Looking at (and through) lenses
I met a young chap who
has a keen interest in photography and had a lens on his DSLR, the like of
which I had never seen before. It was made of brass and the focusing was
done using a knurled knob which was the pinion to a rack built underneath
the lens body. It screamed the 1800’s and Josef Petzval.
Josef who? Josef was
the man who perfected a better lens in 1840, allowing 16 times more light
into the camera and exposure times dropped from hours to around 4 to 5
minutes. Portraiture had arrived! The impact of Petzval on photography is
often forgotten, but his improvement to the optical lens had actually much
more of an effect than the slow improvements in the sensitivity of the film
plates of the day.
So, what lens should
you have on the front of your camera? Answer – it all depends what you want
to do with the final images. If they were to be used as enlargements the
size of the proverbial barn doors, then I would not recommend the use of a
zoom, but suggest a prime lens and medium format. However, if the idea was
to end up with some happy snaps, or pix that could be published in the
sports pages of this newspaper, then a zoom lens would be fine.
On my own ‘work’
camera, I have a 35-410 Leica lens, which would also be good to use for
sports photography, where close access to the action is not possible.
However, the danger of long zooms is laziness! Instead of walking in close
to take a shot, the photographer stays where he or she is, and lets the lens
do the walking! One should also remember that the lens is the arbiter of the
final image, not the camera.
Here are some different
photographic situations and lens suggestions. When going for blue skies, the
best lens to use to increase the blue color of the sky is the widest angle
lens you have in the bag. To photograph your newly commissioned “genuine”
Sunflowers by Van Gogh use the telephoto long lens and stand back. And when
photographing rampaging lions I would use the longest lens in the world. A
close up lens to photograph its dental work would not be my idea of fun.
You can select the
correct lens for the job in hand, but unfortunately, that does not mean your
finished photograph will have all the sparkle and sharpness you might want.
There is another factor to be taken into account when selecting the lenses
for your bag – and that is quality.
In actual fact, photo
lenses are excellent examples of the old dictum – you get what you pay for!
For example, I picked up the kit lens that came with a Nikon D50 a couple of
years ago. It was so light it almost floated away in my hand! I then
compared it with any of the Nikon prime lenses in my bag, and there was the
world of difference. There was also a world of difference in the end
It was not the camera
body, it was purely the lens. The light plastic lenses in the locally made
kit lens are not as good as the heavy optical glass lenses in the expensive
prime lenses from the same manufacturer.
To be able to produce a
kit lens at the price, something has to be sacrificed. Optics are just
acceptable and resolution, autofocus accuracy, color fidelity and contrast
are all just good enough. They take acceptable photographs, and that is it.
A photography article I
once read covered where they were testing the new Olympus Zuiko 150 mm f2
lens (300 mm film equivalent). It was a compact 160 mm in length and was
heavy because it contained a lot of glass and mechanicals. The author had
never seen a zoom lens of comparable focal length that was as good. Sadly,
it would only fit an Olympus or a Panasonic/Leica. And it cost over 100,000
baht (then)! Camera extra!
Just as you can’t buy a
Mercedes with Toyota money, you won’t buy the best lens in a bargain
basement kit lens special.
Decorating? Make your own wall art!
Enthusiastic photographers take dozens
of photographs. Most are consigned to a CD (somewhere) or a memory stick
(even easier more somewhere). However, if the photographer applies some
lateral thinking there are still amazing photographs that can be taken by
even the rankest amateur. And you don’t need special filters either. Or
This week’s image is there for your
taking. The next piece of good news is that you also do not need to know
anything about f stops, shutter speeds, zoom lenses, reciprocity failure or
the like. Any film camera will do – even a cheap point and shooter!
This week I will show you how to get a
Wow image, and you do not need any special equipment at all – other than an
‘old’ film camera. Yes, an old film camera, and most photographers have one
in a drawer somewhere.
This week’s column refers very much to
wall “art”. When you hang something on the wall, you want an image with ‘Wow
factor’ that has an immediate effect on people. This procedure will give you
that image with Wow. The end result will be such that people will say for
years “How in heck did you take that? Was it a special kind of filter?”
