I'm writing you right now from my hotel room at the International Airport of Christchurch in New Zealand.
In a few hours, weather permitting, along with other researchers and scientists of the "Programma Nazionale di Ricerche in Antarctica" (PNRA - Italian Antarctic program) we'll take off to reach the South Pole and face a new Antarctic campaign in "Mario Zucchelli Station" (MZS), the first Italian polar base Italian.
During this time I will be working on a research project on the ecology and population genetics of Weddell seals, living for a while in close contact with them by means of a remote field-camp set up right on the pack-ice.
This is not the first time that I will live this experience but, in any case, is always a thrill and a renewed challenge.
Although in this expedition my role is that of scientist and not documentary filmmaker, I have with me - it could not be otherwis !!! - my faithful cinecamera, which will have a not insignificant role in my research. Thanks to her, in fact, I will try to provide an estimate as realistic as possible of the Weddell seal population in the Terra Nova Bay, today almost unknown.
Flying by helicopter along linear transects at constant speed and altitude, I will take up the scattered groups of seals on the ice to be able to then make an accurate count and a large-scale estimate.
So, until next January, I do not think I will be able to properly update the blog, but I will try to let you all get some news.
By the way I apologize for the slowdown already experienced in recent weeks, but the organization of the expedition and the many television commitments did not leave me much time to devote to internet.
From this year, in fact, to the established commitments "Geo & Geo" (RAI Tre) and "The Noah's Ark" (Canale 5 - MEDIASET), also the one with the new edition of "On the slopes of Kilimanjaro", broadcast every Sunday afternoon on RAI Tre, has been added. Some of the many geographical reportages from all over the world that you will see, have been made by me on behalf of EREBUS Productions.
So I'm saying goodbye and it is perhaps the case that I bring forward with wishes for Christmas and a Happy New Year. It is possible that the last 10 days of December I will be sailing on board a Korean research vessel in the Antarctic Ocean...
Anyone who has a minimum of familiarity with photography knows full well that being able to recognise and fully master various types of light allows you to achieve entirely different images using the same subject and lens. So much so that these can go from being considered, depending on the circumstance, lovely to look at and pleasing to the eye or unpleasant and insignificant.
Here are two physical parameters that the quality of the light depends on, and which it's necessary to know how to interpret in order to achieve the images we desire:
Incident light and reflected light
As regards the first parameter, first of all it is necessary to distinguish between incident light, that is, the type that strikes your subject, and indirect or reflected light, which instead reaches the scene after being modified by diffusion, reflection and filtering.
The example of a person's face photographed or filmed in strong summer sunshine and then on a cloudy autumn day is the most direct and easiest to understand, and it clarifies precisely what the difference is between the two types of light: in the first case, the image will have large areas of strong lighting contrasts, with sharp, dark shadows under the nose, the chin and the eyes, contrasting with much lighter areas that reflect a lot of light; in the second case, the face will instead be lit much more evenly.
Hard and Soft Lighting
Instead, what determines whether the light is incident or reflected is the distance and size of the light source.
When this is very small compared to its distance from the subject, incident light is produced, causing sharp, well-defined shadows (therefore three-dimensionality): this is the so-called hard lighting.
On the contrary, when the light source is large compared to its distance from the subject, the shadows it casts are softened and not clearly defined: in this case it's called soft lighting.
The sun, the natural light source par excellence, although huge, is located so far away from the Earth that we consider its rays as parallel and therefore generated by a point source. For this reason, its lighting is classed as hard.
The Earth's spinning and rotating movements, its atmosphere and the variability of weather conditions are, however, all factors that constantly intervene and change the quality of sunlight.
The influence of the first two manifests itself in the changing angles of the sun's rays with the optical axis of the lens, even if the position of the subject and the position you're shooting from do not change. To make this clear, try taking the exact same photo at 8.00 in the morning and at 8.00 in the evening; or at the same time but on July 15th and then on January 15th. And then compare the photos...
