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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Update September 30, 2016

It’s not color – it’s dark composition

Very recently I made ‘color’ the subject of this column. Of course, it was only when I went to choose the photo to go with it that I remembered this article is on a black and white page of this newspaper. My preconceived idea that I could contrast a yellow door with a blue wall just went out the window.

Of course, since we discovered how to reproduce color photographically, we automatically use it, and if of the artistic bent will contrast one with another. And that is what brings me to this week’s article. In the black and white (actually black and grey) medium, just how do you contrast separate items, if they are all grey? How? You do it with shadows and composition.

Taking shadows first, it is shadow that gives two dimensional images the appearance of three dimensional (3D). Without shadow, any curved object looks flat (even Dolly Parton)!

The accepted definition of photography is “painting with light” as what you are doing is using light in all its directions and intensities to illuminate your subject, before you record it in electronic pixels. However, that is really only part of the art of photography. The other part is to paint with dark, which we call ‘shadow’.

Take a sphere, for example. If you blast the spherical subject with so much light that there is no shadow, the final result has no shape, no depth, no 3D effect and looks like a circle, not a ball.

Take the outdoors situation, for example. We always suggest to the novices that they should photograph early in the morning or late in the afternoon. Do not shoot in the middle of the day. The reason for this is because in the early mornings and late afternoons the lighting (from the sun) is directional, skimming along the top of the earth’s surface, and makes for plenty of shadow. In the middle of the day, however, the sun is directly overhead and does not make for pleasant shadows, and even landscapes will look flat and featureless. Look at this famous landscape done by Ansel Adams and you will see what I mean. For a photographer, the middle of the day is purely for siestas, not for photography. It does mean that you get up at some dreadful early hours in the morning to drive to the location, but the end result is worth it.

Now to the most basic of composition rules. All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, which by following, I guarantee will improve your final photographs.

Here is the Rule of Thirds to follow. Position the subject of the photo 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.

By just placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. 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 it. Simple!

With some cameras where you can make a grid pattern on the viewing screen from the menu, which 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. You can actually draw the two vertical and two horizontal lines on the viewing screen with felt tip pen. It does improve the final shots, believe me. And what is more, 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!

Update September 24, 2016

True Colors!

Have you noticed that Pattaya has become a blaze of color recently? Shop houses stand side by side in bright greens, blues, yellow and all that is missing is indigo violet and we have a rainbow.

There are many theories as to why this new profusion of color, but I think it is a reaction to the fact that all we had before was red and yellow, and on opposite sides of the street too.

What you have to remember is that your vision gives you colors made up of pigment and reflections. To get “true” colors you have to remove reflection, and we have a natty filter to do just that. It’s called a Polarizer.

I have written about polarizing filters before and they are different from most other filters in the fact that they are made up of not one element, but 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.

What you have to understand now is that these filters remove reflections from any surface. If you cannot see through some normally transparent windows, it 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 your 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 the leaves 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.

Try taking the multi-hued shop houses. The colors will all be stronger. 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 commodity that is everywhere in Thailand, polarizers 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.

Update September 17, 2016

Advertising photography

Sooner or later anyone with a known interest in photography will be asked to photograph something for a brochure or similar. This is a very specialized field of photography, and if you say, “Yes” to a prospective client (usually a family friend) then you have to come up with the goods.

As opposed to portraiture or weddings, you have to come up with images that will satisfy the client – and that can be very difficult, to almost near impossible at times.

This means that you have to really put in the hours of work, before you even pick up the camera. Just what does the client want? What is the emotion that the photograph will produce, to assist the client to sell the goods? It is no good producing a sterile, clinical shot if the client wants something warm and fuzzy.

If the client uses an Art Director, then that person’s job is to guide you in the direction that is needed, but it is more likely that there will be none as Art Directors don’t risk hiring unknown, amateur photographers!

So with no Art Director, get all friendly and cozy with the client. It is imperative that you know what he wants. You have to get into his mind, and remember he is paying the bills and as the old adage goes, “He who pays the piper calls the tune!”

