Selfie and then food
The advent of the smartphone has not
done much for the art of photography. Having a phone that can take and store
pictures has not developed any latent artistic abilities in the holder of
said electronic equipment as far as I can see.
Even the briefest perusal of the social
media will show that the artistic talent goes as far as taking a “selfie”
(how I dislike that word) and then follow that up with a picture of what he
or she ate. As if the world is hanging on his or her fork tangs. Personally
I couldn’t care less what you ate, unless it was some culinary tour de
If you must show the world just what
you had for your last supper (it would be if I could get hold of some of
these social media freaks) I will give you some pointers to make it look as
if this was a great plateful and not some collection of ingredients thrown
onto a plate and tinged with green.
Let’s deal with the green pies first.
Fluorescent lighting is the culprit. To the naked eye the lighting in the
kitchen seems fine, but to the electronic receptors, the white balance is
not correct, and hence the green.
To correct this is very easy. Use
natural light to photograph food. Take the dishes outside, around 4.30 p.m.
is best, and with the light coming across the food, take the shot. The
colors will be natural and there will be some light and shadow to give depth
to the photograph.
If you are going to add a bottle of
wine to the shot, or make the wine a feature, you have just picked one of
the most difficult items to successfully capture. To be able to photograph
wine is one reason why food photographers can command such high fees.
Have you ever tried photographing
champagne to put in your FB photos? Have you then noticed that there’s never
enough bubbles to make it look sparkling. Fortunately, the champagne (or
Prosecco or Method Champenoise) can be coaxed into producing as many bubbles
as you might want. All you have to do is drop some sugar into the glass.
Only a few crystals are enough to give the almost flat glass of champers
that “just opened” fizz look to it. For a catalogue shot you also have to
bring the light in from the back of the glass, as well as from the front.
This takes two flash heads, or at least one head and a reflector, which is a
little beyond your average “selfie” photographer.
While still on wines, if you try and
shoot a bottle of red wine, it will come out thick dark maroon or even
black. Amateurs who have tried photographing red wines will be nodding their
heads in agreement. So what does the pro shooter do? Well he has a couple of
courses of action. First is to dilute the red wine by about 50 percent and
secondly place a silver foil reflector on the back of the bottle. You can
light it from the front and the silver foil reflects the light back into the
So what happens to the half bottle of
red that was removed to dilute the wine? The photographer has it with
As far as how to take a better “selfie”
is concerned, about all I can give you is to try and keep your arm out of
the picture. The arm holding the camera being closer to the camera is
exaggerated in size, so a “selfie” stick is much better. And if you are not
happy with the result, don’t take the same one again and again. The
additional shots will look as bad as the first one. Move your body, move
from where you were standing, and try and get better lighting. Turn the
flash off, if you can, is a very good idea as you will get shadow to add
So even though I very rarely see good
photographs in the social media, it is possible to get better images. Just
try next time, rather than banging off 27 shots all the same, and all boring
Project 12, 26 and 52
There is a term in the financial world
called ROI. That stands for “Return On Investment” and that is something all
the clever bean counters look at. Simply, if the ROI isn’t there, do
Still thinking about ROI, I came to the
conclusion that the one item in everyone’s possession which is not giving
value for money, is the camera itself. I’m talking about digitals here, as
film belongs to the dark ages these days.
This week’s column is actually not a
discourse on the two camera (photography) types – film and digital. I
believe everyone now understands the reasons why the world left film behind.
For new photographers who never used film, just understand that digital
gives you the advantage of ‘instant’ review, something that film could never
do. The best that film could do was a one hour wait at the photo-processors,
and mess-ups could happen there too.
However, digital cameras are not cheap,
and a DSLR can easily see you spending 20,000 baht and upwards. For that
sort of money, you should be seeing some sort of return in satisfaction.
There is just so much more you can do
with a DSLR than just taking photos of children, friends and family. You
should be able to get some fun from the investment too.
