by Harry Flashman
Stick it on the wall
Anyone who reads a photography column has a hidden agenda. He or
she wants to take better pictures.
Forgive me for being repetitious, but great images do not just
“happen” – they are “made”. And having gone to the trouble of
making that image, you can make it even better by displaying it,
using some of your artistic abilities at the same time.
One way to “make” great wall art is to follow a theme and
display the images as a diptych or even a triptych. (Fancy words
for two or three pictures mounted side by side.)
Subject matter for wall art? Consider a study of opposites. Hot
and cold, big and small, young and old, black and white and so
on. So one very good way to give extra impact to your
photographs is then to ‘pair’ your images by use of opposites.
The first, and one of the most obvious contrasts is to take the
same subject, but at different times of the day. The old phrase
“as different as night and day” is crying out to be used.
Pattaya Bay by day and night is an obvious example. However, you
must take the shots from exactly the same position, even if you
have to camp there all day! What I often do is to mark the spot
where the shot was taken in the morning, so I can come back and
find the identical spot later. The second factor is to make sure
that if you are using a zoom lens, that you use the same focal
length setting each time. The idea is to ensure that the only
item of change is the lighting.
Another contrast is to use the weather to give you a different
look to the same subject. Even a street scene with pedestrians
taken in daylight and then again with umbrellas in the rain
tells a very different story. So next time it is teeming down
with rain go outdoors with your camera and get something
pleasing and then recreate it in the dry.
What we will do now is to exercise our minds (yours and mine)
and come up with some opposites – then work out how to present
these on film. As I have said so many times, a good photograph
is “made” rather than just happening. The way the pros work is
to build on a concept and then work out the way of showing it on
So let’s take some – there is young and old that springs
immediately to mind. A shot of a very old person with a young
child is always an attention grabber. Now, how many times have
you seen big advertising companies use just that shot? Many
What about old and new? The range here is as big as your
imagination. A shiny new car parked beside a wrecked one, a new
beach umbrella beside a tattered old one, a shot of a workers
corrugated iron and packing case ‘house’ beside a bright,
spanking new mansion. Or even a photo of a box Brownie and a new
There’s even more – hot and cold, rough and smooth, light and
heavy – there is really no end to what you can portray when you
start thinking about it.
But it doesn’t end there either. Think about the different ways
you can do things. Digging a trench with an old shovel, to
watching a huge mechanical ditch digger at work. How about a
sundial with a watch hooked on it? A light bulb and a candle, a
horse and buggy and a new Mercedes. Again, just let your
imagination run riot and go from there.
Now presentation of contrasting images is important too. This is
where you should finally select the best two shots and get
enlargements done. 14 inches by 11 inches is a good size and
then get them mounted side by side using a double matte. With
the cost of framing being so cheap in Thailand it is very easy
to produce great wall art. All that is needed are your images
and some original imagination.
Selfie and then food
The advent of the smartphone has
not done much for the art of photography. Having a phone that can take and
store pictures has not developed any latent artistic abilities in the holder
of said electronic equipment as far as I can see.
Even the briefest perusal of the social media will show that the artistic
talent goes as far as taking a “selfie” (how I dislike that word) and then
follow that up with a picture of what he or she ate. As if the world is
hanging on his or her fork tangs. Personally I couldn’t care less what you
ate, unless it was some culinary tour de force.
If you must show the world just what you had for your last supper (it would
be if I could get hold of some of these social media freaks) I will give you
some pointers to make it look as if this was a great plateful and not some
collection of ingredients thrown onto a plate and tinged with green.
Let’s deal with the green pies first. Fluorescent lighting is the culprit.
To the naked eye the lighting in the kitchen seems fine, but to the
electronic receptors, the white balance is not correct, and hence the green.
To correct this is very easy. Use natural light to photograph food. Take the
dishes outside, around 4.30 p.m. is best, and with the light coming across
the food, take the shot. The colors will be natural and there will be some
light and shadow to give depth to the photograph.
