“You Press the Button, We Do the Rest” was an advertising slogan coined by George Eastman, the founder of Kodak in 1888. He was the rightful father of popular photography, having brought it to the masses. However, the images were not of a professional standard. That came much later.
We would all like to turn the clock back, and for more than just cosmetic reasons. There are those people in the world who have been exploring the technologies of yester year, and in the 189 years of photography there have been plenty of technological changes. And I include the digital evolution, but there were plenty of technological breakthroughs before that.
Are your photographs coming out grey? No really strong blacks or whites any more? Black cars turning out as grey cars? White cats turning into grey cats? Could be your whites are not balanced properly.
If you are keen on photography as a hobby, then as well as a decent camera (generally a DSLR with a range of lenses) you will have a decent camera bag! That bag should be large enough to carry the aforesaid camera, lenses, and a few other items, some of which are important, and some just part of a wish list!
Very soon we will be coming up to 200 years of photography. Everything about photography has changed remarkably in the past 175 years since Louis Daguerre went on to develop the daguerreotype process, the first publicly announced photographic process, which required only minutes of exposure in the camera and produced clear, finely detailed results. It was commercially introduced in 1839, a date generally accepted as the birth year of practical photography. In the mid-1820s, Nicéphore Niépce had managed to produce an image, but several days of exposure in the camera were required and the earliest results were very crude.
“When all else fails - read the instruction manual” is always some very good advice, and the answer to many photographic problems can be found in it. However, this does pre-suppose you have read it, or even know where to find it. And even more importantly, know where to find the salient items from all the functions of today’s digital cameras.
When you speak the word “digital” it means you have entered the world of the drop-down menu. How I curse it! They have taken simple rotary dial adjustments and made them difficult because you have to scroll down menus and then scroll across and so forth, looking at the LCD screen on the back of the camera.
Of course, it can get even more difficult, as when the instruction manual that comes with your new camera is on a CD. The CD covers over 100 pages, and of course, is quite useless when you are in the field without a PC or any electronic device that can read CD’s (so far this ability is not available on the ubiquitous smart-phone).
Now the camera manufacturers don’t think they are making it difficult for you. In fact, they think they have made it easier for you! Instead of working out the correct exposure for any shot, they have done the sums for you and all you have to do is select the mode you want, be that fireworks, rainy overcast day, or snowflakes. But you may have to go through the drop-down menu to select the mode of course.
But, a printed manual generally comes with the new camera. Do not lose it. It is akin to your bible. But you must read it first before traipsing outside with the menu for sunset beach selected. Look at that again - read it first.
A few years ago, one of the readers, Don Griffith, wrote to me with some very good advice, for a confused amateur who had written, “I have trawled through the instruction book and menus for both turning it on and also extending the viewing time of the menus but I’m damned if I can find anything about either items.” He had also written, “A question though, I know most of the time it is power economical to leave the LCD off but occasionally it is needed for viewing. Any suggestions?”
I reprint Don’s advice here. And as it was extremely sage advice, so I suggest you read it. “I have a D40 and probably the instruction manual for it is exactly the same as a previous writer. Very badly laid out and confusing - vague language and far too many cross references for someone making the transition up to a DSLR to make total sense of.
“To this end it is very worthwhile investing in a third party book on the camera if one wants to get the best out of it.
“I got one from my local ‘Amazon’ - the beauty of using Amazon being I was able to read parts of it before I bought it to make sure I was not buying yet another confusing instruction book. I bought the cheapest available out of a surprisingly large collection that was on offer - and it has been a complete revelation and consider it has totally paid for itself in the first three or four chapters.
“For example, I have had the camera for 12 months and in the first chapter or so I learnt basic things that I was previously unaware of - like how to use the exposure compensation/aperture button.
“No doubt there are owners of other makes of DSLR cameras with much the same problem - if so it is also worth them looking for a book for their camera as well.”
By the way, when children play with the camera, you can end up with the situation, for example, where nothing on the LCD makes any sense, no matter what you do. The answer for that problem is to return to the shop and look hopeless, and the bright young thing behind the counter will fix it in less than one minute. Unfortunately, you and I are no longer “bright young things”.
I have kept thousands of photographs I should have thrown away - however, they do have a value. They teach me what I did wrong, several times over!
Looking over many of the shots showed me that I took a lot of shots of almost exactly the same things. One wrong shot was repeated over and over again, as if I expected God to come and fix the photo for me. He didn’t.
There should be almost as much work in thinking about a photograph as there is in taking it. Great shots do not just ‘happen’, great shots are designed and planned for.
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.