Pro photographer demands danger money
Nobody would ever put photography in
the list of dangerous pastimes, but let me tell you, I have had some dangers
to overcome to get the image the client wanted. I have been called upon to
do some dangerous photography. No, not in a tiger’s den, but an aerial shot
taken from a helicopter. This flying device had been modified for aerial
photography by removing both doors, making it an even more unsafe and
uncomfortable mode of transport than they usually are.
The brief was to photograph a
particular building site from around 200 meters up, and the direction had to
be from the north. It was a windy day and when we got to the shoot, the
helicopter pilot was unable to hover in a position where either of the door
apertures would give me the shot from the north. Since the hire of
helicopters is not cheap, and we only had one hour to get the shot, there
was only one answer - climb out on the landing struts and hang over the
Since I get vertigo standing on a
chair, this was not going to be easy. Fortunately the helicopter was set up
with a harness for me to wear, with a rope leading back inside the cabin.
You should try stepping out into space at 200 meters up, no parachute, and a
piece of ‘string’ attaching you to a helicopter. It was not a case of just
standing on the landing struts, but I had to lean out, with the harness
taking the strain as I moved even further out (like a crew member on a
yacht). The buffeting from the rotors and the cold day all added to the
problems I was having with camera shake (compounded by fear).
Eventually I managed to get the shot I
needed, using hand signals to the pilot to indicate more or less height.
Then I had to get back in. Since I was already well past the point of no
return, I had to get the assistant to pull me in. But the assistant was a
woman and not strong enough. Fortunately the pilot saw what was the problem
went on auto-pilot and dragged me in. I have not done a helicopter shoot
since that day.
However, much more dangerous was the
following shoot, done in my studio. The brief was an advertising shot for a
bottle of vodka. The final shot was to be the bottle sitting beside a dish
of strawberries. Now while that sounds simple, it is not all that easy.
The first item I had to get was the
strawberries. Since the client will complain if any strawberry is even
slightly less than perfect, this means you buy a huge amount of strawberries
and spend the next hour picking only the best ones. After that you paint
them with vegetable oil so they look all shiny and juicy. That was the easy
Now to make a bowl of strawberries, and
the bottle of vodka ‘jump off’ the page, you have to light them from
underneath. So I used a sheet of glass supported at each end, about one
meter from the floor, pulled some meters of black paper from the background
paper on a roll hanging from the back wall of the studio, cut two holes in
it where the bowl and the bottle would sit and we were starting to look
While getting flash heads ready and the
5x4 plate camera focused, I had the lights under the glass going. After
several minutes of fiddling and fussing I was ready to pull the first
Polaroid. While peering at the ground glass focusing screen I suddenly heard
this loud cracking noise. I looked up, just in time to be hit on the head by
the roll of black background paper!
What had happened was the lights had
heated the glass too much and it had broken. As it fell in two pieces, it
dragged the black background paper down too, and the roll came off the hooks
on the back wall, neatly landing on my head.
And you thought still life photography
Don’t get your hopes
up. This is not some seedy expose of past holiday romances. This is an
article on how to get better photographic results from your holiday.
In all the flurry of activity when
packing for the overseas trip, it is easy to forget to pack a camera (or two
if you are a real enthusiast). However, everyone wants a photographic record
of the trip, the event, the new experiences. After all, you saved for 11
months for this, don’t let it just become a casual conversation on your
Now before you add “Pack Camera” to the
To Do list, there’s a little bit of photographic preparation to be done too.
The first, and should be most obvious, is just to make sure the camera
works. If you haven’t used the camera for some time, buy new batteries for
it and check the memory card before you go away. There’s nothing worse than
finding out that the camera had a problem after you get back! You should
take a few shots and look at them critically to make sure it is really
Now, no matter where you go these days,
someone has been there before you. And they’ve written a guide book about it
too, so your next move is to actually plan some shots before you even leave
home. Research your destination properly and you should know what is likely
to be a significant place, monument, castle, lake, waterfall, etc., in the
area you will be visiting. When you read the Lonely Planet Guide or
whatever, use a highlighter pen to remind you of photo opportunities.
Thinking about and anticipating “how”
you should take any landmark will produce much better results when you
finally arrive to take the picture. You will not be so over-awed that you
just stand there and go “click”. You will be ready to try to show this
segment of your trip with some photographic flair. It works, believe me!
