Sunday, October 30, 2011

Slutwalk Grahamstown

29 October 2011 

Slutwalk. It sounds crude and offensive and harsh. But sometimes you have to be harsh and crude and offensive to get people to take notice, and that is exactly what the point of a Slutwalk is.

The idea of Slutwalks started in Toronto in April this year and have since spread throughout the globe. Every major city is having their own Slutwalk where women arrive dressed however they please and saying for once and all: "What I wear is no excuse to rape me." Legs, cleavage and navels abound as women dress in short skirts, skimpy tops and even, in some cases lingerie. But this is exactly the point. Dressing in what someone might think is an inappropriate manner is no excuse for rape. Using it as an excuse for rape is unacceptable and society needs to realise this.

Grahamstown's very own Slutwalk might not have had the attendance of ones in bigger cities (like Cape Town, Johannesburg, Durban as well as the international alternatives), but the spirit was certainly there. The turn-out was around 100 people all dressed to kill and shouts of "Wathint' abafazi wathint'imbokodo" (translated as You strike a woman, you strike a rock) filled the streets. Signs were passed out and pink ribbons were attached around wrists, necks and used as headbands.

Photographers may not have been the most popular people around - no one particularly wants to have photographs of themselves splattered on Facebook even at the best of times - but there were tons of them around regardless. Faces were hidden, comments of: "If this gets into the newspaper, I'm going to sue" could be heard and I snuck around in between protesters to try and get the necessary shots without being too obtrusive.

At the end of the day, Slutwalks are entirely necessary in societies where it is still acceptable for the excuse of clothing to be used as an excuse for rape. Hopefully, in the years to come, this will no longer be the case, and I am fairly sure that Slutwalks would have played a part in the revolution. At least they show that there is still hope.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Facebook: Pros & Cons for Photographers

All photographers want to get their photographs out there, to get exposure and gain popularity. One of the best ways to do this is through a photo sharing site. But there are so many sites out there! Which one should you pick? Every photo sharing site has their own benefits and downfalls, and it’s good to know about these before choosing which site to upload your photographs to. You don’t want to be caught off-guard by privacy settings, low quality images or copyrighting. So I am going to look at just a few of the benefits and downfalls of uploading images to specific photo sharing sites.

First and foremost, let’s have a look at Facebook. As a photographer, Facebook can be a great tool for displaying your images and getting exposure. As the most popular social networking site out there (at the moment), Facebook will provide you with a wide audience to show your work to and it is easy to get feedback on that work. In addition, you can divide your private and professional self by creating a photography page for yourself. This means that, while you can post hundreds of photographs on your personal account for people to see, you can also post your most professional photographs to your photography page and have the best separated from the rest. It is a form of advertising yourself which works out well, particularly if you decide to spend some cash and invest in photography adverts on Facebook as well. This can lead to a lot of business that you would not have received otherwise and can certainly be worthwhile.

On the other hand, Facebook does have its downfalls. Many of you may have heard about the mass of people leaving Facebook due to their privacy settings. Some of you may even be those people who left in the mass exodus. The privacy settings that affect your profile also affect your photographs. While Facebook providing others with access to your personal details may sound far more significant than hundreds and thousands of people having access to your photographs (hell, that almost sounds good!) it also means that your photographs are being exposed to people who may use them for their own personal use. This brings the issue of copyright into question, and you will quickly find that Facebook’s copyright protocols leave a lot to be desired. And then, let’s look at the photographs themselves. Though Facebook has recently introduced a new function, allowing you to upload high resolution photographs, for a long while the photographs that you were uploading were compressed to be very low quality. While this is fine for showing off photos from the party last night, for professional photographers it is not ideal. A lot of detail is lost in the process, and your photographs will not come out the way that you pictured them. There are ways around this, but most people do not know these methods. Hell, even though I know that they are out there, I hardly know about these methods!

Facebook may be the most popular photo sharing site at the moment, but that certainly does not mean that it is the best. Personally, I still upload my photographs using Facebook for the exposure, but it is not my only method of uploading pictures. At least I know and understand the risks and problems, and even use them in some cases! Part of the reason why I continue to use Facebook is that it can provide low-res and low-quality versions of my photographs, giving me the exposure that I want, and I can then provide links to better quality versions or, if requested, provide better quality prints of the photographs. If someone wants to steal an image, it then means that they are taking a low-quality image, one that I would not be too concerned about. It is the high-res and good quality ones that I truly cherish.

