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Update December 2016

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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Update December 30, 2016

Better photos in 2017

Photography is a wonderful pastime which can be enjoyed by people of all ages. However, the final results are not always enjoyed by the photographer. Here’s how to change all that!

Nowadays, everyone has a digital camera, point and shoot, bridge or SLR, and the following tips will help you get the most out of your expensive investment.

Of course you should remember that point and shoot varieties have limitations and SLR’s have advantages! The two types of cameras have their different capabilities, and you must stick within the parameters.

The first tip is one that I give to everyone at least once a year. “Walk several meters closer”! More good shots are ruined by having the subject as small dots in some huge background. Make the subject the hero. If the subject(s) are people, then use the telephoto setting and still walk in closer. Fill the frame with the subject and you do not need to worry about the backgrounds. Ever!

Another easy procedure is to use filters to warm up the scene, or polarize and add some intense color to the photo. “But my point and shoot digital doesn’t take filters,” I hear you say. Sure, but the lens is physically so small, it is easy to place something before it. Various colored sunglasses can both polarize and add warmth to the shot. You may want to put the camera on a tripod, while you hold the sunglasses directly over the lens. There are small ‘mini’ tripods you can use, which retail for around B. 200 and do the job admirably. By the way, the polarizing effect is most noticeable when you are shooting “with” the light, rather than into it.

When taking portraits outdoors, turn the flash on as well. The camera will have set itself to expose the darkest part of the scene, so the flash then brightens up the foreground subject.

Another trick to outdoors portraiture is to take some shots with the sun behind the subject to ‘rim light’ the hair with the halo effect. With the sun behind the subject, you also stop the screwed up eyes from the sun’s glare, which is never very photogenic.

You should also explore your camera’s capabilities. After all, you are not wasting expensive film, are you? Try different setting and see what the end result can be, but remember what the settings were in your notebook, if you want to repeat the effect!

One setting that most digital cameras possess is a ‘macro’ mode. Use this to discover new and exciting details in your garden. The macro mode is usually depicted as a flower in your on-screen menu. Remember that to get the best macro shots, look carefully at which part of the subject will be in focus. The depth of field in macro is very shallow, so note where the camera magic eye is indicating the focus point is, relative to the subject, before slowly pressing the shutter release.

Another very simple tip, but one that seems to be forgotten is the placement of the horizon line, which should be one third down from the top of the LCD screen, or one third up from the bottom of the screen. The horizon line (as the name suggests) should also be horizontal!

Another tip is to buy another memory card. The one you will get with the camera is too small. You will then try and put the camera in a mode which lets you take more shots, but this is done at the expense of sharpness. Buy a 4GB card and use the highest resolution you can. This way, if you do have a great shot, you can have it enlarged, and still be sharp. Another advantage of having two cards is you never end up with a full card and another great shot to be taken.

It should be remembered that when you bought this new camera because it had plenty of megapixels, unless you run the camera at its highest resolution, all the expense of the additional megapixel capability has been wasted. You got a 12 megapixel camera, rather than an old 8 megapixel for that reason! So enjoy your camera this festive season.

Update December 24, 2016

What camera and why?

The New Year holidays are almost upon us, and is as good a time as any to review your camera(s) and look ahead to 2017’s photography.

I am often asked “What camera should I buy?” This is not an easy question. The answer is almost as varied as the numbers of cameras available. It is not an easy call. A little window shopping at the camera store will show you cameras priced from 5,000 baht to 100,000 baht. That’s quite a range.

Forgetting price constraints and imagining that you want a camera to take “good” photographs of general interest; you know the sort of things, family, holidays, grandchildren and pets, then there is basically only two choices – Compact or SLR (Single Lens Reflex).

Let’s look at the Compact. This group of cameras has really brought the fun of photography to many people. In most instances, they are small, easy to use – basically ‘point and shoot’. Initially they only had one fixed lens of generally around 35 mm focal length, but these days, the more up-market models have a “zoom” capability covering the 28 mm to 100 mm range.

As far as focusing is concerned, most Compacts these days are fully Autofocus, though there are still some ‘fixed’ focus lenses around on the very cheapest models.

As far as shutter speed range goes, the modern Compacts will go to around 1/400th of a second which is enough to stop most action and they will go as slow as around a 1 to 2 second exposure.

