Bluff Camera Club
In This Issue
White balance explained
ND Grad filters
Mastering the F-Stop:
B y : M A G G I E K I N G GUIDES July 10, 2019 Add to Favorites
When you’re mastering photography, your first stop will probably be the f-stop. Don’t let all
those numbers on your lens intimidate you! The concept may feel counterintuitive at first if
you’re not mathematically minded, but we can promise you that the f-stop is a cinch once
you’ve got your head wrapped around it. Coming from some pretty non-mathy people, that
means a lot.
Let’s start with a pretty photo to illustrate our topic:
Photo by Eberhard Grossgasteiger on Unsplash
This shot gets us up-close and personal with the f-stop. Here you can spot two features that’ll
help you to understand what an f-stop is:
1. The Aperture – The small hole at the back of the camera’s lens. This hole lets light travel
through the lens. The f-number (also known as the focal ratio, f-ratio, or the f-stop) is the word
we use when we’re measuring the aperture’s diameter.
2. The Blades – These bad boys close in or retract in a circular motion to make the aperture
larger or smaller, according to your adjustments.
You’ll want to use your f-stop for two things:
1. Adjusting the amount of light in your photo;
2. Adjusting the amount of clarity or blur present in your photo (the depth of field).
It’s important to note that f-stop calculations are made for you when your camera is in
automatic mode. That might take some extra mental gymnastics off your plate, but remember
that in this mode your camera adjusts the f-number with mathematical, not artistic,
Imagine you’ve been asked to take photos at a friend’s graduation. For one shot, you’ve
decided to snap a candid photo of your friend during the ceremony. Since there are other
grads standing nearby, they are also in the shot. But you’d really like to focus on your friend
(you’re there to capture his moment, after all).
If you’ve opted to shoot the scene in automatic mode, your camera’s calculations will be
geared toward providing the best exposure for the entire scene. That means it will focus on
the whole crowd, instead of just your friend. In order to manifest your creative vision, you’ll
have to adjust the f-stop on your camera manually. In manual mode, you’ll be able to
selectively focus on the grad.
See what a dramatic impact it makes?
This is the kind of stuff we’re going to talk about in this guide. You will learn how to
manipulate your f-stop to reach your artistic goals, so you don’t have to rely on your camera’s
calculations to get the outcome you’re looking for. Let’s get started!
The f-stop is only one kind of stop. Any of the three elements in the exposure triangle can be
“stopped up” or “stopped down.” When you’re reading about photography techniques, just
remember that the f-stop exclusively refers to aperture, while the more generic, plain “stop”
can refer to other aspects of photography.
What’s an F-Stop?
Your camera f-stop controls two things:
How much light can enter your lens;
The depth of field (DOF) in your image.
Here’s the thing that trips most people up at first:
The smaller your f-stop number is, the bigger the opening of your aperture.
We know this is counterintuitive, so let’s start by illustrating the concept:
A stop is one way photographers like to talk about measuring light. Each movement up a stop
doubles the amount of light entering the camera, but decreases the numerical value (for
example, going from f/8 to f/5.6 is one stop up). That’s right friends, here comes the math.
Each movement down a stop halves the amount of light that comes through your lens, but
increases the numerical value (for example, going from f/2 to f/2.8 is one stop down). We’ll
cover this concept in greater detail later.
These numbers might seem strange until you understand what they mean exactly. Without
getting too much into the complicated math behind f-stops, here’s an easy explanation that
may help you get a grasp on why f-stops are written as they are:
F-stops are actually ratios. They are derived from your lens’ focal length divided by the
diameter of your aperture. They represent a fraction of your aperture opening. For instance, an
f-stop of f/4 means 1/4th or 25 percent of the lens is open. On a 100mm lens, f/4 would
measure 25mm or about an inch.
This fraction is why a lower number is actually a bigger aperture than a higher number. Think
of it like a pie – 1/4th of a pie is obviously much larger than 1/8th of a pie (or f/8). A larger
opening of f/4 lets more light into your lens than a smaller opening of f/8.
Still, you’re probably wondering why f-stops aren’t all whole numbers. Your f-stop scale
includes more numbers than just those halving and doubling exposure. For instance, between
f/2 and f/4 you also see f/3.2 and f/3.5. These are thirds of a stop, and they’re there to give
you more control.
It’s worth noting that this is probably not information you will use at every shoot. Once you
get a feel for shooting in manual or aperture priority, you’ll get a lot better at eyeballing the
right setting. But understanding the theory behind it is never a bad thing, and now you do. Or
if you don’t yet, you’re about to.
Give it a try yourself by filling in the blanks here – and remember, the answer is the opposite
of what you might expect! (Scroll down to the bottom of the article for the answers.)
1. An f-number of f/1.4 lets in _______ light than an f/4.
Fill in the blank with either: more or less
2. _____ lets in way more light than ______.
Fill in the blanks with either: f/2.8 or f/16
3. _____ lets in way less light than ______.