The first step is to pop down to the
photo shop and buy some slide film. Don’t worry if you haven’t got a
projector, never used slide film before or any other of the excuses. If you
normally used 100 ASA print film then get some 100 ASA slide film. Do not
get the Kodachrome type that you have to send away for processing, just get
ordinary slide film that can be processed here (generally called E6).
OK, load the camera with the slide
film. (It’s just the same to load as print film - for most cameras, put in
the cassette, pull the tail across and shut the back of the camera!)
The final result looks best with
landscapes – include some sky, or seascapes where you include a yacht or
similar close up, or a river scene, and finish the roll of film.
Now take the film back to the shop for
processing and here is an important part. You ask for E6 slide processing,
but do not mount the slides! Leave the slides either as a roll or cut into
strips of six and put in sleeves like your usual print film negatives used
to be. Impress this on the girl behind the counter. You do not want them
mounted. Repeat the instructions!
When you get the slide films back, just
hold them up to the light and select any one shot that you like the look of.
You can choose the image in the shop even. You don’t have to be
Now talk to the girl behind the
counter, saying “I want you to print number X as if this is a negative. I
know it is slide film, but I want you to print a picture, using this slide
as the negative.” It will probably take quite some repeating before the
technician will reluctantly take the job on, with much warnings about it
will not look right, etc. Ignore all warnings, just have faith. While you
are at it, tell them that you do not want the usual small size, but get an
enlargement done straight off. 10" x 8" is sufficient and costs less than
100 baht. The photo shops generally call this size 8R. Repeat your
instructions, tell them you know the color will be wrong and leave them to
You see, what happens with color prints
is that the processing machine recognizes certain shades in the normal
negative and converts that to green for grass, blue for skies, etc., in a
photochemical way. By giving the auto-processor grass that is already green
and skies already blue totally confuses its auto brain (and the girl in the
shop usually) and it will produce a print with the wildest psychedelic
colors you will ever see. Expect orange trees and yellow skies - you can get
anything! It is almost impossible to predict, but the end result will have
that Wow I promised you. Frame it and put on the wall.
This week’s article is for people who
use their camera more than “infrequently”. People like Rodney James Charman
who goes to every function known to mankind, and has a camera attached to
his right arm. Rodders has been very satisfied with the photographic results
of his Fuji, but recently has noticed that the casing was falling apart,
with the leatherette coming off.
The camera was sent to the Thailand
head office who repaired the old camera and gave their reasons for the
deterioration. Heat and sweaty hands.
I too have seen that the rubbery outer
casing on my Panasonic Lumix has “grown” and is coming away from the metal.
Now I have noticed that black leatherette can do this and I had put it down
to the ambient heat, even though the camera lives in one of those small
padded camera bags. Beware the fact that when you step outside your car and
into an air-conditioned room that the lens clouds up. That condensation is
water, and cameras and water don’t mix.
Moisture and condensation are the
easiest ones to counter, but the dampness comes from more than just being
caught out in the rain. Thailand is a hot and humid environment. The best
answer here is to keep small sachets of silica gel in your camera bag. When
the silica gel changes color you can pop them back in the micro-wave and
rejuvenate them very easily. Many bottles of tablets come with perfect
little sachets in the top of them too.
There will also be times when you get
caught in the rain, or you may even want to get rain shots. The camera body
is reasonably water proof, but you should carefully wipe the outside of the
case dry afterwards, and especially blow air around the lens barrel and the
So here are some tips on how to look
after your photographic investments, which can run into big money! The first
concept is to understand just what it is that will go towards destroying
your camera. Usually these are simply dust and grit, moisture and
condensation, battery acid and being dropped. Looking after your investment
is then a simple case of countering the above factors.
Being dropped never benefits any
camera, so the first procedure in the camera shop is to fit a neck strap and
get her used to wearing it. Even if not around the neck, the strap should be
wrapped around the wrist. The strap is like the safety belt in your car.
Dust and grit is the ever present
danger in the environment. How many times have you got a small piece of grit
in your eye? Often, I will wager. Small particles such as that can be very
bad for the lens focusing and zooming mechanics too. There is really no
That leads us to the even more serious
type of corrosion – leakage from batteries. Just about every camera in the
world these days has a battery, even if it is just to drive the needle on
the light meter. There is a moral here, isn’t there?
