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Update February 2018

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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Saturday, February 24, 2018 - March 2, 2018

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.”

February 17, 2018 - February 23, 2018

Sports Photography for Dummies

I have children. After the school sports day, their mother expects to be given gold medals, or at least a “winning” photograph. Unfortunately none of my children are of an athletic nature so no medals and the photographs only showed how far behind all the other Usain Bolts they really were.

Everyone at some stage is forced into a little sports photography. Generally it is a shot of sons or daughters competing at a school function. Generally the results are so bad you never show the end results to anyone. From bitter experience, after number three son was the star of the interschool rugby and his mother did not get one decent shot.

Here are a few pointers. The first rule of good sports photography is to get as close as possible to the action. If you can’t be ‘right there’ your end result will be unsatisfactory. Now with many sports, you the spectator are restricted to being on the edge of the outfield. This is why you see the professional sports photographers with 300 mm plus lenses so large you screw the camera on to them, not the other way round. These lenses also tend to be fearsomely expensive, and unless you are wishing to make a career of sports photography, then you don’t need one. There is another way.

For the ball sports such as soccer, rugby, and softball, there are times when you can get close enough to the action to take the shot with just a ‘portrait’ lens. Any lens greater than 100 mm will get you a decent shot of a scrum close to the sideline. Line outs are again something you can get close to. With football you will get a good shot standing behind the goal keeper, and even shooting through the net will add to the atmosphere of the shot. However, beware if you are using an autofocus camera because it will tend to autofocus on the net, rather than the action 20 meters in front of the net.

To capture the spirit of athletics is again a difficult task, but you can manage to get some good shots without the 300 mm monster lens. Try to position yourself as close as possible to the finish and pre-focus on the actual finishing tape itself. As they breast up to the tape, a gentle squeeze and the shot is yours.

Softball and baseball are also difficult to get close enough to the action to get a decent shot without a big telephoto lens. Here you have to be even craftier and try and get your “star” to pose before he or she goes out onto the playing field. Most athletes will even stop for you when they go out to the field if you call out. All of them have large egos to feed.

Golf is a particularly popular sport here, and one where you will again get good shots with any camera. You can get close to the tee off (just don’t get too close or you’ll be wearing a number 2 wood) and the putting green. Do not worry too much if you do not have a fast or adjustable shutter speed in your camera, a little “blur” to the club head will give the shot more impact. (Ed’s note: If you want to take golf photos, make sure your camera is set to the silent mode. Nothing will make golfers angrier than a loud click in the middle of their swing or putt.)

With exceptionally fast sports such as motor racing and motorcycle auto cross, you really do need the special cameras and lenses to get shots while the race is in progress, but you can get some great “atmospheric” shots with just a humble fixed focus, fixed lens, point and shooter.

All that this needs is a little persuasive talking from you to get into the pits and you can get some wonderful shots of riders lying on the ground gasping, mechanics frantically working on race machinery and even drivers sitting in their cars before they go out onto the circuit to race. There is an additional bonus as well when you get into the pits - these two sports attract gorgeous girls like bees to honey - and they all love to get their picture taken (or else they wouldn’t be there)!

Sports photography is difficult, so best of luck.

February 10, 2018 - February 16, 2018

What Camera should you buy?

“What camera should I buy?” is one which every pro shooter is asked at least once every week. With cameras ranging in price between 5,000 and 95,000 baht, no wonder the weekend photographers get confused. Then you have to also consider the top models of camera phones!

Just last week, I was asked by a restaurateur here just what camera he should buy to take pictures of food. Unfortunately, the choice does not depend on what it is you want to shoot - it is more important to know what you want to do with the final shots.

Sounds a bit cart before the horse I know, but that is probably the most important factor to consider in your decision. You see, if all you want to do is get some family style snap-shots that you will look at for 5 minutes and then put them in a file somewhere in the computer (where you can never find them again) and where they will stay for the next decade, so it does not matter what camera they were taken with. Any old 35 mm point and shoot compact will do. The cheaper the better. Use the money you save for wine, women and song and waste the rest.

Now let us look at the restaurateur’s photographic needs. If he wants to make large blow-ups of pictures of his food to fit into a light box in his restaurant he is going to need very precise, high resolution lenses that can give a sharp enough image to stand the degree of enlargement. He is also going to need good lighting, f32 aperture lenses and a tripod. He needs a good quality medium format camera giving a 6 cm x 6 cm negative, with top class lenses and needs to study lighting techniques if he wants a “professional” result. It is probably cheaper for him to hire a professional to do the shots for him! The money he saves can be used to invite women to eat and drink at his restaurant and waste the rest.

