Friday, December 2, 2011

Light meters

The ‘light meters’ (also known as ‘exposure meter’) are used in understanding the intensity of light that is required for getting the exposure ideal. ‘Exposure’ is about getting the desired brightness or darkness in our photos. In fact, I used to take pictures using cameras without built in light meters in early seventies.

The clue we had those days was the ‘Sunny Rule f/16’. The "Sunny f/16" rule, which says that your exposure on a normal sunny day will be 1 over the film's ISO to be set as the shutter speed, with the aperture set at f/16. 

This rule will hold good for most of the mid-tone subjects or scenes. If the scene does not contain the mid-tones, we compensate the exposure accordingly. We had neatly exposed pictures because, we thought for a while before we pressed the shutter. I had even met ace photographers of olden times, who could tell the ‘ideal exposure’ by just looking at the light falling on their palm! 

In fact most of the modern cameras now have built in light meters. But, despite of the most advanced exposure meters with the ‘spot metering’ facility, many of our pictures are badly exposed. Most of the time, we feel that we couldn’t depend on these light meters. Some of us even blame the camera..!

The advanced light meter technology is a true gift to serious photographers who know to use it. For all others, ‘ideal exposure’ in photography is truly a nightmare.The automatic exposure compensation, automatic exposure bracketing (AEB/BKT), tonal values, mid-grey or 18% grey, grey card, zonal system, brightness histogram are few things to make our decision on a particular exposure OK. Let us learn to understand these light meters and metering principles to get the exposures right.

However, let us take the exposure meter readings just as a guideline and work for our desired effects in the pictures. 

More than f-stops and shutter speeds, pens and papers, notes and strings, knives and clay, what matters is that the feel and mood of the photograph. Don’t you think that a dramatic ‘silhouette’ (an ‘underexposed subject’ in the shadow area against a bright background) is considered to be more artistic than a flat plain subject!

Photo courtesy: R.Preethaa Priyadharshini

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

No films now… then why can’t you charge less?

A few days back someone enquired about my photography services. Of course she had seen my work and liked it. As a routine, she asked me to send a quote. After carefully understanding the amount of work and creativity involved in the job I did send one. She called me after a couple of days to find out if she could negotiate on the rates. I said that the rates were carefully calculated and hence not negotiable.

Immediately she asked me as why I charged so much when I was not using film rolls. Most people think that the digital work is cheaper than film for the mere reason that film is not there. (How can someone comfortably forget that the digital SLR cameras and related gadgets are far more expensive than film SLR cameras?). Then, I reaffirmed that the charges were mainly for my skills & services.  

Again she argued that she herself was using a digital camera and she knew about photography. But the truth is that, a professional photographer’s rates can’t be attributed only for the cost of materials used (like films and prints).

When a professional photographer finalizes a quote/tariff, the following factors need to be considered,
  1. The creativity and skills involved in handling the job
  2. The experience and professionalism of the photographer
  3. The market value or demand for the photographer
  4. The time spent on and off the job at the location especially the extended working hours
  5. The number of final images, prints or other outputs planned for the job
  6. The extent of post production, machine and man hours involved for retouching & image editing
  7. The skills and design elements expected in a designer photo-book.
  8. The cost of printing and making of the photo book (album)
  9. The cost of wastages of the prints/shots
  10. The kind of cameras, lenses, flashes and other photography equipments used
  11. The interest on investment on the expensive professional equipments
  12. The maintenance, repair and replacement of professional equipments
  13. The share of capital/revenue/incidental expenses
  14. The number of assistants working along with the photographer
  15. The transport or shifting expenses to a location and so on.
Don’t you think that a photographer must consider money value for all the above when the rates are finalized?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Can Tripods be a hassle……?

The tripods always have a special treatment by many authorities monitoring the photography in public places… especially where photography is restricted. Many times they allow top end DSLR cameras and fast lenses but not the ‘tripods’. This may be because that they think tripods are generally used by professional photographers. (Yes, it is true that you feel the pride and status of a professional, when your camera is on a good tripod)

Some of them even mistake it for deadly weapons like machine guns. Recently when I tried to take a professional heavy duty tripod in to a five star hotel for shooting a high end wedding, I had a tough time in convincing the security personnel that it is a ‘camera stand’ and not a gun. They said that they had not seen any wedding photographer using such accessory in the job. At the end, they were not convinced and I had to leave the tripod in my car.

