Monday, April 27, 2009

Get great photos from your camera, instead of whining about needing a new one

I know many photographers, pros and amateurs alike, who are always talking about the next camera, lens, accessory, or gadget they need to purchase. I know I’m sometimes, okay often, guilty of this myself.

Most of us either can’t afford or can’t justify upgrading to the “latest and greatest” camera, lens or gadget every year, so we really need to get over our envy and longing for that new one, and get the most out of what we already have.

While camera companies constantly push out new products to keep their revenue stream high, is it really important for us to have the latest new feature? Aren’t we able to get a sharp image for our 11 point auto-focus system? Won’t we continue to get the “right” exposure without moving to a new camera with the latest 3D Matrix meter system?

Ansel Adams: The Tetons and Snake RiverTake my word for it, Ansel Adams, who took some of the most famous, stirring, and resonant photographs of nature’s grandeur, never had a camera with a 3D meter, or a 51 point focusing system, yet he took some of the most spectacular photographs ever crafted. Adams, one of the world’s greatest photographers never had the photographic gadgetry we have available to us today, yet the quality and evocative nature of his photographs are what we all strive to create.

It’s clear to me, the true difference between a snapshot and a great photograph, is the photographer, not the camera. Ansel Adams said, “A photograph is not an accident – it is a concept.” I agree, and would add, the concept comes from inside the photographer, not from inside the camera.

So, what should we do to get the most from the camera we already own.

The first thing I advise anyone to do is take your camera out of your bag, and pull out the camera’s manual. In the manual, find the diagrams of the camera’s controls, connecting sockets, viewer, LCD panels, etc. and locate each on your camera. Then make sure you are completely familiar with each item on the diagram/camera; what they are and generally what they do. I never cease to be amazed how little so many camera users know about running their cameras.

Once that’s done, I suggest going through the manual, cover to cover, but not just to read how to work each control or setting, but to consider how to use them to advantage when taking photos. For example, don’t just understand how to turn on bracketing and how to set it, but learn the various kinds of situations it will help you create great photographs. For instance, bracketing is invaluable in creating HDR photos.

Publilius Syrus, a Latin writer of the 1st century BC said, “Practice is the best of all instructors.” That certainly applies to photography. As you're traveling, or even at home, take lots of photos. Take your camera everywhere. Only by using your camera in a variety of situations will you learn how to use its features purposefully and creatively to fashion images.

For every camera there are three settings which control the image being saved by the camera; aperture, shutter speed, ISO (film or sensor sensitivity to light). Together, this trio controls the formation of the image in the camera. If you really want to learn how your camera works, and how each of these settings control your photo’s appearance, you need to put your camera in manual mode and try different combinations.

Digital cameras today, whether point and shoot (P&S) or digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras, have a myriad of other settings, all intended to enhance your ability to take great photos. You usually get to those settings (features) via a menu system. Take time to try various settings to see how they affect the camera, and how they work for you. On my cameras I have altered more than half the settings from the way they were set in the factory.

White Cheeked Galapagos PintailIn the past, the expense of film, developing it, and printing your photos was significant enough that it forced photographers to actually think about the photographs being taken. Digital photography removed that incentive. In a sense that was unfortunate. All too often digital camera “users” just point their camera in the direction of their subject and shoot. No thought goes into photographic composition or exposure.

While I suggested above you need to take lots of photos, you still need the discipline to think about each, set an appropriate exposure, and carefully compose the photograph with thought.

Use the low cost of the digital photograph to experiment. Use different points of view and different exposures for your photos. You might get some clinkers, but I think you’ll get some interesting and pleasing results too, and I’d bet your overall photography will dramatically improve.

Mastery of your camera will greatly enhance your enjoyment of it. Now which new macro lens do you think I should buy for when I'm traveling to see gardens and other close-up opportunities?


Simon said...

Damn Ned, all I talk about lately is getting a new Nikon D700 instead of my D80. My wife gives me the evil eye every time I mention it. When she read your article she went into my desk, pulled out my D80 manual, dropped it in my lap and said, "Learn how to use it. You take the snaps, not your D80. Until you learn, getting a D700 isn't going to make your photos any better!"

Now I've got to put off buying that new camera for several months at least. LOL

I just joined Nikonians. I'll see you there too.

Charlie said...

Ned, I'm with Simon. My wife essentially told me the same thing this morning before we left for work.

I've got to somehow hide your blog from her in the future. I can't sneak anything past her any more about photography since you started your blog. LOL


Juan said...

Ned - Ditto for me. You put so many of us in trouble with today's article. LOL

Helen said...

Hi Ned. It was a little different in my house this morning before going to work. I'm the one with the photography habit. My husband handed me the manual and told me to open it up for a change before I get a new camera.

I usually use it on P, so I guess I really should learn how to use it (D300) for real.

Kareem said...

Kareem here Ned. I beat her to it. When I came down to breakfast I was carrying my manual with me. She told me it was about time I stopped complaining about seeing all those new cameras and learned how to actually use the one I have.

Thanks a whole lot. LOL

I guess there's no new camera for my birthday next week now.

Kathy said...

Ned, this is Kathy. I'm Charlie's wife. I started to laugh so hard when I read Charlie's comment. I've learned a lot from your Blog.

Charlie hardly knows how to use his camera it's absurd. His pictures are good, but only if the lighting is perfect.

I've signed him up for a Nikonians Workshop on the D90 which I'm giving him for his birthday tomorrow, so he better stop complaining about me getting on him about not knowing how to use his current Nikon.

Happy Birthday Charlie!

Ned S. Levi said...

Hi Kathy,


I never had a birthday or birthday present announcement on my Blog before.

Charlie...Happy Birthday. Use you new D90 in good health.

Kathy, those Nikonian Workshops are great.

Thanks for your note.

Post a Comment