Check back soon for the pros and cons of using other photo sharing sites such as Flickr, Twitter and Google Plus.

Saturday, October 8, 2011


There is nothing that annoys me more in terms of photography than people taking the photographer for granted.

I was at a dinner party last night and it was a wonderful party and a wonderful reason for me to bring my camera out. I haven't been taking too many random photos recently, and I felt like doing a bit of photography. In any case, we were sitting around the dinner table and my camera was beside me, and my friend decided to say to the rest of the guests: "Please excuse Lara. She loves taking photos of everything." Which was absolutely fine, and very true and one of the guests responded by saying that she didn't mind as long as the photos were good. To which my friend replied, "They will be. She has a very nice camera."

It is a common misconception that a number of people have that the camera is everything. While my camera is good, it's not what makes the photographs that I take good. I like to think that I have an eye for a good photo and wait for good moments to take photos. I also have a steady hand and know which apertures and shutter speeds to use for which situations. This means that it is more than just the camera that is good. It's the photographer as well and people have a tendency to forget this fact.

Another thing that annoyed me was that one of the friends of this friend that was having the dinner party then asked to play around with my camera. I agreed rather reluctantly, but without showing any reluctance, and the girl then complained that she had to stand back because my lens didn't have a zoom and what a stupid lens it was because she couldn't zoom out. Nevermind that it is one of my favourite lenses and the best for the light that was provided in the room, nevermind that I offered to let her use the kit lens that was in my bag. No, this girl didn't want to change anything, but wanted to complain because the lens wasn't to her satisfaction.

I should now mention that while there are people who annoy me when it comes to my photography, there are also those who astound me (in a good way). There are people like my friend Jestine, who has been encouraging me to start standing up for myself when it comes to photography and charging when I should and refusing to take jobs that don't come with pay unless they are jobs that I actually want to take. There are also people like Mike and Vicky, who try to insist on paying me for the wedding shots that I did even though I have already informed them that I will not be charging them, since they were my first wedding shoot and since the camera died halfway through their wedding. No matter, they still pester me occasionally to give them my banking details, which I will refuse to do because I think that there are times when charging is appropriate and there are times when it is not, and my first wedding shoot is not something that I want to charge for.

In any case, these were just a couple of things that I wanted to get off my chest and I am rather glad that I have now. Rant over.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011


Flash can be a pain, but with the right one, it can also be a hell of a lot of fun!

When my camera battery died at the wedding (a mistake that I am hitting myself over the head for, even now), the first thing that the groom did was to whip out his camera and tell me to start taking photos with that. I took one look at it and my expression must have shown my disappointment. "I know it's a piece of junk compared to yours..." I tried to stop him right there. His camera is no piece of junk. It is a pretty decent Fujifilm, a lot better than the camera I was using before I got my Canon, and certainly more than your average point and shoot. It wasn't the camera that I was upset about. It was the flash.

The bride and groom cutting the wedding cake with a dark backdrop.
I hate my own on-camera flash, and there is a good reason for this! You know those photos where the faces of the people in the front are completely over-exposed and the background is pitch black? What about those ones where just about every person has there eyes shut from the shock? Yeah, those are the kinds of photos that you get with an on-camera flash. It doesn't matter if you are using a Fujifilm point and shoot or a Canon 550D, the results are going to be fairly similar. Until recently, I thought this meant that I hated flash photography. And then I played around with the Canon Speedlite 580EX.

The exposure is just right with the Speedlite 580EX.
I managed to get my hands on one of these babies specifically for the wedding, My boss at work just happened to have one lying around and said that I could borrow it for awhile. And I was dubious. I did not like flash, I did not want to use flash, I knew that it was just going to be disastrous. For a good day or two I just sulked about the matter not wanting to try. And then I pulled myself together and got shooting and practicing... and found that flash photography is actually a lot of fun when you have a decent flash!

 It does take awhile to get used to bouncing the light and positioning the flash for the best effects. I blinded more than one person by capturing a shot when the flash wasn't at the right angle. I also got more than a couple of blank photos when I tried to take pictures with the flash too quickly after one another. And yet, the photos that I did get came out so well that I was really happy. No more over-exposed foreground and under-exposed background!