The way to get that fun is to make a
project for yourself, and one that can be carried through involves taking a
photograph of something each week for a complete year. Hence my calling it
For example, you could even do a
self-portrait each week for one year. Use your imagination and creativity so
that you do not end up with 52 shots of your face. There’s plenty of other
bits of you to try. A fun idea would be make 52 sections of yourself, and
then paste the different shots on to one sheet which would make up your body
and be a final art work that Picasso would have been proud of.
Too squeamish for 52 shots of yourself?
Well, how about 52 shots of your local area or suburb? The plan is to show
all the different items that can be found in one community. There will also
be different weather in that year – wet and dry to start with. There is also
night and day, sunset and sunrise. High viewpoint, low viewpoint. You can
see where I am going here. By using your creative senses, you can give
yourself many hours of concepts and ideas and then shoot them each weekend.
Project 52 can also be carried out by
older members of the family, and by children. Whilst personally I think a
DSLR is better suited for this type of project, there is no real reason why
a digital compact could not be used.
If 52 is just too much to take on, then
what about Project 26? Each shot represents one letter of the alphabet.
Sure, A for Apple is easy, but Q for ? is a little more difficult. Again,
the creative approach will see you looking for queues, or even “quickly”
(work out how to show that). You could even make it that the subject matter
in each of the 26 shots looks like the letter. A stepladder looks like an A.
So a double hook, for example, looks like an S, whilst a single hook looks
like a J. The top of a bottle is an O. An open pair of scissors is a V.
You won’t find all the items in one
weekend, but by the following weekend you’ll have worked out what you are
looking to photograph.
If Project 26 is still too onerous for
you, how about Project 12? There are 12 months of the year, think about how
you can show the difference between them. Hot, wet, cold – there’s three of
them – and then it gets harder from there. But the whole concept is to get
you thinking, and then using your expensive investment.
Sit down this weekend and work out
which project you would like to try, then start working on the concept, and
then finally start shooting. Best of luck.
Good points and bad points with smartphones
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 good point 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 for the
taking, provided you remember to shoot it!
One huge plus for smartphones over
compacts 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 this type of photography at the lower end. 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 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 millions in the world.
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
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
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. What I call the blunderbuss
No, smartphones are here to stay, but
this does not mean they are good instruments to take photographs. Happy
snaps are not examples of good photography.
Back to black
Photos by Peter Brock.
Photography encapsulates art. Every
picture, as well as being worth a thousand words, has some art message. And
that brings me to the subject this week. Black and White, known more as the
Color photographs only became possible
in the 1930’s, yes, about 80 something years ago, whilst B&W has been with
us since the very birth of photography.
The stimulus for this week’s article
came from Peter Brock, a photographer in Chiang Mai who wrote to me saying,
“Peter Brock here up north in Chiang Mai. I liked your article about
patterns by the way and one place we all incorporate patterns into our lives
whether we are conscious of doing so. For example, the plates and tableware
we use affects us, compliments food, etc., and yet few people are conscious
of how patterns can make us feel.
“Anyway, I was thinking an article
about when to convert an image into black and white might be good for people
to consider. Here is the basic idea:
“So, something people might start
thinking about at some point is whether color adds or detracts from the
intention in making the image? A lot of famous portrait photographers still
shoot black and white because the color can be a distraction from the intent
of the photograph. When Richard Avedon was making images for an exhibition
and book called "The American West", he shot all black and white images and
even though he was shooting portraits in some beautiful countryside, used a
white backdrop behind his subject so all the viewer sees is that person --
no mountains, lakes, streams, etc.
“I have been spending time at a
ceramics workshop where I have been buying some tea sets and have been
photographing the workers. The work is done 100 percent by hand and each is
unique to the artist. For example, I have two mugs that I saw in a cabinet
(not in the showroom) and I asked why they were not in the showroom and was
told that they are no longer produced because the artist died 24 years ago
and with him or her the pattern and skill to paint them. I bought them both
for that reason. The whole process is fascinating and shows the incredible
discipline of the artists as just one vase can take an artist a month to
“Attached are two images: the original
shot in color, and a virtual copy edited to black and white (and thank you
Mr. Photoshop)! (It is not that long ago that I used to have two camera
backs for the Hasselblads, one color and the other B&W film.)
