Saturday, 30 May 2009

Panasonic LX3 Firmware

img_main(Photo extracted from Panasonic website)

The newest firmware version 1.3 for LX3 will be available for download in a day here.

LX3 users are reminded to fully charge the battery before the updating the firmware, and format the SD Memory Card used for the firmware update before taking photos.   A non-fomated SD Card so used may cause your LX3 to malfunction and/or decrease the number of pictures that can be taken.

Links to Some Archived Posts

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This morning I went through the archive and arranged some links to my two favourite old projects.

Links to Posts on Flash

The series of archived posts written specially on tips and tricks in flash photography can be viewed after the following links:

1) Flash Photography and Effects

2) Flash Play, Light Painting

3) Three Ingredients for a Flash Trick

Links to Posts on Photographing Kids

And some personal experience on shooting pictures of kids are revealed in the two posts as follows:

1) Above the Kids

2) Hold on for a Second, Kids!

Friday, 29 May 2009

The Best Camera

R0014734 (Medium)

If you, like many of our fellow photographers, are wondering which camera is the best, you ask the wrong question.

The brandnames are the least important.  What is important is how you make the best out of a camera.   If the metering had been left to the automatic pilot, the camera would have come up with images totally different from the ones posted here today.  Since a camera sees the world in an average grey tone, the images would have turned out either with unpleasingly bright areas in the background or with extremely dark tones in the foreground.

 R0014735 (Medium)

I primarily go on full manual with my GX200.  For the scene of these photos, I exposed the image for the background and dial up one step to faithfuly recreate the brightness of the background while lightening up the dark foreground a wee bit (so that the first few flights of stairs are not reduced to pitch black).

So, any photographer should be obliged to train up not only his/ her eye for good shots but also the ability to utilise any camera.  In a word, make your camera part of your intuition.  Then you will own the best camera on earth.

R0014732 (Medium)

Then, bring your camera with you to take photos for different scenes, escpecially in unfamiliar situations when you should take more shots for practice.  Through these endeavours, you will develop your own style and vision.  With your photographic skills growing, your eye becoming trained and your camera being in one with you, you are ready to foresee the decisive moments.  That will be very close to, if not already, what a great photographer is expecte to be.

Thursday, 28 May 2009

Street Shot Pointers

This week, we've been looking at some of my personal experience in taking street shots. This is the fourth post.

R0015713a (Medium)(Crossing in the Rain: I was hiding behind my umbrella and held up my GX200 to compose the image freely)

Over the past three days, we've reflected on the settings I saw fit for the stret shots of human conditions.  The word "human conditions" refers to scenes invloving passers-by and their acitivities.

As such shots are taken in the street and, for one reason or another, mostly without the subjects' knowledge, the strategy is a far cry from the rest.   There are there are some pointers I find useful and hope to share with you from my experience.

1) Subjects engrossed in their some activities fall prey to your camera more easily.  They seldom notice things happening around, not even if you hold the camera up to their eye level.

2) A camera neckstripped to your neck alerts your subjects less than one being handheld.  When you've got a neckstrip, your hands rest comfortably and naturally on the camera, giving you a superb position to steal a shot in no time.  Handholding a camera in the street is more a standard "photographers in combat mode" signal which betrays such an attention.  My experience tells me that my subjects will more likely notice my camera whenever I handhold it.

 R0015682a (Medium) (Queuing Up: This shot was taken through the window of a taxi.  This shot would not be possible otherwise. I like the different posture of  each person who are at a bus stop)

3) If you take the same route frequently, and accidently show what you are doing, people will get used to you and notice you less.  This will stand you in good stead for taking the street shots.  This is how: Take the same route for a few days, and just casually take photos (of buildings, streetscapes and passers-by) on the way each day.  The passers-by will more likely believe that you're on a photography assignment.  They become used to you and don't bother to shun your camera.  There will be a higher chance of taking successful street shots of human conditions.  You don't need to shoot them in an obstentious fashion though.

4) In case the lighting conditions make it impossible to come up with a fast shutter speed (around 1/450s is needed to freeze the subject if you are walking while you release the shutter), pause for a split of a second when you come close to your subjects and release the shutter.

