My earlier article on why we photograph led me to spend a little more time thinking specifically about what it is about the photographic process that is enjoyable. It seems that it’s engaging on many levels – firstly, there’s the anticipation of buying new equipment, and continually pursuing gear – I suppose you could call that the ‘collectors’ itch’. As much as I see cameras as tools, I admit there’s a certain satisfaction in finding, acquiring and owning/ using something rare; the F2 Titan, for example. Like every other accessory or object we choose to use – it signals something about the tastes of the owner. (There’s also the ego-stroking fact that it promotes jealousy amongst other photographers, but I’m going to ignore that and say it really is all about the image. Then there’s the simple tactile pleasure of handling some of the objects and paraphanelia associated with the hobby – I’m talking about things that go beyond cameras and lenses, though these are certainly the two main categories; but tripods, flashes, bags, filters, grips, cases, straps…the list goes on. There’s a reason why cameras like the Leicasonics and [Hasselblad Lunar] make some sense even if they are just rebadged/ redesigned base cameras; it’s the materials and tactile feel. I doubt you could say a basic, entry-level DSLR is an especially nice thing to use – frankly, it’s soulless – but to somebody coming from a compact – the sound and feel of a real shutter is a significant improvement on a recorded noise, or nothing – at least until they realize that stealth and silence are golden, and then we go back around in a circle again in search for the smoothest, most quiet shutter available. Personally, I still like the feel of a good mechanical shutter…
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The Fujifilm X-E2 is a welcome update to last year’s popular X-E1. The camera takes the innards of the X100s and puts them in an X-mount body; it isn’t the X-Pro2 that a lot of users were hoping for, but it’s a significant enough update – for those who had issues with AF speed at least – to warrant serious consideration. In fact, I was sent a list of 61 improvements the X-E2 carries; some new to the camera, some inherited from the X-M1 and others from the X100s. I personally have had a rather inconsistent experience with Fujifilm products; on one hand, I absolutely love their films – Acros is my mainstay in all formats – but was left highly expectant and then disappointed by several cameras, first the original X100, then the X-Pro1, the XF1 and finally the X20. These are cameras I wanted to love, but found lacking in several areas; ultimately, I landed up with M4/3 as my compact system choice due to maturity of cameras and lenses. Many have asked why I don’t seriously consider the X system; I was offered a pre-production prototype by Fujifilm Malaysia, and I cleared a few days in the schedule to seriously revisit the system….
“All in all though, the X-E2 is a solid upgrade from the X-E1 and lower spec X-mount cameras and quite possibly the best X-mount camera yet; one hopes that Fuji will fix the shutter button, and continue their track record of useful firmware updates to address some of the operational speed issues” – Ming Thein
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Here’s a provocative question: is this image art? Why? Why not? Have a think about this carefully, for a moment. Today I’m going to crack open the lid of one of the biggest cans of worms in the whole of photography, peer inside, give you my 1.53 cents* and try not to fall inside.
*Devaluated from two cents since 2009 due to underdeclared inflation, quantitative easing, foreign debt and other economic screwups
Perhaps the biggest struggle photography has faced historically as a medium is to be taken seriously as an art form. I’d say it’s only in the last couple of decades that the results at auction have been able to hold their own against traditional art forms; even if a good chunk of us don’t understand why – myself included. (I’m probably not the only one thinking of Andreas Gursky here.) Yet we don’t have photographs insured for hundreds of millions of dollars, or exhibited behind bulletproof glass, or even the subject of exciting art heists – let alone Hollywood movies – why is this? ….
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An image like this requires a surprising amount of work: I’ve already talked about the mechanics of lighting horological images in this three-part series (beginning here). To be honest, I originally intended to photograph the set up and other b-roll for another on-assignment post, but the simple reality is that I’m usually so busy on the shoot that I just don’t have the time. Instead, I’m going to talk about the amount of work that goes in behind the scenes. There’s about half an hour of setup for the lighting gear for the first image, a few minutes of tweaking, and then you’re ready to go. But before that, there’s also about half an hour of cleaning and dusting for each watch; you want to remove as much dust, fingerprint oil etc. as possible to miminize retouching time. It’s especially important for any surfaces where this really shows, such as polished cases, antireflective coatings on crystals, and any case seams. An antistatic brush and blower completes the job…..
