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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


10 Digital Tips for SLR’s

I was asked to put together a small “instruction” sheet for new DSLR users, and so here it is. 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 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 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, 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 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.

7. Avoid flash indoors. Flash can look harsh and unnatural like a rabbit in the headlights. 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. Become familiar with ISO ratings. The ISO setting determines how sensitive your camera is to light and also how fine the details of your image. When it is dark push the ISO up to a higher number, say anything from 400 – 3200 as this will make the camera more sensitive to light and then you can avoid blurring. On sunny days choose ISO 100 as there is more light to work with.

9. 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.

10. 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.

Ansel Adams – lest we forget!

The famous American photographer Ansel Adams has been dead for 24 years, but his influence on photography as an “art form” will probably be with us forever. Particularly Black and White, which is rapidly reaching “art” status all the time.

Adams was born in San Francisco in 1902, but his early interest was in music and the piano, which he initially hoped to develop into a professional career. However, as a 14 year old in 1916 he took his first photographs of the Yosemite Valley, an experience of such intensity that later reviewers of the Ansel Adams history recorded that he was to view it as a lifelong inspiration.

The Yosemite Valley would probably not be as well known world-wide as it is, if it were not for Adams, who returned every year thereafter to record its grandeur. During these trips he became even more in love with nature and its conservation and became associated with the Sierra Club in 1920.

In 1927 he published his first portfolio, ‘Parmelian Prints of the High Sierras’, and the following year he became an official photographer for the Sierra Club.

Like all photographers, Adams was interested in the work of others and was influenced by the straight photography of Paul Strand, and the works of Steiglitz, Edward Weston and Imogen Cunningham. It was with the latter two photographers that he formed the Group f 64. For Adams and Weston especially, the f 64 philosophy embodied an approach to perfect realization of photographic vision through technically flawless prints. Even the use of the name f 64 shows the depth of field concept seen in so many of Adam’s photographs – sharp from front to back. Although the concept of the Zone System had not been finally formulated, you could see the beginnings of this at that time in the early 1930’s.

In 1935, Adams first book on photographic technique was published and by then he was giving one-man exhibitions in America. Moving to the Yosemite Valley, he continued to photograph the natural wonders and many of his images were published in the 1938 publication of Sierra Nevada – The John Muir Trail.

With the advent of WWII, Adams went to work for the Department of the Interior in Washington, D.C. During this time he began to develop a codification of his approach to exposure, processing, and printing – this became the Zone System. In effect, this system aimed at pre-visualization of the final print. In other words, you, the photographer know the result you want, and by application of the Zone System, you can make it happen (though this is not necessarily easy).

Adams said conventional photographic recording, was “acceptable though perhaps uninspired” and created the phrase “acute and creatively expressive.” In the Zone System, he engineered a technique by which the photographer could manipulate the photograph’s internal tones. By means of filtration, development, and print controls, contrast could be heightened or softened and the placement of object values along the tonal scale could be predetermined by the photographer before the shutter was released. Yes, he used a notebook to record the details he would later print out so faithfully in his dark-room.

After the war, Adams moved into lecturing as well as continuing to photograph. He also developed a knowledge of the techniques of photographic reproduction to assure that the quality of any reproduced work might approach, as closely as possible, the standard of the original print.

His place in the photographic halls of fame were by then assured, following his award of a Guggenheim Fellowship in 1948 to photograph national park locations and monuments. More books on photography were written, and his stature continued to increase within the Fine Arts circles. By 1966 he had been elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and by the late 1970’s his prints were being sold to collectors for prices never equaled by any living American photographer.

We should all aspire to perfection and I give you three Ansel Adams quotes:

“You don’t take a photograph, you make it.”

“A good photograph is knowing where to stand.”

“The single most important component of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

Take amazing photographs – Really? Yes you can

Thomas Carlyle was taken by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1867.

Paloma Picasso taken by Helmut Newton.

The lighting was a tungsten garden light and off to one side to give the stark B&W we were looking for.

When photography was in its infancy the Kodak company pioneered, “You push the button – we do the rest.” And so photography flourished.

