Sunday, 25 October 2015

Parramasala - Tips on How to Shoot Public Events

One of the hardest things to do is shoot a public event where you  have little or no control over what happens - to the event, the participants and the weather. This is also true for wedding photographers - you have to fit in with whatever location, lighting and weather the day throws at you.
This year's Parramasala event was a bit like that - a beautiful bright, almost too glary, sunny day with performers either dancing in deep shade on the stage or out in full sun.

Indonesian/Australian dancers at Parramasala by Natalie Hitchens
Although predominantly of Indian essence, Parramasala is increasingly a mix of many cultures new and not so new to Australia including this gamelan performer from Indonesia.
(Canon EF 100-400mm lens, 1/1250s @ f6.3, ISO 1600, 400mm focal length).
Indian dancer
Pic by Natalie Hitchens
Looks a bit more like a marketplace in Rajastan than Parramatta in Sydney.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens
Rajastani turban, Parramasala, pic by Natalie Hitchens

HDR shot of a colourful henna display at Parramasala.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens

How do you get the best shots?
Here are some tips that I hope might prove useful:

TIP 01: Use a long telephoto lens (i.e. 200-400mm range).
This allows you to frame performers tightly thus eliminating much of the distractions found on stage (wires, background clutter, etc.).

TIP 02: Shoot using a high ISO - this gives you a fast shutter speed allowing you to capture the energy of the dancers for example, without too much (lens) movement. Remember, if shooting at 400mm focal length for example, you probably need a shutter speed of double that, more if the performers are moving quickly.
Gettin' into it at Parramasala
Tamil dancers are incredibly energetic and dynamic...
Pic Natalie Hitchens

TIP 03: Set the camera's Drive Mode to high speed - shooting continuously gives you the best chance to get those expressions that are impossible to capture with a single press of the shutter. Shoot as much as you need to because it no longer costs anything to snap off dozens, or hundreds of images. As a wedding photographer, particularly on jobs where I was working for other people, you had to be able to sell every image (in those days, everything was printed).
Shooting ten frames (about 1/3 of a roll of film) to get one saleable image was a no-no!

Shooting using the camera's fastest Drive Mode allows you to capture expressions that would otherwise be totally impossible to get - by just trying to press the shutter at the 'right' time.
Pic by Natalie Hitchens.
Bystanders at Parramasala
A powerful telephoto lens is good for bringing your subjects close. It is also excellent for producing a de-focussed background, especially when shot at a wide aperture.

TIP 04:
A monopod is an awesome tool to help increasing camera stability. Monopods are light, and far less intrusive than a tripod and provide a seriously stable shooting platform when using big telephoto lenses.

Don't try this at home.
Swastik dancers getting into the rythm.
Canon EF100-400mm lens, 1/2000s @ f5.6, ISO 400
Guruji Arrives
Manual focus is often better than AF simply because, in a scene like this, it is very hard for the auto focus to distinguish between what you want sharp, and what it is programmed to do...

TIP 05: Use fill-flash where possible. Shooting at midday produces heavy, unflattering shadows in the faces of your subjects. Fill-flash basically adds brightness to the dark shadows only - not to the highlights. Depending on the brightness of the day, use the flash set to minus one (power output) so as not to overpower the scene. You don't want the subject to look over-flashed.

Puppets on a stall at Parramasala
Pic by Natalie Hitchens

Thursday, 22 October 2015

Photographer Paranoia goes from Bad to Worse

I was intrigued by a piece in last week talking about  the paranoia experienced by [some] photographers targeted by depressingly alarmist, ignorant, and misguided members of the public.

"The problem of photographers being seen as “pedophiles with cameras” is widespread and is a subject we’ve reported on and written about many times over the years. One of the latest victims is David Updike, a Harvard-educated photographer and writer.
While sitting in Cambridge’s Dana Park on September 23rd, Updike found himself suddenly surrounded by police officers and questioned about what he was taking pictures of.  It turns out a woman had reported him for “taking pictures of children,” and now Updike has responded to the incident by writing an open letter to that woman.

Updike’s open letter was first sent to and published by the Cambridge Chronicle.  It’s addressed to the “woman in Dana Park who called the police on Sept. 23 around 5:30 p.m.”

