Sunday, July 31, 2016

You want to be out there

I was quite surprised, and obviously pleased with myself when I turned a page in one of South Africa's favourite surfing magazines and saw a picture of mine under the "Shot Bru" section.  This has been the showcase of local photographers for many years, all sharing not only their passion for photography, but also their love for surfing. As a kid I always looked at these pictures and wondered what it takes to get shots like these. Do you have to be a special kind of photographer with special skills and expensive camera equipment, or do you have to know someone at the magazine to cunningly push your images forward in order to have them published?

Since I started doing photography on a full-time basis, in between doing school runs and cleaning the house, for more than one obvious reason I started looking at pictures of other "adventure photographers". Most of them well-known names, some of them really talented with individual styles that no-one should or can copy, and some of them ordinary guys and women just taking breathtaking pictures. I needed some sort of benchmark, something I could compare my pictures to.  The problem with this is that a good shot or picture is not necessarily valued equally by all observers.  In a way it is like any form of artistic expression where subjectivity can never be totally ruled out. Does on appreciate the actual skill that was required to take the picture, the aesthetics of the image, the subject or theme, or does one listen to what other people think and then give a score?

What I have realized though and is very important for adventure photography is that a lot of people like pictures for reasons other than the photographer's skills.  They see emotions and dreams, feeling and memories in pictures that attracts them or make them feel good.  Faraway places, extreme activities, all the things that ordinary people don't have, see or do in their day-to-day lives.  You don't have to be a good photographer to get a likable shot that will score you a ten, you have to get an interesting shot at a location where people long to be.  To be a successful adventure photographer you have to be more of a adventurer than a photographer.  You need to explore and discover.  You need to find places and events that people don't see every day.  Sometimes a good composition or expensive equipment is totally irrelevant. What is more important is that someone was out there and was able to capture something that could be taken home to show to the rest of the world. If you want to be an adventure photographer and come back with interesting pictures you have to be out there, you cannot get these shots from inside your living room.  But even more important than taking pictures that other people may like, you need to do it for yourself.  You need to be out there for yourself. The pictures are just your way of remembering your adventures. You will always love them because you were there and you captured it.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Let me photoshop your face for you

A client send me a picture that was taken on a holiday and that has sentimental value and asked me to brighten it up a bit.  She wanted to enlarge it and hang it on a wall.  Now there are lots of discussions going on about the authenticity of editing images.  Is it fair when someone takes a pictures of a sunset and makes it slightly more orange or red? I guess if the assignment was to see what colours you could capture with no editing or filters, then no. What I have found many times is when I post an image some people will make a comment about the colours saying "nice, but it was probably photo-shopped". I see the more ignorant ones use the term "photo-shopped", while some say "edited" and the more informed calls it what it really is, "enhanced". But what is the difference?

If you read photography forums the question pops up quite frequently.  I enhance some of my pictures like most professional photographers do.  I use Adobe Lightroom for that and there are some amazing tutorials on Youtube on how to get the colours out.  If you google "landscapes images" you are likely to find 90% of them were enhanced by some editing software.  "Photo-shopped" to me is turning a picture into something that didn't exist, or does not exist.  Putting an extra head on a sheep and selling it off as a freak animal to me is "photo-shopped". Making a model look thinner with less wrinkles is "photo-shopped".  Bringing the colour out in a way your "unintelligent digital-eyed" camera saw it but could not capture, is enhancement. 

Does this mean that anyone can produce good beautiful coloured photos?  No, because there is much more to capturing a good shot (composition, perspective, contrast, atmosphere, etc) than just pointing a camera somewhere and afterwards trying to "fix" it with software.  Here Photoshop might be a a better option, but isn't that exactly cheating?

Photo editing is a creative skill that is part of most photographer's work flow. They spend time making sure that landscapes look good to the eye, that atmosphere is captured and brought out and that the final image looks good to the "beholder".  They should be paid for that skill as well, because cameras have their limitations. Not everyone, including cameras, has a creative eye.  Hopefully your photographer has that along with his or her skills to use a camera properly and compose a nice shot.

Please visit and like my Facebook page as well for more discussions and images from my galleries.

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Nature's own flash cards

There are a couple of things that I unashamedly will admit I know nothing the inside of a motor car's engine, the moves in a chess game.....and bird watching.  Despite my passion for the outdoors, I somehow never became interested in our little feathered friends.  Maybe they look too much alike and I never could bother to distinguish between the species, or maybe they never came close enough for me to see them properly. 

