Recording “The Event”
We have all attended some important “events” in our lives. These range from
births, marriages and deaths and everything in between. Sometimes you may
be asked to record these events for posterity. So if you get lumbered with
this responsibility, you have to keep one thing in mind - you have to return
with the goods, come Hell or high water. This is literally the professional
For everyone at the event, it is an
important milestone in their lives, in some way or another, and so the event
deserves to be recorded properly. And guess what, you can’t do it with one
shot - it will even stretch the capabilities of your memory card, unless you
have a spare 16 GB on board.
So to make sure that you can get the
event in its entirety, here are a few hints. The secret is to start long
before you get to the event venue and sit down and make yourself a list. A
checklist, in fact. What you have to remember at all times, is just what is
this event all about? Let us assume that the party you are going to record
is a birthday. Here’s what you should be thinking about.
What do you need to show? Firstly you
have to show that it is a birthday, not just any old party. Secondly you
have to feature the person whose birthday it is. Thirdly you have to show
who came to celebrate the birthday and fourthly any significant gifts that
were received. Not even Henri Cartier-Bresson would be able to get all that
lot into one “decisive moment” photograph!
It should go without saying that you
have checked your camera, it does work, you do have a memory card with space
and you do have spare batteries for the flash. Here is the type of list I
would draw up for myself if taking photographs for your child’s birthday –
1. Shot of birthday child looking
at a birthday card (close up - this gives the visual clue that it is a
2. Birthday child opening present
(close up - more clues)
3. As above with parents and
friends standing around (wide angle shot)
4. Mother placing candles on
birthday cake (classic clue)
5. Father lighting candles
6. Blowing out the candles (close
up - an absolute “must”)
7. General shots of people
singing and clapping
8. Happy time shots
Note that all these shots are designed
to set the scene, show the participants and nominate the “star”. There are
varied shots, some close up, some group shots and together they make a
package called “Bab’s Birthday”.
Probably one of the most important
items to remember is my adage - “Walk several meters closer!” When people
are just small dots, you cannot pick out who they were, several months
later. Do not be afraid to walk in close - this one factor alone will
result in much better pictures. Remember too, that although you can make
subjects look closer using a telephoto lens, the flash may not carry the
For many of the shots, you will also
have to be prepared, because when the action happens at an event, it can
happen very quickly. For example, blowing out the candles. You can’t say,
“Sorry, I wasn’t ready. Can you do it again please?” The name of the game
is to know what you want to shoot, and be ready for it.
Now when you come to put them in the
family album, you have a nice group of pictures which many years later will
continue to say “Bab’s Birthday”. And you made it happen photographically.
So next time you are going to
photograph an important event, buy a spare memory card and plan your shots,
take them deliberately according to the plan and be amazed at how much
better your results will be!
One final word of warning. When you
have become the ‘official’ photographer for any event, you cannot be the
life and soul of the party until you have taken all the shots on your list.
You are being relied upon to come home with the goods. You can’t do it with
a belly full of beer!
How to photograph difficult subjects
I was speaking to a chap the other day, whose partner was an artist, and
that reminded me just how difficult it is to do justice to a painting using
the medium of photography.
If you are ever in an art gallery, even
if you are allowed to photograph the paintings on the wall, the result is a
‘blown out’ center and dark edges. This is the same whether you are using
the weeny on-board flash or a hammer head flash that can light up the other
side of the moon.
You will also have a problem with
lenses, firstly to ensure there is no ‘pin cushion’ effect, and then getting
a wide enough lens to get all the painting in, without having to go back 20
paces. This is not an easy exercise.
Let’s deal with the lighting. You need
to get flat, featureless lighting, and that is why a flash is not the
answer. The ideal lighting is daylight, overcast and the painting placed so
that it is at right angles to the direction of the light. Unless you are
photographing at mid day, this means that you have to hold the painting at
around 45 degrees from the vertical. Don’t drop it! Mid day is also not a
good idea, as you and the camera will obscure much of the light falling on
the painting, and you are back again to uneven lighting.
Photographing during the day does mean
you are not restricted by how far away you can get from the canvas and you
do get better results with a ‘portrait’ lens (say around 135 mm focal
length) as you will get less distortion at that focal length.
So to recap:
Don’t bother taking photographs of
paintings in an art gallery, even if allowed. Take the shots outside with
flat light (open air shade is good) and keep the camera on the same plane as
the light source and at 90 degrees to the canvas.
There you go - that was easy.
Another very difficult subject is
wine. (And you thought I was going to say ‘children’ - also very
difficult. If you do get asked to photograph somebody’s child invent a
Back to wine: Restaurateurs know that
it is good to have a photograph of the wine bottle in the menu, but nine
times out of ten, the wine does not look good or enticing. Red wines end up
looking black and white wines end up looking green. However, I can teach
you in this column just how to get over this problem.
The first item to remember is to turn
off your flash, because to photograph liquids in bottles front lighting is
no good - it takes what we call back lighting, so that the light passes
through the bottle on the way to the camera.