Size does matter, with cameras at least, and most Compacts are small enough to slip into a handbag or pocket which is another decided advantage over the SLR brigade.

On paper then, it looks as if the Compact has everything going for it. Why even consider an SLR? Well, there are some areas where unfortunately, the Compact falls short. The first is the restriction in lenses. A compact will not do you much good if you want to do wildlife photography, with only around 100 mm telephoto ability. You need to be able to get ‘close-up’ without being too close to the man eating tigers.

Another area where the Compact is limited, is in the use of filters. To get those really rich and vibrant colors, it is necessary to use such devices as Polarizing filters – there is no provision for the use of filters with the majority of Compacts.

Most Compacts also come with their own inbuilt flash and while it is adequate for most night or low light level shots, it does have limitations. Adequate is the operative word.

So what about the SLR group? With this type of camera, you actually look through the camera’s lens when composing the shot. What you see is what you get (WYSIWYG). You have a huge range of lenses to choose from, both original equipment and aftermarket brands, to take you from ultra-wide (16 mm) through to huge telephoto lenses of around 600 mm which you can use to photograph the tigers eating, without getting so close to the action you end up on the dinner menu as well.

SLR’s also have greater ranges of shutter speeds, from time exposures of any time you like, through to 1/4000th of a second. The range of aperture settings in the lens are also greater in the SLR group – and, even more importantly, you can dictate the settings you want.

That is where the principle differences lie – with the compact, there is little you can fiddle with to experiment or manipulate – with SLR’s the sky’s the limit.

With all these creative possibilities, why would you ever bother thinking about a Compact? Well, the SLR does have some disadvantages too. Size and weight are two principal ones. An SLR is not the camera you put in your handbag unless you have a very large receptacle and a couple of porters to carry it. By the time you add up two camera bodies, three lenses and a flash you are looking at quite some weight, especially with the semi-pro equipment. One photographer of my acquaintance has to drag a suitcase with him, just to have the best lenses at his disposal.

Set your budget first and go from there.

Update December 17, 2016

Simple things to make better photographs

I once showed my latest batch of photographs to a friend and was told, “You were certainly having a bad hair day then, weren’t you?” Now since I nurture this concept in my mind that I am an artist, criticism of my art can hurt. Like down to the quick. But I am also resilient – in this business you have to be.

However, criticism is the Mother of Excellence, and we should never be afraid of it. This can be difficult when you have the deeply inbuilt conviction that there are only two sides to any discussion, yours and the wrong one! To improve, you have to be able to look critically at your own work and see what you can do to improve your standard. You also have to look at the work of others to see what made their work excellent.

Photography and photographs are judged by the subjective response of the viewer. They either like them or they do not. Successful photographers know how to take photographs that are more pleasing to the majority of viewers than otherwise.

This ability is not something that they were born with – it is something they learned over the years. This skill is yours for the asking. Believe me!

One of the greatest sources of all knowledge is in the written word. There are lots of books published to assist the novice photographer who would like to improve. Never go past a book shop without looking in the photography section.

There are three authors I can really recommend. John Hedgecoe, Michael Freeman and the Kodak “How to take better pictures” series. All of these books are written in plain English, without excessive use of photographic jargon. Sure, you have to know how to recognize your f stop from your elbow, but you should know that already. (If you don’t, write to [email protected] and I will send you the answer confidentially in a plain unmarked brown paper envelope.)

Here is a simple and easy way to change your photographs for the better this weekend. This week’s hot tip – place the subject of the photo to one side rather than dead set plumb in the center. Ideally this should be one third in from either side, but just not putting it in the middle is a start. Now, working on the knowledge that westerners read from left to right – you will find they “read” photographs the same way. So items in the left of the photograph represent the past and items in the right represent the future. Still with me? Take a picture of a car on a road for example. Place the car pointing to the right in the right hand side of the picture and it means the car is going away. All the items in the left of the shot have already been passed and left behind. Conversely, place the car in the left of the shot and the car has not yet reached the items on the right.

Now imagine a photograph of a hitch-hiker with the car shot. With the person on the left and the car on the right, the car has passed, and the hitch-hiker has been unsuccessful and this is presenting a “sad” photograph. With the person on the right and the car approaching from the left, the hitch-hiker is still hopeful. A “happy” shot. Your shots can present emotions.