On a recent trip I had the privilege of spending a couple of hours in the presence of one of Vanrhynsdorp's keen bird watchers and tour guide, Salome Willemse. Salome was showing me around Gifberg, and my son was traveling along.  Funny thing though is that unlike myself, my son is into bird watching, has his own book on birds where he ticks the ones off that he has seen and knows the difference between a "mossie" and a dove. Ok, I know that too but I don't know the names of other bird species to make a better comparison.

As a child I always believed that only "old people" did bird watching.  When we went to the Kruger Park and stopped next to a vehicle to hear what they were looking at, I was always utterly annoyed when they said they see some sort of bird somewhere high up in a tree. I was hoping to see lions mauling a Springbok or something, not look at a bird that you can't really see. These people always used to be a bit older than me, maybe that is where I got this notion that it is only old people doing this. 

Whenever you see a car with a bumper sticker saying "Birder on board. Beware this car suddenly stops" or "I brake for birds", please do not take this warning lightly.  They stop when they see something move in the air...or when for the untrained eye there is nothing to see in a tree.  Yes, they could spot a bird in a tree when I am still trying to find the tree. Your chances of actually seeing the bird is very limited, because before you can look around the bird is gone.  This reminds me so much of the flash cards we had at school.  The teacher would show you a word on a flash card, remove it so fast that you could not even see the word. Then she would ask you to repeat the word and spell it. Some birds are like flash cards.  Before you can make out what it is, the bird is gone.  Your only luck comes when the bird is sitting still. This gives you enough time to see that it is in fact a bird.  Look down to your bird book to compare colours and feathers and size and when you look up the bird is gone.  Drive slightly forward to take a picture and the bird flies away. It's like throwing the flash cards through the window, like a buddy of mine did in Grade 2. All the required information to identify the bird flies away with the bird.

Because I am someone who tries everything, I have to say there is something special to this activity called bird watching as well.  Listening to someone who knows the birds better than what she know's her son's last exam results really make it a pleasure to hear the stories, to learn the differences between the last two birds that I obviously missed and to see that there are people who has so much passion for what they're doing.  Salome impressed me with her knowledge and she obviously knows more about the Vanrhynsdorp region than just its bird life.  She managed to find 16 new "lifers" for my son and still had time to show me some of the most amazing scenery Gifberg has to offer. For you ill-informed, a "lifer" is a bird that you have spotted and identified for the first time. It get's a tick in your Bird Book and you are supposed to add where you spotted the bird.  I saw Salome every now and again jumping on her phone when she had seen a bird.  At first I thought she was bored seeing the same bird again and texting a friend instead, but it turned out that she maps the sightings making it easier for other birders to come and find one that they have not seen yet. I though bird tend to fly away to other countries.  Typical what I would do if I was a bird, but apparently some hang around for longer. 

If you ever want to learn about birds, want to see them and want to have an enjoyable experience, contact Salome. Her contact details are on her facebook page. She has lovely cottages to overnight in. If you use olive oil you will find that too, specially pressed form her own olive orchards. Oh, and let me not forget to mention her Full Monty breakfasts. All round a delicious experience.

Birdie birdie, look this way please, I want to identify you.....

Picture courtesy of my son (c) Kai Photography

What Boys Should Know

So how long does it take to teach a 9-yr old boy to use a SLR camera? Well apparently not very long...

I took my son on his first "adventure photography road trip" with the hope of slowly introducing him to photography.  I was a bit skeptic because it took me a while to figure out the difference between aperture, ISO and exposure and I did not expect a child to master that in one trip. Also, I didn't want to scare him off on Day One.

We were heading towards Gifberg. Our first stop was just past Malmesbury. I gave him a few tips on how to switch it on, hold the camera and to focus.  I mentioned something about aperture but kept it simple, real simple. It was the first time that he ever held a SLR in his hands, and he has not really taken any pictures with a point-and-shoot or a phone camera either. Nothing in any case where you had to zoom or focus. He took a few shots, asked me why this and that is happening and after a while got back into the car.  "It's over!" I thought to myself.