Today, the wheel has gone full circle and your DSLR awaits your finger on its button. You push that button and the camera does the rest!

Photography has changed so much in the past 20 years. Part of that change is cameras. Cameras have changed so much that images are now “instant”. Digital programs have made photography a simple process.

However, amazing images do not rely upon digital electrotrickery, amazing images come from you, the photographer. And here are a few ideas.

Photography in its infancy was Black and White (usually just called B&W). The final image in B&W can be definitely a stark and powerful image.

To get that amazing B&W photo, you need contrast, which means you have to learn how to control light. After all, photography means painting with light.

Begin by turning off the flash in-built into your camera. Why? Because the on- camera flash is difficult to control, and too powerful.

Look at the photos with this issue. All were taken indoors with only one source of light. Nothing fancy.

Your first shot should be taken in portrait format and the next landscape. I would get in the habit of doing this, because you will get some images which are not the ones you had in your mind, but can be quite amazing.

Do not take one shot on its own, or you will miss the one shot you are hoping to produce. In the studio setting we worked on getting six good shots from of a roll of 36.

To show that powerful portraits are made and not by chance, Pic 1 of Thomas Carlyle was taken by Julia Margaret Cameron in 1867 and was one of around 12 of these portraits taken at the sitting.

For Pic 2 the lighting was a tungsten garden light and off to one side to give the stark B&W we were looking for. The background was black velvet (a subject covered recently) and the model was positioned close to the camera and was set to try different poses until we got the look we wanted. The button was pushed around 10 times with the model trying the different poses. Some worked, some didn’t

Pic 3 was one of Paloma Picasso and was taken by Helmut Newton. Stark B&W with one breast exposed, but when you look, it is not visible behind the wine glass. A typical thought producing Helmut Newton image.

Now it is your turn. Using natural lighting try to photograph anything having made the lighting stark and full of contrast. Of course, you can also get the B&W image by manipulating with Photo Shop, but you do need the ‘contrasty’ image to begin with.

Enjoying f15 stops

Shutter speeds are an inherent part of photography and the simplest f stop uses the setting 1/15th shutter speed. Almost every camera ever made has a setting called “15” which stands for 1/15th of a second. This is also probably the most underused shutter speed ever, and yet it can help make your photographs very much better.

There seems to be an idea in the photographic world beyond Infinity that anything slower than 1/60th of a second cannot be hand-held, and you must use a tripod. This is tripe - unless you have some medical condition resulting in uncontrolled shaking spasms. Modern DSLR’s have ‘anti-shake’ built in to the electronics. Don’t ask me how they do it, just believe.

The reason to use 1/15th is to expand the light range in which you can take shots without flash, such as sunsets for example, or to bring out the background, even when using flash. You know the shots taken at a function where you get someone looking like a startled rabbit in blackness, where if you had used a 1/15th shutter speed you would have got a nice mellow background to soften the picture.

Of course there are a few tricks to hand-holding at the slower shutter speeds. The first is to steady yourself and that can be done easily by leaning against a wall or a pole (preferably not a chrome one attached to a go-go dancer). The second is to hold the camera firmly in both hands, take a breath in and hold it and then gently depress the shutter button. I have even shot at ½ a second by holding the camera firmly pressed down on the back of a chair. Take a few as some will have obvious camera shake, but you will get at least one good one.

Still on the number 15. There is a theoretical f stop which could be called f 15. F stops after all are only a way of measuring the diameter of the aperture inside the lens, to bring it to its simplest terms. As you go through the usual f stops of f 8 to f 11 to f 16, you are actually cutting the light down by one half each time. The f stop scale is also an inverse ratio, as the bigger the number, the smaller the diameter. There is a good mathematical reason for this, but just believe me again.

If you really want to get technical, for example, f/16 means that the aperture diameter is equal to the focal length of the lens divided by sixteen; that is, if the camera has an 80 mm lens, all the light that reaches the film passes through a virtual disk known as the ‘entrance pupil’ that is 5 mm (80 mm/16) in diameter. The location of this virtual disk inside the lens depends on the optical design. It may simply be the opening of the aperture stop, or may be a magnified image of the aperture stop, formed by elements within the lens.

