Make Chiangmai Mail | your Homepage | Bookmark

Chiangmai 's First English Language Newspaper

Pattaya Blatt | Pattaya Mail | Pattaya Mail TV


SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Update June 25, 2016

Using flash

Foreground too dark, all detail lost.

Flash lightens the subject and shows details of the horse.

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 of flash.

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.

Update June 18, 2016

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 vis film.

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 ‘ordinary’ shot.

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 light source.

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.

Finally, practice 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.

Update June 11, 2016

Teaching children how to use a camera

Picasso by Irving Penn.

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 enough.

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 mature.

Update June 7, 2016

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 verse included,
“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.
Be prepared!”
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 raining.
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.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Using flash

Digital Photography? No problems?

Teaching children how to use a camera

As the Boy Scouts say, “Be prepared!”