The short YouTube video below shows Nicola and Catriona, two photographers who came to me a short time ago for a day’s tuition. You’ll maybe have seen the waterfall before on another video of mine, but I make no excuses for that, it’s a fabulous location for photography.
What the video does not show is the terrible fright Catriona – who was heavily pregnant at the time – gave be when she lost her balance and quite literally sat down in the water while she was photographing the waterfall. I saw it all happen and, forgetting all those many years of experience at the sharp end of press photography, dropped the camera and ran to help her onto her feet again. Catriona had a very wet backside, but was laughing at her predicament. I don’t ever remember being so frightened. Catriona, being a doctor, must have seen the signs of shock on my face because she was very quick to reassure me she was unhurt, although a bit soggy. I’m delighted to say that all ended well, and last January Catriona gave birth to a healthy baby girl.
The great music on this short DVD is by my good friend Doug Carroll, one of Britain’s most talented guitar players. This very morning I got Doug’s recording of the music he and keyboard player Owen Fielding have composed and played for my latest instructional DVD, which is in the final stages of editing. Doug’s music is fantastic, and worth buying the DVD for by itself. But you’ll find that out for yourself when the DVD is out later this year. It will be about portraiture in natural light.
Of course I’ll keep you informed about all that nearer the time.
If you’d like to know more about Doug and Mary Carroll’s music, click here to go to their website
Chances are you will also be shooting in very hard, contrasty sunlight, but the reflections from the sand might help fill the worst of the dark, empty shadows. The old rule about shooting early in the morning and late in the afternoon for the best light is generally a good one, but sunbathers are often out there baking themselves around midday when the sun is blazing down from an empty blue sky – you’ll just have to make the most of it.
Beware the sand and sea – a terribly destructive combination for camera gear. Keep lens changes to a minimum and never change lenses in sea spray or when the wind is whipping up the sand. This is just asking for trouble. Keep cameras out of direct sunlight whenever possible – body and lenses can heat up dramatically and this can do irreparable damage.
This was a posed photograph taken in Normandy. The composition was kept deliberately simple by choosing an angle facing straight on to the beach hut. The girl was asked to sit down right in the middle of the doorway and look to one side. I liked the shapes and combination of colours
People on the beach are usually there to enjoy themselves – and it’s always easier, and more fun, to photograph people when they are relaxed. But it’s not just people that should be catching your eye – what about all that wonderfully tacky stuff outside the gift shops. Kitsch is everywhere in these seaside shops and everything is deliberately colourful: naughty postcards, silly hats and sun specs; its all there for close-up pictures. Sea walls, beach huts – and the people who use them – promenades and piers have lots of visual possibilities to offer.
No matter if the beach is crowded or nearly deserted, often the best way to start is with a general picture showing the whole beach. If the beach is packed with sunbathers, try using a long telephoto lens to foreshorten and squash up the perspective. This will make the beach appear even more crowded by giving the illusion that the distance between each sunbather is much less than it really is.
Try to find one particular person who will make a good focal point and ensure that he or she is nicely in focus. Then wait for them to do something interesting – throwing a ball for their dog, or setting up their deckchair, for instance. This will help bring vitality to your composition. If you are photographing on a sunny day there will be plenty of light and you will be able to use a fast shutter speed; so freezing the action and avoiding shake with that long lens should not be a problem.
This picture, taken in Bermuda, was very easy to capture, it was just a matter of anticipation. There was no need to disturb the man; he could not see me behind him. Neither could he see the little bird running across the sand. I simply pre-focused on the man and waited for the bird to dart across behind his chair
Don’t be nervous about moving in close to photograph people. If these two sunbathers had opened their eyes and spotted me taking their picture I would first have pressed the button again to capture their expressions then given them a great big smile and told them what a wonderful photograph they had helped to make
There’s no reason why a photograph of the general scene should be just a straight, boring view. Pick out a particular subject, focus on them and wait until they do something interesting before pressing the button. In this case, it was very easy because the lady was throwing sticks into the surf for her dogs
More about beach photograph next…
This time, though, a wide angle 24mm lens has been used. The action is far more static. It is a reflective moment while the group of camel traders sit together on the ground smoking and talking. This time I wanted to emphasise the arrangement of the four people in the group while retaining lots of information in the background. This background information tells the story of who they are and what their work is.