The f stop scale is a sliding one, allowing for fractional differences in the light allowed through to the film (or the digital sensors). Most old cameras had an aperture scale graduated in full stops but the aperture was continuously variable allowing the photographer to select any intermediate aperture, and thus it would be possible to shoot at f 15.

The continuously variable aperture cameras slowly disappeared, with ‘click-stopped’ aperture became a common feature in the 1960s; the aperture scale was usually marked in full stops, but many lenses had a click between two marks, allowing a gradation of one half of a stop.

On modern cameras, especially when aperture is set on the camera body, f-number is often divided more finely than steps of one stop or half a stop. Steps of one-third stop (1/3 EV) are the most common, since this matches the ISO system of film speeds. Enough technical details! Time to just believe me again.

Black Velvet

With the current ‘lock down’ situation, this is an ideal opportunity to experiment with some different photographic projects. This is really special effects photography and for the amateur photographer can be done indoors

To assist all budding photographers, would you believe me when I say that you can get a very valuable piece of photographic equipment at the local Indian tailors? Probably not, but you really can buy something there which is of inestimable value for special effects in photography.

Indian tailors fit into low budget special effects photography, and when I say “low budget”, that is exactly what I mean. In my personal library I have books that claim to do just that and then go on about the “low budget” equipment required – an enlarger, registration table with registration pins, copy stand and photo floods and studio strobes. Hardly what I would call low budget! However, it is possible to produce many special effects photos without having to purchase expensive equipment. The first item you need is a roll of black velvet.

Black velvet is one of the easiest ways to introduce some very different effects into your photographs. The secrets behind the use of this material include the facts that it is non-reflective, it does not affect exposure values when taking the shot and shadows do not register on it.

Because it does not affect the final image, this makes black velvet the ideal material to use as a background when you wish to combine images, or do other special effects using Photoshop or whatever is your favorite graphics package.

Here are just a few ideas you can do with black velvet. Simple double exposure in the camera becomes very easy with this material in the background. Set your camera in the double exposure mode (or if you have not got one, select “B” for time exposure). Position the subject to one side of the picture and pop the flash to take the shot. Now reposition the subject on the other side of the picture and shoot again. You will have two perfect shots on a perfectly black background. (For those using the “B” setting you have to have the room dark and the camera on a tripod. Cover the lens between taking the shots to stop extraneous light coming into the camera too, but it is possible to get excellent double exposures in this way.)

Another use for black velvet is in making pictures of light trails. These can be very spectacular special effects pictures and are very easy to make. Stick the black velvet on the ceiling and suspend a torch from the center. With the camera facing upwards, twirl the torch and record its movement for ten seconds or so. You have just made a totally original image!

Photo montage is another simple effect you can produce, using the black velvet as the background. Here you let your creative self run riot. You can produce any picture you want, whether it be yourself standing on top of the Statue of Liberty or three elephants standing on a beach ball – you are in total control!

With this type of special effect you have to cut out the elements you want from other pictures, be they prints or magazine photos or whatever. Cut carefully and then run a black felt-tip pen around the edges (See why? It will sit on black velvet!) and you are ready to combine all your subjects.

Put your composition (photo montage) together and positioning your camera above the montage, look carefully through the viewfinder. This is how the shot will look, remember (WYSIWYG). Reposition any items at this stage. Next important item is to keep the camera back parallel with your background as this will keep all the elements in focus. Now shoot! Three exposures half a stop apart.

If you find the direct flash gives you a reflection problem, you can use household “floodlights”, one each side at 45 degrees to the surface. You will get a “warm” color cast, but since you are producing “surreal” photographs, it does not really matter. Have fun this weekend, after you’ve been to the tailors!

Still lives are not dead lives

I randomly picked a book from my shelves this week. It was 35 years old, and every item was still applicable today. The main thrust was that still life is the only style of photography where the photographer has total control over the final image. A good still life is the result of application of many photographic principles and good composition. A poor still life is the fault of no one but the photographer.

