Your Camera Doesn’t Matter

16 08 2010

Morning View - Sungai Pinang Jetty

I took 12 hours starring at this photo which belong to friend of mine, realvista. I’m the ones who drag him into the real photography scene, but he a step further than me! I don’t know why, but something in there! His courage, philosophy and his expression of art. Thats make me remember to the Ken Rockwell post back to 2009 and my post on blog ‘Whats Make A Photographer a Professional’. And i really like what Ken Rockwell have told that ‘Don’t presume the most expensive gear is the best. Having too much camera equipment is the best way to get the worst photos‘. Hope this post will help you think more on Photography Itself not about gears!!

By: © 2009 Ken Rockwell

See renowned pro Chase Jarvis‘ art book, The Best Camera, shot entirely on his iPhone.See the online eork shot exclusively on his iPhone.

If you can shoot well, all you need is a disposable, toy camera or a camera phone to create great work. If you’re not talented, it doesn’t matter if you buy a Nikon D3X or Leica; your work will still be uninspired.

It’s always better to spend your time and money on learning art and photography, not by spending it on more cameras.

Why is it that with over 60 years of improvements in cameras, lens sharpness and film grain, resolution and dynamic range that no one has been able to equal what Ansel Adams did back in the 1940s?

Ansel didn’t even have Photoshop! How did he do it? Most attempts fall short, some are as good but different like Jack Dykinga, but no one is the same.

Try to tell an American he can’t, and he will: Man Uses Barbie Fishing Rod for Record Catch!

Why is it that photographers loaded with the most extraordinary gear who use the internet to get the exact GPS coordinates of Jack’s or Ansel’s photo locations and hike out there with the image in hand to ensure an exact copy (illegal by US copyright laws and common decency), that they get something that might look similar, but lacks all the impact and emotion of the original they thought they copied?

I’m not kidding. A bunch of these turkeys used university astronomers to predict the one time in almost two decades that the conditions would match and had 300 of the clueless converge at just the right spot. They still didn’t get the clouds, snow or shadows right. This makes Ansel or any other creative artist cringe. Of course they didn’t get anything like what they wanted. Art is a lot more.

Compelling photographs come from inspiration, not duplication.

Someone asked “If I got a camera with only 6 or 7 MP, can I make good pictures with it?”

That reminds me about the guy who breaks a wrist and asks his doctor: “Doctor, will I be able to play the piano after this heals?” The doctor replies “Absolutely, no problem!” The man laughs, and points out that that’s great, because he never could play the piano before!

Buying a Bösendorfer doesn’t mean you can play the piano. Buying a great camera doesn’t mean you can create compelling photographs. Good pianists can play on anything and a good photographer can make great images with a disposable camera.

As we all saw in The Blues Brothers, give Brother Ray a keyboard with a sticky action and he’ll play so movingly that the whole town will be up and dancing.

Cameras don’t take pictures, photographers do. Cameras are just another artist’s tool.

Why is it that even though everyone knows that Photoshop can be used to take any bad image and turn it into a masterpiece, that even after hours of massaging these images look worse than when one started?

Maybe because it’s entirely an artist’s eye, patience and skill that makes an image and not his tools. Even Ansel said “The single most important component
of a camera is the twelve inches behind it.”

A camera catches your imagination. No imagination, no photo – just crap. The word “image” comes from the word “imagination.” It doesn’t come come from “lens sharpness” or “noise levels.” David LaChapelle’s work is all about his imagination, not his camera. Setting up these crazy shots is the hard part. Once set up, any camera could catch them. Give me David LaChapelle’s camera and I won’t get anything like he does, even if you give me the same star performers.

The only reason I have a huge lens in my photo on my home page is so I don’t have to say “photographer” or “photography.” The lens makes it obvious much quicker than words. That’s what visual communication is all about: thinking long and hard to make your point clearly and quickly. I haven’t used that huge lens in years.

Just about any camera, regardless of how good or bad it is, can be used to create outstanding photographs for magazine covers, winning photo contests and hanging in art galleries. The quality of a lens or camera has almost nothing do with the quality of images it can be used to produce.

