Tips Of The Top Techs
Some Advice From The Experts

Every photographic company has at least one--the tech specialist who knows the product line inside out, knows how everything can and should be used, and knows how it all goes together to make great photographs. The titles don't matter--marketing manager, vice president, technical supervisor, pro markets rep; call him what you will, he's the guy who knows--and if he doesn't know, he'll find out.

Writers and editors in the photo business rely on these folks when looking for information about a current piece of gear. We especially rely on them when we need to know something about a lens or camera that hasn't been manufactured for 25 years. Or when we need to know in plain language what that confusing reference in the manual really means.

We wondered, though, what these specialists and spokespersons might have to say to you, the Shutterbug reader. So we called 'em up--and if we didn't know them by name, we called the companies and hunted through the hierarchy for them. When we tracked them down, we asked them to tell us a little about what they liked to photograph and what their favorite tips and techniques were. We asked for the picture-taking advice and thoughts they'd like to share with Shutterbug's readers. And we asked them to send along a photo or two so we could all see what they do when they're behind the camera.

Frankly, several were too busy to help us; a few were simply not interested in participating. That's why you'll find some photo suppliers and manufacturers missing from this story, which we're going to start this month with a half dozen of the top techs and continue, under the title "Supply Side," as a column in future issues of the magazine.

Those who took part in the effort showed not only kindness and cooperation, but an adventurous spirit. More than a few said, "Hey, that sounds like fun." Which, come to think of it, is probably what the last word in photographic advice should be. So read on...and have fun.

The city after dark--an ongoing self-assignment that challenges both the shooter and the hardware.
© 1999, Lindsay Silverman, All Rights Reserved

Lindsay Silverman
Marketing Manager, SLR Program Development
Nikon Inc.

Flexible Flyer. "Don't be married to one method of shooting. Even though the cameras I use can be customized, I don't stick with just one configuration. I often change the setup to suit what I'm going to do. For example, continuous servo autofocus allows me to shoot whenever I want, regardless if the subject is in focus. But if I'm going to shoot certain types of action--say a sport I'm not familiar with, or something I haven't shot in a long while, I'll set the camera for continuous servo AF with focus priority--meaning the camera continues to focus but won't release until the subject is in focus.

"Challenge yourself with self-assignments. I like to find a subject or a theme I've never photographed before and go for it. It's a great way of developing style. It also lets me work out complex photographic problems without deadlines, and it's the best way of taking equipment to the limit and really testing its capabilities."

For some scenes, the point is mood, not reality.
© 1999, Ira Tiffen, All Rights Reserved

Ira Tiffen
Senior Vice President, Research & Development
The Tiffen Company

Setting The Scene. "When I travel, I look for opportunities to bring home the essence of a place in a picture. For this reason, I'll often use my 21mm lens and look for a vantage point that brings together all the relevant details. The ancient Parisian architecture, the brooding, yet elegant statuary, all combined with the foreboding sky as powerful image elements. If I chose to, it would have been a simple matter to believe myself transported back in time. In black and white photography, using a Wratten No. 16 orange filter would accentuate the detail in the clouds. In a color picture, the filter would serve the same purpose, with an added benefit: the strong color distances the viewer from reality and casts the scene more firmly into another age. It also makes the stone faces more powerful, more dramatic. I enjoy using color to bring out aspects of a location that are not otherwise readily apparent. The cloud pattern in this image is important to the overall effect, yet, in reality, appeared quite bland without the filter. The result, for me, was that an otherwise gray day was converted into a much more interesting memory of the time I spent in a timeless place."

A "subtractive" lighting technique for portraiture: The open shade provides little dimension for the face and body.
© 1999, Thom Bell, All Rights Reserved

Thom Bell
Professional Imaging Technical Support,
Kodak Information Center
Eastman Kodak Company

Addition By Subtraction. "I love the shade! Not only does it keep me cool when I'm in my black tuxedo photographing summer weddings, it also allows my subjects to look into the camera lens without squinting. Deep shadows under the eyes, nose, and chin disappear in the shade since the main light source (open sky) acts like a huge softbox. But have you noticed that open shade can sometimes cause the subject's face and body to appear flat and shapeless? To remedy this, move your subject into an area that neither adds nor reflects light to the scene. A full, densely leafed tree or shrub that blocks the majority of daylight is best for this technique. Begin by placing your subject in the shadow of the tree or shrub at the two o'clock or 10 o'clock position; then place your camera at the six o'clock position. Adjust the amount of shading on the face and body by moving your subject closer to the shrub or the center of the tree."

Sometimes it's not the light source itself, but the way you position it.
© 1999, Michael Bulbenko/Fuji Photo Film USA, All Rights Reserved

Michael Bulbenko
Photographic Specialist, Sensitized Products/Imaging Group
Fuji Technical Communication Center
Fuji Photo Film U.S.A.

