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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Digital creativity

Photographers who were interested in a little experimentation used to try all kinds of camera settings to under expose or over expose the negatives to produce high key or low key shots. Some of the resulting photographs could be very powerful.

However, there seems to be a very common notion that ‘somehow’ digital photography is totally different from the old fashioned film photography. I do not know how this happened, but let me assure you that digital and film cameras do exactly the same job. They record an image you can later retrieve.

First, a little basics. All photography has worked on the principle of allowing light carrying the image to go through a lens and then fall on to a sensitized surface. Originally this was a glass plate coated with silver compounds which got darker when exposed to light. The degree of darkness depended upon how much light came through the lens, and for what length of time. This is the principle covering aperture (or lens opening), and shutter speed (how long the aperture is left open). That principle still holds good today. The only difference is that the “film” is now an electronic capture system.

This has led to what people have called the “digital revolution”. A completely new way of photography, requiring special new cameras which could show you the image you had just taken, immediately! No more agonizing waits at the film processing shop. Instant gratification for the “me now” generation.

However, this is where the misnomer occurred. It was not a “revolution” it was merely an “evolution”. The principles of photography (sometimes called ‘painting with light’ by the romantics) were just the same. And the application of them was just the same. A lens let in the light, for a proscribed length of time, and this was recorded by light sensitive electronic “film”. The difference was that you did not have to develop this new electronic “film” in chemicals. It could be viewed immediately by using electronic processing. Really, there was no difference.

Now, just as the old film cameras had aperture and shutter speed controls that were adjustable by the photographer, guess what? The new digital cameras have apertures and shutter speeds that are adjustable by the photographer as well. And in the same way, you can get creative results from your digital camera, exactly the same as you could with your film camera.

This is where some differences occur, however. With the ‘old fashioned’ film cameras you rotated a dial on the lens barrel to open or close the diameter of the aperture, and you had a dial on the top of the camera that you rotated to give you different shutter speeds. The two factors could be operated independently, and this was called Fully Manual Mode. However, with these new-fangled revolutionary digital cameras you get things called ‘drop down menus’ and you had to push multi-purpose up, down and sideways buttons to select different apertures or shutter speeds.

However, you have to learn where the “Manual” setting is on your new electronic marvel. This is the setting where you can choose the shutter speed and the aperture independently. If you choose shutter priority or aperture priority, the electronic ‘smarts’ in the camera will adjust setting to give you a standard exposure - not what you want with experimental photography.

I believe it is not quite as easy with digital cameras to adjust the shutter speed and aperture as many times you are left between drop down menus and rotary buttons, but your camera operation book will tell you if you are unsure.

The message here is that all the old controls are still there, under your control. It is just not as easy in my opinion (but I am still struggling with the remote for the TV set). Simple rotary dials are quicker and easier than drop-down menus for my money! But you are still in control.

In the fully manual mode, try giving larger and larger apertures and see what the differences are - which you can do ‘instantly’ with digital cameras. Likewise, try different shutter speeds and compare the end results.

Try a little creativity this weekend!

You too can get great shots

Good shots, or even great shots, can appear any time. If you are not going to miss the chance of a lifetime, the first tip is to make sure you have a camera with you, or, and I struggle to say it – a high quality smartphone! (Go and wash your mouth out with soap, Harry Flashman.)

However, how many times have you thought to yourself, “Damn! Where’s the camera right now!” This is after the shot of a lifetime just happened before your eyes. A shot that could have kept you in champagne for the next three months.

Now great shots can be shots that just somehow epitomize life in Thailand, for example. It could be a katoey posturing on Beach Road, or even the buffalo with two birds standing on its back. Always remember that you are living in a land that your countrymen save up for 12 months just to get here for a holiday. You (we) are lucky and should not let photographic opportunities pass us by.

So this week, let’s look at a few specific examples of “how to” when you are looking to record those “once in a lifetime” images.

Every city, town or village anywhere has its parades. And there are plenty of them here. Now, have you ever tried to record the parade? It is actually very difficult. The naked eye sees a long procession of musicians, marchers and the like as they pass by, but the camera sees only one slice of the action about 1/60th of a second long!

There is only one secret word for parades, and that’s ‘height’. You have to get a high viewpoint to successfully record the action, and preferably use a long lens. By shooting down the oncoming procession you will get several squads of musicians, marchers etc., all on the one frame. By using the telephoto lens you “compress” the action and get more in the one photographic frame. Honestly, if you can’t get up high don’t take parades. You will be disappointed with all ground level shots.