Joe Holmes’ limited-edition 13 x 19″ prints of his American Museum of Natural History series sell at Manhattan’s Jen Bekman Gallery for $650 each. They’re made on a D70.

Another San Diego pro, Kirsten Gallon earns her living using Nikon’s two very cheapest lenses, the 18-55 and 70-300 G.

There are plenty of shows selling shots from Holgas for a lot more money, just that those folks don’t tell me about it. Holgas sell for $14.95, brand new, here. You can see an award-winning shot made with a Holga hanging in Washington, D.C.’s Hemicycle Gallery of the Corcoran Museum of Art in their 2006 Eyes of History competition of the White House News Photographers Association here.

Walker Evans once said “People always ask me what camera I use. It’s not the camera, it’s – – – ” and he tapped his temple with his index finger.

Jesus Christ’s dad Joseph built a masterpiece of a wooden staircase in a church in New Mexico in 1873, and does anyone care what tools he used? Search all you want, you’ll find plenty of scholarly discussion but never of the tools.

Your equipment DOES NOT affect the quality of your image. The less time and effort you spend worrying about your equipment the more time and effort you can spend creating great images. The right equipment just makes it easier, faster or more convenient for you to get the results you need.

“Any good modern lens is corrected for maximum definition at the larger stops. Using a small stop only increases depth…” Ansel Adams, June 3, 1937, in a reply to Edward Weston asking for lens suggestions, page 244 of Ansel’s autobiography. Ansel made fantastically sharp images seventy years ago without wasting time worrying about how sharp his lenses were. With seventy years of improvement we’re far better off concentrating on making stunning photos than photographing test charts. Of course these large format lenses of the 1930s and today are slow, about f/5.6 typically. Small format and digital lenses work best at about 2 stops down.

Buying new gear will NOT improve your photography. For decades I thought “if I only had that new lens” that all my photo wants would be satisfied. Nope. I still want that “one more lens,” and I’ve been shooting for over 30 years. There is always one more lens. Get over it. See “The Station” by Robert J. Hastings, as published in “Dear Abby” in 1999, for a better explanation.

The camera’s only job is to get out of the way of making photographs.

Ernst Haas commented on this in a workshop in 1985:

Two laddies from Nova Scotia had made a huge effort to be there and were great Leica fans, worked in a camera store, saved to have them and held Ernst on high for being a Leica user (although he used Nikons on his Marlboro shoots, when the chips were down).

About four days into the workshop, he finally maxxed out on the Leica adoration these kids displayed, and in the midst of a discussion, when one of them asked one more question aimed at establishing the superiority of Wetzlar, Ernst said, “Leica, schmeica.  The camera doesn’t make a bit of difference.  All of them can record what you are seeing.  But, you have to SEE.”

Nobody talked about Leica, Nikon, Canon or any other brand of camera equipment for the rest of the workshop.

He also said, “Best wide-angle lens?  ‘Two steps backward’ and ‘look for the ah-ha’.”

(This Haas anecdote comes from Murad Saÿen, the famous photographer from Oxford, Maine over whom people are all abuzz. Many say he emerged from the back woods as a cross between Eliot Porter and Henri Cartier Bresson. I found at least three websites claiming to be Haas’ official one here and here.)

You can see some of the world’s best photography here by a fellow who says the same thing here. Here’s another load of data which also confirms why owning more lenses just makes worse photos. I made these B/W photos here with a 50 year old $3 box camera more primitive than today’s disposables.

Andreas Feininger (French, b. 1905 – d. 1999), said “Photographers — idiots, of which there are so many — say, “Oh, if only I had a Nikon or a Leica, I could make great photographs.” That’s the dumbest thing I ever heard in my life. It’s nothing but a matter of seeing, thinking, and interest. That’s what makes a good photograph. And then rejecting anything that would be bad for the picture. The wrong light, the wrong background, time and so on. Just don’t do it, not matter how beautiful the subject is.”

