Category: fun

20th June – Shoot to edit and the Mother of All Quizzes

Shoot and edit and the Quiz to end all quizzes. So what’s the link, other than they follow each other on the Club Programme?

Well, they are both tests, but only the quiz has one right answer. They are both challenges, both stimulations that get the brain working (or failing in my case, but hey, fail is just the Foundation Act In Learning). They are both social in that people with a common interest exercise that interest together, both help to keep us motivated as photographers – probably the best gift that a club can give any of us.

Essentially we added to our own knowledge bases information of varying use and the thing that varies, the thing that makes any of it relevant, is context. That was either through actively participating, discussing and/or helping out. The answer was what worked in that context.

The next step, like building up a question bank in a regular quiz setting, is to see what the context is that makes our subject interesting to us and apply the other two fundamentals of photography, light and composition.

The actual truth of that is it was something about the subject, the light and or the possibility of a composition that attracted our attention in the first place. The more we use our cameras purposefully the more we are likely to be stimulated by those questions.

Then, as we discovered in the last post, the camera becomes “A tool for seeing without a camera” (Dorothea Lange), because we use one to make that statement (our answer). That answer is refined by our use of camera technique.

But what about the editing? We started the editing process when we composed the picture and turned it into a data file (and I am including film negatives in this, because that is, exactly, what they are). Nature is all about mess and inclusion. Art is about detail and exclusion. (I am going to attribute that to Robert Louis Stevenson but I can’t find the original quote).

The data file, especially in these digital days, is a step in the editing process. How much editing and what point a photograph becomes a piece of computer art is a broad, contentious argument that rarely ends up being the same argument it started out as.

But here is a thing. Our editing programme is just another tool in our defining and or discovering that thing which drew our attention in the first place so we can make a record of it and (maybe) share it with others. We don’t even have to pay for it if we want to keep it basic.

And, in doing so, we add to our knowledge bank of photographic and photo editing techniques. The next step is a small one, but a crucial one, if we are serious about developing as photographers. There will, almost certainly and especially when things are new to us, a couple of things we do to each photo we edit.

The trick is to stop and ask ourselves whether this is something that we can rectify in camera, in which case it doesn’t need to be time wasted in editing, and a step beyond that is looking at turning that into something we consciously rectify as part of our camera technique. At that stage, it doesn’t matter whether you have a JPEG or a RAW image.

At the very least that becomes one less layer we have to flatten and combine in the final edit.

Now, it is true that the disease known as “I’ll fix that in post” exercises some people more than others and that with a certain dexterity in the use of an editing programme the joins become invisible (unless they are the point) but in the development sense it does pose a question of what else is deficient in our technique and how that is becoming a drag on our development.

Also, without some idea of the finished product at the outset, that can easily become “I’ll fix that until it’s broke”, assuming it wasn’t broke enough straight out of camera. It becomes a drag on any idea of our continuously learning as photographers because we are wondering around in the dark bumping into the furniture.

This isn’t a “Two legs good, four legs bad” sort of thing. Same as most processes in life, editing, or shooting to edit, is better when it is limited to something with a purpose and something used with a critical eye. That helps to make us better photographers.

That and taking photographs.

And that is the point, really. We buy cameras and lenses and SD cards and computers and software to make photographs. They are tools. More accurately we make computer files, but for the sake of this argument, we make photographs. All photographs are artifices, that is they are made, are artificial. We make art. We make art from light, a subject and the tools of composition.

And if we want to be taken for photographers, not just people with cameras, then it is going to take a plan, some effort and above all, a lot of fun. And if we want to make better pictures …. (Go to top of page) ….

1st January 2019 – Happy New Year and a Resolution for you

Regardless of the camera we use, light is still everything. The camera that most of us will have most of the time is the one attached to our phone and on the basis that the best camera we can have is the one that we have got on us, then maybe more should be made of the opportunities that this presents.

This post, being the first of 2019, will be set around making the most of our camera phones, an easy to keep New Year’s Resolution, not necessarily as a primary, go to, choice of camera, but on the basis that it is the most portable and the most accessible. Few of us feel properly dressed if we leave the house without our phones, but that’s another problem.