Dear Neighbour,
Yesterday was a beautiful day, I think you will agree. I decided to take a short walk from my house on Hamilton Street to Dana Park, which I have been coming to almost daily since 1989, the year my son was born. As I often do, I brought my camera, sat on a bench for about 10 minutes, did one lap around the park and headed home.
I had barely gotten across the street when three police cars pulled up: I was told to stop, and swiftly surrounded by six policemen. I was “detained” there for approximately 20 minutes and questioned; another officer returned to the park to find out why you had called them.
My suspected crime, apparently, was having a camera in a public park, and allegedly taking pictures of children. As it turned out, I had taken no pictures that day. But I have been photographing in this neighbourhood for 30 years, and have published a children’s book of poems and photographs, always with permission.
The policeman returned and wanted to see my “flip phone,” and then asked me if I knew how he knew I had a flip phone: I didn’t. He knew, he told me, because the woman who called the police had taken a picture of ME, sitting on the bench, and shown him the picture. They then took away my phone, scrolled through the few pictures that were on it.
They continued to hover around me asking questions. As it happened, I was standing near the house where my son now lives, and when my wife appeared, walking down the street after work, and saw me standing in front of his house with six policemen, she instantly feared something terrible had happened to our son. She was shaking, and I explained the situation. She is an English teacher; I am a college professor of English. Our son spent much of the first 15 years of his life in Dana Park.
You must be new in the neighbourhood. I am often in the park, on foot or on a bike, talking to friends who have children who play in the playground. I know you were standing very near to me for the entire time I was on the bench, though I could not figure out why. Now I know: you were taking my picture.
Suggestion: the next time you suspect someone is up to no good, perhaps you should say hello, speak to them first and, if still anxious, ask what they are taking pictures of. That’s what people do in a neighbourhood park: talk to each other. This would save someone the humiliation and degradation of being stopped and held by the police, and might save the police from wasting their time when they could be doing something more useful, like managing the daily mayhem in Central Square.
The fact that you now have my picture in your phone is both sadly ironic and, well, creepy. Could you please delete it? Your neighbour, David Updike, Hamilton Street.

In a comment left on the Cambridge Chronicle Facebook page, Updike says that it was a film camera he had with him and that he hadn’t taken any pictures with it at the park.

“…their looking in my cell phone is illegal, as would be taking my film,” Updike writes, “Sitting on a bench in a public park… a crime?”

Last week I was in South Coogee, with my wife and a couple of other people, waiting for a friend to arrive for her wedding in the park (As a long time friend I'd agreed to take photos of the wedding ceremony).  While we were waiting a woman ran up to us and blurted out that 'someone was seen taking photos over the fence of Wylie's Baths' (a female-only pool), about 50 metres away from where we were standing.

She then noticed the camera on my shoulder and, without hesitating, quite seriously asked if I was the one taking pictures over the fence.  Before I could (somewhat indignantly) reply, the rabid vigilante ran off in search of a more compliant culprit...

Sure, there are idiots out there that get a kick out of taking inappropriate photos - most beachside councils in Sydney face this issue in the summer - immature males snapping pics of topless bathers with their phones - at one point I remember reading that Bondi council was considering banning photography entirely after some kids were caught snapping in the changing rooms(?). What most critics and knee-jerk apologists don't get is that with current technology the way it is, you don't need to walk along the corso to get inappropriate snaps. You could buy a Nikon P900 compact camera and get smutty pictures from a kilometre away with its insane 24-2000mm super telephoto lens and five-stop image stabilising technology - and no one would be any the wiser. (I am not in anyway suggesting this is a good idea - just that it could be possible with these affordable, superzoom cameras).

Add to this the fact that you can't use a tripod almost anywhere in Sydney, you can't even point your camera in the direction of certain buildings, you have to get permission (to take students to learn photography) in places like Darling Harbour and Cockatoo Island to avoid confrontations with rangers, and, as a photographer, you might be forgiven for feeling a bit paranoid.

Anyone else have a similar story?

Monday, 19 October 2015

Iceland Group Photo Book

Hot from our recent photo tour to Iceland in September - here's a group photo book I (hurriedly) put together to send to our guide, Hjalti Bjornsson, as a way of saying thanks for looking after us during our two week trip...