People know cars don’t drive themselves, typewriters don’t write novels by themselves and that Rembrandt’s brushes didn’t paint by themselves. So why do some otherwise intelligent people think cameras drive around and make pictures all by themselves? The most advanced, exotic and expensive car can’t even stay in the same lane on the freeway by itself, much less drive you home. No matter how advanced your camera you still need to be responsible for getting it to the right place at the right time and pointing it in the right direction to get the photo you want. Every camera requires you to make manual adjustments now and then as well, regardless of how advanced it is. Never blame a camera for not knowing everything or making a wrong exposure or fuzzy image.

Even a good driver in a crummy car like a Geo Metro can escape from multi-car police chases in broad daylight. It’s the driver, not the car. Read that one here.

Here’s how I came to discover this:

When it comes to the arts, be it music, photography, surfing or anything, there is a mountain to be overcome. What happens is that for the first 20 years or so that you study any art you just know that if you had a better instrument, camera or surfboard that you would be just as good as the pros. You waste a lot of time worrying about your equipment and trying to afford better. After that first 20 years you finally get as good as all the other world-renowned artists, and one day when someone comes up to you asking for advice you have an epiphany where you realize that it’s never been the equipment at all.

You finally realize that the right gear you’ve spent so much time accumulating just makes it easier to get your sound or your look or your moves, but that you could get them, albeit with a little more effort, on the same garbage with which you started. You realize the most important thing for the gear to do is just get out of your way. You then also realize that if you had spent all the time you wasted worrying about acquiring better gear woodshedding, making photos or catching more rides that you would have gotten where you wanted to be much sooner.

I met Phil Collins at a screening in December 2003. It came out that people always recognize his sound when they hear it. Some folks decided to play his drums when he walked away during a session, and guess what? It didn’t sound like him. Likewise, on a hired kit (or “rented drum set” as we say in the USA) Phil still sounds like Phil. So do you still think it’s his drums that give him his sound?

A fan from Michigan teaches auto racing at a large circuit. The daughter of one of his students wanted to come learn. She flew out and showed up at the track in an rented Chevy Cavalier. She outran the other students, middle aged balding guys with Corvettes and 911s. Why? Simple: she paid attention to the instructor and was smooth and steady and took the right lines, not posing while ham-fisting a lot of horsepower to try to make up for patience and skill. The dudes were really ticked, especially that they were outrun by a GIRL, and a 16 year old one at that.

Sure, if you’re a pro driver you’re good enough to elicit every ounce of performance from a car and will be limited by its performance, but if you’re like most people the car, camera, running shoes or whatever have little to nothing to do with your performance since you are always the defining factor, not the tools.

Catch any virtuoso who’s a complete master of their tools away from his or her sponsors and they’ll share this with you.

So why do the artists whose works you admire tend to use fancy, expensive tools if the quality of the work is the same? Simple:

1.) Good tools just get out of the way and make it easier to get the results you want. Lesser tools may take more work.
2.) They add durability for people who use these tools hard all day, every day.
3.) Advanced users may find some of the minor extra features convenient. These conveniences make the photographer’s life easier, but they don’t make the photos any better.
4.) Hey, there’s nothing wrong with the best tools, and if you have the money to blow why not? Just don’t ever start thinking that the fancy tools are what created the work.

So why do I show snaps of myself with a huge lens on my pages? Simple: it saves me from having to say “Ken Rockwell Photography,” which sounds lame and takes up more space. The big camera gets the message across much better and faster so I can just say “Ken Rockwell.”

Here are photos made by a guy in the Philipines – with a cell phone camera!

One last example: I bought a used camera that wouldn’t focus properly. It went back to the dealer a couple of times for repair, each time coming back the same way. As an artist I knew how to compensate for this error, which was a pain because I always had to apply a manual offset to the focus setting. In any case, I made one of my very favorite images of all time while testing it. This image here has won me all sorts of awards and even hung in a Los Angeles gallery where an original Ansel Adams came down and this image was hung. When my image came down Ansel went right up again. Remember, this was made with a camera that was returned to the dealer which they agreed was unrepairable.