If you are going to add a bottle of wine to the shot, or make the wine a
feature, you have just picked one of the most difficult items to
successfully capture. To be able to photograph wine is one reason why food
photographers can command such high fees.
Have you ever tried photographing champagne to put in your FB photos? Have
you then noticed that there’s never enough bubbles to make it look
sparkling. Fortunately, the champagne (or Prosecco or Method Champenoise)
can be coaxed into producing as many bubbles as you might want. All you have
to do is drop some sugar into the glass. Only a few crystals are enough to
give the almost flat glass of champers that “just opened” fizz look to it.
For a catalogue shot you also have to bring the light in from the back of
the glass, as well as from the front. This takes two flash heads, or at
least one head and a reflector, which is a little beyond your average
While still on wines, if you try and shoot a bottle of red wine, it will
come out thick dark maroon or even black. Amateurs who have tried
photographing red wines will be nodding their heads in agreement. So what
does the pro shooter do? Well he has a couple of courses of action. First is
to dilute the red wine by about 50 percent and secondly place a silver foil
reflector on the back of the bottle. You can light it from the front and the
silver foil reflects the light back into the wine.
So what happens to the half bottle of red that was removed to dilute the
wine? The photographer has it with dinner.
As far as how to take a better “selfie” is concerned, about all I can give
you is to try and keep your arm out of the picture. The arm holding the
camera being closer to the camera is exaggerated in size, so a “selfie”
stick is much better. And if you are not happy with the result, don’t take
the same one again and a again. The additional shots will look as bad as the
first one. Move your body, move from where you were standing, and try and
get better lighting. Turn the flash off, if you can, is a very good idea as
you will get shadow to add more interest.
So even though I very rarely see good photographs in the social media, it is
possible to get better images. Just try next time, rather than banging off
27 shots all the same, and all boring as well.
Take the camera off “Auto” and use A and S!
Photo by Henri Cartier Bresson.
We are in the ‘automatic’ era. We drive automatic cars. We have
automatic gate openers and remote controls on our television
sets, so we don’t even have to get out of the armchair. And when
it comes to photography, slip the camera into “auto” mode and
you ‘automatically’ get reasonable photographs. Note: I did not
say “great” photographs, but if you want to get great photos
take the camera off the ‘auto’ mode.
Now the camera manufacturers say that this is not necessary.
Today’s cameras are smarter than we are, etc etc etc. You can
twirl a knob, or select from a pull-down menu, the “portrait”
mode or the “action” mode, and let the camera do the rest. That
is all very fine, but you will get the portrait, or the action,
that the camera ‘thinks’ is right. Not what you necessarily
want, and there’s a big difference. You have a brain – it
In photography, there are really only two main variables, and
after you understand them and what they do to your photograph it
becomes very simple.
The first thing to remember is that the correct exposure is
merely a function of how large is the opening of the lens and
how much time the shutter is left open to let the light in.
That’s almost it – that is photography in a nutshell. No
gimmicks or fancy numbers – a straight out relationship – how
open and for how long – this is known as the “Exposure”.
Now I will presume, for the sake of this exercise that you have
an SLR and use it in the automatic, or “Programme” mode. Let’s
go straight to the “mode” menu and look up “A” or “Aperture
Priority”. In this mode it means that you can choose the
aperture yourself, and the camera will work out the shutter
speed that corresponds to the correct exposure. Still simple.
So let’s play with this facility to give you some better
pictures. Select “A” and then look at the lens barrel and you
will see the Aperture numbers, generally between 2.8 and 22. To
give you a subject with sharp focus in the foreground and a
gently blurred background, you need to select an aperture around
f2.8 to f4. Hey! It was that simple. To get those “professional”
portrait shots, with the model’s face clear and the background
all wishy washy, just use the A mode and select an Aperture
around f4 to f 2.8.
