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Vol. X No.18 - December 1 - December 31, 2011


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Update by Saichon Paewsoongnern
 
 
 

Camera Class by Harry Flashman

 

Pirelli Calendars, Marilyn Monroe and Glamor

Miss Idaho Potato.

Marilyn Monroe is a household name, even all these years after her death in 1962.  But who were Miss Idaho Potato, Andre de Dienes and Tom Kelley?

Andre de Dienes photographed the then Norma Jean Baker in the desert in 1945.  This was the same Norma Jean who won the title of Miss Idaho Potato, dressed in a potato sack.  On looking at the photograph, I prefer the later photographs myself!

But being Miss Idaho Potato didn’t get Marilyn her stardom.  Marilyn got that on the expertise of one photographer, who paid her $50 for an afternoon’s shooting on draped red velvet.  Wardrobe assistance was not necessary, Miss Monroe was fully nude.  The year?  1949.

Tom Kelley did the shoot and is quoted as saying, “She (Marilyn) lived right around the corner at the Studio Club.  I asked her to do the calendar.  It wasn’t much of a job.  Only fifty dollars.  She said no.  About a week later she changed her mind.  She said she could use the dough.”  However, the actual calendar was not published until 1951, and the Playboy shots were not printed until 1953.

Pro shoot costs.

Although Kelley may have been instrumental in getting Marilyn off the red velvet and onto the red carpet, it was photographs from it appeared in the first edition of Playboy, Hugh Hefner’s groundbreaking men’s magazine.

I thought about Marilyn and the Red Velvet series when I heard this week that the 2012 Pirelli calendar had been released.  This has become the most exclusive calendar, and it is not for sale each year.  Selected people are given copies.

Pirelli 2012 was shot in Corsica by an Italian photographer Mario Sorrenti and used models such as Kate Moss, Lara Stone, and Milla Jovovich.  Typical of today’s skinny ‘supermodels’, let me assure you they look better with clothes on, than clothes off.  I was hugely disappointed with the end result, which would have cost millions to shoot with the prices the stick ladies get for posing.  Awkward poses against rocks.  Give me the art that went into Norman Parkinson’s first Pirelli calendar.

Pro shoot costs

Mind you, pro shoots are expensive.  With professional photographers apparently able to command sky-high prices, some people wonder just how these shooters can justify their fees.  Let me tell you, good professional photography costs big bucks - just the same way that good restaurant food costs big bucks and good cars cost big bucks.  You can get noodles off the cart at the side of the road for 30 baht, or pay 300 baht in the restaurant.  One is food, the other a gourmet paradise.  You can go to work in a Toyota Corolla or a Mercedes.  One is transport, the other automotive enjoyment.  You can get sneaky snapshots of some lady with no clothes on taken at Nasty a go-go or look at photographs taken by the late Norman Parkinson for the Pirelli calendar.  One is porn, the other is art.

When I was a pro shooter, if a quote for say, $1000 was queried I would amend it to read - To photographic costs, film, Polaroids, props, processing and printing $100.  For knowing how to do it, $900.  If they still queried the quote I wouldn’t do the job.  There’s no point in photographing something for people who have no appreciation of what goes on.  Don’t forget, you are not only paying for “art” you are paying for expertise.

Take the shot of the “operating table” for example.  There was one day involved in building the set, getting the props and getting the basic lighting.  At the same time an assistant found the models to play the parts of surgeons and nurses.  The second day was the final shoot, monitored by Polaroid to ensure what we were getting was what the client (the advertising agency’s art director) wanted.  The shots were taken on 5”x4” slide film and had to be ready before the end of the working day, so that re-shoots could be done before the actors went home.  These days, that one shot would be worth $2,000 all day, every day.


Ambient lighting effects

One of the lessons I learned many years ago from a well respected professional Thai photographer (Tom Chuawiwat), was that the client actually paid you to learn the craft.  You could try all kinds of ideas while you were carrying out their assignments.  Not all of them worked, but by presenting a different view, as well as the standard one, the client was impressed, while you, the photographer learned a trick for the next assignment for somebody else.

Now lighting is one of the main variations you can go for.  Since photography is almost by definition, “Painting with Light”, it stands to reason that the different light you use can produce a different picture.  The great celestial lighting technician that supplies the sunlight is not the only form of illumination these days.

The weird thing about the different light sources is that they all impart a different color to your photographs.  This color shift or color bias is not necessarily obvious to the naked eye - but the camera sees it and records it.  After all, the camera never lies, does it?

The first and most obvious difference is in the early morning and late afternoon lighting.  The morning light has a certain “coldness” to it and imparts a blue hue to the overall photograph.  The late afternoon we call a “warmer” light and gives a warm almost “orange” glow to any item in the shot receiving the sun’s rays.