5) When it rains, that is great!  Hiding yourself behind an umbrella in one hand, you are almost free to compose your shots with the camera in another hand.  For sure, be watchful for the splashes and splatters of rains, especially when the street is jampacked with people carrying soaked umbrellas.

 R0015710 (Medium)(This is a casual shot which I did after trailing the carrier of this cheese-style umbrella for a while.  I just found the umbrella and the backpack went very well in colour)

6) Take a spin on a bus or a taxi (except you've, well, in London cos the public transport charges dearly) and you'll be bestowed with totally novel perspectives for street shots.

7) Once again, let me repeat these: set your favourable settings in the customizable mode; pre-meter a scene by making reference to areas with a similar illumination level; pre-focus a scene if the camera doesn't allow you to pre-set a focusing distance.

Go on some practices and take street shots of passers-by.

Wednesday, 27 May 2009

Street Shots 1-2-3: Three

This week, we've been looking at some of my personal experience in taking street shots. This is the third post.
R0015651 (Medium)(Three Talk: The fruit traders are talking to an acquaintance at a cul-de-sac. I was actually crossing a road when this shot was made. Without a chance to pause my steps for the shot, I pre-metered the scene by checking out the lit street before crossing the road and settled with the high shuttle speed lest my movement blurred the image)

Yesterday, we got down to the nitty-gritty of some of the customised settings I used for taking street shots of human conditions. Today, let's continue to dig into the rest, viz., the focal length at 28 and the ISO at 200.

Focal Length

My impression is that on most of the recent serious impacts, the zoom range falls on below 28mm to around 140mm. I stored 28mm as the default focal length setting for street shots of human conditions for two reasons.
First, my experience shows that a street shot of people done at 24mm normally spread the viewers'attention across the whole scene because of the prospective afforded by the 24mm focal length. So, a 24mm is not ideal. On the other hand, as the shots are taken at an estimated holding position with me on the move, the 35mm length is the farthest I can use or the subject will be left partly outside the frame. So, for this kind of street shots, I stay pretty much on 28mm.

R0015632 (Medium) (Three-Way: The shot was taken underneath a flyover accessible only by jaywalking. Sometimes, a shot of people going separate directions makes the contents in the final image richer for contemplation. The next image is also a case in point)

Second, in case I need the lens to go wider or farther, 28mm is the most convenient way point. The additional advantage on the GX200 is that user can customized the zoom to fixed hopping from 24mm, 28mm to 35mm(then 50mm to 75mm). One quick press up or down on the zoom buttom is quick enough to give a timely response. ISO 200 To general scenes, ISO 200 is well suited. ISO 400 was said to be a journalistic ISO in the film era because it can cope with slightly darker scenes without sacrificing the brighter ones. But in the digital era, when changing ISO is a matter of some button presses rather than a swap of films or cameras loaded with the right ISO film, I would say that the ISO 200 is truly middle-of-the-roader. In fact, the ISO 400 is sometimes undesirable on a sunny day because of its restriction laid on a slow exposure combo, hence limiting the camera's ability to blur the subject or background.

R0015646 (Medium)(I Noticed You: How can you tell if this shot was made with the flash on or not? You will know by simply checking out the reflected glare on the signposts in the background. Not hoping to use the high ISO, I turned the flash on. Since the scene was pretty dark and the flash was on, the shutter speed became irrelevent in freezing the subjects)

Since changing ISO is a few presses away, in difficult lighting situation, my workflow is usually 1) to pre-meter the scene and tweak for an exposure combo and 2), if necessary, dial up or down the ISO value and 3) pre-meter the scene again for the camera to show up other exposure combos based on the my previous combination. This is the quicker way to minimise the chance of losing the scene.
Otherwise, as a rule of thumb from my experience: ISO 64 on well-lit streets during daytime; ISO 200 for shaded areas; ISO 400 for indoor areas; ISO 800 in a well-lit subway. If you go up to ISO 1600 and the compact is fitted with a small sensor, you may settle for black and white to cover up the high ISO chromatic noise. The noise in black and white at high ISO looks just tastefully grainy in the final image. R0012484 (Medium) (No Peddling: The three men in uniform are the peddler control officers responsible for, as their post title suggests, keeping the peddling areas spick and spain and rid of unlicensed hawking acitivities. The signpost was included to hopefully strengthen the theme)
Knowing the setting is just a start. The next thing is how do I approach the subjects and take the shots, which will left to to another post. Stay tuned.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Street Shots 1-2-3: Two

This week, I'd like to share with you some personal experience in taking street shots. This is the second post.