Now, if on the other hand you want everything to be nice and
sharp, all the way from the front to the back, like in a
landscape picture, then again select A and set the lens barrel
aperture on f16 to f22. The camera will again do the rest for
you. Again – it’s that easy!
Flushed with creative success, let’s carry on. The next mode to
try is the “S” setting. In this one, you set the shutter speed
and the camera automatically selects the correct aperture to
suit. Take a look at the shutter speed dial or indicator and you
will see a series of numbers that represent fractions of a
First, let’s “stop the action” by using a fast shutter speed.
For most action shots, select S and set the shutter speed on
around 1/500th to 1/1000th and you will get a shot where you
have stopped the runner in mid stride, or the car half way
through the corner or the person bungee jumping. Yes, it’s that
So this week you have learned that to get a good portrait shot
use the A mode and set the aperture on f4 to f2.8 and forget
about the rest of the technical stuff. Just compose a nice
photograph and go from there. (Do remember to walk in close
however!) To get a great landscape shot, again use the A mode
and set the aperture at f16 to f22.
Finally, to stop the action, choose the S mode and around
1/500th of a second and you won’t get blurry action shots ever
Certainly there are other aspects to good photography, but
master the A and S modes and you will produce better pictures.
The perfect portrait
Some of the most common photographs taken by the amateur
photographer are portraits. By ‘portraits’, I am ignoring the
abomination called ‘selfies’, using hand-held phone cameras and
in my view, the domain of the vain.
Portraits should also be photographs that are planned for, with
both the subject and the photographer understanding just what is
being aimed for. Good portraits can be achieved by any amateur
photographer, with a ‘real’ camera (even a point and shooter),
but you need to follow some directions. Here are 10 tips for
Tip 1. Walk in closer. It is the single most important tip to
better portraits. Even with a point and shoot compact, walk in
till the subject fills the viewfinder from the chest up. Talk to
the subject and click when they least expect it to get a
Tip 2. If you have a camera with a “portrait mode” then use it!
This is one area where I and the manufacturers agree. The
portrait mode with modern cameras does work. It maximizes the
settings to produce the most pleasing effect, gets rid of
backgrounds and sets the exposure to allow for the best skin
tones. Use it.
Tip 3. Use the flash in daylight. If you have a fancy camera
with “Fill Flash” facility, then turn it on and you will see the
final images you get have now got sparkle and punch. If you have
not, but have a flash you mount on top of the camera, use it,
and turn it to around f2.8 to f4. This will not overpower the
daylight, but will give catch-lights in the eyes.
Tip 4. Watch for horrible backgrounds. It is so easy to
concentrate so hard on the subject that you do not really “see”
the background, which can be confusing and cluttered. Try to
keep the subject as far away as possible from all backgrounds
and if you have manual mode or aperture priority mode, then set
the aperture f stop at around f 4. Also get the subject to
stand/sit at an angle to you – not straight on, and only then to
look at the camera.
Tip 5. Shoot in the early mornings or in the late afternoons. At
both of these times the light is more flattering than it is at
mid-day, when you will get harsh shadows cutting across the face
from the nose.
Tip 6. If you have a zoom or a telephoto lens then now is the
time! Using around 135 mm, this is called by some people the
ideal ‘portrait lens’, then you again flatter the face and help
throw the background out of focus – particularly if you have
followed Tip number 4.
Tip 7. Turn the camera on its side so you have the viewfinder in
portrait mode as well. People are taller than they are wide, so
it makes sense to have the maximum dimension vertically, doesn’t
it! By all means, take a couple of shots in the so called
horizontal “landscape” view, but the majority should be
Tip 8. The nose is not the central point of any portrait. In the
center of the viewfinder there is generally a small area which
you can use for getting the focus point. After you have set the
focus, move the central point off the person’s nose! The more
likely central point will be the mouth or chin.