In order to find the angle of incidence that best suits your shooting requirements, it's clear that the quickest and most direct system is moving the camera rather than waiting for the change in seasons ... But, in any case, the most important thing to keep in mind is the fact that by increasing this angle (that is, going from an alligned or frontal light – a 0° angle of incidence – to the other extreme of against the light – 180°), an increasingly large area of the three-dimensional subject will be in shadow and, consequently, less and less of the subject will be directly illuminated.
Diffusion, instead, is caused by the atmosphere and the variability of the weather. A ray of light that passes through a translucent substance will clash with the particles contained in that substance and will be forced to "bounce" in every direction. Obviously, the higher the number of particles impeding the ray of light, the more this process will be increased.
The atmosphere of our planet in itself already diffuses light, but if we add to this conditions of heavy cloudiness (or heavy smog...), the end result will be the great diffusion of sunlight which, as it reaches every part, will not produce shadows on the subjects photographed and will therefore give rise to a feeling of "softness".
It's a little as if the entire sky above us acts as a huge light source.
Summer! Time for vacation and white, sandy beaches !!!
But beware the strong reflective power of the white sand that, as the snow does, will tend to make all other subjects in the frame underexposed. In particular the dark ones.
To obtain a minimum of details even in areas of "low lights", remember to overexpose a little bit the scene, thus offsetting the negative phenomenon produced by the stunning, tropical beach.
The report photographer or the filmmaker, especially if geographically and naturalistically orientated, must be able to deal with every kind of situation and should know how to respond technically (and creatively) to challenges. Seeing that his equipment often coincides with what can fit into a travelling bag, he will have at his disposal just a selected and limited lenses kit suitable for coping with the various needs that can occur during his work.
However he must show ability in every photographic genre using what he has available in that moment.
Knowing exactly how the same scene will react if captured by a lens with an ultra wide-angle rather than a short telephoto , this provides photographer with a whole range of expressive options from which he can select the best one.
However, those who think that the telephoto lenses are used to film far positioned objects while the wide angle lenses are suitable for filming the nearer ones, they have no idea what it means to take a picture.
Having available in only one instrument a focal length range that can go from 17 to 40 mm, or from 24 to 70 , or from 28 to 300 , is definitely a great comfort. This advantage, however, does not exempt the report photographer to be fully aware that, acting on the ring or on the zoom button , it will change both the prospective and the extension of the Depth of Field (PdC, see the dedicated post). Only this awareness will allow him to choose the best perspective and focal length.
The wide-angle lenses are the ones with the shorter focal length (in mm).
They reduce the distance between the nodal point of lens (the outer lens) and the focal plane (the digital sensor or film), when the focus is set to infinity.
If referring to the standard frame format Leica 35 mm, their upper limit would technically be represented by the length of 43 mm (see the next section on "normal lenses") but are conventionally considered wide-angle lenses the ones that come up to 35 mm.
These lenses have very high field angles (from about 60 ° up to 180 ° of the Fish -eye) and therefore they allow the fixing of very large frame parts, they will be just as greater as the focal length employed will be shorter.
Their main characteristic is to accentuate the perspective effects, enhancing the elements upfront and making the ones which are right behind them smaller and farther.
However, they have several problems of perspective distortion, starting from the disturbing effect of the falling lines.
Under 24 mm we enter the sub-category of the ultra- wide angle lenses.
The lenses called "normal" are the class of lenses that have a focal length range that go from 40 to 70 mm. As most experts know, the real normal lenses are the 50 mm ones because they faithfully reproduce the perspective of the human eye (hence the attribute of "normality") .
It seems to be an approximation because, technically, the same prospect of that of the human vision seen at the same focal length coincides with the length of the diagonal of the frame, and because in the standard format of 35 mm the diagonal of the frame (24x36mm) is 43 mm , the true "normal " should have a focal distance of that length.
Actually, only this objective deserves the title of " normal" !
However, the main characteristic of this class of lenses is to reproduce the elements of the scene while maintaining, between them, the same proportions and the same relative distances that appear to the naked eye.
But, given the great proliferation of sensors of different sizes, it is important to remember that a 50 mm will be "normal" only if used on Full- Frame machine (FF-sensor size corresponding to the traditional 35 mm film). It will become a medium -telephoto when coupled with an APS-sized 16.7 x 30.2 mm. In order to have a normal with this type of sensor lens of 40 mm must be used. The reference is always to consider the diagonal of the sensor.