“Okay, what I would emphasize to your
readers is whether color or black and white suits their intention best. The
colored shot is nice, pretty, and most people would leave it like that and
be very happy that they even got the detail of the brush in focus. I prefer
it in black and white for a couple of reasons: (a) the black and white
emphasizes that this is an ancient technique and all hand done, and (b) the
intention of the image is to the hand painting and the fine brush she is
using freehand. If one looks at the photo with the colors, you can easily
get distracted by the colors and begin thinking about whether that green
goes with the orange or the blue or any number of other things.”
Thank you Peter, you are correct when
you say the same subject printed in color or B&W does give a different
message, and as photographers about to set out in a photo shoot they should
have worked that out in advance.
Of course, as mentioned previously,
there is now no need for two camera bodies, one in color and one B&W any
more, unless you are a complete traditionalist (which I am not). Any edit
suite has the conversion for you at a click away.
This weekend, take some of your
favorite color photos and see the difference when you change from color to
B&W. Sorry about the fact this column is on a B&W page of the paper, but try
How’s your aura today? “Photograph” it.
Like the proverbial bad penny, Kirlian
photography has had a habit of repeatedly popping up since the 1950’s, when
a ‘scientific’ paper was published by a Russian couple. Originally Kirlian
photography was a fad but had since died (I thought), but it hadn’t.
Kirlian photography is not new, despite
all claims to the contrary. It should be more correctly referred to as the
‘Kirlian effect’ 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.
‘New Age’ followers 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 what you need to have your own
First off, the Kirlian effect is
‘real’, but what is being recorded is not paranormal, but 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
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!
Does your life have a pattern?
Who reads photography columns? People
with more than just a passing interest in photography, that’s who. And since
you’ve got this far, that definition includes you.
When you sit down and analyze it, in
reality, you want to end up with photographs that others stand in awe of,
that people want to copy, that people go “Wow! How did you get that?” and
would be able to hold their own in any photographic competition.
It does sound as if you should be
walking around every day, looking for the ‘scoop’ photo of the year. Of
course, this may just be grandiose posturing on my part, remembering that
despite the photojournalists creed of “f8 and be there” and the credo of the
newspaper publishing business is, “News today, chip wrappers tomorrow.”
However, one type of photograph that
never loses its appeal is one that shows the patterns in the everyday life
around us. The eye is drawn to the pattern first, and then the brain
recognizes what makes up the pattern. It is like finding a hidden object
puzzle. It is really a psychological ploy – but believe me. It works to
produce a memorable photo!
Never forget the effect of lighting in
a photograph of patterns. Some good contrasty side lighting will emphasize
the recurring shapes, to really push the point home. Sometimes it is the
recurring shadows that produce the patterns. All it needs is for you to
“look” and “see” and “record”.
However, if a photograph is to have
lasting appeal, you have to combine something else with it. That something
else is a discordance somewhere in the picture. Imagine a case full of
oranges, the regular pattern of the oranges filling the frame, but one of
the oranges is a green apple. Immediately the mind says, “Why?” and by doing
that you have brought the viewer into your photograph. You have impacted on
the viewer’s life. You have produced a photograph with “impact”. See once
again how great shots are made, they do not just “happen”.
When I was involved in commercial
photography, the team which would include art directors and the client as
well as the photographer and assistant, would sit down and discuss the
concepts to be presented photographically and then many hours would be spent
on designing how to make the photograph “work”. This was long before anyone
picked up a camera. Once the shot was visualized, the next job was to put it
together and then see how it looked through the viewfinder. As I say many
times, great shots are made.