So I have moved right in and filled my foreground with the wide angle. This has slightly exaggerate the perspective and placed more emphasis on the men themselves.
Of course the men knew I was there and that I was taking photographs. But I had been in the market most of the morning and had build something of a rapport with these people. In the end they were quite happy to let me get on with what I was doing while they carried on working.
My normal way of working is with two camera bodies – one fitted with a wide angle lens and one with a longer lens. This completely cuts out the need to keep changing lenses. It is just a method I have got used to over many years working as a travel photographer with The Sunday Times and for other magazines. There are many conditions in which you simple would not want to change lenses especially these days with the problems of getting dirt on the sensor. The dusty conditions of this market would have played havoc with the sensor of a digital camera.
The picture here illustrates what I mean. It was taken on a 180mm f2.8 Nikkor lens. It’s worth saying that in all my travels I cannot remember when I ever carried anything longer. However, a 135mm (or equivalent) is pretty much spot-on for this type of situation when the subjects know full well that you are busy photographing them, but you do not want to get so close to them that your presence becomes obtrusive or, even worse, part of the action itself.
Beside the practicalities of handling yourself in these situations, the small telephoto lens can actually bring a real visual bonus. It can enable you to pick out selective action from the whole scene and – if you get your timing right – bring extra power and impact to your photographs. The limited depth of field of the telephoto does, of course, tend to isolate the main characters and focus your viewer’s attention on the most important aspects of the drama as it happens.
You will always run the risk when using any telephoto of having people move between you and your subject. I can be a risk well worth taking because these ‘intrusive’ elements can often add a feeling of depth, relevance and extra interest. So you must be very aware of what is happening all around you and be prepared to move quickly and decisively to either include of exclude other people.
Obviously, the main subject and focus of interest with this shot is the camel driver and the camel’s growling head. It revolves around the centre of the frame. But there are elements to left and right that add to, rather than diminish the interest of the scene. They give the impression that the action is taking place in a busy, crowded place, and that there are other people involved in the controlling of the camel. And so there were. It is an accurate portrayal of what is going on.
In my next post I’ll show you the exact opposite effect – by using a wide-angle lens during the same event.
Well, we’ve tried hard to get my blog hosted on my Photoactive website, but, for now, we have had to admit defeat and revert to the way things were. The problem we are convinced from reading the posts on blogger forums lies squarely with Blogger’s poor FTP facility.
If anyone with knowledge of hosting a blog on their own website is reading this, I’d appreciate your comments.
We will keep trying and I’ll keep you posted.
Thanks for your patience,
I have posted Phil’s original picture as he sent it to me above. But I have just tweaked and cropped a little for the picture below. I just felt that the blank whiteness of all that sky was leading my eye into nothing at the top of the picture, so I have cut it down and darkened some areas a little using the ‘burn’ tool in Photoshop.
The human eye acts very much like a moth – it tends to seek out the light and go to the lighter areas of a composition. This can be very useful once you know how to use it because you can at least try to train your viewer’s eye to explore the areas of the composition you feel are most valuable and relevant to the message you want to convey.
Photograph by Phil Hallam
It is always best to start the composition very simply and add one thing at a time until you are happy with the result. For the top pictures, I just leaned a plank of old wood at the back of the bench placed the horse on the bench in front of it. I liked the combinations of subtle blue colours. Following the blue colour theme I then hung a coil of blue rope on the background to add another shape and colour – see lower picture. I prefer the simplicity of the first shot.
Below is a photograph using one of the many props I have collected in my shed for still life photography. It is just a an old tea chest half-full of unglazed pot jugs. I have cut away two sides of the box to reveal the jugs inside and make it easier to