Back to the future – with film!

I have always recommended shooting a roll of film every now and then. Film – that stuff they used like in the 1800s. And if you are artistic, black and white film.

So I shoot a roll of film every now and then. Because it’s cool. And because I remember to respect the click. Every time you shoot, you spend a few dollars. And you need to get it right: no feedback, no second chances. So you think about photos.

I use my Nikon FE:

And that’s why in my store we also develop film – and in the case of most black and white film, we even do this in-house, right in the store. Here’s some of the equipment, and today’s film drying (35mm as well as 120):

But you don’t need a pro camera… sure, hipsters use cameras like mine, but young women instead love single-use cameras, or better, the simple brightly coloured Kodak snapshot cameras (yes, and we sell them):

And here’s why:

Food Tips

I love my local Facebook “foodie” group, and it is for that group that I would like to give a few tips for food photography.

A few suggestions, then, to make your food photos great – even when you just use an iPhone:

  1. Ensure there is lots of light – but not direct “hard” light, like direct sunlight. Ideally, I want open, soft light, and backlight. So I reposition the food to obtain that, if at all possible.
  2. As said, some back light, if you can arrange it, is also excellent: like here: it gives food that yummy look:

Then continue with the rest of the rules:

  1. The most important rule: Simplify. Compose carefully, to remove distractions. So tilt, move things, and get close in order to blur out backgrounds, all to get a simple image;
  2. Often, cutting off half the plate is a good way to simplify. Fill the frame!
  3. Look at the food carefully and ensure it is well arranged, the plate is clean, etc. Use garnish where needed. If food is older, use a brush with olive oil.
  4. Include some of “plate, fork, glass”: things to indicate that this is food in a nice setting. Turn the plate, or reposition the food on the plate if needed;
  5. If using a “real” camera, use a prime (fixed) lens, and ensure a fast enough shutter speed by using a high enough ISO.

Often enough, an iPhone will do just fine. The closer you get, the easier it is to get a blurry background. And remember, simplify. Everything you take out, is good.

If you have pro equipment: one umbrella or soft box above the food; one flash behind it aimed toward you:

Which leads to:

If not, simply use a window, or whatever else you have available.

Did I mention it is wise to simplify?

Finally: do the post work you need, in Lightroom or Photoshop, to perfect the photo.

Bring back the past: by popular demand

I tell all my students to shoot a roll of film every now and then. Because you have to think. And you value that click. And it’s fun to see “what you got”.

Young people have realized this too, which is why these are so popular all of a sudden, and why I now carry them in my shop:

Kodak M35: Re-usable (not single use) film cameras, in fun colours. And since I imported them directly from, um, yeah, China, they are affordable too.

Who’d have thought: back to film!

Passports and more…

I am having a lot of fun with passport/ID/Visa/Residence photos. As I mentioned before, every country is different…:

And the fun is to see a lot about a country by the requirements. As in…:

  • The Chinese are control freaks, with the most complex size requirements in the world – but the Dutch are not far behind…
  • For Iran, any muslim female over 9 years old must wear a hijab.
  • French photos have a “white background forbidden” rule, while the rest of the world requires white – just to be different?
  • Europeans are, to an extent, standardized – but only to an extent.
  • Bureaucracies are bureaucracies… invariably a country will have different requirements depending on which bureaucracy needs the photo (visa vs passport vs license: all different)… just imagine the efficiency gains that could be made by having one standard!
  • The Brits have strange requirements that involve being an approved photographer using some approved British system…
  • The Canadians are the only ones to do it right: great sizing requirements, bigger photo than anyone else, meaning lots of space for people, with an afro, or with a very long beard, our with a wide face, and so on.

Fun stuff! And we love doing them… and the one thing they al have in common is: no smiling, “neutral expression”… don’t blame us for that one!

Spare time…

…of which right now I have quite a lot. My store/studio (www.michaelwillemsphoto.com) is still open, but only for passport/ID photos and curbside delivery/pickup, so the days are super slow.

So I get to do some hobby stuff. And my hobby intertests are wide. They also include electronics and computers, and the other day, I bought an Arduino-based Altair 8800 simulator kit (from www.adwaterandstir.com). An excellent kit, by the way, highly recommended.

The Arduino is a modern microcontroller, and the Altair 8080 was really the first personal computer, way back in 1974.

After seeing that article, a couple of young students from Harvard decided to write a BASIC interpreter for it, and the rest is history – you may recognize the names in the Altair BASIC manual:

Anyway, the Altair looked like this…:

And the simulator I built looked like this:

And then it looked like this:

And now, after seven hours of soldering and constructing, looks like this:

And it works! So now I can watch blinking lights (loom up “blinkenlights“). And I can program some BASIC to calculate primes:

..and I can rum CP/M, play Othello and Star Trek and Zork, and in general, do the things you could do in 1977.