It is always tempting to take
photographs from the plane. There is one classic shot you should always
attempt on every trip. That is the aerial. Shooting out of plane windows is
not really all that difficult with today’s cameras, but there are a couple
of catches. Firstly, pick a porthole where you can see a little of the
engine intake in the shot. Adds drama and shows how you got up there! Shoot
from the side of the plane opposite from the sun. This way you won’t see the
scratches on the plane window. Use a wide-angle lens if you’ve got one, set
the camera on auto and get as close to the window as possible, but not
touching it (otherwise you get vibrations coming through to give you fuzzy
Shooting the locals. Your research of
the places you are going to will soon tell you if there are interesting
“locals” which would make good photographs (such as this one pictured here).
Priests, tribes folk, indigenous people, policemen in uniform and the like
all make for good shots and gives the “atmosphere” of your holiday. It’s OK
to shoot when they are unaware of your presence, but if you want a formal
photograph, always ask. Just wave the camera and smile if you can’t speak
the local lingo. It usually works. If not, wave money! That always does.
If you are going to well-known
destination like London, Paris, New York, then you will always be able to
buy another memory card over there, but if you are going to the Mongolian
Steppes, you may need to bring your own supplies. I also suggest that the
digital folk take along more than one spare memory card and download their
precious images back here, where you know that everything (should) work
correctly and not delete images unexpectedly.
Finally, you should think about how you
are going to present the results. It is always a huge temptation to bring
out folders of photos as soon as you get back. Wait! Sort them, keep the
good, throw away the bad. Show only your best shots and everyone will be
amazed at your superb photographs!
Digital photography shutter speed control
Photo by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce.
A new generation of photographers is
upon us old “film” folk. However, there seems to be a very common notion
that ‘somehow’ digital photography is totally different from the old
fashioned film photography. I do not know how this happened, but let me
assure you that digital cameras and film cameras do exactly the same job. It
is only where the light falls and how it is stored and recorded that is
First, a few basics. All photography,
since the French inventor Joseph Nicéphore Niépce first invented it in 1826,
has worked on the principle of allowing the light carrying the image to go
through a lens and then fall on to a sensitized surface. Originally this was
a glass plate coated with silver compounds which got darker when exposed to
light. The degree of darkness depended upon how much light came through the
lens, and for what length of time. This is the principle covering aperture
(or lens opening), and shutter speed (in other words, how long the aperture
is left open).
That principle still holds good today.
Originally, the aperture was literally as large as you could get, and the
time was measured in hours. This was because the sensitized material was
really not too sensitive at all, but we improved with the silver plates.
The first improvement came in the lens
design. These could let more light through in a shorter period of time, and
the aperture only needed to be left open for a few minutes, rather than
The next major development was the
sensitized film, which could record an image in fractions of a second.
Photography as we went into the 1900s was very similar to the technology
today. You could capture an image at an aperture size of f 11 open
for 1/60th of a second, on the film of the day, which was rated at around
100 ASA (sensitivity rating of the film).
During the next 100 years, lenses got
better and gave less distortion, film became more sensitive and gave
clearer, sharper images, and the mechanical shutter speeds approached
1/4000th of a second. This was enough to stop a speeding railway train,
without the aid of Superman!
And then came what people have recently
considered to be the “digital revolution”. A completely new way of
photography, requiring special new cameras which could show you the image
you had just taken, immediately! No more agonizing waits at the film
processing shop. Instant gratification for the “gimme, gimme, me now”
However, this is where the misnomer
occurred. It was not a “revolution” it was merely an “evolution”. The
principles of photography (sometimes called ‘painting with light’ by the
romantics) were just the same. And the application of them was just the
same. A lens let in the light, for a proscribed length of time, and this was
recorded by light sensitive electronic “film”. The difference was that you
did not have to develop this new electronic “film” in chemicals. It could be
viewed immediately by using electronic processing. Really, there was no
Now, just as the old film cameras had
aperture and shutter speed controls that were adjustable by the
photographer, guess what? The new digital cameras have apertures and shutter
speeds that are adjustable by the photographer as well. And in the same way,
you can get creative results from your digital camera, exactly the same as
you could with your film camera.
This is where some differences occur,
however. With the ‘old fashioned’ film cameras you rotate a dial on the lens
barrel to open or close the diameter of the aperture, and you had a dial on
the top of the camera that you rotated to give you shutter speeds from
usually 1 second through to 1/1000th of a second. The two factors could be
operated independently, and this was called Fully Manual Mode. However, they
could also be operated in conjunction with each other, called Aperture
Priority if the aperture was set first, or Shutter Priority, if the shutter
speed was set first.
Try setting fast shutter speeds in
Shutter Priority mode this weekend and stop the action.
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 who went to Europe 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 would
call it. 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 aforementioned
famous French photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson. Magnum 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.
Your new camera
I have never properly embraced the
social media. I really don’t care what you ate for breakfast and I’m not
into hugs all round. And as for “Amen”, I find it insulting at best and
silly at worst.
