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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Update July 30, 2016

The Golden Glow of Glamor

Have you ever reflected on glamor shots? Really reflected? If you have, you will have found that the one factor that stands out in professional glamor shots is what I call the ‘Golden Glow’. That is what emanates from those wonderful photographs of people positively ‘glowing’ with health and vitality. Sickeningly brimming full of goodness, and golden hues just radiating from their every pore. Well, I am sorry to tell you, but like so many things in photography, it is a fraud! A photographic ‘trick’ but one that you can use to your own advantage. A trick that will cost you about 100 baht for the equipment and three minutes to master!

However, all photographic tricks still have to conform to the basic rules of physics, in particular the rules of light. Light travels in straight lines and will bounce off any non-translucent object. And that, quite simply, is the scientific basis to this trick.

The ‘golden glow’ that comes from the subject in the photo is really just reflected golden light bounced back on to the subject. People shots benefit from this warm healthy look and when you use the technique properly, and the results can be spectacular.

Now in the photographic sense, the natural golden glow comes in the late afternoon, with the sun getting low on the horizon. There are good scientific reasons why this is so, but here is not the place to discuss them. Just accept the fact that late afternoon sun is the “warm” time. Take pictures at this time of day and you will get that golden glow – but our photographic trick will allow you to get that warm golden glow at any time of day – and control it as well, something you cannot do so easily with the sun as your light source! The celestial light technician can hide behind clouds at any time.

What you have to do is build a light reflector that reflects that warm color. Go to the newsagent and get some gold foil paper. The sort of wrapping paper you use for wedding gifts. It may be embossed or patterned, and in fact it is better if it is, but must be gold in color. Glue the gold paper on to a sheet of cardboard or polystyrene sheet approximately one meter square. You do not have to be deathly accurate or neat. If the surface gets a little ‘scrunched up’ that is fine too. Your capital outlay is probably around 50-100 baht. Not bad, so far!

Now you have a reflector, which if you play with it near a window for example, will shine “gold” on to any subject. You are now ready to impart that golden glow.

The best photos for this exercise are people shots taken outdoors, with the sun behind the subject. This we call ‘back lit’. You will find that the subject’s hair becomes very bright around the edges, almost like a ‘halo’ effect.

Now for the addition of the golden glow. To do this, you position your reflector to shine some sunlight back towards the subject (that is why the sun should be behind the subject). Prop the reflector in the best position to give the degree of golden glow you want (I generally just prop it up with the camera bag, or you can get an assistant to hold it for you) and look through the viewfinder. See what a difference this makes? The ugly chin shadow has gone as the light is coming upwards, and the subject now looks brilliantly glowing and healthy. The one meter square reflector will also impart catch-lights to eyes to make them sparkle as well. The end photo has shiny hair, bright eyes and a golden complexion radiating warmth. A fabulous picture.

Now, the downside! It is more difficult to get the correct exposure setting in the backlit situation. If your camera has a Backlight button, then use it. If not, walk in close to the subject so that the persons face fills the frame, and take your exposure reading from there. Use the exposure lock, or just memorize the readings and put them in on manual mode. It is worth it.

Update July 23, 2016

Making copying an art form

If you are interested in photography (and I presume you must be if you are reading this column) then you probably have bought a few photography books, and by now you have a favorite photographer.

You do have a favorite photographer, don’t you? No? Well, you should! Everyone should have a photographer whose work stimulates you to greater heights. For me, I have many whose work I enjoy – Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton and Jeff Dunas all rate high, but one photographer who inspires me not only with his images, but also with his words, is Larry Dale Gordon.

I have many photographic books in my personal library including the irreplaceable “Shooting your way to a million dollars” by Richard Sharabura, and others including Al Satterwhite and Michael Busselle. However, Larry Dale Gordon has his own special magic.

Now when I say that your favorite photographer’s work should inspire you, that does not mean that you should rush out and slavishly copy their work. Don’t laugh, I have seen it done so many times in camera club level photographers who have been most upset when I mark them down for copying, rather than being creative.

When I say “inspire” I mean that you look at the work and say to yourself, “How did he/she do that?” You should look at the end result and work out how you can use that technique, to produce your own shot. Half the fun in photography is working out “how to” with the other half being the enjoyment of looking at the final image.