Why on earth would I want to do this?

Because it’s a cool conversation piece. And it looks super cool: the Altair with its lights and data/address switches was based on the Data General NOVA.

And because it’s a special thing to run the original Bill Gates/Paul Allen Basic (even “Micro-Soft” did not exist yet) – the project that made Gates $100 billion, and that is responsible for most computer stuff you have now. And to type the same “PRINT 2+2” command that Paul Allen typed in New Mexico to demonstrate the project to MITS, the makers of Altair, and to see the same “4” appear that impressed them enough to buy this BASIC, is quite an experience too.

And above all else, because just like photography, this takes me back. Back to the 1970s and 80s. I feel like I am 20-odd years old again!

And it’s always handy to know prime numbers. I guess.

To Crop or Not To Crop

One of the most important things to do in photo composition is to decide the crop.

A tight crop can be good, like here in my dinner last month:

That tight cop makes it simple, and simplicity is everything in photos – and it draws attention to the subject win a clear manner. So that’s a good crop.

Other crops are less obvious. For example this photo:

That’s all good – except if you were to frame it. The frame’;s mat would cut off the photo very close to, or even on, the top of the head.

Also: you need to crop for the frame. And a 4×6 has a different shape from an 8×10, for example.

So the wise thing to do is to shoot a little wide, so you can crop the image to size later. Do not have your subject touch the edges of the photo, in most cases!

We can often add extra sides to your photo that we fill in to look natural, by the way. Like when you ask us to print a 4×6 as an 8×10! But if you shoot wide ion the first place, it isn’t necessary, and that saves you money!

Shoot!

Yesterday, we shot Orleans’s X-uvia Soccer Academy. And we put both kids and adults in front of a green screen, like so:

Because that way, we can put the kids where they belong – on a soccer field.

To shoot “green screen” like this, you use a chroma green background, and then you use software like Photoshop (with a technique explained previously on this blog), or, like in my case, dedicated Green Screen software to put the background behind the subject.

To do this, keep in mind that the subject must not wear green – or they’ll be transparent. But often forgotten: also avoid things that reflect green. You can see some of that effect in the soccer ball above.

As a finishing touch, let’s add logos (which is easily done in Lightroom):

Of course you can also take a way the background completely…:

That way, if you save it as a .PSD file, the image can be put on a web site or in a publication with text all around the subject.

And that’s hoop it’s done! Now, back to finishing the images…

A note on contests

Photography Contests… they’re fun, and I have won a few, which is even more fun. So why not participate in every photo contest you see?

Sure. Within reason. And that means, in my mind, two things:

First, I never take part in contests where you have to pay to enter. A lot of these exist, and they come in two flavours: vanity contests (“we are so honoured to be allowed to place your work”) and plain scams (“the annual XYZ Great Artists contest and book”). Now, “never say never”, of course: there are a few contests that I would pay something for, sure; but these are by reputable organizations and the cost is minor, and covers actual expenses. Other than that, paid contests are a hard “nope” for me.

Second, there are many contests like this one:

Looks great. Wow, a legit organization and it’s free. The BIA (Business Improvement Area) is real and local. And you can send as many pics as you like. Great!

But….

Now read that last paragraph. Permission, promotional materials: you are giving away the rights to your advertising photo for free. Yes, you are working for them, for free.

Yes, this is the BIA trying to get away with obtaining free work rather than pay a photographer for their advertising photography.

Now, in the spirit of full disclosure: the BIA are not my friends. BIAs were founded to fight malls, and this shows. Last year I applied for a “Digital Main Street” government subsidy, paid for by provincial and federal governments and administered by the BIAs. I qualified on all counts (a long list of requirements – the forms took me a few days to complete).

One of these requirements was “You must be in or near a BIA”. This mall is right next to the BIA, so I was sure I’d get it. But to my astonishment, the BIA decided that even though I met all the requirements (in, as said, a long list), I wasn’t getting any money: the mall is the enemy. So I guess since they want to be my enemy, they’re not in my good books either.

But that’s not why I mention this example. There are many of these efforts to get free work from unsuspecting amateur photographers, and I think it is a shame that amateur photographers do not realize the value of their work.

Bottom line: If anyone is interested in your photo, it is worth money. Don’t give it away. And certainly not to the BIA. 🙂

Instead, find legit contests, like those held by photography magazines and photography clubs, local art organizations, and so on. There’s plenty of them, and you can fill a lot of time submitting. And that is fun.