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Update May 2016


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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman

 

Update April 30, 2016

Digital photography in retrospect

I have taken photographs for many years, and finally “graduated” from film Nikons and medium format Hasselblads to today’s digital. This momentous change in direction was about eight years ago, and although I miss the darkroom, the “instant” gratification seems to suit everyone, including me.
I had done the conversion rather slowly, initially scanning my photos and storing the electronic form of the photo image in the computer, to be manipulated further if needed. This rather long-winded procedure meant that I was converting a negative into a positive print, then scanning into a digital image. Two steps, each capable of losing definition.
I then began having my negatives turned into CDs, rather than printing the images and scanning them. This way I could import the images in digital form directly into my computer via ACDsee and then do the final crop, fix lop-sided horizons, etc., through Adobe Photoshop.
Undoubtedly there will be those folk who are very computer savvy who would say I should have used this or that software, but I am not a computer geek, I am purely someone who uses a computer. My editors need images at 300 dpi (stands for dots per inch, they tell me) and that is what I supply.
Of course, by still using my film Nikon to capture the images, I was left in the situation whereby I did not know definitely that I had a usable image until the film was developed. I was also at the mercy of the boy who changed the photochemicals in the autoprocessor. Crispness in the final image could easily be compromised at that stage.
So I finally entered the digital era, choosing a camera with electronics from an electronics manufacturer and the lens from a lens manufacturer. This has, I believe, given me the best of both worlds. If you are going the electro-trickery route, use a manufacturer who knows and understands all the subtleties of LCDs and pixels and all of that stuff which I don’t really want to know, but why then get that manufacturer to make optical glass lenses? Surely a recognized lens manufacturer would be better? The end result was my purchasing a camera made by Panasonic with a lens from Leica. Both of these firms being accepted as in the top of their respective leagues.
Having used the camera for a few years now, I feel I am in a better position to look critically at its performance. Whilst it has several buttons on the body of the camera and one master dial, it still needs much fiddling around in its menu system. Granted, the five drop-down menus seem to cover everything a photographer might want, but I still find it fiddly, pushing buttons to go from one menu screen to another, just to change some aspect.
Having said that, after an afternoon of button pushing and scrolling down the various menus, I now have a camera that automatically takes a bracket of three images, and I dictated the half a stop difference either side of the selected exposure setting. I also set the viewfinder up with a grid system, giving me the intersection of thirds as well as indicating verticals and horizons. All good clever photographic settings, but ones that could have been done with rotary dials. I also worry that one day I might lose the Operating Instructions manual, all 135 pages of it, and be forced to push buttons aimlessly forever, while hoping I stumble across the settings I want!
Now the experienced digital user will probably say that all I have to do is practice a little more, so that the menu selection becomes easy. Perhaps so, but I am still struggling with the remote on the TV, such is the level of digital technology skills possessed by this writer.
However, despite all that, I am loving the ‘instant’ gratification with the ability to instantly review the picture just taken, and the ability to delete images within the camera, and the sheer range of functions makes the Panasonic Lumix FZ50 the digital camera for me.
Of course this is now superseded, but I am happy, as are my editors. I see no need to upgrade.


Update April 23, 2016

Making a small fortune from your camera

There is only one totally accepted way of making a small fortune out of professional photography – and that is to start with a large one.
However, even amateur photographers can make some money with their cameras, but they have to understand the marketplace first. It is no good trying to sell a beautifully exposed photo of hydroponic tomatoes growing in magic broth to a magazine called the Homing Pigeon monthly.
My advice to the weekend snapper is to research the market and only after this see what is wanted, against what you have, or intend to photograph.
Research is not too difficult or onerous, it is just a case of looking at magazines in the shops (forget the Homing Pigeons monthly, they’re not buying this month). After that, look at advertisements in newspapers as well as magazines, and you will soon get an idea of what the marketplace is interested in. All that research needs to be done before you even think about the hardware (cameras) you are going to need.
My advice to anyone starting off is to look for magazines and brochures that cover travel. Look at the stock photos of palm trees leaning out over the water from a tropical beach. Seen one, seen them all, but you should try and get some shots like that for your own portfolio.
Next in the travel pic grab bag are ceremonies. The vegetarian ceremonies that include demented people sticking rods through their cheek and tongues will always have a market somewhere – and they have these ceremonies in Thailand, so you are miles ahead of your brother photographers in Europe, who only get castles and woods in winter.
In fact, the tropical lifestyle will always be a ready market for good photographs. Note that I said “good”; snapshots are very rarely “good” enough.
The saffron clothed monks remain ideal subjects, especially as you can get one on the corner of your street any morning. Just don’t intrude. A long lens is best for those sorts of pictures. Of course, the temples themselves offer the photographer endless subjects to photograph. But try to get a different viewpoint of a very well photographed subject.
All the images mentioned above must also have another common feature. They must be well exposed and sharp as a tack. Art directors or photo-editors may need to enlarge the image, by 100 percent or even more. You must be 100 percent sure that the subject of the photograph is in focus. Near enough is not good enough! If you are shooting medium format, you can generally expect to get sharp pictures, but the lenses on modern 35 mm equivalent are more than adequate.
That brings me to the next ‘must have’ piece of equipment – a good heavy tripod. You will always get sharper pictures with the camera locked onto a strong tripod. The el cheapo light aluminium things are quite useless for the job you will want of them. I have used a Manfrotto for 30 years and it is still good, despite the scratches that they get from plane holds, rail travel and going twice around the world. Get a good one and don’t try and cheat yourself with the bottom of the market ones.
Similarly, while chasing sharpness, you must have some good lenses, otherwise your work is compromised before you begin. I am not going to join the debate about after-market lenses. Some of them, I am sure, are excellent – but not all of them.
Last week I mentioned zoom lenses versus prime lenses after the suggestion from pro photographer Peter Brock in Northern Thailand. Peter advocates prime lenses and to avoid zooms. The purist in me agrees, but again I think much will depend upon the subject being shot, and where it will end up.
In my previous life I used 6x6 Hasselblad and had the complete system. (My transparencies were always met with smiles, but I found I could dupe 35 mm transparencies up to 6x6 and still get the same smiles.)
To sell a photo it must tell the story it is illustrating, and it must be sharp. Good luck with the homing pigeons!