Fastest Ever CF Cards from Lexar

Just when you thought you knew what a 'fast' memory card was, Lexar upped the ante by releasing a truly eye-popping performer in its CFast CF class of camera memory cards (note that these are CF cards and are definately only for the fastest pro cameras on the market).
I  have not tried one of these - they cost more than $700 a pop but produce a read transfer speed up to 540MB/s (3600x) - the cards are supposedly designed for 4K shooters and "next-generation, cinema-grade video cameras".  Interestingly, no cameras can actually shoot still images fast enough to justify one of these mega-fast accessories - although downloading date from card to computer would be almost instantaneous...

128GB—Up to 540MB/s read, 445MB/s write
256GB—Up to 540MB/s read, 445MB/s write

This is what Lexar says about its new high speed card:
"New speed thresholds for cinema-quality 4K video and beyond Designed to address the exacting demands of today’s top content innovators, the Lexar® Professional 3600x CFast™ 2.0 card provides new thresholds of high-speed performance and large capacity options to easily capture the highest-quality 4K video and beyond. And with a read transfer speed up to 540MB/s*, the card dramatically accelerates post-production workflow. Lights. Memory card. Action. Whether shooting broadcast-quality videos, professional-league touchdowns, or feature-length blockbusters, today’s cinematographers, filmmakers, and content creators need a card that delivers the quality expected at the highest level of cinematography. Powerful high-speed capture and transfer. The high-speed performance of the card maximises the capabilities of next-generation, cinema-grade video cameras, allowing you to capture the highest-quality RAW, ProRes, and 4K video, and beyond. And with an industry-leading read transfer speed up to 540MB/s, you’ll quickly power through post-production.* Record longer with high-capacity options. The card is offered in large capacity options to address the requirements of professionals to capture lots of footage, and keep shooting. So from the first take through to post-production, you’ll have the speed and space you need to capture the highest cinema-quality video for your next masterpiece. Specifically optimised for ARRI® cameras. The card has been developed to meet the intense demands of cameras capable of capturing 4K video and beyond. It’s optimised to work with ARRI cinema-grade cameras based on their unique recording design.** Recover files with Image Rescue® software. All Professional line memory cards include version lifetime copy of Image Rescue® software. Image Rescue recovers most photo and select video files, even if they’ve been erased or the card has been corrupted.*** The software is available for free download with purchase of the card. Warranty and support. All Lexar Professional line memory cards come with a limited lifetime warranty and are backed by expert technical support. Rigorously tested. All Lexar product designs undergo extensive testing in the Lexar Quality Labs, facilities with more than 1,100 digital devices, to ensure performance, quality, compatibility, and reliability."

I think I'll stick with my Lexar 94Mb/s cards for the time being - at least till the prices come down and I can afford a 4K camera...

Thursday, 15 October 2015

New Features in Photoshop Elements 14.0

While very little has actually changed in this new version of Photoshop Elements, one area you'll see some differences and expansion is in its Guided Edit mode - more techniques and slicker visuals.

This video is all about a new feature called Shake Reduction - you can use it as an AUTO function or manually control where in the shot the shake reduction is applied.   It works quite well- essentially adding contrast and sharpness to the affected areas.  It really depends on how bad the camera shake is to start with. Some of the examples I tried just looked over-sharpened.  Nice idea but don't expect miracles...

The video below highlights how to get a better, more accurate selection using the Refine Selection Brush Tool.

Wednesday, 7 October 2015

Hot Mud Venting - High Speed Shutter

I shot these images in Namaskard hot springs near Myvatn in north eastern Iceland.  It's an impressive landscape with steam venting out of the ground and raised vents. 
Mud and boiling waters oozes, bubbles and fizzes out of numerous apertures in the mud.  It's a bit of a devil's cauldron.  I found one really cool and very active mud spring and shot a series of close ups at extreme shutter speeds - 1/2000s and faster - to (hopefully) freeze the shapes of the mud bubbling out of the vents. I had no idea what this might look like - and indeed the steam in the immediate area mostly obscured the mud bubbles - but I brought out the details by maximising the Contrast (in Lightroom), darkening the Blacks and cranking the Clarity slider to the max.