Rule One. "The single most important thing you can do to get the best results possible is to expose the film properly. Film companies spend a lot of money on engineering better products--why waste all that potential? Film speeds printed on the box are accurate, but metering and individual processing variations have a lot to do with how your pictures come out (and whether or not they're salable). Transparency film is very intolerant of under and overexposures. Negative film has a good deal of overexposure latitude, but does not tolerate underexposure at all well.

"Know how a light meter really works. Today's SLR cameras have lots of fancy multi-segment meters to make your life easier, but only you, the photographer, actually know what the subject is. The meter, even with all its microchip processing power, still doesn't know whether you're shooting a white wedding dress or a black cat backlit by a sunset. To a meter everything is an 18 percent reflectance gray card. Shoot lots of experiments, bracket the exposures, and get the best processing you can afford.

"You can use one softbox (or umbrella) to get a variety of lighting effects and contrast ratios just by moving it. The amount of `hardness' that a light source produces is largely due to its relative size compared to the subject. The sun is colossal, but since it's so far away, it acts like a point source and casts sharp shadows. But a seven-inch standard flash reflector would look huge to a penny only one foot away and would create a good deal of its own wraparound light. So move your umbrella in closer and you'll actually get a softer light effect. Move a softbox farther away and you get a more contrasty look."

No matter the subject, twilight time is the right time for dramatic, colorful images.
© 1999, Mark Wayne, All Rights Reserved

Mark Wayne
Professional Relations Manager
Minolta Corporation
Magic Time.
"The subject matter varies, but the time of day during which I enjoy shooting most is dusk, when the sun goes down just below the horizon and the color in the sky changes rapidly and dramatically as the light dwindles. During this magical time I can capture the fantastic colors that appear in the sky and contrast with the lights and colors of my subject.

"Some ideas for best results:
"Get there early. I'm usually at my location at least one hour before sunset.

"Bring rain gear...because you never know. Bring a flashlight...for obvious reasons.

"I like to use very slow film with an ISO between 25 and 100. And, of course, that means a tripod. Exposure times for photos made at dusk can exceed one minute. Avoid having a camera strap attached to the camera on a windy day, as this may cause unnecessary shake despite the tripod. And use a cable release, too.

"Bracket your exposures. Assuming you shoot with chrome film, as I do, bracketing can cause dramatic differences in the results. I bracket by changing the shutter speeds, keeping the aperture as the constant.

"Metering: The meter in an SLR reads reflective light. In effect, it is a spot meter, and spot meters see light and dark subjects as 18 percent gray. When using the camera meter for dusk shots, point the camera away from the coronal glow of the sun about 90° and use this reading as a starting point. If you're in fact using a spot meter, it's best to take your readings off an 18 percent gray card. The card should be under the same lighting conditions as your subject.

"Use lens hoods. They cut the amount of stray light entering the lens, and stray light from the sun, headlights of a car, or street lights, can cause lens flare."

Best bet: keep shooting as the subject gets closer.
© 1999, Rudy Winston, All Rights Reserved

Rudy Winston
Professional Markets Representative,
Technical Information Group
Canon U.S.A.
The Way That You Use It
. "If you shoot with an autofocus camera, practice with your system and get to know its capabilities (and limitations) in as many different situations as possible. Understand when to set the AF to one-shot, or single mode, and when to use servo or continuous AF. You'll always get superior results if the AF system knows whether to lock focus on a stationary subject (permitting easy recomposing), or to anticipate subject movement.

"Use the power of multiple-point autofocus. Great pictures require great composition, and real-life shooting situations don't always allow the time to lock the AF and recompose for the final shot. The multiple-point AF systems in many modern SLRs solve the problem.

"Know exactly what you want in focus. Autofocus doesn't mean you can stop seeing and thinking. It's still up to you to decide what your primary subject is, and exactly where the critical focus should be. Decide, and put an AF point right on that spot to get sharpness where you need it.

"Take advantage of the performance available in servo AF. Today's AF SLRs can focus on moving subjects more consistently than all but the finest sports shooters can using manual focus.

One of the biggest mistakes when shooting a moving subject is to stop shooting as the subject gets close in the finder. Take the extra couple of shots in a sequence; it's amazing how often the AF will keep them in focus.
"Tracking a moving subject is easier in servo AF if you give the AF system a second or two to `read' the movement before firing the shutter. Rather than just stabbing at the shutter button and firing away, try to activate the AF and allow it to start to track the subject for a second or two, then start to shoot when the subject is within range. The benefit can be a sequence with every shot sharp, as opposed to some sharp and some a little soft.

"And know when to revert to manual focus. There will always be times when focusing manually will get you the shot quicker and more reliably than AF--like macro shooting and certain kinds of studio photography. Part of the skill of mastering AF is knowing when not to use it."

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