The camera’s on modern phones are really quite remarkable in their capacities to capture decent images. Things that mitigate against them tend to be form factor – what they feel like in the hand – dynamic range – the amount of light that can hold detail between the very brightest to the very darkest part of the image – and a lack of optical zoom, for the most part.

Note that the word megapixels doesn’t appear in this short list. My cheap and cheerful phone, bought in 2017, has a 12MP rear facing camera, the same as the original Canon 5D. Top end phones are now boasting 20MP plus cameras. Megapixels are rarely a problem these days.

That said a camera phone makes for a lousy sports camera and when on safari and photographing prides of lions the distance we would need to keep to fill the frame would be well beyond wreckless. Similarly a 20 by 30 foot poster at 300 dpi is going to look pixelated (from most cameras it has to be said) but then you wouldn’t print that big at that resolution.

Everything that we did in our 101 Corner series can be done, effectively, on a camera phone (Links to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6, Part 7, Part 8, Part 9, Part 10) and we need to see our camera phones as our primary practice camera, if not our primary camera (as some professionals do) the one we can use over a luch break or someother gap in the day – it doesn’t have to be a long one, most of the things we will talk about can be done in ten minutes as effectively as sixty. Sometimes more so as we are forced to do rather than ponder.

So we need to make an ally of our camera phones convenience and we need to make the most of its features and take account of rather than make an issue of its limitations. All camera set ups have limitiations. Without exception. Doing something about it delineates the photographer from the person with a camera.

The first thing to note is that most of us will be shooting with a fixed focal length lens, usually around 27mm equivalent on a full frame camera, 18mm on an APS-C. This means wide angle shots which means filling the frame means getting close to small and people sized subjects. Use your feet to zoom not the digital zoom on the camera – it rapidly degrades the image quality.

It also means that we need to pay more heed to having something in the foreground to skirt the problem of having unproductive negative space that diminishes the impact of our main subject. We could also use leading lines and/or forced perspective, or moving to reframe to combat this. Remember the object is to fill the frame with our subject.

Zooming aside, there isn’t a lot that we can’t do with the right app (I will come to lighting presently). If the native camera app on our phone is limited then there are plenty of others available. The one I use (Android) is Open Camera that gives a lot of control (DRO, HDR, Manual, Exposure Compensation, Differential Focusing, Noise Reduction, Burst Mode, RAW etc).

Apple has a very good native app but generally lacks manual controls. There are plenty of other apps available such as ProCamera (widely recommended), VSCO, Camera+ 2. As with all these things, it comes down to personal preference regardless of operating system.

There is also the question of an editor. Now there is a big difference between slapping a filter over a mediocre image and editing for the best effect. As a development tool the object is to get things as right as possible in camera and then edit as necessary. As for apps we can do worse than Snapseed, but again there are plenty to choose from and it is personal preference that matters.

Lighting, bearing in mind we are making the most of what we have, or can be very cheaply obtained, really should remain natural. The single LED is fine up to about arms length (and that is being very optimistic), may be synched as a flash, but will be very slow.

For slow read useless in most situations. It can be OK in macro but even that can be fiddly. Stick to natural light, though you can get a ring LED light for about a tenner (AKA a selfie light, which tells you what you need to know), are you going to carry it with you everywhere?

And this, more than anything else, is about looking for those opportunities everyday life gifts us, using the best camera we have, being the one we have at that time. It is about sharpening our skills, its about injecting some fun into parts of the day.

It can also be about trying something new, say like street photography (if you want to be incognito plug in your headphones and use the mic switch to activate the shutter) , or a project as we discussed in the last post.

It is the New Year, time for resolutions, make one that’s fun and easy to keep.

1st February 2018 – Editing and improving

Editing this week. Not it in your ed, you understand, but giving 8 images to 30 ‘togs with the aim of seeing what they would come up with in a limited time.  Now with this opportunity and the general sharing attitude within the club there were common themes but no two sets of images shown were anyway near the same in detail.  Views were shared and how-to’s extended. This is an important point. Whereas Adobe was, by and large, the most commonly used suite in the room, that did not engage everyone’s imagination the same way. The (unfortunate for some) truism that a no-expense-spared camera body and even more expensive lens doesn’t make a poorly conceptualised image a  great one extends to the range of photo-editing suites. Proficiency in composition enables more to be got out of the tools in both cases.