Fill in the blanks with either: f/2 or f/10
As we mentioned previously, the aperture is the hole that allows light to shine through your
lens (and the f-number measures the diameter of that hole). It’s basically the eye of your
camera (think of the shutter as your eyelid), and it’s similar to your eye in a lot of ways.
Think about how your pupils expand to let more light in when you’re in the dark. This is
exactly how aperture works.
A larger aperture (lower stop number) allows more light into your camera lens, as shown in
the image on the left. While a smaller aperture (higher stop number) allows less light into
your lens, as shown in the image on the right:
top photo by Agence Olloweb on Unsplash. Bottom photo by ShareGrid on Unsplash.
A larger aperture lets more light into the camera’s sensor to produce less focus and a shallow
depth of field. Conversely, a smaller aperture forces light into a narrow beam that produces
more focus and a wider depth of field. (Don’t worry, we’ll get into depth of field a little
You can probably gather from this that darker scenes will usually require a wider f-stop, while
bright scenes require a more narrow f-stop, to avoid overexposure. That’s really the most
crucial thing to understand about aperture: how to use it to maintain detail and definition in
your highlights and shadows, regardless of the light you’re contending with at any particular
In some lenses, maximum aperture is fixed, but there are lenses on the market (called variable
aperture lenses) on which your maximum aperture can change. In variable aperture lenses,
your maximum aperture depends on how far you zoom in.
The F-Stop Scale
Now it’s time to grab your camera for some hands-on experience. Quickly find a scene you’d
like to capture (it doesn’t have to be fancy; anything that’s at your fingertips will do at this
point). Now snap several photos, changing your f-stop each time. Have a look at the resulting
photos – notice how the levels of crispness and light change in each image.
By completing this exercise, you’ve taken photos along the f-stop scale.
Depth of Field
Simply put, depth of field is how much of your image is in focus compared to how much of
your image is out of focus (or blurry).
Shooting with a shallow DOF simply means that less of your image is in focus.
Photo by Kelen Loewen on Unsplash
Lenses with a wide aperture (and smaller f-stop number) like f/1.2 or f/1.4 are best for
shallow depth of field.
Shooting a wide depth of field means most – or all – of your image is in focus.
The sharpness and clarity in this photo of roaming elephants exemplify a wide depth of field:
Image by cocoparisienne from Pixabay
To keep both the foreground and the background in focus for a photo spanning a lot of
distance like this one does, try using stop settings of f/16 or f/22 (definitely over f/11). Also,
when you’re in the wide depth of field range, use the Sunny 16 Rule: On a sunny day, it’s best
to use stops of f/16 or higher.
If you love shooting with a wide depth of field, you are not alone. During the Great
Depression, there was a group of photographers who called themselves Group f/64. Famous
photographers, including Ansel Adams and Imogen Cunningham, were members. The
group’s mission was to make sure they captured their subjects realistically, so they were
committed to wide depths of field to reveal sharp (and therefore, more realistic) images. They
were against the Pictorialist movement of their time because Pictorialists favored images with
softly focused subjects and preferred portraits that resembled drawings or paintings.
Focal Length (and How It Impacts Depth of Field)
Lens focal length can also affect the depth of field in your images. Your focal length controls
your field of view (FOV), which is what you see in your viewfinder:
The longer your focal length, the smaller your field of view (this is good for isolating a
particular subject, like a person in a crowded place).
The shorter your focal length, the wider your field of view (good for capturing a wider scenes
“OK, great,” you might say. “But how does this affect depth of field?” Well, a wider field of
view tends to also yield a wider depth of field. So in general:
Short Focal Length = Wide Field of View = Wide Depth of Field
Long Focal Length = Small Field of View = Shallow Depth of Field
Sounds pretty simple right? But focal length is all about comparisons. It’s possible to still get
similar results (with regard to depth of field) from different focal lengths by adjusting the
settings we’ve already covered here. Yes, this does add yet another element into the mix, and
you can feel free to ignore it if you’re still getting your sea legs. Once you’re feeling
confident with adjusting stops to control depth of field, you can start adding lens focal length
to your depth of field toolkit.
A few tips to get you started:
To change the focal length of your lens, turn your lens to zoom in or out.
To see how far you’ve zoomed in, look at the scale. It’s usually located at the end of the lens
that attaches to the camera.
If you snapped a great shot where you loved the focal length you used, you can go back into
the properties of the photo to see where your focal length was so you can replicate the same
focal length later.
What It Means to Stop Up and Stop Down
Pop quiz! If someone asks you to “stop down,” you:
a. Increase your stop number.
b. Decrease your stop number.
c. If you’re photographing your subject on a staircase, tell them to go down a step.
d. Realize that it’s time for another tricky photography vocabulary learning moment.
If you chose A, you’re technically right, but if you chose D, we’ll still give you the point.
If someone asks you to “stop down,” you’ll increase your f-number. If someone were to ask
you to “stop up,” you would decrease your f-number. Think of stopping up in terms of
aperture size, not the actual number.
