by Harry Flashman
Update September 30, 2016
It’s not color – it’s dark composition
Very recently I
made ‘color’ the
subject of this
course, it was
only when I went
to choose the
photo to go with
it that I
article is on a
black and white
page of this
idea that I
could contrast a
yellow door with
a blue wall just
went out the
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
Now, that is not the only item you
should think about with your photographs, though it is obviously a good
Update September 24, 2016
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
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
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
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
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
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)!
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
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
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
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
And of course, hope that nothing breaks
in your new camera! Remember the 45 day rule.