The important part of that image is that I stayed around after my friends all blew off for dinner, while I suspected we were going to have an extraordinary sky event (the magenta sky, just like the photo shows.) I made a 4 minute exposure with a normal lens. I could have made it on the same $3 box camera that made the B/W images here and it would have looked the same.

Likewise, I occasionally get hate mail and phone calls from guys (never women) who disagree with my personal choice of tools. They take it personally just because I prefer something different than they do. Like anyone cares? These folks mean well, they probably just haven’t made it past that mountain and still think that every tool has some absolute level of goodness, regardless of the application. They consider tools as physical extensions of their body so of course they take it personally if I poke fun of a certain tool as not being good for what I’m doing. For instance, the Leica collectors here have a real problem with this page. All gear has different values depending on what you want to do with it. What’s great for you may not be for me, and vice-versa.

Just about any camera, regardless of how good or bad it is, can be used to create outstanding photographs for magazine covers, winning photo contests and hanging in art galleries. The quality of a lens or camera has almost nothing do with the quality of images it can be used to produce.

You probably already have all the equipment you need, if you’d just learn to make the best of it. Better gear will not make you any better photos, since the gear can’t make you a better photographer.

Photographers make photos, not cameras.

It’s sad how few people realize any of this, and spend all their time blaming poor results on their equipment, instead of spending that time learning how to see and learning how to manipulate and interpret light.

Buying newer cameras will ensure you get the same results you always have. Education is the way to better images, not more cameras.

Don’t blame anything lacking in your photos on your equipment. If you doubt this, go to a good photo museum or photo history book and see the splendid technical quality people got 50 or 100 years ago. The advantage of modern equipment is convenience, NOT image quality. Go look at the B/W images in my Death Valley Gallery. Look sharp to you? They were made on a 50 year old fixed-focus, fixed exposure box camera for which I paid $3. This camera is more primitive than today’s disposables.

I have made technically and artistically wonderful images on a $10 camera I bought at Goodwill, and have turned out a lot of crap with a $10,000 lens on my motor driven Nikon.

The great Edward Steichen photographed Isadora Duncan at the Acropolis, Athens in 1921. He used a Kodak borrowed from the head waiter at his hotel. The images are, of course, brilliant. Steichen had not taken his own camera because the original plan had been to work only with movie equipment. This image was on display at The Whitney in 2000 – 2001.

You need to learn to see and compose. The more time you waste worrying about your equipment the less time you’ll have to put into creating great images. Worry about your images, not your equipment.

Everyone knows that the brand of typewriter (or the ability to fix that typewriter) has nothing to do with the ability to compose a compelling novel, although a better typewriter may make typing a little more pleasant. So why do so many otherwise reasonable people think that what sort of camera one has, or the intimate knowledge of shutter speeds, lens design or camera technology has anything do with the ability to create an interesting photo other than catering to the convenience of the photographer?

“…anytime I go anywhere with a camera, whether it be my top-of-the-line pro body with fifteen lenses and smart flash or a simple point-and-shoot, I might take the best photograph of my life. If, however, I trapped myself into believing that success of my style would only come through in the grainless technical perfection of a cumbersome larger format or the heady fine art of a preconceptualized composition, then I would lose much of the magic that drew me to photography in the first place.” Galen Rowell.

Just as one needs to know how to use a typewriter to compose a script, one does need to know how to operate a camera to make photos, but that’s only a tiny part of the process. Do you have any idea what brand of computer or software I used to create what you’re reading right now? Of course not, unless you read my about page. It matters to me, but not to you, the viewer. Likewise, no one who looks at your pictures can tell or cares about what camera you used. It just doesn’t matter.

Knowing how to do something is entirely different from being able to do it at all, much less do it well.

We all know how to play the piano: you just press the keys and step on the pedals now and then. The ability to play it, much less the ability to stir emotion in those who hear your playing, is an entirely different matter.

Don’t presume the most expensive gear is the best. Having too much camera equipment is the best way to get the worst photos.

The more expensive cameras and lenses don’t do much of anything significant for the huge increases in price.

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Shot and processing recipe-Hummingbird at Rosario Beach V

4 08 2010

Hummingbird at Rosario Beach V

By: Sparth on flickr

fabrice: my process for this shot, in a few words.

