the good old days of film, you could
purchase disposable camera. Good for about three meters, so perfectly
suitable for splashing water. Those days are gone, but look into the larger
camera stores, there might be one left. Remember you need to have the film
developed afterwards. It is yesterday’s technology!
So now let’s get down to some serious
photo techniques to get that magic Songkran shot. Since you are trying to
capture the movement of the water, a slow shutter speed will help. Hand-held
you are probably not going to get down below 1/30th, but you could try some
at 1/15th, it’s not impossible, especially if you are using a wide-angle
However, since you are trying to get
far enough away to keep the camera dry, you may be forced to use the longer
lenses which means you cannot hand-hold at even 1/30th. The answer here is
to find a good vantage point, some distance from the action, and use a
If you are going down this route, then
the best vantage point is a high one. First floor balconies get you high
enough to escape the water, but not too high that you cannot get into the
activity with a 150 mm lens or longer. Since you will be using a tripod, I
would even set the shutter speed slower than 1/30th, and a few
‘experimental’ shots at 1/8th or even ¼ of a second are worth trying.
Remember that some ‘blurring’ denotes motion in the final photograph, and at
Songkran there is plenty of activity.
Finally, you can always cheat by
photographing through the windscreen of the car, as I did last year! “Chok
di bi mai! May your camera stay dry!”.