Neon lighting that we all work under is not “white light” either.  In fact, if you go and look at any shots you have taken where neon is the only light source you will find a certain “green” glow throughout the photo.

Another very common light source is the standard house type light bulb.  This is again another very “warm” light and any photographs taken under incandescent (tungsten) bulbs will have an orange cast through them.  It is the knowledge of these variations that you can use to your advantage.

The environment is also important.  My first photographic studio was in a large building which had its own theatre for marketing activities.  The theatre stage had all the lights you could imagine, footlights, overhead lights, spots, flares, everything.  With all the theatre’s tungsten lighting, I used no flash, but compensated for the color shift by using blue gels over the theatre lights.  Actually I had too much light, but it was all part of the learning curve.

My next studio was in a large waterfront building that had been a warehouse.  I rented an area and then I painted everything white.  Floors, doors, walls, windows.  I had decided that I wanted to be able to use small apertures, so I needed as much light as I could get.  By this stage I had also graduated to multiple flash units, so I had lighting that would have brightened up the dark side of the moon.  I could shoot at f32 easily with my Broncolor flash heads.  There was only one problem.  I could not get sufficient shadow to produce a good 3D effect.  I was getting flat 2D pictures.  I resorted to making huge flats (walls) which were painted matt black to try and get some shadow.  The results were better, but the lighting was still not where I wanted it to be.

In my third studio, I used what I had learned from the first two and I painted the entire studio black - floors, doors, walls and windows.  Now I could get good shadows, show form and even shoot mysterious images.  I called this stage in my photographic career ‘painting with dark’.

Dark shadows allow the viewer to imagine what is being hidden.  Your photograph “hints” at something and the viewer’s mind does the rest from there.  This is used to great effect in ‘glamour’ photography (as opposed to pornography, by the way).

I found that it was much easier to begin with total darkness and then add the lighting I wanted (or needed) to produce the effect.  I could gain complete control over the lighting, with no stray bouncing light to complicate and confuse, as had been the problem with my white studio.

Try some different ambient light this weekend.


12 rules for 12 months

We are approaching the end of the year, and it is time to look back and think what you can do to improve your photography and get better pictures.  While there are plenty of photography books for sale in the bookstores, most of those are of the genre, How To Photograph Mountain Lions or similar.  (The answer is with a very long lens, don’t bother buying the book.)

So here are my 12 rules, which if you follow them through, I will guarantee you will get better photographs.  And get more fun out of your photography.

The first is simply to take photographs every day.  Photography, like any sport, recreation or pursuit is something where the more you do it and practice it, the better you get.  With memory cards and the like, it is no more expensive to shoot four as it does to shoot one!

The one major fault in most amateur photographs is taking the shot from too far away.  From now on, make the subject the “hero” and walk in several meters closer to make the subject fill the frame.

Focussing!  With modern auto-focus cameras the most obvious focussing problem is where the subject is off-center.  The magic eye doesn’t know this and focuses on the central background, leaving your close-up subject soft and blurry.  Focus on the subject and use the focus lock facility of your camera.

Tripods I have mentioned frequently, but one of these will expand your picture taking no end.  Camera shake becomes a thing of the past, and you will take more time to compose your shots.  Even a ‘mini-tripod’ is better than nothing.  Get one.

Always carry a spare memory card.  There is nothing worse than trying to delete on the run getting the shot of a lifetime.

Keep your interest and pride in your work by making enlargements of your better photos.  At around 80 baht for most places, this is very cheap and enlargements do make good presents at Xmas time too.

We all get lazy and it is too easy to end up just taking every picture in the horizontal (landscape) format.  Make it a habit to always take at least two shots of each subject - one in the horizontal format and the other in the vertical.  You can get some surprising results that way.  Don’t be lazy - do it!

With color photography, which covers about 99.99 percent of most people’s pictures these days, the one major factor to give your skies and seas and scenery some color oomph is the use of a polarizing filter.  Get one and use it every time the sun shines.

You will always miss some “classic” shots and regret it later, but you certainly will never get them if you don’t have a camera with you.  With so many incredible photo opportunities in Thailand, you should be ready at all times!

To give your daytime shots some extra sparkle, use “fill-in” flash.  Most new cameras have a little setting that will do this automatically for you - even with point and shooters.  If you haven’t, then spend some time learning how to do it.  It’s worth it when you see the results you get.

To give yourself the impetus to go out and take photos, develop a project and spend your leisure time building up the images.  It can be flowers or fashion, cars or canaries, but fix on something and follow it through.  It’s worth it, just for the fact that it makes you become an “enquiring” photographer.

