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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


September 22, 2018 - September 28, 2018

How to get great holiday snaps

In the days when we used to come home with slides after a holiday, there would be a ‘slide night’ for friends and relatives to be bored out of their minds with shots of, “Here we are at the hotel in Nakon Nowhere, and similar.” You’ve all been there.

However, with today’s digitals, you have the ability to review your photographs instantly, so you have every good reason to come back with better holiday snaps – and here’s how!

What we have to strive for are photos with ‘impact’. Ones that punch the viewer fair between the eyes and compel him or her to look further. To get this elusive ‘impact’ we need to look at simplicity, color, light and depth. Now while that may sound a little too advanced for someone with a point and shooter, it is not really.

Let’s take Simplicity first. In your photo there should be an identifiable “hero” - that is the subject matter. You have to frame up your shot so that you get rid of extraneous matter which detracts from the simplicity and also detracts from the subject, thus weakening your message. One tip is to use a wide angle lens and walk in close to heighten the dramatic viewpoint of your subject.

Color is next. Unless you are a Black and White exponent, color is one very easy way to get ‘impact’ into your shots. Look for very strong colors and include them in the photos. The three primary colors are red, blue and yellow and if you look through a travel photography book, you will find lots of reds, blues and yellows. You should also intensify the colors by screwing a Polarizing Filter on the end of your lens. This richens the color by decreasing the amount of reflection and will give you that deep blue sky you want in your holiday photographs.

When we mention ‘Light’ we are referring to the stuff supplied by the celestial light technician - the sun! The two best times to shoot are early in the morning or late in the afternoon. These are sometimes called the “magic hours” by some photographers, but they certainly are the times to shoot. You will get good shadow definition to give solidity to the scene and the two very different colors in the light also give your travel photos that extra something. The early morning ones will have a blue cast, while the late afternoon has distinctly orange hues. In fact, this weekend take the same shot at both those times and see the difference. For those who would like a technical explanation, as the sun approaches the horizon, its light has to pass through a greater air mass, including ozone, dust and water vapor. Wavelengths at the blue end of the spectrum are scattered and absorbed more than those at the red end of the spectrum, so the sunlight appears to turn yellow, and then red.

Now let’s see how we can add Depth into your photographs. By “depth” we are trying to give your flat photos a 3D appearance. The first way is to use shadow to give depth. The second way is to include people in the shots to give a sense of perspective. This is the only way you can show just how large any statue is - compare it to the height of a person. Another old photographic “trick” is to include “leading lines” such as a wall, fence or pathway to pull the viewer into the shot. These lines also work best when they follow a diagonal, rather than a straight horizontal or vertical.

The final two items of advice are quite simple - time and people. Take your time when you have arrived at the travel destination and walk around statues, memorials, temples and the like. You may see a better view than the usual front on variety. Search for interesting foregrounds and vary the framing and composition. And try as much as possible to include people in your travel shots. Adding one or two people in a photograph adds a point of connection for the viewer, a sense of being there.

Have a happy holiday!

September 15, 2018 - September 21, 2018

How to polarize your vision

The most under-used item in your camera bag is a filter – the polarizer. This one filter can make such an incredible difference to your photographs that it is difficult to leave it off the front of your lens. Colors are richer to start with, which is a definite plus. But there are some negative issues as well.

These filters are different from most others in the fact that they are made up of two distinct elements. There is an outer ring that rotates the outer “glass” relative to the inner element. This increases or reduces the degree of polarization to allow an endless range of polarized effects from one filter.

Now there are people who think that all a polarizer can do is let you see ladies legs in swimming pools. This is merely a minor property for this extremely versatile filter.

What you have to understand, with these filters, is that they remove reflections that come from any surface, not just water. The reason you cannot see through some windows is because of reflected images on the surface of the glass. The reason some tree leaves appear to lose their color is reflected light from the sky above. Likewise, a shiny red boat is reflecting light from the sea or the sky.

One of the traps for young players is that because you know the grass is green, you see it as green when you look through the camera lens. The ability to look in a discriminating way is one of the real secrets of photography, let me assure you.