But having said that, there are clients who ask the impossible. If you have one of these as prospective clients, then gracefully turn down the project, or you will find yourself paying for re-shoots, and if models are required, you are paying for their time too. You can make good money with advertising photography, but you can lose big money as well.

Having now understood what the client wants and expects, you now have to see the product you will photograph. It is amazing just how many clients will give you their product looking secondhand and not new. Jewelry with scratches on the items, clothing with creases, large objects that need two people to move it – the list goes on, but I am sure you can see the picture now. I was once asked to photograph a watch that had scratches on the case, where the client then claimed I caused them, and anyway I must have insurance. Where clothing is concerned, you will need an iron, guaranteed!

Next problem is where do you take these shots? Outside or in the studio? And you probably haven’t got a studio! This is where the photographer becomes an illusionist. When it is small objects to photograph then you can make a corner of a small room into a “studio”. A few sheets of Styrofoam to place around the items, tungsten lights from a hardware store to illuminate the items, some black velvet from your local Indian tailor and your studio is made. You will also need some blue gels to convert the tungsten lighting into a better Kelvin temperature.

If it is an outside shoot then you have to find the location, then you have to see how the sunlight direction will affect the shot, and at what time!

Now for the models, known in the business as the “talent”, who probably don’t have much talent as models, and an overinflated idea of their own worth as a photographic model. There’s much more to being a successful model than short shorts and a push-up bra. And in the situation where you are photographing an object, the model is to attract your eye to the object, not to the model’s cleavage. The ‘hero’ is the object, not the model.

Fortunately, with today’s digital cameras you can preview your shots instantly. This is the time to look at the shot with a very critical eye. Enlarge all areas and look for a stray hair, scratches, nasty shadows, wrong reflections, or anything that can take away the photo from what you are being paid to shoot.

When you feel you have the shots necessary then have them printed. Large. The client will not congratulate you squinting at the LCD on the back of your camera.

You are a commercial image-maker. All the best.

Update September 10, 2016

Looking at the neighborhood

One of the local expat photographers takes amazing photographs of plant and animal life, and all in his own garden!

There is also the current situation where it is considered part of progress that some buildings are being knocked down to make way for another expressway, even though some may not agree. However, no matter which way your opinion slants, the subject ‘progress’ makes for a great photo project, even though you have sympathy for those folk being evicted.

The great thing about this project is that not only does it make you ‘work’ to produce a particular image, but the final images are eminently marketable. Even if taken with a point and shooter. Interested? You could even make money out of this!

All you have to do with this project is to show the progress that has occurred in any area – particularly the region that you live in – For example, Bangkok, Chiang Mai or Pattaya suburbs! The concept is simple – contrast a “now” shot with what was there before. Sounds too easy? Well, it is not quite that easy! There are a couple of snags.

Probably one of the hardest aspects is getting the “before” or “then” shots in the first place. This will take some scrounging around, particularly in this region of the world, where not much stock was placed upon the particular moment in time. Buddhism tells you that all of life is change – so why get excited about recording the moment.

However, one of the greatest sources of the “then” images are postcards – particularly tourist market postcards. These were generally of reasonable photographic quality and also depicted the subject from a good angle.

So where are they? This is where you begin asking all the Thai people you know if they have any old photographs or postcards. After that, look in second hand shops, the dusty back corners of old Chinese chemist shops, funny old stores in Naklua – anywhere. But you do have to get these images first. Remember that you can always have photographs scanned these days and you do not need the negatives. So all you have to do is borrow, if you cannot beg or steal! Do not worry about image quality, because no one expects old photographs to be pristine, in fact a little bit of fading and staining looks good in the final result, particularly the sepia tints.

Next part of the project is to find the original area that was photographed and work out where the shot was taken from. The concept is to get as close as possible to the original, so that the difference between the “then” and “now” is just the progress. This does mean looking critically at the original and working out if it was taken by a wide angle lens or whatever. If the shot is more than 50 years old, it was probably taken with a “normal” 50 mm lens, so try that first and look critically through your own viewfinder, while looking at the original as the reference.