Of course, getting the background right also took a lot of practice. It is about more than just pointing the flash in the right direction. You also need to have your shutter speed and aperture settings down to a tee. Why? What ends up happening, especially in manual mode, is that the flash ends up only providing fill light for the picture. What this means is that the flash will only try to illuminate at a short distance, as most on-camera flashes do. But the difference is that it will also allow you to adjust your own settings to ensure that the background is equally well lit. This means that if there is little light, you will still need to shoot at a low shutter speed and with a wide aperture to ensure that the background is well lit. It also means that you will often need to bring your tripod along even when you are doing flash photography.

So what is the benefit of having a flash if you are still going to have to lower your settings? Well, the ISO will certainly be lower, and even if your background is slightly under-exposed, it is still a lot better than having a well exposed, completely blurry photograph or having an over-exposed, completely clear photograph with a black background.

So, what kind of flash do you want? To be honest, that's going to depend entirely on you. You can get some of the lower end flashes which just attach to your camera and acts as a stronger flash, but with the ability to add bits and bobs that will adjust the light the way you want it to be. You can get a mid-range flash which you can connect to your camera or can be held away from your camera and pointed in a specific direction that way (attached via a cable of some sort).  Or you can get one of the high-range flashes (like the Speedlite 580EX) which can swivel in any direction as well as doing all of the above. I have decided that after playing with the 580EX, it is the only way for me to go. It was far too much fun to ignore!

And so, I have a list of gear that I am scouring Bid or Buy for. First of all it's going to be a spare battery so that there won't be any more stupid mistakes. Second is going to be my Speedlite 580EX flash. Third is going to be a nice wide angle or fish-eye lens, and for the last two I am going to have to save up a ton.

Let me know what is on your photography wishlist!

Monday, October 3, 2011

My First Wedding Shoot (What To Do and What Not To Do)

"In the art of marriage... it is not only marrying the right partner. It is being the right partner."
So, as many of you may know by now, I spent last week Friday doing the photography for the wedding of two friends. It was the first wedding shoot that I'd done, and there were bound to be mistakes. In fact, there was one very big one, but I will get back to that later. Let me tell you first how I prepared for the day.

Preparing is one of the most important parts of the big day. Go there unprepared and your photos will show it.

First things first, I wrote down a list of shots that I wanted to take. I knew the bride and groom already and knew some things that they might want to do and some things that they might not want to. They were not available at the time to ask, so I wrote up my own list and prepared myself to ask them for specifics when they came back from their honeymoon (which they took before the wedding).

One of the shots that I had on my list. Mike throwing Vicky into the river.

Once I had the preliminary list, I started searching through the photography blogs that I follow for more ideas and advice. I added more photographs to the list that was steadily getting  longer and longer, and decided to visit the venue for the wedding a week early to get a feel for the place.

The main stage for the ceremony. It was a good idea for me to go there first otherwise I wouldn't have known that the area was badly lit with nothing to bounce light off of. I knew that I would need to bring a lens which could get wide open and that I would be dealing with higher ISO images.
Seeing the venue was a great plan, since I found out that I would need equipment that I didn't have and wasn't familiar with using, namely a flash. Luckily, I managed to find one, and that part of the day was saved. I quickly learned to use it and learned to love it, and you can expect a post on that at some point within the next few weeks.

One of the shots that I took with the super-awesome amazing flash that I borrowed for the evening, showing how well the light bounced in the reception venue.

On the day itself, before leaving the house, I made a checklist of all the photography gear that I was going to need - lenses, tripod, flash, batteries, charger, bag, etc. and made sure that they were the first things packed into the car since I didn't want to forget anything. We then made the half hour trip to Port Alfred and relaxed for an hour or two in our accommodation before meeting the bride and groom and getting the day started.

Leaving your gear behind would be like an artist leaving his/her brushes at home. Thankfully, this was one thing that I made sure to include.
So that was the prep that I did. And at the time, it felt like the right kind of prep to be doing. I arrived in Port Alfred feeling nervous, but pretty much ready for anything. I had met with the bride and groom and had removed some of the photographs from my list simply due to lack of numbers, since there was only one bridesmaid and one groomsman, which took away a lot of the photographs that I had planned for the bridal party. I had printed out the list of photographs that I had in mind and kept it in the camera bag that I was going to be using. So where did I go wrong then?

First of all, I would recommend insisting that the bride and groom make their own list of photographs in addition to your own. They will want to have specific photos taken, as will their families, and if you do not know what those are, you will be thrown off guard when they ask for them. In this case particularly, the bride and groom told me that they had no specific requests and that they just wanted "everything". That is great and all, but your everything may not be their idea of everything and can lead to slight chaos.

