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SNAP SHOTS by Harry Flashman


11 Digital Tips for SLR’s

While the compact point and shooter is a great way to get into photography, there are limitations with the basic camera, especially if you wish to improve above the “Auto” mode type of photography.
The 11 tips this week are for the photographer who has graduated from a point and shoot to an SLR.

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.

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.

11. Spend as much time as you can just critically looking at your shots and learn to adapt by giving yourself photo projects.

The Travel Bug

In around three months, many of you will be gearing up for the overseas trip to see relatives “back home”. In around four months many of you will then be showing your travel shots from ‘over there’ to friends ‘over here’, and will be very disappointed with the results.

(Photo by Ernie Kuehnelt)

Let’s see if we can get you over some common hurdles and improve this situation. The first thing to remember is that travel shots are not all portraits. Sure, everyone wants to see how granddad looks these days, so be prepared to take some dedicated portrait shots of him. Do not try and incorporate granddad, grandma and the three cousins standing outside the village fountain while eating ice creams. It won’t make a good travel shot and neither will it make for good portraits.

With digital cameras, now you can see if you’ve got it in one second. All you have to do is look critically at your images! If you haven’t got the shot you wanted, you are still there and can take it again. For that reason alone, you should take a digital camera with you on holidays.

However, there are many other good reasons, including the fact that the memory chip is not affected by the airport security scanners. You can take two or three memory cards with you without using up space in handbags. And photoshops all over the world can read the cards very easily and burn you a CD instantly.

However, to come back with some cracker holiday shots is not all that difficult, it just needs some thought and time. Not taking the correct amount of time in shooting is probably the number one reason for getting disappointing results. The corollary is that by taking time, you will get better results!

Take a look at the shot this week of the Cambodian girl on the bicycle. This was taken by a keen amateur, the late Ernie Kuehnelt, and took one hour. No, he did not get the girl to cycle back and forth for 60 minutes, but he stayed in position (in the shade) close to a bridge in Siem Reap for one hour. During that time he snapped interesting looking subjects and this shot was one of the best. It is a wonderfully evocative shot that shows the lifestyle of a Cambodian peasant girl. By the way, the shot was taken using the follow focus facility, and it certainly worked well.

What is worth noting from Ernie Kuehnelt’s photograph is that he came back with images of Cambodia, not photographs of “me beside a temple” or “me taken with our guide”. Your camera should be used to record the places you visited, not just you on your holidays. The former kinds of photographs are interesting. The latter are not, other than to your mother!

Before your trip, you should also have some ideas on the subject matter. This you can get from the internet or your friendly travel agent, but if you are going to Koln, for example, you have to put some time aside for the cathedral and the river transport there. Or if you are going to Canada, try to make sure you get a moose. Or if going to the US, look for Mickey Mouse.

What camera should you take? Well, unless you are hoping to send the photographs to National Geographic, I would probably suggest you leave the expensive digital SLR at home. Why? Because lugging an expensive camera around tourist spots can be a chore, as well as worrying about its welfare. Ever tried to fit one camera and lenses, into a hotel security box? A point and shoot compact with a mini-zoom would be my choice, and a large capacity memory card. With the price of these going down all the time, look at seeing if you can take a couple of 2GB cards with you.

Finally, think about how you are going to present the results. It is always a huge temptation to rush in as you get back. Wait! Sort them, keep the good ones, delete the bad. Put your best shots on CD and think about an on-line site that will host your shots for the world to access.

Phood Photography

Did you know that some of the highest paid professional photographers are those who photograph food?
Ask food and wine critics about menus. What is the best style and layout of a menu? Menus that have photographs in them. It is all very well having ‘vol au vent’ on the menu, but if the diner doesn’t know what it is, he is not going to order it. With international clientele in Thailand, where English may not be their language, only a photograph can tell them what is on your menu.

OK, so there needs to be a photograph, but if that final photograph does not make the food look appetizing, the diner isn’t going to order it anyway - and will probably go somewhere else to eat next time.

Photography is one of the least truthful pastimes you can take up. For the pro photographer much of the time is used in working out how to either show the product in a favorable way, or to disguise some defect or other. There is a veritable army of people out there who love to go through advertising brochures and look for minute imperfections and write to the manufacturer saying “Do all of your watches have scratches on them?” And who gets the blame? Not the manufacturer who sent over the product, but the poor old photographer, that’s who. This can really be an enormous problem when you may be photographing a pre-production item and this is the only one in captivity.

And so to the food. This is one area where there are more fraudulent practices than any other. Cold food can be made to look hot by sprinkling chips of dry ice to give “steam” coming off the dish. Not palatable, but it looks OK. Cooking oil gets brushed on slices of the cold meat so that they look moist and succulent.

That is just for starters. In the commercial photography studio, the dedicated food photographer would erect a “light tent” of white polystyrene and bounce electronic flash inside. Brightness is necessary to stop the food looking grey and dull. If you want a “warm” look to the food, then you can use internal reflector tungsten bulbs as well, but be warned, that if you use the tungsten light as the sole source the food will turn out very orange. Lighting is just so important. If you do not have bright sparkly light then potatoes will look grey, and even the china plates look drab and dirty.

But let’s get back to a few examples where the food photographer has to stretch the truth somewhat. Ever tried photographing champagne? There’s never enough bubbles to keep Art Directors happy, so the photographer drops some sugar into the glass. Only a few grains are enough to give the almost still glass of champers that “just opened” fizz look to it. You also have to bring the light in from the back of the glass, as well as from the front. This takes two flash heads, or at least one head and a reflector.

While still on wines, if you try and shoot a bottle of red wine, it comes out thick dark maroon or even black. Professional restaurateurs but amateur photographers who have tried photographing their own wines will agree. 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. So what happens to the half bottle of red that was removed to dilute the wine? The photographer has it with dinner.

In places such as the USA, there are very firm rules about photographing food. Mainly the fact that you are not allowed to use substitute materials which “look” like food, but are actually not. This covers the old trick of using shaving cream as the “cream” on top of cappuccino coffee for example, or polystyrene foam as “ice cream”. Personally I think this is a load of ballyhoo, because the photograph is just to represent what the food will look like - you don’t eat a photograph, now do you!
Never believe everything you see!

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

11 Digital Tips for SLR’s

The Travel Bug

Phood Photography