 

If you don’t know where you are going you will probably find yourself somewhere else is a much quoted aphorism in this blog. Visualisation is the first step in making a successful image, more often, than “Sheer dumb luck” (see the previous two blog posts) and imagination is the fuel for the engine of visualisation.

 

The broader concept which we are progressing here, at the beginning of 2018, is the development of ideas. There are two basic positions which we can take, previously termed by yours truly as the Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista and Ye-Acolyte-Of-Photoshop. More of the former than the latter myself, both points of view have currency, depending on where we are in the pursuit of an image. The more options we give ourselves in the first instance (Get-It-Right-In-The-Camera-ista) the more we are going to have to work with in the second (Ye-Acolyte-Of-Photoshop). Proficiency in both does not guaranty a good shot. If we cannot see the picture in the first place you are not going to get your best shot. If we don’t compose the elements in the frame it is unlikely to be very appealing.

 

Repetition is a very good teacher, but with the important caveat that we pay attention to what we are doing differently this time – madness lying in doing the same thing over and over again expecting a different result. And for that we need to know what we are working towards and being open to new opportunities as they present themselves. Setting ourselves a project is an excellent development tool.

 

Initially setting a photographic project needs a brake on the ambition. Make it small, give it a defined beginning and end and give yourself the time to complete it. A two, three or seven day project is a good start if this is all new to you. Take one subject and give ourselves a three to seven days to shoot as many variations of the theme as we can manage. Inside or out. Table top is a really good place to start, the important thing is that we think and think critically about the images we are taking and explore variations.

 

There are books that do some of the work for you by giving tasks, some easier than others, the idea being we go out and shoot the assignment given to us and print and mount the best one in the book. We can go more DIY and use photocorners or some other mount and a reasonable size note book, something we can write our ideas and reflections on. There are plenty of lists out there for projects we can work through. The thing is not how good is it, but how do I change this for another story? Practical measurements can be taken from the Exif data but the key is much more likely to be in re-ordering the elements in the frame or making the light fall a different way.

 

What quickly becomes evident is that having a clear end in mind is a good place to start. The journey is where the learning takes place. An essential, when doing this sort of thing over time, is to take notes. The artist’s sketchbook is a centuries old instrument that is a fantastic development tool. It’s for photographers too. The contact sheet,  not only a film phenomenon, also has great value but as an extension to a sketchbook rather than a substitute.

 

So why go to such lengths when we can go back through our photographs, especially those of places we have visited frequently? Well, I am not a very prolific photographer and the hard drive on my lap top contains 49,000 image files, all backed up on an external drive since you ask, with about 10% of those on Flickr in albums. The Flickr account makes it quite easy to go through similarly themed images and I do, occasionally, revisit some of the images on there and re-edit as an experiment, especially the ones from when I was getting back into photography about 5 years ago. Even so I keep a notebook for the odd thought that occurs or note on a method and writing this blog helps put context around what we do each week at club. The lesson from that is volume needs structure if it’s going to be useful. Too much choice is as grievous as too little.

 

Then there is the reworking of the angles as we looked at when talking about Moving and Zooming in mid-January. Point of view is very important. A picture of a cat or a dog at their level (i.e. ground level)  is very different than one taken looking down which reduces the power of the subject in the frame (the opposite is true of looking up, which is why so many Chief Executive pictures are taken from a lower angle and tell us a lot about the person being photographed). Reworking the angles of the light falling on the subject is a key way to affect the mood of a picture.

 

Basically if we want to improve there are plenty things put there that we can do for ourselves, or we can share with others. Feedback is the breakfast of champions, according to Ken Blanchard, a management consultant rather than a photographer, but nonetheless we have first to create something to reflect and feedback on.

 

See above.

 

 

13th December 2017 – The Xmas Do and a bit of Bokeh

Blog has been on a bit of a hiatus through other commitments but hopefully is back to being regular now. Our last session was the club Christmas party and a good time and a few quid raised for club coffers means that it was a success. A record was probably set for unflattering-photographs-of-club-members-whilst-sober  but it was all in a good cause. Our thanks to Myk for running a very enjoyable evening.

