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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Update February 21, 2015

Making a small fortune out of photography

There is only one totally accepted way of making a small fortune out of professional photography - and that is to start with a large one.

However, even amateur photographers can make some money with their cameras, but they have to understand the marketplace first. It is no good trying to sell a beautifully exposed photo of hydroponic tomatoes growing to a magazine called the Pig Breeder’s monthly.

My advice to the weekend snapper is to research the market and only after this see what is wanted, against what you have, or intend to photograph.

Research is not too difficult or onerous, it is just a case of looking at magazines in the shops (forget the Pig Breeder’s monthly, they’re not buying this month). After that, look at advertisements in newspapers as well as magazines, and you will soon get an idea of what the marketplace is interested in. All that research needs to be done before you even think about the hardware (cameras) you are going to need.

My advice to anyone starting off is to look for magazines and brochures that cover travel. Look at the stock photos of palm trees leaning out over the water from a tropical beach. Seen one, seen them all, but you should try and get some shots like that for your own portfolio.

Next in the travel pic grab bag are ceremonies. The Vegetarian ceremonies that include demented people sticking rods through their cheek and tongues will always have a market somewhere - and they have these ceremonies in Thailand, so you are miles ahead of your brother photographers in Europe, who only get castles and woods in winter.

In fact, the tropical lifestyle will always be a ready market for good photographs. Note that I said “good”, snapshots are very rarely “good” enough.

The saffron clothed monks remain ideal subjects, especially as you can get one on the corner of your street any morning. Just don’t intrude. A long lens is best for those sorts of pictures. Of course, the temples themselves offer the photographer endless subjects to photograph. But try to get a different viewpoint of a very well photographed subject.

All the images mentioned above must also have another common feature. They must be well exposed and sharp as a tack. Art directors or photo-editors may need to enlarge the image, by 100 percent or even more. You must be 100 percent sure that the subject of the photograph is in focus. Near enough is not good enough! If you are shooting medium format, you can generally expect to get sharp pictures, but the lenses on modern 35 mm equivalent are more than adequate.

That brings me to the next ‘must have’ piece of equipment - a good heavy tripod. You will always get sharper pictures with the camera locked onto a strong tripod. The el cheapo light aluminium things are quite useless for the job you will want of them. I have used a Manfrotto for 30 years and it is still good, despite the scratches that they get from plane holds, rail travel and going twice around the world. Get a good one and don’t try and cheat yourself with the bottom of the market ones.

Similarly, while chasing sharpness, you must have some good lenses, otherwise your work is compromised before you begin. I am not going to join the debate about after-market lenses. Some of them, I am sure, are excellent - but not all of them. I have stuck with original prime lenses and have never been disappointed.

The final item is to contact the magazines that you think might like your stuff (other than the Pig Breeders Monthly). Be prepared for no response, but if your work is good enough, you will (eventually) sell some images. As an amateur you are not going to make a million, but some pocket money is always fun!

Update February 12, 2015

Reading books can help your photography

A new way to look at food.

“You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was an advertising slogan coined by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak in 1888. He was the rightful father of popular photography, having brought it to the masses. However, the images were not of a professional standard. That came much later.

There are many ways to become a ‘good’ photographer. In Europe there are professional photographers that will let you work for a pittance and you pick up the rudiments of professional photography by watching and assisting. The drawback is the fact that you get paid very little and you will starve out on your own as a professional.

There are photography schools you can study with, sending images via email for a tutor to comment on your photograph and what you should do to improve it. This does work for some people, but you need a lot of dedication. You also get time limits placed on each segment of the course. Lots and lots of dedication!

However, there is another way - read books on the subject. This you can do at your own pace, but you do have to become critical of your own work. “You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was OK for 1888, but not in 2015.

There is a misconception that with the advent of digital photography and applications like Photoshop, anything relating to film does not matter any more. Let’s get rid of that one first - let me tell you that everything related to taking photographs is just the same today as it was pre-digital. The only real difference is that you get instant results with digital cameras. The rest is just the same. Even photo-manipulation was done, and before Mr. Photoshop!

