Magazine article Geographical

Hot Shots

Magazine article Geographical

Hot Shots

Article excerpt

Do you want to improve your photography? Giles Stokoe takes us on a photographic journey, and reveals the secrets of his trade

LIKE MOST PEOPLE, I first became motivated to improve my photography by looking at old photographs and wondering what I should have done to make them better. One thing led to another and I eventually realised that this was a challenge I would happily occupy myself with for the rest of my life. Ten years later this is still the case, though the hassles of being a professional photographer can sometimes be distracting.

Although some of the finer points of making a photograph can easily fill whole books, there are a few simple guidelines that should remove many of the nasty surprises in store when the film comes back from the developer. While most of them require some investment of time or effort, following them should leave you satisfied that you are giving the subject your best shot.

The most obvious piece of equipment you will need is the camera itself. The best photographs are not necessarily taken with the most complicated cameras. The cameras still used to take most of the photographs used in advertisements look very much like the first cameras ever made. In all cameras light passes through a lens into a lightproof box with a piece of film at the back of it. Automation can make the process of taking a picture faster, but to do it the camera must make assumptions about what it thinks you want. But cameras cannot read minds, and when we get our film back we might be surprised at some of the things it has assumed. For serious photography in variable conditions, a camera with a manual override is essential.

Another vital piece of equipment is a good tripod, and here you get what you pay for. Most professional photographers use one of two makes of tripod: Manfrotto or Gitzo. This is because they work. If the tripod will not take almost your full weight without a leg telescoping shut, put it back on the shelf. Aim for a tripod that extends above your head, but will let you splay each leg out so that you can shoot at almost ground level. Imagine shooting on a mountainside, among a jumble of boulders or with one tripod leg on a wall and you will understand why. If the tripod feels too heavy, you can buy one made from carbon fibre. Get a ball and socket or pan and tilt head (one that allows movement in all three directions) big enough to take the weight of your camera, and with a quick release plate that allows you to clip the camera onto the tripod at a moment's notice. You could spend as much on a tripod as on a camera and it would be money well spent. I have compromised on weight to save myself money, but I can dismantle my Manfrotto into its components to fit into a suitcase for air travel. The rest of the time it is slung over my shoulder.

Photographers are divided over film. Everyone has their favourites, and each type will render colour differently, have different grain and so on. Basically, the slower the film (the lower the ISO number on the side of the packet) the less grain and more colour there will be. You will learn what your film does well as you get experience with it, and so which film you choose is mainly up to you. For getting colour photographs published in books and magazines, however, they will almost always have to be shot on a slow slide (transparency) film (ISO 100 or less).

How all this equipment comes together to `make an exposure' is what some people have spent their lives trying to perfect. The principle is very simple, and helped by the fact that all the camera controls and film speeds halve or double the amount of light required or supplied. Therefore an ISO 100 film requires twice as much light as an ISO 200 film, and this could be achieved either by clicking the shutter speed from 1/60th of a second to 1/30th of a second, or opening the aperture in the lens from f22 to f16 (the smaller the number the bigger the hole). …

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