by Harry Flashman
Pensioner and photography both start with P!
The popular notion of being retired is that the retiree has an idyllic life,
doing what he (or she) pleases and all day to do it in. Unfortunately, if
you ask a pensioner about life, you will get a different perspective. Being
a pensioner is all about getting old.
Clinical psychologists have found that one of the quickest ways to get old
is to retire and have nothing to do. There is a limit to how many times you
can sit on the beach, or play golf. No matter how much of a beach fanatic
you are, or an avid golfer, there can certainly be too much of a good thing.
This is why I ask you to consider photography.
As one gets older, physical activity is important – just getting out of the
house or condo is an enjoyment in itself. This is where photography is so
good. Give yourself a small photo project and out you go and illustrate it.
Photography is also an ideal pastime for our seniors, because it is
something that can be picked up and put down at will, it is not too
physically demanding, and modern cameras can assist in the areas where age
has taken some toll. And the end result is something that can give you great
joy, be that award winning sunsets or just pictures of the grandchildren.
To play golf you need golf clubs. To play photography you need a camera. Get
one with autofocus (AF). There are many reasons for this, but since sharp
focus is necessary for a good final print, let the camera do it for you,
when sharpness in vision is something that becomes very problematical as you
get older. Provided you can point the camera in the right direction, the
camera will do the rest.
Most AF ones are a little more expensive, and work by moving the lens in and
out electronically to focus on the subject in the middle of the viewfinder,
just as if you were doing it yourself. They do this quickly and accurately
and will usually give an audible ‘beep’, or a green light in the viewfinder
to let you know the focus has been set. Do not be afraid to try the new
advanced cameras, they make life easier, so just use them to your advantage.
Stiff fingers? Today’s digital cameras do away with film and any of the
problems associated with it. Forget about threading film through rollers.
Nothing could be simpler or more fool proof than digital.
Zoom lenses also save you having to go the distance. Is it just too much of
a hassle these days to walk up to distant objects to get close-up details?
Then a zoom lens will do it for you. With a zoom lens it is no problem at
all to get a close-up, a wide angle and a distant shot from the same camera
position. Maybe an autofocus digital compact camera with an inbuilt zoom
lens is just the camera for you. Just push a button to make the zoom bring
the subject closer or farther away.
As we get older, we are also more prone to the shakes. Today’s digital
cameras can even compensate for the tremor, with anti-shake technology. This
makes photography for seniors even easier.
Today’s camera manufacturers have taken the tears out of flash too. Most new
cameras have their own in-built flash which comes on when the light levels
are too low, will set their own flash power and give you perfectly lit
indoor night shots every time.
So there you have it, retirees. There are cameras available now which can
get you into photography! If once you had the ‘photographic eye’, then that
ability is still there. All you have to do is get the equipment to let you
use and enjoy it again. Look for suitable AF digital compacts with built in
zoom, anti-shake technology and auto flash.
Pricewise you are looking at spending something over B. 10,000. There are
plenty of choices in the marketplace. Something from the major brands such
as Nikon, Canon, Olympus. A hint to the family around birthday should
My daughter’s first ‘real’ camera has been
purchased for her birthday, and she is now ready
to take ‘real’ photographs and not just
‘selfies’. The first step towards being the
photographer she imagines herself becoming! She
repeats “Fill the frame” as a mantra, and that
is a good start.
While not the most expensive camera, it was also
not cheap. It was not the kind of outlay you
would want to do too often.
So here are some tips from me on how to look
after your photographic investments, which can
run into big money! My favourite lens was a 40
mm Hasselblad wide angle, with a huge bit of
glass on the front, that would cost in Thailand
over 200,000 baht. That alone makes it worth
However, even humble point and shooters will
benefit from being looked after. Any camera will
give you better and more reliable service, and
not let you down when you are about to take the
one shot that will make you millions of baht in
the international news market.
