Foreground too dark, all detail lost.
Flash lightens the subject and shows details of
The column this week was written by Peter Brock, a very
experienced photographer from the North. The subject matter is one we can
never emphasize too much. Correctly handled, flash can raise any photo from
“ordinary” through to Wow!
Over to Peter:
Many people seem
intimidated about flash photography. There are so many uses for a flash, it
is no wonder almost all professionals have a very good working knowledge.
Photography is all about lighting. There is no reason you cannot begin to
explore this incredible tool. Of the myriad of uses, we are going to cover
just one in this article: fill-flash or flash to balance exposures between a
brightly lit subject and a poorly lit subject close to the camera.
Cameras do not have the
ability to capture everything that may be in a photograph at the proper
exposure. Many people take a photograph on a boat or in a high contrast area
and are surprised that the subject they really wanted is very underexposed,
or that the subject is properly lit, but that the background is terribly
overexposed. Also, since the camera may be trying to average the exposures,
the result may be that neither the subject nor the background is properly
exposed. In these situations, a flash is an invaluable tool.
The goal of this
article is to get you to start playing with your flash and having fun
learning about what it can do. Hopefully you can start and see what it can
do to help get proper balanced exposures. Even iPhones have a flash
function, but one must turn it on manually. It is not a powerful flash, but
it can get you started.
Often people may be
sitting in a shaded area and the outside is spectacular, yet bright. So, the
method for this type of shot is to take a reading for the outside garden or
whatever, and then use flash to fill in the things closes to the camera.
The two shots below
were taken in about three minutes. As you can see, they both have the
backgrounds exposed as desired, but in the first one, the horse is terribly
underexposed. What was done to balance the exposures as in the second image
was simply to keep the aperture and shutter speed set for the outside and
use a little flash to fill in the horse.
The same principal
applies to photographing anything in this kind of setting – set your
aperture and shutter speed (typically 1/250 if you are using flash) for the
background as you want it, and then pop your flash for the objects close to
you. Flash does not carry very far as light falls off very quickly so there
is no reason to fear overexposing the background. A simple way to see this
is to put an object a meter away and another one 4 meters away. Assuming the
one closest to the flash is properly exposed, the one farther away will not
have any difference in light from how it was metered.
One contributing factor
to your ability to use flash is to learn how to shoot manually. The new
cameras these days have such incredible displays and features that you can
learn to set the shutter speed (typically a flash requires a 1/250 or less
sync speed) and then you can adjust the aperture to what you want to get the
exposure you want in the background. One thing to learn is that the shutter
speed controls the ambient and the aperture you choose controls the amount
There are thousands of
pages written about lighting, but with today’s great flashes, there is no
reason not to take advantage of them as tools. Hopefully you will begin to
play with them because they open up whole new worlds to your photography.
Digital Photography? No problems?
The art of, and principles of,
photography are universal and have stood the
test of time. Even though I have called this
week’s column “digital” photography, most of
these refer to all photography, digital or film,
though there are some specific areas which refer
to digital cameras and their capabilities vis a
The first is a general
query, and refers to the placement of the image in the frame. This is where
the ability to instantly review images in digital photography is so good.
Look at the image in the viewer on the back of the camera and see if it can
be improved by different placement of the subject within the frame. Remember
the ‘Rule of Thirds’ (place the main subject one third of the way in from
either side and one third of the way up or down from the top or bottom of
the picture). This is a tried and true rule of thumb and you can try it out
so easily with digital photography. It may feel ‘wrong’ initially not having
the subject slap bang in the middle of the frame, but try it and you will
find you are getting better, more pleasing pictures.
While still on the
subject of the overall image, don’t forget to take each shot two ways – in
the landscape (horizontal) format and the second in the portrait (vertical)
format. Again it sounds strange to shoot a landscape in the vertical format,
but it gives the viewer a different emphasis, which can improve an otherwise
With most digitals
having reasonably good zoom lenses these days, experiment with different
zoom settings and distance from the subject. A ‘tele’ setting can give you a
very different photograph from the ‘wide’ setting taken closer to the
subject. This ability to experiment, at the time of shooting, is one of the
biggest plusses for digital photography.