So why does Larry Dale Gordon inspire me? There are many reasons. First off, he is a self trained photographer, who believes that the way to learn is to do it. Let me quote you from one of his books, “I learned photography through experience; by putting film through the camera, peering through the lenses, trial and error, and pondering every facet of light. It’s the only way. If you think there is another way, or a faster way, write a book telling how and you will make considerably more money than by being a photographer.” These are very wise words. Cut them out and stick them on your bathroom mirror and read them every day! In fact, a renowned Thai photographer, Tom Chuawiwat, used to tell me that professional photography was the only job where the client paid you to learn!

I’ve tried to see just what it is about Larry Dale Gordon’s pictures that appeal so much to me and I’ve come up with two basic concepts. Simplicity and Color.

Simplicity makes any photograph more readily understandable. Your photos should also have a strong, dominant color to attract the eye to the photo.

So look at the photo I have chosen here. A sunset, which can be deduced by the orange color, and a couple holding hands. This is a classic genre which can be duplicated by anyone with a camera. So saying, all you have to do is nip down to Pattaya Beach late afternoon with your couple, and if you want it to be “Thailand” then incorporate an elephant or two. However, let’s not make slavish copies! But instead, let’s look at how we can accomplish the effect of a monochromatic picture and silhouette. This can actually be done any time of day, but to make it easier for you, pick your favorite beach or riverside at a time when the sun can be behind your subject – be that people or things. Now you need a tricky filter, called a “tobacco” filter. On that bright sunny day, with the light behind your subject(s) hold this brown/orange filter over the lens and pop the shutter. Stick it on Auto if you will, the camera will do the rest. Even experiment with different colors to get strangely wonderful or weirdly dreadful results. In other words, you are using the same technique, not producing copies.

The only point to really remember is to get the light behind the subject. You will be able to get this “pseudo sunset” look any time after three in the afternoon. Try it and amaze your friends with a classic silhouette!

Update July 16, 2016

Stage photography made easy

Ron Bumblefoot Thal who played at The Venue recently.

It would appear to me that every second bar in Pattaya features a live band. These bands are not only made up of musicians, but of people who are also very adept to playing in the half dark or under rotating red and blue lighting. Correct? So how do you capture the stage presence with your camera?

The difference between stage photography and most other branches of photography is trying to get a decent image using diabolical stage lighting. This is quite different from that you normally experience. Stage lighting is generally tungsten based and sharp (what we call “spectral” lighting). Spots for the performers and floods for the background are the hallmarks of the usual stage lighting. The use of spots in particular is used to highlight the principal performer or action on stage.

To compound the problems, the stage has activity on it. Mick Jagger will not stop for you to focus while he is running frenetically from one side of the stage to the other. You cannot quite ask someone in the middle of Othello’s death bed scene to hold that pose and say “Cheese”. Sugar plum fairies can’t stand on their points in toe shoes for best positions.

Successful “stage” photographs manage to retain that “stagey” lighting feel to them, so that instantly you look at the image you know it is of a performer on a stage somewhere. Remember, that as a photographer you are recording events, people and places as they happen. You are a mirror of the world!

The secret of retaining that stage feel is in the lighting. Because it tends to be dark, the first thing the average photographer will do is to bolt on his million megawatt gerblinden flash gun with enough power to light up the far side of the moon. While understandable, I do not endorse that approach to stage photography, but more on that shortly.

Do you use a telephoto lens? No. Because it gets you too far from the light falling on the performers. Again it is the old adage of “walk several meters closer” for this type of photography too. Use a standard lens and get close. If needs be, find which row seat you need to be able to do this. All part of being prepared.

Now in the good old ‘film’ days, you got hold of some “fast” film. 800 ASA if you could, but 400 ASA will do. It was a good all-round film that does not give too “grainy” an image, yet will allow for handholding the camera in the stage situation. However, with today’s digital cameras, I have found you can run the camera on a nominal 200 ASA, or 800 ASA at most. (Anything over this and the digital image begins to break down.)

So, what about lighting? Pro photographer’s tip – leave the flash in the bag, or turn it off at the camera. Now I know it is dark, but you are trying to retain the stage lighting effects. In other words, you are going to let the stage’s lighting technician be the source of light for your photograph.

