It's not necessary to put your photo gear in mothballs until you embark on the adventure of your life; there are many picturable people, places and activities right in your own backyard.
The way to approach the ordinary everyday picture possibilities is to get a little excited -- infuse some energy into the activity, try for the extraordinary. There are ways you can achieve this plateau.
Take one of the most common of snaps, the stand-'em-against-the-wall closeup. Usually this is the quickie where the subject stands self-consciously in front of the camera squinting into the sun, telling you to "Hurry up!"
The way to elevate this person picture into a portrait is to first take the subject out of the sun. The open shade at the side of the house or the filtered light under a tree is far easier on the eyes. Suddenly you'll see eyelids pop open and even be able to tell the color of the model's eyes. And if you want to get fancier, take your model inside comfortably seated by a window. And don't worry -- you'll have plenty of daylight if you open up the lens.
Besides the lighting, there are other ways to improve a portrait.
Study the face for the best photo angle. All heads are asymmetric, and you'll notice, if you look carefully, that one side is better than the other. Feature the photogenic part in a three-quarter, not full-face, view. Explore other possibilities by asking your model to turn as you observe.
Finally, find the right camera height. In most cases the best lens view is on eye level with the subject. But there are some execeptions. A lower camera angle will add determination to a weak chin and a higher look will accent the eyes and subordinate a heavy neck line.
By now, if you are following these instructions, you will have convinced your subject that you're a serious snapper and there shouldn't be proddings of "Can't you hurry up?" So you may as well take advantage and take your time. Move back and forward, looking through your lens if you have an SLR (single-lens reflex) camera, or just through the viewfinder if you don't and frame a pleasing composition. Think of some of the great portrait photos you've seen or paintings of people and try to emulate them.
Pictures of two or more people are twice as difficult. You have to get the light and expression right on all of them. Again, avoid the stand-'em-against-the-wall execution-type staring snap. Instead get them to relax and assume natural poses. If outdoors, have them lazing on the lawn; if inside, some seated and others standing. And even if it's a formal photo, ask them to twist this way or that so they're not all in a line.
Often, the activity or attire can direct the attitude. It it's a ball team, lolling of the ground is all right; but at a fairly formal party, a grouping around the piano will be more appropriate.
One more single suggestion. Whether singles or groups, have them all facing the light so that their faces are enhanced -- not erased by cast shadows.
Babies and pets are best frozen by flash. Those quicksilver young 'uns are just too squirmy for slow shooting. In fact, if you have an automatic camera, that's the best technique. But whether auto or manual, sunlight or strobe, the main idea here is action. Forget posing and set-up shots -- shoot au naturel.
Put on your crawl about clothes and follow wherever they lead. Set your camera on universal focus -- if not on auto. This means about six feet away from your subject -- and instead of re-focusing each time, simply move closer or farther back while keeping an approximate six-foot distance. With flash you'll be able to shoot at a relatively small lens opening (about f/8 or f/11 with the fast ASA 400 films and a small flash). At these settings you'll have sufficient tolerance to stay sharp.
Activities need another angle. Here what counts is pre-planning. Anticipate the action. Be ready for the bride and groom as they walk up the aisle by prefocusing on the side of a pew that they will pass; be sharp on the faces of the waiting bridesmaids as the bouquet is tossed and anticipate the cake-cutting by focusing on the cake before the act -- not during.
If a ballgame, don't follow the ball -- be there when it arrives. Stand or, better for the spectators, crouch by first or third base to catch the action on baseball. Get down the field before the football player is downed. (A good place to pre-focus is on the white yard markers.)
An absolute axiom for action is to anticipate. Don't wait until you see the ball caught, shoot when the passer's arm is in motion for football and before the player's toe touches the bag in baseball.
Scenics are more serene. For these you should take plenty of time. The quick over-the-cliff shot is bound to be disappointing. It will show, all too clearly, all God's acres so that the viewer will get a lost feeling when he tries to find the trail on the final print.
Be selective, find a focus on the general scene. It could be a lone scarred pine, a colorful cliff or a blue-hazed mountain highlighted by sunlight or isolated with a tele lens.
