Harry Flashman

Wednesday, 09 September 2015 16:27

Absorbing and reflecting

Information columns such as these are designed to give you something to absorb, and then after application, to reflect on the results. However, nothing quite so philosophical - I want to show you how some very simple reflectors and absorbers can be used to give your photos some sparkle and mystery.

Wednesday, 02 September 2015 14:55

My favorite photographer

If you are interested in photography (and I presume you must be if you are reading this column) then you probably have bought a few photography books, and by now you have a favorite photographer.

You do have a favorite photographer, don’t you? No? Well, you should! Everyone should have a photographer whose work stimulates you to greater heights. For me, I have many whose work I enjoy – Norman Parkinson, Helmut Newton and Jeff Dunas all rate high, but one photographer who inspires me not only with his images, but also with his words, was the late Larry Dale Gordon.

Now when I say that your favorite photographer’s work should inspire you, that does not mean that you should rush out and slavishly copy their work. Don’t laugh, I have seen it done so many times in camera club level photographers who have been most upset when I mark them down for copying, rather than being creative.

When I say “inspire” I mean that you look at the work and say to yourself, “How did he/she do that?” You should look at the end result and work out how you can use that technique, to produce your own shot. Half the fun in photography is working out “how to” with the other half being the enjoyment of looking at the final image.

So why does Larry Dale Gordon inspire me? There are many reasons. First off, he is a self trained photographer, who believes that the way to learn is to do it. Let me quote you from one of his books, “I learned photography through experience; by putting film through the camera, peering through the lenses, trial and error, and pondering every facet of light. It’s the only way. If you think there is another way, or a faster way, write a book telling how and you will make considerably more money than by being a photographer.” These are very wise words. Cut them out and stick them on your bathroom mirror and read them every day! In fact, renowned Thai photographer, Tom Chuawiwat, used to tell me that professional photography was the only job where the client paid you to learn!

I’ve tried to see just what it is about Larry Dale Gordon’s pictures that appeal so much to me and I’ve come up with two basic concepts. Simplicity and Color.

Simplicity makes any photograph more readily understandable. Your photos should also have a strong, dominant color to attract the eye to the photo.

So look at the photo I have chosen here. A sunset, which can be deduced by the orange color, and a kangaroo on the beach which places the photo in Australia. This is a classic genre which can be duplicated by anyone with a camera. So saying, all you have to do is nip down to Pattaya Beach late afternoon with your pet ‘roo’, or if you want to make it Thailand, with your pet elephant!

Let’s not make slavish copies! But instead, let’s look at how we can accomplish the effect of a monochromatic picture and silhouette. To make it easier for you, pick your favorite beach or riverside at a time when the sun can be behind your subject – be that people or things. Now you need a tricky filter, called a “tobacco” filter. On that bright sunny day, with the light behind your subject(s) hold this brown/orange filter over the lens and pop the shutter. Stick it on Auto if you will, the camera will do the rest. Even experiment with different colors to get strangely wonderful or weirdly dreadful results.

The only point to really remember is to get the light behind the subject. You will be able to get this “pseudo sunset” look any time after three in the afternoon. Try it and amaze your friends with a classic silhouette!

Gene Butera one of Larry’s favorite Creative Directors, says it all, “Larry discovered long ago that he has two consuming drives in life; travel and photography. He also realized that by combining the two, he could create an ideal career. Some thirty years and 70 countries later, Larry shoots exotic subjects with equal enthusiasm and creativity.”

And Thailand has exotica galore!

Wednesday, 26 August 2015 15:34

Stick it on the wall

Anyone who reads a photography column has a hidden agenda. He or she wants to take better pictures.

Forgive me for being repetitious, but great images do not just “happen” – they are “made”. And having gone to the trouble of making that image, you can make it even better by displaying it, using some of your artistic abilities at the same time.

One way to “make” great wall art is to follow a theme and display the images as a diptych or even a triptych. (Fancy words for two or three pictures mounted side by side.)

Subject matter for wall art? Consider a study of opposites. Hot and cold, big and small, young and old, black and white and so on. So one very good way to give extra impact to your photographs is then to ‘pair’ your images by use of opposites.