Even though the bride and groom told me that they wanted "everything" they did have some great ideas for "romantic" shots that ended up working out really well and being some of my favourites for the shoot. This is another reason why you should ask your bride and groom what kind of shots they want. I guarantee that not all brides would be impressed with their hubby trying to hit them over the head with an oar. This particular couple were completely into it, which meant that we could have a lot of fun playing around instead of only having serious shots.

Next, I had everything planned down to a tee, and that is never a good idea. What happens then is that when someone comes along suggesting something different, you get thrown off. I had tons of ideas for great shots, but I suddenly found myself forgetting all of them when the bridesmaid refused to pose with the bride's brother (family drama) and when the groom's family (aside from his parents) got stranded in Cape Town and were not able to make it. It is great to be prepared, but try to leave some room for error. Do not freak out when things don't go exactly as planned.

I had planned the family shots very carefully, wanting to bring in first parents, then siblings, then extended family, etc. When Mike's family missed their flight in Cape Town it messed with the order of things and I was left utterly stumped while Mike and Vicky took over and told who to come forward when. This is not ideal. As the photographer, you should be in charge. But since this was a first for me, I think I was forgiven.

Make sure that you have your tripod everywhere, and that you know it inside out. I had hardly used my tripod before the wedding, and while I used it for the family shots, which was great, I found that the dial used for turning the camera on its side was stuck, and not wanting to fiddle around with it, I elected to leave it instead and only took landscape oriented pictures of the family, which I later regretted. I also regretted not having the camera with me at the ceremony, as the area was dark and there was nothing to bounce the flash off of, which meant that I needed to use low shutter speeds with wide apertures and try to hold the camera as still as possible. I managed to get some good shots by leaning on a tree, and I am still not sure that I would have found a place for my tripod due to the angle that the venue was placed at (I'm not sure I would have found somewhere steady enough), but I know that I would have appreciated it.

Knowing your gear well is a definite must! I was kind of lucky with this photo as the little girl was the only one who didn't jump and was therefore the only one in focus, since I forgot to set the shutter speed correctly prior to the jump.

Don't loiter. I very nearly missed the bride and groom leaving on their quick boat trip to the reception simply because I stood around chatting when I should have been off and away as soon as they had left. I missed them climbing into the boat, but thankfully managed to catch them before they rowed off and managed to get a good number of shots in.

Loitering around during the wedding means missing the important shots of the bride and groom when they are alone after the deed has been done. You can get photos of the guests before and at the reception, but the time after the ceremony is time best spent following the bride and groom and catching their glances, their excitement and their special moment.

And now for the big one. The biggest mistake that I made that night was not being sure how many photographs my camera's battery could handle. It turns out, that number is around 715. I didn't know this and wasted a lot of shots on the bride getting ready (another mistake, unless you have a spare battery lying around and a lot of time to do processing of the photos later) which I could have saved for things like the cake being cut and the couple's first dance. I had also left my charger in my bag in the accommodation (yet another mistake) which meant that I really was just completely out of luck. I missed a  large part of the ceremony, but thankfully got the necessary photographs of the family and the friends, the speeches and some of the food, the romantic pics, the ceremony and the preparation, which meant that the bride and groom were not too upset, but that didn't stop me from being furious with myself and vowing that the next item I buy will be a second battery.

Because I left my camera at home, this was the last photo I was able to take, which was thankfully the last of the speeches. However, it also meant limiting my photographs to try and get this much life out of the camera and there were special moment missed in between, such a Mike's father tearing up during his speech.

So, what did I do right? Preparing, making lists of photographs, making checklists of items to bring (and bringing them), getting to know any new equipment that I may have needed to use, checking out the venue before hand, checking with the bride and groom what the bridal party was going to be like and being there nice and early to get all of the necessary shots.

Showing a little courtesy is always the right thing to do. Being married doesn't mean that courting should go out of the window after all ;)

What did I do wrong? I over-prepared, didn't know my own equipment well enough, let last minute changes stress me, loitered (a little), didn't insist on the bride and groom's input on my photography list and didn't bring a second Canon battery or my charger along.

Abandoning your bride on a narrow pier in high heels is the wrong thing to do on your wedding day, much like the things that I did wrong!

At least now I know for the next time, and will learn from my mistakes. The next wedding that I do will hopefully go more according to plan, and less according to plan at the same time, since next time I hopefully won't plan as much and will be calmer now that I have some experience in my belt. No more stressing and more relaxing and having fun! Is there any advice that you would add?