View Full Version : Photographers -- I need your expertise!

05-10-2008, 11:11 AM
Hey all!

So for my latest short story project, I'm writing a story about someone accidentally stumbling across the Holy Grail.

My MC is a photographer, and has been put on assignment to take photos for a coffee table book on 'Arthurian England'. She starts in Cumbria's Lakeland, and while biking near Keswick stumbles across Corbenic Castle. Poignant Despair ensues.

Anyway, I need someone familiar with digital photography and/or the process by which photographers get hooked up with projects like this for a few scenes early on in the story. I have my MC, Lynn, talking with her editor about the project.

What I need to know is this:

1) How are good spooky/haunting digital photos taken? What sort of equipment would a professional photographer have, and could you easily cart it around in a backpack while biking?

2) Let's say Author A sends a proposal in to Cool Editor. The proposal is awesome, but Author A is not a photographer, and wants a good photographer to go take the snaps he/she writes about. How does Cool Editor go about picking my MC to do this? Do photographers typically work for publishers, or do the publishers just know who to call for freelance?

This stuff is really only for two scenes at the beginning of the story.



05-10-2008, 01:01 PM
Sounds more like you have this one backward.

If this is a coffee table book, wouldn't it be more photographic oriented? Which means the photographer might actually approach the publisher through his/her agent. Or a 'book packager' would approach the publisher after finding the photographer and author and putting together a proposal.

As for equipment, etc. You'll need to be more specific regarding the type of project. Mostly landscapes/buildings? If so, then if the character is wiling to bike around with a lot of extra weight, then yes, it could fit on a bike.


05-10-2008, 02:52 PM
Well then, how about I make it something other than a coffee table book?

The idea that I had was a sort of travel-guide to Arthurian England; the text is already written, it just needs the pictures to accompany it. I was thinking more along the lines of those National Geographic books, you know? The ones with the pictures of volcanos and whatnot?

I didn't want the book to be her idea, because I don't want her to be an expert on the King Arthur stories. Familiar with them, sure, but I don't want her to immediately recognize what she's stumbled into.

In any case, it'd be pictures of ruins and landscapes. She's a digital photographer. What sort of equipment would she use? Would any effects be edited in using software later, or do you still use filters and whatnot?


05-10-2008, 05:48 PM
Tough call. Serious landscape photographers still avoid digital and shoot large format film. At least 4x5 sometimes even 8x10. Long exposures require a tripod. All of this is not impossible to lug around on a bike, but extremely awkward. And you're dealing with developing film - which requires tanks, chemicals, darkrooms, enlargers etc. Although they have developed digital "Backs" now so I suppose she could use those.

Heres a link to help you understand http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/4x5.htm

Digital gear is smaller. Typically what one will use for photojournalism asignments. You can have her carry something like the latest Canon

And at least three or four lenses. A fisheye (17-20mm) a Moderate wide, (35)A normal, (50)and a telephoto (200) at a minimum, probably a zoom in there as well.

Tripods are now made extremely lightweight of carbon fibre, and there are 'treking' tripods made to pack up small and light for backpack use.

Digital photos are shot with 'raw' data - then 'processed' in a computer program. So she'll be carrying her favorite laptop. Decide if she's a PC or MAC addict - then give her the appropriate software for manipulation. Typically Photoshop or Mac's Aperture http://www.apple.com/aperture/

I'm more comfortable these days in the Video realm as I left my photojournalism days behind me back in the 70's - so others who are more current might have other takes on this.

05-10-2008, 06:13 PM
Wow, thank you!

That was wildly helpful. I'm going to give her the canon, a macbook and the aperture software.

I only make incidental mention of her photography in the story, I just wanted it to sound authentic, you know? I'd hate to say something boneheaded in the story -- like, "she put the filter on the camera to shoot a spooky shot", or whatever, and have all the readers go, "WTF, you don't use filters on a digital!"

I'm a bit of a technical neophyte, you understand. :) So thanks again! (And the awkwardness of her backpack plays a roll in the story -- it causes her to overbalance and tumble over off her bike...and into the story, you see. :))


05-10-2008, 07:53 PM
And at least three or four lenses. A fisheye (17-20mm) a Moderate wide, (35)A normal, (50)and a telephoto (200) at a minimum, probably a zoom in there as well.

I agree...some good information. But I disagree with this just a wee tiny bit.

When I travel and I know I'm doing landscape type stuff I'm not going to want fixed focal length lenses such as the 35, 50 and 200 - I'd rather have an overlap of zooms. I typically travel with an 18-35, 22-80 and then the 70-300.
/end of disagreement

I have all of these in a backpack with my various filters (I generally carry about four 'warming filters' - these act like those amber lens sunglasses and take a lot of the blue or 'cool' light out of the scene and warm it up). I also have some diffusers, fogs, color gradients, colored lenses. I have some others such as double exposures so that I can do some other neat effects, like star filters and such. Again, all of this is in a convenient and small backpack. I also carry in there a small umbrella (convenient when I'm in the Pacific Northwest), small first aid kit with essentials and some survival stuff in case my landscape trek goes wildly off kilter. It has straps on the bottom so I typically strap my tripod onto that and take it off hiking.

So the idea of carrying a lot of equipment around - especially digital which would require a lot *less* weight - around on bike isn't all that farfetched.

As for the above suggestion about taking the laptop with her - a way to get around that - if you're going with the digital camera (which isn't too farfetched anymore, I believe most major travel mags are going digital with their photogs for quick, easy and fast delivery of shots. I'm pretty sure the Rodale publishing group does that for their activity mags such as Bicycling and Runner's World) then instead of having her lug her laptop around, she just carries several different memory cards. I've got several compact flash cards that I use with my Canon Rebel XTi.

