Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 12, Creative Techniques

Once we know the technicals of photography, we can now venture out with creativity and
capture scenes. However, there are still a few techniques that can be used to increase the
quality of your images. What is important is that when you see a scene, and you want to
photograph it, you must have the ability to know what technique works for that scene.
Basically it is applying the correct technique to the correct scene to get the best result.

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Probably the most misunderstood of features on a camera, the flash is there to light up a
scene when the camera deems a situation too dark for it to take a decent picture.

There are a few types of flash: Normal, Fill in Flash, Red eye reduction and Rear curtain sync

Normal flash
This is the everyday flash that occurs when you pop you flash up. It is designed to illuminate
the entire scene that it sees. This means that anything that is in front of the scene will be over
exposed, as it will receive too much light. This is often the case with portraits of people as
they are too close to the camera and in front of everything else. The way to prevent this is to
have the flash dialled down a bit so that the flash is only powerful for short range. This will
give a better overall effect. It also helps the recycling time of the flash, as it does not use as
much power as normal flash- so it allows you take images faster and it saves your batteries.

Red eye reduction
The closer the flash is to the lens of the camera, the more chance of Red eye being prevalent.
Red eye is caused by the reflection of the flash into the lens.
How to reduce red eye:

• Have a hot shoe flash and bounce flash off ceiling or hold flash away from the camera
and direct it onto subject. Of course this is not always possible.
• Red eye reduction mode on camera. Camera pre fires flash so that subject’s pupils
dilate and then the camera takes an image with flash.
• Subject looks into bright light before taking picture- effect is same as red eye
• Post processing- this is done on the computer.

Fill Flash
Fill flash is a small amount of flash that the camera emits to help the image. It is one of the
most useful ways to improve your daytime images. It is best used in shadows, under trees and
in harsh day lighting. What is important is to realise that fill flash is there to fill in shadows
only. This means that it is a subtle effect and if a viewer cant see that flash was used, then the
effect is successful. I am a firm believer in Fill flash. It turns horrid daytime photos into
acceptable images that you can use for family albums. Must also remember that many
weddings are taken in full daylight, so this is where fill flash saves the day for those
photographers. Probably its most creative benefit is that of when used when shooting against
the sun. The fill flash fills in the detail of what would normally be a silhouette. This gives an
image a lot more substance and evens out the contrast in an image.
Rear curtain sync
This is the most creative flash effect and it produces ethereal and mystical effects. What
happens is the shutter opens for the exposure and the Flash only fires at the end of the
exposure. If used with a slow shutter speed, can create beautiful effects and blur is created by
the slow SS, but the flash freezes the subject when it fires.
Best results are had when used with a support- being a tripod, beanbag or by resting against a
pole or wall.

Filters are pieces of glass that fit onto the front of a lens, either by screwing on or via a drop
in system. There are many types of filters and they provide many types of effects, many of
them not natural in look. I will concentrate on two types of filters that re very useful and help
in producing better and more balanced images.

Polarising filter

This is a circular filter that screws onto your lens. The front section of the polariser turns,
increasing and decreasing in strength of polarisation as it turns. It gives the best results are
when used at 90 Deg to the sun. The polarizer is best used in mid day light conditions, forests
and over water.

What it does:
Daylight: Adds contrast and saturates colours
Forests: It reduces the leaf shine (glare) on wet leaves- makes for a much better
resultant image
Water: Reduces glare over water- excellent for “seeing” into the water.
The graduated Neutral density filter

Used mainly traditionally for landscapes, but it use is not confined to scenery. I find this one
of my best travel lenses. The filter is one half clear glass and the other half a dull grey colour.
What it does is balance the exposure of the sky with that of the land. This balances the
exposure so that the entire scene is made equal and you dint get an image of a dark
foreground and a bright sky.
This technique is used for capturing various forms of motion. It means that you follow your
subject, as it is moving. It is important to try and keep your movement as smooth as possible
with the moving subject. There are various ways types of effect that you can get from
panning, depending o your shutter speed.
Most common:
Pan with subject to get your subject sharp and background a nice blur. This type of shot is
good to start around 1/250 sec.
It is sometimes nice to make your subject a blur. This equates into a very abstract effect and
uses a much lower shutter speed. Anything from 1/10 sec will give you a blur of movement.
It must be remembered that this is a difficult technique and the success rate can be quite low.
Luckily you have a digital camera and you can practice and adjust our settings to get the
desired result.

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Improve Your Photography - Part 11, Patterns and Creativity

Creativity is considered as being divergent thought to create a solution. Thus it means
‘breaking ‘ the rules, but still being aware of those rules, especially when it comes to
The word pattern is a very diverse one. In photographic terms, it could be described as
something worthy of repetition, an artistic or creative design or a composite of traits.
It is clear that these two combine together in the creative realm of photography. The outdoors
are full natural patterns that we just need to open our eyes to and photograph. This is where
your knowledge of the camera comes in. if you can see a pattern, you can make it more
evident through the camera and the control you have over the camera, especially aperture.

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How aperture affects the way you see patterns

Aperture determines your DOF.

By selecting your DOF, you can create even more impact in an image. It can add great DOP
throughout an image and show a pattern in its entirety, or it can select one part of a pattern
and leave the others a soft out of focus blur. These selections may seem simple, but they are
extremely effective in creating a stronger impact in your image.
Using aperture you can also select certain subjects and isolate them from a scene. This is
probably the most powerful manner that a selective aperture can influence an image and is
extremely effective in isolating subjects from the image or the background.

