When you mention night photography, for many people this brings out images of gumshoes taking sneak shots through bedroom windows. This week’s column has very little in common with private eyes or bedroom windows, so if you were hoping for something salacious this isn’t where you should be reading.
I was discussing photography in general with a semi-pro this week. We were going through the remarkable advances that there have been, particularly regarding the burgeoning camera-phone as the medium photography is rapidly becoming based upon.
OK, you have been given a Digital SLR for New Year, and you are keen to improve over the photographs you took last year with your compact point and shoot camera.
Having had a professional photography studio for many years, using all formats of film cameras, I was very reluctant to join the digital movement. However, like gravity, the effects of the digital age could not be ignored, and I joined the evolution (as opposed to ‘revolution’).
The next development in photography I could not have predicted. That was the advent of the phone-cam. Like Dick Tracey’s two way wrist radio, the concept was close to science fiction. But the phone-cam has changed the way we approach the art of taking photographs.
Initially I sneered at so-called photographers holding up their mobile phone and snapping away at functions. With 2 MP, they were lucky to get an image, let alone sharp enough for reproduction purposes.
The next development was the “selfie” which overnight changed normally sane people into narcissistic self-centered people. The ultimate expression of this new development is women using the rearward view function, holding up their mobile phone to apply their make-up!
The initial soft images from the first phone-cams with their 2 MP have also been improved, as the phone manufacturers have now come up with phone-cams with 20 MP. This is more than most compact cameras.
The mobile phone revolution really began in earnest when the BlackBerry came on the market, but it was very quickly superseded by phones from Nokia and the Apple iPhone ranges. Today you must have an iPhone 5 or a Samsung Galaxy S4 to be in the fashion conscious hunt.
However, one of the problems when comparing cam-phones 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 MP 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 for the cam-phone.
There is no ignoring just how camera phones have taken over the position previously held by point and shoot cameras. The numbers say it all. By 2003, more camera phones were sold worldwide than stand-alone digital cameras.
In 2005, Nokia became the world’s most sold digital “camera” brand.
In 2006, half of the world’s mobile phones had a built-in camera.
In 2008, Nokia sold more camera phones than Kodak had done with film cameras and became the biggest manufacturer of any kind of camera.
In 2009, camera sales continued to slide as camera phones improved their auto-focus, zoom and low-light features.
In 2010 the worldwide number of camera phones totaled more than a billion and sales of separate cameras continued to decline. Even inexpensive mobile phones were being sold with a camera.
Up to November 2011, US retail sales of entry-level cameras fell 17 percent to 12 million units from 2010. In that same time-frame cam-phone makers sold 95 million in the US.
No, like it or lump it, the cam-phone is here to stay, and the top end models do return sharp images.
So what can you do to get better images from your telephone? The first thing is to remember that you do not have the control over the equipment that you have with a camera. You cannot alter the shutter speed, or the aperture, you have to rely upon the cam-phone to do that for you. You cannot alter the ISO rating either. So what do you have?
You have a screen which shows you almost 100 percent of what you are going to get, while standing some distance from the subject. The cam-phone is making you look more carefully at the total scene. Move closer and get the image to fill the screen and you will have a much better resulting image.
The message is to walk in closer, compose and shoot! And answer the phone as well!
Now that you have your new Xmas camera, how about exploring Landscape photography? Is it easy? Point the camera at rolling fields and push the button. Another great shot - or is it?
Photography is great for bower birds. Collectors all of us, with items kept long after their usefulness has waned. Some of it has become surplus to requirements, some of it is broken and not worth repairing or too difficult to get repaired in this country, and much has become redundant because you have changed camera systems, or even changed complete formats (6x6 to 35 mm for example).
I found myself in that situation a couple of years back after purchasing my Panasonic Lumix Digital DMC-FZ50. It took a year of deliberation (some might call it ‘hesitation’ or just plain ‘dithering’) before I made the fateful decision to a) go digital and b) go Lumix, after more than 20 years of using Nikon exclusively.
Of course, some of you will ask why didn’t I stay with Nikon, with its full range of digital SLRs? Good question, but easily answered. The upper level Nikons are now very expensive, and whilst I had some excellent Nikon manual focus prime lenses, they were not going to be all that compatible with the new Nikon digital auto-focus systems.
That also brings in one of the salient reasons in the purchase of the Lumix - the fantastic 35-420 Leica zoom lens that comes with the Panasonic Lumix, coupled with the electronic anti-shake technology so you can hand hold, even at 420 mm. With digitals these days, I believe that you are best served with electronics from an electronic company, with lenses from an optical company. The Lumix definitely fits that.
Having made the irrevocable decision, I looked at my now defunct Nikon 35 mm film system. I had two cameras, a much loved FM2N, and an FA. The FM2N was the typical journalist’s workhorse with more rolls of film through it than I’ve had hot dinners, whilst the FA was the back up. Only thing was the FA was no longer working, having some kind of internal problem, by which the mirror was locked in the “up” mode.