Now get a seat as close to the action as you can, and then select a lens that can allow you to fill the frame with the performers. Funnily enough, that will be, in most cases, the ‘standard’ 50 mm lens. Shots that show an entire dark stage with two tiny little people spot lit in front are not good stage shots. In fact they are not good anything shots! If all you have is a fixed lens point and shooter, get as close to the front of the stage as you can. You can still get the scene stopping shot – you have just to get very close. OK?

There is also the ‘problem’ with white balance with digital cameras. The constantly changing lights with stage performances means that the digital camera can get very confused, but honestly that is not a problem. You will still get an image that says “stage performance”, which is what you want.

Next time you are getting shots of people on stages, try turning the flash off, and you will see the end result is much better.

Update July 9, 2016

Edible food?

With the advent of the ‘anti-social media’ – just look at the way nobody speaks to each other anymore as they two-thumb messages to people they barely know, and then send pictures of the food they ate to everyone they’ve never met. Suddenly, everyone is a food photographer.

Unfortunately, while restaurateurs may be great cooks, many are not great photographers. And if your photo of pies looks unappetizing and in a strange shade of green, then you will not have people knocking the doors down to try them.

Food photographers are some of the highest paid pro shooters, because it is one of the more difficult areas of photography. 20 years ago I could command $10,000 a day photographing food. There are even people called ‘food stylists’ who prepare the food to make it ‘look’ appetizing, as the taste does not matter in a photograph.

I was given the job to photograph 10 ice cream cones for a restaurant chain. They wanted all 10 of them standing up, all different flavors and looking attractive. This was not a simple assignment.

First off, how do you get 10 ice cream cones to stand upright with no obvious support? The answer was wooden skewers through the back of the cone going into a block of polystyrene covered with black velvet material.

Next you have to check the lighting flash heads and focus, using polystyrene balls on top of the cones, as ice cream melts too quickly. After you get all that set up properly you have to be ready to scoop up the ice creams and place them on the cones without any drips. You need three people to do this as ice cream under studio lighting melts in under 30 seconds.

Having taken one shot, if you are lucky everything will be fine. The reality is that you will need to take the shot several times to get everything correct, all the cones exactly parallel to each other, and no drips on the black velvet. That one shot will take you one day, so you can see why food photography is so expensive.

Have you ever tried photographing champagne in your restaurant? There’s never enough bubbles to make it look sparkling. To get over this, drop some sugar into the glass. Only a few grains are enough to give the almost still glass of champers that “just opened” fizz look to it. For a catalogue shot you also have to bring the light in from the back of the glass, as well as from the front. This takes two flash heads, or at least one head and a reflector.

While still on wines, if you try and shoot a bottle of red wine, it comes out thick dark maroon or even black. Restaurateurs who have tried photographing their wines will agree. So what does the pro shooter do? Well he has a couple of courses of action. First is to dilute the red wine by about 50 percent and secondly place a silver foil reflector on the back of the bottle. So what happens to the half bottle of red that was removed to dilute the wine? The photographer has it with lunch.

This is one area where there are more fraudulent practices than any other. Cold food can be made to look hot by sprinkling chips of dry ice to give “steam” coming off the dish. Not palatable, but it looks OK. Cooking oil gets brushed on slices of the cold meat so that they look moist and succulent.

That is just for starters. In the commercial photography studio, the dedicated food photographer would erect a “light tent” of white polystyrene and bounce electronic flash inside. Brightness is necessary to stop the food looking grey and dull. Lighting is just so important. If you do not have bright sparkly light then potatoes will look grey, and even the china plates look drab and dirty.

And for the chap with the green pies, stop taking the photos under fluorescent light. Take your pies outside and shoot them under sunlight. They will then look as good as they should taste!

I know it is illegal to adulterate food for photographs – but I’m not going to tell.

Update July 2, 2016

DOF made easy

The son of an old friend is doing a photography course at a university overseas, and has come up against DOF, the contraction for Depth Of Field.

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 and 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, however, gives you a slice of time.

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, even digital.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

The Golden Glow of Glamor

Making copying an art form

Stage photography made easy

Edible food?

DOF made easy