In fact, there are two morals to be
learned. The first is to check batteries every three months, I would
suggest, rather than just waiting for the batteries to fail or become
erratic. And secondly, you get what you pay for – so buy the best you can.
It will serve you well in the end. Acid leakage (and even acid fumes) from a
battery can totally ruin a modern camera, getting into the electronics so
that it never works properly again. Finally, keep your camera in a soft
padded case that can absorb some shocks. Buy one! They are very inexpensive,
especially when compared to the cost of the camera!
A couple of weeks back I mentioned my
daughter’s five month old Casio, on which the LED screen hinge had broken.
Purchased at Eastbourne in the Central Festival shopping center, there was
initially a bit of a communications breakdown, but that was got over and the
camera was returned to daughter now fixed and the claim was made under
warranty. Thank you Eastbourne. My daughter is once again happily
accompanying me on photographic trips.
You want to be a war zone photographer?
One of the extreme forms of
photojournalism is war zone photography, and one of the extreme exponents of
war photography was a Hungarian Andre Friedmann.
Friedmann’s war zone photos are not
well known, in fact his name has gone into obscurity, but the work of an
American war zone photographer Robert Capa is very well remembered. The
interesting part here is that Friedmann and Capa are one and the same
As a fearless war zone photographer,
Robert Capa has had his pictures held up as shining examples of fearless
photojournalism, while poor old Friedmann has really been forgotten.
Getting to the truth behind this
strange fact brings in a third person, Gerda Pohorylles. Gerda, also known
as Gerda Taro, was Andre Friedmann’s agent in his early days in Europe. It
was Gerda who decided that the market for his pictures would be much larger
if the Europeans thought he was a famous American photographer, and so
Robert Capa was created by her.
Amongst the famous images from Europe
are his shots of the Spanish Civil War, including the photograph of a
Spanish militiaman literally at the split second of impact, with death
recorded for posterity. The decisive moment as Henri Cartier Bresson has
said. The un-named soldier was not the only one to perish in the Spanish
conflict as poor Gerda, who was also a photojournalist, met her end
reporting that conflict.
Hungarian Friedmann, as Robert Capa,
did eventually emigrate to America and was to accompany the American forces
back to Europe in 1944. His photographs of the D-Day invasion are now
War heroes are immensely popular
figures in America and the photographer Robert Capa was the friend of many
film stars, writers and other celebrities such as John Steinbeck and Gary
He covered five wars in all. The
Spanish Civil War, the Chinese-Japanese War, WW II in Europe, the Israeli
War of Independence and the French Indo-China War.
Capa was never one to send back
photographs from well behind the lines. He shot from close to the action.
His photographic rule was, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not
Whilst that saw him getting
award-winning photographs, eventually this need to get close to the action
finally killed him, when he stood on a landmine in May in Vietnam. It is
said that his body was found still clutching his camera and the film inside
was unharmed, but I could not verify this. However, he was a war
photographer to the very end.
As well as his 70,000 photographs, Capa
left the world a photographic legacy in the form of the Magnum Agency. This
huge photo bank was created by Capa, in conjunction with the famous French
photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, and today still represents the more
excellent photographers around. Capa will not be forgotten like Friedmann’s,
old negatives in photographic archives.
Of course, getting close to the subject
is still one of the primary rules of picture taking. “Step several meters
closer” is one of my ways of saying the same thing. When you look through
the viewfinder at the subject, do just that – with the camera to your eye
walk towards the subject and see just how the emphasis changes in the
picture. The closer you get, the more the subject will fill the frame and
dominate the entire photograph. In fact, this weekend take one shot from
where you would normally take it, then take another couple as you walk
closer. Compare the end results and see if Robert Capa (Andre Friedmann and
Harry Flashman) are not correct.
With Pattaya being a tourist resort
city, every day you will see holidaymakers recording their trip of a
lifetime, from about 20 meters away. This includes shots of the hotel and
their friends out front. The end result will be disappointing with tiny
little people in front of the building.
If they would only walk several meters
closer it would be so different. Some days I think I should mark the spots
for the photographers to stand and the subjects to be placed, in the front
of our major hotels.