Make Chiangmai Mail | your Homepage | Bookmark

Chiangmai 's First English Language Newspaper

Pattaya Blatt | Pattaya Mail | Pattaya Mail TV

 
 

SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman

 

Update September 26, 2015

Missing Macro is a mistake

Photography is such a vast subject, there is always something you can try any weekend, even if mobility is a problem for some of the older photographers. One branch of the art is in ‘Macro’ photography.
The simple name for macro photography is ‘close-up’ photography and allows you to get much more detailed images of subject matters that are very small. Obviously one does not need macro facility to photograph an elephant, but to get the elephant’s eye and nothing else, a macro capability in your camera would make life easier (even if not for the elephant).
Look at the icons on the top of your newly acquired digital SLR camera? Does it have a thing that looks like a tulip? If so, you are on your way to macro photography.
There are, however, many pitfalls in macro photography, and some are financial rather than photographic. If you want a car that does 200 km/h, it is easier to start with a Ferrari than it is to start with a small Toyota and then modify the engine. However, the Ferrari is a lot more expensive. Likewise, true macro lenses are more expensive than ordinary ones modified to have macro capabilities.
Having said all that, it is still possible to get close-up photographs with some fairly simple equipment, with the easiest being called ‘close-up lenses’ that screw on to the front of your existing lens. These usually have numbers like +1, +2, +3. The +number refers to the diopter measurement of the lens and the higher the number, the greater the magnification possible. The diopter measurement is the reciprocal of the focal length of the lens measured in meters. Therefore a +1 diopter lens is 1 meter focal length, a +2 is 500 mm and a +4 is 250mm. These add-on lenses are available in a variety of filter sizes and qualities. If you don’t wish to get heavily involved then a set of uncoated close-up lenses to fit your favorite lens is the way to go. Coated close-up lenses cost more and will yield a better image, and two element close-up lenses (much more expensive) will give better results but you need to be a dedicated macro man to justify the cost of these lenses.
The effect of these close-up lenses increases as you add them together. The +1 and the +2 screwed together will yield +3. However, you come across another problem when you start ganging them up – the focal length gets smaller and the light that gets into the camera becomes less.
Understand that in all macro photography as the lens gets closer to the subject and the image gets larger on the electronic “film”, the light reaching it is lessened. Also the depth of field gets very shallow and to combat this, very small apertures are called for which lessens the light to the sensor even more. Both these things in combination mean that normal hand held exposures are usually out of the question. A tripod is needed for steadiness plus flash is needed in nearly every circumstance to give decent illumination. However, as you strive to get closer to the subject, there may not be enough distance to get the flash to light the subject. A ring flash can help here, but that is another expense.
There is another way around this and that is to use a light box. Now these can be purchased from specialized camera suppliers and do cost money, but you can make your own light box very inexpensively. The secret is a large cardboard box and some tracing paper, but go to this website and it is all explained http://www. strobist.blogspot.com/2006/07/how-to-diy-10-macro-photo-studio.html.
So there you have it. If you have a macro lens in the camera, then experiment with how close you can get to your subject. If you haven’t, then try screwing the close-up lens on the front. I find the +3 the best for my camera gear. The biggest problems are short depth of field and lighting. However, none of these are insurmountable.
Try it today, after you have built the light box! Lots of luck!


