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Update September 2017


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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern
 
 
 

SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman

 

Update September 23, 2017

Old photo gear can be worth money

Any semi-serious photographer accumulates a collection of old photo gear. Some of it has become surplus to requirements, some of it is broken and not worth repairing or too difficult to get repaired in this country, and much has become redundant because you have changed camera systems, or even changed complete formats 6x6 to 35 mm or film to digital for example.

I found myself in that situation after purchasing a Panasonic Lumix Digital DMC-FZ50 (which is still delighting me). It took a year of deliberation (some might call it ‘hesitation’ or just plain ‘dithering’) before I made the fateful decision to: a) go digital and b) go Lumix, after more than 20 years of using Nikon exclusively.

Of course, some of you will ask why didn’t I stay with Nikon, with its full range of digital SLRs? Good question, and easily answered. The upper level Nikons are now very expensive, and whilst I had some excellent Nikon manual focus prime lenses, they were not going to be all that compatible with a new Nikon digital auto-focus systems.

That also brings in one of the salient reasons in the purchase of a Lumix – the fantastic 35-420 zoom lens made by Leica that comes with the Panasonic Lumix, coupled with the electronic anti-shake technology so you can hand hold, even at 420 mm. With digitals these days, I believe that you are best served with electronics from an electronic company, with lenses from an optical company. The Lumix definitely fits those two parameters.

Having made the irrevocable decision, I looked at my now defunct Nikon 35 mm film system. I had two cameras, a much loved FM2N, and an FA. The FM2N was the typical journalist’s workhorse with more rolls of film through it than I’ve had hot dinners, whilst the FA was the back up. Only thing was the FA was no longer working, having some kind of internal problem, by which the mirror was locked in the “up” mode.

The lenses were a 24 mm wide angle, old and growing its second crop of fungus (the first was cleaned off about five years ago), a 50 mm ‘standard’ lens and a 135 mm ‘portrait’ lens. I also had a spacer for macro work, which was also very old, but was the good one that still allowed the auto exposure function to work.

Quite frankly, as far as I was concerned, these items were now surplus and it was going to be very unlikely that I would ever use any of it again (although I would still take the FM2N out of its bag and lovingly stroke it every so often).

It was at that stage that a good friend of mine suggested I sell the surplus items, and said that he had excellent results selling items on eBay in the UK. He was returning to the UK himself and offered to sell them, and I thought, “Why not? I’m getting nothing for them sitting in the old camera bag.” He also suggested that I be brutally honest about the condition of the items.

He had been back a couple of weeks when I got the following email:

Watchers Bids £
FA 14 28
FM2N 39 65
Spacers 16 22
24 mm 40 108
50 mm 55 68
135 mm 17 34

That little lot came to 325 pounds sterling, which at current exchange rates is over 14,000 baht, which certainly made purchase of the Lumix a breeze (duty-free price).

What made the exercise even more astounding, was the number of ‘watchers’ who had been looking as the bids went in on eBay. 14 looking at a broken FA and someone who paid almost 1,200 baht for it. The lenses all went for very good money, though I would have thought the 135 mm would have been more desirable than the 50 mm, but the 24 mm did attract the highest bid, as I thought it would.

The moral to this tale, is to look at your old camera gear, broken or otherwise and clear out the cupboard and sell the items on eBay. You will get more than you ever imagined. Just be honest in the description!


Update September 16, 2017

Capturing ‘great’ shots

 

Have you come across the term “record shots”? These can be quite good photographs, but the images are given to the photographer, not made by the photographer. Classic examples of record shots can be seen in photo competitions where there is always more than one shot of fungi in the forest. The photographer then labels these as “Fungi 1”, “Fungi 2” and “Fungi 3” and onwards. Quite spectacular colors with reds and whites predominant. But these are record shots because all the photographer did was trip the shutter.

What story did these record shots present to the person viewing them? Simple answer - no story! A record photograph doesn’t make you curious or lead you to a thoughtful conclusion. There is no implied question, “How did he do that?”

However, a great shot will draw the viewer into the photograph and stimulate the grey cells to ask “What is going on here?”

So how do you escape from the traps of Fungi 1? The first thing to do is to sit down and plan your shots. For example, if you want to take a shot of a waterfall – the record shot approach is to include the signpost Niagara Falls, with the water in the background. So you have a photo of a waterfall and the place was Niagara Falls. Your Aunt might like it. The creative approach is to acknowledge that you can’t get the signpost and the water in the one shot and take them singly, putting some thought into how to do it.

You see, photography isn’t just recording things/events. Photography is part of the creative arts, and creativity is something that you can learn.

I want you to get hold of a book, written in 1981, so now well out of date but try Amazon and go from there. It is called “Shooting your way to a $-Million” and was written by Richard Sharabura. It was my ‘bible’ in my early career and is the most comprehensive “How To” book ever.

He states (correctly) that if you study the work of the great photographers – Avedon, Penn and Turner – it becomes apparent that it is not what they shoot, but how they shoot it that makes their work so memorable.