So this weekend, keep your eyes open
for repeating patterns – for example, the ends of blue plastic water pipes
in plumbing supply shops and then work out how you can put an element of
discordance into the shot. A yellow bucket hanging from the end of one tube
perhaps? A cat sleeping in the middle of them all? A green frog? So it is
difficult to train green frogs, remember that you can always purchase a toy
green frog to use in a shot like this. Professional photographers do. Rub
some oil on a plastic frog and sprinkle some glycerin drops on it and it
will look real. I used to keep a complete wardrobe with replica animals for
shots like that! One of my past photo-editors used to spend many hours
poring over my photographs trying to work out which ones had real animals or
otherwise (and that included fish).
But getting back to the patterns, this
is really very much a visual exercise. You have to see it before you
photograph it. It is an exercise in expanding your mind, your horizons and
your imagination. It is also an exercise that does not need fancy
photographic equipment to produce the spectacular end results. With
producing successful pattern shots, even the simplest point and shooter will
work. The magic is produced by your vision and nothing else.
So this weekend, pick up the camera bag and seek out some patterns, wait
till the light is right and look for (or even add) that discordant image in
the pattern. You will have produced a prize winner!
Have you met a nice mode lately?
I had reason to look at the Mode Dial
on my camera on page 5 of the instruction manual. It is not the world’s
fanciest camera, but has nine “modes”, five alphabetic and four of those
funny little symbols, which I believe are called pictograms.
This week’s column is then designed for
all the weekend warriors who have a nice camera, but are really are unsure
of what all the controls, winking lights and strange icons mean, and when
they should they bring these functions into play.
The first aspect to be considered, is
why do we need all these optional modes and settings at all? Today’s very
sophisticated cameras will take passable pictures in the everyday point and
shoot mode, usually called the Program AE Mode and shown as the letter “A”
mode, so why bother?
That one is easy to explain. It all
hangs on the word “passable”. The automatic brain in your camera is pre-set
to return “average” values and you get the same result in your photo –
“average”. If you want a little more, or a little better, then you have to
look at taking some more control of the camera by inputting data that you
want, not what it thinks you want!
Let’s take the mode that I use most –
the Aperture Priority setting. On most cameras this will be an “A” or “AV”
and purely means that you set the aperture, and the camera will work out the
shutter speed for you. Clever little camera isn’t it! Now when would you use
this setting or function? Generally it is when you want to control the areas
of your photograph that will be in sharp focus. This is called the Depth of
The aperture is measured in “f stops”
and with most cameras ranges from f2.8 through to f22. Now the easiest way
to work out which f stop to use is by remembering the following dictum – if
you want BIG depth of field (everything in focus) then use BIG f numbers
(e.g. f22) but if you want SMALL depth of field, then use SMALL f numbers
(like 2.8). So if you are going to take a landscape you use the “A” setting
and you select f22. Likewise if it is a portrait of someone use “A” setting
again and f4.
The next most popular setting is the
“S” mode, otherwise known as “Shutter Priority”. Similar to the “A” setting,
but this time you set the shutter speed and the camera will work out the
appropriate aperture for you. Shutter speeds generally range from a slow 1
second through to a fast 1/2000th of a second, though some cameras are even
faster. Now when do you want this feature? You need to set the shutter speed
when you want to control movement of your subject. The dictum here is also
similar – if you want to stop a FAST object (like a moving car) then you use
a FAST shutter speed, but if you want to show SLOW movement use a SLOW
shutter speed. All very simple, isn’t it?
Now experience will tell you whether
you use the extremes of Aperture or Shutter speed, but generally if I want
to stop movement I will use 1/1000th of a second and if some blurring is
wanted to show motion, I use 1/15th of a second.
After you have experimented in manually
choosing your own settings, then you will be ready for the next big step -
selecting “M” on the camera. “M” is for Manual and here you dictate both
shutter speed and aperture. This allows you to select “different” exposures
to produce different effects. When on “A” or “S” or “Auto” the camera will
give you an “average” exposure. But if, for example, you want a moody dark
photograph at sunset then you need to manually set both the shutter speed
and the aperture.
