PHOTO TIPS

I'm not Robert Capa, but I've been seriously interested in photography since the sixties. I got training back in the manual focus, external light meter days and bought a brace of Pentax Spotmatics, manual focus, match-needle internal meter 35 mm cameras. I acquired lenses from 17 mm fisheye to 200 mm telephoto with a 70-150 mm zoom the size of my arm. These served me well until autofocus, auto exposure became doable, and mercury batteries were becoming a problem. The Spotmatics required mercury batteries, and in the US (only) they became a no-no. So I needed new cameras and went to Nikon. Look at any photo book and look at the photo credits. 90% of the publishable photos are taken by F series Nikons. F is the professional series. They're up to F5 now. I have an F4S. The higher-end N series Nikons will do everything the F series will do for less money and weight, but they won't last as long. The F series, if I'm not mistaken, are rated at 50,000 frames between overhauls. They're combat cameras. I appreciate this. I took a few pictures in combat. I was G3 Air advisor for a couple of weeks before being fired and sent to a recon unit for punishment, and one day an AF lieutenant walked in with a Pentax and asked, "Does anyone know how to use this?" I said yes, and soon I was in the back seat of a Cessna Birddog over a battlefield taking strike photos as the F100s expended their ordnance. The camera around my neck in the photo is the AF's camera. Photographers carry two cameras so they can get their picture taken carrying one camera and thus looking like photographers.

Since then I've gotten a magazine cover or two and a whole bunch of photos published, usually nuts-and-bolts photos illustrating the article, not artsy-craftsy photos. So I've learned a little:

1. Most cameras are junk. Shooting photos, like shooting anything, is better done up close. The way to get up close with a camera is with a telephoto lens. Most cameras have wide angle lenses, and the lense can't be changed. The lens is the most important part of the camera. The lense is the eye, and if it's bad, you won't see. Good lenses are pretty much limited to Nikon, Canon, and Leica. Leica lost the electonics race, and their camera bodies are antique compared to Nikon, but they are perfectly made antiques, a joy to hold and use. Zoom lenses have come of age now so a serious photographer can carry a couple of zooms and be covered. I have a 35-135 mm and a 75-300 mm. With those two and a 20 mm wide angle and a 50 mm f1.4 low light lens I'm set for nearly anything. I'd like a really long telephoto for animal photos, but that's about all I need. Of course, that lens would cost what the rest of the setup cost.

2. Forget any format but 35 mm. 120 is for professionals, and Instamatic and Advantix are little negatives for snapshots. They're cameras for your mother, who can't find the button to push. Real photographers use 35 mm.

3. Buy fast film. ASA 400 is all I get now. I can't tell the difference between 100 and 400 on the photo, and 400 means I can carry a 300 mm f 5.6 instead of a 300 mm f 2.8. The 2.8 costs like a moonshot and looks appropriate for photographing the moon. It also weighs more than you want to carry. I buy the best 400 speed film I can, currently Kodak Ultra Gold for color snaps, Ektachrome for slides, T-Max for black and white. I've made comparison shots between the cheap film and the good stuff and seen the difference in color saturation. If in doubt, buy a 24 exposure roll of each and shoot test shots, something with a lot of red and green, and you'll see. After that buy 36 exposure film only.

4. A working camera bag doesn't. Discovering the load-bearing vest was a breakthrough in photography as it was to combat soldiers. I have an old Banana Republic photographer's vest which meets the criteria. It has a pocket big enough to hold the largest lens and enough pockets to hold all of the lenses (minus one. One will be on the camera at all times). I put unused film in a specific pocket, and when it is exposed, put it in another specific pocket. Film canisters are marked as to type, #, and expiration date, and when exposed film is put in, an X is marked on the canister lid. Stick with fresh film. If it's expired, throw it away.

The vest should have a collar. If it doesn't, wear collared shirts. The camera strap will rub your neck raw, especially if you carry two bodies.

Cleaning tissues, etc., can be kept in the vest while working. A small, tabletop tripod will fit in the vest and makes taking those fireworks photos possible.

The camera bag should hold all your gear for transporting it to site, but don't expect to carry it all day while shooting. Leave it in the hotel room/car. My next one will have wheels on it for airports-if I can find one, which I've been unable to do so far. Lacking that the next one will be of the backpack variety.

5. A flash is more useful in the daylight than at night. At night a flash is useful only to 20 feet or so. I crack up watching people in stadiums take flash photos of what's happening on the field. They'll have photos of the backs of the heads of the people in front of them, and that's about it.

But in daylight, set at 1/3 stop under exposure, a flash makes a good fill-in to light the face of someone in shadow or not in the light. It also makes the face look better in color, rosy cheeks, younger.

6. Film is cheap. Vacations are expensive. Waste film, not opportunities. I'll take roll after roll where the average tourist will take 3-5 photos. I might only have 3-5 photos worth showing afterwards, but the average tourist won't have any. Start with a fresh roll. National Geographic used to require its photographers to unload the cameras at night, mark the roll, send it in, and start the next day with fresh ammunition. An empty camera takes no pictures. When I finish a vacation, even if the film in the camera only has a few frames taken, it comes out and goes into the lead bag. I settled on the lead bag after trying to get airport employees to hand-check film. Right. I'd hand them a bag of film and say, "Hand inspect that, please," and they'd throw it in the x-ray. Don't check film. The x-rays of checked bags are more powerful than for carry-on bags, and they will fog your film.

7. Never try out any new equipment on vacation. A friend of mine came home from Israel in 1968, a once in a lifetime trip. Every color picture was yellow because he tried a yellow filter, appropriate for black and white film to enhance contrast, on color. He didn't know any better. Test first. You can shoot a roll and get it developed an hour later to test.

8. Keep a UV or skylight filter on each lens. If it gets scratched or broken, it's much cheaper than the lens. Always use a lens shade, partly to shade the photos from the glare, partly to protect the lens.

9. Learn the camera's controls by feel. Be able to change lenses in the dark. Be able to load film in the dark. I still leave the crank up on the rewind reel when I load film until I've advanced 3 frames to 1. If it moves with each frame, the film is properly loaded. Then fold it down. This avoids that sinking feeling when you advance the film to 38 on a 36 exposure roll and realize that once in a lifetime photo taken in the middle of the roll didn't happen.

10. Get the widest, most comfortable camera strap you can get. You'll be carrying the camera all day. You'll never set it down. You'll never let it out of your sight. It's expensive and a great target.

11. Modern cameras use a lot of batteries. Nikon, having been burned in the mercury battery fiasco, uses AA batteries for almost everything. Both cameras and the flash use 16 I think. I put new ones in before the vacation. Then I don't have to carry spares.

12. When you sort photos after a shoot, be ruthless. Keep only the good ones. You won't need the mistakes and the mediocre photos. Trust me on this.

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