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
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
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”
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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!