Friday, 2 November 2012

How not to be an ace photographer!!

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. Well as a writer who is, and always has been, totally useless with a camera, I have to disagree. But only because I am one of those people who, despite trying very hard, have never got the hang of photography. I've tried, I really have. I've read books and been on courses, but somehow I never seem to get it quite right.

So when my nephew, a photographer by profession, offered to give me some tips yesterday, I was happy to receive them. Before we started I did point out to him that turning me into an ace photographer would be something of a challenge, but he just shrugged his shoulders and told me that anyone can do it, you just have to follow a few basic rules.

He started by telling me that the number one golden rule is that photography is all about using the available light, and then manipulating it to best effect. For autumn landscape photography that means being up and about at the Golden Hour. Apparently, despite being in the singular, the golden hour is actually two hours. The one just after the sun has come up, and the one just before the sun goes down. Evidently, the light at this time of year takes on a golden hue at these times. 

This seemed quite logical to me. So far, so good.

Then he told me that I can add to this effect by changing the camera's white balance setting to give the pictures a warmer feel. And having confidently offered this nugget of information, he then asked if I knew how to change the white balance setting. And that was when my eyes glazed over. The thing is, I haven't got the foggiest idea of what a white balance setting is.

“Give me your camera,” he said, “and I'll show you.”
So I gave him my camera, and all he did was say “Ahh”. It was not so much what he said, as how he said it. His voice carried a tone of heavy disappointment. He kind of weighed my camera in his hand for a second or two, and then asked “Why didn't you say that you only had a compact?”
“It wasn't cheap,” I replied defensively, “it cost over fifty quid, and it fits really well into my bag.”
My defensive utterings fell on deaf ears. “You can't change the white balance on this” he told me.
“Right, so what you are telling me is that my camera is no good and I need a better one,” I replied.
“Not at all,” he said, “it's not worse, just different. You need a slightly different technique, that's all.”

Ah bless, he was trying not to upset me, but I could tell from the disappointment in his voice that he really was not too impressed with my choice of camera. He thought for a moment and then said, “Right, well, golden rule number one still applies, so don't rub that out.”
“But forget what I said about white balance.” He looked at my camera again and asked “how old is this?”
“Not very old,” I replied, “I got it in 2001.”
There was a heavy sigh, followed by an embarrassed silence, before he started on the revised version of golden rule number 2.
“Right, well,” he started, “since there is not a lot you can do with the camera, it's really all about composition.”

I'll not re-tell the whole conversation here. It lasted about an hour. Suffice to say that he suggested a number of things that I could do to produce a half decent photo.

Like not trying to photograph wide landscapes or stuff that is a long way away. Instead I should concentrate on things which have light shining on them. And if I really must insist on trying to capture the landscape in all it's glory I needed to think about creating some kind of visual pathway within the picture to keep it interesting. Maybe following the line of a river or road as it winds it way down a valley. Or choose a subject in the landscape that has a contrasting colour, like a white house.

Also, when photographing an object like a boat or a steam train, try to get it when it is not moving. And get people in the photos if at all possible. Evidently, a picture of a steam train in a station with all the people getting out of the carriages is far more interesting than one of just the engine.

It was all good stuff and very interesting and informative, but by the end of the hour he could see my eyes glazing over again.
“Actually,” he said,” maybe you could try choosing subjects that are totally different, like an unusually shaped tree. Or perhaps something on the ground, like a flower, or snail or something like that.
“A snail?!!” I said.
He looked at me in desperation. “Anything low down,” he answered, “I don't know, what kinds of things do you find in the lake district in autumn?”
I was going to say 'sheep poo' but thought better of it. I didn't want him to think I was not taking him seriously.
“How about the moss in a wall,” he continued, “ or the bark on a tree, or maybe horse chestnuts, or berries, or holly. ANYTHING! As long as it is interesting.”
“What about a puddle?” I asked.
“So you think puddles are interesting?” he replied, a sarcastic tone entering his voice.
“ A puddle with a reflection of an unusual tree in it would be,” I suggested.
He thought for a moment. “Reflections on a still lake, now they are good, particularly if you have autumn colours mirrored on the surface.”
“We're back to landscapes then,” I said.
He sighed.
Despite his obvious exasperation, I felt we were getting somewhere. My creative juices were beginning to flow, so I got some pictures I had taken and asked him to review them and make a few suggestions as to how they could have been improved.

After looking through them, raising an occasional eyebrow as he did so, he put them down and said “Do you have a tripod?”

So that's the answer. After all these years it turns out that I am not useless at photography after all, I just can't hold the camera steady.

No such luck, it turns out that I have to do all the other stuff as well as keeping the camera steady. Curses, I thought I was on to something for a moment. Anyway, in for a penny, in for a pound, as they say. Next week I shall put my new found knowledge into action and try to take some half decent photos. So all I can say is watch this space!

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