On the other hand tripods can be a hassle to carry around with you but they help you take great shots in many ways. There are few accessories I consider that you cannot be without it for making great pictures. The tripod stands first in the list.

Most of the budding photographers talk more about mega pixels of cameras and 12X zoom lenses than about tripods, tripod heads and quick releases. I would always suggest my students to think of buying a solid tripod before they think of buying an expensive long focus telephoto or zoom lenses. An expensive L series (they call it luxury lens) Canon 100 – 400mm, long zoom lens becomes useless for many photography situations if you do not have a proper camera supporting system - “a sturdy Tripod”.

Tripods for a good photographer are similar to helmets for a safe two wheeler rider. Tripods add life to your pictures as helmets save the life. Both of them are difficult to carry, handle and store. Yet, the importance of them will be known only when you forget to use them.

Tripods are generally known to avoid camera shake in the pictures. But for a serious photographer it does a lot more....

Next time, whenever you are shooting something important; do not forget to use a tripod wherever it is possible.

Image info: The image above was shot using a Canon 100-400mm L lens with a Canon 2X Tele converter at 400mm (effectively 800mm) and Canon EOS 5D on a sturdy tripod. F/11, 1/90 seconds, ISO-400, evaluative metering, AV exposure mode, exposure compensated shooting distance 20 meters approx.

Friday, November 25, 2011

What is there in a view finder?

Well most of us will have the tendency of looking through the view finder the moment we hold a camera in our arms even if we are not photographers! 

Even now, whenever I do professional photography assignments especially on the locations, I find people who are not connected to me or my work trying to look into the viewfinder of my camera when it is sitting alone on the tripod. In fact most of the professionals do not like others to look through their view finders! Sometimes even the assistants are denied the access to viewfinders.

What is so great about this small glass window of the camera? Can someone forget the maiden experience of looking through a camera’s viewfinder? Though I had shot millions of photos using different kinds of cameras, I am still reminded of the greatest feeling I experienced when I shot for the first time through my Yashica Electro 35, a rangefinder camera about three decades ago.

Well, for me a view finder is responsible for the ‘precise definition’ of a photograph. A view finder brings in a special frame to human vision, which otherwise is less defined, general, superficial, nonspecific and non-detailed.

The imagination of a ‘photographer' is composed and defined only through this magic window – viewfinder. Every bit of the visual information included in the viewfinder is very important to convert a subject into a great photograph. This is because you do not see anything more than the ‘frame’ of the view finder. I see this more as a connection between my mind screen and the image I capture. Hence, we cannot be casual about looking through a viewfinder.

Let us run our eyes all around the viewfinder and confirm if we see the subject right. The art of good photography starts from the way we look through camera’s viewfinder.

It is a ‘subject matter’..!

I have heard people saying that they had not found anything interesting when they went on a wild life photography tour. Yes, we aim at spotting ‘wild animals’ like, big cats, tuskers, hyenas and wild boar in a wild life sanctuary and return disappointed because we didn’t find any. But, the truth is other way round. A real wild life photographer transforms everything that he/she sees into an interesting subject.

A dew drop, a wild flower, a rough earth pattern, dried-up trees without even a single leaf, a small lizard, a fallen leaf, a rare butterfly, a multicoloured moth, a wild spider in its well spread web, a peculiar shaped leaf, a small cascade, a country dog, family of monkeys, mynas, the uphill ghat roads, tall trees, a road side tea stall, local fruit vendor are some of the interesting subjects for photography and the list is almost endless.

What is a ‘subject’ for a photographer? How important is a ‘subject’ in a photograph? 

Well for a common man, a subject is what is shown in a picture. It may be a flower, a mountain, a water fall, an animal, a bird, people or anything you relate as interesting to capture in your camera. You generally like to shoot something because it is good, beautiful, interesting, strange, important or funny. But, a creative photographer shoots to "make a subject look" good, beautiful, interesting, strange, important or funny. The ‘subject for photography’ lies only in the eyes of the photographer.

Sometimes, we travel to take good pictures or we shoot good pictures when we are out on a travel. This is because we think that the ‘subject’ for photography is always few miles away from us. When we plan an outdoor trip or a vacation, we suddenly remember about our cameras and add that in our check-list with an intention of finding ‘some interesting subjects’ to shoot.

Let us not have any preconceived idea about what we want to shoot. Our imagination is limited when we search for a particular subject. Hence, try converting anything in your balcony or courtyard as your subject. When you cannot find a ‘subject’ in your own domain, how would you find it elsewhere?
- KL.Raja