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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman

 

Update February 27, 2016

DOF simplified

My daughter who has shown an interest in photography has come up against DOF, the contraction for Depth Of Field, so this is for you and daughter.
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 to fill the frame!
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 electronics do not.
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.
For those of you with SLR’s, especially the older manual focus SLR’s, you will even find a series of marks on the focusing ring of the lens to indicate the Depth of Field that is possible with that lens.
Take a look at this week’s photograph, and look at the background. It has been made into a soft blur. How did I change this DOF sharpness? Answer, with a flick of the wrist!
You see, for each focal length of lens, the DOF possible is altered by the Aperture. The 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 focused on an object 2 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 focused at the same point 2 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 focused 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.
These optical laws hold good for all cameras, be they film or digital. Master DOF this weekend.


Update February 20, 2016

Trials and Tribulations

What is professional photography really like? Is everyone a new Richard Avedon with a retinue of assistants and conferring with art directors? Or do you imagine it is all pressures, deadlines and excitement?
In actual fact, it is all of the above and more, as much depends on what branch of professional photography you want to be in. There are very few “generalists” in pro photography these days, though all professionals have to be able to be flexible.
One of the most difficult branches is food photography. This is so specialized that there are people called food stylists who make the food look appetizing and even place the food on the plates.
Dedicated food photographers have a kitchen in their studios so that the food stylist can do their job of making great looking food, which in most instances is not edible. With dry ice being used to simulate steam, oil colors to give meat that nice pink color and shaving cream instead of real cream. There is legislation in some countries to stop these practices, but where are the inspectors?
If you are looking at photographs in a menu and everything is green, that is because the photographer shot under neon lights. And look at the wine photos – the reds come out looking black, but you have to know how to get over that problem. Food photography is filled with tricks and it can take a day to get the definitive shot. I once took a day and a half to shoot a leg of lamb, and that didn’t include catching and killing! Photographing six ice cream cones sitting in a row was another nightmare with melting ice cream everywhere.
Many photographers live by shooting brochures. The job comes from an art director who gives the photographer sketches of what they want and how it should look. Unfortunately, sometimes it is impossible to reproduce art work as images.
One job I did took one week of constant shooting with the slides processed every night. This was for a Japanese company which was going to build a five star hotel on Queensland’s Gold Coast. This was more like a book than a brochure, and the catch was that the hotel was not yet built, it was a vacant lot.
First item was to place the architect’s model of the proposed hotel on the vacant lot. To do this we had to hire a helicopter and shoot the vacant lot from a known height and the sun’s direction. Next was the photograph of the architect’s model in the studio and scaling it so that it fitted in with all the other hotels surrounding the vacant lot. The lighting had to mimic the sun’s lighting with the direction as seen from the helicopter. My calculations as to the angle of the sun and height of the model were spot on, and I was rather pleased with myself over that one.
The next day’s shooting called for the models sipping champagne on the terrace in the late afternoon. This would have been very easy if it hadn’t been raining! Fortunately I had a couple of tungsten stage lights which makes everything look as having an orange tinge and simulate the afternoon’s rays.
Why didn’t we just wait till the next day, which could be better weather? Simply because the “talent” (the fancy name for models) had been hired for one day only and there were penalty clauses if we couldn’t complete that shoot within that day.
We managed to complete the shoot on time and the book was printed and bound and sent to the Japanese company’s agents in Australia. They however, were unable to raise enough interest in the project and did not pay.
Fortunately, the art director had previous dealings with the company and had taken out insurance to cover production debts, so we did receive our money, but it was such a shame as the book was a work of art.
Of course, pro photographers look ahead to when they will retire. Placing images in a photo library was the usual practice, but with now everything an electronic image it is too hard to track down your own photos.
But No! I don’t do weddings.


Update February 13, 2016

Bringing a 12 year old up to speed

The eyes have it - remember the Rule of Thirds.