The camera used for still life photography ranges all the way from 35 mm DSLR’s through to 5x4 view cameras. Lighting also ranges from electronic flash, tungsten and window lights. Since most of these are too bright, producing dark shadows, the still life photographer will also need diffusing equipment, with umbrella reflectors de rigeur for flash heads and homemade soft boxes quite easy to make and very suitable for tungsten light sources. Buy a 1 meter square sheet of white foam core as well.

There’s still more, with seamless background paper high on the list, and a good sturdy tripod is mandatory, and a locking type cable release will make life easier for you.

If you are starting off trying still life I would not begin with buying all the bits and pieces that go with still lives, but keep it simple till you get more used to the discipline. Let’s begin with window lights and a tripod and your DSLR, with the Manual mode selected. Also disable the on-camera flash. For a subject, let’s use a fruit bowl with some vegetables.

At this stage you must come up with the composition you might think suitable. This is also the stage where you select the “hero”. With a bowl of fruit and some garden vegetables, this can be difficult, but for the exercise let’s select the tomatoes. Recognizable and colorful and for a still life, the tomatoes must be perfect. No bruises or cuts or marks. Having done that, carefully polish them so they are looking very delectable.

Now start to arrange all the items in the photo with the bowl of fruit central and the tomatoes at the intersection of thirds and partly in front of the bowl. Look through the viewfinder to get the composition. What you see with the naked eye, is not necessarily what the camera sees, with differing apertures producing different views. It is a case of WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get), and that is what you see through the camera.

Having decided on the composition, you must now decide on the lighting. Again, your lighting should identify the “hero”. I generally work with two lights and a reflector. One is to light up the backdrop, which then splits the subject matter away from the background. Now bring one light in from the front, but off to one side. This produces shadow as well as illumination, and shadow in still lives is crucially important. Without shadow, your tomatoes are flat, with no 3D effect at all.

Now comes the third item, the reflector. White foam board works well and you reflect a little light back into the scene, to control the amount of shadow. Do not be afraid of shadow! You need it. When you use the reflector, look at the difference depending upon whether your reflector is close to the subject or further away. As I mentioned at the start of this article, the photographer has total control.

Now look through the viewfinder again and double check all the variables of composition and lighting. If something is not right, correct it. Don’t be lazy and think, it’ll be OK in the end. It won’t.

With today’s SLRs it is so easy for you to take the shot and get an instant review, but remember that looking at the small LED screen does not show the entire picture. But it does allow you to try different items in the quest for the award winner.

Pro photographer demands danger money

Nobody would ever put photography in the list of dangerous pastimes, but let me tell you, I have had some dangers to overcome to get the image the client wanted. I have been called upon to do some dangerous photography. No, not in a tiger’s den, but an aerial shot taken from a helicopter. This flying device had been modified for aerial photography by removing both doors, making it an even more unsafe and uncomfortable mode of transport than they usually are.

The brief was to photograph a particular building site from around 200 meters up, and the direction had to be from the north. It was a windy day and when we got to the shoot, the helicopter pilot was unable to hover in a position where either of the door apertures would give me the shot from the north. Since the hire of helicopters is not cheap, and we only had one hour to get the shot, there was only one answer - climb out on the landing struts and hang over the edge!

Since I get vertigo standing on a chair, this was not going to be easy. Fortunately the helicopter was set up with a harness for me to wear, with a rope leading back inside the cabin. You should try stepping out into space at 200 meters up, no parachute, and a piece of ‘string’ attaching you to a helicopter. It was not a case of just standing on the landing struts, but I had to lean out, with the harness taking the strain as I moved even further out (like a crew member on a yacht). The buffeting from the rotors and the cold day all added to the problems I was having with camera shake (compounded by fear).

Eventually I managed to get the shot I needed, using hand signals to the pilot to indicate more or less height. Then I had to get back in. Since I was already well past the point of no return, I had to get the assistant to pull me in. But the assistant was a woman and not strong enough. Fortunately the pilot saw what was the problem went on auto-pilot and dragged me in. I have not done a helicopter shoot since that day.

However, much more dangerous was the following shoot, done in my studio. The brief was an advertising shot for a bottle of vodka. The final shot was to be the bottle sitting beside a dish of strawberries. Now while that sounds simple, it is not all that easy.

