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Camera Class by Harry Flashman


Tips with Digitals

Everyone now has a digital camera, point and shoot, bridge or SLR, and the following tips will help you get the most out of your expensive investment.

Of course you should remember that point and shoot varieties have limitations and SLR’s have advantages, whether digital or otherwise! The two types of cameras have their different capabilities, and you must stick within the parameters.

The first tip is one that I give at least once a year. “Walk several meters closer!” More good shots are ruined by having the subject as small dots in some huge background. Make the subject the hero. If the subject(s) is/are people, then use the telephoto setting and still walk in closer. Fill the frame with the subject and you do not need to worry about the backgrounds. Ever! And remember when taking pictures of a group, get them to really cuddle up together, and don’t be afraid to get them to angle their heads in towards the center. The happy giggling faces will make a good photo. Do not take pictures of people standing in a row like soldiers on parade.

Another easy way to better photos is to use filters to warm up the scene, or polarize and add some intense color to the photo. “But my point and shoot digital doesn’t take filters,” I hear you say. Sure, but the lens is physically so small, it is easy to place something before it. Various colored sunglasses can both polarize and add warmth to the shot. You may want to put the camera on a tripod, while you hold the sunglasses directly over the lens. You do not need a one meter high tripod for this either. There are small ‘mini’ tripods you can use, which retail for around B. 200 and do the job admirably.

When taking portraits outdoors, turn the flash on as well. The camera will have set itself to expose the brightest part of the scene, so the flash then brightens up the foreground subject.

Another trick to outdoors portraiture is to take some shots with the sun behind the subject to ‘rim light’ the hair with the halo effect. With the sun behind the subject, you also stop the screwed up eyes from the sun’s glare, which is never very photogenic.

One setting that most digital cameras possess is a ‘macro’ mode. Use this to discover new and exciting details in your garden. The macro mode is usually depicted as a flower in your on-screen menu. Remember that to get the best macro shots, look carefully at which part of the subject will be in focus. The depth of field in macro is very shallow, so note where the camera magic eye is indicating the focus point is, relative to the subject, before slowly pressing the shutter release.

Another very simple tip, but one that seems to be forgotten is the placement of the horizon line, which should be one third down from the top of the LCD screen, or one third up from the bottom of the screen. The horizon line (as the name suggests) should also be horizontal!

Another tip is to buy another memory card. The advantage of having two cards is you never end up with a full card and another great shot to be taken, and have to stand there and try and delete previous images. Buy the biggest capacity card you can afford.

You should also explore your camera’s capabilities by yourself. After all, you are not wasting expensive film, are you? Try different settings and see what the end result can be, but remember what the settings were if you want to repeat the effect!

It should be remembered that you bought this new camera because it had plenty of megapixels, and unless you run the camera at its highest resolution, all the expense of the additional megapixel capability has been wasted. You got a 10 megapixel camera, rather than an old 2 megapixel for that reason! Put the camera on the highest setting and leave it there.

Finally, with no film to consume, shoot lots! But not 20 of the same pose.

Mastering ‘modes’

Despite the fact that today’s digital cameras are full of electronic ‘all-everything’ automatic controls, there is even more satisfaction to be had by taking the mode selector off ‘auto’ and placing it on another mode. Now, even though the super cameras can seemingly do everything, no camera knows exactly what is in your mind, which has driven you to want to take any particular shot.

You see, when you leave it all to the camera, it will give you a nice average shot, with average exposure and average focus. It is only after you take control that you will get the photos you imagine. You can also get photos that you did not imagine, but will be very different from the ‘automatic mode’ pictures.

Improving your photography is really not all that difficult, and you don’t even need to go to school. There are many world class famous photographers who never had a lesson in their lives. But they did read, and they did experiment, and they did learn from their own work.

There are really only two main variables, and after you understand them and what they do to your photograph it becomes very simple.

The first thing to remember is that the correct exposure is merely a function of how large is the opening of the lens and how much time the shutter is left open to let the light into the camera. That’s almost it - that is photography in a nutshell. No gimmicks or fancy numbers - a straight out relationship - how open and for how long - this is known as the “Exposure”.

Now I will presume, for the sake of this exercise that you have an SLR and use it in the automatic mode. Let’s go straight to the “mode” menu and select “A” or “Aperture Priority”. In this mode it means that you can choose the aperture yourself, and the camera will work out the shutter speed that corresponds to the correct exposure. Simple.