– did a first pass on the Raw photo by applying a specific preset in DPP. they call it a “recipe”. basically what the recipe is doing is: exposure +0.17 – color tone +1 – white balance set to “daylight”, picture style set to “landscape” (i know it’s not entirely appropriate, but since i created this specific bird preset with this initial setting i kept it as is), and tweaking up the curves in order to push contrasts and emphasize reds and greens, reducing the blues in lighter tones.
– once applied, i extracted 3 different jpegs in DPP from a single Raw with three different exposures. +0.17 for the first one (keeping the initial exposure given by the “recipe” preset), -1.50 for the second one, and something around -2.0 for the last one.
combined the first two jpegs in order to keep the brightness but also gain back valuable details and visual informations from the branches and bird body that were way too overexposed.
– once it’s done, i transfered the first two jpegs in CS4 in a single canvas on two layers and erasing where needed in order to get the most informations from both exposures.
i then added the third underexposed jpeg as a third layer in order to find even more informations from the bird. it’s a bit like doing a bracketed method on a single Raw.

– once done i merged everything down, tweaked the saturation a tiny bit, played a bit with CS4 autolevels/autocontrast/autocolor, and it made me realize i was too much into the yellow tint territory, which is normal as my initial preset is doing so on purpose. but i sometimes have to put back some blues in some specific cases like this one. very lightly though.

– desaturated background -20 except for the bird, in order to emphasize its color tones.

– copied all layers, pasted the result in a new layer, and did a “replace color” pass in order to gain back some cyans in the background instead of some greens that were too strong. the reason for that is that it is generally a good thing to find back complementary tones in an image, as the eye reacts to it in a faster way. in this case, the complementary tones for the orange bird is going to be blue (cyan but anyway).

– cropped to adjust compo and visual direction.

that’s about it. but there’s just a final pass for the web version though:
– resized the image to 1200 pixels wide, duplicated image on new layer, and applied a smart sharpen on top layer: amount 150% Radius 0.7 pixels, Remove: Lens Blur.
– erased smart sharpen effect on background. sharpening a blurred background is useless and will create more unecessary noise.

i probably did a few more tweaks here and there but must have forgotten it.

hope it helps.

and thanks to all!!





What Is Photographic Reality? By:Peter Eastway

3 08 2010

PeterEastwayPortraitsm

I’ve just returned from an expedition to Antarctica where the landscapes and wildlife simply blew my mind. Towering snow-covered peaks dropping vertically into tormented, white-capped seas; tens of thousands of penguins crowded onto small islets surrounded by icebergs; and the deepest, richest ultramarine blue you can imagine locked under tons of glacial snow. It was a reality far stronger than anything I have seen before.

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The passengers on board had a wide variety of backgrounds, from photographers to artists, naturalists to scientists, doctors to lawyers. On the voyage south, I showed them my photography. The images were taken with a camera, but created in Photoshop. Some passengers loved them. Others did not, concerned that my photographs were not true reflections of reality. Indeed, they asked if they were really ‘photographs’.

Here’s an example of what I showed them. (klik on link to watch the macromedia flash video)

Most readers of this blog will be pretty comfortable with what can be achieved in Photoshop. We think nothing of adding in a new sky or taking out an unwanted lamp post, yet this is probably the exception rather than the rule. Most of my images only had subtle adjustments using curves or hue/saturation, but they were applied in a way that transformed the original capture. The base subject matter was the same, but light and colour were applied to create added drama, atmosphere and impact.

Is this wrong?

It seems that many people who are not photographers are concerned about how easily we can change a camera’s definition of reality. Why this is a concern intrigues me. I mean, photographers have been dropping in better skies and removing unwanted lamp posts for over one hundred years. Frank Hurley is famous for his black and white Antarctica photographs taken in the early 1900s on glass plates, but few know that he was also the master of double exposures and image manipulation far more extensive than the examples of my work shown on board ship.