Of course, some will be easy, like Pattaya Bay taken from the Naval Lookout at the top of Pratamnak hill. Others, like the Nipa Lodge will be harder – just what angle did they take it from? It is also good to try and duplicate the time of day. Late afternoon or morning? Look at the shadows and you can work it out!

Now having done all your homework, go out and re-take all those shots from yesteryear. Again, be very critical with yourself. You do want to be able to see that this is a re-take of the original. Near enough is not good enough. Some pictures may be too confusing if there are no landmarks and you will have to reject some of them, unfortunately, but you will score some gold!

These new ones are worth having printed as at least 10"x8" and mounted side by side with the faded originals. This is what makes them so interesting (and so saleable)! Believe me, these will sell! Everyone wants to know “life as it was” – it’s up to you to do it first in your neck of the woods (before they cut down the trees)!

Update September 3, 2016

45 Days!

The junior photographer in the family has a Casio camera, purchased new five months ago. It suits her and the ability to rotate the LCD screen does make it easy for the ubiquitous “selfie”. Not the most expensive on the shelf, but at 16,000 baht not the cheapest either.

The ability to move the LCD to look either way, fore and aft, was a selling feature for the budding photographer, and the results she was getting were enough for her to get a byline for some of her pictures.

However, like all things, mechanical and otherwise, the camera LCD malfunctioned and became unhinged. As the camera had a 12 months warranty, we took it back to the shop where it was purchased, and where the salesman looked sage and declared, “Hinge broken.” Yes, we could see that, but now can we get it fixed. “Have to send Bangkok” and how many times do you hear that? Asking how long it would take to repair the broken hinge we were told “45 days”.

To be honest, I was quite incredulous at that. Six and a half weeks! Bangkok is only two hours from Pattaya, so even allowing one day for transport up and one day for transport down, that leaves another 43 days.

The website does not offer any advice regarding length of time for repairs in Thailand, but did indicate that in the UK, “We can usually repair most products within 7-10 working days, subject to the availability of parts and the condition of the product. If you are making a warranty claim, you will need to provide a copy of a receipt or alternative physical proof of purchase indicating a recognized retailer.”

Since I believe that Thai technicians are as good as anywhere else in the world, all the paper warfare was in place and correct, then why the difference between here, now down to 43 days and there, tops at 10 days?

I wonder if any of the readers has come across similar problems with slow service/repairs? Please let me know, before I go further. In the meantime junior photographer is counting off the 45 days.

Filters made easy

However, before rushing out to get filters, you do need to standardize your equipment. The first thing I did when I unpacked my new camera was to check the size of the lens diameter. It was 55 mm. The second thing I did was to rake through my collection of stepping rings to screw on to the end of the lens to bring the diameter up to 62 mm.

This was to make the new camera lens compatible with my box of photographic filters. The vast majority of these are 62 mm, which is a good size as it is larger than most 35 mm camera lenses, so will not produce a vignetting effect if you stack a few of them together, such as a polarizer and a +1 magnifier.

So here’s what I think you should have. The first one is called simply a Skylight 1A. This filter does make the sky a little deeper, but the main reason to have it is as a sacrificial piece of glass, so that your good, expensive lens does not get scratched. Skylight 1A’s are very cheap.

Now to use any filter. If you have an SLR (single lens reflex) camera or a digital, you actually look through the lens when you are focussing and What You See Is What You Get (the WYSIWYG principle, mentioned many times in this column).

To get the wedding portrait look, get a center spot (soft focus) filter. Set your lens on the largest aperture you can (around f5.6 or f4 is fine). Focus on your subject, keeping the face in the center of the screen. Now bring up your magic soft focus filter and place it over the lens and what do you see? The face is in focus and the edges are all blurred! Try some different f stops as well (it makes the center spot larger or smaller) and record the details in your trusty notebook!

And of course, hope that nothing breaks in your new camera! Remember the 45 day rule.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

It’s not color – it’s dark composition

True Colors!

Advertising photography

Looking at the neighborhood

45 Days!