The art of self-photography. 66 LEARN­ING CURVE

Self-photography – as op­posed to tak­ing a selfie – while you’re out on ad­ven­tures, is a mi­nor art, mas­tered only with pa­tient trial and er­ror.

Action Asia - - CONTENTS - Text and photography by Steve Thomas

I'M NOT A SELFIE KIND OF GUY. FAR from it: I cringe when see­ing my­self in pictures. Yet, since the early 1990s I've made a hum­ble liv­ing as a cy­cling and ad­ven­ture travel writer and (of­ten, by ne­ces­sity, self-) pho­tog­ra­pher. I learnt this fringe pho­to­graphic genre by trial and er­ror and lit­tle else, start­ing back in the era of film cam­eras, when I mostly used the built-in 10-sec­ond self-timer. This was of­ten a tricky and ex­pen­sive game. I could be on the road for weeks, even months with­out see­ing what I had cap­tured in those lit­tle plas­tic can­is­ters. Thank­fully, though I steadily fig­ured out what did and didn't work. To­day 90% of my work is shot on a mir­ror­less in­ter­change­able-lens cam­era sys­tem, which is just over half the weight and bulk of my full DSLR kit. Many pho­tog­ra­phers still baulk at the no­tion of mir­ror­less, but I can say that in my case the re­sults speak for them­selves. Com­bin­ing a more por­ta­ble sys­tem with self photography helps me to get where I want to be, when I want to be there and wear­ing what­ever suits the shoot. The lat­ter point is key and might re­quire changes of cloth­ing even, es­pe­cially when the aim is to sell the re­sult­ing shots. In my case the aim is usu­ally to be in ac­tion on my bike in an ap­pro­pri­ate pose, in a ‘clean' com­po­si­tion free of tele­phone wires and lamp­posts for ex­am­ple, not sim­ply rolling along or grin­ning for the cam­era. GEAR TO GO Cam­era and pro­cess­ing tech­nol­ogy evolves at light­ning speed, and it doesn't pay to be­come ob­sessed with gear. Most cam­eras can pro­duce great images if used cor­rectly. Your re­sults ult i mately come down more to sk i l l and ex­pe­ri­ence, plus large doses of art­ful­ness and aware­ness so put your ef­forts into learn­ing over spend­ing. For travel and ad­ven­ture photography, my ad­vice would be to keep things light and ro­bust, and in­vest in good lenses over cam­era bod­ies that can quickly get dated. Go for a zoom for ver­sa­til­ity, and as with self-photography you can choose to shoot only in de­cent light, an f4

aper­ture is prob­a­bly ad­e­quate, es­pe­cially as you are not look­ing for a shal­low depth-of-field. Like­wise, you'll mostly choose to avoid rain so weather seal­ing is less im­por­tant. I man­age the tak­ing of the shot with a re­ally ba­sic re­mote trig­ger such as Yongnuo. It may not be as touted or fea­ture-heavy as oth­ers like the Pocket Wizard but it is small, fairly re­li­able and easy to find on the road. They're also easy to hide in your hand, though their range is limited, es­pe­cially when windy. Al­though I oc­ca­sion­ally still do use a Go­ril­la­pod – those knob­bly mini-tripods with legs that bend ev­ery which way – I much pre­fer to have a ‘real' light­weight tri­pod with me, ide­ally one that packs down to less than 40cm long. Go­ril­lapods and other mini-tripods do have their place but un­for­tu­nately that place is of­ten ei­ther too close to the ground, or re­quires a tree or other fix­ing point. This of­ten does not fit with the open scene I like to cap­ture. Re­mem­ber to watch for wind that can bowl your tri­pod over. Also, don't for­get about the cam­era in your pocket: your smart­phone. Many later mod­els can pro­duce images good enough even for magazine pub­li­ca­tion – a much higher bar than any­thing posted on­line. Phones are also ex­cep­tion­ally ver­sa­tile and small – just add a mini tri­pod and a Blue­tooth re­mote for self-ex­po­sures. Many newer cam­eras also have built-in wifi, so you can use your phone to con­trol them, and to trans­fer images on the go. For mo­bile pro­cess­ing, the free Snapseed app is hard to beat, while an app such as Cam­era 645 or Light­room Mo­bile will give you ac­cess to man­ual con­trols and al­low for shoot­ing in RAW – en­tirely un-pro­cessed – or DNG, Adobe's ‘stan­dard­ised' ver­sion of RAW. Both of these for­mats re­sult in much big­ger files, al­low­ing the images to be used much big­ger.

GET­TING THE SHOT Shoot­ing your­self brings sev­eral lim­i­ta­tions to what you can and can­not do: you can­not pan, move the cam­era, use con­tin­ual fo­cus or change fo­cal lengths. You can at least load the dice in your favour some­what though by set­ting the cam­era drive to con­tin­u­ous mode to grab sev­eral shots at a time. Set­ting the cor­rect ISO and aper­ture is cru­cial. I usu­ally go up 1-2 stops from where I would be shoot­ing some­one else, es­pe­cially if I want to move fast, other­wise mo­tion blur is likely. To­day most cam­eras have such a wide range of ISO that this is of­ten not a big prob­lem. Aper­ture choice comes down to what you want to achieve but typ­i­cally you'll want to be at f8 or f11 to give your­self some depth of field with­out bring­ing in too much dis­trac­tion from the back­ground. With self photography you will be away from the cam­era of course, so you have to de­cide on a spot to fo­cus on – im­pos­si­ble if there is noth­ing there to set that fo­cus on. You can judge this by trial and er­ror, go­ing back and forth but watch out if it's wet or hu­mid that the viewfinder doesn't fog up from all your back-and-forth. Man­ual fo­cus with the aid of fo­cus peak­ing – which high­lights the ar­eas to be in fo­cus – helps a lot if you have it. If not, aut­o­fo­cus on the ex­act spot you plan to be, then switch to man­ual fo­cus. Once you have your shots, make a zoomed-in image check be­fore mov­ing the cam­era, in case you need to re-shoot. Work­ing this way doesn't al­ways give me the su­per-fast ac­tion shots I some­times want, but it lib­er­ates me from al­ways need­ing a buddy along and the as­sur­ance that I can do what I want to do and still get the shots I need.


TRIAL AND ER­ROR Catch­ing just the right mo­ment takes long and pa­tient prac­tice.

PRE­DICT­ING SUC­CESS Self-photography means get­ting good at an­tic­i­pat­ing what gear you will need and how to get the best out of it.

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