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Camera Class by Harry Flashman


Showing speed

Look at the first and second shots with this week’s column.  The first is of a bongo drummer photographed at a function. It is a pleasant enough sharp shot of a happy drummer, but the second shot has all the movement of the frenzied drummer beating the bongos, and the motion is all there to be seen (and the emotion).  This second shot is not pin-sharp, but it does not need to be.  The photograph shows the subject is alive.

Bongo drummer.

You do not get these kinds of emotive photographs by setting your DSLR on a shutter speed of 1/2000th of a second.  Sure that shutter speed will stop an express train, but you don’t want stopped action, you want motion, and you get that with a slower speed.  The photograph was taken at 1/15th of a second and this was fast enough to capture the drummer, but not fast enough to capture the hands, which is what gives this shot appeal.

Weird Effects 

Photography has been described as ‘painting with light’ and somebody then added that the camera tells no lies, and both of these are just so much nonsense.  It would be much closer to the truth to say that photography is all about ‘manipulating’ the light, and secondly, the camera tells as many lies as you want it to!

Drummer in action.

You will also find that there are some rather weird effects that you can find when manipulating that light.  Many of these effects are just accidental, but by working out how they happened, you can then reproduce them when needed.  Many of them are also very suitable for wall art, as because they are different, they are then eye-catching.

Look at the 3rd picture with this week’s column.  What is it?  Is it some weird kind of electrical storm?  No, it was produced by a mistake on my part, but one I can now reproduce.  What happened was I had set the camera up to bracket the exposure with three shots.  The shutter speed was about one second and I depressed the shutter to start the bracketing.  I thought I had completed all three exposures, but I had not, and after two exposures moved the camera away.  Since the shutter was still open, I got this light trail effect, which you can produce yourself by putting the camera shutter speed on say two seconds and then moving the camera around.  Bright light sources are good for this type of effect.  Practice waving the camera at different speeds and see what you get.  It could be brilliant

Electrical storm.

It’s the glass up front that dictates the optical laws

There is an unfortunate idea in many people’s minds that somehow “digital” photography is different from all previous types of photography, and a completely different set of laws now prevail.  Wrong!  The optical principles are just the same, with the light coming through the glass lens up front and the light rays then striking the electronic sensitive receptor (instead of film).

A portrait with the face in focus and the hand out of focus.

One optical principle you should try and experiment with is DOF.  What’s DOF?  Quite simply, it is Depth Of Field, and mastery of DOF really is the second rule of photography in my opinion.  Before you ask, the first rule is to walk several meters closer to the subject!

The Depth Of Field in any picture can often make or break the entire photograph, but knowing how to manipulate the depth of field improves your photography instantly!

The term DOF refers to an optical one and depends solely on the lens being used and the aperture selected.  Altering the shutter speed, does not change the Depth of Field.

Depth of Field really refers to the zone of “sharpness” (or being in acceptable focus) from foreground items to background items in any photograph.  This is different from what the eye sees, as the eye can instantly focus on near and far objects, giving the impression that everything in your field of vision is in sharp focus.  The camera, however, gives you a slice of time.

The first concept to remember is “1/3rd forwards and 2/3rds back.”  Again this is a law of optical physics, but means that the DOF, from foreground to background in your photograph can be measured, and from the focus point in the photo, extends towards you by one third and extends away from the focus point by two thirds.

The DOF rule here is simple - the higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF and the lower the Aperture number, the shorter the DOF.  In simple terms, for any given lens, you get greater front to back sharpness with f22 and you get very short front to back sharpness at f4.

For example, using a 24 mm focal length lens focussed on an object two meters away - if you select f22, the DOF runs from just over 0.5 meter to 5 meters (4.5 meters total), but if you select f11 it only runs from 1 m to 4 m (3 m total) and if you choose f5.6 the Depth of Field is only from 1.5 m to 3 m (1.5 m total).

On the other hand, using a longer 135 mm focal length lens focussed at the same point two meters away, you get the following Depths of Field - at f22 it runs from 1.9 m to 2.2 m (0.3 m) and at f5.6 it is 1.95 m to 2.1 m (a total of 0.15 m).