Here’s a handy cheat: when you hear “stop up,” think “open up,” because that’s what you’re
doing. Don’t worry visual learners, we’re coming at you with a chart:
What’s the Exposure Triangle?
We mentioned it briefly above, but here’s the full story on the exposure triangle. For proper
exposure, you need three elements working in tandem: shutter speed, ISO, and aperture.
These elements all control the amount of light entering your camera, but they each do so in
their own unique way.
By WClarke [CC BY-SA 4.0 ], from Wikimedia Commons
We’ve already talked about what aperture is (the opening that allows light to travel through
your lens and hit your camera sensor). Now, let’s briefly review ISO and shutter speed.
Your ISO is the sensitivity of the digital sensor in your camera. When the ISO value is higher,
your camera doesn’t need to collect as much light for the right exposure.
Your shutter speed refers to the amount of time your shutter is open, allowing the light from
your lens to hit the sensor. This is measured in seconds, or fractions of them. A faster speed
(where the shutter is open for a shorter amount of time) lets in less light. A slower speed
(where the shutter is open for a longer time) allows more light in.
Let’s go back a ways and elaborate on a loose comparison from earlier to help you visualize
what each point of the triangle does: if your eye is the camera, the aperture is your pupil. It
expands and contracts to accommodate the amount of light you need in a particular situation.
The shutter is your eyelid. When it’s open, light can travel through for your brain to interpret
into a scene. When it’s closed, you’re out of luck. The ISO is how much light your eye can
stand at a time. You know how some people can look right at bright lights while others squint
and tear up? Think of that when you think of ISO.
The main similarity between changing your f-stop to adjust aperture and changing your ISO
or shutter speed is that all three will impact the exposure of an image. If you change one for
artistic purposes, you may need to make adjustments somewhere else to keep the light
balanced in your image.
What do we mean by “artistic purposes?” Changing your f-stop for light balancing will also
change your depth of field. But for artistic reasons you may want exactly the depth of field
you already have. In this case, you will need to change something else to get the right
exposure. ISO and shutter speed have their own little quirks as well:
Changing ISO can change the noise level in a shot. The higher your ISO, the more digital
noise you will see in the end product. That’s why ISO on its own isn’t always the magic cure
for a low-lighting situation.
Shutter speed affects how motion is captured. The longer a shutter is open, the more motion
and blur it will capture. That’s why sports photographers use super, super quick shutter
speeds that will freeze that Play of the Week into a newsworthy action shot.
As you can see, playing with each of these settings to get the proper exposure is an art form in
and of itself. To master the triangle, you are going to have to experiment and practice.
Thankfully, there’s a shortcut (see the next section on Aperture Priority Mode) you can use
while you brush up on your triangle techniques.
To Wrap Things Up…
We’ve covered a lot of ground in this guide. You should have a good grasp on how f-stops
affect your aperture, how to control exposure and depth of field by stopping up or down, and
have a solid understanding of the theory behind f-numbers and focal lengths.
If there’s one thing we hope you take away, is that the wider your aperture, the smaller your
f-number will be. It’s not rocket science, but can take a little getting used to when you want to
shoot fast without thinking. Start practicing with some stationary subjects or still life setups to
give you plenty of time to make adjustments and play around. Your comfort level will grow
with every shot, and soon you’ll be ready to move on to your next photography adventure!
Answers to Exercises:
2. f/2.8 lets in way more light than f/16.
3. f/10 lets in way less light than f/2.
Everyone wants to photograph gorgeous sunrise and sunset skies. So
the question is often asked: how does one get dramatic and colorful
sunset or sunrise light? has the story
Cloud cover determines what light you get, how
much, and its intensity. Clouds can also catch
sunrise and sunset light, often glowing in fiery
red and orange colors. I think it is fair to say that
clouds are key to getting really great light. In fact,
the most intense light on the landscape occurs
when clouds in the sky catch the light – if enough
clouds light up, they can act as giant reflectors,
bouncing that light onto the landscape below.
Although getting up early and staying out late are
prerequisites to getting great sunrise and sunset
light, it helps to learn what types of weather patterns
are most conducive to getting great skies. Although
predicting the weather is an uncertain endeavor
even for professional forecasters, successful
landscape photography requires a certain amount
of ‘weather sense’. Although this sense is often
intuitive and honed over years of field experience,
here are a few tips to help you optimize your
chances of catching the best clouds and light.
Partly to mostly cloudy skies generally give
you the best chance of getting colorful sunsets.
Although you want a lot of clouds in the sky to
catch the color of the rising or setting sun, too
many clouds will block the light. Of course, the
clouds will do what they will do, but it pays to be
on location when mixed cloud cover is present.
Skies with clouds that lack definition (basically,
uniformly overcast skies) don’t generally result in
great sunrise or sunset images. Distinct clouds with
definition, on the other hand, give you a reasonably
good chance of awesome light. When clouds have separation, light can sometimes break through
the gaps to produce stunning results, even when cloud cover is significant. Often, the best time to
catch great light is when a storm is clearing at sunrise or sunset. Storm clouds are often very
large, dramatic, and photogenic. All you need is a tiny gap at the horizon, right where the sun is, to
set fire to an otherwise completely cloudy sky.