Tip 9. Super trick! Use a gold colored reflector to give the
skin that healthy glow. Just glue some gold wrapping paper to a
piece of cardboard about 1 meter square and get an assistant to
move it so it reflects “golden glow” into the subject. This is
particularly flattering for pale skinned folk.
Tip 10. With older subjects stretch a piece of nylon stocking
tightly across the lens. This will act as a soft focus filter
and smooth out many of the wrinkles we like to pretend we
Follow those ten simple hints and you will soon be taking shots
as good as, if not better than, the local neighborhood portrait
photographer. After all, he’s only following those 10 steps as
well with a mottled background and a couple of flash heads.
Does GoPro make you a Pro as well?
The big mover in cameras has to be the GoPro series. Motorcycle riders
have started to sprout these strange appendages on the top of their
helmets, and no even semi-serious adventure exponent would be seen dead
without one. Rather than tell people about the one that got away, you
can now show the thrilling struggle of man versus fish!
Called the Hero cameras, these have been brilliantly marketed, as well
as being brilliant at what they are supposed to do. The unspoken promise
being that with one of these you too will be a hero. And what’s more on
land or underwater.
The top Hero in the range is the Hero 4 Black that shoots 4K video at
30fps, 2.7K/50fps and 1080p/120fps video, 12 MP photos up to 30 frames
per second and features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Protune for
photos and video and is waterproof to 40 meters. You will pay somewhere
between 16,000 and 18,000 THB.
The Hero 4 Silver shoots 1080p video up to 60fps and 720p/120fps video,
12MP photos up to 30 frames per second. It features built-in Wi-Fi and
Bluetooth, and Protune for photos and video and is also waterproof to 40
m. This one is around 14,000 THB.
However, GoPro has just released another camera, to slot in below the 4
Black and Silver range. This is the GoPro Hero Session and being a
simpler action camera is aimed at those who want to shoot without fuss.
The Hero Session is a cube-shaped camera about the size of a Hero 4’s
lens. It is 40 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller than the rest of
the Hero 4 range.
With GoPro still leading the action camera market, the Session is a sign
it is trying to appeal to all users.
The Session is all about simplicity and doesn’t need a case to be
waterproof. It also features the durability of other GoPro cameras, and
it is waterproof up to 10 meters of water.
To show the ease of using, press one button and the camera starts
recording video. Hold the button down for three seconds as you turn it
on, and it shoots photos.
As opposed to its bigger brothers, the Session does not shoot 4K video
but does capture HD footage at 1440p and 1080p, as well as 720p in
slow-mo action clips.
As a still camera, it shoots 8 megapixel images at 10 frames per second
in burst mode, or in time-lapse mode of up to 0.5 frame per second.
However, to change its settings, you must link it to a GoPro Smart
Remote or a device using the GoPro app over a wi-fi connection.
If you mount the GoPro Hero Session upside down for space reasons, the
electronics with reverse this for you automatically.
This small, cubed-shaped camera offers a quick and easy point-and-shoot
For GoPro addicts looking for new angles, the size of the Hero Session
opens new ways to carry and mount cameras. All the amazing shots you see
taken from the front of racing cars can be achieved with this camera. It
is also small enough to be carried by animals without causing distress.
GoPro chief executive Nick Woodman, one of the initiators of the action
camera market after filming waves while surfing in Australia, says, “We
think of GoPro as a movement. It’s a movement that’s enabling the
highest quality user-generated content that the world has ever seen,
blurring the lines with professionally produced content.
“It’s a movement that is driving higher levels of social engagement and
social activity than ever before.
“And it’s a movement so powerful that it’s also helping launch new
platforms, platforms that could be how we all communicate in the future
like virtual reality.
“It’s actually not that easy to make something that works as well and
reliably as a GoPro. We have made a breakthrough and we have made
something that is worth turning into reality.
“The Hero Session is so small, so convenient, so versatile, and we’re so
stoked to what it’s going to add to the whole GoPro movement.”
I believe this will be the start of a world-wide boom in recording
action footage, bringing YouTube with it!