After the meeting in Bangalore, Sreekanth asked if I still had plans to run a photography workshop. Unfortunately, time was against us, but I did promise to post a workshop on the forum; here it is.
I’m assuming most people reading this will be equipped with either a film or digital SLR camera, or a camera with some level of individual control.
SLR means Single Lens Reflex, and refers to the way light is taken into the camera so that you can view in the eyepiece exactly what is seen on the finished picture. If your camera has interchangeable lenses, it is most probably an SLR. Some modern digital cameras have a fixed lens, but still offer most of the controls of an SLR; they are usually referred to as ‘Bridge’ cameras.
I will cover aperture, shutter speed, ISO, flash and lens choice, as they are the main creative options available. Framing of the shot, pose and background are all very important parts of the process and can be learnt as part of this workshop.
Next to every image will be a listing to help you see the details used to record the shot. These details are covered as follows:
f4.5 (as an example) is the aperture number. Usually in the range f2.8 to f16, the f number can be almost any number on modern digital cameras, but traditionally the numbers go 2.8, 4, 5.6, 8, 11, 16, 22, 32 are called full stops. That’s not full stops. But a complete stop! The smaller numbers mean the hole the light passes through is at its biggest, as the numbers get bigger, the hole gets smaller. So f2.8 allows the most light onto the film or sensor, while f32 allows very little light through.
The shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds like 1/200. This tells you how long the aperture opens for and is balanced with the aperture size to allow sufficient light through.
ISO lets you know how sensitive the film or sensor is to light. ISO100 is usually used in very good light conditions, ISO200 is called a faster film and allows you to shoot is lower light levels, ISO400 is faster still allowing shooting in dim light.
Flash is an essential element to be able to understand; most people don’t use enough of it. I won’t cover the manual side of flash, as that would really star to complicate issues.
Lens choice will also include zooming a lens that is permanently fixed to the camera, but these lenses often use slightly different focal length settings from the standard, so I’ll try to explain how to judge this as I go.
For this first shot, look at how the angler is sitting and holding the fish.
f6.3, ISO 200, no flash, 18mm
Getting a good pose is just as important as a good exposure. The fish is supported under the body, so there are no hands wrapped around the fish obscuring bits of fin or eyes. It takes some time to get used to holding fish like this, but usually, they are far happier to be held gently, rather than held in a death grip.
The background is a mixture of river and green leaves, nothing distracting and by using quite a large aperture the background fades into a slight blur. This is also a key element to fix attention on the angler and fish.
The aperture, while allowing more or less light into the camera, also determines how much of a scene is in focus. Wider apertures (smaller numbers), we call shooting wider, or open, I chose f6.3 to give enough ‘in focus’ or depth of field to make sure both fish and angler are in focus, but also allowing a fast enough shutter speed that any movement would be completely frozen.
I usually shoot with the camera set to Aperture Priority, often seen as AP mode. This allows me to choose the aperture I want, while the camera sets the shutter speed to give enough light to record a good exposure. The aperture is chosen mainly to set how much of the scene (from front to back) I want to be in focus, but I will have one eye on the shutter speed that the camera is choosing, by following the meter in the viewfinder.
Here’s a fish you’ve all wanted to see; a Katli, or Copper Mahseer.
f8, fill in flash, 24mm
Notice how Mark is holding the fish this time, by gripping just behind the head, where most fish have a bit of an indentation. Long, thin fish up to about 4lbs can be held like this for a short period, and it gives a different composition from the normal fish and angler pose.
I also wanted to include some of the background here, because the waterfall really gives a sense of the kind of water this fish likes to inhabit. Aside from the technical details, try to think about a picture telling a story and your composition will improve.
As for the technical stuff, I shot f8 to allow the background to be recorded slightly in focus. I also had to shoot stopped down a bit because my lens was zoomed in further than before. As you use longer lens lengths, the depth of field naturally becomes less, so you have to shoot with a smaller aperture to give the same amount of front to back focus. In actual fact, shooting f8 on the 24mm lens setting probably gives the same depth of field as shooting f6.3 on the 18mm setting.
