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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Thanda in the Springtime - September Thanda Workshop and a note on Live View Focusing

One of the myriad advantages of doing a regular workshop in a single location is that you get to experience the location of a series of seasons. I'm continually asked by potential photographers on the African Impact Photography Project about what time of year would be best to visit. The answer is never simple I am afraid as every season, or month of the year for that matter, has something different to offer. I do however enjoy Spring and early summer the most most though. It's the sudden change from desolate brown to verdant green that does something for me.

I do mean sudden. We recently had a series of quite dramatic downpours throughout the province. This has obviously meant that certain activities have had to be post-poned or cancelled entirely. It was touch and go on the last Drakensberg workshop (see the previous post) whether the weather would open up and allow us some respite from the rain. It did, and we had a wonderful weekend of landscape photography.

Thanda is starting to blossom, literally. Small buds are appearing on all the acacia trees and grass is popping up in the blackened char where the winter burns have been. The Spring rains (we're supposed to be a summer rainfall area, but any visitor to Kwazulu-Natal can be forgiven for not believing this considering the rainfall we have been receiving recently) have of course meant that a great deal of the reserve's roads are slippery mud slides which quickly bog down the game-viewer's wheels. It also means that there is actually less game to see. Big mammals like the elephant and buffalo don't need to come anywhere near the waterholes as waterholes are filling up everywhere. For the first time in a while I didn't see the elephant herd on the reserve. But the air feels fresh and the greens are sprouting, which makes up for the dearth of mobile grey cards.

Focus gets a lot of people. First, autofocus is not infallible. It makes mistakes, often user mistakes, but mistakes nonetheless. Then there's ever dwindling number of photographers who learnt how to shoot on manual focus cameras. Those that remain are getting older and more than a few are complaining of aging and failing eyesight - so end up relying on the autofocus system (which is fallible remember). Even if photographers are brave enough to resort to manual focus, there is the ever present issue of diopter adjustment, which is often ignored by beginners to the point that they literally never see a sharp image in the viewfinder and trust implicitly the fallible AF system.

There is a way out of this blurry quagmire though, at least for landscape photography at any rate. Modern DSLRs are blessed with the wonderful addition of Live View. This feature is under-utilized if you ask me. I'm definitely not saying that photographers should hold their cameras out at arms length whenever they are out shooting. This is a definite no-no and apart from screaming out loud that you don't know what you are doing, it introduces severe camera shake issues. But, when the camera is on a tripod and you are carefully consicering your composition, depth of field and exposure, the Live View is amazing.

For starters, it is possible to zoom in on the preview image. This means that we can check and fine tune manual focus to levels that were previously impossible (not so great on autofocus, but we're doing this for landscape photography). Secondly, in terms of composition, seeing the image on a large 3" screen is a lot easier than peering through a viewfinder. Even a Full-Frame camera has less real-estate in the viewfinder than it does on the rear LCD screen. It's a little bit like using an old large-format camera without any of the LF camera drawbacks (dingy and dim ground-glass, upside down and reversed view and the absolute requirement of having a dark cloth - try using one of these in a howling gale). Yet another advantage of the wonderful live view is that on most of the modern cameras it is possible to call up a live histogram. This means you can even fine-tune exposure for the RAW file capture while composing. For photographers who still can't understand the depth of field preview button, there is also the ability to see the effect of aperture change on depth of field in real-time. All of course except for the Nikon D3100 and D3200. Somebody was out to lunch when they skipped this feature in the entry-level Nikon. No dof preview button and no live-view dof preview! To me, this kills a perfectly good entry-level camera (but that's another story). So in a nutshell, when you want to get razor-sharp landscape images switch to manual focus and live-view. Of course, you need a decent tripod and should be using a cable release and mirror lockup, but the focus is the first in a series of things you should be getting right.

At any rate, an great week in Thanda!

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