The first, and one of the most obvious contrasts is to take the same subject, but at different times of the day. The old phrase “as different as night and day” is crying out to be used. Pattaya Bay by day and night is an obvious example. However, you must take the shots from exactly the same position, even if you have to camp there all day! What I often do is to mark the spot where the shot was taken in the morning, so I can come back and find the identical spot later. The second factor is to make sure that if you are using a zoom lens, that you use the same focal length setting each time. The idea is to ensure that the only item of change is the lighting.

Another contrast is to use the weather to give you a different look to the same subject. Even a street scene with pedestrians taken in daylight and then again with umbrellas in the rain tells a very different story. So next time it is teeming down with rain go outdoors with your camera and get something pleasing and then recreate it in the dry.

What we will do now is to exercise our minds (yours and mine) and come up with some opposites – then work out how to present these on film. As I have said so many times, a good photograph is “made” rather than just happening. The way the pros work is to build on a concept and then work out the way of showing it on film.

So let’s take some – there is young and old that springs immediately to mind. A shot of a very old person with a young child is always an attention grabber. Now, how many times have you seen big advertising companies use just that shot? Many times!

What about old and new? The range here is as big as your imagination. A shiny new car parked beside a wrecked one, a new beach umbrella beside a tattered old one, a shot of a workers corrugated iron and packing case ‘house’ beside a bright, spanking new mansion. Or even a photo of a box Brownie and a new Nikon.

There’s even more – hot and cold, rough and smooth, light and heavy – there is really no end to what you can portray when you start thinking about it.

But it doesn’t end there either. Think about the different ways you can do things. Digging a trench with an old shovel, to watching a huge mechanical ditch digger at work. How about a sundial with a watch hooked on it? A light bulb and a candle, a horse and buggy and a new Mercedes. Again, just let your imagination run riot and go from there.

Now presentation of contrasting images is important too. This is where you should finally select the best two shots and get enlargements done. 14 inches by 11 inches is a good size and then get them mounted side by side using a double matte. With the cost of framing being so cheap in Thailand it is very easy to produce great wall art. All that is needed are your images and some original imagination.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015 15:35

Selfie and then food

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.

We are in the ‘automatic’ era. We drive automatic cars. We have automatic gate openers and remote controls on our television sets, so we don’t even have to get out of the armchair. And when it comes to photography, slip the camera into “auto” mode and you ‘automatically’ get reasonable photographs. Note: I did not say “great” photographs, but if you want to get great photos take the camera off the ‘auto’ mode.

Wednesday, 05 August 2015 14:39

The perfect portrait

Some of the most common photographs taken by the amateur photographer are portraits. By ‘portraits’, I am ignoring the abomination called ‘selfies’, using hand-held phone cameras and in my view, the domain of the vain.

Wednesday, 29 July 2015 13:16

Does GoPro make you a Pro as well?

The big mover in cameras has to be the GoPro series.  Motorcycle riders have started to sprout these strange appendages on the top of their helmets, and no even semi-serious adventure exponent would be seen dead without one.  Rather than tell people about the one that got away, you can now show the thrilling struggle of man versus fish!

Called the Hero cameras, these have been brilliantly marketed, as well as being brilliant at what they are supposed to do.  The unspoken promise being that with one of these you too will be a hero.  And what’s more on land or underwater.

The top Hero in the range is the Hero 4 Black that shoots 4K video at 30fps, 2.7K/50fps and 1080p/120fps video, 12 MP photos up to 30 frames per second and features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Protune for photos and video and is waterproof to 40 meters.  You will pay somewhere between 16,000 and 18,000 THB.

The Hero 4 Silver shoots 1080p video up to 60fps and 720p/120fps video, 12MP photos up to 30 frames per second.  It features built-in Wi-Fi and Bluetooth, and Protune for photos and video and is also waterproof to 40 m.  This one is around 14,000 THB.

However, GoPro has just released another camera, to slot in below the 4 Black and Silver range.  This is the GoPro Hero Session and being a simpler action camera is aimed at those who want to shoot without fuss.

The Hero Session is a cube-shaped camera about the size of a Hero 4’s lens.  It is 40 percent lighter and 50 percent smaller than the rest of the Hero 4 range.

With GoPro still leading the action camera market, the Session is a sign it is trying to appeal to all users.

The Session is all about simplicity and doesn’t need a case to be waterproof.  It also features the durability of other GoPro cameras, and it is waterproof up to 10 meters of water.

To show the ease of using, press one button and the camera starts recording video.  Hold the button down for three seconds as you turn it on, and it shoots photos.