Finally, at the end of every year, give the camera a birthday by buying it some new batteries.  You won’t have a problem damaging the sensitive innards with neglected battery acid and the camera’s light metering system will work correctly every time.  It’s cheap insurance.

Here is the list.

1.       Take more shots

2.       Walk several meters closer

3.       Use the focus lock

4.       Buy a tripod

5.       Carry a spare memory card

6.       Make enlargements of your better prints

7.       Use different formats

8.       Use a polarizing filter

9.       Carry your camera with you

10.     Use the flash during the day

11.     Develop a project

12.     Change the batteries


Become a flasher this weekend

From the early days of photography, flash has been used. 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 gas, and electrically ignited by a contact in the camera shutter, but such a bulb could only be used once, and was too hot to handle immediately after use, but the confinement of what would otherwise have amounted to a small explosion was an important advance.

Almost every camera these days comes with its own built-in flash. Such technical items as ‘guide numbers’ don’t seem to matter any more. The camera does it all for you. But there is always a downside to just letting the camera do all the work. And that is 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.

To do this is tricky, but there are several ways. 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. Set the camera’s aperture to around f5.6 and the shutter speed to 1/15th of a second. You can even hand-hold at this slow shutter speed, as long as you lean on something. 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. Try it. Works!

You have to take the camera out of Auto mode and into manual. In fact, if you want to try something, go down to the pub and shoot the likely lads at 1/8th, 1/15th and a 1/30th and see the differences you will get. The subject will be OK in each, as the lighting for the foreground depends only on the flash power, while the background depends on the ambient light, and the longer the shutter is held open, the more background details you will get.

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 coloured 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. 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 coloured 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.

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.

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.


Amateur video photography

As the price of still cameras has come down, so has the price of video cameras, and more and more weekend photographers are venturing into video.

Let us begin with one very important fact.  Still photography freezes a moment in time (a still image), while video photography tells a moving picture story, by placing a whole bunch of ‘still images’ one after the other.

The first step towards better videos is to try not to shoot ‘still images’ with a video camera and your videos will start to look professional immediately.  Like all aspects of good camera-work, you have to think about the end product before you begin to shoot.  For the still photographer it is a case of looking at the background and then working out the best combination of shutter speed and aperture.  For the video photographer it is a case of working out the story line first and then how to shoot the various elements in the story.

One of the ways you can pick the first time video user is the fact that the camera operator spends so much time taking shots of still subjects.  Having not made the mental adjustment from still photography, many minutes are taken up with video of his wife standing by the front door of the hotel you stayed at in Chiang Mai.  That, Mr. cameraman, was a ‘still’ shot.  With video, you film your wife checking out at the cashier’s desk, picking up her bags and walking towards the exit.  Then you rush outside and the next footage is her coming out of the hotel and hailing a taxi.  You have just shot a living ‘story’.

Just as still photographers have photographs in books and magazines to study, the video photographer has a very ready source of informative examples to scrutinize.  This is called the television set!  Sit down in front of the goggle box and see how the pros do it.  Start to look critically at technique.  Where was the camera, relative to the subject?  Did they ‘zoom’ in or was it one far shot and another close up to follow?  How many times did the cameraman actually use the inbuilt zoom?  You may be amazed to see how seldom, while the amateurs zoom all the time!

One of the common problems for both the video and the still photographer is low light levels.  Filming while the light is too low produces poor and muddy video because the camera has to do all sorts of electronic whizz-bangery to artificially increase the apparent light levels.  This function is generally called Automatic Gain Control and while you can continue to shoot, the end result is very disappointing ‘grainy’ video.

Another of the common problems with both types of camera work is ‘camera shake’.  For a still shot you get a ‘soft’ and blurred image.  For a video shoot you get drunken backgrounds, jumping foregrounds and seasick viewers.  Now the still photographer can avoid this problem by the use of both hands and a tripod as well if necessary, and guess what, the video cameraman should do the same.  Ever seen a pro video shoot?  The camera is mounted on a ‘dolly’, a tripod on wheels and moved around.  Ever watched a news video cameraman?  He has the camera mounted securely on his shoulder and uses two hands to hold it there.  Yet how many times do you see the one handed video approach?  Lots!

Focusing.  This is a common problem with still cameras with Auto-Focus (AF), and 99 percent of video cameras are AF too.  The magic eye in the camera focuses on a spot in the middle of the screen.  When you are filming a couple in front of the Wat Arun, if the magic dot is not on one of the people, they will end up out of focus and the Wat perfectly sharp.  This is where you may need to use manual over-ride.

Application of these simple aspects of video photography will give you (and those who watch your videos) a much better end product, and a much more satisfying one for yourself to produce.


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