The first item I had to get was the strawberries. Since the client will complain if any strawberry is even slightly less than perfect, this means you buy a huge amount of strawberries and spend the next hour picking only the best ones. After that you paint them with vegetable oil so they look all shiny and juicy. That was the easy bit.

Now to make a bowl of strawberries, and the bottle of vodka ‘jump off’ the page, you have to light them from underneath. So I used a sheet of glass supported at each end, about one meter from the floor, pulled some meters of black paper from the background paper on a roll hanging from the back wall of the studio, cut two holes in it where the bowl and the bottle would sit and we were starting to look good.

While getting flash heads ready and the 5x4 plate camera focused, I had the lights under the glass going. After several minutes of fiddling and fussing I was ready to pull the first Polaroid. While peering at the ground glass focusing screen I suddenly heard this loud cracking noise. I looked up, just in time to be hit on the head by the roll of black background paper!

What had happened was the lights had heated the glass too much and it had broken. As it fell in two pieces, it dragged the black background paper down too, and the roll came off the hooks on the back wall, neatly landing on my head.

And you thought still life photography wasn’t dangerous?

Holiday encounters

Don’t get your hopes up. This is not some seedy expose of past holiday romances. This is an article on how to get better photographic results from your holiday.

In all the flurry of activity when packing for the overseas trip, it is easy to forget to pack a camera (or two if you are a real enthusiast). However, everyone wants a photographic record of the trip, the event, the new experiences. After all, you saved for 11 months for this, don’t let it just become a casual conversation on your return!

Now before you add “Pack Camera” to the To Do list, there’s a little bit of photographic preparation to be done too. The first, and should be most obvious, is just to make sure the camera works. If you haven’t used the camera for some time, buy new batteries for it and check the memory card before you go away. There’s nothing worse than finding out that the camera had a problem after you get back! You should take a few shots and look at them critically to make sure it is really working properly.

Now, no matter where you go these days, someone has been there before you. And they’ve written a guide book about it too, so your next move is to actually plan some shots before you even leave home. Research your destination properly and you should know what is likely to be a significant place, monument, castle, lake, waterfall, etc., in the area you will be visiting. When you read the Lonely Planet Guide or whatever, use a highlighter pen to remind you of photo opportunities.

Thinking about and anticipating “how” you should take any landmark will produce much better results when you finally arrive to take the picture. You will not be so over-awed that you just stand there and go “click”. You will be ready to try to show this segment of your trip with some photographic flair. It works, believe me!

It is always tempting to take photographs from the plane. There is one classic shot you should always attempt on every trip. That is the aerial. Shooting out of plane windows is not really all that difficult with today’s cameras, but there are a couple of catches. Firstly, pick a porthole where you can see a little of the engine intake in the shot. Adds drama and shows how you got up there! Shoot from the side of the plane opposite from the sun. This way you won’t see the scratches on the plane window. Use a wide-angle lens if you’ve got one, set the camera on auto and get as close to the window as possible, but not touching it (otherwise you get vibrations coming through to give you fuzzy photos).

Shooting the locals. Your research of the places you are going to will soon tell you if there are interesting “locals” which would make good photographs (such as this one pictured here). Priests, tribes folk, indigenous people, policemen in uniform and the like all make for good shots and gives the “atmosphere” of your holiday. It’s OK to shoot when they are unaware of your presence, but if you want a formal photograph, always ask. Just wave the camera and smile if you can’t speak the local lingo. It usually works. If not, wave money! That always does.

If you are going to well-known destination like London, Paris, New York, then you will always be able to buy another memory card over there, but if you are going to the Mongolian Steppes, you may need to bring your own supplies. I also suggest that the digital folk take along more than one spare memory card and download their precious images back here, where you know that everything (should) work correctly and not delete images unexpectedly.

Finally, you should think about how you are going to present the results. It is always a huge temptation to bring out folders of photos as soon as you get back. Wait! Sort them, keep the good, throw away the bad. Show only your best shots and everyone will be amazed at your superb photographs!

Digital photography shutter speed control

Photo by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.

A new generation of photographers is upon us old “film” folk. 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 cameras and film cameras do exactly the same job. It is only where the light falls and how it is stored and recorded that is different.