Now look at a camera for the enthusiastic amateur. This photographer enjoys the art of photography. He or she probably has a good “eye” and wants to end up with photographs that would be good enough to have enlarged and hung on the wall. There is also a hope that one day, these images might “sell”. In addition, this photographer wants to be able to manipulate the images to produce results that are out of the ordinary, surreal or even hyper-real. To do this, the equipment required is a manual 35 mm camera with a series of good quality interchangeable lenses. This will be the start of a camera “system” that can be built on and enlarged over many years. This will need to be good quality equipment. There will be no money left over for wine, women or song and the photographer will have to get used to water and noodles till the photographs are good enough to sell.

The next types of results wanted are wildlife and action sports. Funnily enough, the camera equipment needed here is almost identical. These pictures are destined for magazines and other editorial work. Whether you want to take photos of charging rhino’s or Valentino Rossi on his MotoGp motorcycle, the needs are the same. You will need a 35 mm SLR with very fast shutter speed and capable of carrying a 600 mm telephoto lens. For this type of photography it is a case of bringing the action close to you - not taking yourself close to the action! The lens will be more expensive than the camera. You will need to meet a rich widow if you want any wine, woman or song. You have just blown a year’s wages on the photo gear!

So what camera did Harry Flashman have? In his studio overseas he had a 5" x 4" Cambo plate camera, three 6 cm x 6 cm Hassleblads with five lenses and three 35 mm Nikons with three lenses. Add all that lot up. No wine. No women. No songs! Just bank overdrafts.

February 3, 2018 - February 9, 2018

Be there in a flash

In the early days of photography, the photographers of the day soon worked out they needed more light. Exposure times of several minutes led to blurred photographs. This meant the subject had to stay still for five minutes and more. Look at old photos and you will see the tricks of the trade – the subject is leaning on a table, holding a book or using a walking stick.

At that stage it was illumination by the celestial light technician, until a branch of pyrotechnics came into play. The invention of the flash.

The early flash guns used a mixture of magnesium powder and potassium chlorate that was ignited by hand. Later, magnesium filaments were contained in flash bulbs filled with oxygen, and electrically ignited by a contact in the camera shutter. However, such a bulb could only be used once, and was too hot to handle immediately after use.

Almost every camera these days comes with its own built-in flash. Such technical items as ‘guide numbers’ don’t seem to matter anymore. The camera does it all for you. But there is always a downside. You get what the camera thinks you want - not what you might want.

Take the example where you are shooting indoors at night (always a good time to use extra lighting), but you still want some of the background to show up. Shooting people in a pub is a good example. You want more than just ‘heads’; you want to show just what the pub looked like.

There are several ways to do this. You can use more than one flash (sometimes called ‘slaves’) and they fire when they detect the flash burst from the primary flash, or you can even link them all up with flash cables triggered by the shutter on the camera. You set the slaves to light up the background, while the main flash illuminates the subject. That’s Option One.

Option Two is to use a tripod and the time exposure setting to record the background and then pop the main flash to record the subject in the foreground. Difficult, but possible.

Option Three is the simplest. You have to take the camera out of Auto mode and into manual. Set the camera’s aperture to around f5.6 and the shutter speed to 1/15th of a second. The slow shutter and wide open aperture gives enough light to get the background to show up on film, and the flash burst is enough to record the subject.

Another trick you can do with any camera that has a flash, be that built in or bolted to the top of it, is to throw colour at your subject. The important item of equipment is colored cellophane paper (called ‘gels’ in the industry). Put a blue gel over the flash head and you will get a very ‘cold’ photograph, especially if you are taking pictures of people. Beach shots look like Antarctica. Conversely, put an orange gel over the flash and you will get a wonderfully warm person in the foreground.

To go further, take the flash off the camera, shoot the subject side lit with a colored gel over the flash. Experiment with blue, red, green, orange, yellow - we are not looking to reproduce reality here, we (that’s you) are trying to produce an artistic effect. This can be done post production with Photoshop, but it’s more fun doing it yourself.

Most keen amateur photographers will have heard of the term “Fill-in Flash”. This refers to a reduced output flash burst, used to lighten shadows in harsh daylight, or to illuminate the front of a back-lit subject.

Easy to do and the results with portraiture are good. Reduce the output of the flash so it will gently lighten the shadows and not “blow out” the subject details like a searchlight. The trick is to either diffuse the flash with tracing paper and do not adjust the camera settings, or reduce the flash power setting by two aperture stops below that indicated by the camera. In other words, set the camera on f11 and the flash on f5.6.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Ansel Adams – lest we forget!

Sports Photography for Dummies

What Camera should you buy?

Be there in a flash



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