As opposed to its bigger brothers, the Session does not shoot 4K video but does capture HD footage at 1440p and 1080p, as well as 720p in slow-mo action clips.

As a still camera, it shoots 8 megapixel images at 10 frames per second in burst mode, or in time-lapse mode of up to 0.5 frame per second.

However, to change its settings, you must link it to a GoPro Smart Remote or a device using the GoPro app over a wi-fi connection.

If you mount the GoPro Hero Session upside down for space reasons, the electronics with reverse this for you automatically.

This small, cubed-shaped camera offers a quick and easy point-and-shoot experience.

For GoPro addicts looking for new angles, the size of the Hero Session opens new ways to carry and mount cameras.  All the amazing shots you see taken from the front of racing cars can be achieved with this camera.  It is also small enough to be carried by animals without causing distress.

GoPro chief executive Nick Woodman, one of the initiators of the action camera market after filming waves while surfing in Australia, says, “We think of GoPro as a movement.  It’s a movement that’s enabling the highest quality user-generated content that the world has ever seen, blurring the lines with professionally produced content.

“It’s a movement that is driving higher levels of social engagement and social activity than ever before.

“And it’s a movement so powerful that it’s also helping launch new platforms, platforms that could be how we all communicate in the future like virtual reality.

“It’s actually not that easy to make something that works as well and reliably as a GoPro.  We have made a breakthrough and we have made something that is worth turning into reality.

“The Hero Session is so small, so convenient, so versatile, and we’re so stoked to what it’s going to add to the whole GoPro movement.”

I believe this will be the start of a world-wide boom in recording action footage, bringing YouTube with it!

Wednesday, 22 July 2015 14:05

Autography – the way of the future?

When digital photography first became affordable for the average photographer, I was not convinced that it would be the success that it has become.

I am not a technophobe, but I take some time to evaluate new technologies.

When I think of technology and its effects upon us, I will let you into another secret skeleton in the family cupboard – I only bought my first fax machine because I was embarrassed by people asking me for my fax number. I could see no way I could use it! Wrong again. Mind you, I’m not as bad as David Ogilvy (Ogilvy and Mather Advertising Agency) who turned down the Xerox contract as he couldn’t see that the company had any future by just copying things!

A couple of years ago I mentioned the Autographer, another development of technology, and another which I thought had a very limited usefulness. What brought this idea back to me was when I saw someone wearing one at the weekend.

As opposed to cameras you hold, this photographic “device” can be worn around your neck, like the medallions or pendants, clipped to clothing or placed in a particular vantage point, is the first consumer device from British company OMG (Oxford Metrics Group and not Oh My God), whose stop-motion technology is used in fields ranging from computer game development to surveying roads.

OMG said it originally developed a version of the Autographer as a memory aid for people with dementia, but said it decided to launch it to the broader market after finding users and their families were also using the devices to record and remember special occasions.

OMG chief executive Nick Bolton said the camera occupied a space between stills photography and video. “It can capture really meaningful single images, but there’s actually something about watching the day back in sequence,” Bolton said. “It tells a story about the day you’ve just experienced.”

This camera knows when to take shots with its preprogrammed sensors, including a light sensor, temperature sensor, compass, IR-based motion detector and accelerometer. The software in the camera takes these inputs and uses them to decide when to capture an image. In addition you must set the Autographer to Low, Medium or High shooting speed, which capture around 50, 100 or 200 images per hour respectively.

Now that’s a lot of photos whichever way you look at it. At the Medium setting you could be producing 1,600 images a day, which is more than most people would care to trawl through. Of course you’re unlikely to use it while sitting at your desk, or working in most jobs. Wear it on an evening out, or to a sports event and keep it on Low and you’ll get around 200 images to flick through when you get home. That is still more than I would like to review.

The sensor itself is not so large in these days of 20 plus megapixels, being only five megapixels but the lens has a field of vision of 136 degrees. “We’ve spent a lot of time developing our wide-angle eye-view lens which is at the heart of the Autographer’s story-telling ability. It gives a unique first-person perspective that allows the wearer to tell their story uninhibited as they see it,” or so says the manufacturer.

The blurb claims “Autographer doesn’t just effortlessly capture images, it captures stories. This offers limitless possibilities for ‘creatives’ and professionals too. As the device is hands-free and wearable, it’s more versatile than a traditional camera in many circumstances; it’s only limited by the imagination of the wearer.”

