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Update by Natrakorn Paewsoongnern

SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Photographic dangers

Monkey Business.

Photography is not thought of as a dangerous or contact sport. However, photography has its dangers, and I have been on the receiving end.

Let me state from the outset that the situation did not involve outraged art directors or clients unhappy with the billing.

The shoot involved a bottle of vodka and a glass with ice cubes illustrating vodka on the rocks. To give the impression that the bottle and the glass were “floating” it was necessary to use a grey seamless background paper. Seamless backgrounds are generally about two meters wide with probably 40 meters in the roll.

The way this works is you run the seamless down the wall and gently curve it into the flat surface on which the object to be photographed is sitting. This means there is no “seam” or line between the back wall and the floor.

My game plan was to have a sheet of glass on some low stands, lit from underneath. I cut out the circle to match the vodka bottle, and another for the shot glass with the ice cubes in it. With the light from below, the vodka bottle would really stand out, as would the glass with ice cubes.

Having experienced ‘melt down’ with real ice cubes on another shoot, I prepared myself this time with some acrylic ‘ice’ cubes. Now nothing could go wrong.

The items were put in place on the grey seamless on top of the glass sheet. The other end of the roll of seamless was hung on the wall on hooks already placed there.

Now to get the focus correct we use ‘modeling’ lights. These are tungsten globes which allows the photographer to position the flash heads to get the lighting needed. With the bottle and glass being lit from below, this was quite a tricky exercise which took a little time.

Finally we were ready to pull the first Polaroid and as I said, “Go!” there was a huge bang and the montage on the glass of vodka and ice all toppled into the middle of the set, bringing the grey seamless with it, pulling the roll off the hooks on the wall.

The roll looked as if it would hit the camera on its tripod so I moved to shield it, with the result that it hit my head, knocking me out and I fell on the floor hugging the camera to my chest.

And what about my assistant? She saved the vodka bottle!

After I came to, we worked out just what had happened. The tungsten lights under the glass plate heated it up too much and it cracked through the middle and taking a V shape, pulling the seamless paper off the glass and dislodging the full roll from the wall hooks which landed on my head.

And yes, we sat down in the shambles of the studio and drank the vodka. Wouldn’t you?

An interesting conundrum

The picture of this monkey was not taken by a wildlife photographer, but by the monkey itself. The world’s first simian selfie. We can use this selfie, as there is no copyright for the image, as it has been uploaded to Wiki Commons. The guy who owned the camera says he owns the copyright, but Wiki says that, since the monkey took the photo, technically the copyright would belong to the monkey. But since copyright law states that copyrights cannot be assigned to non-humans, there is no copyright on it. All very interesting, and in some ways a bit silly, but that is the way the world is heading.

A few reader’s FAQ’s

Over the years, the questions I receive tend to be about fuzziness, and not really related to camera problems. I did get something new the other day, however. The reader went on to write, “Bought an S/H D 40 X. Lovely bit of equipment suitable for my needs.

“I will ask a little advice now and then as I work my way through all its tricks if you don’t mind. I have already picked up a neat infrared remote shutter control and have tested it out to 30 meters. I also picked up a twin battery pack that should give me plenty of backup power. I will look for an AFS VR 200 mm zoom in a couple of months. A question though, I know most of the time it is power economical to leave the LCD off but occasionally it is needed for viewing. I have trawled through the book and menus for both turning it on and also extending the viewing time of the menus but I’m damned if I can find anything about either items. Any suggestions?”

The reader is of course correct that the LCD is certainly a power drain with any digital camera, be that compact or D SLR, and this is why the manufacturers will suggest you use the optical viewfinder. Personally I like the optical viewfinder and have mine set up with a grid pattern on it so I can check horizons and verticals before releasing the shutter. With the Nikon D 40 X, you should be able to turn the screen on and off at will by using the “Info” button which is near the shutter release button and that should do the trick. Are you sure the LCD does not have an automatic power save/shut off ability, which fixes your worries?