One of my standard tips
is “Walk several meters closer”, and by doing this you will find that you
can make the subject fill the frame (to even overflowing) and get rid of
horrible distracting backgrounds.
You can also see the
difference in the backgrounds between shooting at f2.8 as opposed to f16.
The larger aperture (f2.8) gives a blurred background, which is exactly what
the ‘portrait’ mode does. Many of the tricky mode settings are just
automatic combining of different apertures/shutter speeds.
Photography is in
reality ‘painting’ with light and you should never forget this. The position
of the subject, relative to the sun (the celestial lighting technician) can
make or break your photos. The amount of contrast in any scene can also
baffle the digital sensors so they will try to balance out the contrasts
which can spoil the effect you were trying to create. If your camera shows
you those dinky little histograms, you can soon see if the light is biased
in any particular direction.
What you have to do is
try and balance bright or dim light. In low light conditions, try using your
camera’s night shooting mode, or lower the ISO to 50 or 100 to get some
detail in low light. Also look at trying to use a tripod, or steady yourself
against a wall or pillar to avoid moving the camera.
In bright light, try
your camera’s Beach or Sunshine mode, or go to manual mode and choose a fast
shutter speed to control the amount of light that comes in.
Be careful if you place
your subject in front of a bright window or they will become a silhouette.
Try placing them off to the side of the window instead, or facing a natural
For better photographs
indoors, turn your flash off. Try to maximize the light by pulling back the
curtains, opening doors and turning on the incandescent lights in the room.
Sure, you will have slower shutter speeds and you may have to look at using
the tripod, or even just holding the camera firmly on a table, but you will
get more natural photographs.
getting the ‘decisive moment’ by partially depressing the shutter button
when taking candid shots. This means you are not waiting for the camera to
focus, before the shutter fires. Or simply set the focus manually.
Teaching children how
to use a camera
I have kept thousands
of photographs I should have thrown away – however, they do have a value.
They teach me what I did wrong, several times over!
Looking over many of
the shots showed me that I took a lot of shots of almost exactly the same
things. One wrong shot was repeated over and over again, as if I expected
God to come and fix the photo for me. He didn’t.
So, if you are
teaching your children to take photographs, get them to take several shots
of the same subject, but vary the approach. Shoot in landscape format and
portrait formats. Shoot from above, low down and central positions. If
possible with your camera, use different lenses or at different extremes of
a zoom lens.
Backgrounds can make
or break a photograph. Teach your children to look at the background as well
as at the subject. Backgrounds do not add to a shot, but they have the
ability to ruin a shot. How many photographs have you made with trees
growing out of people’s heads?
I have a mantra to be
used with novice photographers, and that is “Fill the Frame!” When you sit
down to review the tyro’s work, you can point out to them, and they can see
the difference when the frame is filled. If nothing else, backgrounds cease
to be as important!
Another problem which
shows up with many new photographers is the horizon line being off at a
drunken angle. Teach your children to look critically at the framing of the
shot before squeezing the shutter button. And after, when reviewing the shot
in the LCD, to take it again if the horizon is skewed.
Teach your children
how to hold a camera with two hands and none of this one-handed approach
while waving three fingers with the other and saying “Nung, song, sam”.
Despite anti-shake technology, there is a limit!
For me, one of the
first ‘rules’ for photography is to Move In Closer. Make the subject fill
the frame. In other words, make the subject the obvious ‘hero’ and your
child will get better photos.
Another factor to
teach is that when illustrating a school outing, for example, they will need
to show where they went, as well as their classmates who went on the trip.
This is also a time to take plenty of shots, but not 100 shots all the same!
It is important for
your child to understand that good photographs are ‘made’, they just don’t
happen. To sparkle up their shots, look for points of interest to include in
the viewfinder. Then work out how to really use that point of interest in
the shot. This may require shifting position, but is worthwhile.