R0015658 (Medium) (News Report: Stopping at the traffic night, the ladies were overheard exchanging news about the kids and comparing notes on their perfomance at school. On several earlier occasions, I had found the possible novel angel of taking pictures from my waist level of passers-by holding an umbrella. I hadn't managed to take any until this one. Since there were actually three ladies gossiping and the sidewalk was extremely narrow, I could easily catch their attention even if I paused for half a second to shot. So I opened the aperture wide for a fast shutter to compensate my quick steps going past them. The blind composition was made possible by luck, anticipation and lots of practices)

Yesterday we stopped at the setting I used for the street shots of human conditions. I promised to dig deeper into each component of the setting. To recap the setting: focus fixed at just over 1 metre; manual metering; focal length at 28mm; ISO at 200.

Fixed Focus

When I walk on and take the shots without really stopping, the fixed focus stands me in good stead because the auto focusing will lag behind my walking pace and lose its grip on the subject. The approximation of the one-metre distance suits most of the circumstances for this kind of street shots from my experience. A subject beyond the one-metre distance is not preferable for such street shots of human conditions because of two problems which I wrote yesterday.

In case the subject is closer or farther, several presses of the arrow buttons on the GX200 with my thumb can compensate for the focusing distance. Otherwise, the smart implementation of the Function Buttons R0015674 (Medium)on the GX200 gives me the last resort of assigning the Fn1 to one-press toggling between Manual Focusing and Auto Focusing.

Check out your compact if you can store the toggling between the two focusing mode in any similar quick button.

(Headful: This carrying style is very Balinese, save the lack of a cushioning bandana to steady the box. I followed him for a few steps and, after composing the image right, press the shutter)

Manual Metering

Obviously, the lighting situation and the atmosphere vary in different scenes. I need to expose the scene to my taste. Thanks to the great control on the GX200, doing manual metering and the subsquent tweakings are blissfully intuitive which requires only my right thumb. I am sure that the manual metering in at least the LX3 is too clusmsy for this kind of shoting condition.

R0015633 (Medium)(Stout Lady and Curious Baby: The lady is checking out the ad posts outside the real property agencies. She is probably looking for an apartment to rent. I hesitated about the scene at first but, with my photographer's mind at play, finally turned back to it just in time to take the photo before the lady left. When taking this photo, I stood back from the sidewalk into a road and composed the image)
On probably all occasions when taking such street shots, I metered a similar scene before I came up to the real scene to take the shot. This is for two things: first, I have to check out if the shutter speed is adequate. For my normal walking pace and a moving subject, a shutter speed not below 1/300s is sufficient for a clear subject. If the subject is stationary and I can pause my step slightly at the press of the shutter, a shutter speed around 1/100s suffices. Since the GX200 restricts the shutter speed to a certain range under different aperture values, this advanced checking also allows me to stop down the aperture in case the fastest shutter speed is still to much for a very bright scene.
Second, the pre-metering lets me know if a lower or higher ISO should be used to compensate the exposure combo so that the subject can be freezed or blurred to my taste. If you’re a tyro, this is how it works: if the shutter speed is too slow and the image will turn out shaky, I will have to use a higher ISO to make a clear shot. If I hope the background with moving people to be a bit blurry, I may use a safe, slower shutter speed and pan the camera along the subject’s movement; otherwise, if the scene is too bright and the faster exposure combo is not slow enough, I have to switch the camera to the slowest ISO and figure out the best possible exposure combo.
R0015642 (Medium) (Going Up, Going Down: The passer-by with the backpack is climbing up the stairs to the university campus, while the cleansing worker is walking down the sidewalk to perform duties. I was enticed by the lines and aware of the interest they would give to a photo. So sitting on the upper deck of the bus, I shot the picture before the bus swooshed off. If not for the confined space of the window and the pressing movement, I would have included the big uni's emblem on the right to tell the theme more clearly)
What's more, GX200 features a second Function Button Fn2 where I stored the Auto Exposure Lock function. A thumb press on it can lock the pre-metering result. See if you can store a similar AEL function in a quick button.