If you have an off-camera flash, this
is the time to use it. With your DSLR you can view all your photographs,
and check that the flash burst is actually going through the red wine in
particular. I have seen us pour half the wine out (into drinking glasses -
which were used later of course) and top up with water, to get the correct
color of the wine. Naughty, I know, but it is the end result that matters.
So what do you do if you haven’t got an
off-camera flash? Well, it is still possible to get a good photograph.
What you have to do is get the light source behind the wine. Window light
can work well here and set the camera exposure details for the front of the
bottle. In this way, the back light ends up two to three stops brighter
than the front light and will penetrate the wine in the bottle. Be ready to
pour out some red wine again if it is still too dark!
If needs be, you can put some foil on
the back of the glass to reflect some front light back through the wine.
Glasses of wine work exactly like the
bottles, though you can usually penetrate the wine in the glass without
So to recap:
Backlight all wine, and be prepared to
dilute if the color is still too dark.
Easter Weddings - unless you are the groom - don’t go!
Anybody who owns a reasonable camera will be asked, at some stage, to
photograph a friend’s wedding. To avoid the major pitfalls, find a dying
maiden aunt that you have to visit that weekend. You have been warned. If
that has not been enough of a warning, keep reading.
One very experienced wedding
photographer even went so far as to call the craft, “Hours of controlled
patience, punctuated by moments of sheer terror and intense bursts of
creativity.” However, to make it less of a terror, here are some guides to
photographing someone else’s ‘big day’. And it is because it is someone’s
big day that it becomes so important to get it right. Wedding photographers
talk about the three P’s - preparation, photography and presentation. My
idea of wedding photography and the three P’s are pain, persecution and
you’re ruining that hire dress!
However, looking at the accepted
“preparation”. This is very important and will make your job so much
easier. This would include going to the church, temple, registry office or
whatever before the great day to see just what you can use as backgrounds,
and where you can position the happy couple, and their parents, and their
bridesmaids, and their friends, and the neighborhood dogs and everything
else that seems to be in wedding photographs. Just by doing this, you at
least will know ‘where’ you can take some photographs.
Preparation also covers talking to the
couple and finding out just what they expect to be taken. As pointed out at
the beginning, when you take on photographing a wedding, you are taking on a
Also part of the preparation is to make
sure your cameras are functioning properly, so test them before the big
day. Note too, that I said ‘cameras’ because there is nothing more soul
destroying than having a camera fail during an event such as this.
Preferably, the second camera will be the same as the first, so that your
lenses will be interchangeable. Yes, lenses! You will need a wide angle
(say 28 mm), a standard 50 mm and a short telephoto (say 135 mm). The wide
angle is needed for the group shots and the standard for couples and the
tele for “head hunting”, looking for those great candid shots.
Now comes the actual “Photography”
itself. You have already written down all the shots that the couple want,
make a list so you can cross them off your list as you go. One series of
shots should be taken at the bride’s residence, and this includes the
bridesmaids. Many of these will be indoor shots, so do take your flash and
bounce the light off the ceiling to soften the effect of the flash burst.
Make sure you have new batteries, and a spare memory card!
Now you have to scoot to the church or
wherever the actual ceremony will be, so you can get the bride outside,
ready to walk down the aisle with her father, or whomever is giving the
With those shots out of the way, now
you can go and get the ceremony and I do not recommend that you use the
flash for these photographs. For some religions, this is a solemn time and
flash bursts are very intrusive.
Cross off the rest of the shots as you
cover them - the signing of the register, emerging arm in arm, confetti or
rice and then the formal shots of the wedding groups.
After all this, everyone is dying for a
beer and head for the reception. However, Mr. or Mrs. Photographer, you
must wait a little while yet. There is the ceremony of cutting the cake to
be done yet, and photographs of the guests enjoying themselves (other than
Having crossed every shot off the list,
make for the drinks department. You’ve earned it. After all, you have
probably taken around 200 shots by now!
The final ‘P’ is presentation.
Photograph albums are inexpensive, so put the best shots from each series
into a couple of albums and present them to the couple as your gift. And as
your final job, make the mental resolve to never photograph another wedding
as long as you live!
Taking the camera swimming
With the floods that we have had recently, there is probably more than one
camera that went swimming, and is now (hopefully) the subject of an
insurance claim. However, there is truly another world beneath the surface.
A few years back, one of our avid
underwater explorers wrote and suggested I should write on this subject.
What he did not know, being a weekend flipper and snorkel type as he was, is
that I get nervous if the water reaches my knees. Many years ago I struck a
bargain with sharks, those denizens of the deep with the amazing dentition.
The deal was that I would not swim in their bath water, if they would
refrain from swimming in mine. I have been true to my word, and they have
also, with no dorsal fins seen anywhere near my bath tub. So because of my
fear, my knowledge of underwater photography is restricted to shooting
through the portholes of swimming pools!