Analysis of all these initially confusing, numbers gives you now complete mastery of DOF in any of your photographs.  Simply put another way - the higher the Aperture number, the greater the DOF; the smaller the Aperture number the smaller the DOF; plus the longer the lens, the shorter the DOF, the shorter the lens, the longer the DOF (just remember the ‘opposites’ - the longer gives shorter).

Now to apply this formula - when shooting a landscape for example, where you want great detail from the foreground, right the way through to the mountains five kilometers away, then use a short lens (24 mm is ideal) set at f22 and focussed on a point about 2 km away.

On the other hand, when shooting a portrait where you only want to have the eyes and mouth in sharp focus you would use a longer lens (and here the 135 is ideal) and a smaller Aperture number of around f5.6 to f4 and focus directly on the eyes to give that ultra short Depth of Field required.

Master it this weekend, and just remember that these optical laws hold good for all cameras, be they film or digital.

Weird photographers - Edweard Muybridge

A mini tripod.

As photography for fun begins to open up for you, it will become obvious that you need to expand your kit.  However, camera gear of good quality is never cheap, so what are the ‘essentials’ and what can you easily do without?

The first essential is a good digital SLR, from a good manufacturer, and one that takes multiple lenses, from that manufacturer (we can deal with after-market lenses another day).  Choose carefully and be prepared to spend upwards of B. 30,000.  Ouch!

Handle all the cameras that you think you might like.  Some look great, but don’t fit in your hand as well as they might.  I was once tempted by a Pentax 6x7 medium format camera, but after one roll of film, I knew it wasn’t for me!

When I worked in professional photography I used Nikon in 35 mm - bullet proof and quality lenses.  Others such as Canon, Pentax, Olympus, etc., are also excellent brands, all of which have interchangeable lenses too, so your basic system can be enlarged upon over a period of time, and your original lenses will still be good.

The SLR is the center of your equipment.  It is this camera that will allow you to be creative in your shots.  It is this camera that will win you awards and recognition.  As mentioned already, it will be expensive, so choose wisely.

Now you look at lenses.  The “standard” lens that will come with your SLR will most likely be a 50 mm.  The next lens you buy should be a wide angle lens.  Around 28 mm or 24 mm is good, or even 20 mm for very dramatic shots, but the distortion problem can be a little much at this wide angle.

The next lens you should buy should be around the focal length of 135 mm - the ideal lens for portraits.  The 24 mm gives you the ability to take dramatic photos, the 135 mm allows you to take glamorous portraits.

No zooms?  No, I personally do not like zoom lenses.  The sharpness is not as good as “prime” lenses (though the manufacturers say they are much better these days), but even more importantly, zoom lenses make for lazy photographers.  Instead of walking in to compose the subject, the photographer zooms in.  The depth of field is lost, the flash is too far away and the chance of a perfect shot is lost.  I realize that the very latest zooms from the parent manufacturer may be excellent, but because of their advanced optics they are very expensive.

You should also have a Point and Shoot compact camera in your camera equipment.  Again, stick to the better brands if you want to get something which will last, and even more importantly, one that will return crisp images.  Olympus makes some very good small point and shooters, with excellent lenses.  This camera is for those situations where you don’t want to lug all the gear, when you need something light and pocket portable.  Get one with a 24 or 28 mm lens and built in flash which can be turned off.

The next item is a tripod.  Now with all the super-fast ASA ratings available in a D SLR these days, a large Manfrotto, such as I lugged all over the world, is not so necessary.  My Manfrotto lives in the cupboard, but a small fold-out tripod lives in my camera bag.

The next items are small and very cheap, but are indispensable.  These are stepping rings to bring all your lenses to the same diameter so you can screw filters, etc., on the end, and not duplicate them with different diameters.  I have standardized mine on 62 mm.  Sometimes this may take two stepping rings coupled together, but just end up with the same diameter on them all.

Now buy a few filters.  Look in the catalogue to see what sorts of effects you like - but don’t overdo it!  And one you must have is the Skylight 1A you leave permanently on the end of your lens to protect the expensive glass.

The final item is the camera bag.  Get a good waterproof one.  Tropical storms can come unannounced!