Look again at the green grass scene in the viewfinder. The green grass is really a mixture of green, silvery reflections, dark shadows and pale green shoots. Put the polarizing filter on and slowly rotate the outer ring. Suddenly the silvery reflections disappear and become a deep, solid green color. The grass is now made up of green, dark green and pale green. This green will really leap out at you and smack you fair between the eyes!

Your next beach scene when taken with a polarizer will really amaze you. Again, slowly rotate the outer ring on the polarizer. Look critically through the viewfinder and you will see the sky take on a much deeper color to highlight the white clouds. Keep turning that outer ring and the sea will change to a deep blue to green luminescent hue. The end result is at your command. Try taking the same shot this weekend, but with varying degrees of polarization and see the difference in the final images.

Another shot to try with or without polarization is photographing a reflective, shiny object like your family car. Again, by looking critically through the viewfinder you will see what happens when you remove the reflections from the paint work.

So, if the polarizer is such a wonderful bit of gear, why do we not make it a standard piece of equipment on all cameras? Well, like everything, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, there is a downside as well as the upside. In the case of the polarizer it does its bit of brilliance at the expense of the amount of light that gets through to the electronic image sensor. With most polarizing filters you will lose about one and a half stops of light. What this means is that the shutter speed will be at least twice as long to record the same scene, or that the aperture will be twice the size. This means that you are more likely to get camera shake effects and suffer from lack of depth of field when using the polarizer. Another drawback is that the light drop upsets your flash settings, so compensation has to be made for night shots.

However, if you haven’t got one - get one this weekend and see the full bodied difference a polarizer can make!

September 8, 2018 - September 14, 2018

Smart phones have a downside

Yes, I have a smart phone. Yes, it is much smarter than me. Friends who believe in the digital revolution have given up trying to educate me. But I can dial a number and receive telephone calls.

However, just as digital cameras changed the photographic world, so did smartphones 20 years later. In fact, smartphones have all but killed the low end of the compact camera market. However, the smartphone story is not all bad, but also not all good.

The first upside with smartphones is you are likely to have one in your pocket at all times – unless it is too big and you keep it in your handbag (or manbag). The availability of an instrument that can record images (I stop short of calling smartphones “cameras”) means that those ‘once in a lifetime’ shots are yours.

One plus for smartphones is the ability to see your photos instantly, and then upload the image to other smartphone users, or people who can access your electronic image bank. Being able to visualize the resulting shot has been, for my money, the best feature of digital photography. Used sensibly, you can see what you have to do to get the best shot of the subject. The skill is in actually looking critically at your own shot, modifying items and shooting again. “Instantly!”

“Selfies” – the less said about selfies the better, as far as I am concerned. If you want a pleasing likeness of yourself, then do it with a camera which has the ability to set a focal length of at least 100 mm and produce a flattering image. I have no desire to see up your nostrils.

Forget megapixels. Smartphone owners often select the camera phone with the largest number of pixels. The more the merrier. Unfortunately that is not necessarily the case. There are other factors, so do not think that you will be taking award winning photographs with your hand phone.

Another good point with your smartphone pix is the easy ability to send your photos far and wide through social media. Before, you developed your film and then showed a final print to a circle of friends, now, with the capabilities inherent in the smartphone, you can send your photos to anywhere.

The bad points have to begin with the almost universal fascination of looking at the small screen while walking along, not seeing anyone in front of you, in fact not seeing anyone else at all.

Another bad point comes with the photojournalism experience. You are there, you have the smartphone and you take the shots. But should you not have been helping, instead of recording? Assisting your fellow man in a time of crisis instead of recording your fellow man’s crisis? Very common with road accidents, which we all see every day. I know, it is a moral issue more than a photographic issue, but one that should be met.

Smartphones may have killed the compact camera, but also killed personal communication. Look at couples in a restaurant, flicking through their messages and not talking to each other. I particularly like the cartoon of a notice board saying “Sorry. No WiFi. Try talking to each other.” The other, where the waiter asks “Was there something wrong with your food? You didn’t take a photograph of it.”

