Thursday, March 21, 2013

Learning to shoot blind

Light was wonderful but finding a vantage point was a challenge. A point and shoot met the challenge.

News shooters know this trick. Often, when caught inside a tight scrum of photographers, they do the only thing possible. They hold their cameras above their heads and they shoot blind.

At least, this is what they did two decades ago. Today, with monitors on camera backs that flip out and even possibly rotate, it is no longer so imperative that one keeps one's eye to the viewfinder.

For more than four decades I was a news shooter. I learned to hold my camera high above my head and shoot with film and with trust. When I got my first point and shoot, a Canon SD10, I found I had a camera that did not have a viewfinder and the monitor could not be viewed in bright sunlight.

I'll admit that I thought I was snookered. I confess that at first I hated that camera. Unfortunately it was a gift from my wife. Returning it was not an option.

Red sketch indicates camera position.
So I learned to shoot in the dark when I was in bright sunshine, or so you might say. The talent I had honed shooting above the heads of other photographers, I put to a new use. Looking at my portfolio of shots taken with my SD10, I've got to admit a whole lot of them were taken "blind."

The other day I saw my three-year-old granddaughter doing a Dora puzzle. She was facing a living room window, the light was wonderful, the moment memorable but there was no way I could get into position for the picture. If I took the time to move the plant and pot sitting just where I wanted to be, the moment would be lost.

I sat down, hung my arm over the edge of the sofa, and with my hand almost at floor level, I started shooting and shooting and shooting some more. Exposing digits is cheap. The constraints of expensive film are concerns from yesterday.

My Canon S90 doesn't have a flip out monitor, but it does have an f/2.0 lens at wide angle (28 mm). And it can be set to take a lot of pictures in a hurry. It may be an amateur point and shoot, but it is a pro at handling focus concerns and exposure calculations.

I shot lots and I got a picture with lots to like. I also got lots not to like, but that's O.K. Talk and digits are cheap. Good pictures are priceless.

Learn to shoot blind. It'll open your eyes.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A fast lens and available darkness makes a better picture

When I got into photography in a serious way, my photography instructor drove home the idea that slow lenses were for amateurs and fast lenses were for pros. Part of the reason for this was cost. Fast lenses cost a lot more money. An f/3.5 lens was a lot less money, and also weighed a lot less, than an f/1.8 lens.

The above shot of my wife blowing out the candles on her birthday cake, surrounded by her grandchildren, was shot available. I had the lights turned out in the dining room but there was some light spilling into the shot from a distant kitchen.

I made sure the three were facing the lit kitchen and not the dark wall behind them. The positioning was under my control. I see nothing wrong with taking a little control when shooting family pictures.

The shot may be a little grainy but I can live with that. I like it much more than a shot done with an on-camera flash that provides a cold blast of light illuminating the scene in an unattractive, flat, shadowless manner. (And a faster lens helps to keep the need for ridiculously high, image-damaging fast ISO-speeds, to a minimum.)

If I were buying a point and shoot today, I would make sure it had a least an f/2.0 lens like my now aging Canon S90. Do a google search and you will find there are even faster point and shoots out there today.

Remember, the smaller the f/stop number the faster the lens. f/1.4 is a full stop faster than f/2.0 and two full stops faster than f/2.8. And even with a fast lens, try and brace the camera while taking your shots. A steady camera is important even with all the image stabilizing technology used in making cameras today.

And as most point and shoots suffer from camera lag, I find shooting bursts of shots and just not single pictures helps to capture the moment. With some cameras this may force you to accept smaller files but this is not a problem if you are not making enlargements bigger than eight by ten.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Why I like a fast lens: f/2.0 and no slower than f/2.8

The skin peels from Bud Gardens, revealing a skater underneath.

The World Figure Skating Competitions were held in London, Ontario, last week. I'd have loved to shoot some of the action on the ice but the ticket costs were out of the reach of this retired photographer.

But outside the arena, on an exterior wall to be exact, there was another event to photograph: The Tree of Light light show. This was one of those 3D projection mapping displays so popular around the world.

The company that produced the one in London was the Moment Factory out of Montreal, Quebec. The Moment Factory has done work across the globe.

These projections are incredibly bright and easily photographed using almost any point-and-shoot camera. Still, having a camera with a fast maximum f/stop at wide angle is still a plus. A fast lens means you are prepared for the worst. You know you will get a picture.

You also know that you may get by very nicely without the use of either a tripod or even something on which to brace your camera.

The fast lens also makes it easier for the camera to focus accurately and quickly. Faced with a choice between a fast lens and a longer zoom range, I'd take the fast lens every time.

But, the advantages of a fast lens are not restricted to rare occasions such as shooting projected displays. A fast lens is called on to provide its magic on almost a daily basis.

When my granddaughter did an impromptu dance, causing her dress to swirl, my Canon S90 with its f/2.0 lens had the lens for the job. It may have been night, the illumination may have been a low wattage fluorescent bulb, but the Canon S90 succeeded where other cameras might well have failed.