So this weekend, be brave and tell your
camera who is boss! You will increase your enjoyment in taking photographs,
and get some great photos as well.
Better photos in 2017
Photography is a
wonderful pastime which can be enjoyed by people of all ages. However, the
final results are not always enjoyed by the photographer. Here’s how to
change all that!
Nowadays, everyone has
a digital camera, point and shoot, bridge or SLR, and the following tips
will help you get the most out of your expensive investment.
Of course you should
remember that point and shoot varieties have limitations and SLR’s have
advantages! The two types of cameras have their different capabilities, and
you must stick within the parameters.
The first tip is one
that I give to everyone at least once a year. “Walk several meters closer”!
More good shots are ruined by having the subject as small dots in some huge
background. Make the subject the hero. If the subject(s) are people, then
use the telephoto setting and still walk in closer. Fill the frame with the
subject and you do not need to worry about the backgrounds. Ever!
Another easy procedure
is to use filters to warm up the scene, or polarize and add some intense
color to the photo. “But my point and shoot digital doesn’t take filters,” I
hear you say. Sure, but the lens is physically so small, it is easy to place
something before it. Various colored sunglasses can both polarize and add
warmth to the shot. You may want to put the camera on a tripod, while you
hold the sunglasses directly over the lens. There are small ‘mini’ tripods
you can use, which retail for around B. 200 and do the job admirably. By the
way, the polarizing effect is most noticeable when you are shooting “with”
the light, rather than into it.
When taking portraits
outdoors, turn the flash on as well. The camera will have set itself to
expose the darkest part of the scene, so the flash then brightens up the
Another trick to
outdoors portraiture is to take some shots with the sun behind the subject
to ‘rim light’ the hair with the halo effect. With the sun behind the
subject, you also stop the screwed up eyes from the sun’s glare, which is
never very photogenic.
You should also explore
your camera’s capabilities. After all, you are not wasting expensive film,
are you? Try different setting and see what the end result can be, but
remember what the settings were in your notebook, if you want to repeat the
One setting that most
digital cameras possess is a ‘macro’ mode. Use this to discover new and
exciting details in your garden. The macro mode is usually depicted as a
flower in your on-screen menu. Remember that to get the best macro shots,
look carefully at which part of the subject will be in focus. The depth of
field in macro is very shallow, so note where the camera magic eye is
indicating the focus point is, relative to the subject, before slowly
pressing the shutter release.
Another very simple
tip, but one that seems to be forgotten is the placement of the horizon
line, which should be one third down from the top of the LCD screen, or one
third up from the bottom of the screen. The horizon line (as the name
suggests) should also be horizontal!
Another tip is to buy
another memory card. The one you will get with the camera is too small. You
will then try and put the camera in a mode which lets you take more shots,
but this is done at the expense of sharpness. Buy a 4GB card and use the
highest resolution you can. This way, if you do have a great shot, you can
have it enlarged, and still be sharp. Another advantage of having two cards
is you never end up with a full card and another great shot to be taken.
It should be remembered
that when you bought this new camera because it had plenty of megapixels,
unless you run the camera at its highest resolution, all the expense of the
additional megapixel capability has been wasted. You got a 12 megapixel
camera, rather than an old 8 megapixel for that reason! So enjoy your camera
this festive season.
What camera and why?
The New Year holidays
are almost upon us, and is as good a time as any to review your camera(s)
and look ahead to 2017’s photography.
I am often asked “What
camera should I buy?” This is not an easy question. The answer is almost as
varied as the numbers of cameras available. It is not an easy call. A little
window shopping at the camera store will show you cameras priced from 5,000
baht to 100,000 baht. That’s quite a range.
constraints and imagining that you want a camera to take “good” photographs
of general interest; you know the sort of things, family, holidays,
grandchildren and pets, then there is basically only two choices – Compact
or SLR (Single Lens Reflex).