Last weekend, I was able to take over 250 (in the large, processable format) shots on the single 2 gig card I have in there now. If I needed it I had other cards to throw in there. When I get back I could easily have downloaded all the images from the various cards onto my computer. Which then goes onto a DVD disc as backup and for additional processing at a developer if needed.

As for the other part - if you wanted the coffee table book idea then have her hired by the book packager. This is usually an editor or someone else that doesn't actually write/photo the book but someone who comes up with the idea, proposes it and then hires the talent to make it come about. This could be an editor that she had worked with in the past or even an author who has admired her work in other publications.


05-10-2008, 08:45 PM
Wow, thank you again!

So it sounds at least like the mechanics of the story aren't wildly unrealistic -- which is good.

Of course, now I have a ton of questions about what exactly you use all those fun filters, lens, etc for...is there a website that breaks down digital effects photography? Like what sort of bits you'd need to get what sort of shot?

For example, like those gray-washed spooky shots of cemetaries, that sort of thing?

05-10-2008, 10:31 PM
Yeah, there are TONS of sights and entire books written on digital photography - So you could easily lose your way in the research.

The type of gear and lenses and software will often depend on exactly what she is trying to accomplish - what sort of imagery she is looking to capture, what delivery format is required, what the final product is supposed to be.
{A coffe table book is going to have large, extremely hi-rez images compared to a magazine or online sight.}

The advantage of overlapping Zooms is you have a wider selection of possible Field of Views, but at a cost - Zooms tend to be 'slower' than primes,(Could be a problem in low light/action) and also tend to suffer more from chromatic abberation and vignetting as well as some softness. (Definitely a problem in extreme hi-rez enlargements) But that's really knit-picky.

Depending on her 'workflow' (that's a term-of-art for you) She may simply carry extra cards with her, and load them up to 'process' later - OR she might keep the laptop with her if she needs internet access to deliver 'proofs' to the publisher - etc. It all depends on how she does business.

Since you say it is a small element of the story - you might just try writing it with what you have now, and then submitting that to some photographer friends to 'proof' it for errors, ommissions and inconsistencies.

Good luck

Ah - checking your profile, it looks like you are currently 'in the sandbox' - so you might could check with the photogs in your unit for the latest gear that they are carrying, and have them look over your character's workflow. They'll definitely have some tips on gear and process for 'field work'.

05-11-2008, 12:30 PM
As far as hooking up the writer with a photographer goes, this isn't that hard: The publisher would either assign a photog (assuming it has a newspaper or magazine) or would just hire a freelancer. Either way, the getting a photographer is the easy part of the situation.


05-11-2008, 04:54 PM
I carry a Nikon D300. I also carry two D100s. I have six lenses from wide angle to a 400 zoom; all the various filters, a tripod, a monopod and four 4Gigabyte cards, which can store 365 images each. I'm not sure of a photographer of supernatural things would carry some "special" gear around ,but you could embellish here. Foir instance, he might carry around an ultraviolet light and tweaks his ISO to be able to capture "spirit" images. You could have a lot of fun here.

Some other technical stuff: your photographer will probably shoot RAW images. It's a file format and you can find explanations for it on Wikipedia and elsewhere. He's probably use Adobe Photoshop CS3 to process the imagery. If he prints the imagery, that process can vaery, however, I'd bet he'd use a local color lab with a friendly secondary character who knows his needs like the back of his hand.

You talked about effects. Photoshop would do most of this, including changing color shots to black and white. However, the photographer might set his camera up in a weird way that allows him to capture the supernatural phenominon (as mentioned with the black light; or the way he tweaks the setting on his camera). It may help you to learn just a msidge about photography (ISO, shutter speed, and the digital side of things) to see what can be done. :)

This would be a real splinter/niche field of photography, so I might recommend having the editor "stumble" across this guy in a coffee shop or advert on Craiglist or something.

05-12-2008, 09:51 PM
Even with a digital camera, you'd still need lighting equipment (fills, lights, gels) Some photographers are masters with natural light but if you are in a building you need lights.

Dario D.
05-13-2008, 02:37 AM
Tough call. Serious landscape photographers still avoid digital and shoot large format film.
Being a photographer (http://www.deefrag.com/art-photography.htm), I can say with utmost certainty that SOME serious photogs shoot large format, but certainly not a majority of them. Large format is entirely unnecessary for success, unless you plan to print your photos on the side of a large building.

Example: many National Geographic landscape photogs shoot digital (http://ngtravelerseminars.com/), Scott Kelby (http://www.scottkelby.com/) shoots digital (and who on Earth knows more about the craft than he does?...), David Hobby (http://strobist.blogspot.com/) shoots digital (...oh, he does), and a huge majority of others, who know and understand large format, but see no need to use it in a professional market.

I would advise that if this book has ANY possibility of becoming a movie, a professional photo-journalist digital camera should be used, because that's realistically what someone of the MC's profession would be using, in most cases. (here are some examples (http://images.google.com/images?hl=en&q=nikon%20d3&um=1&ie=UTF-8&sa=N&tab=wi)of what an industry-standard photo-journalist/multi-purpose camera looks like [and see below]) Large format cameras look like [this] (http://images.google.com/images?um=1&hl=en&safe=off&q=large+format+camera&btnG=Search+Images) - they take enormously detailed photos, but the Nikon D3 / Canon EOS 1D MkIII are plenty astounding as it is. You would have to get out a microscope to see even their finest details.


05-13-2008, 08:57 PM
Wow, thanks to everyone who posted!

This has been incredibly helpful -- I'm the sort of person who likes to know a ton of background info on my characters, even if it doesn't actually make it into the story. It makes everything just that much more 3-D to me.

Thanks again!