I recently posted three photos into the Lincolnshire Photo Training Facebook Group (https://www.facebook.com/groups/lincsphototraining/) and asked members to tell me what cameras they thought I’d used for each photo – a top end camera, a mid range or a basic level.
My objective in this exercise is to demonstrate that when you’re learning photography & trying to improve, your camera doesn’t matter. Really, comparing your camera to other’s and looking at the latest, greatest equipment has the least value to you as an improving, developing photographer.
I’m asked all the time “what camera do you use” or “what’s your advice for buying a new camera, I can’t take good photos with mine” and whilst I understand why people ask, they’re asking completely the wrong questions.
Anyone just setting out on their photography journey, spending hundreds of pounds on a new camera will only create that value of expectation for better photos, and a new camera alone WILL NEVER deliver better photos. They’ll soon get demoralised and disappointed, when initially just getting outside and taking photos was fun!
Time spent studying other’s photos, asking questions like “why did you choose that location, angle/height, time of day”, “what attracted you to that subject, light, effect” etc is a much better investment in your hobby or interest and your learning will increase exponentially.
Let me explain;
Here are the three photos I used. A photograph of a red post box in the countryside, a photograph of a local park and a cityscape. Before you read on (don’t cheat!) just quickly look at the three images and rank them as taken with the best camera, a mid range camera and a basic camera?
Done that? OK let’s look at them.
– The postbox was photographed on an overcast, dull slightly misty morning. There’s little interest in the background and no interesting sky so depth of field was of little importance. The box itself is clear, sharp & vibrant and that, along with the fence line moving you along the photo are the two key elements at play. It was taken with a dSLR & lens combination worth over £3000 and it could just as easily have been taken with a basic compact or smartphone, they would have done as good a job.
– The Park photo is vibrant, saturated and crystal clear. Even the birds in flight are sharp and crisp. It was a bright morning, nicely back lit and the conditions made it easy to take a bright, colourful photo. There are no serious depth of field concerns but everything, front to back, is sharp. It’s taken with a 2 year old smart phone. This is what smart phones excel at, good lighting, expansive scenes, saturated and punchy images.
– The Cityscape is, intentionally a ‘wow’ factor image. It was a well planned moment for sunset & the lighting. It’s sharp, crisp and vibrant and the depth of field extends from the closest buildings to the horizon several miles distant. Crucially for this exercise at least it’s worth knowing that this image is hanging in my office as an A0 size poster, it is that clear. It was taken with a ‘good quality’ compact camera which is now eight years old and which I purchased from eBay second hand for less than £100. It probably remains my favourite camera to use currently.
The cameras used here have added little to the actual photograph they have recorded. A camera never creates a photograph, it simply records what it is pointed at. The photographer selects the subject, the angle, the lighting effect and how to present their ‘picture’ and within each of these choices is our own, personal subjectivity (something that no camera yet possesses!). Some camera’s are weak at certain effects or techniques but by knowing these limitations we can take photos that avoid, limit or even embrace these weaknesses.
These photos aren’t exceptions, I haven’t carefully chosen them but they do illustrate a very important point for developing photographers. All cameras have strengths and weaknesses and as photographers every decision we make, from choosing a camera, a lens, a subject, lighting, position, time etc, etc is a compromise. How we balance these compromises effects our learning far more than worrying about the camera itself. (You can see my “choosing a new camera” factsheet for an un-biased guide to choosing your next camera).
My smart phone takes great photos when the light is good and I want a wide depth of field. Pop it into HDR mode and I know it’ll saturate colours so they’ll look really good on Facebook. It’s convenient, quick, connected for instant sharing and it’s with me all the time, I take lots of photos with it and I often ask myself whether it’s the ideal travel camera (there’s a future blog article!).
When the light is bad it’s awful, it’s flash (if you can call it that) is useless and (call me old fashion) but I hate using a screen to take photos. But it’s always in my pocket and ready to go. I know it’ll never be good with creative narrow depth of field because it’s size and design mean it’s physics prevent that so I make allowances and work to it’s strengths and understand it’s limitations. Sometimes I miss the shot I really want because it’s impossible with a smart phone.
My eight year old compact takes great photos in good light and more challenging conditions (it’s poor in the dark because it’s high ISO performance is rubbish), has a great zoom lens and is convenient as I can slip it in my pocket. It has limited manual modes which can be restrictive but just like the smart phone it’s endless depth of field is brilliant for wide shots. I use it extensively with a Gorrilapod (travel tripod) so I can keep the ISO low and shoot with long shutter speeds to maintain image quality.
Knowing these limitations and strengths mean that I can handle most situations and I have confidence in it’s reliability. I can force some narrow depth of field upon it but again, it’s physics mean it’ll never be great and I accept that.
My dSLRs are fantastic and can handle just about everything but when you invest several thousands of pounds you expect that.
The great thing is that technology works it’s way down and the current crop of entry level dSLRs are outstanding. I think I’ve illustrated above that, in all honesty, a lot of times I could pass off photos taken with other far less expensive kit as dSLR photos and no-one would ever know!
My dSLR, lenses & flashes are bulky, heavy and expensive and sometimes their inconvenience doesn’t justify their selection. If I want maximum creative scope however (wide to narrow depth of field, total exposure control, precise focussing and ultimate image quality) I have no other choice.
Of course, as your journey through photography unwinds you will learn about your own style, what you like and don’t like and how and when you want to take photos. You’ll also learn about the ‘technical’ aspect of our hobby and gain a far greater understanding of the types of camera available and what they can and can’t do for you. This may well be the point at which you ask “What next?”, until this time just enjoy the camera you have in your hand and discovering the world through it’s lens.