Frank Hurley created his images in a darkroom, away from prying eyes, and people didn’t know that changes had been made. Few understood the process and most just accepted the images as they were. Today, those same processes when done with Photoshop are being questioned by the masses who now understand how easy it is to manipulate a photograph. To manipulate reality.

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In some contexts, it’s important to know this is a straight shot; in an art context whether it is or isn’t doesn’t really come into it.

For a news, documentary or nature photographer, this is an important issue. If we tell people our photographs are true records, then it isn’t right to move things around or change the reality that was recorded because people have an expectation that what they are seeing is real. I could understand the naturalists on board ship worrying that I might exercise digital skulduggery.

But I wasn’t making penguins fly or giving an orca three eyes. All I was doing was recreating what I experienced.

So what is photographic reality? Is the exposure we make in our camera more ‘accurate’ than an image we have worked upon in Photoshop?

3-eastwaysm
The ice is amazing, but the straight capture in flat light struggles to show the texture which can be clearly seen with the naked eye. A little invisible Photoshop helps.

I can remember clearly the aquamarine blues of the icebergs as we cruised around them in our zodiacs, looking for the best angles, yet these same colours were not seen in my raw files using the default settings. My memory of what I saw is different to the electronically captured image recorded by my camera, but by increasing the contrast in my files using Photoshop I was able to better reproduce what I saw. Is this okay? Is it still reality?

Some passengers were doubtful, yet if I changed their cameras to capture a higher contrast JPEG, they felt this would be acceptable because the image came directly from the camera. Does this mean the camera manufacturers are the arbiters of ‘correct reality’?

As photographers, we know the limitations of our cameras. Issues like dynamic range and colour spaces have a huge impact on the camera’s ability to accurately record a scene. We also know that different cameras record tones and colour differently – just compare the high quality captures of the current generation of digital cameras with older cameras and you’ll know what I mean.

And non-photographers are forgetting or don’t know that in the days of film a photo lab carefully adjusted the density and colour balance of their negatives before producing a print.

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The deep blues below the surface of the water were wonderful to behold – no colour adjustment needed for this photo, just an increase in contrast to bring out the blues.

A little knowledge is a dangerous thing and because everyone knows how powerful Photoshop and other editing programs can be, there is a fear that any use of Photoshop in some way affects the reality of the image. The problem is that they don’t really know how much Photoshop manipulation is okay. When do you cross the line between reality and interpretation? Most people can’t answer this question, so they say if the image comes directly out of the camera, then it must be okay.

The mountains in Antarctica are high. Very high, but if you use a wide-angle lens they lose height in the resulting photograph. I find that a little upward stretching in Photoshop can better show exactly how high the mountains appear when you’re standing there, but this would be unacceptable. So what happens if I attach Canon’s 17mm TSE perspective control lens, shift the lens down and point it upwards. Now my mountains are towering over my head and the effect is optical. Is this okay?

5-eastwaysm
South Georgia Island is amazing, but I needed to use the Canon 17mm TSE shift lens to accentuate the height of the peaks.

Of course not! One form of distortion is just as bad as another, yet the very act of taking a photograph distorts reality. Your choice of lens focal length, which direction you point your camera and when you choose to press the shutter button all distort reality because we limit the record to 1/125 of a second.

Photography is not a perfect representation of reality, rather a means of communication or a form of expression.

Today, Photoshop is such an integral part of photography that I can no longer separate the processes. Capture and post-production are two parts of a single process that turns an idea into a photograph. And personally I think post-production is essential because no matter how good cameras become, they can’t create. Someone needs to point the camera and press the shutter, and after capture, that same someone can choose to enhance or modify the result in any way he or she pleases. It is a choice.

I like to think of my post-production technique as being ‘invisible Photoshop’. The trained eye will know the image has been enhanced, but it should not be obvious exactly how or where. It should bear a strong resemblance to reality, strong enough to fool people into believing it is reality.

How much post-production you apply to your images depends on the context in which you wish to show them. For news and nature photography, less Photoshop is allowed, but for art or pictorial photography, why should there be any limits?

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Wildlife photographs of these orca are true in all senses, except the colour has been enhanced a little closer to what I remember.

