Suggestions For Better Pictures

Suggestions For Better Pictures
by Skip Giddings

Most of us who have been Model Railroaders for a number of years have accumulated a number of skills. There is one area that, from my observation, a number of us have ignored. This is the recording of our efforts on film. This article is not intended to get into the technical elements of photography. Rather it gives two or three basic things that will help the person with a relatively inexpensive, automatic camera take pictures of their modeling efforts which they can show to friends and family without the usual run of whobbly, out of focus, dark or washed out prints which are too often passed around.

A: Most inexpensive automatic cameras these days are configured to use 200 ASA or 400 ASA color print film. There isnt a lot of difference between brands: Kodak, Fuji, Kmart, Revco etc. Good or bad processing can negate any subtle difference between brands. I buy mine by the 4 or 6 pack box at Sams or Walmart and keep it in the refrigerator. It will stay fresh for 2 or 3 years. Ordinarily, I buy 200 ASA. If you are going to take a lot of inside pictures try the 400 ASA even with flash.

B: Most inexpensive, $30 to $125 cameras, have a fixed focus lens. For those of you familiar with lens designations, they generally are from f 4.5 to f 6.2. The lesser the price, the higher the number. If your instruction booklet gives these specs, great. As a rough measurement, the closest distance between your lens and whatever you are taking a picture of is the "f" number of your lens quoted in feet. This would mean that an f 4.5 lens will probably give good definition or sharpness of picture at 4 feet or greater. Anything closer will get fuzzy very quick. What you see in the viewfinder is not what you necessarily will get. 

Take some time to test your camera. Take the front page of a newspaper and tape it to a blank wall, preferably a shop or a garage wall, not the dining room wallpaper. Put the center of the sheet about eye high. Now take 3 or 4 pictures using a tape measure to measure the distance from the wall to the lens front. Take a shot at one or two foot increments starting at 2ft then 3ft then 4ft then 6ft. Be sure to mark the paper with the foot number so you can identify the prints later. When you get the prints, look at them closely with a magnifying glass. You will find out what the closest distance is for your lens. Another tip is that you will generally wash out your picture with the flash when you are too close. Learn to judge this minimum distance or calibrate the distance from your shoulder to your finger tips and use this for a yard stick.

C. Another common reason for fuzzy or blurred pictures is movement of either the camera or the subject or both. Learn to click your camera without moving it. It only takes a gentle movement of the pinky to operate the shutter, not your whole hand or arm. For those of you who are gun shooters, squeeze off your shots, don't pull the trigger.

D. Clean your camera lens and view finder frequently using a cotton handkerchief or a Qtip. Breathe on it, then wipe it gently. I'm always amazed when someone asks me to take their picture for them, how often the lens and viewfinder are dirty, dusty and smudged.

E. Last but not least, edit your prints before showing them to your friends and family. One of the differences between a good photographer and a bad one is, good ones don't show their bad shots!

Now go and do likewise.
Skip Giddings