by Harry Flashman
Weekend photographers who used polarizing filters in the days of film
(remember waiting for the one hour D&P shop for your prints) have strangely
seemed to avoid this filter for their digital cameras, especially DSLR’s.
Whilst there are no polarizer advantages unique to digital cameras, digital
cameras with limited dynamic range can benefit greatly from the selective
suppression of excess contrast. Due to the limited UV sensitivity found in
most digital cameras, polarizers also work well for haze control, especially
with the haze we have in Thailand, thank you Malaysian forests!
Quality polarizing filters are different from most others in the fact that
they are made up of two distinct elements. There is an outer ring that
rotates the outer “glass” relative to the inner element. This increases or
reduces the degree of polarization to allow the photographer an endless
range of polarized effects from one filter.
The principal behind these filters is to remove reflections, and funnily
enough it is reflections that take the color out of color photography. Look
at the surface of a swimming pool, for example – a shiny white,
non-transparent surface. Now look through a polarizing filter and you can
see right down to the tiles on the bottom of the pool. And the people
frolicking in the pool!
What you have to understand now is that these filters remove reflections
from any surface, not just water. The reason you cannot see through some
normally transparent windows is because of reflected images on the surface
of the glass. The reason some tree leaves appear to lose their color is
through reflected light from the sky above.
One of the traps for young photographers is that because you know the grass
is green, you see it as green when you look through the camera viewfinder –
even though it is not truly well saturated green. Look again at the scene in
the viewfinder. The green grass is really a mixture of green and silvery
reflections, dark shadows and pale green shoots. Put the polarizing filter
on the lens and slowly rotate the outer ring. Suddenly the silvery
reflections disappear and become a deep, solid green color. The grass is now
made up of green, dark green and pale green. This green will really leap out
at you and smack you fair between the eyes!
Your next beach scene when taken with a polarizer will really amaze you.
Again, slowly rotate the outer ring on the polarizer. Look critically
through the viewfinder and you will see the sky take on a much deeper color
to highlight the white clouds. Keep turning that outer ring and the sea will
change to a deep blue to green luminescent hue. The end result is at your
command. Try taking the same shot this weekend, but with varying degrees of
polarization and see the differences in the final shots.
So, if the polarizer is such a wonderful bit of gear, why do we not make it
a standard piece of equipment on all cameras? Well, like everything, there
is a downside as well as the upside. In the case of the polarizer it does
its bit of brilliance at the expense of the amount of light that gets
through to the lens. With most polarizing filters you will lose about one
and a half stops of light. What this means is that the shutter speed will be
at least twice as long to record the same scene, or that the aperture will
have to be twice the size. This means that you are more likely to get camera
shake effects and suffer from lack of depth of field when using the
polarizer. However, with shots in the bright sun, a polarizer will bring a
new dimension to your shots.
By the way, when using any filter on your camera, I suggest you use a
stepping ring to increase the diameter of the filter, so there are no
unwanted vignetting effects, especially with wide angle settings. My regular
camera has a 55 mm diameter lens, which I have then stepped up to 62 mm so
takes all my old filters. This is really a good idea and also cuts down the
number of lens adapters you will need. Including the polarizer.
The Dangers in Photography
My assistant saved
the vodka bottle!
Photography is not thought of as a dangerous, or
contact sport. However, photography has its
dangers, and I have been on the receiving end.
Let me state from the outset that the situation
did not involve outraged art directors or
clients unhappy with the billing.
The shoot involved a bottle of vodka and a glass
with ice cubes. Illustrating vodka on the rocks.
To give the impression that the bottle and the
glass were “floating” it was necessary to use a
grey seamless background paper. Seamless
backgrounds are generally about two meters wide
with probably 40 meters in the roll.
The way this works is you run the seamless down
the wall and gently curve it into the flat
surface on which the object to be photographed
is sitting. This means there is no “seam” or
line between the back wall and the floor.
