Wednesday, September 15, 2010

How to Take Stunning Pictures

Attracted to the title of this channel Five programme I recorded it last night and managed to catch the first half this morning. Hmm.

We get a quick introduction from host Suzi Perry about how we've gone digital and almost all of us now have a camera to hand. We get a cluster of 'famous' photographers with the promise that they'll be showing us techniques to get the best shots, a montage of future footage, and then a more in-depth look at the photographer of the day who'll be showing us how to take portrait shots.

Then a quick introduction to the two people he'll be helping - a soldier who took photos in the current conflicts and someone who stated they'd bought a camera and kept it on automatic because he didn't really know how to use it. Excellent choice on that last pick.

They bring what they think is their best example of portrait photography and the soldier's is good, but the amateur is so much better and taken with a mobile phone to boot.

So to taking a photo itself. The subject is a portrait painter we're in her studio and our teacher already has tripod and camera set up.

First tip - Use natural light, try not to use the flash. I wholeheartedly agree, thumbs up. Sadly this is only great advice when a) you have natural light and b) you have a lens large enough to pass enough light through it. Oh and expose to the brightest light. Second tip -

Hey wait a second you can't just gloss over that. What do you mean expose to the brightest light - how the hell do you do that? Nope we're not telling you despite that being an integral part of balancing light levels. Straight to the second tip - Composition.

Our teacher places our subject close to a window, our amateur adds in the easel sans portrait which looks damn good. So yeah composition is a good idea. Again we're not told what makes a good composition and again this only really works if you're in a position to order the subject about.

Next tip - Be yourself. Anecdote from the teacher about Tony Blair and Billy Bob Thornton about getting to know them so you relax and they relax and everybody's relaxed. Yeah great, if you've got that much time to spare.

Last tip - take multiple shots. Again I find no fault other than simple time constraints - take lots of shots it costs you nothing.

So all together - Use natural light where possible, move the subject around, move yourself around, try to keep them (and yourself) happy and relaxed, and take lots of pictures.

Other than that general advice there was nothing really concrete in this show unless that changes in the last ten minutes. The students seemed to be using the teacher's cameras, and with no explanation of various settings or features. The whole set-up seemed to be a studio guide where you have time and the ability to set-up your shot. I mean what quick settings can I change to snap off a candid or even a semi-posed shot that will improve over using automatic?

If it suddenly shifts in the latter half I'll happily eat crow, but as is really not much use.

[Update after seeing the second half]

Well the good news my plate is crow free, the bad news is the second half was just as bad information wise. The two amateurs were sent out to take shots and they did a good job of it. We kept getting a voice over saying thing like '[X] is remembering the advice to use natural lighting' and that was about it. Then they showed the teacher the shots they thought were the best. The real amateur had a nice shot framed by a bookcase it was a good composition as it used the "Rule of thirds" say what? I mean I know this but it's not been mentioned before at any point and it doesn't get mentioned again.

Then the teacher chose his favourite shots apparently by looking at a set of index pages with a loupe. I thought the point of digital was that you didn't have to print out everything? Anyway he chose his favourites, muttered about how he liked them and that was it.

Perhaps the only spark was when the army amateur was taking shots in the rain realised he could use an umbrella as a screen against the people walking around in the background of his shot oh and it was fun to watch the other amateur kneeling down and climbing ladders to get a different perspective on things - something that wasn't mentioned in the tips.

Otherwise useless; really useless.


Orphi said...

So, like, somebody needs to write a “how to make a good documentary” then? :-P

FlipC said...

The shame of it is that this is a good idea and they already have a reasonable template with the Gadget Show. Hell I think that show actually did a five minute report on this subject that was better than this entire programme.

I mean sure it's only half-an-hour including adverts, but give us some depth. Show us the mistakes often made and what to do to correct them; don't just wave a hand and tell us to properly expose our subject; yeesh.