I was reminded of the tricks in shooting fireworks when we had the fireworks extravaganza a couple of weekends ago. I should have written this then, but better late than never. We (that’s you) will have plenty of opportunities over New Year (be that the Western New Year, Chinese New Year, Thai New Year or the Patagonian Petunia Festival). At all of these events the culmination is the letting off of fireworks.
How do you get eye-catching photographs? Even in camera clubs there are more dull photographs than eye-catchers. So what is the secret?
Amazingly, sometimes the commonest or simplest items can produce eye-catching photographs. No difficult shots, no special effects, no exotic lenses, just great shots by the simple technique of keeping one’s eyes open for good results.
The secret to all this is to remember repetitive shapes, contrasting shapes, contrasting colors and shadows. In other words, these types of images rely totally on vision and composition.
Remembering that the ‘rules’ of composition are merely there to be broken, very often a dramatic shot comes from trying something different.
The secret of great photography is not just in correct exposure and placement in the frame. You will get plenty of photographs that are perfectly exposed with the subject at the intersection of thirds, but dull. You need to remember contrast!
Contrast in photographic composition is an effective means of directing the viewer’s attention to the subject of interest. When I speak of contrast, I am referring to both tonal contrast, as in black-and-white photography, and color contrast as it relates to color photography.
In B&W photography, contrast is the difference in subject tones from white-to-gray-to-black or from the lightest tone to the darkest tone. In color photography different colors create the contrast.
Tonal contrast is generally expressed as high contrast which has extreme black and whites, or low contrast which has nothing but graduated greys.
Now you can wander around all day looking for a girl in a white swimsuit on a white sandy beach, or you can manipulate a photograph to produce that image. If you have an advanced digital camera, you can program it to record black and white only and then go from there, but if not, no fear, your software will allow you to do this post camera. First convert the color shot to grey scale, then play with the brightness and contrast, and you will very quickly produce a high contrast shot.
Now high contrast should not be confused with high key. A high key black and white shot is one where the photo shows mostly light tones. Conversely, a low key shot is one that has mainly dark tones. Low key and high key pictures convey mood and atmosphere. Low key suggests seriousness and mystery and is wonderful for Halloween photographs. However, high key creates a feeling of delicacy and lightness. A portrait of a blonde in white against a white background is an example of high key.
High contrast gives very black blacks and very white whites, and usually with nothing in between. Low contrast, on the other hand, still has blacks and whites, but everything is predominantly grey, giving a flat scene which still has tones, but in which highlights and shadows have very little difference in densities. In other words, all tones within the scene are very similar in appearance. However, remember that if you are shooting in automatic mode, the camera will be set to deliver 18 percent grey, and not black.
Now to contrast in color. This is where an artist’s color wheel comes in handy. By picking colors from opposite sides on the wheel, you immediately have stunning contrasts. Blue and yellow is a classic example. Another is bright red against a luminescent green background.
Cold colors (bluish) and warm colors (reddish) almost always contrast. Cold colors recede, while warm colors advance. Light colors contrast against dark ones, and a bold color offsets a weak color.
Color contrast is an effective compositional element in color photography, just as tone is in black-and-white photography. Colors with opposite characteristics contrast strongly when placed together. Each color accentuates the qualities of the other and makes the color images stand out dramatically. Color contrast is enhanced when you create the contrast of detail against mass. An example is a single, bright, red flower in a clear, glass vase photographed against a bright, green background.
The photograph used this week is an example of very high color contrast, so much so that only two colors matter. This was designed to be a photograph that hits you between the eyes.
Remember Bob Dylan’s ode to change? The last verse went:
“The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slow one now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin’
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin’
In the photographic world, this is just so true. We all began with a Kodak Box Brownie camera, we were delighted with the ability of this equipment to record scenes, and even people (as long as you didn’t get too close). From there, most of us went to folding cameras like the Voigtlander Bessa (am I bringing back memories now?) and from there to an SLR like the Canon AE1 + Program.
For the keen amateurs there would be a number of SLRs from various manufacturers, until you settled on one and built up a system from there. I have one friend with the complete range of Pentax lenses as well as a couple of camera bodies. But the “first one now will later be last” as we have seen. The change from film to digital, then the change from DSLR to Bridge cameras and now the advent of the camera phone and the “art” of “selfies”.
Some time ago, I wrote about a DVD I had been given, saying “Being a Nikon produced video lesson, there was a very strong message to use Nikon equipment, and I will admit to using Nikon myself until I was seduced by the ease and simplicity of the Panasonic Lumix.” That prompted an email from Don Griffith who wrote, “I bought a little Panasonic Lumix TZ7 myself - the only thing it has not got that is really important to me is RAW. It has quickly become indispensable-and the picture quality is generally excellent.
