Saturday, June 23, 2007

Photojournalism (1): "I Am A Camera"

Sean Flynn, son of the legendary 1940’s Hollywood actor Errol Flynn, was a photojournalist who covered the Vietnam War in the 1960’s. Bitterly disillusioned by all the killings he witnessed and the horrors of the war, he set aside his camera but still continued going with the US Special Forces in their operations.

Sean was confronted by his best friend and fellow photojournalist Tim Page about this contradiction. With a lost look in his eyes, Sean pointed to his head and said, “The images are all in here!”

Sean disappeared after the Vietnam War; it is believed that he was murdered by the Khmer Rouge guerrillas in Cambodia.

(Tim Page is the author of the book “Page after Page” that was turned into the 1990s TV miniseries “Frankie’s House”; the book and the miniseries narrate Page’s odyssey in Vietnam and his friendship with Sean.)

The human brain is certainly an incredibly marvelous thing (more on this later), but we do need a camera to take pictures. Say “photojournalism” and the camera that comes immediately into people’s minds is the 35 mm SLR (single lens reflex) camera.

The SLR camera is used in all kinds of photographic work like sports, fashion, portraits, etc. It has an extensive system of interchangeable lenses ranging from ultra-wide fisheye lenses up to the super telephotos, which capable of shooting close up pictures of subjects more than a mile away, and numerous accessories such as motor drives, power winders, dedicated flash units, remote controlled operation, etc.

Creativity is in your heart and mind, not in your camera

Richard Avedon, known as the world’s number one photographer according to a 1996 survey, once said, “It’s not the camera that makes a good picture but the eye and the mind of the photographer.”
(Avedon’s most famous photograph is that of Hollywood actress Nastassia Kinski with a snake wrapped around her body.)

Don’t be discouraged if you don’t have the kind of cameras you see professionals carry around. Use whatever camera you may have, however cheap or old it may be.

As painter Pablo Picasso said, “There are painters who transform the sun into a yellow spot, but there are others who, thanks to their art and intelligence, transform a yellow spot into a sun.” What Picasso, also an avid photographer, meant was, creativity is in your heart and mind, not in your camera.

For example, the 1947 Pulitzer Prize for photojournalism was awarded to a photograph of a woman jumping out from the window of a burning hotel. The picture was taken by Arnold Hardy, an amateur photographer, who bought his camera a month before the fire which claimed the lives of a hundred people. He took the picture with his very last flashbulb.

As someone has put it, photography really is both art and science. The term “EOS” in Canon autofocus cameras really stands for “electronic optical system” but the Canon company wants to be more poetic about it. So, it says that the term stands for “Eos”, the Greek goddess of dawn. Autofocus being the dawn of a new age for cameras, get it?

35 mm: film format and viewing system


We can break down the term “35 mm single lens reflex” camera into two components: one, the film format, and two, the viewing system. The “35 mm” portion of the term “35 mm camera” does not refer to the focal length of the lens but to the film format. The SLR camera uses the so-called 135 size film which measures 24 by 36 mm, loaded in cassettes holding 12, 24 or 36 frames (an accessory allows the use of film magazines with a total capacity of 250 frames).

What you see is what you get


The single most important characteristic of the SLR system is that there is absolutely no parallax problem. The image you see on the viewfinder is exactly the image you’ll get on the film. The SLR system of viewing allows you to see the image exactly as the film will record it. This system of viewing may be summed up by the term computer users are familiar with, WYSIWYG or “what you see is what you get.”

For you math nerds out there, it might interest you to know that parallax is also used for estimating the distances of the stars and other astronomical bodies. How? Well, if you know the distance between the real position of the star and its apparent location, and the angle between them from where you are, you will be able to measure the distance between you and the star. That is trigonometry, right? Right!

Free e-book:
Get More From Your Digital SLR
Photo Answers

(5.09 MB, 22 pages)
Features of modern SLR cameras

Everything (well, almost everything) is automatic like film loading and rewinding, film speed setting through DX decoders, and shutter speed and aperture combinations through sophisticated metering systems. The built-in flash fires automatically when needed, reduces red eye, and automatically balances ambient light with just the right amount of fill flash. Autofocusing (meaning the camera lens focuses itself without any help from you) is so sophisticated that cameras can focus on wispy clouds or on a zigzagging football player.

If you’d like to take a break but still be able to take pictures, you can use what is variously known as trap focus, snap-in focus or catch-in focus. You can leave your camera unattended, take your time doing something else, and when your subject hits the pre-focused spot, the camera will automatically fire.

All these have been made possible by microchips built into cameras. If you read the specifications for some late model cameras, you’ll notice that they use “fuzzy logic” or a system by which computers think like human beings!


Practical tip: always release the shutter button gently

Whether you’re using a manual camera or an autofocus camera with all the bells and whistles so to speak, always gently press the shutter release with your right index finger when you are shooting your subject. Simply apply a little pressure to the release button; you’ll feel just a little tension on your right forearm when you do so. If you “jab” or “push” the shutter release heavily downward, you’ll have blurred images caused by camera shake.

Computers, digital cameras, and the future of photography

“From today, painting is dead!” This was the cry of doom and despair by French painter Laroche way back in 1839 when photography was introduced to the world.
History has proven him wrong, however; painting is still very much a flourishing art form. With the advent of personal computers and their revolutionary impact on almost all aspects of life, it seems it’s now the turn of photographers to exclaim, “From today, photography is dead!”