My game plan was to have a sheet of glass on
some low stands, lit from underneath. I cut out
the circle to match the vodka bottle, and
another for the shot glass with the ice cubes in
it. With the light from below, the vodka bottle
would really stand out, as would the glass with
Having experienced ‘melt down’ with ice cubes on
another shoot, I prepared myself this time with
some acrylic ‘ice’ cubes. Now nothing could go
Now the items were put in place on the grey
seamless on top of the glass sheet. The other
end of the roll of seamless was hung on the wall
on hooks already placed there.
Now to get the focus correct we use modeling
lights. These are tungsten globes which allow
the photographer to position the flash heads to
get the lighting needed. With the bottle and
glass being lit from below, this was quite a
tricky exercise which took a little time.
Finally we were ready to pull the first Polaroid
and as I said, “Go!” there was a huge bang and
the montage on the glass of vodka and ice all
toppled into the middle of the set, bringing the
grey seamless with it, pulling the roll off the
hooks on the wall.
The roll looked as if it would hit the camera on
its tripod so I moved to shield it, with the
result that it hit my head, knocking me out and
I fell on the floor hugging the camera to my
And what about my assistant? She saved the vodka
After I came to, we worked out just what had
happened. The tungsten lights under the glass
plate heated it up too much and it cracked
through the middle and taking a V shape, pulling
the seamless paper off the glass and dislodging
the full roll from the wall hooks which landed
on my head.
And yes, we sat down in the shambles of the
studio and drank the vodka. Wouldn’t you?
The picture of this monkey was not
taken by a wildlife photographer, but by the
monkey itself. The world’s first simian selfie.
We can use this selfie, as there is no copyright
for the image, as it has been uploaded to Wiki
Commons. The guy who owned the camera says he
owns the copyright, but Wiki says that, since
the monkey took the photo, technically the
copyright would belong to the monkey. But since
copyright law states that copyrights cannot be
assigned to non-humans, there is no copyright on
it. All very interesting, and in some ways a bit
silly, but that is the way the world is heading.
Just in time?
Every photograph you have ever taken represents a moment in time
recorded for posterity. 1/60th second of your world frozen for
eternity. The famous French photographer Lartigue (1894 – 1986,
was particularly good at this. So was Henri Cartier-Bresson
(1908 – 2004), who coined the phrase “the decisive moment,”
showing photography gives longevity perhaps?
However, in time lapse photography, you record a series of these
“decisive moments”, one after the other, all related to each
other. This kind of photography will show such items as the
development of a flower, or the butterfly emerging from the
chrysalis. You know the sort of thing – all very National
Geographic or Disney World. Any of you who have seen the film “A
Zed and Two Noughts” will also remember those scenes of bodies
decomposing, all done by time lapse photography.
Before we go much further, time lapse should not be confused
with time exposure photography. Time lapse covers multiple
exposures, time exposure is one long exposure.
Time lapse photography is probably the easiest, yet most
spectacular form of wall art that any amateur photographer can
produce. And you do not need fancy equipment. In fact you and
your point and shoot auto-everything compact can do it.
Now while all this style of time lapse photography sounds
expensive and even time consuming, it does not need to be so.
You can produce your own time lapse shots with any old camera.
It just needs a little planning.
There is one photographer who on her birthday takes a photo of
herself in the nude. This she has done for the past 30 something
years and has produced a time lapse record of human aging. This
series of shots has been studied by the medical profession, as
it is the only such record that has been undertaken in the
world. So, if it doesn’t depress you too much, there’s an idea
No, for me, I want more instant gratification than that. I
believe you should pick on something that can allow you to
produce a finished product in the sort of time frame that you
could sit with comfortably (and not lose the photographs taken
previously). So let us look at some items that you could do
easily, with just a point and shooter.
Here is one suggestion – buy a rose (they sell them in all bars
every night) and place it in a vase by the window and shoot it
at lunchtime. Leave it exactly where it is, and take one
lunchtime shot every day for the next week. In that time, it
will have spread its petals, begin to die, the petals will
shrink up, the stem will bend over, the water will have gone
cloudy and other attributes that will only become obvious when
you study the shots. However, you must mount the shots, side by
side, in order from the left. You have just produced a work of
art in a week!