There are always debates in photography and I find it interesting that now it is the non-photographers who are the most conservative. Yet it is far too late to be concerned because photography has never been a true representation of reality anyway!

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Peter Eastway is an Australian professional photographer, an AIPP Grand Master of Photography, and the co-publisher of several Australian photography magazines including Better Photography, Better Photoshop Techniques and Better Digital Camera. You can see his portfolio at petereastway.com.au and more about his Photoshop technique at betterphotography.com.





Less Cursing, Better Pictures: 10 Suggestions

2 08 2010

By DAVID POGUE

Published: New York Times June 8, 2005

RECENTLY, I was lying next to a hotel pool, keeping an eye on the children, when the guy on the next chaise swore like a sailor.

He was peering at his little digital camera, looking furious. I couldn’t help myself. “Do you need help with that?” I asked.

“This is the stupidest camera,” he said. “I’ve tried three times to take a picture of my son going off the diving board, but the delay is so bad, I miss it every time.”

I knew he was talking about shutter lag, the maddening time it takes for most digital cameras to focus and calculate the exposure after you have squeezed the shutter button but before the shot is captured.

I nodded sympathetically. “And even the half-pressing trick doesn’t work, eh?”

He looked at me as though I had just spoken Aramaic. “The what?”

Suddenly it dawned on me that this guy didn’t know the half-pressing trick. He didn’t realize that you can usually eliminate the shutter lag by half-pressing the shutter button before the action begins. The camera prefocuses, precalculates and locks in those settings as long as you continue to half-press. Then, when the child finally leaves the diving board, you press the rest of the way down to capture the shot. No lag – no lie.

The guy was so happy, he bought me a ginger ale.

I realized that day that the world could use a handy, clip-and-save digital camera primer – not so much an FAQ (frequently asked questions) list, but more of an FGA (frequently given answers) list. Here are 10 tips everyone should know:

1. End shutter lag. If your camera has a shutter-lag problem, the prefocusing trick may be your best bet. Another option: many cameras offer a continuous-focus option that eats up your battery faster but also reduces shutter lag by focusing constantly as you aim the camera (or as the subject moves).

Newer and more expensive cameras tend to have the least shutter lag, and digital single-lens reflex, or S.L.R., models (the big, heavy, $900-ish cameras that take interchangeable lenses) have none at all.

2. Don’t believe the megapixel myth. More megapixels do not make a better camera.

Megapixels measure the maximum size of each photo. For example, a four-megapixel camera captures pictures made up of four million tiny dots. Trouble is, camera companies hawk megapixel ratings as though they are a measure of photo quality, and lots of consumers are falling for it.

In truth, the number of megapixels is a measure of size, not quality. There are terrible seven-megapixel photos, just as there are spectacular three-megapixel shots. (Lens and sensor quality are better determinants of your photographic results; too bad there are no easy-to-compare statistics for these attributes.)

Meanwhile, more megapixels means you have to buy a bigger, more expensive memory card to hold them. And you have to do a lot more waiting: between shots, during the transfer to your computer, and opening and editing.

Megapixels are something to think about only in two situations: when you want to make giant prints (20-by-30-inch posters, for example), and when you want the freedom to crop out a large portion of a photo to isolate the really good stuff, while still leaving enough pixels to make reasonably sized prints.

But if you don’t edit your shots and don’t need them larger than life, don’t get caught up in the megapixel race. Four or five megapixels is a nice sweet spot.

(Bonus tip: Photos intended for display on the screen – the Web, e-mail, slideshows – don’t need many pixels at all. Even a two-megapixel photo is probably too big to fit your computer screen without zooming out. High megapixel counts are primarily related to printing, which requires much higher dot density.)

3. Ignore digital zoom. In a further effort to market their way into your heart, camera companies also tout two different zoom factors: the optical zoom (usually 3X) and digital zoom (10X! 20X! 30X!).

Digital zoom just means blowing up the photo. It doesn’t bring you closer to the action or capture more detail; in fact, at higher settings, it degrades your photo into a botchy mess. For best results, leave this feature turned off. The optical zoom number is the one that matters; it means a lens that brings you closer to the subject.

