DSLR use and abuse
The Decisive Moment.
DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens
Reflex and is the follow on from “film” SLR’s. These days there are some
situations where you need a DSLR, and not just a point and shoot (or the
dreaded camera phone).
The first situation 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’
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
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
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 combining 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
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 increase the ISO to 800 or 1000 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.
Glamor’s Golden Glow!
Want to give your ‘lady’ photos that
professional look? To be able to do that, you will need to learn the ‘Golden
The Golden Glow is what emanates from those wonderful
photographs of people positively ‘glowing’ with health and vitality.
Sickeningly brimming full of goodness, and golden hues just radiating from
their every pore. Well, I am sorry to tell you, but like so many things in
photography, it is a fraud! A photographic ‘trick’ but one that you can use
to give your photos the ‘wow’ factor. And here’s the good news - this trick
will cost you about 100 baht for the equipment and three minutes to master!
However, all photographic tricks still have to conform
to the basic rules of physics, in particular the rules of light. Light
travels in straight lines and will bounce off any non-translucent object.
And that, quite simply, is the scientific basis to this trick.
The ‘golden glow’ that comes from the subject in the
photo, is really just reflected golden light, bounced back on to the
subject. People shots benefit from this warm healthy look and when you use
the technique properly, and the results can be spectacular.
Now in the photographic sense, the natural golden glow
comes in the late afternoon, with the sun getting low on the horizon. There
are good scientific reasons why this is so, but here is not the place to
discuss them. Just accept the fact that late afternoon sun is the “warm”
time. Take pictures at this time of day and you will get that golden glow –
but our photographic trick will allow you to get that warm golden glow at
any time of day – and control it as well, something you cannot do so easily
with the sun as your light source! The celestial light technician can hide
behind clouds at any time.
What you have to do is build a light reflector that
reflects that warm color. Go to the newsagent and get some gold foil paper.
The sort of wrapping paper you use for wedding gifts. It may be embossed or
patterned, and in fact it is better if it is, but must be gold in color.
Glue the gold paper on to a sheet of cardboard or polystyrene sheet
approximately one meter square. You do not have to be deathly accurate or
neat. If the surface gets a little ‘scrunched up’ that is fine too. Your
capital outlay is probably around 50-100 baht. Not bad, so far!
Now you have a reflector, which if you play with it
near a window for example, will shine “gold” on to any subject. You are now
ready to impart that golden glow.
The best photos for this exercise are people shots
taken outdoors, with the sun behind the subject. This we call ‘back lit’.
You will find that the subject’s hair becomes very bright around the edges,
almost like a ‘halo’ effect.
Now for the addition of the golden glow. To do this,
you position your reflector to shine some sunlight back towards the subject
(that is why the sun should be behind the subject). Prop the reflector in
the best position to give the degree of golden glow you want (I generally
just prop it up with the camera bag, or you can get an assistant to hold it
for you) and look through the viewfinder. See what a difference this makes?
The ugly chin shadow has gone as the light is coming upwards, and the
subject now looks brilliantly glowing and healthy. The one meter square
reflector will also impart catch-lights to eyes to make them sparkle as
well. The end photo has shiny hair, bright eyes and a golden complexion
radiating warmth. A fabulous picture.
Now, the downside! It is more difficult to get the
correct exposure setting in the backlit situation. If your camera has a
Backlight button, then use it. If not, walk in close to the subject so that
the persons face fills the frame, and take your exposure reading from there.
Use the exposure lock, or just memorize the readings and put them in on
manual mode. It is worth it.
How to get “true” colors!
Are you aware of the fact that everyone sees color in a
different hue? When you were a toddler, your mother would have pointed out a
colored item and said “blue”. From then on, you knew that whatever hue of
that shade was called “blue”. There is no true blue!
What you have to remember is that your vision gives you
the colors on any item made up of pigment and reflections. To get “true”
colors you have to remove reflection, and we have a natty filter to do just
that. It’s called a Polarizer.
I have written about polarizing filters before and they
are different from most other filters in the fact that they are made up of
not one element, but 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 the photographer an endless
range of polarized effects from one filter.
What you have to understand now is that these filters
remove reflections from any surface. If you cannot see through some normally
transparent windows, it is because of reflected images on the surface of the
glass. The reason some tree leaves appear to lose their color is through
reflected light from the sky above.
One of the traps for young photographers is that
because you know the grass is green, you see it as green when you look
through the camera viewfinder – even though it is not truly well saturated
green. Look again at the scene in your viewfinder. The green grass is really
a mixture of green and silvery reflections, dark shadows and pale green
shoots. Put the polarizing filter on the lens and slowly rotate the outer
ring. Suddenly the silvery reflections disappear and the leaves 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 shade or color to highlight the white clouds. Keep turning that outer
ring and the sea will change to a deep blue to green luminescent hue.
Try taking the multi-hued shop houses that abound these
days. The colors will all be stronger. The end result is at your command.
Try taking the same shot this weekend, but with varying degrees of
polarization and see the differences in the final shots.
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, 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 lens. 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 have to 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. However, with shots in the bright sun, a
commodity that is everywhere in Thailand, polarizers will bring a new
dimension to your shots.
By the way, when using any filter on your camera, I
suggest you use a stepping ring to increase the diameter of the filter, so
there are no unwanted vignetting effects (darken the corners), especially
with wide angle settings. My regular camera has a 55 mm diameter lens, which
I have then stepped up to 62 mm so it takes all my old filters. This is
really a good idea and also cuts down the number of lens adapters you will
need. Including the polarizer itself.