However, there is one area where it is
very difficult to beat what the social media provide – and that is instant
access to people’s opinions.
I use the analogy of buying a car. Many
years ago I was in the market for a second hand Mazda RX7. These were the
days BFB (Before Face Book) and I was looking for a way to canvas opinions
by the owners of such vehicles. Every time I saw one parked at the side of
the road, with less than 30 minutes on the meter, I would wait and when the
owner arrived I would ask him whether it was a good car or otherwise. The
vast majority were very happy with their RX7, so I bought one and became
very happy with mine too.
So what has that got to do with your
choice of camera? A lot. Now you can go online asking for opinions on the
latest DSLR and within 24 hours you will have your answer, or what the
majority thinks. This is more truthful than the sales spiel from the camera
shop counter jumper.
However, before you even get to that
stage you should be looking at what type of camera you should be buying for
your type of photography.
I read a most interesting piece of
research which came from the Sony people. According to the Sony survey, 72
percent of DSLR buyers use their cameras to “capture family memories and for
fun.” A Box Brownie will do that.
Also, the greatest spur to buying a
camera at a specific time is an imminent trip. These people are not going to
do a crash course in serious photography before they take off, so the
requirement of competent, fully automatic mode is reasonable. And wanting to
get the best possible images is understandable. Then there is weight. Who
wants to lug a conspicuous brick around Venice when a small compact system
camera will do the job?
The compact camera section of the
marketplace is certainly the most volatile. As Sony found, only 28 percent
of camera buyers are going to go for the all-singing, all-dancing DSLR
One of the problems when comparing
cameras with cameras is people tend to read the magic number called
megapixels and conclude that it is the deciding parameter between brilliant,
good and not so good. 24 megapixels is better than 12 which in turn better
is than 4.
Whilst the above is partly true, it
really does depend upon what you want to do with the end result. Are you
going to be blowing it up to the size of a barn door, or will it be a 4R
(6x4) at most? If you have been hired to produce photographs for billboards,
then look at a camera with megapixels coming out its strap swivels.
Otherwise, anything from six to 10 MP is more than adequate.
So what should you be looking for when
buying a camera these (electronic) days? To start with, a fast autofocus.
Instant zip-zip, not “pause for a second while I get myself ready and then
I also recommend inbuilt image
stabilization. So many photographs are spoiled by camera movement producing
‘soft’ images that can be overcome with image stabilization electronics. And
as a further small advantage, these types of systems are particularly good
for the senior citizen photographer.
You should also look at the shutter
speeds the camera is capable of. 1/2000th of a second should stop a railway
train (in Thailand, not in Japan) and be sufficient for 99 percent of action
photography. It is also advantageous if any proposed camera has a time
exposure setting so you can take photographs at night, including fireworks.
Sony’s advice is right: if you are not
serious about getting to grips with the functions of a DSLR then don’t buy
one. On the other hand, if you are deadly serious about your photography,
don’t buy anything else. And see what other photographers think.
f8 and be there
Arthur H. Fellig, aka ‘Weegee’.
Photojournalists can have a problem
with morality and ethics. The following test shows just how much stress
there can be for these photographers.
The situation: You are in Pattaya.
There is chaos all around you caused by the tropical storm with severe
flooding. You are a photojournalist working for the Pattaya Mail newspaper
and you are standing on Beach Road, photographing the flooding.
Suddenly, you see a man in the water.
He is fighting for his life, trying not to be taken down with the debris.
You suddenly realize who it is... it is a well known violent criminal on the
run. You notice that the raging waters are about to take him under.
You have two options:
(1)You can save the life of this man –
(2) You can shoot a dramatic Pulitzer
Prize winning photo, documenting the death of one of the country’s most
despised, evil and powerful men!
Now the question, and give an honest
answer (nobody can see you)!
Would you select color, or just go with
the classic simplicity of black and white?
So now, to be sensible after that
little chuckle, the job of a photojournalist is to get back to the editor
with a usable photograph of some event, be that a fire, flood, the Jester’s
Children’s fair or the TFI frizz and flares night. (These require the
photographer’s presence and a camera that works.)
The photojournalist’s creed of “f8 and
be there” may have come from Arthur H. Fellig, also known as ‘Weegee’. Born
in Poland in 1899, he went to America in 1909. He worked for a few studios
and then got a job in the darkroom at Acme Newspapers. Life in the newspaper
business is always exciting and frantic. Arthur H. Fellig reveled in that
excitement. He had found his niche. He was only 21 years old but he decided
he was going to be a freelance news photographer.
He soon became known as the first on
the scene of any newsworthy happening, be that fire, murder, suicide or
landslide. He was so uncannily aware of what was happening that people began
to feel he had some kind of psychic powers of prediction. At that time,
America was also in the middle of a Ouija Board fad and from this Fellig was
to adopt his nickname “Weegee”.
