18 Oct. 2010

Lesson 3 - White balance and Focal Point

Thursday last week saw the first true clouds above Dubai since May, and with it came a breeze that silently drove out the blasted humidity. Instead of being 35 degrees celcius and feeling 46, it was 35 with a sea breeze and just enough moisture in the air to make it smell good. This had to be celebrated with Gin and tonic, and much of it. So by the time my next lesson came around I was at the end of a 3-day hangover, and sat in the corner with my sunglasses on for the duration. Fortunately there were handouts, because things are starting to get interesting.

White balance was not my highlight, because this is often automatic and apparently the only 'auto' function we are officially allowed to use. However, it can be particularly useful in creating fake suntans on yourself and completely washing out all your attractive friends. Like black and white photography, it can also be used to create interest in a picture that may be a little dull, which I found while walking around Bastakiya (see assignment 3) - dusty brown walls can become warm teracotta, and cave-like white-washed rooms can become cozy ethnic retreats. It's very simple - just a choice in the function settings - sunny, cloudy, flourescent (my setting - instant bronzing for polar bears), tungsten and flash.

But off the technical stuff, and back to the art - focal points! The focal point is the central point of interest, the resting place of the photograph. You need to get your audience there, but ALSO, you need to hold them. The eye will naturally rest on a third intersection - but how do you get people to look there, then around it, then there, then around it, then there, then around.....you get the point....
1. Focus - as distinct from focal point - blur other aspects either in front or behind your subject - this can be done with depth of field (small aperture means small focus area ergo rest of stuff is fuzzy), or with low shutter speeds if the subject is still and surrounded by movement (i.e. me in the lesson)
2. Size - you can make your focal point large so it stands out (go figure...)
3. Colour - use it to create contrast. Think Marylin Monroe onstage in a fuchsia satin dress surrounded by guys in suits.
4. Shape - again, creating contrast - think me slumped in a corner during a lesson, and all my fellow pupils sitting up straight and wide eyed like hungry puppies

So I guess this also helps us figure out whether the photograph is actually worth taking. Although, there are always exceptions - some great photos have no focal point at all. But I'm not ready for great yet - lets just stick with ordinary until at least December.