No lessons on
photography can go by without mentioning the Rule of Thirds. Placing the
hero at the intersection of thirds can be a little hard for youngsters to
understand, but even to show them to place the subject off-center can be
Provided your child is
a teenager, he or she is old enough to be taught the different ‘modes’
offered by almost all digital cameras these days. This includes ‘Portrait’,
‘Sports’, ‘Flash’ and ‘Fireworks’ and many others. Teach them that modes
just take some of the mechanical/optical steps away from the photographer
and uses the automatic functions in the camera instead. However, the modes
do not signify the only way to take a sports photograph, for example.
Just as their teachers
grade school homework, sit down with your budding photographer and discuss
their images. Get them to understand which shots are good, and which are not
so good, and why.
One of the most
important items for new photographers is a small notebook and pencil. Teach
your children to make notes as to the camera settings they are using for
every shot. Then while going through the shots with them you can see areas
where they can improve over the settings they used to take the shot. But
with no notebook, both of you are flying blind.
Photography is a very
educational pastime for children, and one that they can grow with as they
As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!”
“Be Prepared” has always been the motto of the Boy Scouts
Association, and a concept that they have zealously guarded. In
fact, popular rumor has it that the Association took the
American satirist Tom Lehrer to court after he sang a ditty with
the title Be Prepared. For those of you who missed it, the final
“If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind,
And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined,
Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared.
So what has Tom Lehrer, the Boy Scouts and photography got in
common? Simply, it is the concept of being prepared.
A couple of weeks ago we had some fairly violent storms, enough
to uproot two of the trees in my garden. Winds and lashing rain.
That went on for almost a week. The weather forecast for the
next two months is for rain, rain and more rain.
Now in the wet weather, being prepared means that not only do
you have fresh batteries, a memory card with room for more
shots, but also ensuring that your camera stays dry. This is not
all that easy, unless you have an assistant with a large
umbrella at your disposal.
Being prepared then means having your camera ‘waterproof’. To do
this 100 percent you can buy a Nikonos underwater camera at the
cost of many thousands of baht. These are a wonderful underwater
camera but for this instance – totally impractical, unless you
want to stand at the side of the road in a full wet-suit!
The second way is to purchase a fancy plastic underwater housing
for your own camera. Now these can range in price, depending on
complexity. Built like a perspex box to house your camera, you
can operate all the adjustments from the outside. These are not
cheap either, and the cheapest in the range is literally a
plastic bag with a waterproof opening and a clear plastic
section for the lens. You open it up and literally drop your
camera inside it and seal the bag. These can be purchased from
major photographic outlets and I did spot one in a photo shop
for B. 750.
A third way is a waterproof disposable camera (yes, they do make
them). Good for about three meters, so perfectly suitable for
rainstorms. If you can’t get one of those, then even the
ordinary cheap disposables are a better option than getting your
good camera gear doused. I must admit to having dropped one of
these overboard one day and the boatman jumped and retrieved it
and the final photos were fine – but that was in the days of
film, and not fancy electronics.
But you are left with an even simpler way of making your camera
waterproof. And cheaper. It consists of a couple of plastic
bags, such as you get with every item in 7-Eleven (whether you
want it or not), and a handful of rubber bands.
Do the camera body first, inserting it into the plastic bag, but
leaving a circular hole in the front so you can screw the lens
on afterwards. Some rubber bands and the body is protected.
Now pop the lens into the other plastic bag, making circular
holes at both ends and fixing it in place with a couple of
rubber bands. Use large bags, so there is slack to move the
focusing ring/aperture settings.
Your waterproof camera for less than one baht. Go out and get
wet and shoot! But it is a simple case of being prepared and
just jumping in to get some great shots, don’t stage manage, and
lots of luck! Look out for photo opportunities, even when it is
When it is raining, it really does mean another photographic
opportunity to get different shots. Since we get bright sun for
nine months a year, make the most of the rain! Look at the
detail of the tree picture when it was wet.
It is a simple case of being prepared and then just jumping in
to get the shots. And when you are back indoors dry the camera
carefully as there is always some condensation.