However, here comes the technology of today - it can connect to smartphones via Bluetooth or computer via USB cable, OLED display, 8GB of on-board storage and there is also a shutter button on the side of the Autographer to allow you to manually over-ride and decide when you want the shot to be taken.

That means the company thinks it should appeal to anyone interested in recording an event without having to operate a camera, or as an additional tool for documentary photographers.

It is already on sale from the company’s website for £399.

You can read more: http://www.smh.com.au/digital-life/cameras/smile-please-clickfree-camera-takes-photos- for-you-20120925-26i2y.html#ixzz27XB0t45N

Wednesday, 15 July 2015 14:26

The sky’s the limit

For some reason I woke early last week. The time was 5.45 and I staggered to the bedroom window and looked out, in time to be greeted by a brilliant red sky. I stumbled to my camera bag, trying to remember how to open it, took out the camera, switched it on, pointed it at the sky and went ‘click’. The phenomenon lasted about two minutes and I managed two usable shots, which I have printed here. It would have been better if I was more awake and stopped down the camera more, but as it was, I still managed to get something usable.

Wednesday, 08 July 2015 11:30

Just a touch of dampness

If you haven’t noticed, we have had some particularly inclement weather recently. However, rather than sitting down in front of the goggle box, it is actually time to rush out in the rain and make the most of the different conditions.

So what has that got to do with taking snapshots? Quite a lot actually. Look at the photograph with the column this week. A wonderful atmospheric shot taken in the rain, giving it the atmosphere. But to get shots like this you have to be prepared.

“Be Prepared” has always been the motto of the Boy Scouts Association, and a concept that they have zealously guarded. In fact, popular rumor has it that the Association took the American satirist Tom Lehrer to court after he sang a ditty with the title Be Prepared. For those of you who missed it, the final verse included:

“If you’re looking for adventure of a new and different kind,

And you come across a Girl Scout who is similarly inclined,

Don’t be nervous, don’t be flustered, don’t be scared.

Be prepared!”

Now in the wet weather, being prepared means that not only do you have fresh batteries, a memory card with room for more shots, but also ensuring that your camera stays dry. This is not all that easy, unless you have an assistant with a large umbrella at your disposal.

Being prepared then means having your camera ‘waterproof’. To do this 100 percent you can buy a Nikonos underwater camera at the cost of many thousands of baht. These are a wonderful underwater camera but for this instance - totally impractical, unless you want to stand at the side of the road in a full wet-suit!

The second way is to purchase a fancy plastic underwater housing for your own camera. Now these can range in price, depending on complexity. Built like a perspex box to house your camera, you can operate all the adjustments from the outside. These are not cheap either, and the cheapest in the range is literally a plastic bag with a waterproof opening and a clear plastic section for the lens. You open it up and literally drop your camera inside it and seal the bag. These can be purchased from major photographic outlets and I did spot one in a photo-shop for B. 750.

A third way is a waterproof disposable camera (yes, they do make them). Good for about three meters, so perfectly suitable for rainstorms. If you can’t get one of those, then even the ordinary cheap disposables are a better option than getting your good camera gear doused. I must admit to having dropped one of these overboard one day and the boatman jumped and retrieved it and the final photos were fine - but that was in the days of film, and not fancy electronics.

But you are left with an even simpler way of making your camera waterproof. And cheaper. It consists of a couple of plastic bags, such as you get with every item in 7-Eleven, and a handful of rubber bands.

Do the camera body first, inserting it into the plastic bag, but leaving a circular hole in the front so you can screw the lens on afterwards. Some rubber bands and the body is protected.

Now pop the lens into the other plastic bag, making circular holes at both ends and fixing it in place with a couple of rubber bands. Use large bags, so there is slack to move the focusing ring/aperture settings.

Your waterproof camera for less than one baht. Go out and get wet and shoot! But it is a simple case of being prepared and just jumping in to get some great shots, don’t stage manage, and lots of luck! Look out for photo opportunities, even when it is raining.

When it is raining, it really does mean another photographic opportunity to get different shots. Since we get bright sun for nine months a year, make the most of the rain!

It is a simple case of being prepared and then just jumping in to get the shots. And when you are back indoors dry the camera carefully as there is always some condensation.

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