Even after (or before) the light is at its peak, interesting clouds in the sky can create compelling
photography conditions. For example, during a recent photo shoot in Chile’s Patagonia region,
I was with some workshop clients during a beautiful sunrise. There were just enough clouds in the sky
to make the light colorful and the compositions exciting. My favorite moment from the shoot,
however, occurred over a half-hour after sunrise,when the light began to cool somewhat. A few
clouds drifted over the mountains, creating a dynamic radial pattern. Without the clouds,
the image wouldn’t have worked all that well. With the clouds, everything came together.
Online weather services can help immensely when trying to predict good conditions, especially
if they offer hour-by-hour forecasts. Satellite maps showing cloud movement over time are also very
helpful. I have a few weather apps loaded on my smartphone, so I can check cloud movement
via satellite in real time. This helps me when I am trying to determine the best location for an
upcoming sunrise or sunset shoot. If I can, I aim to be on location at a spot that will be near the
edge of a weather front during the magic hours. Nothing, however, beats simply being on
location as much as possible. The worst feeling in the world is to walk away from a scene
because conditions seem bleak, only to have the sky light up with beautiful color. If there are
clouds in the sky, I try to be on location with plenty of time to spare for sunrise or sunset.
So when you have good clouds in the sky, make sure you are out there, waiting for the light show
to begin. You might get nothing, as seemingly optimal clouds might just as easily block the light.
But if the show goes off, you’ll regret not being there. As the saying goes, once bitten, twice shy!
Ian is a full time professional nature photographer,
writer, and adventurer. His work has appeared in
numerous magazines, books and calendars. He is
also the author of a number of ebooks and digital
processing video tutorials.
Torres del Paine National Park, Chile
Canon 5D Mk III
Canon 16-35mm f/2.8L II @ 16mm
f/14, 0.5sec, ISO 50
3-stop ND filter
White Balance a beginner’s guide
What we see as transmitted white light actually consists of a spectrum of colours from red to violet.
Red, green and blue are the primary colours and can be mixed to produce all the other colours, including
white, which is produced when equal amounts of red, green and blue light are mixed. The best way
to understand white balance is to think about why a white card looks white. It does so because it reflects
all the colours of the visible light spectrum equally. A red card on the other hand reflects only red light
and absorbs green and blue light. The white card reflects all colours equally so it looks white, provided
(and this is very important) it is illuminated by pure white light i.e. light with all the colours of the spectrum
equally present. Light looks more orange/yellow during sunrise or sunset because at those times the
sunlight contains more of the red end of the visible spectrum and less of the blue/violet end, due to its
oblique passage through the Earth’s atmosphere. Photographers commonly refer to this as warm light. A
similar effect is produced by electric light bulbs with tungsten filaments. Conversely, light looks rather
blue when viewed in the shade on a cloudless day, because it is lit by the cool light of a blue sky. You
may have to look carefully to notice these colour shifts because your brain is very good at ‘seeing’ the
colours that it expects to perceive. Your brain expects the card to be white so it tells you that it is white.
Cameras do not normally do this correction so they record these colour shifts unless told what kind of
light source is present. So, setting the white balance on your camera is your way of informing the in-
camera software what kind of light source is illuminating your scene. Is it bright daylight, cloudy daylight,
diffused light in a shady place or artificial light? If you set the white balance to match the conditions it will
present a realistic looking image with white objects looking white and realistic looking colours. Cameras
also have an ‘auto white balance’ setting. The camera makes an estimate of the relative amounts of
warm and cool colours and alters the colour data to balance them. It goes without saying that this
process can be fooled by a scene with a lot of subject matter of one colour, although it does seem to
work well with most mixed scenes. You can also do a custom white balance by taking a photograph of
a white or neutral grey card then telling the camera to use this as a reference – your camera manual
will tell you how. It works in the same way as auto WB without the risk of the camera being fooled
by too much of one colour. You can also place a white or midgrey card in your composition and use the
eye-dropper colour picker tool in Lightroom or Photoshop to set the white point. What are the
consequences of getting the white balance wrong? Well, your images will look either too warm or too
cool. Can youcorrect this later? Yes, and no. It all depends whether you shot in RAW or jpeg mode.
