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Camera Class by Harry Flashman


Future snap-shooting from Samsung

One wonders where the development in technology will take the photographic world, but it seems as if Samsung is going to be right at the sharp end of it all with three new cameras.  One in particular looks as though it was designed with Thai ladies in mind.  This was the MV800, which has Dual-View.

This is a 3 inch capacitive LCD touchscreen that flips out to let you shoot at just about any angle, even if you are in front of the lens instead of behind it.  The LCD screen actually flips all the way back around to face the photographer.  All Thai ladies love taking images of their own selves, and fit the Narcissus label completely.

Samsung has included its Smart Touch 3.0 interface which makes navigating camera settings much easier for anyone who isn’t fully aware of the numerous settings available.  The Live Panorama function lets you take super wide shots to capture the entire scene and then previewing that scene on the LCD.  Certainly a great feature, and this is still a point and shoot remember.

The MV800 also comes with Magic Frame (a collection of background templates), Smart Filter (a set of artistic affects like “Watercolor finish”), and Funny Faces (a way to stretch and manipulate faces by tapping and dragging across the LCD).  It even comes with its own Photo Editor that lets you edit and rotate photos straight from the camera.

The basics on the MV800 are:

16.1 megapixels (more than Canon’s new point and shooters)

5x Optical Zoom

26 mm wide-angle lens

Full HD video capture

3-inch capacitive flip-out LCD touchscreen

The second camera is called the NX200, and is the next step from a plain point and shoot but going almost towards a full Digital SLR.  Samsung calls it the “compact systems” category.  Along with this, the NX200 boasts 20 megapixels.

The NX200 incorporates a number of features already described in the MV800 - like Smart Filter, Magic Frame, and the Live Panorama mode - but also brings some new features as well.

The first is that it supports Samsung’s i-Function 2.0 lenses, which basically gives the user control over settings (ISO, white balance, shutter speed, aperture, and exposure value) through the lens rather than the camera itself.  That means you never actually have to look away from the shot while you adjust.  New lenses for the i-Function system include 18-200 mm zoom, 16 mm very wide angle, 60 mm and 85 mm focal lengths, as well as the standard 18-55 mm zoom.

Specifications for the NX200 are:

20.3 megapixel APS-C CMOS sensor

18-55 mm zoom lens kit

3-inch LCD touch screen

High-speed continuous shooting (up to 7 fps)

100 msec Advanced Auto Focus

Wide ISO range (100-12,800)

Full HD video capture (19201080/30p)

The third camera released is the Samsung WB750.  This camera has Samsung’s longest zoom offering in a compact camera at 18x optical (and 24x Smart Zoom).  This camera allows you to take 10 megapixel shots while shooting 1080 p video which Samsung calls their Dual Capture technology.  However, I am not so sure that this feature would be such as to make me want a WB750 for myself.

It also comes with the same Smart Filter, Magic Frame, and Live Panorama features on the other two cameras, but takes that a step further.  The WB750 has two other Panorama modes - Action Panorama and 3D Panorama.  Action Panorama lets you take a shot of a moving person on a static background, which captures movement within a still image.  3D Panorama does just what you’d expect: shoots panoramic images in 3D.

Another feature, Smart Auto 2.0 helps you get the settings right when you aren’t quite sure what to do, but the WB750 also allows for a good deal of creative control.  Manual, Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority settings are all included.

The specifications of the WB750 are:

12.5-megapixel BSI (back-side illuminated) CMOS sensor

18x optical zoom, 24x Smart Zoom

3-inch LCD screen

10 fps burst mode

1080p HD video capture (with dual-capture)

Creative Movie Maker - lets you edit video and arrange clips straight from the LCD.

Obviously not in Thailand - yet, but just as obviously well worth your investigating.

A photo never lies

There was a time before Photoshop (BP) when photographs were able to be used as evidence.  Now, after Photoshop (AP), photography is one of the least truthful pastimes you can take up.  For the pro photographer much 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 “Does all of your jewelry 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 especially when you may be photographing a pre-production item and this is the only one in captivity.

Have you ever tried photographing champagne at the wedding?  There’s never enough bubbles to make it look sparkling.  To get over this, drop 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.  For a catalogue shot 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.  Restaurateurs who have tried photographing their 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.

I once was given the job to photograph 10 ice cream cones for a restaurant chain.  They wanted all 10 of them standing up, all the different flavors and looking attractive.  This was not a simple assignment, let me assure you.

First off, how do you get 10 ice cream cones to stand upright with no obvious support.  The answer was wooden skewers through the back of the cone going into a block of polystyrene covered with black velvet material.

Next you have to check the lighting flash heads and focus, using polystyrene balls on top of the cones, as ice cream melts too quickly.  After you get all that set up properly you have to be ready to scoop up the ice creams and place them on the cones without any drips.  You need three people to do this as ice cream under studio lighting melts in under 30 seconds.

Having taken one shot, if you are lucky everything will be fine.  The reality is that you will need to take the shot several times to get everything correct, all the cones exactly parallel to each other, and no drips on the black velvet.  That one shot will take you one day, which is why food photography is so expensive.

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.  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.

In the USA, there are very firm rules about photographing food.  You are not allowed to use substitute materials which “look” like food, but are actually not.  This covers using shaving cream as the “cream” on top of cappuccino coffee for example.  But don’t believe it!

Photographing a new resort

Ever wondered what it would be like to photograph a holiday resort?  A complete illustration of the beach resort building, the restaurants, balconies, swimming pools, cocktail bars, rooms, lobby, concierge, etc.  Could take a little more than a couple of weeks, you think.  And guess how long was the time allotted for this ‘dream’ assignment?  Five days.