 

The programme in the new year is full of promise too, underpinning the aim of the club to be one where we learn together rather than one where blokes (it always is blokes) stand around, sucking the air through clenched teeth, fiddling with the string in their cardigan pockets whilst moaning about things not being as they used to be in the good old days.

 

Like any skill we learn as much, arguably more, by not getting it quite right and keeping a balanced and critical eye. Use the judges’ opinions and try them out. Critique the result for yourself and compare it to your original. Use the clubs internal online presence (sorry members only) to try  out others opinions. Use a buddy group, use external sites that offer critiques (thick skin sometimes required). There are lots of options.

 

Try something new. Christmas is rapidly becoming the one time in the year many photographers decide to try out bokeh. Everything to do with the Christmas Tree lights. Bokeh is an example of making the most out of something you can’t change. In this case, the laws of physics, branch optics.

 

If you look at the world through your camera phone, most of it is in focus most of the time, even though the lens aperture is usually pretty wide. Think of the situations cameras are used in phones for the most part and keeping things still enough not to blur means a wide aperture is a good idea to keep shutter speeds up. This is because of the depth of field relative to the size of the sensor you are using for capture. Basically F2 on your camera phone is roughly F11 on a full frame (35mm) sensor in terms of depth of field and camera phones use wide angle lenses (compare further). Note that is not an expression of the amount of light transmitted, only the area we find acceptably sharp.  It also means, practically, that, mostly, bokeh effects on camera phones are software rather than optically driven. This is by the by for most users.

 

You can, at least in theory, construct bokeh on any lens (tougher on a fish eye, but possible). The term bokeh is Japanese and an art term for the aesthetic qualities of out of focus light. It can also, given the right context mean senility or mental fuzziness, apparently, but that too is by the by.  The keys to successfully taking a bokeh photograph are pretty straight forward. Paying attention to the basics of composition is as important as always. The effect may be out of focus but the subject must be in focus. Maybe obvious, maybe not, but essential nonetheless. Get as close to your subject as possible, framing is important and only having one subject is as important as ever it is.

 

The largest aperture on your chosen lens is also a given if you want to  maximise the effect. Prime lenses are probably better than zooms as they tend to have larger maximum apertures. F2 is more convenient for this than F3.5 which is better than f5.6 in that the depth of field is less for any given sensor size the wider the aperture set at a fixed focal length. But as with everything kit wise the one you’ve got is the best for the job.

 

The other key is the separation between background and subject (and, of course, having some light in the background!). The larger this gap is the larger the bokeh effect will be. Of course the Christmas tree isn’t likely to have a lot of room behind, nonetheless the effect is still obtainable, though colour balance can be tricky. If you are at macro distances then the effect on the background can still be striking, though of course through a more restricted field of view. That includes the use of lenses and extension tubes, just bear in mind depth of field is extremely shallow.

 

The shape of the bokeh is determined by the number of leaves that go up to making the iris. Cheaper lenses tend towards having five or six blades to the iris, more expensive lenses 9 or more (and in between). The more blades the more circular the bokeh appears. The other factor is the placement of the blades, straight or rounded making for hard edged or circular smooth points. You pays your money and you takes your choice.

 

And that is pretty much all there is to it. It can be done indoors and out. It can be done in different light levels. It’s a simple technique that makes the most of a physical necessity. It can be one point or many depending on light source(s). Straight forward and quite striking. Try it.

 

Happy Christmas.

 

2nd February 2017 – An evening of portraiture

Taking someone’s photograph. Simple enough concept. A person, a camera, a photographer, a photograph. We might hope that the exposure is correct, the focusing correct and the person in the photograph recognisable if not by name at least as a person, as opposed to a smudge in a frame, a blur, a blot on the landscape. The technicalities don’t cover that, the story, the connection between viewer and subject. It could be the technically inept smudge, barely recognisable in some anonymous background, means the world to someone, because the person it is, or was, the world to them, or a substantial part of it. The casual observer cannot tell, for each of us, regardless of connection are pulled in or gloss over the representation of the person/s in the frame according to our own lives.