Let’s look at the
Compact. This group of cameras has really brought the fun of photography to
many people. In most instances, they are small, easy to use – basically
‘point and shoot’. Initially they only had one fixed lens of generally
around 35 mm focal length, but these days, the more up-market models have a
“zoom” capability covering the 28 mm to 100 mm range.
As far as focusing is
concerned, most Compacts these days are fully Autofocus, though there are
still some ‘fixed’ focus lenses around on the very cheapest models.
As far as shutter speed
range goes, the modern Compacts will go to around 1/400th of a second which
is enough to stop most action and they will go as slow as around a 1 to 2
Size does matter, with
cameras at least, and most Compacts are small enough to slip into a handbag
or pocket which is another decided advantage over the SLR brigade.
On paper then, it looks
as if the Compact has everything going for it. Why even consider an SLR?
Well, there are some areas where unfortunately, the Compact falls short. The
first is the restriction in lenses. A compact will not do you much good if
you want to do wildlife photography, with only around 100 mm telephoto
ability. You need to be able to get ‘close-up’ without being too close to
the man eating tigers.
Another area where the
Compact is limited, is in the use of filters. To get those really rich and
vibrant colors, it is necessary to use such devices as Polarizing filters –
there is no provision for the use of filters with the majority of Compacts.
Most Compacts also come
with their own inbuilt flash and while it is adequate for most night or low
light level shots, it does have limitations. Adequate is the operative word.
So what about the SLR
group? With this type of camera, you actually look through the camera’s lens
when composing the shot. What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). You have a
huge range of lenses to choose from, both original equipment and aftermarket
brands, to take you from ultra-wide (16 mm) through to huge telephoto lenses
of around 600 mm which you can use to photograph the tigers eating, without
getting so close to the action you end up on the dinner menu as well.
SLR’s also have greater
ranges of shutter speeds, from time exposures of any time you like, through
to 1/4000th of a second. The range of aperture settings in the lens are also
greater in the SLR group – and, even more importantly, you can dictate the
settings you want.
That is where the
principle differences lie – with the compact, there is little you can fiddle
with to experiment or manipulate – with SLR’s the sky’s the limit.
With all these creative
possibilities, why would you ever bother thinking about a Compact? Well, the
SLR does have some disadvantages too. Size and weight are two principal
ones. An SLR is not the camera you put in your handbag unless you have a
very large receptacle and a couple of porters to carry it. By the time you
add up two camera bodies, three lenses and a flash you are looking at quite
some weight, especially with the semi-pro equipment. One photographer of my
acquaintance has to drag a suitcase with him, just to have the best lenses
at his disposal.
Set your budget first
and go from there.
Simple things to make better photographs
I once showed my latest batch of
photographs to a friend and was told, “You were certainly having a bad hair
day then, weren’t you?” Now since I nurture this concept in my mind that I
am an artist, criticism of my art can hurt. Like down to the quick. But I am
also resilient – in this business you have to be.
However, criticism is the Mother of
Excellence, and we should never be afraid of it. This can be difficult when
you have the deeply inbuilt conviction that there are only two sides to any
discussion, yours and the wrong one! To improve, you have to be able to look
critically at your own work and see what you can do to improve your
standard. You also have to look at the work of others to see what made their
Photography and photographs are judged
by the subjective response of the viewer. They either like them or they do
not. Successful photographers know how to take photographs that are more
pleasing to the majority of viewers than otherwise.
This ability is not something that they
were born with – it is something they learned over the years. This skill is
yours for the asking. Believe me!
One of the greatest sources of all
knowledge is in the written word. There are lots of books published to
assist the novice photographer who would like to improve. Never go past a
book shop without looking in the photography section.
There are three authors I can really
recommend. John Hedgecoe, Michael Freeman and the Kodak “How to take better
pictures” series. All of these books are written in plain English, without
excessive use of photographic jargon. Sure, you have to know how to
recognize your f stop from your elbow, but you should know that already. (If
you don’t, write to [email protected] and I will send you the
answer confidentially in a plain unmarked brown paper envelope.)