Come back tomrrow for the parts on the focal length and ISO.

Monday, 25 May 2009

Street Shots 1-2-3: One

This week, I'd like to share with you some personal experience in taking street shots. This is the first post.

R0015675 (Medium) (The Metalsmith: He sits in front of his tiny shop, bearing his upper body and chitchatting with his friends. I figured out how to take the shot some 30 steps away. The shot was done as I walked past him without alarming him)

I have been working on several on-going photographic assignments, some finished whereas some not quite. In either case, apart from the busyness of life which affords me little time to sort the photos and research about each topic, the daily street shots have generated a certain amount of interesting images for me to write about each day. By the way, the number of photos posted on this site is nearing 500.

Of the street shots I have taken, images of human conditions account for a lion's share. Among them, I surmise that over half were taken at a close distance. By the word "close", I mean within one metre, or around 3 feet. You may review your simiar street shots to come up with the ideal fixed focusing distance. My experience tells me that in a busy walking precinct, be it a street or a shopping centre, the human subject beyond one metre can give rise to two problems.

First, the subject will lack punch as it makes up too small a portion in the photo, provided that the focal length is at or less than 35mm (more on this later).

Second, the background will include more complimentary/ secondary information of a similar dimensional proportion to the subject, diluting the theme of the photo which you hope to convey.

So, one metre away is my counsel from experience for this type of street shots. Of course, it is a totally different matter if you ask the suject for permission to shot. I do it occasionaly, mostly when I really have to stop to come up with a good compositon.

R0015652a (Large) (The Young-at-Heart-and-in-Posture: I was amused by this man in his late 50s who, wearing an old T-shirt and a pair of briefs, perched on the railing next to a busy road junction. Fact is, this was a rather teenage-sitting posture beffiting neither his age nor clothing style. I figured out the composition when on the other side of the road, and took the shot as I, not quite having finished crossing the road, walked up to him)

How Do I Manage to Get so Close?

My street photos themed on human conditions were largely taken when I was moving on the road. With my GX200 neckstripped around my neck (the neckstrip is like a safety belt if your city is as bustling because chances are that someone may bump into you and knock your camera off incidentially; I once knocked off a passer-by's cellphone), I usually keep scanning the street around and ahead as I walk on. I anticipate a scene and keep my camera turned on to capture it at its first emergence.

It is worth noting that my GX200 is kept on always with the lens pointed to the floor with my palm covering the LCD. The is for protection because in the crowded and busy areas jampacked with buildings old and new, kudos to the air-conditioners and whatnots, water drippings from the buildings and edges of the roofs happen. This holding position has effectively saved my GX200 from the water drippings on several occasions. Besides this, since dust are subject to gravity by and large, this position also prevents dust from settling on the lens and the retractable sleeve.

Oh, mark that dust is extremely severe in a flea market.

R0015657 (Medium) (A Rare Sight: The rare sight is not about the skin colour for sure. I seldom see man carrying girlie figures. But this rather macho guy uses a girl and a yellowish chicken keychain each on either strip of his backpack, which was what interested me to take the picture as he walked along. The image is left tilting from left up which gives a feeling of force to his walking posture, coincidentially matching the direction of his gaze. Just in case you don't know, the left-up-to-right diagonal contradicts our reading habit and is usually used to show, for one thing, a sense of force)

Now, back to my scanning and anticipation of a scene for a shot.

Since these possible scenes of passers-by present themselves in a split of second, and I am on the move, I need a constant setting which suits such circumstances best. I assign the customizable mode MY1 for this setting: focus fixed at just over 1 metre; manual metering; focal length at 28mm; ISO at 200.

Let me explain these settings a bit tomorrow.

Sunday, 24 May 2009

My Work on Display

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I went to a humble exhibition yesterday, and was glad to see my work on display along with the great images of other photographers. The theme is about man and the environment.  I submitted one of the photos taken for the LNII project (check out the "Link to Special Projects" tag in the right sidebar if you are interested).

Have a great day!

R0015693 (Custom)