 

So much so passport photograph. Easy enough to gloss over the stare-into-the-lens, remove-all-distractions, flat-light-hard-lit likeness used for identification, though there are simple reasons for that style in an identification document. Its value is embedded in its function. It is a statement of who we are, where we are from, rather than an expression of it. Yet it is only an issue when we lose it or use it. The photograph on our photo-id is probably far more important to us than any other in the practical sense, but among the least regarded.

 

Take that self same fixed-stare, clean-background, no-distractions and Rembrandt light it. In reality we are adding, rather adjusting, the full-on photo booth glare for an unequal amount of light and shadow to construct a more pleasing aesthetic (More accurately, if not so informatively, we are subtracting light, but we will let that pass). By moving the light up and to one side we get a very different story. By doing so we immediately break the rules of passport photography, we render it bureaucratically void, but we make another, aesthetic, case for that image. The strength and appeal of that case is dependent upon the viewer, their literal and  psychological perspectives.

 

Pull back a bit. Step backwards, zoom out which ever takes your fancy. Create a little space around your subject. Yes I know what Robert Capa said, and we are still looking at a plain background and the Rembrandt light because that is where we more or less started. What can you do with that space? Space doesn’t sound very productive, but handled in the right way adds to the overall balance.  Essentially the way we use space in a frame is to give the subject a focus when not looking directly to the camera, so that there is enough space in the rest of the frame for the subject to look into. This helps form the question within the viewers mind as to what we cannot see what it is that takes the subjects attention. It is a well of curiosity and viewers will tend to look into the area the subject is looking into.

 

Space used in this way (usually asymmetrically) divides into two. The active space is the one described above. Negative space, apart from being the rest, and also being known as dead space, is what makes the subject stand out from the background but it needs to be handled carefully or it detracts from the overall image. As such this is all part of the rules of composition and the visual balance, which we last visited last two weeks ago.

 

Now comes the but …. Robert Capa was right. At least he was also right. Different crop, different picture, same image.  Take a look at the pictures you took of Ashleigh, Becki and Keith last meeting (and thanks to you three for being such patient models). Some great one’s posted by club members but not a single one that couldn’t be made into one, two or three other pictures. Cropping in post is one way of doing it for sure, but changing your position, up, down, left, right, nearer, further gives you six variations of that first framing. Seven different pictures. Have a go in post. Just the cropping – at least at first, then maybe light and shadow – you will get two or three useable, different pictures out of the exercise. Then go find someone to photograph, natural lighting will do, but using those six variations to get seven pictures.

 

So, following the above, we have a Rembrandt lit square on image of someone in too much space. Time to move the model. Now there are posing guides and techniques – Gerry Painter did a very informative evening based on Lindsay Adler last season and Mark O’Grady and Rob Heslop did a studio lighting presentation back in November that showed a lot into a short time – aplenty on the web.

 

It is important to establish exactly why whoever you are taking the pictures for wants them taken. Business, fashion, blog, CV, anniversary, all have different requirements in formality and style. That really is question number one when taking portraiture – why am I taking this? Even when we are taking them on a club night for pleasure, the question is what story am I telling here? Mystery? Mirth? Sadness? Loss? Happy times? Want? Wanton? When Damien Lovegrove took a session a couple of seasons back, he was happy to show how a story colours our perception of the picture. That is what we allow others to see, no matter that their story is different.

 

There are certain conventions attached to certain types of portraiture which is tied up with their use. Corporate head shots is the obvious one that springs to mind.  They differ from actors head shots in some small ways. Then there is the whole baby/infant/toddler/child thing. For all those expectations, indeed to meet those expectations, it is still the contact with the subject that counts.

 

Rule, and I do mean rule, one. Talk to your subject. Do not talk at your subject. The point is the person in the picture, not the smart-arse button operator. For sure some people have a very strong opinion of how and what should be done on both sides of the camera, however, this whole interaction is a bargain. A bargain, in the most colloquial sense, is the receipt of something that represents more than the time, effort and most frequently hard cash that we have put into something. Effort takes time and time is money if you need that squared away. It is an agreement between two or more people based around give and take and when entered into proportionally can produce something more than either party bargained for – in a good way. Good rapport is at the centre of any successful portrait session.

 

N E X T  M E E T I N G

 

9th Feb 2017 19:30 – Guest Speaker: Lyn James LRPS: “People and Places”.