Here is a simple and easy way to change
your photographs for the better this weekend. This week’s hot tip – place
the subject of the photo to one side rather than dead set plumb in the
center. Ideally this should be one third in from either side, but just not
putting it in the middle is a start. Now, working on the knowledge that
westerners read from left to right – you will find they “read” photographs
the same way. So items in the left of the photograph represent the past and
items in the right represent the future. Still with me? Take a picture of a
car on a road for example. Place the car pointing to the right in the right
hand side of the picture and it means the car is going away. All the items
in the left of the shot have already been passed and left behind.
Conversely, place the car in the left of the shot and the car has not yet
reached the items on the right.
Now imagine a photograph of a
hitch-hiker with the car shot. With the person on the left and the car on
the right, the car has passed, and the hitch-hiker has been unsuccessful and
this is presenting a “sad” photograph. With the person on the right and the
car approaching from the left, the hitch-hiker is still hopeful. A “happy”
shot. Your shots can present emotions.
Can you see just how your photographs
can tell a dynamic story, even though one still picture only represents a
fleet split second of time? (Probably 1/125th of a second!) Just by
offsetting the main subject you have managed to improve and add interest to
The books I have recommended will all
give you ideas on ‘how to’ take different photographs of objects, but only
you can inject the emotions by careful placement of the subject material in
All these tips, and lots more are
available in the bookstore and it makes good sense to buy a couple of decent
reference books. In the meantime, place your subjects off-center this
weekend and see what you get. Happy snapping.
While the photographic world has
forsaken film and gone digital, there are some situations where you need
a DSLR, and not just a point and shoot (or the dreaded camera phone).
The first refers to the placement
of the image in the frame. This is where the ability to instantly review
images in digital photography is so good. Look at the image in the
viewer on the back of the camera and see if it can be improved by
different placement of the subject within the frame. Remember the ‘Rule
of Thirds’ (place the main subject one third of the way in from either
side and one third of the way up or down from the top or bottom of the
picture). This is a tried and true rule of thumb and you can try it out
so easily with digital photography. It may feel ‘wrong’ initially not
having the subject slap bang in the middle of the frame, but try it and
you will find you are getting better, more pleasing pictures.
While still on the subject of the
overall image, don’t forget to take each shot two ways – in the
landscape (horizontal) format and the second in the portrait (vertical)
format. Again it sounds strange to shoot a landscape in the vertical
format, but it gives the viewer a different emphasis, which can improve
an otherwise ‘ordinary’ shot.
With most digitals having
reasonably good zoom lenses these days, experiment with different zoom
settings and distance from the subject. A ‘tele’ setting can give you a
very different photograph from the ‘wide’ setting taken closer to the
subject. This ability to experiment, at the time of shooting, is one of
the biggest plusses for digital photography.
One of my standard tips is “Walk
several meters closer”, and by doing this you will find that you can
make the subject fill the frame (to even overflowing) and get rid of
horrible distracting backgrounds.
You can also see the difference in
the backgrounds between shooting at f2.8 as opposed to f16. The larger
aperture (f2.8) gives a blurred background, which is exactly what the
‘portrait’ mode does. Many of the tricky settings are just automatic
combining of different apertures/shutter speeds, and a general knowledge
of first photographic principles will always help your photography too.
Photography is in reality
‘painting’ with dark and you should never forget this. The position of
the subject, relative to the sun (the celestial lighting technician) can
make or break your photos. The amount of contrast in any scene can also
baffle the digital sensors so they will try to balance out the contrasts
which can spoil the effect you were trying to create. If your camera
shows you those dinky little histograms, you can soon see if the light
is biased in any particular direction.
What you have to do is try and
balance bright or dim light. In low light conditions, try using your
camera’s night shooting mode, or lower the ISO to 50 or 100 to get some
detail in low light. Also look at trying to use a tripod, or steady
yourself against a wall or pillar to avoid moving the camera.