For example, Chapter 6 covers how to take great photographs, professional techniques and ideas. Subjects include fashion accessories, lingerie, glamor, jewelry, liquor, food, room sets, TV’s and appliances and how much equipment do you really need.

Although the section on cameras dates the book as pre-digital, the items he writes about are really timeless. Like double-sided tape, hypodermic needles for squeezing bubble into a glass of wine for example, rubber cement, six reflector cards (white, black and silver), and other natty ideas to help you raise your photographs above record shots.

As you become more advanced in photography you will be able to produce photographs that have your creativity in them, getting you right away from the record shot problem.

One item that he does not mention (an oversight I am sure) is a notebook and pen. Once you have managed to get the shot you want, the notebook allows you to duplicate that shot next time. This is the quickest way to learn, and photography really is a learning process. Record shots are not!

To further assist you in your search for your personal stamp of creativity, here are a few ideas to expand upon:

Panoramas

Spray a mist of water on the lens and see what results

Mixed lighting (flash, tungsten, daylight)

Long exposures for portraits

Colored filters, especially browns like 81 A and 81 B

That is enough for you to get some enthusiasm for the art of photography, and again, it may be an old edition, but Sharabura’s book is the best teacher you will ever have.


Update September 9, 2017

DSLR Maintenance

This week’s column is dedicated to those of you that have just got a new DSLR. Especially if this DSLR is your first camera.

Cameras do need looking after, and today’s cameras, even in the consumer range, are no longer cheap. It is difficult to find any half-decent DSLR camera under 20,000 baht and even the better point and shooters are around 10,000 baht. Your camera represents a substantial investment – look after it.

The first items to get with the camera are a blower brush, a pack of microfiber cloths and some lens-cleaning fluid. These items are particularly important if your camera has a removable lens, as dirt and abrasive grime can enter the camera every time you unship the lens.

How many times have you got a small piece of grit in your eye? Often, I will wager. Small particles such as that can be very bad for the lens focussing and zooming mechanics too. When the camera is “open”, this is a potential threat. Always try to change lenses in a clean environment

DSLR and mirrorless camera owners who change lenses on a regular basis will find that, over time, blobs will appear in photos. That means you’ve got dust on your sensor, and it is time for a cleaning. You can do a simple “dry cleaning”. Warning! You will need a steady pair of hands.

Other threats to your camera are moisture and condensation and are the easiest ones to counter, but the dampness comes from more than just being caught out in the rain. Thailand is a hot and humid environment. How many times have you taken your camera outside and found you could not see through the viewfinder because it had steamed up? That is condensation. The best answer here is to keep small sachets of silica gel in your camera bag, or in the little “socks” you keep the lenses in. When the silica gel changes color you can pop them back in the micro-wave and rejuvenate them very easily. Many bottles of tablets come with perfect little sachets in the top of them too.

There will also be times when you get caught in the rain, or you may even want to get rain shots. The camera body is reasonably water proof, but you should carefully wipe the outside of the case dry afterwards, and especially blow air around the lens barrel and the lens mount.

After water, the next threat is being dropped. Most larger cameras come with a strap in the box, but they’re often cheaply made and function as little more than free advertising for camera makers. In more dangerous settings, they’re also a great way to advertise to thieves that you are carrying a Nikon or Canon. Get a good, sturdy after-market strap, and always use it.

The camera is not safe just because it is in a camera bag either. Many cheap camera bags do not have cushioning inside. Buy an expensive one. With camera bags, you get what you pay for!

Corrosion is one condition that can kill a camera, and all cameras these days have a battery, the source of corrosion when they leak. Check your batteries regularly, with rechargeable ones kept fully charged and when it seems that the battery loses its charge very quickly, it is time to get a new one.

While still on batteries, buy an extra one, so you will not be left in the situation where you have run out of power, while there’s a million dollar shot in front of you for the taking!

Even though many third-party batteries are just as good as the genuine article, you should be sure to check user reviews of the brand if you can. If you’re worried about buying a copy, buy in person at your local camera store so you can make sure it works and fits your camera before you take it home.

The final item I believe you should have to go with your new camera is a good tripod. A good tripod is not cheap. My very expensive Manfrotto is now over 30 years old and has been on shoots all over the world. The el cheapo won’t last till next Xmas.


Update September 2, 2017

Gold, Silver and Black Velvet

I often mention the Celestial Light Technician. A fancy term for sun light. Unfortunately, sunlight can be very difficult to use, particularly with clouds passing between you and the sun. You are all ready to trip the shutter and the Celestial Lighting Technician turns it all off and you have to wait for 10 minutes and then you only get two minutes to get the shot, very difficult with portraits taken outside.

Fortunately, you can get over this problem with some simple reflectors and absorbers. I was reminded of reflectors after I was given a silver and a gold reflector, very natty, fold away, store easily, carry easily reflectors. These particular ones even came 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 outdoor 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 to 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. Any tailor shop has it. You pin or clip the material to the foamcore 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]

Old photo gear can be worth money

Capturing ‘great’ shots

DSLR Maintenance

Gold, Silver and Black Velvet
 

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