Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Photography tips for using Program Mode

A challenge with your camera is always a great way to improve your photography. While here in Cambodia before our tour officially begins, I’ve been challenging myself to shoot mostly on P Mode and get it right in camera.

What is P Mode? P stands for Program Mode though some joke and call it ‘Professional’ or ‘Pissed’ Mode. It allows you full control of your ISO and flash as well as white balance and under and over exposing in camera.

With my camera set on spot metering I am finding as long as I take the exposure reading off a part of my scene that is approximately the same tone as 18% grey then the image is usually close to correctly exposed.  If the scene does not have this then I usually do a quick calculation in my head – will the camera’s metering tell me exposure should be more or less and then I exposure compensate to that side. 90% of the time this is working.

Take note that once you take your meter reading using your focus point and then regain your focus off another area in the image that the camera re- meter reads the scene. Pay attention to the first meter reading and just adjust your exposure compensation accordingly.

Problems arise in images where there are contrasty lighting conditions. One quick way around this is to use flash. Again I am often flash exposure compensating more frequently to the negative side to make the flash light look as balanced to the natural lighting as I can.

Other problem areas can include too slow a shutter speed for the ISO chosen and associated subject movement, lack of appropriate depth of field for the scene and noise from having to use a high ISO.

However, I am finding it is a great mode to use while travelling when I want to have a fair amount of control over my image making while having fun with my family.

All images below straight out of camera. 

The first two images demonstrate how the focus point on spot metering can radically affect your exposure.
 Image 1
Nikon D3 28-300mm lens
Shutter Speed 1/400; f10; ISO 800
Focus Point on man.

Image 2
Nikon D3 28-300mm lens
Shutter Speed 1/800; f14; ISO 800
Focus point on the statue

The two images below demontsrate how flash can be used to balance contrasty lighting situtations. In Image one the sky is blown out while the statue looks correctly exposed.
In Image 2 the flash was fired and the meter reading for the image set from the blue sky in the background.

Image 1
Nikon D3 with 24-27mm
Shutter Speed 1/200; f7.1; ISO 1600

Nikon D3 with 24-27mm
Shutter Speed 1/200; f7.1; ISO 1600
Flash fired.

Monday, 27 June 2011

Cambodia through the windows of a minibus

Guest Blog by Augustine Mathews

It is a few years since I was fortunate enough to have visited this amazing country. The last time I was here it was during the dry season and the fields were parched brown with no hint of greenery within the rice paddies and the water buffaloes stood almost motionless in the shade of trees in an effort to keep cool.

On this return visit, Cambodia is in it’s wet season and this has given me a new view of the countryside.

After some price negotiation we all loaded into a minivan and headed north along the eastern road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap.

The contrast of rice paddies full of water rich green coloured rice plants and water buffaloes wallowing in the road side pools was a wonder to behold.

I discovered that photographing through the bus windows was quite a challenge so I set myself the task of perfecting this technique before the end of our two day journey.

I ended up having to push my ISO up to enable a high enough shutter speed to freeze the scenes as they unfolded. Using the “Active” vibration reduction on my 28-300mm Nikon lens also aided in keeping my shots crisp and blur free. It became a bit of a giggle to see if I could get the shot without a random tree in the foreground.

We did stop for roadside shoots but I think in the end I almost preferred the challenge of trying to compose and successfully shoot a moving scene. The element of surprise in each photo and the feeling of ‘the one that worked’ was worth the frustration of those that didn’t.

Saturday, 25 June 2011

The Little Things

It is the little things in life that give great pleasure and here in Cambodia there are many of those that can be found. Last night we stayed in the town of Kompong Thom in the province of the same name. 

The town, set on the banks of the Stung Sen River, is one a few will pass through  with little more than a sideways glance as they journey by road from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap. We were nearly the same and while arriving late we had a little experience last night that made this town a worthy overnight stop.

It was just after dark when we arrived and after a quick settle in and check in at work we ventured out to a local eatery recommended to us by some American missionaries also staying here.

Arunras Thmey Restaurant was clean and comfortable and as with most Cambodian places well staffed. The TV, showing a Thai show with a very pretty girl, was a big attraction for the staff.

After a quick look at the drink menu we enquired if there was any wine and a wide smile beamed back, ‘yes, yes madam we have wine, we have just got wine for the first time today,’ said Suong Bory. Quickly he went away returning with four bottles, two of white and two of red.

We choose a bottle of red and then had much good hearted fun teaching them how to pour wine. Within seconds all the staff were around us, giggling and watching as the wine bottle was delicately balanced by another waiter, Van Tokla and the red tainted grape juice fell without a drop into the polished glasses. OK I know it sounds basic, but it was a load of fun and formed a great bond with us and them.

As we were leaving some decided an icecream would be good for the walk home. A pretty Cambodian waitress, who we presumed was around 20 years old, told us in her disjointed English all the icecreams, she had been told, were good but she had never tried one. We enquired have you never tried an icecream? ‘No, no never,’ she replied. Quickly a dollar note was found an icecream taken from the freezer and given to her. Now the next moment is a memory I think many of us will never forget.

At first she refused and then in respectable fashion accepted the gift. Her face beamed and her smile was as big as any I have ever seen and her happiness was infectious. As we turned to say another farewell we saw her still smiling and showing everyone her new gift proudly.