Update April 16, 2016

What lens?

The stimulus for this week’s column came from an American pro photographer suggesting I bring to the readers’ notice the differences between the lenses available for your DSLR.
Did you know that pro photographers do not use one zoom lens, even if it could cover 18-800 with one flick. Pro photographers will have many lenses, but prime lenses to almost cover that 18-800!
One of the questions professional photographers often get asked is, “What lens would you use to shoot a (insert the subject)?” However, the lens a pro selects depends upon many factors, and the subject being shot is only one of the important ones!
If that sounds confusing, do not worry, it will become more clear as you read on. You see, you can get a shot of your pet subject using any old bit of glass on the front end of your camera. In some instances, you can almost get the identical looking shot of the subject with a 28 mm lens, a 50 mm or a 135 mm. By now you are saying, why have all these different lenses if the shots look all the same? The essential word here was “almost” the same. There will be tell-tale differences and it is these differences that make or break your photographs. By using the differences you can manipulate the shot to produce the effects you want.
Right then, let’s get down to some examples. You are on a tropical beach, Bang Saray will do, and you want the blue skies over the sea type of picture. Unfortunately, the sky is only pale blue. What to do? The lens to use to increase the blue color of the sky is the widest angle lens you have got in the bag. How does this work? Simple, you are taking an enormous area of sky with the wide angle and compressing it into the small 35 mm equivalent in digital terms. Compressing all that sky increases the depth of the color and makes it more blue than it really was!
Another example, you have just bought a car and want to send a photo of it to your relatives at home. You want it to appear as imposing as possible. What to do? Leave the wide angle lens on and get down low and close to the car. Look through the viewfinder and the car suddenly looms large and powerful above you. The closer you get, the more it looms above you. Click! It is in the bag of pixels and on its way to impress the relatives.
This distortion with wide angle lenses is the reason you should not use one for portraits. Unless you want the nose looming large and powerful.
I was going to ignore ‘selfies’ taken with camera phones, but since I see these pictures being taken every day, I will mention them. Camera phones generally have wide angle lenses to get depth of field, but now add in the distortion of the subject close to the camera phone and you have that swollen arm coming out of the photograph. Hideous result. Don’t do it!
What about a nice close up of your favorite painting you bought? Another “genuine” Sunflowers by Van Gogh. Will you use a close-up lens or the wide angle setting on the zoom lens? No, you should use the telephoto long lens and stand back. If you go in close with the wide angle you will get distortions at the edges and strange shadows across the canvas because you physically get in the way of the light. With the long lens there is less distortion and the light will fall evenly across the picture.
Mind you, there are times when the subject being shot does dictate the lens you would use. Let me assure you that when photographing man-eating lions I would use the longest lens in the world. A close up lens to photograph its dental work would not be my idea of fun!
So there you are, think about the effect you want, rather than just the subject matter when deciding what lens to choose. And finally look through the lens to ensure that you are getting what you want.
Thank you Peter Brock in Chiang Mai.


Update April 9, 2016

Inexpensive ways to improve your photos

Flashman close up.