Remember that a RAW file contains the unprocessed and uncompressed data from every pixel on the
sensor. It contains the actual levels of blue, red and green light recorded. When loaded into your
computer those colours are adjusted based on the white balance setting in the camera to present you
with (hopefully) a properly white balanced image. Note that the original colour data is still there, so that
you can alter the white balance setting after shooting and see exactly what you would have had if you
had used that WB setting in-camera. A jpeg on the other hand is compressed and processed in the
camera at the time of shooting and that processing irreversibly alters the colour information in the file
based on the white balance setting in the camera. In addition, the 4096 distinct tones of red, green or
blue are rounded up or down by the in-camera software to the nearest value from a choice of 256. This
makes the files smaller but the colours are altered in a way that it is impossible to completely reverse
later. You can reduce major colour casts but it is never as good as it is with a RAW file. Here are my
recommendations for using the white balance controls on your camera.
a. Always use RAW so that you can alter the WB setting later.
b. Use the daylight setting most of the time for landscapes. Why not auto WB? Because it tends to
normalise everything in a way you might not want creatively. Why not record that golden light at sunset,
or that cool blue light you get in the shade on bright cloudless days? Not only does this best realise my
artistic vision, it actually looks ‘right’ to me. This may be because I rememberseeing such colour shifts
when I used daylight balanced film in my pre-digital days. Even now we are pre-programmed to some
degree by all the past images taken on film that we still see every day.
c. Use custom white balance for indoor photography. I do this because electric lighting is actually very
variable and the tungsten setting cangive quite unrealistic skintones in my experience.
As usual in these articlesI like to finish with a real image.I took this ‘big sky’ scene early
one morning near my home in Perthshire, Scotland. I particularly liked the rich combinations of golds and
blues as the sun rose into broken cloud. I shot in RAW (of course!) and the main image (my artistic
preference) has a white balance setting of 4850K (just a little on the blue side of daylight). The others are
conversions from the same RAW file with WB settings of 3350K (more blue) and 7500K (more gold) to
show how powerfully an image can be changed yet still look believable. None of them is more correct or
valid than the others; it is all a matter of personal artistic vision.
Mike Bell is a semi pro
photographer and resident
of Scotland. He is also a
very enthusiastic tutor,
highly passionate with landscape
photography and loves spending time
To see more of his work visit
In Praise of ND Grad Filters
We can achieve balanced exposures in landscape photography in various ways.
However, as will testify, his favourite way is to use the humble ND
There are many ways to achieve balanced exposures in landscape photographs. Blending multiple
exposures is popular, either using HDR techniques, hand blending or using luminosity masks in
Photoshop. Some people also dodge, in camera, using a black card but my preferred method for the
vast majority of my images is to use the humble Neutral Density Graduated Filter or ND Grad. I’m sure
filters need no introduction to most readers but for any beginners that are reading this article, ND Grads
are rectangular filers that slot into a filter holder that is fitted to the front of the lens via an adaptor ring.
Most are made of optical resin and are clear, with the top third dyed neutral grey. They come in hard and
soft transitions and are made by several companies, including Lee, Cokin, Hi-Tech and Sing Ray. I won’t
go into the pros and cons of each system/manufacturer here as reviews have been written in previous
issues. What I want to do is talk about how I use the filters to create dramatic landscape images. For me
they are an essential tool that I couldn’t do without; it speaks volumes that every single person that has
been on a workshop with me has gone out and bought a set. If we look at the two images here, the small
image was captured without any filters. I set the camera to ‘Manual’ and then wound the exposure up
until the foreground looked right on the live view screen (with exposure simulation turned on).
Sony A7R & Zeiss 35mm f1.4
Distago Metabones Adaptor
f/16, 0.6sec, ISO 100
Gitzo tripod & Really Right Stuff head
Unfortunately, the result is that although the bulk of the image looks lovely, the sky is basically missing.
The reason for this is that even the best modern cameras still don’t have a dynamic range
that approaches that of the human eye. This means you can either have a perfectly exposed foreground
and a blown out sky or you can have a well exposed dramatic sky and a dark lifeless foreground. It is
impossible to capture both on camera without using filters.The main image was shot using exactly the
same settings but this time I used ND Grad filters to balance the exposure between sky and foreground.
Experience allows you to make an educated guess as to how much filtration to apply but I often start with
a 0.6 (2 stop) Hard Grad. After setting the exposure for the foreground I slide the filter downwards to
cover the sky. I then evaluate the image to decide if the sky is still too bright, about right, or too dark and
either apply more or less filtration accordingly. In this case I ended up using two 0.6 hard grads – four
stops in total. One of them was pushed down so it started to cover the top part of the hills in the distance.
I did this deliberately as I felt the slight haze was bleaching them out a bit more than I would have liked.
The second filter was then pushed down to just cover the sky. Unfortunately, as is often the case, the
summit (Roseberry Topping) is sticking up and consequently this is also clipped by the filter and
darkened further. I could have recovered this small part of the image when processing the RAW file but I
decided not to as to my eyes it looked fine, slightly silhouetted against the bright sky. This of course is
only my subjective opinion, as is the amount of filtration to apply – other people might have preferred
a different balance with a darker sky or lighter foreground. To be honest, this is the main reason I like
using filters in the field rather than blending exposures later. It means that I can compare the image on
the back of the camera to the view in front of me and decide if it does the view justice, capturing how
it feels to be there. If it doesn’t, I can change the exposure to make the whole image lighter or
darker or adjust the filtration to change the balance across the frame. I enjoy this approach. My
preference is for natural looking images, and getting it as right as possible on camera, allows me to
confidently say I achieved my goal. If I blend exposures, which I occasionally do for particularly difficult
images, I’m always torn as to exactly how the two frames should be balanced and never feel completely
happy with the end result. It also takes a lot longer than simply sliding a filter into its holder but that’s just
my opinion. I am certainly not saying that blending exposures is wrong, far from it. I just want to sing the
praises of the humble ND grad as a simple and effective method of capturing images with well-balanced
Dennis is a professional landscape
photographer and one-to-one
workshop tutor based in North
Yorkshire in England. He is currently
focusing his attention on the landscapes and
coast of his beautiful and picturesque home
To view more of his work visit
THE LAW AND STREET P HOTOGRAPHY IN SOUTH AFRICA
JUL 24, 2015 BY CRAIG FOUCHÉ
THE LAW AND STREET PHOTOGRAPHY IN SOUTH
This blog has been adapted and shared from here.