All tourist towns have their nightlife, and we have the odd nocturnal events and places. Lots of lights, neon signs and flood-lit fountains are the norm for this type of photograph. The secret here is a wide angle lens with an aperture down around f 1.8. This is the time to set your digital to 800 ASA, or 400 ASA at least. The other secret is not to use your flash. Now I fully realize that this is photography after dark, but the whole concept is to let the attractions provide the illumination, rather than blasting it with your flash burst. If you try and take neon light using flash you will totally wash out the neon and again get very disappointing results.

One of the more challenging travel situations is the summer beach holiday. It is very difficult to photograph the beach and not end up with a washed out look in the final photographs. The secret here is a Polarizing filter and the time of day you shoot. This is where the Polarizer works so well, especially with the glare from the sand. The Polarizer will also give you a blue sky to contrast the yellow sand castles. The time of day is also just as important. Shoot early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are skimming across the beach and the tracks and ridges in the sand will show up as shadows.

Some of you will be exponents of the wilderness type holiday, trekking and camping and taking in the vast grandeur of breathtaking natural wonders. The secret here is a wide angle lens, look for low viewpoints and set the ASA on 50 or 100, plus a tripod if you can. The idea here is to use the aperture at around f16 or f22 to maximize the depth of field. This in turn and the slow ASA setting, will require longer exposures – hence the tripod. Shooting in this way will give you maximum detail in the shot, maximum content and visual theater. Finally, shoot early morning or late afternoon as well to get the dramatic shadow effects and really give the impact to the Grand Canyon!

Where is the hero?

My daughter continues to enjoy taking photographs (as well as the usual selfies). For her, with me rather handy, this means very personal one on one tuition. It also means that I can see immediately what has to be done to improve her skills.

One catch-cry of mine has been “fill the frame” and finally she is starting to understand what is meant by this. The shots which precipitated this were a gammon steak and egg. The first shot showed the table, coffee cups and serviettes. Input by the photographer – nil. After admonishment to fill the frame, the second shot was much better, but there were still extraneous items along with the gammon plate. The third shot concentrated on the gammon plate and very little else, and daughter could see immediately that she had taken a photograph with some impact. It had a “hero” and that was the gammon steak and egg.

For impact, she finally got there. The “hero” was the gammon almost filling the frame, leaving nothing to distract from the reason for the shot.

The next item she was shown was that her hero deserved more than one shot. By moving the platter with the gammon, she could keep it filling the frame, but getting different views, and different light and shadows from the cafe window.

All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, where you position the subject of the photo (that’s the hero) at the intersection of one third from the top or bottom of the viewfinder and one third in from the right or left side of the viewfinder. Look where the egg is positioned!

By just placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats called it the “Rule of Thirds”, but even just try putting the subjects off-center. While still on the Rule of Thirds, don’t have the horizon slap bang in the center of the picture either. Put it one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a rough rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the picture, but if it is featureless blue or grey include less of it. Simple!

With some cameras where you can make a grid pattern on the viewing screen from the menu, such as on the DMC FZ series Lumix, it makes it even easier to position the subject. With the vertical lines, you will soon see if you have the subject vertical, and for horizontal subjects incorporating the horizon, you can also make sure it is level. This composition is something you can do in the camera as you take the shot. It does mean that you look critically through the viewfinder and position the subject correctly.

Now, that is not the only item you should think about with your photographs, though it is obviously a good start! The next item is cropping, where you get rid of non-important items from the final photo. These are items which do not add anything to the photograph you have in your mind’s eye. This can be extraneous details, such as a rubbish bin, which never does anything for landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is too small – because you didn’t walk several meters closer!

While post-production cropping to fill the frame can be done, it is better to do it in the camera beforehand. You can do this with post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a good Photoshop style program, where you actually do just the same as we used to with two L-shaped pieces of card, but with electronics. Call up your photo on the computer screen and with the cropping tools you can move them around until you feel you have the correct (most pleasing) crop. And fill the frame.

So this week the messages were simple. Remember to fill the frame to give your photos more impact, so walk in closer. Remember to position the subject at the intersection of thirds, and learn how to visualize the crop for dramatic effect and try to do this in the camera viewfinder. That will improve your shots immeasurably.

A bag full of mistakes

I have seen five year old children wanting to take a “selfie”. Here they are, barely out of nappies and taking shots of themselves. By the time they are teenagers, they are applying make-up using the smartphone. By the time they are dying, who will be the first to shoot themselves in their coffin with their last breath?

Unfortunately, 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 presumed 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. Personally I couldn’t care less what you ate, unless it was some culinary tour de force.

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 more interest.

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 as well.

If you must show the world just what you had for your last supper 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 potatoes 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 and infinitely better pictures. 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 Methode 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.

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 wine.

So what happens to the half bottle of red that was removed to dilute the wine? The photographer has it with dinner.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Digital creativity

You too can get great shots

Where is the hero?

A bag full of mistakes