Of course, Weegee was not psychic, but
just used to sleep fully clothed, with a police radio on his pillow. In the
boot of his car was his “office”, complete with typewriter to knock out the
words, spare film and lots of flash bulbs. Weegee would arrive, record the
shot, type the words and have everything on the editor’s desk within the
hour. It was no wonder that Weegee was so popular with the news media of the
By 1935, Life magazine was doing
features on Weegee and his work. There was no doubt about the fact that he
had the photographic “eye”, but for Weegee, the subject was the all
important part of the photograph. And the subject he dealt with was done
incredibly directly. Weegee was not one to be horrified by the sights before
him, such as gangland killings. He took the shot that kept that horror for
the eyes of the newspaper readers the next day. (Interestingly, that direct,
confrontational photographic style is still used in the Thai language papers
today – check any front pages for graphic images.) Another quote from this
amazing man, “I like to get different shots and don’t like to make the same
shots the other dopes do.” When asked what his formula was he replied, “I
just laugh. I have no formula, I’m just myself, take me or leave me. I don’t
put on an act. I don’t try to make a good or bad impression. I’m just Weegee.”
Weegee is remembered for his record of
the seamier side of New York life. This was put into book form, called the
Naked City and was published after WWII. Unfortunately, the wide public
recognition that came from this book ended the directly grotesque nature of
his images and Weegee went to Hollywood where tinsel-town swallowed him up.
He died in 1969.
How not to miss great shots
Good shots, and even great shots, can
appear any time. If you are not going to miss the chance of a lifetime, the
first tip is to make sure you have a camera with you, or, and I used to
struggle to say it – a high quality smartphone! However, having just
purchased a smarter than me phone, the new ones are very sharp, but they are
not quite as capable as a good DSLR system.
However, when the shot of a lifetime
just happened before your eyes, a shot that could have kept you in champagne
for the next three months, you need to be ready.
Great shots can be shots that just
somehow epitomize life in Thailand, for example are always worth taking (and
may be financially rewarding). It could be a katoey posturing on Beach Road,
or even the one of the buffalo in the paddy field with two birds standing on
its back. Always remember that you are living in a land that your countrymen
save up for 12 months just to get here for a holiday. You (we) are lucky and
should not let photographic opportunities pass us by.
So this week, let’s look at a few
specific examples of “how to” when you are looking to record those “once in
a lifetime” images.
Thailand is a Buddhist country with a
total of 41,205 Buddhist temples (Thai: Wat) since last update. This is
confirmed, of which 33,902 are in current use, according to the Office of
National Buddhism. You will need a wide angle lens to capture the size of
the temples and stairs. Plan the photography for late afternoon when the
shadows grow long and the sun casts a warm atmosphere to your shots. If you
have a close-up lens then look at photographing some of the ornamental
statues. Again you will need the afternoon light.
Pattaya comes alive at night and we
have the odd nocturnal events and places. Lots of lights, neon signs and
flood-lit fountains are the norm for this type of photograph. The secret
here is a Wide angle lens again with an aperture down around f 1.8. This is
the time to set your digital to 800 ASA, or 400 ASA at least. The other
secret is not to use your flash. Now I fully realize that this is
photography after dark, but the whole concept is to let the attractions
provide the illumination, rather than blasting it with your flash burst. If
you try and take neon light using flash you will totally wash out the neon
and again get very disappointing results. If you cannot get enough light to
hand-hold, then use a tripod.
One of the more challenging travel
situations is the summer beach holiday. It is very difficult to photograph
the beach and not end up with a washed out look in the final photographs.
The secret here is a Polarizing filter and the time of day you shoot. This
is where the Polarizer works so well, especially with the glare from the
sand. The Polarizer will also give you a blue sky to contrast the yellow
beach sand. The time of day is also just as important. Shoot early morning
or late afternoon when the sun’s rays are skimming across the beach and the
tracks and ridges in the sand will show up as shadows.
Some of you will be exponents of the
wilderness type holiday, trekking and camping and taking in the vast
grandeur of breathtaking natural wonders. The secret here is a wide angle
lens, look for low viewpoints and set the ASA on 50 or 100, plus a tripod if
you can. The idea here is to use the lens at around f16 or f22 to maximize
the depth of field. This in turn and the slow ASA setting, will require
longer exposures – hence the tripod. Shooting in this way will give you
maximum detail in the shot, maximum content and visual theater. Finally,
shoot early morning or late afternoon as well to get the dramatic shadow
effects and really give the impact to the Grand Canyon! Try using the
look-out at the Naval Radio station.