In bright light, try your camera’s
Beach or Sunshine mode, or go to manual mode and choose a fast shutter
speed to control the amount of light that comes in.
Be careful if you place your
subject in front of a bright window or they will become a silhouette.
Try placing them off to the side of the window instead, or facing a
natural light source.
For better photographs indoors,
turn your flash off. Try to maximize the light by pulling back the
curtains, opening doors and turning on the incandescent lights in the
room. Sure, you will have slower shutter speeds and you may have to look
at using the tripod, or even just holding the camera firmly on a table,
but you will get more natural photographs.
Finally, practice getting the
‘decisive moment’ by partially depressing the shutter button when taking
candid shots. This means you are not waiting for the camera to focus,
before the shutter fires. Or simply set the focus manually.
Photography at 1/15th
This week’s column is
dedicated to the DSLR users, rather than the compact users and certainly not
the camera-phone folk. Don’t get me wrong, compacts and camera-phones will
give you images, but not the equipment you can experiment with.
Let’s take the number
15 as an example. The simplest 15 is shutter speed, and almost every camera
ever made has a setting called “15” which stands for 1/15th of a second.
This is probably the most underused shutter speed ever, and yet it can help
make your photographs very much better.
There seems to be an
idea in the photographic world that anything slower than 1/60th of a second
cannot be hand-held, and you must use a tripod. This is tripe - unless you
have some medical condition resulting in uncontrolled shaking spasms.
The reason to use
1/15th is to expand the light range in which you can take shots without
flash, such as sunsets for example, or to bring out the background, even
when using flash. You know the shots taken at a function where you get
someone looking like a startled rabbit in blackness, where if you had used a
1/15th shutter speed you would have got a nice mellow background to soften
Of course there are a
few tricks to hand-holding at the slower shutter speeds. The first is to
steady yourself and that can be done easily by leaning against a wall or a
pole (preferably not a chrome one attached to a go-go dancer). The second is
to hold the camera firmly in both hands, take a breath in and hold it and
then gently depress the shutter button. I have even shot at ½ a second by
holding the camera firmly pressed down on the back of a chair. Take a few as
some will have obvious camera shake, but you will get at least one good one.
Still on the number 15.
There is a theoretical f stop which could be called f 15. F stops after all
are only a way of measuring the diameter of the aperture inside the lens, to
bring it to its simplest terms. As you go through the usual f stops of f 8
to f 11 to f 16, you are actually cutting the light down by one half each
time. The f stop scale is also an inverse ratio, as the bigger the number,
the smaller the diameter. There is a good mathematical reason for this, but
just believe me.
If you really want to
get technical, for example, f/16 means that the aperture diameter is equal
to the focal length of the lens divided by sixteen; that is, if the camera
has an 80 mm lens, all the light that reaches the film passes through a
virtual disk known as the ‘entrance pupil’ that is 5 mm (80 mm/16) in
diameter. The location of this virtual disk inside the lens depends on the
optical design. It may simply be the opening of the aperture stop, or may be
a magnified image of the aperture stop, formed by elements within the lens.
The f stop scale is a
sliding one, allowing for fractional differences in the light allowed
through to the film (or the digital sensors). Most old cameras had an
aperture scale graduated in full stops but the aperture was continuously
variable allowing the photographer to select any intermediate aperture, and
thus it would be possible to shoot at f 15.
variable aperture cameras slowly disappeared, with ‘click-stopped’ aperture
became a common feature in the 1960’s; the aperture scale was usually marked
in full stops, but many lenses had a click between two marks, allowing a
gradation of one half of a stop.
On modern cameras,
especially when aperture is set on the camera body, f-number is often
divided more finely than steps of one stop or half a stop. Steps of
one-third stop (1/3 EV) are the most common, since this matches the ISO
system of film speeds. Enough technical details! Time to just believe me
Finally, a rather
obscure photographic 15. The AA lithium batteries that power many cameras
and flash units weigh 15 gm.