If the light doesn't cooperate and you don't have a long lens, look for a foreground feature for emphasis. A framing tree or a lens peek through foliage will often focus a distant scene. A figure can serve just as well, and, what's more, give scale.
But most often, there's not much else to do with the grand view but look for the best vantage point and shoot when the lighting is best. This may mean a short wait by the roadside or a pause atop a mountain trail where you can catch your breath, so study the map.
These are some of the ways that anyone can make the ordinary pictures extraordinary. Often it's not how far you go to get the pictures but how far you go in taking them that counts.
Another of Carl Shipman's Manuals has crossed my review desk. This time Shipman delves into the specifics of the Minolta line and tells you all that you need to know -- and more -- about Minolta SLR cameras. This book, like his others on Canon, Pentax, Olympus and Nikon, is not sponsored by the companies headlined on the covers.
Beside the explanations of what cameras, lenses and accessories are available in the Minolta line, there are numerous tips on techniques and how-to's that enliven and enrich the text.
Look for How to Select and Use Minolta SLR Cameras by Carl Shipman at most photo stores. It's published by H.P. Books, P.O. Box 5367, Tucson, Arizona, 86703, at $9.95. Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A&Q&A Q: I have an old Eastman Kodak Hawkeye folding camera that takes excellent pictures. However, there are pinholes in the bellows that leave light streaks along the side of the developed picture. Also, it uses No. 122 film (the postcard size), which no longer seems available. What can I do about the bellows and the film? A: The pinholes can be covered with thin black tape stuck on the inside of the bellows. To find the holes, open up the back of the camera in a darkened room and, using a bare light bulb as the light source, revolve the camera slowly while looking inside the bellows. Buy the thinnest black tape and use glue if it doesn't stick. (The alternative is to have a new bellows fitted, which would be quite expensive -- approximately $40.)
Kodak no longer manufactures the 122 film size (3 1/4 x 5 1/2 inches). If you are handy you can adapt 120 or 620 film by rewinding it on a 122 size spool. You will need to adjust for the spool size difference (it's about one inch smaller for the 120 size). The best way is to put a spacer to take up the slack and rewind the 120 film onto the old size in the darkroom -- be sure to use the paper backing. The numbers will no longer correspond for the individual frames so you will have to guess by the number on the spool.
This all sounds like a lot of trouble -- and it is. My advice would be to keep your old camera for sentimental reasons and buy one of the new ones or an old one that uses current film. Q: I have a collection of old movie coming-attractions glass slides. These are small, approximately 3 1/4 x 4 inches in size. They were used to advertise the future movies coming to the theaters. I have been to the local library as well as the main one, but have not been able to find information or the history of these very interesting slides. I would like to correspond with others for the purpose of sharing information on this subject as well as to trade for or buy others. You may use my name and address. George Reed, 5239 Howland Street, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 19124. A: By publishing this letter I hope that other readers will contact Mr. Reed -- who knows, this may be a whole new fad.
Meanwhile, I would suggest writing to the Western Photographic Collectors Association, P.O. Box 4294, Whittier, California 90607. This organization or others affiliated with it may be able to throw some light on this subject. Q:Would you please write something about the storing of Polaroid film in the refrigerator? A: For your question, I went right to the source: Polaroid has a technical assistance service that will answer all questions. The toll-free number is 800/225-1618. It may take a little time to get through, because of the service's popularity, but you can usually get through quite reasonably.
Polaroid recommends that you never freeze color film. Polaroid black-and-white material may be stored in the freezer, but this won't lengthen its life beyond the expiration date -- in other words, you can't buy extra time this way, as you can with other black-and-white materials.
As for refrigeration: It's not a good idea unless the normal temperature is above 75 degrees F. and the humidity is high. If you do store Polaroid film in the refrigerator, be sure to take it out well in advance of using it, so the chemicals can come up to their normal average temperature of 70 degrees to 75 degrees F. Q: My uncle filmed our wedding on Super 8 color film. We can't show it on our old projector, which is standard 8. Do you know where I can get the Super 8 film duped on standard 8 film? A: Yes. Super Cine, Professional Super-8 Lab Services of Burbank, California can help; it has a wide range of services that even includes the transfering of film to videotape. Write for information on prices, time required, etc.; the address is 2218 West Olive Avenue, Burbank 91506.