FIRST THE DISCLAIMER: I AM NOT A LAWYER, OR QUALIFIED IN ANY WAY TO GIVE LEGAL ADVICE. THIS ARTICLE IS
THE RESULT OF MY RESEARCH AND IS OFFERED FOR INFORMATIONAL PURPOSES ONLY. IF IN DOUBT, CONSULT A
REGISTERED LEGAL PRACTITIONER IN YOUR AREA WHO SPECIALISES IN THIS FIELD.
What does the law say about photography, and street photography in South Africa, here is the bottom line when it comes
to taking photographs in public places in South Africa.
In South Africa, any person can take a photograph that includes any other person, without permission. A photographer
does not need your permission to take your photograph, if he or she is on public property when he or she does so. It does
not matter that you may be on private property at the time, for example, on the upstairs balcony of your home and a
person walking past on the public pavement outside, snaps your picture.
SEEN FROM A PUBLIC AREA
You have the right to take photos of anyone or anything if it can be seen from a public area. This includes parks, city
streets and sporting events or concerts. This also allows for any private property or buildings to be shot from within the
public domain. Any person and member of the public is basically wavering their right to anonymity or privacy by
appearing in these areas and is therefore fair subject matter for images.
“Whoa! Hold on!” I can almost hear you scream. “There must be some exceptions.”
Yes there are.
Members of the public only have rights in a place where privacy is a reasonable assumption. Put your camera away in
restrooms, private houses, changing rooms etc.
Once we leave public domain and enter private property we are subject to their rights of admission.
The only other restriction on what may or may not be photographed is that specifically placed there by government and
covers matters of national security. This usually means military installations and infrastructure and can include police
stations, airports, bridges, consulates, embassies, transportation facilities and border crossings. Taking a photograph of
any of these is illegal and will likely end you in hot water.
The problem in many cities in South Africa, unlike other cities in the world, is, most of the places where members
of the public gather, are privately owned. Shopping malls immediately spring to mind and there, photographers
are subject to the terms and conditions laid down by the owners or managers of the property. Often this includes
a “no photography” condition.
Most shopping centres have “no photography’ signage posted at all their entrances and can refuse you
permission to enter or ask you to leave. Security guards are within their rights to prevent your taking photographs
and ask you to leave but they may not confiscate your equipment, destroy images or detain you in any way.
Should you refuse to leave they may bring a charge of trespass against you.
It is important to bear in mind many locations that seem to be public places are, in fact, privately owned. Two
examples are the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town and Melrose Arch in Johannesburg.
It would be prudent if you are doing landscape photography to “meet and greet” the farmer of the lands you wish to
photograph; with crime levels and farm murders as they are, you certainly wouldn‟t want to be shot at whilst shooting a
wonderful vineyard scene etc.
Okay, so you‟ve shot an awesome image of someone on the street, what are you allowed to do with the image?
Images of people for personal or “fair use” purposes include: news, satire, works of art and informational or
educational purposes. This means you can legally publish the image on your news or photographic arts blog. You
can also sell that print as an artwork, without the subject’s permission.
However, the photographer may not use an image in a way that misrepresents the subject. That is to say you
cannot publish the photograph in a context that directly states or implies anything about the subject that is
untrue. This would constitute an act of libel and may lead to legal recourse against the photographer.
If you plan to use the image for commercial purposes (create an advertising campaign or sell it to a stock-photo
agency, for example,) you will require a model release signed by the person photographed. An individual has sole
rights to their persona being used for commercial promotion.
In a nutshell for street photographers:
I have broken no law by making a photograph of you.
I am under no obligation to explain to you what I am doing or why I am doing it.
I am under no obligation to show you the photograph I have made.
I am under no obligation to identify myself to you.
The photograph I have made is legally my property.
Although I don’t do it, I am fully within my rights to continue making photographs of you while you are in
conversation with me.
If you attempt to physically restrain me from doing so by touching my person, you are breaking the law. If you do
not wish to be photographed the only legal way you can prevent it is to move away from the scene.
If you threaten me physically you are breaking the law.
A smile and an explanation will diffuse most situations. Showing the subject the image and offering to email it to
him or her, goes a long way and will often result in an invitation to take more photographs.