Remember too that most DSLR cameras only view through the eyepiece, unless they have a “live view” function, which the D 40 does not. The LCD is therefore for reviewing an image after it is shot, and setting your menu options. Finally, if you can’t find what you need in the destruction manual, then go directly to Nikon HQ and they will be able to assist. Sorry I cannot be more specific, but each camera brand and each camera model can have individual characteristics that the factory sales representatives know intimately.

One frequent problem that photographers have with Auto-Focus (AF) is getting out of focus results when photographing couples. They frame up well, hear the focus set ‘beep’ but the people are not in focus in the final rendition. Another reader wrote, “I have a Pentax (model not given) Autofocus SLR and am generally happy with it and its performance, other than when I am taking people shots. Many times the print comes back and the people in the shot are soft and blurry. I have even used a tripod, in case I was getting camera shake. Any ideas on this? Is it a usual problem with the AF?”

This is easy to fix. AF cameras have a central spot in the viewfinder to find the focusing point in the picture. That AF point is not very large, and obviously does not cover the entire image in the viewfinder. What happens is that when photographing two people, the AF beam goes through between the people and the camera is then auto-focused on the background, not on the couple in the foreground. Check your images and I am sure you will find you have a crisp background and the soft foreground.

What has to be done is to employ the ‘focus lock’ capabilities of the camera. Set up your shot as usual, positioning the two people as you want. Now swing the camera away until one of the people is now central in the viewfinder and depress the shutter release half way. As the camera focuses on the one person, keep the shutter release half depressed to ‘lock’ the focus and now swing the camera back to recompose the shot and then fully depress the shutter release. The focus point is now at the same distance as the subjects so you will get correctly focused prints.

Easy tips to improve your photos

With today’s auto everything DSLR’s you should expect to get technically passable photos all the time. Even in my professional studio years ago we worked on the principal of 1:6 (on a 36 shot roll of film). Things are much better today.

While the compact point and shooter is a great way to get into photography (or even the smart phone), there are limitations with the basic cameras, especially if you wish to improve above the “Auto” mode type of photography.

1. Begin with the Rule of Thirds. In this, you position the main subject one third in from either side of the frame and one third up from the bottom, or down from the top. Putting the main subject slap-bang in the middle produces a very boring photograph. Look at commercial photographs (or even TV interviews) and note where the subject is and you will see the rule of thirds everywhere.

2. Digital cameras have become very smart at counteracting camera shake, but there is a limit. Holding the camera in one hand while waving one, two, three fingers at the subject is a recipe for “soft” fuzzy photos. Hold the camera in two hands. One hand around the body and one around the lens and hold the camera close to your body for support, not at arm’s length. Look directly through the viewfinder, rather than at the LED screen. If you are shooting with a slow shutter speed, use a tripod or monopod whenever possible, or use a tree or a wall to stabilize the camera.

3. Most digitals have an in-built light meter, but if not and you are in the manual mode, the Sunny 16 rule will help you. In bright sunshine, choose an aperture of f/16 and 1/100th of a second at ISO 100. You will end up with a sharp image that is neither under or over exposed.

4. Use a Polarizing filter. This is the most underused filter in the bag. This filter helps reduce reflections from water as well as metal and glass; it improves the colors of the sky and foliage, and it will protect your lens too. Get a circular polarizer because these do not confuse the automatic metering.

5. Learn to control ‘depth’. When photographing landscapes it really helps to create a sense of depth. Use a wide-angle lens for a panoramic view and a small aperture of f/16 or smaller to keep the foreground and background sharp. Placing an object or person in the foreground helps give a sense of scale and emphasizes the depth of field to infinity. You may need a tripod as a small aperture usually requires a slower shutter speed.

6. Note the background and keep it simple. If possible, choose a plain background – neutral colors and simple patterns. This is vital in a shot where the subject is placed off center. Don’t let the background confuse the camera (or the viewer)!