Update September 20, 2015

Getting great shots

Good shots, and even great shots, can appear any time. If you are not going to miss the chance of a lifetime, the first tip is to make sure you have a camera with you, or, and I struggle to say it – a high quality smartphone!
However, how many times have you thought to yourself, “Damn! I wish I had the camera right now!” This is after the shot of a lifetime just happened before your eyes. A shot that could have kept you in champagne for the next three months.
Now great shots can be shots that just somehow epitomize life in Thailand, for example. It could be a katoey posturing on Beach Road, or even the buffalo with two birds standing on its back. Always remember that you are living in a land that your countrymen save up for 12 months just to get here for a holiday. You (we) are lucky and should not let photographic opportunities pass us by.
So this week, let’s look at a few specific examples of “how to” when you are looking to record those “once in a lifetime” images.
Every city, town or village anywhere has its parades. And there are plenty of them here. Now, have you ever tried to record the parade? It is actually very difficult. The naked eye sees a long procession of musicians, marchers and the like as they pass by, but the camera sees only one slice of the action about 1/60th of a second long!
There is only one secret word for parades, and that’s ‘height’. You have to get a high viewpoint to successfully record the action, and preferably use a long lens. By shooting down the oncoming procession you will get several squads of musicians, marchers, etc., all on the one frame. By using the telephoto lens you “compress” the action and get more in the one photographic frame. Honestly, if you can’t get up high don’t take parades. You will be disappointed with all ground level shots.
All tourist towns have their nightlife, and we have the odd nocturnal events and places. Lots of lights, neon signs and flood-lit fountains are the norm for this type of photograph. The secret here is a Wide angle lens with an aperture down around f 1.8. This is the time to set your digital to 800 ASA, or 400 ASA at least. The other secret is not to use your flash. Now I fully realize that this is photography after dark, but the whole concept is to let the attractions provide the illumination, rather than blasting it with your flash burst. If you try and take neon light using flash you will totally wash out the neon and again get very disappointing results.
One of the more challenging travel situations is the summer beach holiday. It is very difficult to photograph the beach and not end up with a washed out look in the final photographs. The secret here is a Polarizing filter and the time of day you shoot. This is where the Polarizer works so well, especially with the glare from the sand. The Polarizer will also give you a blue sky to contrast the yellow sand. The time of day is also just as important. Shoot early morning or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are skimming across the beach and the tracks and ridges in the sand will show up as shadows.
Some of you will be exponents of the wilderness type holiday, trekking and camping and taking in the vast grandeur of breathtaking natural wonders. The secret here is a wide angle lens, look for low viewpoints and set the ASA on 50 or 100, plus a tripod if you can. The idea here is to use the lens at around f16 or f22 to maximize the depth of field. This in turn and the slow ASA setting, will require longer exposures – hence the tripod. Shooting in this way will give you maximum detail in the shot, maximum content and visual theater. Finally, shoot early morning or late afternoon as well to get the dramatic shadow effects and really give the impact to the Grand Canyon!


Update September 12, 2015

Absorbing and reflecting

Information columns such as these are designed to give you something to absorb, and then after application, to reflect on the results. However, nothing quite so philosophical - I want to show you how some very simple reflectors and absorbers can be used to give your photos some sparkle and mystery.
Remembering that all of photography is really just “painting with light”, let us look at manipulating the available light using very simple reflectors and absorbers, and both cost next to nothing! Yet the difference these can make to your photos is remarkable.
I was given a silver and a gold reflector, very natty, fold away, store easily, carry easily reflectors. These particular ones even come in their own little zip-up bags to keep them warm and dry. They unfold to make a one and a half metre diameter circular reflector. Both are white on one side, but on the other, one is gold and the other is silver. However, they are very simple to make.
But first, why do you need a reflector? If they are so damn good, why aren’t we all rushing around with silver and gold reflectors tucked under our arms? The simple answer is that we get too complacent and we end up saying that the results we get are “good enough”, or we were just taking snapshots anyway. However, if you really want photos that leap off the page, think about reflectors!
The first thing a gold reflector can do for your photographs is to give skin tones that “golden glow” that just makes portraits look that much more pleasing.
So what else does a reflector do for your photographs? Well it allows you to photograph “contre jour” as they say in the classics. That is having the light behind your subject (generally the sun) and then you can throw some reflected light back into the subject’s face. If you do not do this, the usual result is something closer to a silhouette than a portrait – a bright halo around the subject which then becomes so dark in the face that you cannot distinguish the features. But with the reflector, you can push the light back in and pick up the details.
So that was the gold reflector – what about the silver one? Well, if you want “clean” and bright light on a subject anywhere, the silver reflector will do that for you. Best to use this type of reflector when photographing silver jewelry or even motor cars, for example. Mind you, if you are photographing gold jewelry you must use a gold reflector or otherwise the gold necklaces look silver in the photo.
Now, here’s how you make your own. Get some “foam core” – that lightweight plastic material that is often used to make signs (any sign makers will have some). Around one meter square is OK. Now go to the newsagents and buy some gold wrapping paper and some silver wrapping paper. Cover one side of the “foam core” with silver and the other side with the gold paper and you have lightweight, portable (you can fold them in half easily) silver and gold reflectors. And it has cost you less than a couple of hundred baht.
Now “absorbers”. To give your shots some shadow, or even an air of mystery, it is good to manipulate the amount of shadow in your portraits. You do this by placing something on the side of the subject away from the light source, to absorb (and not let light be reflected back into the subject) and allow a natural fall-off of light. The best absorber is black velvet. You bring the black velvet absorber as close as you can to the subject, without it coming into the viewfinder. It is that simple.
To make this absorber, use another one meter square sheet of foam core and cover one side with black velvet material. You pin or clip the material to it and that is it.
You will really be amazed by the way the use of a reflector and absorber can put a different atmosphere into your photographs – especially portraits. Try taking the same shot using different reflectors and note the difference for future use.