Creativity with Shutter speed

Shutter speed determines if you freeze or blur your photograph. This obviously lends itself to
more creative applications. A fast shutter speed freezes motion and is thus good for action
A slow shutter speed causes blur: so when used on a tripod, it can be used for some really
creative effects.

Shutter speed selection

Still Portrait - 1/60 sec
moving portrait - 1/125 sec

Walk- jog- 1/250 - 1/500 sec
Sport and fast action - 1/750 - 1/1250
extreme action- birds in flight, snowboarding etc 1/1250 - 1/2000

Blur - (Tripod required)
Slight water blur - 1/30 sec
complete blur - 2 sec and more

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Night Photography

This is a great way of experimenting with your photography, as the results are fascinating. A
tripod is essential here as well as a cable release, but a self-timer on the camera will also
suffice. Night colours are very warm and saturated, making for strong images, especially if
there are moving lights in the picture.
A few tips:
• Shutter speed can be from a few seconds- through to a few hours
• If you are taking a photograph of a city scene- results are much better after recent
rain, as the streets will reflect the lights nicely in the image.
• Use a low iso (200). You want the best image quality and your camera is on a tripod.
• In the evening and especially so in winter, there is a ‘blue hour’ about an hour after
sunset. This is when the sky is still slightly blue, but not yet completely dark. It is the
best time to take night images, as it adds ambiance to the image.
• Dusk and dawn, are excellent times to do night photography. This is because the light
colours are extremely beautiful and subtle. Our eyes don’t actually realise these
colours and cameras render them a beautiful colour.
• When shooting stars: for a circular trail of stars, aim your camera to the south
(southern cross) and the whole sky will whirl across your frame.

For more information on Photography courses and how to improve your photography see here.

All text copyright C4 Images and Safaris

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Friday, June 5, 2009

Leopard Portrait, Mashatu Game Reserve, Botswana

Its funny how things work out. I’ve always ascertained that the large cats are over photographed. In that vein, for my personal work, I try to keep away from them and focus on the smaller things.
Fortunately though, I do come across the big cats relatively often and have had the pleasure to witness and photograph some spectacular interactions. These are wonderful to photograph and see, but it is one part of the wildlife world where I know “everything has been covered”.

photo workshop, shem compion, c4 images and safaris, mashatu, isak pretorius

There is no denying that these large cats, and the leopard in particular, are very special creatures, and have a special charisma about them. It is also no wonder that they have dedicated followers, with safari goers and photographers alike stalking them out from behind every bush. Indeed, if a reserve or lodge has good, relaxed leopard or lion sightings, the “value” of the lodge increases greatly! The demand to see these cats reaches such a fever pitch that there is a term coined when people get leopards into their heads. Its called “spotted cat fever”, and I have a seen a few instances where people actually start hyperventilating whilst stalking a leopard in thick bush. I’ve also seen photographers trying to put their flash on backwards, so much was their excitement that they could not even perform a simple function in the anticipation of this spotted denizen of the forest!

Due to the fact that there are so many people out photographing these big cats, I do tend to give them the slip. That is unless they are actually doing something and are photographable… if not, I would rather be photographing insects backlit. Far more challenging and rewarding!

There are however the exceptions. I was privileged enough to be at one of the best leopard setups and sightings recently. I was leading a photo workshop up at Mashatu, in Botswana with C4 Images and Safaris. We had come across this young male leopard on the first night and knew he was very relaxed around vehicles. On the second evening, we heard that this same leopard had been discovered by the other photography vehicle, led by Isak Pretorius (our other photo guide). Luckily we were only a couple of minutes away and as we headed around a corner of the dry river bed, the scene opened up in front of us, just as it has before in all my dreams of the perfect set up.
The river ran east-west. The leopard was sleeping on top of a dead log, washed down by the recent floods, in the middle of the river. It was facing west, into the setting sun, the bank behind it was already in shadow, making it stand out and glow in the evening sunlight. There were no branches or other distractions to the scene. It was simple, clean, and by golly, damn beautiful. It is at these times that you take a breath, take a step back and just enjoy the pure beauty of such a scene. All the ideals of not taking pictures of large cats go out the window and the camera started working. This is a studio set up in the bush. Things could not get more beautiful or better set up! We all had spotted cat fever trying to get the best images. I actually realised how hard it was to do the scene justice, as it was so well set up.

It was then that the real action started. A porcupine walked into the scene… (I wont deal with that here- you can read more about on my blog.) But we had just witnessed such a stunning set up and it’s in times like these that you realise why there is never the “perfect shot” of any species of animal.
A leopard sighting like that one was a very refreshing slap in the face. Im all for the different animals and shots, but when a scene comes along like that, it makes you feel like a beginner again, shaky, excited and damn happy to be a part of such beauty!

Exposure information
Nikon D3 - 200-400mm lens
Exposure – f 4 Shutter Speed: 1/20sec
Exp. Comp. -0.3. EV
ISO - 1000
Flash - none
Exposure mode– Aperture priority, Metering Mode– Matrix
File type– NEF (RAW)
Focal length: 400mm
Beanbag support
Shem Compion

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