Photography is a technology based art form. Since 1839, it has always been a silver halide based art form, meaning we’ve got to have film in order to have pictures, until today that is. Now, computers and cameras have been fused together to produce film-less digital cameras.

Primarily, digital cameras use a charge coupled device (CCD) to record the images. Since the images are “digitized” as they’re shot, you can use them at once in your computer. Some digital cameras have LCD preview and playback monitor, video output for viewing images on television, sound recording, etc.

Decision-free photography

A lot of professional photographers however look down on “auto-photography” or “decision free” photography. These terms refer to the heavy, oftentimes complete reliance on the automatic features of today’s cameras brought by computers, microchips, and electronics.


These photographers think that relying on automation and electronics is a hindrance to a person’s creativity. These photographers want the best of two worlds, actually. They value the information, the assistance given by the automatic features of today’s cameras but they also want what is known as “manual override” that is, they want to be able to turn off the camera’s automatic features, and to rely on their brains, their experiences, their feelings, their sensibilities. In other words, they don’t want their cameras to take the pictures for them; they want to take the pictures themselves.

For example, Apa Ongpin, a popular tri-media personality, stated in a magazine interview many years ago, that he would sometimes go on photo assignments using 30 year old manual cameras.

A camera for your schoolpaper

In the regional press conferences (high school level), participants are often required to use SLR cameras, so schools have no choice but to purchase one or two cameras. If your school cannot afford to buy a brand new SLR camera, you can choose to buy a second hand camera, either from someone you know or in R. Hidalgo in Quiapo, Manila. Shoot one roll of film with the camera to see if it still produces good pictures. Me, I started learning about photography by borrowing the camera of my staff photographer, Luis (we called him “Tatay”), from QC Science High School way back in 1983. Oftentimes, he’d rather play football all day long than cover school events, so I ended up being the staff photographer myself!

For your schoolpaper or your annual, however, I would advise that you invest your money in a digital camera. It will make your publication work easier and eventually save you a lot of money.

My beloved Canon AE-I Program
camera with Vivitar 28-210 mm zoom
lens; I used it for 19 years to shoot
more than 10,000 pictures, including
all the black and white pictures in
this photojournalism series. 
For nineteen years, from 1985 up to early 2004, I used a Canon AE-1 Program SLR camera. This camera model (and its non-program brother) is the most popular ever in the history of photography, having sold more than five million units worldwide since its release in 1982. What else can I tell you? Canon SLR cameras, they’re beautiful, they’re okay.

By the way, if you saw the movie “Emong Salvacion” starring Eddie Garcia, you probably saw that scene where lead actress Beth Tamayo used a camera to record the activities of a criminal syndicate. That camera is a Canon A Series camera, although I could not quite make out the exact model (I only saw the movie trailer). What did I tell you? Beth Tamayo’s beautiful! I mean, I mean, I mean, the Canon SLR camera is beautiful, not Beth Tamayo! I mean, I mean, I mean, they’re both beautiful, okay?okay?okay?

A “program” camera is ideal for beginners since there’s no need to bother with shutter speeds and apertures. If you want your skills to improve, however, you’ve got to learn how to set your shutter speeds and apertures manually. Why? So that you’ll have greater artistic control over your photographs. You won’t simply be doing what is known as straight photography or turning out what some professional photographers derisively refer to as record shots. When I first started learning about photography, I was totally dependent on the “program” mode. Now I use my camera only on manual exposure or shutter priority mode. Okay!

I love my AE-1 Program camera, but the flash synchronization broke down after 19 years of use and after some 10,000 shots. I can still use it in outdoor shots, but I do a lot of shooting indoors at this point in time. I reluctantly had to switch over to a digital camera. For the last two years, I have been borrowing and using my sister’s Sony digital camera, and I have to admit, the picture quality is good and I have saved a lot of money which could have gone to purchasing film and batteries, and paying for film processing.

By the way, the SLR probably isn’t singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette’s favorite camera. It’s probably a focus-free 35 mm compact camera. Why? Listen to her words in the song Hand in My Pocket.” The song say, “I’m free but I’m focused!”

A final note (or is it, a final shot?)


Medium format cameras are those which use the “120 roll film” which can produce very high quality pictures measuring up to several feet in dimension. Studios specializing in portraiture usually use medium format cameras (whether film based or digital in format). This kind of camera however is not suited for photojournalism because they’re bulky and heavy. They are pretty expensive, too!

Do you remember those historic moon landing shots taken by the Apollo 11 astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin on July 20, l969? (Incidentally, the astronauts were apprehensive about stepping on the moon’s surface. If the theory of evolution was right and that the moon was several millions of years in age, the dust covering the lunar surface would have been several feet deep, and the astronauts could drown in all that dust. Well, the dust on the moon was only an inch or so in depth.)

Anyway, these memorable lunar pictures were taken with a medium format camera, specifically, the Hasselblad Data Camera which was a modified version of the Hasselblad 500 EL model. It had a 60 mm f/5.6 Zeiss Biogon lens, and had a 170-frame magazine capacity. What happened to this historic camera, you might ask?

Well, the Apollo 11 astronauts simply left it there on the moon. I have always wanted to have a medium format camera but couldn’t afford to buy one. Now I know where I can get one, free. Yes! Yes! Yes!


Types of digital cameras

http://www.gcflearnfree.org/digitalphotography/1.2

How to hold a camera (free cheat sheet from Digital Camera World; click the image to see the full-sized graphic in a new tab)

http://media.digitalcameraworld.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/123/2014/06/How_to_hold_a_camera.jpg

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