This month I want to address some items that may seem fairly simple, but cause many people problems with their photos. This is the actual manipulation of the camera you are using. These problems have cost many people some incredible shots (myself included) and could have easily been avoided. Whether people are new to a camera or just in a rush, they all can be cured with a little patience and time.
Know Your Camera
An obvious one, but so neglected. Knowing the limits, features and quirks of your individual camera can save about 80% of bad shots. Not all cameras are created equal, and some have features no one ever finds till they start seeing bad shots. The first cure is to read the manual. Many people rely on only what a salesperson tells them to do for the operation of their camera. Salesmen can’t remember all of every camera’s features. Some cameras have features that solve back-lighting, some have red-eye reduction, and some have Image Stabilization. These features are there to help and their operation is the first key to taking better kite photos. Other features, such as Zoom and Panoramic photos must be used judiciously. There have been many people that have bumped their panoramic button and taken an entire roll that way. When their processing bill comes back, they realize it too late. This is also the source of many ‘cut off heads.’ Zoom lenses are great for bringing things in close, but narrow your field of view. So if you can get closer, it is always better to walk than zoom, especially if your camera has a wide angle lens. Lastly, know how the camera is actually constructed. Compact cameras do not sight through the lens, so your view in the viewfinder is slightly different than the actual photo being taken. Also, some SLR’s show more in the view than they actually capture, so being aware of these quirks can help to avoid them.
Almost all cameras have a fill-flash mode. This fires the flash even if the camera thinks it is unnecessary. Why would you want to use it if your camera says it is not necessary? There are many, many reasons, but the foremost are back-lighting situations, harsh shadows, and color balancing. Back-lighting occurs when your subject has light coming from behind. The camera’s meter ‘sees’ all that light and determines that there is enough light to take the picture without flash. The camera’s meter is TECHNICALLY correct, but it cannot determine the direction of the light. If there is no light hitting the front of your subject, they will be underexposed and look like shadows on your print. Using a flash in this situation will throw light on the front of the subject and make a better exposed photo. If you don’t want to use your flash, move to an area that the light is behind you and heading towards your subject. The most common places this occurs is on the flying field and at banquets. The second problem of directional light like that that causes back-lighting is harsh shadows. Many people and kites with prominent features look very bad when the light hits them from the side. Half of the subject is almost black, the other half is overexposed. Using a flash in this situation, in combination with a change in light direction can negate the effects of directional lighting. Finally, when shooting at a banquet or indoor competition, use your flash to balance out the colors. Most arenas, restaurants, and civic center use either tungsten, fluorescent, or incandescent lights. These lights have a different color makeup than sunlight, so they can actually turn kites and people and anything else you shoot into a different color. Use a flash indoors, combined with 200 or 400 speed film to negate these effects. If you own an SLR, you can purchase a color correcting filter for this problem. If neither of these are an option (some competitions request that you not use flash for their indoor event) make sure you process your film at a lab that does color corrections. It may cost extra, but it is definitely worth it.
Many people purchase automatic, zoom lens, compact cameras. These are great because they are small, can go anywhere, and do almost all the work for you, like focusing. Yet, still, people get out of focus prints from them. There is actually two reasons (one discussed here, one discussed below) that this happens. The first is camera motion. When a camera actually takes a picture, the shutter exposes the film for a brief instance. ANY movement of the camera during this time is recorded. Even for that 1/60th to 1/1000 of a second, there is enough time for you to jiggle the camera. Also, any movement is magnified when you are ‘zooming in’ to get closer. Camera motion is the cause if you look at your print and it looks as if it is streaked out of focus (I.E.: the picture’s out of focus elements appear to have a directionality to them). Some basic rules of thumb to negate movement are: don’t stab the shutter button, press it gently, like a squeezing motion, breathe in and hold your breath while pressing the button, and brace yourself against an immobile object (NOTE: if you are in a moving vehicle, there is nothing immobile about it). Using a tripod may be an excellent idea if you are having trouble with this.
I know earlier I said that if you can get closer, do so, but there is a limit as to how close you should get. Every camera and lens has a Minimum Focusing Distance (it’s in the manual if you don’t know it for your camera, see tip 1). Getting closer than this distance causes an out of focus that appears around items, like they have a soft, furry edge. Solving this problem is easy, stand further back. Also, there are two MFD’s for zoom cameras. One is for zoomed all the way out (usually the lower measurement) and one for zoomed all the way in (usually the higher one). Again, just staying out of this range will improve your photos. Flashes have a minimum distance too, usually about three feet for smaller flashes. Being too close with a flash causes burn out (also called wash out). This happens when your subject loses detail because there was too much light (yes, there can be too much). This does not occur too much outdoors, but indoors and in cars, it is a large problem. Banquet tables, indoor audiences, and in cars are bad places to take photos unless you move back. Cars also have many reflective surfaces that sometimes amplify the effect. If you do make this error, any color correcting photo lab will try to bring out the detail in the washed out area, but as a consequence, you will lose background detail.
This one is almost exclusive to action photography, such as sport kites and kite people. Knowing your subject helps here. The timing of your shot in action photos is crucial. One second early or late and your photo is missed. If you can guess what your subject is about to do, your chances of catching the moment you want increase. Couple this with a good motor drive and no heed for the amount of film you use, and you will have that much more of a chance. A word of caution about motor drives, though. Some are very slow, and don’t really serve as much of a help in fast action shots, like sport kiting, but are still good for slower action, like drifting rokkakus and bol running. On the other side of the coin, some motor drives are so fast, they can use an entire roll of film in 2.5 seconds (yes, I have clocked this on some cameras). Again, here is where knowing your camera is essential. Frame rates for motor drives can be found in your manual.
I know I harp on film and processing, but it cannot be stressed enough. These are the integral components of any photography. In particular, film care is an often overlooked part of the equation. Sure, you clean your camera and keep it well maintained, but the film requires some care too. Always keep excess film in the refrigerator (not the freezer). Refrigerated film maintains its chemistry better and reproduces truer colors. Simply remove from refrigeration the night before you use it and allow to warm to to room temperature on its own (do not heat). Excessive heat will cause color shift, whether exposed or unexposed, processed or not. Also, process your pictures as soon as possible. Film starts to lose color over time. Finally, after processing, store negatives in a cool dry place. Again, this is because heat will accelerate any aging. Knowing what speed of film you are using will help reduce chances of improper exposure (I.E.: use 200 on a beach or in a lot of light, do not mix 1000 speed with a flash, etc.)
Finally, here are a few tips that have no real classification. They are just the littlest things to remember that make kite photos turn out so much better: Try to avoid ‘busy’ or complicated backdrops Light changes by time of day, use this to your advantage Balance the light direction against the wind direction. Know your camera Be considerate of others Be considerate of the kites, especially bigger ones No shot is worth risking injury for (that’s what zoom is really for) Know your camera (it can’t be stressed enough!) Use quality processing
Until next month, keep flying and keep shooting!