First, a few basics. All photography, since the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce first invented it in 1826, has worked on the principle of allowing the 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 (in other words, how long the aperture is left open).

That principle still holds good today. Originally, the aperture was literally as large as you could get, and the time was measured in hours. This was because the sensitized material was really not too sensitive at all, but we improved with the silver plates.

The first improvement came in the lens design. These could let more light through in a shorter period of time, and the aperture only needed to be left open for a few minutes, rather than hours.

The next major development was the sensitized film, which could record an image in fractions of a second. Photography as we went into the 1900s was very similar to the technology today. You could capture an image at an aperture size of f 11 open for 1/60th of a second, on the film of the day, which was rated at around 100 ASA (sensitivity rating of the film).

During the next 100 years, lenses got better and gave less distortion, film became more sensitive and gave clearer, sharper images, and the mechanical shutter speeds approached 1/4000th of a second. This was enough to stop a speeding railway train, without the aid of Superman!

And then came what people have recently considered to be 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 “gimme, gimme, 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 rotate 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 shutter speeds from usually 1 second through to 1/1000th of a second. The two factors could be operated independently, and this was called Fully Manual Mode. However, they could also be operated in conjunction with each other, called Aperture Priority if the aperture was set first, or Shutter Priority, if the shutter speed was set first.

Try setting fast shutter speeds in Shutter Priority mode this weekend and stop the action.

You want to be a war zone photographer?


One of the extreme forms of photojournalism is war zone photography, and one of the extreme exponents of war photography was a Hungarian Andre Friedmann.

Friedmann’s war zone photos are not well known, in fact his name has gone into obscurity, but the work of an American war zone photographer Robert Capa is very well remembered.  The interesting part here is that Friedmann and Capa are one and the same people.

As a fearless war zone photographer, Robert Capa has had his pictures held up as shining examples of fearless photojournalism, while poor old Friedmann has really been forgotten.

Getting to the truth behind this strange fact brings in a third person, Gerda Pohorylles.  Gerda, also known as Gerda Taro, was Andre Friedmann’s agent in his early days in Europe.  It was Gerda who decided that the market for his pictures would be much larger if the Europeans thought he was a famous American photographer, and so Robert Capa who went to Europe was created by her.

Amongst the famous images from Europe are his shots of the Spanish Civil war, including the photograph of a Spanish militiaman literally at the split second of impact, with death recorded for posterity.  The decisive moment as Henri Cartier Bresson would call it.  The un-named soldier was not the only one to perish in the Spanish conflict as poor Gerda, who was also a photojournalist, met her end reporting that conflict.

Hungarian Friedmann, as Robert Capa, did eventually emigrate to America and was to accompany the American forces back to Europe in 1944.  His photographs of the D-Day invasion are now legendary.

War heroes are immensely popular figures in America and the photographer Robert Capa was the friend of many film stars, writers and other celebrities such as John Steinbeck and Gary Cooper.

He covered five wars in all.  The Spanish Civil war, the Chinese-Japanese war, WW II in Europe, the Israeli war of Independence and the French Indo-China war.

Capa was never one to send back photographs from well behind the lines.  He shot from close to the action.  His photographic rule was, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.”

Whilst that saw him getting award-winning photographs, eventually this need to get close to the action finally killed him, when he stood on a landmine in May in Vietnam.  It is said that his body was found still clutching his camera and the film inside was unharmed, but I could not verify this.  However, he was a war photographer to the very end.

As well as his 70,000 photographs, Capa left the world a photographic legacy in the form of the Magnum Agency.  This huge photo bank was created by Capa, in conjunction with the aforementioned famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson.  Magnum today still represents the more excellent photographers around.  Capa will not be forgotten like Friedmann’s, old negatives in photographic archives.

Of course, getting close to the subject is still one of the primary rules of picture taking. “Step several meters closer” is one of my ways of saying the same thing.  When you look through the viewfinder at the subject, do just that – with the camera to your eye walk towards the subject and see just how the emphasis changes in the picture.  The closer you get, the more the subject will fill the frame and dominate the entire photograph.  In fact, this weekend take one shot from where you would normally take it, then take another couple as you walk closer.  Compare the end results and see if Robert Capa (Andre Friedmann and Harry Flashman) are not correct.

