Update Saturday, Nov. 18 - Nov. 24, 2017
Your 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 should
have a favorite photographer.
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. I have seen it done
so many times at camera club level with 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
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, my friend, the 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
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
Update Saturday, Nov. 11 - Nov. 17, 2017
Depth of Field (DOF) is something that
seems to be a challenge for many weekend photographers, though it does not
have to be. 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 DOF in any picture can often make
or break the entire photograph, but knowing how to manipulate the depth of
field improves your photography instantly!
DOF is an optical characteristic and
depends solely on the lens being used and the aperture selected. Altering
the shutter speed, does not change the DOF.
DOF really refers to the zone of
“sharpness” (or being in acceptable focus) from foreground items to
background items in any photograph. This is different from what the eye
sees, as the eye can instantly focus on near and far objects, giving the
impression that everything in your field of vision is in sharp focus. The
camera, however, gives you a slice of time.
The first concept to remember is “1/3rd
forwards and 2/3rds back.” Again this is a law of optical physics, but means
that the DOF, from foreground to background in your photograph can be
measured, and from the focus point 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
focussing ring of the lens to indicate the Depth of Field that is possible
with that lens.
Take a look at this week’s photograph,
and look at the background. It has been made into a soft blur. How did I
change this DOF sharpness? Answer, with a flick of the wrist!
You see, 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 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 focussed 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 focussed 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).
Analysis of all these initially
confusing, numbers gives you now complete mastery of DOF in any of your
photographs. Simply put another way – 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 focussed on a point
about 2 km away.
On the other hand, when shooting a
portrait 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.
Master it this weekend, and just
remember that these optical laws hold good for all cameras, be they film or
digital. Or even the dreaded camera-phone.
Update Saturday, Nov. 4 - Nov. 10, 2017
Professional portraits have something
about them, something which distances good portraits from average ones. When
you take time to analyze a “good” portrait, you always come up with the one
deciding factor – and that is lighting.
Now when you go into a pro’s studio, you will find that
there are flash heads everywhere, with the photographer balancing the
amounts of light that falls on the subject. A typical portraiture set up
will have a back light to illuminate the background, another back light to
highlight the subject’s hair, one light to balance the main light plus one
or two reflectors, so that the final result is a well lit portrait.
To be able to achieve this you will need a minimum of
four flash heads and a flash meter so you can judge the light intensity.
So here we go, how to take an excellent portrait,
without thousands of baht in flash heads. In fact, it only takes one flash
head, plus a large mirror. You will also need a sheet of white paper and a
black reflector (which more correctly should be called an absorber)!
First you have to position the model. I have written
previously about this and how you must stop the model standing to attention,
square on to the camera. As it will take you some time to get the lighting
correct, I suggest you position the model on a chair about 45 degrees to the
camera centerline and only get your model to turn the head towards the
camera when you are fully set up.
So here we go with the main light, the flash head. This
should be aimed (from your left) about 45 degrees from the centerline and
from one meter above the head height of the model, and start with being
about two meters from the model.
This will light the face much stronger on the
photographer’s left and produce a dark shadow under the chin. Don’t worry,
much more to go yet.
Let’s get rid of the dark shadow. This is where the
sheet of white paper comes in. Get your model to hold the sheet of paper
horizontally and about 30 cm below the chin. What this does is to collect
any “spill” and reflect this back under the chin to get rid of that dark
shadow. (It also gives the model something to do!)
Now comes the hair light. Remember I said you will need
a large mirror. Place this behind and to the right of the model, and again
one meter above head height. When you pop the flash, the over-spill is
reflected back on to the model’s hair.
You should now take a few test shots. With a DSLR you
can do this and by looking at the LCD on the back of the camera you can see
if the face is getting too much light, so move the camera another meter
back. Take careful note to see that the mirror itself is not in the shot. Be
prepared to move the mirror hair light to give the hair as much ‘halo’ as
Almost finished, but there is still the black paper to
use. This should be placed close to the model’s face (on the side away from
the flash head illumination) to absorb the spill and give some shadow effect
to produce some 3D to the model’s face.
Now with the variables of the main light’s distance
from the model, the effect from the reflected mirror hair light, the white
paper under the chin and the black absorber you have the making of a very
professional portrait. Try it this weekend.