So you haven’t got the stamina for a week. What else can you do?
Well, there is always the record of one object in daylight. Take
six shots, one every two hours, of your house, for example,
starting at 6 a.m. You will see how the different time of day
produces different light, the sun’s movement produces different
shadows and again, by mounting them side by side, in order from
the left, you will have produced a work of art in one day! But
mark the spot where you shoot from, so you have the same items
So you don’t want to spend a day getting your definitive time
lapse shots, so look at taking one hour. In that time you can
document the progress of a snail along a wall, or serial shots
of people walking down the street, or the way your beer glass
empties. Just light it from behind with natural lighting to get
the best effect. Probably repeat this a few times over a Sunday,
with the final shot being a glass of water and two headache
So the choice of subject is totally under your control, and the
way you mount the shots is also your control. Do get them
mounted. Great wall art will ensue.
Photographic equipment made to measure
The son of an old friend of mine is showing a remarkable talent
for photography. However, like all young photographers he is
experimenting in just how he gets his images, and trying at the
same time to come up with something completely original.
To assist all budding photographers, would you believe me when I
say that you can get a very valuable piece of photographic
equipment at the local Indian tailors? Probably not, but you
really can buy something there which is of inestimable value for
special effects in photography.
Indian tailors fit into low budget special effects photography,
and when I say “low budget”, that is exactly what I mean. In my
personal library I have books that claim to do just that and
then go on about the “low budget” equipment required – an
enlarger, registration table with registration pins, copy stand
and photo floods and studio strobes. Hardly what I would call
low budget! However, it is possible to produce many special
effects photos without having to purchase expensive equipment.
The first item you need is a roll of black velvet.
Black velvet is one of the easiest ways to introduce some very
different effects into your photographs. The secrets behind the
use of this material include the facts that it is
non-reflective, it does not affect exposure values when taking
the shot and shadows do not register on it.
Because it does not affect the final image, this makes black
velvet the ideal material to use as a background when you wish
to combine images, or do other special effects using Photoshop
or whatever is your favorite graphics package.
Here are just a few ideas you can do with black velvet. Simple
double exposure in the camera becomes very easy with this
material in the background. Set your camera in the double
exposure mode (or if you have not got one, select “B” for time
exposure). Position the subject to one side of the picture and
pop the flash to take the shot. Now reposition the subject on
the other side of the picture and shoot again. You will have two
perfect shots on a perfectly black background. (For those using
the “B” setting you have to have the room dark and the camera on
a tripod. Cover the lens between taking the shots to stop
extraneous light coming into the camera too, but it is possible
to get excellent double exposures in this way.)
Another use for black velvet is in making pictures of light
trails. These can be very spectacular special effects pictures
and are very easy to make. Stick the black velvet on the ceiling
and suspend a torch from the center. With the camera facing
upwards, twirl the torch and record its movement for ten seconds
or so. You have just made a totally original image!
Photo montage is another simple effect you can produce, using
the black velvet as the background. Here you let your creative
self run riot. You can produce any picture you want, whether it
be yourself standing on top of the Statue of Liberty or three
elephants standing on a beach ball – you are in total control!
With this type of special effect you have to cut out the
elements you want from other pictures, be they prints or
magazine photos or whatever. Cut carefully and then run a black
felt-tip pen around the edges (See why? It will sit on black
velvet!) and you are ready to combine all your subjects.
Put your composition (photo montage) together and positioning
your camera above the montage, look carefully through the
viewfinder. This is how the shot will look, remember (WYSIWYG).
Reposition any items at this stage. Next important item is to
keep the camera back parallel with your background as this will
keep all the elements in focus. Now shoot! Three exposures half
a stop apart.
If you find the direct flash gives you a reflection problem, you
can use household “floodlights”, one each side at 45 degrees to
the surface. You will get a “warm” color cast, but since you are
producing “surreal” photographs, it does not really matter. Have
fun this weekend, after you’ve been to the tailors!