“Would recommend any serious photographer to buy a super-compact, if they can afford it - beats lugging all the Nikon/Canon gear around every time you step out of the door - and missing some critical opportunities because you have decided to give your shoulder a rest and have left it all at home. Never waste money on the official case - it is an advert to get it stolen, as often it advertises what is inside - buy a similar cheaper case at a bargain store about one eighth of the cost - just as good - in some cases better, as rigid instead of soft, offering some protection if dropped. Don Griffith.”
I bought the ‘bridge’ Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ50 and not the TZ7. The FZ50 does have the RAW files capability which Don Griffith is looking for. I also bought the camera because I didn’t want to walk around lugging lenses any more either, and the DMC FZ50 has a Leica zoom covering 35 mm to 410 mm and with optical image stabilization, you can even hand-hold through the zoom.
Another photographer who agreed with my choice was Alan Puzey who wrote in with his own experiences of the FZ50. And he was another tired of lens lugging. He wrote, “I no longer wanted to carry around a case of equipment with additional lenses, flashes, etc., and so SLRs were out. Of this sort of alternative the Lumix looked just what I needed - and has proved to be so.
“I love the lens quality and the positioning of controls around the camera. Very logical and easy to use. When I have to revert to the ‘on-screen’ menus, they are pretty good. I didn’t at first like the feel of holding this camera, but now I have got used to it, it’s no problem at all and now feels ‘normal’.
“I only use the ISO 100 setting; the sensor is not the best available and all speeds higher than this bring quality down. ISO 800 and 1600 I wouldn’t touch with the proverbial barge pole!
Cheers, Alan Puzey.”
And is there a downside? Yes there is. It would be nice to have a wide angle capability, but so far the adapters are not good by all reports and the built in camera flash is woeful. You can’t have everything!
To be honest, I think that ‘smartphone’ photography is reaching down into the bottom of the barrel. Creativity, which is why I take photographs, has not really been possible with the so-called ‘smartphones’. As a record shot showing a photo of someone somewhere they are probably excellent. However, seeing media photographers pointing their phones at a car during its press release makes me cringe. The prime function of these phones is still to allow you to speak to people in far away places. Full stop!
Replacing one’s camera is almost as difficult as upgrading your car. However, cameras are much cheaper than cars!
A couple of weeks back I received a very nice letter from one of the readers, and it was very pleasing to read that someone does actually read the column. The letter was as follows:
Dear Mr Flashman,
Firstly, I would like to say how much I enjoy your weekly articles in the Pattaya Mail. Please keep up the good work!
Secondly, I am writing to you in the hope that you can give me some advice and guidance.
I currently have two cameras. One is a Sony DSLR A300 (with two lenses). One being a Sony SAL 55200 (55-200 mm lens) and the other a Sony 3.5-5.6/18-70 mm lens. This camera is a few years old now and I tend not to use it that much as it is quite heavy & bulky to carry around. For the last couple of years I have tended to favor my other camera which is a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ20 with Leica lens. A compact camera that takes quite good pictures and is easy to carry around.
However, I am thinking to trade both these in and upgrade to a Nikon D5200.
So firstly, what do you think of my decision? Secondly, could you recommend a retail outlet in Thailand that could accommodate my request? If you have an idea of trade-in values that would also be helpful. I suspect that somewhere in Bangkok would be my best option although I live in Pattaya.
Thank you for taking the time to read my mail and any alternative ideas and options that you may have would be much appreciated.
So what should I be advising Barry? The first piece of information I really needed, unfortunately Barry didn’t include with his email. Just what does he want to photograph? Action? Landscapes? People? Glamor? Macro?
Looking at his DSLR Sony he has lenses covering 18 mm through to 200 mm. This is limiting his options. Definitely not the camera to use for shooting tigers! The other end of the scale at 18 mm isn’t bad, but this is also not the camera to use for dramatic landscapes.
Like many photographers, Barry has become tired of lugging the DSLR around and backed up the Sony with the Panasonic Lumix DMC FZ 20, one of the early Bridge-cameras with the non-removable Leica lens. With a range of 35-410 the Lumix gives an enormous range and is much lighter to carry.
For me, I would forget the DSLR with interchangeable lenses and the attendant weight problems. With today’s compacts/bridge cameras, the image quality is perfectly adequate, unless you want enlargements the size of a barn door.
I agree that trading in both of his current cameras for something newer makes sense. But I don’t agree that the Nikon D5200 should be the next step as this is back to weight and bulk.
A Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 would be my choice, and has received very favorable reviews. For example, the verdict from E-Photozine:
The Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 is one of the cheapest 4K video recording devices available, and offers an array of impressive video features. However, if you don’t want to record 4K video, and just want a camera capable of taking excellent photos, with a good zoom lens, then the Panasonic Lumix FZ1000 certainly delivers here as well. With a relatively large 1 inch 20 megapixel sensor, a bright Leica 16x optical zoom lens with f/2.8-4.0 aperture, and full manual controls, the camera is capable of producing excellent image quality. Build quality is very good and the camera has a lot in common with the Panasonic Lumix GH4, the top of the range Micro Four Thirds camera from Panasonic. There are numerous external controls and buttons, as well as full manual controls, but you can also use the camera in auto mode, or one of the scene modes and still get great shots, as well as high quality video.