A frame within a frame.

One book that I found invaluable in the early 80’s was written by professional photographer Michael Busselle, a man who had been through the learning process in his pursuit of a career in photography consisting mainly of assistant positions with various London photography studios, culminating in the opening of his own studio in Covent Garden in the early 1960s. He then began to write books on photography and one of those was The Photographer’s Weekend Book (ISBN 0-86134-033-7, Artists House, 1982).

The concept was to make photography a source of enjoyment for the amateur photographer and a “leisure-time pursuit that can stimulate, infuriate, be totally absorbing, or while away an odd hour.”

Busselle shows how to do all that by giving room for 101 projects for the new photographer to try. These projects range from simple easy ones called Camera Effects like focusing effects, using mirrors, colored lights and even UV light. Later in the book he goes into a Subject Idea file including City lights, food, animal pictures, the urban landscape, markets and street life and a children’s playground.

The next section is called Style and Approach with projects for bad weather, romantic glamor, frames within frames, silhouettes, photographic patterns, high key photographs, low key photographs, bold color, shooting contre jour, wide angle, telephoto, and more with the final section dealing with Special Assignments which includes dramatic skies, abstract nudes, sunsets through to such things as physiograms and photographs for décor.

Now, why I like this book of Busselle’s is that he just doesn’t mention a technique or project, but he illustrates it with several photos as well as describing what and how with each section or project. He shows how a still life bench should be and how to use it with the lighting available.

By describing what he does and showing the results he gets means that this is a perfect learning tool for the interested amateur.

So that’s the good news, the bad news is that now being 33 years old, it will be out of print. However, I am sure Amazon dot com could find a copy for you. It is worthwhile searching for.

Update February 5, 2015

Turning back the clock

We would all like to turn the clock back, and for more than just cosmetic reasons. There are those people in the world who have been exploring the technologies of yester year, and in the 189 years of photography there have been plenty of technological changes. And I include the digital evolution, but there were plenty of technological breakthroughs before that.

Looking at a historical overview of the birth of photography and its progress, the initial plaudits went to France. Did you know that the French were the first to bring photography to the world? And no, it wasn’t somebody called Francois Kodak either (but more about that later)!

The first known “photographic” image was recorded in 1826 by a French gentleman called Nicephore Niepce. He managed to capture the view from his window, producing the image on a bitumen covered pewter plate. The exposure time for this epic making picture (or should that be “epoch” making?) was a record breaking eight hours! What took poor old Nicephore eight hours to produce, you can do in 1/125th of a second.

Monsieur Nicephore then teamed up with another Frenchman, Louis Jacques Mande Daguerre (1759–1851) and the pair of them worked on trying to make “photography” a little bit easier. Nicephore expired in 1833, turning up at the pearly gates with his pewter plates under his arm, but Daguerre continued in his quest of the Holy Grail, or to photograph it, if nothing else, even though he was by then 73 years old.
By 1839 when he was 80 years old, he had managed to produce images on highly polished silvered copper plates and released the details in August of that year, but only after obtaining a lifetime pension for himself from the French Government. Daguerre was no dunce! Neither was the French government, as it knew with Monsieur Daguerre being 80, the “lifetime” would not last too long!

Now while these images were much better than Nicephore’s originals, they still took forever in the camera. Exposure times were far too long to make portraiture a reality. “Just hold zat pose for six hours, Madame!”

However, while the French were exposing themselves and their plates to the sun, an Englishman by the name of William Henry Fox Talbot (1800–1877) was experimenting exposing silver impregnated paper and produced the first “negative”. By then exposing his sensitized paper to the negative he had made previously, he managed to produce positive copies. Now, more than one image could be made from the one photographic session. Think about it, this was ground-breaking stuff.

However, Fox Talbot did nothing about his new process until he heard from France about Louis Daguerre’s “invention”. In the same year (1839) he then rushed into print with details of his process. This was the start of modern photography.