7. Avoid flash indoors. Flash can look harsh and unnatural resulting in looking like a rabbit in the headlights shot. To avoid using flash, push the ISO up – usually ISO 800 to 1600 will make a big difference for the shutter speed you can choose. Use the widest aperture possible – this way more light will reach the sensor and you will have a nice blurred background.

8. Pan to show motion. Choose a shutter speed around two steps slower than usual, so 1/30th is a good average. Lock the focus and follow the action and shoot. This gives a sharp subject and a blurred background. You will need to practice this many times.

9. Experiment with shutter speed. Don’t be afraid to play with the shutter speed to create some interesting effects. When taking a night time shot, use a tripod and try shooting with the shutter speed set at 4 seconds. You will see that the movement of the object is captured along with some light trails. If you choose a faster shutter speed of say 1/250th of a second, the trails will not be as long or bright; instead you will freeze the action.

Experiment this weekend.

Getting closer to the subject with macro

Macro photography can be done by everyone. Photography is such a vast subject, there is always something you can try any weekend, even if mobility is a problem for some of the older photographers. One branch of the art is in ‘Macro’ photography.

The simple name for macro photography is ‘close-up’ photography and allows you to get much more detailed images of subject matters that are very small. Obviously one does not need macro facility to photograph an elephant, but to get the elephant’s eye and nothing else, a macro capability in your camera would make life easier (even if not for the elephant).

Look at the icons on the top of your newly acquired digital SLR camera. Does it have a thing that looks like a tulip? If so, you are on your way to macro photography.

There are, however, some pitfalls in macro photography, and some are financial rather than photographic. If you want a car that does 200 kph, it is easier to start with a Ferrari than it is to start with a small family pick-up and then modify the engine. However, the Ferrari is a lot more expensive. Likewise, true macro lenses are more expensive than ordinary ones modified to have near macro capabilities.

Having said all that, it is still possible to get close-up photographs with some fairly simple equipment, with the easiest being called ‘close-up lenses’ that screw on to the front of your existing lens. These usually have numbers like +1, +2, +3. The +number refers to the diopter measurement of the lens and the higher the number, the greater the magnification possible. The diopter measurement is actually the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens measured in meters. Therefore a +1 diopter lens is 1 meter focal length, a +2 is 500 mm and a +4 is 250mm. These add-on lenses are available in a variety of filter sizes and qualities. If you don’t wish to get heavily involved then a set of uncoated close-up lenses to fit your favorite lens is the way to go. Coated close-up lenses cost more and will yield a better image, and two element close-up lenses (much more expensive) will give better results but you need to be a dedicated macro man to justify the cost of these lenses.

The effect of these close-up lenses increases as you add them together. The +1 and the +2 screwed together will yield +3. However you come across another problem when you start ganging them up – the focal length gets smaller and the light that gets into the camera becomes less.

Understand that in all macro photography as the lens gets closer to the subject and the image gets larger on the electronic “film”, the light reaching it is lessened. Also the depth of field gets very shallow and to combat this, very small apertures are called for which lessens the light to the sensor even more. Both these things in combination mean that normal hand held exposures are usually out of the question. A tripod is needed for steadiness plus flash is needed in nearly every circumstance to give decent illumination. However, as you strive to get closer to the subject, there may not be enough distance to get the flash to light the subject. A ring flash can help here, but that is another expense.

There is another way around this and that is to use a light box. Now these can be purchased from specialized camera suppliers and do cost money, but you can make your own light box very inexpensively. The secret is a large cardboard box and some tracing paper. You can go on line and Google how to make one.

So there you have it. If you have a macro lens in the camera, then experiment with how close you can get to your subject. If you haven’t, then try screwing the close-up lens on the front. I find the +3 the best for my camera gear. The biggest problems are short depth of field and lighting, however none of these are insurmountable.

Try it today, after you have built the light box! Lots of luck!

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Photographic dangers

A few reader’s FAQ’s

Easy tips to improve your photos

Getting closer to the subject with macro