Trade the two cameras on a Lumix FZ1000 at one of the camera stores in MBK Bangkok would be my advice. (And yes, I use a Lumix as my camera of choice these days too.)
There is much similarity these days between mobile phones and digital cameras. I was reminded of this the other day when my daughter managed to drown her (reputedly waterproof) phone. Cameras also do not swim well either, unless it is an expensive Nikonos. Neither piece of modern technology does well in the dropped stakes either.
In the days gone by (pre-digital) it was almost an apprenticeship for all budding photographers to go through developing and printing their own black and white photographs, known as D&P.
According to the Associated Press, a time capsule was opened this month in Boston in the US. “A Boston time capsule dating to 1901 contained letters, photographs, newspaper clippings, political campaign buttons and a presidential message on U.S. foreign relations; archivists said Wednesday. The shoebox-sized capsule was removed last week from the head of a lion statue that has long stood guard over the Old State House.”
The subject of Kirlian photography has come up again. This I found interesting as while Kirlian photography was a fad a few years ago I thought it had since died.
Kirlian photography is not new, despite all claims to the contrary. It should be more correctly referred to as the ‘Kirlian effect’ was demonstrated at the end of the 19th century and was then known as ‘electrography’.
However, it did not get the publicity it needed to catch on until a Russian electrical technician Semyon Davidovitch Kirlian and his wife Valentina Kirliana published a paper in 1950 in the Russian Journal of Scientific and Applied Photography in which they described the process, now known as Kirlian Photography.
‘New Age’ followers seized upon this as being able to photograph the ‘aura’ of a person, and, at long last, show to the unbelievers that all the ‘bio-energies’ had a basis in ‘science’. Kirlian photography has been linked to telepathy, orgone energy, N-rays, acupuncture, ancient eastern religions, and other paranormal phenomena.
I am not going to get embroiled in semantics as to whether the Kirlian effect and the aura can be used for medical diagnosis (as is claimed), or whether Reiki practitioners have sparks coming out of their fingers when they are ‘healing’. However, I can reveal what is being recorded on film, and what you need to have your own ‘Kirlian’ camera.
First off, the Kirlian effect is ‘real’, but what is being recorded is not paranormal, but is a phenomenon called ‘Corona Discharge’. Corona discharge is seen in lightning and the sparks that come off your fingers after you walk on nylon carpets. This used to be done as a party trick by Nikola Tesla (1856-1943) who used to introduce new discoveries with his body glowing and sparks flying from his fingertips. Tesla, by the way, was a brilliant inventor, and it was he who introduced the concept of alternating current, used today, rather than Edison’s direct current.
The corona discharge that is recorded by the Kirlian photographers requires the object being subjected to an electric current and the size and color depends upon moisture that is present on the skin, and this is why inanimate objects do not give off a discharge as do animate ones.
Terence M. Hines, a psychology professor says, “Living things (like the commonly photographed fingers) are moist. When the electricity enters the living object, it produces an area of gas ionization around the photographed object, assuming moisture is present on the object. This moisture is transferred from the subject to the emulsion surface of the photographic film and causes an alternation of the electric charge pattern on the film. If a photograph is taken in a vacuum, where no ionized gas is present, no Kirlian image appears. If the Kirlian image were due to some paranormal fundamental living energy field, it should not disappear in a simple vacuum,” he said.
One team that spent some time examining the Kirlian effect has found a list of 25 factors that can affect a Kirlian photograph, including thickness of the skin, recent physical activity, and yes, mental stress. All of these affect the amount of moisture on the skin. Other factors include voltage level, voltage pulse rate, atmospheric gasses, the internal force and angle of the object held against the film, and barometric pressure. In effect, a single person can come up with different ‘auras’ simply by changing finger pressure and the amount of moisture found in the skin. That’s the ‘science’. As for the psychic energy claims, you can make up your own mind! Just be careful that the tree you are hugging isn’t giving off a purple aura.
To make Kirlian photographs you need an HV/HF generator, a Polaroid SX 70 camera instant Polaroid film (3.25" x 4.25", type 669 or equivalent), instruction manual (click to view pdf file-81KB), interpretation guide (click to view pdf file-540KB), 11x17inch Laminated Poster, and “Life’s Hidden Forces”. Specifications - Shipping Weight: 7lbs, dimensions: 15in x 11 x 6, Power: 110/120V or 230/240V, please specify). And all that, which will allow you to make money at ‘alternative’ fairs will only set you back USD745. Bring your own tree.
We have become a nation of narcissistic voyeurs. Ever since we realized that we could hold the smartphone up to a mirror and capture our own likeness, there has been an earth shattering change in photography. This has been exacerbated by the newer smartphones that can take a picture backwards, so we don’t even need a mirror! In fact, just how often do you now see young women applying their make-up, using the viewing screen while holding up their phones? All the time, is the correct answer.