Update September 4, 2015

My favorite photographer

If you are interested in photography (and I presume you must be if you are reading this column) then you probably have bought a few photography books, and by now you have a favorite photographer.
You do have a favorite photographer, don’t you? No? Well, you should! Everyone should have a photographer whose work stimulates you to greater heights. For me, I have many whose work I enjoy – Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton and Jeff Dunas all rate high, but one photographer who inspires me not only with his images, but also with his words, was the late Larry Dale Gordon.
Now when I say that your favorite photographer’s work should inspire you, that does not mean that you should rush out and slavishly copy their work. Don’t laugh, I have seen it done so many times in camera club level photographers who have been most upset when I mark them down for copying, rather than being creative.
When I say “inspire” I mean that you look at the work and say to yourself, “How did he/she do that?” You should look at the end result and work out how you can use that technique, to produce your own shot. Half the fun in photography is working out “how to” with the other half being the enjoyment of looking at the final image.
So why does Larry Dale Gordon inspire me? There are many reasons. First off, he is a self trained photographer, who believes that the way to learn is to do it. Let me quote you from one of his books, “I learned photography through experience; by putting film through the camera, peering through the lenses, trial and error, and pondering every facet of light. It’s the only way. If you think there is another way, or a faster way, write a book telling how and you will make considerably more money than by being a photographer.” These are very wise words. Cut them out and stick them on your bathroom mirror and read them every day! In fact, renowned Thai photographer, Tom Chuawiwat, used to tell me that professional photography was the only job where the client paid you to learn!
I’ve tried to see just what it is about Larry Dale Gordon’s pictures that appeal so much to me and I’ve come up with two basic concepts. Simplicity and Color.
Simplicity makes any photograph more readily understandable. Your photos should also have a strong, dominant color to attract the eye to the photo.
So look at the photo I have chosen here. A sunset, which can be deduced by the orange color, and a kangaroo on the beach which places the photo in Australia. This is a classic genre which can be duplicated by anyone with a camera. So saying, all you have to do is nip down to Pattaya Beach late afternoon with your pet ‘roo’, or if you want to make it Thailand, with your pet elephant!
Let’s not make slavish copies! But instead, let’s look at how we can accomplish the effect of a monochromatic picture and silhouette. To make it easier for you, pick your favorite beach or riverside at a time when the sun can be behind your subject – be that people or things. Now you need a tricky filter, called a “tobacco” filter. On that bright sunny day, with the light behind your subject(s) hold this brown/orange filter over the lens and pop the shutter. Stick it on Auto if you will, the camera will do the rest. Even experiment with different colors to get strangely wonderful or weirdly dreadful results.
The only point to really remember is to get the light behind the subject. You will be able to get this “pseudo sunset” look any time after three in the afternoon. Try it and amaze your friends with a classic silhouette!
Gene Butera one of Larry’s favorite Creative Directors, says it all, “Larry discovered long ago that he has two consuming drives in life; travel and photography. He also realized that by combining the two, he could create an ideal career. Some thirty years and 70 countries later, Larry shoots exotic subjects with equal enthusiasm and creativity.”
And Thailand has exotica galore!


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Missing Macro is a mistake

Getting great shots

Absorbing and reflecting

My favorite photographer