With Pattaya being a tourist resort city, every day you will see holidaymakers recording their trip of a lifetime, from about 20 meters away.  This includes shots of the hotel and their friends out front.  The end result will be disappointing with tiny little people in front of the building.

If they would only walk several meters closer it would be so different.  Some days I think I should mark the spots for the photographers to stand and the subjects to be placed, in the front of our major hotels.


Your new camera

Box Brownie.

I have never properly embraced the social media. I really don’t care what you ate for breakfast and I’m not into hugs all round. And as for “Amen”, I find it insulting at best and silly at worst.

However, there is one area where it is very difficult to beat what the social media provide – and that is instant access to people’s opinions.

I use the analogy of buying a car. Many years ago I was in the market for a second hand Mazda RX7. These were the days BFB (Before Face Book) and I was looking for a way to canvas opinions by the owners of such vehicles. Every time I saw one parked at the side of the road, with less than 30 minutes on the meter, I would wait and when the owner arrived I would ask him whether it was a good car or otherwise. The vast majority were very happy with their RX7, so I bought one and became very happy with mine too.

So what has that got to do with your choice of camera? A lot. Now you can go online asking for opinions on the latest DSLR and within 24 hours you will have your answer, or what the majority thinks. This is more truthful than the sales spiel from the camera shop counter jumper.

However, before you even get to that stage you should be looking at what type of camera you should be buying for your type of photography.

I read a most interesting piece of research which came from the Sony people. According to the Sony survey, 72 percent of DSLR buyers use their cameras to “capture family memories and for fun.” A Box Brownie will do that.

Also, the greatest spur to buying a camera at a specific time is an imminent trip. These people are not going to do a crash course in serious photography before they take off, so the requirement of competent, fully automatic mode is reasonable. And wanting to get the best possible images is understandable. Then there is weight. Who wants to lug a conspicuous brick around Venice when a small compact system camera will do the job?

The compact camera section of the marketplace is certainly the most volatile. As Sony found, only 28 percent of camera buyers are going to go for the all-singing, all-dancing DSLR cameras.

One of the problems when comparing cameras with cameras is people tend to read the magic number called megapixels and conclude that it is the deciding parameter between brilliant, good and not so good. 24 megapixels is better than 12 which in turn better is than 4.

Whilst the above is partly true, it really does depend upon what you want to do with the end result. Are you going to be blowing it up to the size of a barn door, or will it be a 4R (6x4) at most? If you have been hired to produce photographs for billboards, then look at a camera with megapixels coming out its strap swivels. Otherwise, anything from six to 10 MP is more than adequate.

So what should you be looking for when buying a camera these (electronic) days? To start with, a fast autofocus. Instant zip-zip, not “pause for a second while I get myself ready and then zip”.

I also recommend inbuilt image stabilization. So many photographs are spoiled by camera movement producing ‘soft’ images that can be overcome with image stabilization electronics. And as a further small advantage, these types of systems are particularly good for the senior citizen photographer.

You should also look at the shutter speeds the camera is capable of. 1/2000th of a second should stop a railway train (in Thailand, not in Japan) and be sufficient for 99 percent of action photography. It is also advantageous if any proposed camera has a time exposure setting so you can take photographs at night, including fireworks.

Sony’s advice is right: if you are not serious about getting to grips with the functions of a DSLR then don’t buy one. On the other hand, if you are deadly serious about your photography, don’t buy anything else. And see what other photographers think.

f8 and be there

Arthur H. Fellig, aka ‘Weegee’.

Photojournalists can have a problem with morality and ethics. The following test shows just how much stress there can be for these photographers.


The situation: You are in Pattaya. There is chaos all around you caused by the tropical storm with severe flooding. You are a photojournalist working for the Pattaya Mail newspaper and you are standing on Beach Road, photographing the flooding.

Suddenly, you see a man in the water. He is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken down with the debris. You suddenly realize who it is... it is a well known violent criminal on the run. You notice that the raging waters are about to take him under.