Can you see just how your photographs can tell a dynamic story, even though one still picture only represents a fleet split second of time? (Probably 1/125th of a second!) Just by offsetting the main subject you have managed to improve and add interest to your photograph.

The books I have recommended will all give you ideas on ‘how to’ take different photographs of objects, but only you can inject the emotions by careful placement of the subject material in the frame.

All these tips, and lots more are available in the bookstore and it makes good sense to buy a couple of decent reference books. In the meantime, place your subjects off-center this weekend and see what you get. Happy snapping.

Update December 10, 2016

DSLR photography

While the photographic world has forsaken film and gone digital, there are some situations where you need a DSLR, and not just a point and shoot (or the dreaded camera phone).

The first 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 settings are just automatic combining of different apertures/shutter speeds, and a general knowledge of first photographic principles will always help your photography too.

Photography is in reality ‘painting’ with dark 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 December 3, 2016

Photography at 1/15th

This week’s column is dedicated to the DSLR users, rather than the compact users and certainly not the camera-phone folk. Don’t get me wrong, compacts and camera-phones will give you images, but not the equipment you can experiment with.

Let’s take the number 15 as an example. The simplest 15 is shutter speed, and almost every camera ever made has a setting called “15” which stands for 1/15th of a second. This is probably the most underused shutter speed ever, and yet it can help make your photographs very much better.

There seems to be an idea in the photographic world that anything slower than 1/60th of a second cannot be hand-held, and you must use a tripod. This is tripe - unless you have some medical condition resulting in uncontrolled shaking spasms.

The reason to use 1/15th is to expand the light range in which you can take shots without flash, such as sunsets for example, or to bring out the background, even when using flash. You know the shots taken at a function where you get someone looking like a startled rabbit in blackness, where if you had used a 1/15th shutter speed you would have got a nice mellow background to soften the picture.

Of course there are a few tricks to hand-holding at the slower shutter speeds. The first is to steady yourself and that can be done easily by leaning against a wall or a pole (preferably not a chrome one attached to a go-go dancer). The second is to hold the camera firmly in both hands, take a breath in and hold it and then gently depress the shutter button. I have even shot at a second by holding the camera firmly pressed down on the back of a chair. Take a few as some will have obvious camera shake, but you will get at least one good one.

Still on the number 15. There is a theoretical f stop which could be called f 15. F stops after all are only a way of measuring the diameter of the aperture inside the lens, to bring it to its simplest terms. As you go through the usual f stops of f 8 to f 11 to f 16, you are actually cutting the light down by one half each time. The f stop scale is also an inverse ratio, as the bigger the number, the smaller the diameter. There is a good mathematical reason for this, but just believe me.

If you really want to get technical, for example, f/16 means that the aperture diameter is equal to the focal length of the lens divided by sixteen; that is, if the camera has an 80 mm lens, all the light that reaches the film passes through a virtual disk known as the ‘entrance pupil’ that is 5 mm (80 mm/16) in diameter. The location of this virtual disk inside the lens depends on the optical design. It may simply be the opening of the aperture stop, or may be a magnified image of the aperture stop, formed by elements within the lens.

The f stop scale is a sliding one, allowing for fractional differences in the light allowed through to the film (or the digital sensors). Most old cameras had an aperture scale graduated in full stops but the aperture was continuously variable allowing the photographer to select any intermediate aperture, and thus it would be possible to shoot at f 15.

The continuously variable aperture cameras slowly disappeared, with ‘click-stopped’ aperture became a common feature in the 1960’s; the aperture scale was usually marked in full stops, but many lenses had a click between two marks, allowing a gradation of one half of a stop.

On modern cameras, especially when aperture is set on the camera body, f-number is often divided more finely than steps of one stop or half a stop. Steps of one-third stop (1/3 EV) are the most common, since this matches the ISO system of film speeds. Enough technical details! Time to just believe me again.

Finally, a rather obscure photographic 15. The AA lithium batteries that power many cameras and flash units weigh 15 gm.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Better photos in 2017

What camera and why?

Simple things to make better photographs

DSLR photography

Photography at 1/15th



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