OK, so you are still interested, let me tell you a little more about the assignment … the photographs were to go into a very special book about the resort, of which only six were going to be printed.  Heavy gloss paper stock, hard cover bound, each book was going to cost over $1,000 just in printing costs.

Still interested?  Still sure you could complete this photo shoot in five days?  Now let me fill you in even more.  The resort was not yet built.  The only physical items about the resort were the architect’s model, and the building illustrations showing the rooms, pools and everything else.  The book was going to be used to raise the financial backing by appealing to foreign entrepreneurs.  Some assignment, but I was the new boy on the block, and realized that if I could pull this off, I would get more assignments from this particular art director.  I should also point out that this was before digital imaging, Photoshop and the like.  It was all shot on slide film (transparency).

I tackled the most difficult shot first.  That was inserting a photograph of the architect’s model on to the vacant lot in the built up seaside area.  This required exacting planning.  I needed to know the exact height of the proposed resort tower, plus the heights of the already existing buildings which would be around the proposed resort.

Next was to hire a helicopter to be able to get the aerial shot.  Up we went and after composing this shot, I needed to know the height we were at, the lens I was using and the position of the sun.  This data was all written down.  The helicopter shot ended up taking one day.

The next shot was that of the architect’s model.  The scaling had to be done so that the resort would appear at the correct height versus the other buildings around it.  The studio lighting had to be placed to be the equivalent of the sun’s position during the aerial filming and the camera position had to be of the same relativity as the helicopter’s height when I took the photo, and using the same focal length lens.  It took one day in the studio, with me up a ladder and the assistant moving flash heads.

The two shots - the seaside area and the architect’s model were then given to the lab to be combined.  If I had made any errors it would become obvious in the final combination.

The next shots also took much planning.  Monogrammed napkins, pillows, shower robes and the like were made, models were hired and we took off to a resort area on the coast.  With the architect’s illustrations we visited all the resorts and compared their balconies, swimming pools, restaurants, bars and concierge with the illustrations until we had ones that looked as if they would work.  That night we pored over the Polaroids and gave ourselves the schedule for the next day’s shooting, which began like, “Resort A balcony plus two models in robes.  Resort B swimming pool plus models in swimwear.  Resort C cocktail bar and photo of seafood salad.  Resort D, concierge from rear, meeting a taxi.  Resort E …” and so it went on.  We began shooting at 6.30 in the morning, and finished at 9.30 at night.  A totally exhausting day.

The next day was fully taken up with developing the rolls of film and printing proof sheets and selecting the best shots.  Fortunately we always took more than one roll with each shot, as when we totaled them all up, we were one roll short.  We never did find it, but we did have another roll on that particular subject.

It had taken five full days.  The art director was pleased and I got more work from him.  A successful assignment.

Wat to photograph this weekend

In Thailand we are surrounded by temples (wats).  At last count there were 70,000 of them, and undoubtedly there’s more.  However, when something becomes commonplace, we begin not to see them.

Our wats are classic examples.  We have seen so many, we don’t see them any more, yet the first time tourists to Thailand go mad when they see the temples, even though for many it is only the larger temples in Bangkok.  There are many more, and more accessible for photography as well.

Thailand is actually a photographer’s paradise.  The ambient light levels are strong, shadows are strong and images are also strong if you use light and shadow to your advantage.  The ideal venue to use all these aspects is in your local wat.

Here is how to take that great wat shot - only it isn’t one shot.  It is impossible to show a wat with one snap.  It requires a series.  One of the reasons for this is the fact that a wat is a microcosm of Thai society.  People eat there, live there, learn there and end up there for their funerals.  So in actual fact you are trying to show not only the grandeur of the architecture, but the fact that the wat has its own life going on within its boundaries.  It is the center of all village life.

Here is how I would approach the subject, and remember we are looking for production quality shots here.  The preparation is to go there the day before your shooting day to see how the sun shines on the buildings.  To get the textures and colors you need the sun striking the walls at an angle.  Full shade or full sun is not the way.  It’s back to using light and shadow to show form.  You will have to note what are the best times of day to record the various architectural details.  Also be prepared to use a close up shot or two to highlight some of the small details.  By the way, always remember that a wat is a place of religious worship and significance, so do take your shoes off and be respectful.

Wats are inhabited by much more than the saffron robed monks.  There are teachers, nuns, novitiates, school children, street vendors and even tourists.  A very mixed bag.  Try to take shots to show just why these people are there in the wat and its compound.  This is where a “long lens” (135 mm upwards) can be a help.  You can get the image you want without having to intrude into the person’s personal space.  However, remember that if there is any doubt as to whether your subject would really want that photo taken - then ask permission first.  It is my experience that the vast majority of people will happily respond positively to your request.  Even when there is no common language, a smile and a wave of the camera in their direction and an “OK?” is generally all that is necessary.

Taking pictures inside the wat is not as easy as the exterior shots.  The light levels are very low and there is often the feeling that you are intruding in someone else’s religious practices.  Taking a flash photograph really is an intrusion in my view.  This is where the tripod is great.  Set the camera up on the tripod, compose the shot, set it on Time Exposure and quietly get that shot of a lifetime.  You will probably need around 5-10 seconds at f5.6, but that is just a guide and you should experiment.  If you set the camera on Auto mode and turn off the flash you will get better results.

By now you should have taken almost one complete day on your local wat.  Verticals, horizontals, close-ups and wide angle shots.  Do not be afraid to shoot plenty of images.  It is the only way to improve and the only way to get great shots.  With digital technology you can take as many variations of one shot as you want, always remember that.  Just avoid taking the ‘same’ shot four times - one vertical and one horizontal for each subject, but that is all.