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Whilst it would be impossible to cover absolutely everything you need to know to be proficient in photography in a single article, the aim of today’s piece is to provide the amateur to hobbyist an idea of the things to keep in mind in order to be able to focus on producing images. It’s something that’s been quite frequently requested in the past few weeks – perhaps a sign that my reader base may be shifting somewhat – so I’ve decided to take a crack at it in a way that makes it both accessible yet still somewhat relevant for the more advanced photographer. Where applicable, the section header links to a more detailed article. I’ll approach this from a in the same sequence as I’d normally deal with my own photographic workflow, in a sort of annotated checklist format.
Planning the shoot
- Reconnaissance matters: although you can shoot anything with any lens and camera, it’s not going to help you if you’re going birding with a fisheye. Sometimes it’s worth checking flickr or other communal image sources to see what other people have shot in the same location. I’ll do this but not spend a lot of time on it because I don’t want my perception to be pre-influenced by what I’ve seen in others’ work; however it does give me a good idea of what to expect.
- Ensure you have enough supplies and spares: fully charged batteries, empty memory cards, cleaning cloths etc.
- If it’s outdoors, time of day matters. Whilst it’s perfectly possible for you to just go and see what’s there, I’d recommend at least finding out which direction the sun is going to be shining in (or how much artificial light there is). No point going if the attraction you want to see is going to be completely in shade…….
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Frequently asked, but rarely answered is the question of what makes a good photograph; rarely, if ever, asked is ‘what makes a good photographer?‘ In the first place, does it matter? I think the answer is yes, both because of the importance of self-assessment in the grand scheme of things if you want to continually improve as a photographer, and because we can all benefit from a goal to aim for. Obviously, the answer to this question is going to depend very much on the type of photographer you want to be; being loud, brash and in-your-face might serve you well as a paparazzo, but it’s almost certainly going to result in early retirement if you’re a war photographer. However, before examining those details – and I’m only going to write on the genres of photography I’m somewhat familiar with (please feel free to weigh in under the comments section if you have any further thoughts or experiences to share) – there are definitely some general traits that are beneficial to all photographers, and we’ll examine those first…..
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With that background out of the way, let’s look at how the various metering options work, and what typical situations they might best be deployed under. Cameras typically have three options, or some variation upon that. Within these options, it’s also usually possible to fine tune various aspects of the meter’s operation. I’m going to leave out handheld meter operation since this is something that’s almost never encountered today. An important point to note is that all meters can be fooled by situations of uniform luminance, so don’t trust the readout blindly. Remember, meters function by averaging the entire evaluated area out to middle gray; this means if your evaluated area is meant to be black or white, you’re going to need to add or subtract some exposure compensation. For predominantly light/ white scenes, you need to add; for dark scenes, subtract. This holds true for every one of the different metering methods detailed below.
The simplest form of metering evaluates the frame as a whole, and tries to expose it to middle gray – under the assumption that there will be shadows and highlights, but these will average out. Seldom used today because you will almost always require exposure compensation (making it unsuitable for the point and shoot crowd which constitutes most of the global camera market), but has the one enormous advantage of behaving predictably under every situation.
The simplest form of meter is the spot meter. This evaluates luminosity at the desired point only, ignoring everything else in the frame. There are two important things to be aware of with a spot meter: the location and size of the spot. The metering spot’s location is either in the center of the frame, or tied to the selected or active autofocus point; the logic there is that you would typically want to ensure your subject is both in focus and properly exposed. Variations on the spot meter include types that are biased for highlights or shadows – i.e. you meter a shadow or highlight and it doesn’t turn out over or underexposed. Don’t forget to add appropriate exposure compensation
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One of the more important – yet almost always overlooked – aspects of camera operation is metering. Simply put, the meter determines what your final exposure is, and how bright or dark your image looks relative to the scene. Unless you are shooting manual – and even then – the camera’s exposure is determined by the meter. Add the fact that the eyes of a viewer tend to go to the brightest and/ or highest contrast portions of an image first (i.e. this should be your subject) – and it’s clear to see why it’s absolutely critical to understand both how metering works as a fundamental concept and any camera-specific peccadilloes that might exist. The last thing you want is to find that your camera drastically underexposed a once-in-a-lifetime shot of some critically important event because you didn’t know (or forgot) that the meter was extremely affected by point light sources….
