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.