Friday, June 13, 2008


Alright, personally this post scares me more than any other I've done. Mainly because I'm turning the camera around and having it pointed at me.

Which is something that photographers often forget to do. When you travel you get to see and experience all these amazing things and (hopefully) photograph them. And you often photograph your travel companions and family as you go along.

But how many of you remember to photograph yourself? We all go through these changes in life. Different looks, clothing. Groovy hairstyles. Even the act of travel itself changes us from within, which then affects how we look on the outside, how we carry ourselves.

Capturing this in a photograph is a great way to explore portrait photography because nobody knows more than you what you look like and how you want to be portrayed. Turning the camera on yourself (use the self-timer) will give you a great insight into how you can work with people to capture an image that really gives an insight into their personality.

I have to thank my good friend Wolfram Titze for the above display of public humiliation. This is me in my Africa heyday. I saw this hairstyle everywhere I went in central Africa and when I got to the outpost town of Kisangani I got one of the local women to give me a 'do'. Little did I know that only women wear their hair like this and everywhere I went I was either assumed to be really stupid or gay. I had lots of offers that definitely didn't interest me and the plaits came out within a few days!

But this photo is a prized reminder of an amazing (albeit slightly embarrassing) experience. Not forgetting that I suddenly realised how dirty I really was, how many more freckles I had developed and how yellow my Beaver Tequila t-shirt was! But being film I only realised 9 months later! Viva travel.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Lovely light and a bit of serendipity

Now back to the regular blog for a little while where I'll post some of my favourite pics and hopefully give you a little insight into how and why I took them.

Afria's one of those places where you don't have to be a specialist wildlife photographer to get close-up photos of beasties. Which is probably a good thing for those of us who would never have the patience to sit in a hide for months on end trying to get a single shot.

It was a warm, sunny afternoon in Matobo National Park in the troubled nation of Zimbabwe. I was sitting under a tree sipping on a cold beer and writing up my diary. I always carry two diaries with me - one to jot down memories and notes for future articles, and another diary to write down what I photographed during the day. I'm one of these people who doesn't like to spend my evenings captioning photos on a laptop but sit around and relax, leaving the work till I get back home. With my little photo diary it's easy to figure out what's what.

Anyway I digress. I was sitting there passing the time when not five foot in front of me a mother chacma baboon and her baby came and sat themselves smack bang in front of me. Of course being the incredibly dedicated photographer that I am I of course had my camera equipped with telephoto lens sitting right next to me - not! I walked slowly to the truck and got it out, all the while hoping they would be there when I got back. Sure enough they were and the photography started in earnest.

The main two things I was looking for here were a clear view of both faces and the right exposure. The mother spent most of her time side-on to me like she is here so it basically meant waiting until the little one was facing the sun enough for its face to be recognisable.

In terms of exposure it was a bit tricky. Too much over-exposure would turn the fur completely white and burnt out, but not enough exposure would turn everything else pitch black! So in this case I too an exposure lock off a medium grey area in the background and let the shadows fall where they would. So what I got was an almost monochrome strongly side-lit, almost silhouetted portrait of a mother and child baboon. Sometimes the photo gods smile on you and you just happen to be in the right place at the right time - even if it is with a beer in your hand and not a camera!

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Putting the elements together

So here we have an image which captures a lot of the elements of a wide-angle lens that you can use to your advantage.

Remember that things close to the camera are big, things away from the camera are small. Another way of saying that is when you get up close to something it looks big, while things in the background will look small.

When you put a tiny little turtle in the corner of the frame and there is a huge expanse of beach surrounding the little flippery adventurer, they look even tinier. Even though it is still the closest thing to the camera it actually looks quite small because I'm not all that close to it. If you get too close the turtle would look much bigger than it is and you would lose that sense of the tiny little battler against the elements.

Remember that when you're using the wide-angle the foreground becomes the most important part of the picture. By having the turtle in the bottom foreground of the picture you can emphasise the foreground, middle ground, background 3D look we've been talking about.

Because the wide-angle lens opens up the perspective the ocean looks quite a long way away, giving a sense of the effort involved in reaching it. If I had gone with a really wide lens, however, the ocean would have looked even farther away but the turtle would have been a pin prick in the middle of the frame. It's always a balancing act.

Wide-angle lenses inherently have a pretty large depth-of-field. What that means is that the ocean in the background isn't such a big blur that you can't tell what it is, which is very important in the telling of the story.

If I had gone with a telephoto lens then the turtle would have looked big and the ocean very close which was the total opposite of what I wanted to express with this photo - namely that of the tiny little battler against the elements trying to make its way to the far off ocean.

A great way to instinctively know what lens you should use is to try walking around for a whole day photographing with just one lens. If you're using a zoom lens try taping the zoom ring so it doesn't move. Set it on a particular setting and leave it there and just practice using that one focal length of lens. Before you know it you'll know exactly what a photo taken with that lens will look like before you even look through the viewfinder.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Anybody wanna sleep in a cupboard?

Alright the next most obvious time you're going to make somewhere look more spacious than it probably is is a room.

It doesn't matter whether it's a room in your house or one that you stay in on vacation. Nobody wants their room to look smaller than it actually is. And if it's room photography for a client they'll probably string you up on the ceiling fan!

Even if you could shoot a room with a telephoto lens from outside the door you would be ill advised to do so. Go for a pretty wide-angle, without going so wide you get a lot of distortion. To make sre that walls and rooves etc stay as straight as possible you want to make sure that the camera is held straight. As soon as you point the lens up or down you get what we call convering verticals - which is where straight lines seem to be either falling forward or backward. If you're not quite sure what that means I'll show you some pics over the next few days that illustrate it.

Again notice that I've got something in the foreground to give you that sense of 3D. A foreground (the flowers), a middle ground ( the small table) and a background (the rainforest beyond the balcony). Remember that things away from the camera look smaller and farther away than they actually are so your room appears nice and spacious. In this case the lens wasn't an extreme wide-angle so it's not really exaggerated at all but I'm sure we've all stayed in rooms which look a lot bigger in the brochure!

Monday, June 9, 2008

Making things look spacious

OK so now that we've worked out that wide-angle lenses make things look spacious we need to put on our thinking caps and think of times when you might want to do that.

Hands up those of you who would like to holiday on a beach that looks really small and crowded with no room to move. Not many I'm guessing.

Beaches need to look like there's lots of room to run and play. Remember how we talked about how wide angle lenses make things in the distance look small and far away?

If you look at the people in the ocean they look very small and far away. Our beach looks very wide and spacious but not from left to right. It looks spacious from foreground to background. The water looks a long way away giving an overall sense of space. The way we all imagine a beach should look.

But you'll notice that the foreground isn't all beach. Whenever you use a wide-angle lens it is really, really important that you get up nice and close to something and put it in the foreground. That way your viewer will look at the foreground object and then follow it into the frame, looking around the whole picture.

Many people make the mistake of putting their wide-angle lenses on and only having objects in the middle and backgrounds, both of which are really small and insignificant. The foreground is where all the action happens with a wide-angle lens so you need to make sure that you always get up nice and close to something.