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Camera Class by Harry Flashman


A Project for 2012 - one that can earn money

Ever thought about documenting your neighborhood?  It is considered part of progress as old buildings are knocked down to make way for another expressway, even though some may not agree.  However, no matter which way your opinion slants, you do not have to wear a colored T-shirt, and the subject ‘progress’ makes for a great photo project.

The great thing about this project is that not only does it make you ‘work’ to produce a particular image, but the final images are eminently marketable.  Interested?  You could even make money out of this!

All you have to do with this project is to show the progress that has occurred in any area - particularly the region that you live in - For example, Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Pattaya!  The concept is simple - contrast a “now” shot with what was there before.  Sounds too easy? Well, it is not quite that easy!  There are a couple of snags.

Probably one of the hardest aspects is getting the “before” or “then” shots in the first place.  This will take some scrounging around, particularly in this region of the world, where not much stock was placed upon the particular moment in time.  Buddhism tells you that all of life is change - so why get excited about recording the moment.

However, one of the greatest sources of the “then” images are postcards - particularly tourist market postcards.  These were generally of reasonable photographic quality and also depicted the subject from a good angle.

So where are they?  This is where you begin asking all the Thai people you know if they have any old photographs or postcards.  After that, look in second hand shops, the dusty back corners of old Chinese chemist shops, funny old stores in Naklua - anywhere.  But you do have to get these images first.  Remember that you can always have photographs copied these days and you do not need the negatives.  So all you have to do is borrow, if you cannot beg or steal!  Do not worry about image quality, by the way, because no one expects old photographs to be pristine, in fact a little bit of fading and staining looks good in the final result, particularly the sepia tints.

Next part of the project is to find the original area that was photographed and work out from where the shot was taken.  The concept is to get as close as possible to the original, so that the difference between the “then” and “now” is just the progress.  This does mean looking critically at the original and working out if it was taken by a wide angle lens or whatever.  If the shot is more than 50 years old, it was probably taken with a “normal” 50 mm lens, so try that first and look critically through your own viewfinder, while looking at the original as the reference.

Of course, some will be easy, like Pattaya Bay taken from the Naval Lookout at the top of Pratamnak Hill.  Others, like the Nipa Lodge will be harder - just what angle did they take it from?  It is also good to try and duplicate the time of day.  Late afternoon or morning?  Look at the shadows and you can work it out!

Now having done all your homework, go out and re-take all those shots from yesteryear.  Again, be very critical with yourself.  You do want to be able to see that this is a re-take of the original.  Near enough is not good enough.  Some pictures may be too confusing if there are no landmarks and you will have to reject some of them, unfortunately, but you will score some gold!

These new ones are worth having printed as at least 10”x8” and mounted side by side with the faded originals.  This is what makes them so interesting (and so saleable)!  You also have the choice of leaving the originals as small prints beside the new enlargement, or blowing the old ones up to 10”x8” as well, which is what I recommend.  Believe me, these will sell!  Everyone wants to show “life as it was” - it’s up to you to do it first!

Recording the New Year fireworks

Find a place to shoot - try to avoid overhead wires and the roofs of houses.

I was reminded of the tricks in shooting fireworks when we had the fireworks extravaganza a couple of weekends ago.  I should have written this then, but never late than never, we (that’s you) will have plenty of opportunities over New Year (be that the Western New Year, Chinese New Year, Thai New Year or the Patagonian Petunia Festival.  At all of these events the culmination is the letting off of fireworks.

Many photographers attempt to record these colorful displays and most come back with disappointing results.  Here is how to do it properly, but even then you do need a little luck!

The first item is to select where you are going to shoot the fireworks.  Try to avoid overhead wires and the roofs of houses.  The secret is an uninterrupted view, without people walking in front of you.

The next item to attend to is the flash incorporated in your camera.  You have to turn it off!  Most automatic cameras these days pop their little flash heads up as soon as it gets dark, and flash settings are exactly what you do not want in recording firework flashes.  You may have to resort to your instruction booklet to do this.  It is amazing just how many camera owners do not know how to turn on and off the various functions.

The next item of equipment you need is a tripod.  I have written about these many times, but a good sturdy tripod is best.  The light aluminium jobs are easy to carry but don’t keep the camera rock solid.  You need a good heavy one and even hang the camera bag from the central pole, just to stabilize the whole shooting match even further.  My own Manfrotto is around 25 years old and has never given any trouble.  It is worth the extra expense to get a good one and it will be with you forever.

Another piece of equipment is a cable release, and even though not 100 percent needed, makes life much easier in this firework situation.

The final piece in the equipment list is a piece of flat black cardboard around 10 centimeters square.  Matt black is best as it does not reflect light (this is why most photographic equipment is matt black too).  Get a matt black spray can at the hardware shop and make your own card.  Your usual 100 ASA or whatever will be fine, this exercise does not need super-slow or super-fast ASA (ISO) ratings.  Use a wide angle or even standard lens and point the camera at the sky where the firework star-bursts explode in the sky.  Even wait for the first star-burst and lock the tripod with the camera then in the correct position.

The way we are going to get the top shots is to record more than one firework star-burst on one piece of film.  This is how the pros get all those magnificent fireworks photographs.  The trick is how!

Here comes the action.  You are going to need something like 30 second exposures to get several star-bursts.  Select “B” as the shutter speed - popping the shutter button in this mode opens the shutter and keeps it open until the button is released.  Now you can see why the cable release is a good idea, particularly ones that you can lock in the depressed position.

With the cable release in your left hand and the matt black card in your right, you are ready.  When the rocket goes up, open the shutter.  As the star-burst wanes, cover the lens with your black card, but keep the shutter open.  As the next star-burst happens, uncover the lens, covering it again as the star-burst wanes.  Now you have two sets of fireworks on one picture.  Get another and then close the shutter, which means that the camera advances to a fresh area in the memory card.  Now you can repeat the exercise as many times as you like.  Get up to four star-bursts on one photo - any more than four and it gets too crowded in the final print.

So there you have it.  Shoot like the pros and get professional results you will be proud of.  Happy New Year.