4. Ditch the starter card. Unfortunately, it’s a universal practice to include a very low-capacity memory card with the camera-a teaser that lets you take a shot or two while you’re still under the Christmas tree. But it fills up after only four or five shots.

When shopping for a camera, therefore, factor a decent-size memory card – 512 megabytes, for example – into the price.

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5. Beware the format factor. Memory cards come in an infuriating variety of sizes and shapes. The least expensive formats are Compact Flash (big and rugged, about $55 online for a one-gigabyte card; available in capacities up to eight gigabytes) and SD (about $70 online for a one-gigabyte card; maximum two gigabytes).

Most Olympus and Fuji cameras require XD cards (about $85 online for a one-gigabyte card, the maximum), and most Sony cameras require either the Memory Stick Pro (about $90 online for a one-gigabyte card; maximum four gigabytes) or the smaller Memory Stick Duo (about $115 online for a one-gigabyte card; maximum two gigabytes).

Note, too, that you can also find memory-card slots built into laptops, palmtops, cellphones, game consoles, printers, photo-printing kiosks and other machinery. They are most likely to accommodate Compact Flash or SD cards. Memory Stick-compatible slots are less common, and XD slots are downright rare.

6. Do your research. Fortunately for you, the prospective camera buyer, the Web is filled with sites, including dpreview.com and dcresource.com, that do elaborate testing and reviews of every camera that comes along. Look them up before you buy; if you’re pressed for time, at least read the intro and conclusion pages, and look at the sample photos.

7. Know your class. Please don’t ask a technology columnist, “What digital camera should I buy?”

That’s like asking, “What car should I buy?” or “Whom should I marry?” There just isn’t a single good answer.

Cameras now come in several different classes with different pros and cons. There are card cameras, no larger than a Visa card and less than an inch thick (gorgeous and very convenient but with few manual controls and short battery life); coat-pocketable cameras (bigger, but still self-contained with built-in lens covers, longer battery life and more features); semipro zoom models (too big for a pocket but with built-in super-zoom lens ); and S.L.R. models (endless battery life, no shutter lag and astonishing photos).

8. Turn off the flash. A typical digital camera’s flash has a range of about eight feet. In other words, using it at the school play does nothing but fluster the performers.

9. Turn on the flash. On the other hand, here’s a great trick for when someone’s face is in shadow: turn the flash on manually. Forced flash or fill flash brings your subject’s face out of the shadows, and rescues many a portrait that would otherwise turn into a silhouette. (On most cameras, you turn the flash on or off by pressing a lightning-bolt button.)

10. Turn off the screen. The back-panel screen is, of course, one of the joys of digital photography. But it’s also the No. 1 consumer of your battery power. If you’re comfortable holding the camera up to your eye and peering through its optical viewfinder, turning off the screen while shooting can double the life of each battery charge.

There you have it – the 10 habits of highly effective digital camera owners. And may all your diving-board photos be lagless.





What makes a photographer a ‘professional’?

1 08 2010

Sunset Glow Palouse

I been ask regularly from people asking the same question. What makes you a ‘professional’ photographer and how can I be one? Although the definition of being a professional anything is pretty straightforward, for the one searching for where they fit into the photography world, it can actually feel a pretty abstract concept. As I can see from those many emails, there are many photographers wondering where they fit in.

So to make this clear: you’re a professional at something when it’s your profession. And a profession in the loosest sense of the word is “a vocation or business”. Although in the photographic world, the word profession may have a more strict definition and that’s open for debate. Unfortunately, it’s not as simple as, say, being a doctor or a therapist or even a farmer. Because photography is unique in that it is a hobby or passion which can turn into a very nice business. For some, it’s part-time, for others full-time. When do you cross that line from hobbyist to professional?

A few things that DON’T make you a professional:

* A big ass camera
* A bigger ego
* All the editing programs in the world

So what do I tell those people who email me? When people love what you do and recognise you as a ‘photographer’, when you make any amount of money or business out of photography, then you are a ‘professional’.

What would you tell someone asking you the question: “what make a photographer a ‘professional’?”