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Update September, 2019

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SNAP SHOTS   by Harry Flashman


Where is the hero?

My daughter continues to enjoy taking photographs (as well as the usual selfies). For her, with me rather handy, this means very personal one on one tuition. It also means that I can see immediately what has to be done to improve her skills.

One catch-cry of mine has been “fill the frame” and finally she is starting to understand what is meant by this. The shots which precipitated this were a gammon steak and egg. The first shot showed the table, coffee cups and serviettes. Input by the photographer – nil. After admonishment to fill the frame, the second shot was much better, but there were still extraneous items along with the gammon plate. The third shot concentrated on the gammon plate and very little else, and daughter could see immediately that she had taken a photograph with some impact. It had a “hero” and that was the gammon steak and egg.

For impact, she finally got there. The “hero” was the gammon almost filling the frame, leaving nothing to distract from the reason for the shot.

The next item she was shown was that her hero deserved more than one shot. By moving the platter with the gammon, she could keep it filling the frame, but getting different views, and different light and shadows from the cafe window.

All good photographs follow the rules of good composition. The best known one of these is the Rule of Thirds, where you position the subject of the photo (that’s the hero) 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. Look where the egg is positioned!

By just placing your subject off-center immediately drags your shot out of the “ordinary” basket. The technocrats called it the “Rule of Thirds”, but 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, such as on the DMC FZ series Lumix, it 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. 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! The next item is cropping, where you get rid of non-important items from the final photo. These are items which do not add anything to the photograph you have in your mind’s eye. This can be extraneous details, such as a rubbish bin, which never does anything for landscapes. Or it may be that the hero is too small – because you didn’t walk several meters closer!

While post-production cropping to fill the frame can be done, it is better to do it in the camera beforehand. You can do this with post-production ‘edit suites’ or even a good Photoshop style program, where you actually do just the same as we used to with two L-shaped pieces of card, but with electronics. Call up your photo on the computer screen and with the cropping tools you can move them around until you feel you have the correct (most pleasing) crop. And fill the frame.

So this week the messages were simple. Remember to fill the frame to give your photos more impact, so walk in closer. Remember to position the subject at the intersection of thirds, and learn how to visualize the crop for dramatic effect and try to do this in the camera viewfinder. That will improve your shots immeasurably.

A bag full of mistakes

I have seen five year old children wanting to take a “selfie”. Here they are, barely out of nappies and taking shots of themselves. By the time they are teenagers, they are applying make-up using the smartphone. By the time they are dying, who will be the first to shoot themselves in their coffin with their last breath?

Unfortunately, the advent of the smartphone has not done much for the art of photography. Having a phone that can take and store pictures has not developed any latent artistic abilities in the holder of said electronic equipment as far as I can see.

Even the briefest perusal of the social media will show that the presumed artistic talent goes as far as taking a “selfie” (how I dislike that word) and then follow that up with a picture of what he or she ate. Personally I couldn’t care less what you ate, unless it was some culinary tour de force.

As far as how to take a better “selfie” is concerned, about all I can give you is to try and keep your arm out of the picture. The arm holding the camera being closer to the camera is exaggerated in size, so a “selfie” stick is much better. And if you are not happy with the result, don’t take the same one again and again. The additional shots will look as bad as the first one. Move your body, move from where you were standing, and try and get better lighting. Turn the flash off, if you can, is a very good idea as you will get shadow to add more interest.

So even though I very rarely see good photographs in the social media, it is possible to get better images. Just try next time, rather than banging off 27 shots all the same, and all boring as well.

If you must show the world just what you had for your last supper I will give you some pointers to make it look as if this was a great plateful and not some collection of ingredients thrown onto a plate and tinged with green.

Let’s deal with the green potatoes first. Fluorescent lighting is the culprit. To the naked eye the lighting in the kitchen seems fine, but to the electronic receptors, the white balance is not correct, and hence the green.

To correct this is very easy and infinitely better pictures. Use natural light to photograph food. Take the dishes outside, around 4.30 p.m. is best, and with the light coming across the food, take the shot. The colors will be natural and there will be some light and shadow to give depth to the photograph.

If you are going to add a bottle of wine to the shot, or make the wine a feature, you have just picked one of the most difficult items to successfully capture. To be able to photograph wine is one reason why food photographers can command such high fees.

Have you ever tried photographing champagne to put in your FB photos? Have you then noticed that there’s never enough bubbles to make it look sparkling. Fortunately, the champagne (or Prosecco or Methode Champenoise) can be coaxed into producing as many bubbles as you might want. All you have to do is drop some sugar into the glass. Only a few crystals are enough to give the almost flat glass of champers that “just opened” fizz look to it.

While still on wines, if you try and shoot a bottle of red wine, it will come out thick dark maroon or even black. Amateurs who have tried photographing red wines will be nodding their heads in agreement. 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. You can light it from the front and the silver foil reflects the light back into the wine.

So what happens to the half bottle of red that was removed to dilute the wine? The photographer has it with dinner.

HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]

Where is the hero?

A bag full of mistakes



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