My 12 year old daughter had expressed an interest in photography. Her only prior forays into the realms of Daguerre were taking ‘selfies’ with her phone camera. So when she said she was interested in doing more I encouraged her.
We found an old camera at home, which had been abandoned a Samsung ST70, a compact with a mini-zoom and several modes inbuilt.
We spent one afternoon with her trying to take shots that were pleasing to her, and the first basic mistakes soon became obvious. Composition and softness of the final image were what we had to get over first.
All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, which by following it, made sure she improved her final photographs. Mind you, this rule does expect that you have moved close enough to your subject, to fill the frame! Tiny people against vast expanses of background cannot be saved by any rule, other than the one that goes “Walk several meters closer!” Teaching her to walk closer, or even by simply using the zoom finally got the message across.
For those of you who are not aware of the Rule of Thirds, here it is. Position the subject of the photo (that’s the hero) at the intersection of one third from the top or bottom of the viewfinder and one third in from the right or left side of the viewfinder.
By just placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats called this the “Rule of Thirds”, but even just try putting the subjects off-center. While still on the Rule of Thirds, don’t have the horizon slap bang in the center of the picture either. Put it one third from the top or one third from the bottom. As a rough rule of thumb, if the sky is interesting put more of it in the picture, but if it is featureless blue or grey include less of it. Simple! If you also start looking critically at movies, you will see the Rule of Thirds being used with close ups.
The other problem with the ‘softness’ we found by using the internal zoom when looking at the shot on the LCD screen on the back of the camera. If it did not hold its sharpness to X 4 magnification, then it was deemed ‘soft’. There were several reasons, despite the image stabilization features in the camera. One was the photographer (the daughter) waving the index finger in the air to attract the attention of the subject. All of the image was soft caused by camera movement. Another reason for overall softness was the photographer not waiting till the camera indicated that the AutoFocus was set before depressing the shutter button. The other was the background sharp and the subject soft, where the focusing was done on the background resulting in a soft foreground.
From that simple beginning, we moved to post production editing, with simple cropping, getting rid of non-important items from the final photo, by literally slicing them away. These are items which do not add anything to the photograph you have in your mind’s eye. This can be extraneous details, such as a dog relieving himself against a tree, which never does anything for landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is too small – because she didn’t walk several meters closer (or use the zoom)!
You can do all this with post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a good Photoshop style program, with electronic crop lines. Call up your print on the computer screen and with the cropping tools you can move them around until you feel you have the correct (most pleasing) crop. However, always work on a copy, so you have the original safely tucked away in your photo folders. With judicious cropping you can also move the hero inside the frame to get closer to the rule of thirds.
So the first lesson was to remember to fill the frame to give your photos more impact. Remember to position the subject at the intersection of thirds, and learn how to crop for dramatic effect. That will improve her shots immeasurably.


Update February 6, 2016

Lartigue – the man who shot what pleased him!

Photo by Jacques-Henri Lartigue.

Studying famous photographers from the past can help you understand the art of photography, even in this electronic age.
Jacques-Henri Lartigue was the first photographer to show that equipment comes second to imagination. He was a great individualist taking photographs of “…everything which pleases me, everything I am keen on, which delights or amazes me. The rest I let pass.” Famous lensman Richard Avedon called Lartigue “The most deceptively simple and penetrating photographer in the history of that art.” I can only agree.
Lartigue was born into an upper middle class family in Courbevoie, near Paris. He was a child prodigy, who began to photograph in 1901 at age seven when he received his first camera from his father, who was also an amateur photographer. This camera was no auto everything point and shoot, but a large 13 x 18 cm box on a wooden tripod. He is reported as having said, “Now I will be able to make portraits of everything, everything. I know very well that many, many things are going to ask me to have their pictures taken, and I will take them all!” And he did, keeping a diary illustrated with sketches, in which he recorded the details of each shot. Just the same as I encourage you all to do today.
The amazing aspect of J-H’s photography was that he was able to show movement in his images. Remember that no one was there to teach this young boy, and the cameras, lenses and films were not fast enough to allow him the luxury of fast shutter speeds, yet he could find that split instant in time to stop the action. He would capture the subject, mid-frame, as if posed in mid air waiting for the shutter to click. Truly remarkable stuff for a young boy. And he was young. J-H was born in 1894 and has been resident in the Great Darkroom in the Sky since 1986, yet his influence keeps on.
Fortunately for us, he took plenty of photographs, but the enormity of his collection was not discovered till 1963, by which stage he had over 200,000 photographs catalogued in albums! On his 90th birthday he was still snapping away and had a major exhibition in London. He also donated his photograph collection to the French nation. In addition to his black and white photography, Lartigue made several short films in 1913 and 1914.
What J-H Lartigue gave us, however, in addition to all those photographs was twofold. The first is called ‘Anticipation’. As a photographer wanting to record action subjects, you have to anticipate where the action is, and get yourself ready to record the height of the action. Be that tennis, soccer or golf, the great action shots are at the zenith. It is a lot easier now, because these days even compact cameras have shutter speeds faster than poor old J-H’s first camera, and the top of the line SLR’s have shutter speeds as fast as 1/4000th of a second combined with motor drives exposing multiple frames per second. This makes action photography today much easier than at the turn of the century. However, there is still the need for “anticipation”, Lartigue’s great gift.
The second gift from Lartigue is his diary. He recorded all the pertinent details so that he could reproduce the same concepts later. Photography is always a learning process, and the quickest way to learn is to have records so that you can see what went wrong, or how you got it right!
So let’s have a crack at some “action pix” this week. Take a motorcycle – it leans into the corner and you can see that it was in motion. Or even better, riding through a puddle, with the spray coming up from the wheels. People jumping convey movement too, or skipping rope, water skiing, running, swimming or diving, like Lartigue’s shot of the tennis player, or other physical activities. Anticipate the action and get that action shot.
I am not saying it is easy, but it is well worth the practice. You can set the camera on Auto – but anticipate for a great shot.


HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

DOF simplified

Trials and Tribulations

Bringing a 12 year old up to speed

Lartigue – the man who shot what pleased him!