3rd November 2016 – Reflections

Someone says reflections and we think of mirrors and shiny surfaces where the scene is played back to us in reverse but in the same perspective, so what is reflected in the surface appears as far behind it as the actual object being reflected is in front of it. We see them all the time, sometimes marvel at them, sometimes curse them most often accept them as part of the environment. Ask a physicist and they might say something like a “Reflection is the change in direction of a wavefront at an interface between two different media so that the wavefront returns into the medium from which it originated” (Wikipedia) and the rest of us nod and try to move on, but not quick enough and we, like the Wedding Guest in the “Rime of the Ancient Mariner” are snared. They continue: “The law of reflection says that for specular reflection the angle at which the wave is incident on the surface equals the angle at which it is reflected. Mirrors exhibit specular reflection” (ibid). For which we are grateful, we explain, but it’s our turn to shampoo the goldfish and, unfortunately, we have to move on.

 

All very true, well the physics bit anyway, I am sure and actually kind of fascinating, but we don’t really need to know the physics to observe and, as photographers, capture. Although lens manufacturers spend millions of pounds and tens of thousands of hours in designing glass that transmits without specular distortions, we, nonetheless, as our latest meeting proved, will insist on putting the specularities back in. Bokeh anyone?

 

It can be true, depending upon the situation and the desired outcome, that we spend a lot of time and energy in controlling reflections, often using reflectors, gels, scrims, flags and alike but we will come back to those in another post in more detail.

 

There were some very interesting images made by members using a polarising filter. Polarization is an effect on light waves that reduce its passage to a single plane, “A flat surface on which a straight line joining any two points on it would wholly lie”, rather than a direct flight to Marbella. Polarisers don’t work on metallic surfaces because of the angle of scatter metal produces (cars and so on also have layers of paint which are also “dialectric“), lacking “Brewster” angle. This is one of those things you either already know or don’t really care about because you don’t need to know. Essentially as photographers we know that polarisers reduce reflections and darken skies at the right angle, but not from metal surfaces. The plastic rulers, backlit, showed rainbows not seen in normal light, the iridescent rainbow patterns appearing like stress marks, shown using lens-mounted polarising filters were an interesting diversion from how we usually think of in these sort of filters.

 

And there were plenty of others using foils and glass and water and mirrors and metals all providing interesting and off beat opportunities. That, though is to miss a rather large point. Reflections are to be found all over the natural and built environments, especially the latter and can be used to  enhance an image by providing balance or foreground interest or as the focal point. It can also be used to limit the dynamic range within a frame by moving the histogram to the right – basically, by removing significant areas of shadow. Of course this is a function of the lightest and darkest points in the frame which in itself is a function of what we choose to include in our frame. Not always possible, of course.

 

But we were working in doors and that generally means that we have greater control over the lighting. A light tent was one of the pieces of equipment brought in. Light tents act, when the light is kept outside of the tent, to soften the light on the subject which is also isolated from all background distractions apart from those you chose to include. Most often associated with product photography, though that should probably read small product photography,  they are a cheap way of getting in some practice of shooting a subject under controlled conditions. You can, of course, spend as much money as you want on it, but the basics remain the same.  It is particularly good at practising with light modifiers, especially with flags and reflectors, I find, not least because you are not struggling with giant soft boxes and the like, yet still are dealing with the same problems. It is a matter of scale.

 

Whether you need artificial or additional lighting is largely a function of preference as if there is sufficient daylight then the effect is pretty much the same, you still can employ your (mini) flags and reflectors to direct a greatly suffused light. Lack of artificial lighting just limits the time of day and you can easily make your own light tent from a card board box and some grease proof paper, if needs be. There are dozens of effects you can conjure up with a  little bit of time and patience and stuff you can find around the house, the point is, though they definitely have their uses, you don’t need a vast and remote lake reflecting a glorious mountain range that it took you and your dedicated team of Sherpa’s three weeks to trek to to make use of reflections. They are pretty much everywhere, especially in the built environment, and if not, you can make them.