Exposure times were still an hour or so, but in 1840 the simple photographic lens was improved by Josef Petzval allowing 16 times more light into the camera and exposure times dropped to around 4 to 5 minutes. Portraiture had arrived! The impact of Petzval on photography is often forgotten, but his improvement to the optical lens had actually much more of an effect than the slow improvements in the sensitivity of the film plates of the day.

For the next four decades photographers spent their time refining the “negative” process; however, it took an American to bring photography within the reach of the masses. His name was George Eastman (1854 - 1932) and he was an inventor and an industrialist.

In 1888 he introduced the small box camera with a 100 exposure roll film inside, but he was unsure of what to call it. The marketing gurus (yes, they had them in those days) told Eastman that a good catchy name should have K’s in it. And so “Kodak” was born. Two K’s had to be better than one!

From there it was really refinement of the silver halide processes and then color negatives, until the digital era came upon us, in which we stand right now. The next round of advances will certainly not take 189 years, I can assure you.

Cameras that work as phones will be refined and “connected”. The brave new world is here.

Update February 1, 2015

How to have a grey day

Are your photographs coming out grey? No really strong blacks or whites any more? Black cars turning out as grey cars? White cats turning into grey cats? Could be your whites are not balanced properly.
Now, I know that your fancy DSLR has a drop down menu that includes “white balance”. This is not something new or magically electronic, the principles involved in white balance have been the same since photography was invented.
If you use an automatic camera (film or digital) set on A (for “amnesia”) then the chances are very high that you ended up with a grey car and a grey cat. Very highly likely. The reason for this is poor white balance, expressed as the magic photographic number known as 18 percent grey!
All photographers should become acquainted with the color known as 18 percent grey. Why? Because after you understand 18 percent grey, you have complete control over blacks and whites in your photographs - and by that, I mean in color photography, not just the black and white kind.
The really dedicated photo buffs will recognize 18 percent grey as being the cornerstone of the “Zone System” and the famed photographer Ansel Adams superb prints are trotted out with sage mutterings that if you understood the zone system, then your photos would look like his too. This is, of course, frog spawn. Ansel Adams spent many hours painstakingly printing his B&W work, specifically burning in some areas, holding back others and if you think he didn’t then think again.
However, here is the “short course” on the Zone System. What you have to remember at all times is just the simple fact that the meter in your camera is set to know what is 18 percent grey, and is programmed to produce as much 18 percent grey as possible. In other words, point the camera at your subject and the meter will work out a combination of shutter speed and aperture to give an exposure to get the whole shot as close to 18 percent grey as possible.
Back to digital photography. All digital cameras, straight from the box, are set to automatically correct white balance, but it doesn’t always work well. What part of the shot is actually white? One camera correspondent did not give up, he then used white balance lens caps and set the white balance manually. His manual results were a bit better, but still not good enough in tricky lighting situations (like tungsten illumination, for example). Then he used an 18 percent grey card to preset white balance and got the best results. The image using the grey card needed no post-camera color correction, and the colors were the most true to life. The grey cat really was a black cat!
So what to do? You can go into your digital camera’s menu and find the ‘white balance’ and then set it on pre-set or manual and focus the camera on an 18 percent grey card (very cheap at large photo shops) and snap away from there. The results should be better than those from the auto white balance.
The next step I recommend is to bracket your shots, giving different exposure settings, depending upon whether you are trying to photograph a white cat or a black cat. Remember that when you are photographing the white cat the exposure indicated by the camera is the one that will make the white color 18 percent grey. To get the color back to white it will need more light.
Let us imagine that your camera tells you that the exposure should be f 16 @ 1/60th of a second. You need more light in the camera, so make your exposure f 11 @ 1/60th and another at f 8 @ 1/60th. That gives you both one and two full stops of light more. One of those two will give you a white cat, irrespective of such fancy terms as automated multi-phasic metering, center weighted metering or whatever.
When photographing the black car, do the reverse. Put the camera in metered manual mode and then set the camera for one and two stops less light than indicated. It works!

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Making a small fortune out of photography

Reading books can help your photography

Turning back the clock

How to have a grey day