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
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:
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
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:
Spray a mist of water on the lens and
see what results
Mixed lighting (flash, tungsten,
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.
This week’s column is dedicated to
those of you that have just got a new DSLR. Especially if this DSLR is your
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
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
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.
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
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.