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
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
We should all aspire to perfection and
I give you three Ansel Adams quotes:
“You don’t take a photograph, you make
“A good photograph is knowing where to
“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
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
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
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
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
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
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.