The third demerit, as far as I am concerned is an acceptance of the mediocre. Smartphones just give you ‘record’ shots. An ability to change the depth of field has been lost. Stopping motion has been lost. In fact, any creative instinct is not transferred by smartphones. And if you really want something dreadful, try using one of those aftermarket “wide angle” lenses you stick on the smartphone!

One reason for the mediocrity is no restriction. Where with film you took 36 shots on a roll, you can now take hundreds stored in the phone. This means that where once you ‘thought’ about the images you were recording, now it is click, click, click and then flick, flick, flick looking for one that might be OK.

No, smartphones are here to stay, but this does not mean they are good instruments for taking photographs. Happy snaps are not examples of good photography.

Update Saturday, September 1, 2018 - September 7, 2018

Is Kirlian photography a Russian plot?

Kirlian photography is back once more to haunt us. In the1950s, a ‘scientific’ paper published by a Russian couple produced a fad. I was one who originally thought Kirlian photography would soon die out but it hasn’t.

Kirlian photography is not new, despite all claims to the contrary. It should be more correctly referred to as the ‘Kirlian effect’ which was demonstrated at the end of the 19th century and was then known as ‘electrography’.

However, it did not get the publicity it needed to catch on until Russian electrical technician Semyon Davidovitch Kirlian and his wife Valentina Kirliana published a paper in 1950 in the Russian Journal of Scientific and Applied Photography in which they described the process, now known as Kirlian Photography.

The looney ‘New Age’ followers quickly seized upon this as being able to photograph the ‘aura’ of a person, and, at long last, show to the unbelievers that all the ‘bio-energies’ had a basis in ‘science’. Kirlian photography has been linked to telepathy, orgone energy, N-rays, acupuncture, ancient eastern religions, and other paranormal phenomena.

I am not going to get embroiled in semantics as to whether the Kirlian effect and the aura can be used for medical diagnosis (as is claimed), or whether Reiki practitioners have sparks coming out of their fingers when they are ‘healing’. However, I can reveal what is being recorded on film, and how it happens.

First off, the Kirlian effect is ‘real’, but what is being recorded is not paranormal. It is a phenomenon called ‘Corona Discharge’. Corona discharge is seen in lightning and also the sparks that come off your fingers after you walk on nylon carpets. This used to be done as a party trick by Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who used to introduce new discoveries with his body glowing and sparks flying from his fingertips. Tesla, by the way, was a brilliant inventor, and it was he who introduced the concept of alternating current, used today, rather than Edison’s direct current.

The corona discharge that is recorded by the Kirlian photographers requires the object being subjected to an electric current and the size and color depends upon moisture that is present on the skin, and this is why initially it appeared that inanimate objects did not give off a discharge as do animate ones. But they do, it was found later.

Terence M. Hines, a psychology professor says, “Living things (like the commonly photographed fingers) are moist. When the electricity enters the living object, it produces an area of gas ionization around the photographed object, assuming moisture is present on the object. This moisture is transferred from the subject to the emulsion surface of the photographic film and causes an alternation of the electric charge pattern on the film. If a photograph is taken in a vacuum, where no ionized gas is present, no Kirlian image appears. If the Kirlian image were due to some paranormal fundamental living energy field, it should not disappear in a simple vacuum,” he said.

One team that spent some time examining the Kirlian effect has found a list of 25 factors that can effect a Kirlian photograph, including thickness of the skin, recent physical activity, and yes, mental stress. All of these affect the amount of moisture on the skin. Other factors include voltage level, voltage pulse rate, atmospheric gasses, the internal force and angle of the object held against the film, and barometric pressure. In effect, a single person can come up with different ‘auras’ simply by changing finger pressure and the amount of moisture found in the skin. That’s the ‘science’. A very well-known Kirlian photography ‘experiment’ documents a leaf as it slowly dies. The initial photograph is taken when the leaf is freshly cut and shows a prominent glow. As the leaf gets older more photos are taken, which show that the glow is starting to weaken. This was once explained away with the life-force theory. However, we now know that the weakening of the glow is simply a result of the leaf losing water and drying up over time.

As for the psychic energy claims, you can make up your own mind!

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

How to get great holiday snaps

How to polarize your vision

Smart phones have a downside

Is Kirlian photography a Russian plot?