You have two options:

(1)You can save the life of this man – or -

(2) You can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the country’s most despised, evil and powerful men!

Now the question, and give an honest answer (nobody can see you)!

Would you select color, or just go with the classic simplicity of black and white?

So now, to be sensible after that little chuckle, the job of a photojournalist is to get back to the editor with a usable photograph of some event, be that a fire, flood, the Jester’s Children’s fair or the TFI frizz and flares night. (These require the photographer’s presence and a camera that works.)

The photojournalist’s creed of “f8 and be there” may have come from Arthur H. Fellig, also known as ‘Weegee’. Born in Poland in 1899, he went to America in 1909. He worked for a few studios and then got a job in the darkroom at Acme Newspapers. Life in the newspaper business is always exciting and frantic. Arthur H. Fellig reveled in that excitement. He had found his niche. He was only 21 years old but he decided he was going to be a freelance news photographer.

He soon became known as the first on the scene of any newsworthy happening, be that fire, murder, suicide or landslide. He was so uncannily aware of what was happening that people began to feel he had some kind of psychic powers of prediction. At that time, America was also in the middle of a Ouija Board fad and from this Fellig was to adopt his nickname “Weegee”.

Of course, Weegee was not psychic, but just used to sleep fully clothed, with a police radio on his pillow. In the boot of his car was his “office”, complete with typewriter to knock out the words, spare film and lots of flash bulbs. Weegee would arrive, record the shot, type the words and have everything on the editor’s desk within the hour. It was no wonder that Weegee was so popular with the news media of the day.

By 1935, Life magazine was doing features on Weegee and his work. There was no doubt about the fact that he had the photographic “eye”, but for Weegee, the subject was the all important part of the photograph. And the subject he dealt with was done incredibly directly. Weegee was not one to be horrified by the sights before him, such as gangland killings. He took the shot that kept that horror for the eyes of the newspaper readers the next day. (Interestingly, that direct, confrontational photographic style is still used in the Thai language papers today – check any front pages for graphic images.) Another quote from this amazing man, “I like to get different shots and don’t like to make the same shots the other dopes do.” When asked what his formula was he replied, “I just laugh. I have no formula, I’m just myself, take me or leave me. I don’t put on an act. I don’t try to make a good or bad impression. I’m just Weegee.”

Weegee is remembered for his record of the seamier side of New York life. This was put into book form, called the Naked City and was published after WWII. Unfortunately, the wide public recognition that came from this book ended the directly grotesque nature of his images and Weegee went to Hollywood where tinsel-town swallowed him up. He died in 1969.

How not to miss great shots

Good shots, and 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 used to struggle to say it – a high quality smartphone! However, having just purchased a smarter than me phone, the new ones are very sharp, but they are not quite as capable as a good DSLR system.


However, when the shot of a lifetime just happened before your eyes, a shot that could have kept you in champagne for the next three months, you need to be ready.

Great shots can be shots that just somehow epitomize life in Thailand, for example are always worth taking (and may be financially rewarding). It could be a katoey posturing on Beach Road, or even the one of the buffalo in the paddy field 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.

Thailand is a Buddhist country with a total of 41,205 Buddhist temples (Thai: Wat) since last update. This is confirmed, of which 33,902 are in current use, according to the Office of National Buddhism. You will need a wide angle lens to capture the size of the temples and stairs. Plan the photography for late afternoon when the shadows grow long and the sun casts a warm atmosphere to your shots. If you have a close-up lens then look at photographing some of the ornamental statues. Again you will need the afternoon light.

Pattaya comes alive at night 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 again 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. If you cannot get enough light to hand-hold, then use a tripod.

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 beach sand. 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 lens 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!  Try using the look-out at the Naval Radio station.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

10 Digital Tips for SLR’s

Ansel Adams – lest we forget!

Take amazing photographs – Really? Yes you can

Enjoying f15 stops

Black Velvet

Still lives are not dead lives

Pro photographer demands danger money

Holiday encounters

Digital photography shutter speed control

You want to be a war zone photographer?

Your new camera

f8 and be there

How not to miss great shots