I actually did a camera test many years
ago on the ferociously expensive Nikonos cameras. It was easy to clean -
you just directed the garden hose at it, and all the sand washed off (after
I had bravely put it under the surface and photographed the model’s feet).
However, with the advent of cheap
underwater cameras these days (even disposable ones), you do not have to
invest in a Nikonos to try getting a few shots beneath the surface.
Now comes the technical stuff. Not
only can you not breathe sea water, what has to be remembered is that water
(especially sea water), is 700 times more dense and 2000 times less
transparent than air. Even though it may look crystal clear down there with
the dugongs, it is not. It has been suggested to me that if you are using
natural light (that is from the sun above the waves) then do not go lower
than seven meters below the surface. That is five meters deeper than I am
high - that definitely precludes my trying it.
For these reasons, underwater
photographers will use wide angle lenses, so that they have to be close to
the subject, so there is then less water between the camera and the item
being photographed. If it is a large fish with teeth, you need to be a knee
tremblingly three meters from it, to get a good shot. Far too close for
me! Those that claim to know (and I do know a couple of underwater
photographers who so far have neither been eaten or drowned) say that a
focal length lens of between 28 mm and 15 mm (almost a ‘fish eye’) would be
appropriate for 35 mm cameras.
Another tip given to me by the wet-suit
and water-wings brigade is to take the meter reading on the surface and open
up the aperture one f stop for every three meters depth.
Again when using sunlight, the best
time of day is the exact opposite from the above the surface shooter.
Forget early morning and late afternoon, as the sun’s rays get reflected
away from the surface of the water. The best time is when the sun is
directly overhead and the light penetrates the water more easily.
You may have also noticed that
underwater shots can have strange colors. This is because the light becomes
diffused as it travels through the water, and the different colors, which
have different wavelengths, become absorbed at different rates (or depths).
Red is the first to go and yellow is the last. The predominant color is
then usually bluish or greenish, which explains why underwater shots have
that color cast. You can counteract this by manipulation in the computer
with your electronic paint brush.
However, whatever the technicalities,
if you just want to try something different one weekend, buy one of the
inexpensive throw-away waterproof cameras, stay just under the surface and
see what you get. You will probably be delighted with the results. But if
you are considering SCUBA diving with a spear gun in one hand and a camera
in the other, you will need much more specialized equipment! Glug, glug.
Having recently made a small study, I came to the conclusion that the one
item in everyone’s possession which is not giving value for money, is the
camera. I’m talking about digitals here, as film belongs to the dark ages
This week’s column is actually not a
discourse on the two camera (photography) types - film and digital. I
believe everyone now understands the reasons why the world left film
behind. For new photographers who never used film, just understand that
digital gives you the advantage of ‘instant’ review, something that film
could never do. The best that film could do was a one hour wait at the
However, digital cameras are not cheap,
and a DSLR can easily see you spending 20,000 baht and upwards. For that
sort of money, you should be seeing some sort of return in satisfaction.
There is just so much more you can do
with a DSLR than just taking photos of children, friends and family. You
should be able to get some fun from the investment too.
The way to get that fun is to make a
project for yourself, and one that can be carried through involves taking a
photograph of something each week for a complete year. Hence my calling it
For example, you could even do a
self-portrait each week for one year. Use your imagination and creativity
so that you do not end up with 52 shots of your face. There’s plenty of
other bits of you to try. A fun idea would be make 52 sections of yourself,
and then paste the different shots on to one sheet which would make a final
art work that Picasso would have been proud of.
Too squeamish for 52 shots of
yourself? Well, how about 52 shots of your local area or suburb? The plan
is to show all the different items that can be found in one community.
There will also be different weather in that year - wet and dry to start
with. There is also night and day, sunset and sunrise. High viewpoint, low
viewpoint. You can see where I am going here. By using your creative
senses, you can give yourself many hours of concepts and ideas and then
shoot them each weekend.
Project 52 can also be carried out by
older members of the family, and by children. Whilst personally I think a
DSLR is better suited for this type of project, there is no real reason why
a digital compact could not be used.
If 52 is just too much to take on, then
what about Project 26? Each shot represents one letter of the alphabet.
Sure, A for Apple is easy, but Q for ? is a little more difficult. Again,
the creative approach will see you looking for queues, or even “quickly”
(work out how to show that). You could even make it that the subject matter
in each of the 26 shots, looks like the letter. A stepladder looks like an
A. So a double hook, for example, looks like an S, whilst a single hook
looks like a J. The top of a bottle is an O. An open pair of scissors is a
You won’t find all the items in one
weekend, but by the following weekend you’ll have worked out what you are
looking to photograph.
If Project 26 is still too onerous for
you, how about Project 12? There are 12 months of the year, think about how
you can show the difference between them. Hot, wet, cold - there’s three of
them - and then it gets harder from there. But the whole concept is to get
you thinking, and then using your expensive investment.
Sit down this weekend and work out
which project you would like to try, then start working on the concept, and
then finally start shooting. Best of luck.