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I'm a Cairns, far north Queensland, Australia professional photographer specialising in travel, editorial and environmental portraiture.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Photo accessories you must have 1

At the start of any of my photo courses I usually give my students a warning. I'm in no way responsible for them going out and spending lots of money on camera gear and accessories! I haven't been abused yet by an irate husband or wife after checking their partner's latest credit card bill but I'm not taking any chances. :)

Seriously though compared to a lot of photographers I'm pretty light on equipment. Travel photography means just that - you gotta travel. And when you do that you have to carry everything. When you're like me and only weigh 60kg sopping wet you don't need too much equipment before you get tired pretty quickly.

But there are a couple of things I would definitely advise you to buy. Both of them were used to take this photo of a rainforest stream but I'm only going to talk about the one today. I'll leave you to guess what the second one might be!

The hardest thing about shooting in the rainforest is battling the contrast. If there's even a hint of sunlight you either have totally blown-out highlights (the tops of these rocks for one) or deep, dark shadows with no detail whatsoever. It's hard enough to get all the detail on a cloudy day, on a sunny one forget about it.

But what do you do if you've only got one day in the rainforest and it's sunny? You do like I did here and wait until the sun has gone down. I mean almost so dark you can hardly see your face in front of your hand. In a place like Mossman Gorge the sun tends to go down behind the mountains (in Winter) at about four in the afternoon. But just because it's gone behind the mountains doesn't mean it's time to photograph yet.

The contrast levels don't really drop until the light levels do which might be up to an hour later. In fact this shot was taken at about ten to five. It was so dark that most of the tourists were leaving and I was there by my lonesome with a torch (flashlight).

So what's the accessory you need? A tripod. And a good one. When the light is this low your shutter speeds are going to be very long indeed. You want your camera to be as steady as possible on top of its metal mount.

The best way to tell if a tripod is going to do the trick is to push down on it from above. If you push down and the legs start to flex don't even think about it. You also need something that will get down low for photographs of small plants etc so you want to avoid those tripods with the little metal struts that run from the legs to the centre pole. Those little struts prevent the legs from opening wide enough to get you down low.

And you don't want to hurt your back when using it so the tripod needs to be tall enough so that with the camera mounted on it and the legs fully extended (but the centre column down) you can look through the viewfinder without having to bend over. A good friend of mine is over 2 metres tall (about 7ft) and his tripod is taller than me!

A couple of technique tips when using a tripod. Firstly don't try and compose your pictures with the camera mounted on the tripod. One you look really silly walking around with a camera attached to a tripod up to your face, and two your photos will all be taken from the same height. Compose the picture first with the camera off the tripod, and then once you've found a composition you like bring the tripod down to where you are.

If you get a tripod with quick release plates it will make this technique a lot easier. You don't want to be screwing your camera into and out of the tripod all the time so definitely look for a quick release system. And get a quick release plate for all your cameras and lenses that need them otherwise it will turn into a very slow release system.

Of course you use a tripod when your shutter speeds are slow to prevent camera shake but that's not the only cause of camera shake. Just the act of pushing the shutter button with your finger can cause the camera to vibrate. Either use a cable release or if you don't have one (or are too lazy to get it out like I sometimes am!) you can put the camera on the self-timer.

The other big cause of camera shake with longer exposures is mirror slap. This is the vibration caused when the mirror slaps up to let light pass through and hit the sensor. Most cameras have a mirror lock-up function which will allow you to lock up the mirror before firing the shutter. It leaves a couple of seconds between the mirror coming up and the shutter firing. This gives the mirror vibrations time to die down before you take the photo. Definitely use this function as it will eliminate a lot of the blur out of your pictures.

So that's my first must-have accessory - a tripod. Now see if you can guess what the second accessory I used was. And it wasn't a spirit level. :)


Gunjan Karun said...

Is it a ND Filter or a Polarizing filter?

Paul Dymond said...

You got it in one Gunjan? Or maybe two. Which one is it do you think?

Paul Dymond said...

Hey Gunja,

I just checked out your site mate and you've got some beautiful images up there. Great to have someone from India chiming in. Take a look at Gunjan's site folks there's some lovely stuff - http://www.gunjankarun.com/

Gunjan Karun said...

Thanks Paul.
I am a regular reader of your blog (I have subscribed to your RSS so I get all your posts in my reader).

I always find something interesting to read here :)


Paul Dymond said...

Thanks for subscribing Gunjan,

It always amazes me that people on the other side of the world manage to stumble across my little blog!