The first concept is to understand just what it
is that will go towards destroying your camera.
Usually these are simply, dust and grit,
moisture and condensation, battery acid and
being dropped. Looking after your investment is
then a simple case of countering the above
Being dropped never benefits any camera, so the
first procedure in the camera shop was to fit a
neck strap and get her used to wearing it. Even
if not around the neck, the strap should be
wrapped around the wrist. The strap is like the
safety belt in your car.
Moisture and condensation are the easiest ones
to counter, but the dampness comes from more
than just being caught out in the rain. Thailand
is a hot and humid environment. How many times
have you taken your camera outside and found you
could not see through the viewfinder because it
had steamed up? That is condensation. The best
answer here is to keep small sachets of silica
gel in your camera bag. When the silica gel
changes colour you can pop them back in the
micro-wave and rejuvenate them very easily. Many
bottles of tablets come with perfect little
sachets in the top of them too.
There will also be times when you get caught in
the rain, or you may even want to get rain
shots. The camera body is reasonably water
proof, but you should carefully wipe the outside
of the case dry afterwards, and especially blow
air around the lens barrel and the lens mount.
Dust and grit is the ever present danger in the
environment. How many times have you got a small
piece of grit in your eye? Often, I will wager.
Small particles such as that can be very bad for
the lens focussing and zooming mechanics too.
There is really no secret here!
That leads us to the even more serious type of
corrosion – leakage from batteries. Just about
every camera in the world these days has a
battery, even if it is just to drive the needle
on the light meter. There is a moral here, isn’t
In fact, there are two morals to be learned. The
first is to check batteries every three months,
I would suggest, rather than just waiting for
the batteries to fail or become erratic. And
secondly, you get what you pay for – so buy the
best you can. It will serve you well in the end.
Acid leakage (and even acid fumes) from a
battery can totally ruin a modern camera,
getting into the electronics so that it never
works properly again. The answer here is to
discard the batteries every twelve months, even
if they seem to be fine, and if you are not
going to be using the camera for an extended
period, then take the batteries out altogether.
Finally, keep your camera in a soft case that
can absorb some shocks. Not the silly leather or
plastic thing it came in. If you have not got
one – then go out and buy one today. They are
very inexpensive, especially when compared to
the cost of the camera! Protect your investment!
Leap Year Brides
Do you have a professional-looking DSLR? If you have, then be
warned – you will be asked to photograph a friend’s wedding this
Easter (because the wedding studios are expensive). On Leap
Years the bride can do the proposals, so be warned again. If you
can, find a dying relative that you have to visit that weekend.
However, if you like flying in the face of danger, keep reading.
One very experienced wedding photographer even went so far as to
call the craft, “Hours of controlled patience, punctuated by
moments of sheer terror and intense bursts of creativity.”
However, to make it less of a terror, here are some guides to
photographing someone else’s ‘big day’. And it is because it is
someone’s big day that it becomes so important to get it right.
Wedding photographers talk about the three P’s – preparation,
photography and presentation. My idea of wedding photography and
the three P’s are pain, persecution and panic.
However, looking at the accepted “preparation”. This is very
important and will make your job so much easier. This would
include going to the church, temple, registry office or whatever
before the great day to see just what you can use as
backgrounds, and where you can position the happy couple, and
their parents, and their bridesmaids, and their friends, and the
neighborhood dogs and everything else that seems to be in
wedding photographs. Just by doing this, you at least will know
‘where’ you can take some photographs.
Preparation also covers talking to the couple and finding out
just what they expect to be taken. As pointed out at the
beginning, when you take on photographing a wedding, you are
taking on a huge responsibility.
Also part of the preparation is to make sure your cameras are
functioning properly, so test them before the big day. Note too,
that I said ‘cameras’ because there is nothing more soul
destroying than having a camera fail during an event such as
this. Preferably, the second camera will be the same as the
first, so that your lenses will be interchangeable. Yes, lenses!
