Photo Kit: A peek behind the curtain


  • TECH
  • Monday, 28 Apr 2014

 

As you well know, there's an agreement amongst magicians that they never reveal their tricks.

The thinking is that once revealed, the trick (and they are all tricks, let me tell you) will no longer seem "magical."

So you won't see that annoying David Blaine show you beforehand that he carefully froze the fly and put it on the windowsill before "reviving" this "dead" fly by simply warming it up in his hand.

To the spectator who's not privy to what goes on behind the scenes, all he/she sees is Blaine seemingly performing a miracle, like Jesus resurrecting Lazarus.

Similarly, in photography, all you see in magazines and websites are the photographer's best shots and you start getting a sense of inadequacy thinking that you'd never be able to reach that level of competency when it comes to shooting photos.

Nothing could be farther from the truth, of course -- for every great image the photographer captures, there are probably tens or even hundreds of shots in a series of shots that aren't "good enough" that people never see.

Well today, I'm going to pull back the curtain a little bit and show the reader what went into my thinking when I had the chance to shoot a few photos in and around Angkor Wat in Cambodia.

I'll show you a number of images and explain why they didn't work and why I chose the final image as the image.

Hopefully, from the images, you'll see that good images are a result of a bit of trial and error, a little perseverance and some amount of luck.

Anyway without further ado, here are the shots  

Behind bars
The image you see at the beginning of this article was a truly candid shot -- I was actually walking to my tour bus when I noticed this school behind a fence.  

The colour attracted me and I noticed that class was either on a break or had not started yet and decided to shoot a few frames.

Almost, but not quite: these two images were shot at the wrong angle, or before the kid was right at the bars of the window.

Despite the obvious photographic possibilities of the scene, it's actually very easy to walk past this place and not even notice it -- all the journalists that were with me didn't see it until I stopped and started shooting.

The trick is to shoot, shoot and shoot some more -- sometimes, especially with street photography or candid shots, you don't have the luxury of time that you need to have a clear idea of the shot you want to get.

Anyway I first noticed a little girl in one of the windows and started shooting. Unfortunately, as you can see in the photos, the angle wasn't quite right -- to get a truly good image, you have to be totally square to the window, and frame it with an equal amount of space on either side.

The earlier shots I took just weren't quite there -- it was actually a problem with the positioning more than anything else.

However, a few kids noticed my photo-taking and it wasn't too long before another kid popped up in the next window and this time, he was positioned just right so I started snapping away.  

This was the most successful of the five or so shots I took -- the framing was right and the kid's expression, though not the best, is actually quite suitable for what I wanted to convey.

Angkor portrait

These days I carry a fisheye lens with me all the time.

When I was shooting with an APS-C sensor DSLR, I had the Samyang 8mm f/2.8 in my lens kit and it was so much fun to use that when I upgraded to full-frame, I just had to replace it with a full-frame equivalent, the Nikon 16mm f/2.8 fisheye.

Now, a full-frame fisheye lens is a fun lens to use, but you have to carefully consider composition and distortion as the lens can get a lot of the scene in, especially in the corners, where it's literally covering a 180° field of view.

I'd been in Angkor Wat some years before and shot all the usual touristy images, but this time I was determined not to get the same old shot of the same place.

So as I entered this area, I was scouting around for a good shot with the 16mm fisheye and I found that if I lay down on the ground looking up, I could get a very interesting shot.

The dude in the image actually was my host for this trip and he actually just happened to be standing there as I was shooting.

Instead of shooing him away I decided to utilise him in the shot and asked him to look down at me as I lay on the floor to which he obliged.

Distractions: this series of shots illustrates how changing your framing slightly and waiting for distractions to move out of the way can make for a better shot

As you can see from the series of shots, the framing here is critical -- I found that having the big oval of the sky cross from one corner of the image to the other worked best.

Oh yes, the interesting thing about this shot is that it will be the right side up no matter how you rotate it. I chose this vertical format simply because the human subject was looking "into" the frame -- any other orientation would have had him looking into the wrong area of the frame.

(Photo Kit is a fortnightly online column in which Tan Kit Hoong (tankh@thestar.com.my) shares his thoughts on the art and technology behind cameras at thestar.com.my/tech.)
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