 

22nd September 2016 – Quiz Night and More Answers

Quiz Nights. You can’t beat them so we joined ‘em. Thanks to Myk Garton for putting the evening together, I know from first hand experience just how much effort goes into making it look effortless. And of course all participants showed themselves masters of their hobby. This week on the blog we will wrap up two of the three remaining questions from the Week 2 Q by looking at: What is front curtain, rear curtain and slow flash? And what is Back button focus? This week has also been the big European photographic trade show, Photokina, held in Germany, one year I will have sufficient time and money to go …..

Still, daydreaming aside, what is front curtain, rear curtain and slow synch flash? Flash, aka strobes, aka those lighty things, is an area that is both technical and often ignored by the amateur. Yet it is one of the most effective accessories we can purchase. After all most of us have one built into our cameras, even if it does get overlooked most of the time. There is more to this than we will look at here, indeed we will visit this in a future blog, but for now we will explore the question that was put concerning these three often found menu options.

For this specific question we do not have to differentiate between off camera flash (or strobes if you prefer) and on camera (that is pop-up or otherwise built in). The reason behind this is that this is a specific question of the firing order of the flash in relation to the curtain or shutter. Mostly this is done off the position of what is known as the front curtain. The majority of cameras have a two curtain (shutter) set up. This enables faster shutter speeds, the flash synch speed of your camera is actually around about the fastest speed that the whole of the sensor is exposed. Otherwise it is exposed through a slit formed by the front and the rear shutter curtains moving across the sensor plane at a fixed distance apart. The faster the shutter speed the closer the gap.

If you expose using a strobe/flash unit above the flash synchronisation speed you get a dark band of varying width according to the shutter speed as the duration of a flash is extremely short. Because the lens projects things upside down onto the sensor and the shutters move from top to bottom this band will appear from the bottom upwards. Not so much of a problem if you only need light at the top of the frame, but not actually something that is easy to fine control both because of the position of the shutter at any given time and how much darker the rest of the frame is.

So why have a front curtain flash and a rear curtain flash? It’s to do with the motion blur in the frame and where the pulse of light freezes that in time. The least subtle explanation, nonetheless one that actually holds true, is that you use front shutter curtain to freeze the action. You might use your maximum shutter synch speed (often automatically set but that depends upon make and model of your camera body) to give yourself the maximum chance of freezing the action. You use the rear shutter curtain and, usually, a lower shutter speed to freeze the foreground and retain some motion blur in the scene. And slow synch flash? Well that is an automatic camera mode that forces a slower shutter speed and synchronises the flash. You can get some very different looking results from the same scene using these variations. As ever, try it out for yourself.

Back button focusing, once you’ve tried it you will never go back. At least that is what its fans say and there is no denying that it is a very useful tool. We looked at this on the blog last August viz “Back Button Focusing (refer to your manual for the native translation in your Camera’s Brand-Speak) does exactly what it says on the incredibly expensive magnesium alloy tin, or plastic camera body as befits your pockets/needs/delusions of grandeur. It is a button on the back of your camera body that activates the camera’s focusing system in isolation from the shutter release.  When you operate via the shutter release a half pressure triggers the autofocusing system (assuming you are not mounting  a manual lens) and a full depress activates the shutter release. Usually the shutter will not fire until the camera processor detects all the algorithms are in place to produce a point of focus and an acceptable circle of confusion (i.e. something is in focus …).  The button itself is usually marked AF or a version thereof and is normally accessible with the right thumb (I’ve never seen one on the left but then I haven’t conducted a survey in any depth). And it’s on the back of the camera.”

Yeah, that is what it is but what use is it? Well first off there is the fact that, whilst depressed, the AF button means that you hold whatever it is you have focused on. In the automatic modes focus shifts when you shift what you are looking at, which can be time consuming. In order to keep the focusing, for instance if you want to shift the main point of focus to the edge of the frame and blur the background. You might want to add to that you can use the continuous mode (AF-C or AF-Servo depending on your camera body manufacturer) of focusing on your camera when following action and use the AF button to freeze the most advantageous point (takes some practice but worth the effort with a high degree of movement in the frame). Or basically no more having to focus every time you let go of the shutter which takes time and can mean that you loose your shot. Annoying when it was already in focus the last time you half depressed the shutter.

So now you know. Next meeting is Table Top photography, a practical so bring your cameras and tripods. Maybe your flashes too!