There comes a time in every semi-serious photographers life that is manifest by dissatisfaction with one’s images. Unfortunately, there is a collective thought in the photographic community that to improve your shots you should move up to expensive camera bodies, extra lenses, 12 zillion pixels and then select “Best Pic Shots” on the Auto mode button. However, there is no camera made with an uploaded software package to ensure “best pics” every time. “Best Pic” are under your command, not in the “Auto” setting on your camera.
An example of where the “Auto” setting can be at odds with what the photographer wanted was brought home some time ago when a gentleman wrote it with the following letter.
“Dear Harry,
A question for you regarding some disappointment. I recently was a guest at a beautiful wedding, the reception was quite well lit so I thought rather than use a flash and have everybody look like ghosts I would turn the flash off.
What I had not taken into consideration was that the shutter speed would be slower without the flash. Most of the photos were blurred, either by me shaking, or the people I was photographing moving during the shot.
At least I am assuming that was the cause of the bad shots, what is your opinion Harry?
Your assumption was spot on. The clever brain (or electronic smarts) inside the camera knows that a certain Exposure Value (EV) is required to produce correctly exposed shots. That EV has two variables, but which are related directly to each other, and they are the size of the aperture and shutter speed.
Now even though you felt the venue was well lit, and I do often tell people to turn off the flash to stop the rabbit in the headlamps look, that venue’s ambient lighting was not enough to get to the EV required without some extreme values in aperture and shutter speed.
I will presume that you had the camera on full ‘auto’ and not on Aperture Priority, but the result would have been around the same. The electronic brain knows you can’t hand-hold at much slower than 1/30th second so will try to use that shutter speed and open up the aperture to whatever is needed to get the correct EV. That’s the theory.
However, when the camera runs out of aperture setting, then all that is left for the camera brain to do is to adjust is the shutter speed even further and its little electronic brain gives the camera an even slower shutter speed, at which you cannot hand-hold. Blurred shots are the result.”
So the first simple way to improve your shots, is to still turn off the flash in low light situations, but use a tripod to keep the camera still. I carry a very small fold-up tripod which can sit on a table, on the floor, or anywhere you can accommodate its three legs. Be careful when you depress the shutter button that you don’t move the camera on the tripod, or the tripod itself, or you have defeated the purpose in having a tripod.
The next way to get that elusive “Best Pic” is to remember and adhere to, the Rule of Thirds.
Simply, all this means is to make sure the subject is one third in from either edge of the viewfinder. Just by placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats call this the “Rule of Thirds”, but 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!
The next item to be aware of is to always make the subject the “Hero”. You do this by walking several meters closer and making the subject fill the frame. This way the subject automatically becomes the reason for the photo. The “Hero”.
Try it. It works!


Update April 2, 2016

The camera is only an extension of your mind

Thomas Carlyle – photo taken 1867.

There are many photographers in the past that I admire. They all have one thing in common. They knew what they are looking at, and believed they knew what the final result should be. And guess what, none of them used a digital camera.
Look at the photograph this week of the eminent historian Thomas Carlyle. That was taken in 1867 (149 years ago) and is ranked as one of the most powerful portraits in the history of photography, and yet was taken with totally primitive equipment. Megapixels hadn’t even been invented.
Look again - technically it is imperfect. There is blurring of the image, and when you realize that the shutter was open for probably around three minutes, then you can see why. The sitter could not possibly remain motionless for that period of time. But it has the power to mesmerize you. How?
The dynamics of this shot come from the very first principles of photography - painting with light. It is not the subject that makes the shot - it is the way you light the subject, and this is the prime example, taken 149 years ago. The light is falling on the sitter almost from the side and slightly above. One eye is partially lit and the other in shadow. The hair and beard show up strongly. The photo is totally confrontational.
Analyze further. If the face had been front lit, and both eyes, the nose and the mouth were all clearly visible then there would be no air of mystery. The dark areas of the photograph have made you look further into it. You begin to imagine what the features were like. You also begin to imagine what the person was like. You have just experienced the “perfect” portrait.
The shot was taken by Julia Margaret Cameron (1815 - 1879) a British lady who, in her late forties, took up the new fangled notion of photography. This was not the age of the point and shoot simplicity we enjoy today. This was the age of making your own photographic plates by painting a mixture of chemicals all over it - chemicals you mixed yourself - exposing the plate in a wooden box camera and then fixing the negative in more chemicals and finally making a print.
It was the 29th of January 1864 when Mrs. Cameron finally produced her first usable print. She had made the exposure at 1 p.m. and in her diary recorded the fact that by 8 p.m. she had made and framed the final print. (And you think you are doing it tough if the ‘review’ function takes more than one millisecond to show you the result!)
Julia Margaret Cameron made close up portraits 30x40 cm. However, she would not have managed to photograph so many of the notables of the era had it not been for her next door neighbor, the Poet Laureate, Alfred Lord Tennyson. After Tennyson saw his own portrait he persuaded his eminent friends to sit for her as well. Most of these portraits were different from the Thomas Carlyle photograph in that they were taken in profile. Mrs. Cameron felt that the innate intelligence could be more easily seen in the profile and this may have been the result of the influence of the quasi-science of Phrenology, whereby your cranial bumps showed your true talents, which was all the rage at that time!
Julia Margaret Cameron has contributed to photography by showing that it is the eye of the photographer that dictates the photograph, not the “smartness” of the equipment. She also showed a personal determination to succeed which should be an example to the young photographers of today.
So you can stop reading the photographic magazines to see if you should buy the latest offerings with 1000 megapixels complete with one millionth of a second shutter speed and dedicated flash power for up to three kilometers and just go out and take photographs with what you have got. Look at what is in front of you and “make” your own photographs “work” for you. Thus endeth the inspirational lesson. Thank you Mrs. Cameron.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Digital photography in retrospect

Making a small fortune from your camera

What lens?

Inexpensive ways to improve your photos

The camera is only an extension of your mind
 

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