But, in the end you need to make a judgement call. Trying to explain your legal rights to three, steroid-addled,
bouncers, who insist you delete the photo you shot of them while they stood outside on the pavement, may be
an exercise in painful futility. Only you can decide if the photograph is worth the hassle.
Copyright only applies to physically manifested work; this can be in the form of a photograph or a digital file. It does not
apply to a thought or idea or concept for an image. Whoever „reduced such ideas into material form‟ will then be the
person holding the rights to that work regardless of whether or not it was their concept. The person who holds the rights
to an image is therefore its creator, and does not need to be the person responsible for pressing the shutter release on the
camera specifically, but rather the person responsible for the artistic input, which includes styling, lighting, sets and
Where South African law differs from international law is in the line “commissioned photographs are owned by the
commissioner (client)” This means freelance photographers have no rights to their work. This is a contentious issue that
may be covered in further articles and forums. But fortunately this issue can be circumvented by mutual agreement even
when it takes the form of a verbal agreement. The act allows for negotiation of these default terms, and consequently
any agreement negotiated comes under contract law which then overrides the Copyright Law.
Copyright is automatic; you do not need to take any action to ensure your photograph is protected by the law. Adding the
copyright logo to an image only serves as a reminder that the creator reserves rights on the usage of the image. Secondly
it allows interested parties to know who to contact if they want to obtain rights for an image. Marking an image with
copyright information should include the copyright owners name, the year the image was first made public or was
published, the copyright symbol and which rights are reserved. (These can include all rights being reserved or
commercial use, uses other than for educational purposes, print and publication more than a single form of media etc.)
Copyright is valid for 50 years from when an image was made public or the first date of publication.
You can take a photo of anyone, anywhere as the act of taking a photo is not illegal. There are few exceptions which
pertain to government installations that carry restrictions. The photographer has to carry out his shoot being mindful not
to infringe on others right to privacy, accommodate trespass laws and should be cognisant not to infringe on the
copyright of other artworks. Bearing in mind the taking of photos and the publishing of photos are two separate issues.
Digital Photography Courses
Smit and van Wyk Attorneys
Everyday Magic: Giuseppe
Esposito – Rodrigues’ tips for
Photography is in Giuseppe Esposito-Rodrigues' DNA. He was born in Venezuela to an Italian father who
loved shooting landscapes and a Portuguese mother with a passion for travel photography. It was only
natural for Giuseppe to follow in his parents' photographic footsteps.
Since 2013, he's been based in Dublin, walking its riverside avenues and lamp-lit lanes to capture his
cinematically striking yet quietly intimate street photography, which has appeared in publications
including Lonely Planet and Culture Trip. In the past Giuseppe has favoured his Canon EOS 5D Mark III
(now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) teamed with either a Canon EF 24-70mm f2.8L II
USM lens, a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM lens or a Canon EF 85mm f/1.4L IS USM lens. Recently,
though, he has been exploring the very portable Canon EOS M6 Mark II.
"The Canon EOS M6 Mark II is a great all-rounder for street photographers because it combines high
resolution (32.5 megapixels), burst shooting (14fps) and great video (4K without a crop) with a sturdy
grip, which makes it very comfortable to hold when shooting on the streets for longer periods." Like
other Canon EOS M cameras, the EOS M6 Mark II can be used with a Canon Mount Adapter EF-EOS
M to enable you to use a huge choice of over 80 EF-S and EF lenses, including specialist lenses such as
macro and fisheye.
Here Giuseppe shares his approach, techniques and tips for creative street photography.
1. Be sensitive to the public
Photographing crowds is a way of keeping the subject anonymous and
creating a shot that conveys the busy atmosphere
It's always advisable to check the legalities of street photography where you plan to shoot – but generally
speaking most countries permit photography in public places unless otherwise specified, and that includes
photography of pedestrians on the street and people in public places such as parks. Not everyone will take
kindly to having their picture taken, though. Giuseppe says: "What I do is quickly show them the pictures,
and hopefully they see I am coming at it from an artistic point of view. Sometimes I'll pull up my
Instagram so they can see that I'm not doing this for any other reason than for the love of the art, and they
normally appreciate that and relax."
2. Position yourself in one spot
Compose your image by choosing a background first and wait for the final shot to fall into place.
Busy environments are one of the biggest challenges of the genre. "Everything is constantly moving,"
Giuseppe says. "The light, the subject, the environment. Go back tomorrow, and you won't see the same
thing. You have to accept that you can't control anything. All you can do is have an idea and try to predict
when you can make that idea happen. It's about taking advantage of the scenario that's around you."
Giuseppe gives himself the best chance of success by first finding a backdrop he likes, then a corner he
can seclude himself in. "Basically when it's a busy street I find a corner and wait patiently for the right
person to get into the picture. I may move slightly to try and get something from a different angle or
perspective, but most of the time I set up myself in a place where I believe the background will work with
a subject, and I wait."