How meters work
Depending on which exposure mode your camera is in, the meter will try to find a combination of settings that creates an image that averages out to middle gray in luminance, i.e. the histogram average is around level 127 or thereabouts. There are three exposure parameters the camera can use to control the amount of light reaching the image processor – note that the sensor is also now involved in the process – shutter speed, aperture and digital gain, i.e. ISO. If you fix any one of these variables manually – say by shooting aperture priority at a set ISO – then the camera varies the remaining parameters according to a set of rules in order to achieve the ‘correct’ exposure. If the correct exposure is out of adjustment range – e.g. the required shutter speed for a given aperture is too high – then you’re going to land up with an over or underexposed image. In program mode, the camera controls both aperture and shutter values depending on its preset program; the photographer can usually shift the program to a different combination of values which still yield the same net amount of light hitting the sensor. In shutter priority, the user fixes the shutter value manually, so the camera alters the aperture. In aperture priority, it’s the other way around. In manual mode, the user fixes both values – the only thing the meter can do is display how far off the manually chosen exposure is from the correct exposure, or alter the ISO or flash. If auto-ISO is activated, then the camera will always default to the lowest possible ISO within the specified range in order to keep the shutter speed at or above a certain value – either user selected or 1/ focal length in second. (Note that for some cameras, using manual shutter and aperture values will cause the camera to shift the ISO rather than display the variance from correct exposure.)
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… now available for $1.99 on the Apple App Store!
There are a million and one camera apps out there. But how many of them actually teach you about photography? What if you want to know, say, what comatic aberration is? Or perhaps you need some help with Photoshop, a dose of pictorial inspiration, a camera review, a concise opinion on whether a particular lens is worth buying, or a deconstructivist philosophical article to figure out exactly what’s missing from your images?
Brought to you by renown photographer and writer Ming Thein of www.mingthein.com, the Photographic Compendium covers all of these things:
The photographic dictionary contains most of the commonly-encountered technical terms (email us if you’ve got one that isn’t included, and we’ll do our best) and common acronyms used in photography today.
If you need to figure out whether you should buy lens A or lens B, look no further. This section includes a concise opinion on every single piece of equipment that Ming Thein has ever used – quite a lot, considering he used to review cameras for a living. It’s a living document and will continue to be regularly updated as more new equipment is released. Ming will also only opine on things he’s actually used and shot with.
One of the more popular things Ming has done is the Photoshop Workflow for Photographers DVD – we’ve now expanded on that, with new images and new individual segments for specific purposes; video on demand lets you buy only the segments you need, and get them straight away. No more waiting for the postman! We also plan to continually release new segments on a regular basis – some dealing with more advanced retouching or editing techniques, some dealing with new images, some camera-specific. You can also request a video. For iPads with Retina display the videos are delivered in HD. We also use a global content distribution network to ensure that you have quick access to our high quality videos.
Think of it as your daily inspiration – this feed pulls the latest images from Ming Thein’s own photographic work.
A bonus feature to cache the most recent articles to read offline – handy if you don’t have an internet connection. And we all know that the images are best appreciated on a larger screen than your phone.
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Continuing in this mini-series on street photography, there are a number of techniques that I use while shooting. Although it’s possible to describe most of them in some detail, full understanding requires both demonstration and practice – this is where joining one of my workshops is ideal Together with the basic principles of balance, perspective, composition and what makes a good image – these techniques may be used singly or in combination to generate strong street images. In fact, they also apply to documentary and reportage work, too; the only difference between good street photography and photojournalism is that the latter has a consistent theme and subject. It’s important to note that not every technique is suitable for every situation, and vice versa; as always, a good portion of making a strong image is knowing what to leave out. In a photographic situation where you have effectively zero influence of any of the elements in your frame except the composition and exposure, timing is the one key bastion of control that remains in the hands of the photographer. By making a conscious choice of when you push the shutter, you decide when each and every single one of the moving elements in the frame is in the position you want them to be in. However, it is too late to react only at the exact instant you see the composition you want. It is therefore important for photographers to be able to see a scene, visualize the potential contained there, and be able to imagine what the finished frame will look like once all of the desired elements are in place. It is then a matter of simply waiting for those elements to all come together, and being ready with the camera when they are. No matter how fast reflexes, or your camera, the fact is that if you react off to you see something, it’s too late; training yourself to anticipate action is something that can give you the critical second or half-second which can make all the difference between getting the that and missing it completely…..
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