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
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
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
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?
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
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
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
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
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!