Story and Photography by Don Komarechka
Dipping your feet into the world of photography can be a wonderful, creative experience, but it comes with challenges. Because photographic topics and genres can be so varied, you might want to spend some time exploring various facets of the art form; this can get expensive. Photographic equipment usually carries a high price, and many beginners shy away from high price tags because they’re not sure if the expense is worthwhile. There are some photographic tools, however, that are inexpensive and allow you to explore photography in new and exciting ways. What can you add to your camera bag?
Third hand tools
For many years I’ve used “third hand” tools to hold my photographic subjects in place. These tools are designed for use by jewellers or for electronic repair and tinkering. The most common variety has two alligator clips and a magnifying glass, but some variations come with tweezer-like tools, all positionable from a solid base. You can find them for as little as $5, and they make a world of difference in photographing flowers and plants.
The clips and clamps can hold your subject still and remove frustration, but also allow for precise positioning of photographic elements to truly make your image your own. One of the biggest steps a beginner can make is the shift from “taking a photograph” to “making a photograph,” and third hand tools help with that.
We all enjoy sunny summer days, and such cheerful weather often creates a desire to go out and take pictures. The least obvious tool to bring along with you in this scenario is an umbrella, but it’s exactly what I recommend taking. Harsh sunlight at midday is rarely an ingredient in a great image, and the umbrella is the tool to soften light. You’ll want an umbrella with a long handle; the handle will act as a stand when you’re attempting to photograph subjects low to the ground, and when opened, the umbrella itself will diffuse the sunlight and scatter the light rays, turning it into a “soft box” for the sun.
If you plan on using the natural sunlight, choose a white umbrella that blocks very little light but simply scatters it, giving you soft and uniform light that helps you create better images. If you’re going to experiment with flash photography, use a black umbrella — the darker shadows will give your flash more impact in the scene. If you’re feeling creative and ready to experiment, use a coloured umbrella, which will impart its own colours into the scene that you’re photographing. Being a sunny day, why not try a parasol as well if you’ve got one?
I distinctly remember the first time I needed a flashlight in my camera bag and it wasn’t there. I was shooting post-sunset in the “Grotto,” a beautiful photographic location in the Bruce Peninsula of Ontario. The resulting image was featured in a previous issue of Outdoor Photography Canada (issue 33, page 30). After taking plenty of images and waiting for just the right moment, I quickly realized my peril — the sun had set, and the way back to the trail head was a half-hour walk through uneven terrain, beginning with a small cliff I needed to climb. A simple flashlight would have made a world of difference, and having one might have encouraged me to stay out shooting the stars as night approached.
A flashlight is not just a navigational and safety tool that every photographer should have handy; it also has many creative purposes. From light painting to a simple prop to hold up in an image, a flashlight can serve as a creative aid and help you make more daring images. One such example found its use for me in later winter while attempting to photograph freezing soap bubbles. The flashlight was the light source.
With a strong LED flashlight (prices continue to drop on these tools), it can act as a primary light source for any composition on a small scale. From flowers to soap bubbles, water droplets to insects, it can be an easy-to-understand tool for photographers who want to experiment with flash photography, but find it difficult to get a good understanding of instantaneous light. Flashlights, being continuous, allow for easier adjustment with immediate feedback before an image is taken. This can be an excellent learning tool, and a great introduction to controlling your light source.
All of these items can be used together. A flashlight, an umbrella and a “third hand” tool can help you make better images in the garden, with wildflowers, or any small subject. Taking control of the variables that define your photograph is the first step a beginner should take on their way to creative compositions.
For more great how-to tips from our other professional photographers , please pick up the Summer/Fall 2015 issue of OPC today, or subscribe and never miss an issue!