There is some flash used here to light Mark’s face, as the light was not too good in the trees. For daytime shooting, the built-in flash on my camera is set to shoot -0.7, or two thirds of a stop underexposed. In simple terms, I don’t want to fire a normal burst of flash, as it would be too harsh. Just a little helps to lighten the main subject, remove dark shadows, and yet still allow the full scene to be recorded.
One type of picture that I tend to use almost as a trademark is with the angler posing with fish held like this.
f8, ISO 200, no flash, 16mm
By pushing the nose of the fish into the lens, the fish suddenly takes on a huge importance in the frame. Focus on the eye of the fish, with a wide angle lens (in this case, my 10-20mm Sigma set to 16mm) which should give you a good depth of field. Aperture set to f8 to ensure reasonable depth and fire away. Notice on most of the shots so far, the frame is pretty well filled with the fish and angler; there is very little spare space around the frame.
A little tip on getting good sharp focus is; zoom the lens in to its fullest extent, focus carefully on the eye of the fish, then, while keeping the focus button half depressed, zoom out and compose the shot how you want it. It may help to zoom in, focus, then switch the camera to manual focus; this should keep the focus selected perfectly, but be careful when using the zoom ring, as you can easily move the focus ring by accident.
The lenses I carry with me are:
10-20mm Sigma, 17-35mm Nikon, 50mm Nikon, 70-200mm Sigma and 90mm macro Tamron.
Many digital cameras offer a zoom range equivalent to 28-200mm, so you may not be able to go quite as wide as me, but still, try to use both ends of the zoom, as they allow quite different compositions.
The following type of shot uses the long end of the zoom. It was shot on the 70-200, set to 120mm.
f4, ISO 400, no flash, 120mm
As I explained before, longer lenses give a much shallower depth of field and I’ve tried to use that and exaggerate it by shooting at f4. You can clearly see that all the detail behind Mark is very blurred; this is caused by the length of lens and shallow depth of field.
This picture was shot around 5pm, when light levels are falling fast, so that I could get a decent amount of light into the camera, I had to turn the ISO up to 400. To judge this, I checked the meter in the camera with my chosen aperture set. I would assume (although I can’t actually tell, as I didn’t get a record of the shutter speed) that the shutter speed would be 1/250th. You need the shutter speed to be showing as a fraction equal to the focal (zoom) length of the lens.
For example, with a 50mm lens, I can reasonably shoot with shutter speeds faster than 1/50th, with a 200mm lens, I need shutter speeds faster than 1/200th. This is all to do with the weight of the lens and how still you can hold the camera. Adding flash will give a faster shutter speed, so that was another option, but because of the distance between me and the subject, the flash would not have recorded the scene the way I wanted it to.
Exposure is, quite simply, a balance between aperture, shutter speed and ISO to ensure the perfect amount of light is recorded. By setting the ISO to 200, I could have opened the aperture by one stop to f2.8 to give exactly the same amount of light on the scene. The downside of this approach is that much less of the front to back depth of field would have been in focus, so I may not have kept focus on both fish and angler.
When trying this type of shot, get the angler to sit at 90` to you, looking straight down their nose at the fish, which is held extending away from the body with head facing towards the angler. As soon as you are ready to take the shot, tell the angler to just turn their head to look at you, and then shoot.
With all photography like this, it will help to record the job quicker, which is better for the fish, and give far better end results if you explain what you want to achieve before taking the shot. Plan the shot before picking up the camera.
Finally, a shot to demonstrate that angling shots are not just about fish. Going back to telling a story through the pictures, here is one that shows the power of mahseer in a different way.
f4.5, ISO 100, fill in flash, 35mm
Again, framed quite tight, shot with a very wide aperture to give a shallow depth of field, allowing all the focus to be on the lures, not the angler. I took four different pictures to get this shot, just slightly moving Mark’s hands around until the lures were either side of his mouth, but not obscuring either mouth, or eyes.
I may not be able to visit India in early 2008, but hope to have a trip later in the year. If so, I will arrange a photo workshop in Bangalore, but in the meantime, feel free to PM me any questions you may have.