Above 70 mm we are in the telephoto category. They represent the optics with the greater focal length and the angle of reduced view.
Contrary to the wide-angle, they photograph only part of the scene, to fill the frame with just one or a few elements, thanks to their ability to "approximate" what is far away. Prospectively they represent the inverse of the wide angles, compressing the various prospective plans and reducing the relative distance between them.
From 70 mm to 150 mm the lenses are called medium-telephoto lenses and they are considered the most suitable for portraits. When bigger than 300 mm they are called ultra-telephoto lenses and they are the most used in the photographic hunting... and by paparazzi!
Coming back from one of my trips to the Galapagos Islands I spent a full day in Quito, capital of Ecuador, waiting for my next day flight to Europe.
As usual I killed time strolling among the stands and pedlars in the open-air market with the idea of spending the last few dollars still left in my pockets and taking some pictures of interesting situations and fascinating faces.
During my wanderings among the Che Guevara T-shirts and ponchos moda of "fake" pure alpaca wool, I ran across one of the many campesinos' children, dressed in the traditional clothes of their culture, who wander around the city with the hope to sell some candy, sack of corn seeds and lottery tickets to anyone who comes within range.
She was a little girl, no more than a meter high, no more than 6 - 7 year old.
She came to me almost brandishing a Chinese package of strawberry chewing gum, inviting me to purchase it. Her face was ruddy , her cheeks dirty and her doing very determined. The typical doing of those who perfectly know that a package of chewing gum, trimmed to a tourist, makes the difference between a guaranteed meal and fasting.
I was bargaining for a pair of colorful striped trousers (one of those that anyone who faces a trip to the Andes buys as a souvenir and then rarely wears when in Italy...) and she slipped between me and the vendor flaunting the Chinese chewing gum under my nose; the stand operator - another kid not too much older than her - took the little pedlar by the striving arm and drove her away in a bad way, fearing that she could ruin his business.
But the stubborn campesino did not quail (I wonder how many times she was already driven away by other competitors in the race for the tourists shrapnels...) and returned to the fray, infuriating the young seller of clothes.
As a perfect Western, with the sometimes offensive self-importance which we do not even realize to possess, I decided to call a halt to this challenge for survival among children by buying the pants for four dollars and giving the last half-dollar that still reemained in my pocket to the intrepid candy street vendor without, however, taking the package of Chinese chewing gum in exchange.
With the belief that I had resolved the dispute like Solomon, went back to wander around the market but I realized almost immediately that the little campesino still was following me; the first idea that crossed my mind was that the child, feeling she had found the "right tourist", was trying to worm more money out of me and this irritated me a lot:"I cant believe it! - I thought - I magnanimously donated you half dollar without expecting anything in return and now you're trying to take advantage of me?"
I felt like an idiot when she came stretching out the package of chewin gums to cede it to me.
But the most tragicomic thing is that my ottusity had not yet given the best of itself so that I thought the little girl had followed me in the belief that I had forgotten to take the chewing gums.
With the good-natured tone of my broken Spanish I thanked her for her thoughtfulness and tried to explain to her that I had given him half a dollar as a gift and I did not need her package of chewing gum. Yet she kept looking at me from the bottom upwards with increasing frown, without stopping to hand the package out.
Even a local lady stepped in: "No quieres, no quieres (He does not want it, he does not want it)!" though reassuring her that she could still hold onto the coin.
In response, the young pedlar, her eyes now evidently angry and without saying a word, beat my left thigh with her hands, again placing the Chinese chewing gum under my nose.
She had understood very well what we had said: it was me that had not understood at all why she was so stubborn.
As I picked the package of chewin gums up she turned her back conspicuously satisfied and went away without looking at me anymore.
She was a small and poor pedlar, but a pedlar! And, as far as she was concerned, I could fit my compassionate, western charity in my backpack and bring it with me to Italy...
I could take more than a photograph of her; they would have been very good photographs.
But her gaze never authorized me to do so and taking photograps against her will would have been a violence, unworthy of anyone who aspires to be defined a true Photographer.