Photography basics in Dalston ft. Quintina Valero

“Photography is a way of feeling, of touching, of loving. What you have caught on film is captured forever… It remembers little things, long after you have forgotten everything.” (A. Siskind)

My history with Tina stretches back a decade when we were neighbors and part of the houseboat community in Butlers Wharf (not far from Tower Bridge) in 2005/06. I lived on the Dutch barge ‘Ijsbrandt’ and she lived next door in a flat-bottomed steel beast called ‘de lachende moor’. The later is still owned by the dad of my now godson, Paul, but his stories are for another day. I do remember helping to put up the basic structure of what would become Tina’s bedroom in the boat (Paul suffered from chronical lack of urgency when it came to these things). I also remember a god night out in Shoreditch afterwards to honour this achievement.

Tina made her move out of finance in Spain and into photojournalism already back then, studied photojournalism in London and is now one of the top newcomers in the photography world. Most of all she is one of the nicest people you can imagine. Do have a look at her amazing work (link). She has documented migration issues in Europe and Africa, life after Chernobyl (its been 30 years jn 2016!) and other important issues such as prostitution and human trafficking as featured in the Guardian here and the Sunday times (picture below).

Recent Sunday Times article ft. Tina

So when I needed some help to get started in photography … Tina was my first port of call and she didn’t let me down. We arranged to meet on a Monday in  her place in Dalston, East London (frankly an area I wouldn’t have visited 10y ago when I lived in nearby Shoreditch, but things have changed).

Since my new camera hadn’t arrived yet, we used her Canon and a 24/105mm lens with minimum aperture of 4.0. For basic stuff it doesn’t really depend on the model/make of the camera. Personally I use a Sony alpha 7r II with a 24/240mm (3.5 aperture) superzoom Sony lens and most likely a 35mm (1.4) fixed lens.

Intro to catching the right light

Topic for the day was how to use the camera in manual mode and make sure that there is sufficient light.

  • Aperture: In essence the aperture stands for the focus / sharpness of a lens (the pupil of the camera). Large aperture lets you capture many objects in a frame while a low aperture will focus on one object (say a face) while the rest around it will look blurry/fizzy. A low aperture reading (say 1.4) lets in more light. Low aperture is expensive and thus a 35mm lens with f1.4 can quickly set you back GBP1,000+. For fixed lenses the minimum aperture is a constant more or less, while for zoom lenses you will most often find a rising aperture as you increase the zoom.

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Swing sharp

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Foreground sharp

  • Timer: The timer settings allow you to control how long you want to let light come ‘through the door’. It’s measures in fractions of a second (e.g. 1/250), but since only the denominator is quoted a smaller number improves light and vice versa.

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  • ISO: Higher number caches more light. In normal light ISO100/200 will do just fine. Some may remember this from the standard  Kodak film rolls back in the days. Modern day cameras let you take this up to much higher levels though you should use a tripod some stage (my Sony offers above ISO100,000).
  • Flash: Flash can be of good help when natural light is rare. Dark rooms being one example, but more importantly also when a picture involves competing lights e.g. bright sky vs. darker foreground. Since all camera adjustment apply to both natural light sources, then flash can give you the edge to increase light in the closer vicinity.

Now it has to be said that these settings interact. For example higher aperture reduces light, so you have to ‘open the door longer’ to collect more light or increase ISO (or both). But that will come with experience. At least I know the levers now.

Tina in action … picture of snake teeth ;o)

By the time we had gone through the four points, taken a few snaps and laughed our socks off on several occasions (Tina was still recovering from a 5 day seminar in the countryside, which was at least say unusual ;o) our feet started to get cold and it was time for some food.

We opted for a Japanese place (Tonkotsu East) based in converted railway arches not far from Haggerston overground station (same area as a restaurant that I had previously visited with Chanel). The food was good and even included a special ‘Spanish’ ramen from a very god Spanish friend of Tina – I remember well the long queues at Borough Market as folks patiently waited for their  chorizo sandwich. He went on to launch his own restaurants (link). Only downside of the place was the chilly temperature in the room (hold on tight to your ramen soup!).

Overall an amazing and unusual way to spend a day in London on a Monday morning. Thanks Mrs. Valero! Will definitely consider your workshop idea once I got my head around the new toy.

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