Friday, May 25, 2012

The Best things in Life (and Photography) are free

In my last post I talked about why we buy new gear. In this post? Lets look at working with what we all have. After all, photography can be a very expensive hobby. There's always a new body with new features, a better lens or a fancy contraption to purchase. These things might help get better pictures but the best things to help you get great pictures cost nothing at all.

Learn what you like

This one is huge and its so very very easy to do. Just look at pictures. Everywhere. I mean literally - everywhere. You can go to photo websites like Flickr or 500px. You can look at magazines. You don't even need an actual image. You can look at what is right in front of you and analyze what you would do if you were to shoot the scene. The moment I started looking at the everyday world around me as a picture I could take was the moment I went from being a guy who took pictures to a photographer.

When I say learn what you like do more than look at a picture and say "cool" or "nice". Identify exactly what it is that you like. Is it the colors that drew you in? Do you like the soft bokeh in the background? That great composition may have drawn you into the frame. When you see something you don't like, how would you prefer it to be? (I never like to say I don't like something in a shot because we don't know if changing or removing something was an option for the photographer. You can safely say you would prefer it to be different though.).

Once you start learning what you like you can apply it to your own photography like a chef adds ingredients to a dish - A little dab of this. A sprinkle of that.

Do it differently

 This one is easy in theory but hard to do in practice.  There are certain shots that everyone takes. For example there is the "Ma and Pa" portrait technique where you put the subject smack dab in the middle of the frame. If you do the same thing but slide the subject to one side? Its suddenly a nice shot and that's just one simple thing you can do. Then get higher. Or lower. What the heck...crank that camera at a 45 degree angle. You haven't even moved your feet yet. Get in closer. Or further away. Why even aim the camera at the subject? You can see it in that reflection over there. The person you are photographing is just standing there? Get them to do something.

The hard part is trying to break through the preconceived notion of how something "should be" shot and trying to invent a way it "could be" shot.


If there is one thing I've found in photography, its that you have to know your gear inside and out. If there's another thing I have found its that reading the manual, while helpful, doesn't actually help you apply that knowledge. That's where practice comes in handy. Read what you can and learn from others but for the love of all things pixel related use it! With digital photography you can shoot a lot of images and try different things and it costs you nothing except a bit of your time,.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Is it the shoes?

The title of this post comes from a reference to the game NBA Jam when the announcer would exclaim "Is it the shoes?" when a player did something spectacular. And of course we would all say in our minds "well of course not." After all, its the player's skill and athleticism that allowed him to do that 360 spin-a-rama jam and not a pair of shoes with a swoosh on them.

Oddly, we debate that idea when it comes to photography. Photographers will always say that its the skill of the person behind the camera that makes a great image. Those who aren't in to photography will often be heard saying "Great shot, you must have a nice camera".  I'd love to respond with something like "That's a great cake, you must have nice bowls" but evidently that's considered rude by some people.

Kidding aside, there must be a reason that people associate great images with the camera used to create the image. You see, great photographers DO often have nice cameras. If you ask a lot of photographers you'll find that they didn't start with that nice camera. They started with point and shoots. They started with their parents cameras. In short, they started with what everyone else has access to. As their skills grew, they moved to a better camera and may have started using off camera lighting and adding accessories such as filters, nice tripods, and started putting some really nice glass in front of that expensive body.

But why bother with a better camera if its photographer that makes the shot? As a photographer's skills evolve, he understands more and more about what makes a good image. A lot of these things are on the technical side and are affected by the equipment you use. The equipment itself also has limitations. A 2 MP camera is not going to yield very pleasing 40 inch wide prints. So at some point, the photographer felt that his current equipment was limiting his ability to realize his creative vision.

I myself, recently purchased a Tokina 11-16 f/2.8 lens and it is currently the most expensive lens in my bag. My kit lens (18-55mm f/3.5-5.6) has been giving me troubles but that's not the big reason I purchased my Tokina lens. In fact I could have just purchased a replacement kit lens for considerably less! I wanted something wider and faster though. Wider because I like to take landscapes and faster because I wanted to be able to take quality images in lower light.  Are the images "better?" Probably not. Because its considerably wider I really have to learn how to use it to its full potential.

Like any tool, you need to learn how to use it before you can use it well. 

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Slideshow

Well, I am indeed back from my vacation. Before I left, I purchased a pair of 8 GB cards to go with the ones I already had. I started slowly in Holland but by the time I was a couple of days into our stay in Scotland, I was snapping shots like crazy. As such, I had to get another card when we were in London. And did I get another 8 GB card? Nope. 16 GB friends. Go big or go home...without pictures.

