Friday, May 28, 2010

How to take a good Chinglish picture

I receive quite a few contributions here at that would make for some marvellous contributions if only their quality would be a tad better. That’s quite a pity, because I very much want to showcase your treasures, but do not want to copy down the content, simply because it’s too dark or too fuzzy.

The following list is an attempt at making you, the Chinglish photographer, contemplate a few things before taking a picture. Keep in mind: this is written for 傻瓜照相机 a “fool’s camera”, or in plain English: your everyday modern digital pocket camera.

First of all: Take your time.
Good pictures rarely get done in a rush. I know what it feels like to come across good Chinglish. You laugh, you are excited and you want to catch the sign as quickly as possible. So you hurry. I say: please put down your camera bag first or any other stuff you are holding in your hand at that moment. Believe me, with free hands and regular breath your picture will turn out so much better.

Take two.
If you are not sure that your auto focus worked correctly, give the sign another shot.

Check the lighting.
Do not photograph against the sunlight. Do not use a flash when the sign has a polished surface since it will reflect the flash and ruin your picture. If you can move the light source try to play with it. If you cannot, move yourself.

Get close.
If your camera has a macro function (as most modern cameras do), use it.

Change perspective.
Try to get as close to the sign as possible and change perspective. Try and take a picture from the lower left or the upper right.

Add background.
Adding context makes sense with a lot of signs. For example: add a bit of lawn if you are taking pictures of a public park sign asking to watch your steps.

Use a tripod.
Although it may feel quite bright outside, shooting in the early evening without using a flash is almost always a mission impossible. Using a small tripod helps. It does not need to be a tripod with telescope legs, a small 5$ mini tripod propped on a bike saddle helps stabilizing quite substantially already. Use the self-timer.

Very important: Do not forget the original.
In order to compare the Chinese text with its English counterpart, do not forget to include the original characters in your picture. If that cannot be done, please shoot an extra one for reference purposes.

I hope this proves helpful to you. I am looking forward to your contributions!


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