You will need a wide angle (say 28 mm), a standard 50 mm and a
short telephoto (say 135 mm). The wide angle is needed for the
group shots and the standard for couples and the tele for “head
hunting”, looking for those great candid shots.
Now comes the actual “Photography” itself. You have already
written down all the shots that the couple want, make a list so
you can cross them off as you go. One series of shots should be
taken at the bride’s residence, and this includes the
bridesmaids. Many of these will be indoor shots, so do take your
flash and bounce the light off the ceiling to soften the effect
of the flash burst. Make sure you have new batteries, and a
spare memory card!
Now you have to scoot to the church or wherever the actual
ceremony will be, so you can get the bride outside, ready to
walk down the aisle with her father, or whomever is giving the
With those shots out of the way, now you can go and get the
ceremony and I do not recommend that you use the flash for these
photographs. For some religions, this is a solemn time and flash
bursts are very intrusive.
Cross off the rest of the shots as you cover them – the signing
of the register, emerging arm in arm, confetti or rice and then
the formal shots of the wedding groups.
After all this, everyone is dying for a beer and head for the
reception. However, you must wait a little while yet. There is
the ceremony of cutting the cake to be done yet, and photographs
of the guests enjoying themselves (other than you).
Having crossed every shot off the list, make for the drinks
department. You’ve earned it. After all, you have probably taken
around 200 shots by now!
The final ‘P’ is presentation. Photograph albums are
inexpensive, so put the best shots from each series into a
couple of albums and present them to the couple as your gift.
And as your final job, make the mental resolve to never
photograph another wedding as long as you live!
Where is the hero?
My daughter continues to enjoy taking photographs (as well as the usual
selfies). For her, with me rather handy, this means very personal one on
one tuition. It also means that I can see immediately what has to be
done to improve her skills.
One catch-cry of mine has been “fill the frame” and finally she is
starting to understand what is meant by this. The shots which
precipitated this were a gammon steak and egg. The first shot showed the
table, coffee cups and serviettes. Input by the photographer – nil.
After admonishment to fill the frame, the second shot was much better,
but there were still extraneous items along with the gammon plate. The
third shot concentrated on the gammon plate and very little else, and
daughter could see immediately that she had taken a photograph with some
impact. It had a “hero” and that was the gammon steak and egg.
For impact, she finally got there. The “hero” was the gammon almost
filling the frame, leaving nothing to distract from the reason for the
The next item she was shown was that her hero deserved more than one
shot. By moving the platter with the gammon, she could keep it filling
the frame, but getting different views, and different light and shadows
from the café window.
All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The best
known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, where you 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. Look where the egg is positioned!
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
With some cameras where you can make a grid pattern on the viewing
screen from the menu, such as on the DMC FZ series Lumix, it makes it
even easier to position the subject. With the vertical lines, you will
soon see if you have the subject vertical, and for horizontal subjects
incorporating the horizon, you can also make sure it is level. This
composition is something you can do in the camera as you take the shot.
It does mean that you look critically through the viewfinder and
position the subject correctly.
Now, that is not the only item you should think about with your
photographs, though it is obviously a good start! The next item is
cropping, where you get 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 rubbish bin, which never does anything for
landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is too small – because you didn’t
walk several meters closer!
While post-production cropping to fill the frame can be done, it is
better to do it in the camera beforehand. You can do this with
post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a good Photoshop style program,
where you actually do just the same as we used to with two L-shaped
pieces of card, but with electronics. Call up your photo on the computer
screen and with the cropping tools you can move them around until you
feel you have the correct (most pleasing) crop. And fill the frame.
So this week the messages were simple. Remember to fill the frame to
give your photos more impact, so walk in closer. Remember to position
the subject at the intersection of thirds, and learn how to visualize
the crop for dramatic effect and try to do this in the camera
viewfinder. That will improve your shots immeasurably.