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