The lenses were a 24 mm wide angle, old and growing its second crop of fungus (the first was cleaned off about five years ago), a 50 mm ‘standard’ lens and a 135 mm ‘portrait’ lens. I also had a spacer for macro work, which was also very old, but was the good one that still allowed the auto exposure function to work.
Quite frankly, as far as I was concerned, these items were now surplus and it was going to be very unlikely that I would use any of it again (although I would still take the FM2N out of its bag and lovingly stroke it every so often).
It was at that stage that a good friend of mine suggested I sell the surplus items, and said that he had excellent results selling items on eBay in the UK. He was returning to the UK himself and offered to sell them, and I thought, “Why not? I’m getting nothing for them sitting in the old camera bag.”
He had been back a couple of weeks when I got the following email:
That little lot came to 325 pounds sterling, which at current exchange rates is around 17,000 baht, which certainly made purchase of the Lumix a breeze (duty-free price).
His advice for anyone contemplating selling via eBay was to take good photos of the items for sale, and be scrupulously honest in the descriptions. If the item is broken, or scratched or repaired or whatever, declare its condition truthfully and this avoids come-backs later.
The lenses all went for very good money, though I would have thought the 135 mm would have been more desirable than the 50 mm, but the 24 mm did attract the highest bid, as I thought it would.
The moral to this tale, is to look at the old camera gear, broken or otherwise and clear out the cupboard and sell it. You will get more than you ever imagined, but it certainly helped having a friend, a regular eBay user, and stationed in the UK.
Flash photography tends to worry some weekend photographers, so this week we might try to de-mystify lighting.
More than likely, there is a book called Videography for Dummies, and if so, I’m sorry I stole the title!
Video is becoming more popular every day. Have a look in the window of a camera shop and you will find as many video cameras as there are still cameras. In addition, many still digital cameras also have a video capability as do many camera phones these days, so there is probably just as much video work being done as still.
The forthcoming Pantomime evenings by the Pattaya Players thespian society means that you will have the opportunity to try your hand at stage photography. Readers in other parts of Thailand, don’t feel left out, as you do have similar opportunities, even if it is just for Likay or similar Thai productions.
Are you really getting your money’s worth out of your camera? In most cases, your very expensive camera. Having recently made a small study, I came to the conclusion that the one item in everyone’s possession which is not giving value for money, is the camera. I’m talking about digitals here, as film belongs to the dark ages these days, though it is still sadly missed.
This week’s column is actually not a discourse on the two camera (photography) types - film and digital. I believe everyone now understands the reasons why the world left film behind. For new photographers who never used film, just understand that digital gives you the advantage of ‘instant’ review, something that film could never do. The best that film could do was a one hour wait at the photo-processors, and even then it usually was longer.
The letter “C”.
However, digital cameras are not cheap, and a good DSLR can easily see you spending at least 20,000 baht and upwards. For that sort of money, you should be seeing some sort of return in satisfaction, if nothing else.
To get that satisfaction level, you have to realize there is just so much more you can do with a DSLR than just taking photos of children, friends and family. You should be able to get some fun and satisfaction from the investment too.
The way to get that fun is to make a project for yourself, and one that can be carried through involves taking a photograph of something each week for a complete year. This is what I have called Project 52.
For example, you could even do a self-portrait each week for one year. Use your imagination and creativity so that you do not end up with 52 shots of your face. There are plenty of other bits of you to try. A fun idea would be make 52 sections of yourself, and then paste the different shots on to one sheet which would make a final art work that Picasso would have been proud of.
Too squeamish for 52 shots of yourself? Well, how about 52 shots of your local area or suburb? The plan is to show all the different items that can be found in one community. There will also be different weather in that year - wet and dry to start with. There is also night and day, sunset and sunrise. High viewpoint, low viewpoint. You can see where I am going here. By using your creative senses, you can give yourself many hours of concepts and ideas and then shoot them each weekend.
Project 52 can also be carried out by older members of the family, and even by children. Whilst personally I think a DSLR is better suited for this type of project, there is no real reason why a digital compact could not be used.
If 52 is just too much to take on, then what about Project 26? Each shot represents one letter of the alphabet. Sure, A for Apple is easy, but Q for ? is a little more difficult. Again, the creative approach will see you looking for queues, or even “quickly” (work out how to show that). You could even make it that the subject matter in each of the 26 shots, looks like the letter. A stepladder looks like an A. So a double hook, for example, looks like an S, whilst a single hook looks like a J. The top of a bottle is an O. An open pair of scissors is a V.
You won’t find all the items in one weekend, but by the following weekend you’ll have worked out what you are looking to photograph.
If Project 26 is still too onerous for you, how about Project 12? There are 12 months of the year, think about how you can show the difference between them. Hot, wet, cold - there are three of them - and then it gets harder from there. But the whole concept is to get you thinking, and then using your expensive investment.
Sit down this weekend and work out which project you would like to try, then start working on the concept, and then finally start shooting. Best of luck.