2. Choose the right shooting mode to tell your storyTaken
3. From his long experience, Giuseppe says the best mode for shooting on the street is Av mode.
"You don't have to control everything, just your aperture and maybe the ISO. You may need to
raise the ISO setting if you're shooting at night, and during the day it allows you to use faster
speeds with a small aperture, improving your chances of capturing a moving subject in focus."
Giuseppe typically uses wide apertures (low f-numbers), which help him to create his trademark
cinematic effect. "Shooting at f/1.4, f/1.8 or f/2.8 helps me to isolate the subject while making the
background blurry. It's still there, to help me to tell the story, but we don't need to see every single detail."
4. Select the best lens for the scene
Giuseppe has used the city structure in his composition, the tram lines lead the eye to the focal point in this image (left). Taken
on: Canon EOS M6 Mark II + EF-M32mm f/1.4 STM. Giuseppe has composed this shot (right) by capturing the matching
colours of the inside of the bus and the foliage visible through the window.
"People will tell you that for street photography you should use a focal length of 28-55mm, because this
is closest to what the human eye sees and therefore gives a natural perspective," Giuseppe says. "But for
me, the backdrop is just as important as the subject, so I tend to shoot at 24mm or 28mm." When out with
the Canon EOS M6 Mark II, he used the Canon EF-M 32mm f/1.4 STM lens to create the wide, open
scenes he enjoys. "The lens was so versatile in almost every situation I found myself in," he says. "I
particularly like the way it allowed me to capture atmospheric scenes by focusing on the whole scene,
instead of just a particular subject."
As well as shooting wide, Giuseppe has recently developed a preference for photographing from a
distance. "Lately I've found it more comfortable shooting with telephoto lenses, which many pros say not
to do. I believe this opinion is very old fashioned. Shooting with an 85mm lens or a telephoto zoom such
as the Canon EF-M 55-200mm f/4.5-6.3 IS STM lens allows me to keep some distance between me and
the subject, so I don't invade their privacy, helps me to isolate my subject, and causes the background to
become very blurry, which I like."
5. Focus on your subject
Focusing on one subject in a wider shot is a way of creating a focal point and framing the scene. This is Giuseppe's trademark
technique to get that cinematic feel
MTS 1.4 /f mm 32 M-FE + II kraM 6 M SOE nonaC htiw nekaT
For Giuseppe, the Canon EOS M6 Mark II has been a game-changer. "The autofocus is reliable and fast,
and the face and eye tracking are so accurate." That said, Giuseppe also urges street photographers to try
switching to manual focus for extra creativity. "Say I want to focus on somebody in the middle of the
scene, but I want all the people crossing the frame to be blurry in order to convey a sense of movement,
manual focus would be the better option."
6. Find ways to be creative
MSU II L 2.8 /f mm 70 - 24 FE nonaC + III kraM D 5 SOE nonaC htiw nekaT
Shooting with a focus on artificial light can add atmosphere to your images. Experimenting with reflective surfaces in street
photography can add another creative layer.
To create distinctive images, Giuseppe suggests shooting from an unusual angle or unconventional
viewpoint. One of his favourite techniques is looking for reflections in windows or other shiny surfaces.
"What I do is find people behind glass, whether it's a bus window or café etc, and I'll find an interesting
subject that's being reflected, which could be a building, a car or person," he says. "This layers the mood
within the image."
As well as windows, Giuseppe suggests experimenting with puddles and rivers to create interesting
He also recommends being willing to shoot into the light, and embracing artificial lighting. "Light is
everything in photography, we all know that, but it's how we play with the light that helps to create
impact," he says. If the light is harsh or direct, he suggests this is an opportunity to experiment with
silhouettes. "I'll find a background I like which is backlit, then wait for someone to come into the frame at
the right point. This is particularly good if you don't want to include the subject's face.
"Other times I love to use artificial light, from street signs or lamp posts, because it creates a mood and
helps to guide the focus of the viewer."
Freezing the movement in a scene like this gives the viewer a sense of the busy, vibrant atmosphere of the city street.
If you want to try street photography, Giuseppe has some simple advice: "Practise and practise and
practise," he says. "If you are passionate, eventually you will become better at whatever it is you want to
achieve and you will find your own style. I am still doing that today. I'm always practising. The best
advice I can give you is to just pick up a camera, go out there, and do it."
Nervous about shooting in public, or worried about people's reactions? "Photographing people in the
streets is a line you have to cross," Giuseppe adds. "The more you do it, the quicker you will feel more
comfortable when you are out there shooting, allowing you to concentrate on what actually matters –
getting that magical shot."
Written by Natalie Denton
Best Senior - WendtyFreer - Buffalo Close Up
Best Junior - No entries
Best Senior - Percy Mitchell - Cheetah Brothers
Best Junior - Sean Gunn
Green Pick Up Truck
Best Senior - Percy Mitchell - Gemsbuck Brawl
Best Junior - Sean Gunn - Under The Hood
Best Senior - Percy Mitchell - Snarling Leopard
Best Junior - Sean Gunn - Neon Moyo
Sunbathing - Hein van der Westhuizen
Snarling Leopard - Percy Mitchell
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