Again it’s the simple things in life that are so rewarding.

 Tokla perfects wine pouring at Arunras Restaurant under the watchful
eye of Sheryn and Owen.

Friday, 24 June 2011

A Day in Phnom Penh

By Danielle Lancaster

Two very special things happened to me today. Well actually there were many more, but two I will tell you about now.

After much consideration I decided to bring Mitchell, my 14 year old son, on a two week holiday to Cambodia. Well part of it is a holiday for him as he is also required to write and edit some of my writings for me so expect a guest blog from him soon.

This morning we headed to the Russian markets here in Phnom Penh. They are a vibrant, large market with loads of souvenir and clothes stalls with vendors willing to barter. The food stalls are as varied as any Asian market. All parts of chickens freshly sliced and diced, fish and other assorted meats alongside brightly coloured fruits and vegetables, spices and herbs. Unfortunately the smell of the fish turned Mitch’s stomach and anytime we came near any of these stalls we were quickly diverted by his already pale skin turning another three shades lighter.

The sights of Phnom Penh were already taking hold on Mitch and apart from a cool set of sunnies and local scarf to assist soothing his sensitive skin from the sun’s beating rays, Mitch had come to the conclusion that we were already so much better off, what did we really need to buy.

So we headed back to our tuk tuk driver and in the background down a back lane, I spotted a white robbed nun. For those that don’t know, the role of the white robed nuns was the subject of a photo essay I undertook here last year.

Nearby local hawkers and stall owners informed us that she had taken up residence on the street in front of the building where her son, who had been her sole supporter, had died a year ago.

I asked for permission to approach and speak with her.  Mitch asked if he could follow me and I said, ‘yes sure but this may not be your thing.’ As I greeted her in the respectable way, she then commenced blessing me. When it was over I turned to see Mitch’s face in awe. I introduced her to Mitch (now this is not easy as she could not speak English and I cannot speak anything but the basic Cambodian polite necessities) and she then asked Mitch to join her.

To cut a long story short, imagine a tall lanky white skinned teen being taught by a group of women how to sit next to a three foot high elderly woman. There was a funny side.  
The serious side was Mitch’s reaction to the whole experience. His profoundly deep hug to me as we walked away and his grateful thanking of such an experience completed my day. However, unbeknown to me at the time, this was just the start.

Mitch meets a White Robed Nun, these nuns play an important role in Cambodian Society.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Next stop was S-21, once Tuol Svay Pray High School renamed in 1976 by the Khmer Rouge and converted into a torture, interrogation and execution centre. Nearly 20,000 were forced to walk into this harrowing place and seven walked out. Today, S-21 Prison is known as the Tuol Sleng Museum of Genocide.

Photos of faces, now ghosts entrapped within the walls stared out at us. Steel bed frames with shackles at each end, blood stained floors, ceilings splattered with blood and ghastly torture devices all were harrowing.

The grisly photographs of bloated, decomposing bodies chained to bed frames with pools of wet blood underneath were taken by Vietnamese photojournalists who first discovered S-21 in January of 1979. A reminder of how photography can arouse awareness of the plights of other humans who deserve better.

Our privilege here was the chance meeting of Bou Meng one of the seven survivors.  Bou Meng, lived because he could paint, and his task was to paint portraits of the dictator Pol Pot, a horrid and inhumane human that thankfully no longer walks this Earth. Tamborine Mountain High School, his signed biography is coming your way.

 One of the seven who walked out of S-21, Bou Meng has something worthy to smile about.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Photographically today I challenged myself to shoot on P mode (yes, Program or as some call it professional or pissed mode) solely to get it right using exposure compensation and white balance and the blessing of high ISO settings within Nikon. More on that challenge to come soon.

This blog is now long enough, although there is much more to tell, if you have read this far than I thank you for taking an interest in a country and its people I have grown to love.

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Food Photography Tips

By Danielle Lancaster

The love of food has been rekindled through reality television style shows on master chefs, iron chefs, little chefs, surfing chefs, travelling chefs and the list goes on. 

Here’s a few tips for capturing food!
The choice of setting needs to compliment but not distract from the food. Work on simple is best and look for contrasting or complimentary colours. The plate should not be the same colour as the food.

Wherever I can I try and use natural light but when I can’t I use off camera flash, generally diffused and to the side - side lighting shows texture.

Timing – you need to shoot quickly. Over time the food will not look as fresh. Juices will start to solidify, cream melt and garnish drown.

Watch the ISO. A lot of what I shoot is at night or in dimly lit areas so I often need to push the ISO up. Having the ability within your camera to do this and produce minimal digital noise in your image is a bonus in this arena.

White balance does matter. Watch for colour casts from different forms of artificial lighting. At times you may be able to use this effectively. Meat under some fluorescent lights can look blue-ish and not very appetising at all.

Move around – shoot it as many times from as many different angles as you can.

Composition does count!

Artificial lighting is used in this image to depict warmth from a restaurant set in an old church for an accompanying article.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

 A classic case of on-camera flash ruining a food image.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Image 1
In the first image a blue/green cast can be seen in the meat caused from artificial lighting. It was ‘fixed’ by selection masks and colour balance as seen in Image 2 below.
Image by Danielle Lancaster

Image 2
Image by Danielle Lancaster