The surprise however came after we got in and drove off.  He started asking questions which reminded me of the time I started asking my mom questions and she shoved a book in my hand by Dr Jan van Elfen called "What boys should know". I took the opportunity and gave him a photography book I had brought along. The questions that followed convinced me that the game was not over yet. "Why were some shots too light and others dark?".  "Why was some blurry and some not?".  "How far can I zoom in?". "What are these other buttons for...?".  I started talking. The more I talked the more questions came. Close to Citrusdal he instructed me to stop. He saw a nice farm stall next to the road.  Thinking that he wanted something to eat, I stopped.  He got out with his camera and started snapping instead. I went in and bought Mineolas and rusks. He didn't want anything.

The day went on, we stopped at various spots, covered a lot of ground on the photography topic, climbed fences, took little roads, crossed rivers.  Every time we stopped he got out and started snapping away. Each time asking fewer questions and coming back with better pictures. "I want to take pictures of the stars tonight" he said.  "Oh my" I thought to myself, "not sure your camera can do that...."

We arrived at our overnight stop.  He got out, started taking pictures. By now I was at lesson 7 I guess. He asked me about lenses, auto focus and again, how does all this fit in when taking star shots? I was slightly worried. His camera does not expose longer than 30 seconds, but I will show him my "bulb" settings tonight...if he does not fall asleep before that. "We will go at 9:30", I said.

At 9:30 we took the car and drove off into the night. "We want a safe place away from the town, preferably on a farm road", I said to him.  Now I felt like Abraham taking Isaac to the mountain.  He does not have a "bulb" mode and he is super excited to take his first starry sky pictures. We set up, I showed him the steps but said nothing about "Bulb".  He took few shots and jumped up and down. "Cool, I captured the stars".  I felt a bit bad because I was going to take pictures too, but on "bulb". "They are awesome!", I lied, "but your camera is not good enough son, look what Dad's camera has. Mine has another setting called "bulb" and yours doesn't. I can get much longer exposures." Somehow that did not dampen his spirit.  He was super stoked about his first night sky shots  We went home, he still talked "photography".

The next morning he got up.  Before breakfast he took his camera and went outside.  He came back and said: "Guess what Dad, my camera DOES have a "bulb" setting. It is under "manual". I was totally surprised. I have never seen that before.  Ok, I never used that camera for night or star photography, but still.  "Oh, and look, when I shoot on 'Av', the Tv setting chances automatically, and, and....."  I was stunned, speechless.

The rest of the day we drove around, getting in and out to take pictures.  Knowing that he has a "bulb" setting was the ultimate reward.  He was going to shoot stars tonight, come hell or high water...

During the day he captured some awesome shots...and plenty bloopers too.  I told him about the rule of thirds, contrast, point of view. I was surprised at how much I knew myself, but more surprised at his curiosity and his capacity to absorb and process.  He completely skipped the other settings and was shooting on "Manual", occasionally jumping to Tv, Av and ISO. He asked me what "this little green symbol" stands for. I said "Automatic, but believe me, you're past that, you'll never use it." Something that took me years to master, he masted in less than two days. On day three we returned home and he started asking more about editing. He asked earlier but I told him "Baby steps, my boy". I was so naive.

When we arrived home I showed him Lightroom's editing capabilities. I created some folders for him, loaded his bests shots and said:" There you go, edit your best five shots and then I will create you a watermark."  He did all his editing by himself and gave me 8 images to watermark.  I added the watermark for him and asked him what he wants to charge for his pictures.  "I don't think anyone will like them.  I know Mom might buy a few, and maybe Kira (his 4-yr old sister) too.  Let's say R20 a shot or maybe a trade? I'll take any Angry Birds token for an image, or any sweets I guess".

Yes, it may sound like it but no, I am not just a proud father bragging about his son.  I am flabbergasted, I am inspired, I am amazed, but there lies more in this experience than his ability to understand a camera. I spend three amazing days with my son and learned more about him that I did in 9-years.  I did not only "kick-start" an aspirant photographer, I made a friend, a buddy to take on all my photography tours. I created a way to spend valuable time with him and teach him about about other things too, about life, about beauty, about nature. At the same time we will have more adventures, explore new places and meet more people. I'll leave "What boys should know" for later, he might surprise me there too in a couple of years. But, at the moment I am truly blessed.

Below some of his first images on his "new" SLR. All edits done by himself.  If you want to purchase any of his images, please let me know. You'll make his day!