So a consequence of this is that I came home with a lot of pictures. Over 2600 of them in fact. I usually like to make a slideshow of some of my images and with the mini-essay contest for the Foothills Camera Club coming up shortly after my return I set to work figuring out how to cram three weeks of images into a 6 minute presentation.

I toyed with a few idea before I came up with the idea of selecting images that would work in monochrome. Simple and a nice way of show casing some of the sites.

So after a long effort I finally put it all together with music, nice transitions and heck maybe even a little bit of flow. Sadly, when I uploaded my video to YouTube it made me replace my carefully selected and well timed music.

Monday, February 6, 2012

The Medium is the Message...and stuff

"The medium is the message."
-             Marshall McLuhan

The best camera is the one that you have with you and for most people who enjoy photography that maxim is nothing remarkable. How you approach taking pictures though, is heavily influenced by the camera in your hands.

My educational experience has a lot of communication in it especially considering that I have a degree in English. (Will that be paper or plastic?)  We speak differently than we write. We write differently depending on the subject. If I was writing a formal essay my tone and style would not be the same as how I present my words here.  In the ends its just words but the medium still matters.

The same applies to photography. Oddly enough, this very topic came up while I was learning how to develop film with Heather Simonds and Samantha Chrysanthou under the guidance of Hiroaki Kobayashi. We all agreed that when you're walking around with a roll of black and white in a Holga you see the world a heck of a lot differently than if you were to walk around with ... I don't know...the new Nikon D4? (In case you're just tuning in I shoot Nikon.)

When I shoot black and white I tend to look for dramatic skies and I like to look for very strong lines such as those found in architecture.

If I shoot slide film I try to look for bright punchy colors. It might actually be the one time I go out of my way to photograph flowers.

With Polaroids I tend to take pictures of people just being people.

So where does my SLR come in? Being digital the result is far more malleable.  It can create looks that approximate the film look but it doesn't quite get there. I tend to try to go for  a technically sound image when I shoot with my D90. Sharp focus, good exposure. I'm in the driver's seat and I have full control of the whole creation. With film, the creation process tends to end for me with the release of the shutter. With digital, its just the beginning.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Battles are War!

Two Sundays ago, I was privileged to be invited to help with the shooting of the Battle at F-Stop Ridge sequel.  I was just a "regular Joe" out in -25 degree weather with a bunch of the Camera Store staff, former staff members, and a Canon rep. So how did I (a.k.a. "Just a Guy") get in on this? Well, the Camera Store had a contest on their Facebook page where they asked followers to post what they'd like from the Camera Store for Christmas. Naturally a lot of people posted what lens, camera or flash they'd like. I wanted to stand out so I said that I'd like to see the sequel to the Battle at F-Stop Ridge and be in it. Jordan Drake, who directed the last one, contacted me and said that they saw my post and they could make it happen. It seemed like a lot of fun and and a great opportunity to learn so I asked Jordan for details etc.

Sunday rolled around and I was excited and nervous. I hardly slept the night before and I had no idea what to expect. With camera gear and extra warm clothes packed I headed out to the location of the shoot which was about 15 minutes outside of Turner Valley, Alberta.

Shooting in the cold always has its challenges and this was no exception. The cold weather drastically shortened most equipment's battery life. Oddly enough, the first battery I had in dropped two bars without even shooting a frame. I swapped to my other battery and after shooting a lot of frames during the action, and doing some video all with my Sigma which is notorious for killing batteries, I only lost one bar of power out of five. Others weren't quite so lucky and there were a couple of times between shots that Jordan had to call for another battery to keep the camera rolling.

Some people forget what happens when you take cold glass and bring it into a warm room. For myself, I was smart enough to leave my gear outside so my lenses wouldn't fog up but I wasn't smart enough to remember to bring my batteries in. Fortunately it didn't come back to haunt me later but its definitely lesson worth remembering.

Another challenge was the footing. With the extreme cold, the ground was quite hard and with it being covered in snow it was slippery at times. During one of the earlier scenes, our illustrious director took a tumble while running alongside our group and damaged his gear. (Hopefully not beyond repair!)

After the initial shooting of the group I was in ("The Attackers"), I hung back and took some behind the scenes video. I had my camera rested on the hood of a truck which should have been relatively stable. With the cold and because I wasn't moving around to keep warm anymore I was shivering badly. I am surprised I didn't hear my teeth chattering on the audio!

All in all, it was a lot fun to do. If I were asked to help with the third one I would probably do it...unless its -50 next time. :)