Now select “A” and then look at the lens barrel and you will see the Aperture numbers, generally between 2.8 and 22. To give you a subject with sharp focus in the foreground and a gently blurred background, you need to select an aperture around f2.8 to f4. Hey! It was that simple. To get those “professional” portrait shots, with the model’s face clear and the background all wishy washy, just use the A mode and select an Aperture around f4 to f 2.8.

Now, if on the other hand you want everything to be nice and sharp, all the way from the front to the back, like in a landscape picture, then again select A and set the lens barrel aperture on f16 to f22. The camera will again do the rest for you. Again - it’s that easy!

Flushed with creative success, let’s carry on. The next mode to try is the “S” setting. In this one, you set the shutter speed and the camera automatically selects the correct aperture to suit. Take a look at the shutter speed dial or indicator and you will see a series of numbers that represent fractions of a second.

First, let’s “stop the action” by using a fast shutter speed. For most action shots, select S and set the shutter speed on around 1/500th to 1/1000th and you will get a shot where you have stopped the runner in mid stride, or the car half way through the corner or the person bungee jumping. Yes, it’s that easy.

So this week you have learned that to get a good portrait shot use the A mode and set the aperture on f4 to f2.8 and forget about the rest of the technical stuff. Just compose a nice photograph and go from there. (Do remember to walk in close however!) To get a great landscape shot, again use the A mode and set the aperture at f16 to f22.

Finally, to stop the action, choose the S mode and around 1/500th of a second and you won’t get blurry action shots ever again.

Certainly there are other aspects to good photography, but master the A and S modes first and you will produce better pictures.

Professional portraits at home

Portraiture is a very lucrative branch of photography. Get good at getting flattering portraits and you could even give up your day job. Whilst the professional studios have banks of diffused flash heads and rolls of background paper, you can get great portraits at home, with the minimal amount of equipment.

So this week let’s look at a few studio style tricks we might be able to adapt for the weekend photographer who does not have banks of studio lights and other such paraphernalia of the pro photographer.

To start with, let’s get the techno bits out of the way. You should choose a lens of around 100 mm focal length (135 mm is my preferred “portrait” lens) or set your zoom to around that focal length. If you are using a wide angle lens (anything numerically less than 50 mm), no matter what you do, the end result will be disappointing. That is of course unless you like making people look distorted with big noses!

The second important technical bit is to set your lens aperture to around f 5.6. At that aperture you will get the face in focus and the background will gently melt away - provided that you focus on the eyes!

Perhaps a word or two about focus here as it is very important in portraits. I like to use a split image focus screen and focus on the lower eyelid. This makes sure that the eyes will be exactly in focus. However, if you are using Autofocus (AF), then again you should make sure you focus on the eyes and use the ‘focus lock’ so you will not lose it.

Next item is the general pose itself. Please, please, please do not have your subject sitting rigidly directly face on to the camera. This is not a passport/visa run photograph. It is to be a flattering portrait. Sit the subject in a chair some distance away from a neutral background, and turn the chair 45 degrees to the camera. Now when you want to take the shot you get the subject to turn their head slowly towards you and take the shot that way. You can also get a shot with them looking away from you. Nobody said the sitter has to actually look at the camera.

Now let’s get down to the most important part - the lighting. We need to do two things with our lighting. Firstly light the face and secondly light the hair. Now the average weekend photographer does not have studio lights and probably has an on-camera flash to work with. Not to worry, we can get over all this! The answer is a mirror and a large piece of black velvet.

Take the black velvet first. You will need a piece around 2 meters square and the idea is to place the velvet close to one side of the subject, but not actually in the photograph. You get as close as possible and the black will absorb much of the light and allow no reflection of light back onto that side of the subject’s face. Hang the velvet over a clothes drying stand or similar to make life easy for yourself.

Now the mirror. This device will give you the power of having a second light source for no cost! Now since you are firing light into the subject from the top of your camera, you position the mirror at about 30-45 degrees tilted downwards, placed behind and to the side of the subject, pointing basically at the sitters ear. The side you choose is the side opposite the black velvet. Again, you must make sure that the mirror is not in the viewfinder.

What you now have is a primary light source (the on-camera flash), a secondary light source lighting the hair and adding to the light on one side of the face, and a light absorber to give a gradation of light across the subject’s face. Take a look at the portrait this week. Note principal light, hair light and the model at 45 degrees to the camera.