Talking about cameras

I am still a bit surprised when people inform me they have decided to keep using film cameras in this day and age of high-quality digital camera image output, and that is just what I was told by a couple last week.  Of course, my response was that they should use whatever makes them comfortable. 

 I find that many photographers using film want to offer a rationale for using film and make statements like “this camera has always taken very good pictures”. I suppose that’s a rational statement, however, but the difference between digital and film is like driving an old 1970 Ford sedan and the newest Ford hybrid model across Canada.  There is a lot more performance, comfort and options available for the operator of the newer model so that the experience can be more pleasurable and certainly more efficient.

 This couple were so emphatic about how great their old film cameras produced pictures that I assumed they do their own darkroom work, but they take their film into a lab that processes it, then scans it to a computer, then with predetermined settings the computer makes the desired print sizes. Hmm, not much photographer input there and most of the process seems to be digital technology. Oh well, at least they are taking pictures.

 I do believe that digital camera users become better photographers faster because of the instant reinforcement of their camera’s LCD, then again because it is so easy and quick to check images on a computer display.  Last Thursday my shop was filled with people discussing equipment. I have to mention that just before I talked to the film camera couple, I had been discussing digital cameras, but the question was “ What’s the best digital SLR camera, what do you like?”  Well, I like them all.  I haven’t had the chance to try every new camera out, but from my reading I think Nikon, Canon, and Pentax all have excellent products.

 My advice was they should first decide what they had available to spend, and then decide on how they like to shoot: sports, landscapes, family and so on. Of course any camera will do everything, but some are better for sports and some won’t hold up to the elements if packed on your horse or bounced around getting cold on the back of a snowmobile. My suggestion was before they choose to do some research before they buy.

 But film? Well if one is into “retro” or likes to experiment with technology from the past picking up an old film camera and the equipment for processing and printing doesn’t cost much and might be lots of fun.  However, for those like me that are dedicated to producing quality photography I would, of course choose a DSLR (digital single lens reflex) camera.



The basics to photographic Composition

Much of the time the photographers I meet and talk to really have only one interest in photography and that is to discuss equipment.  Nowadays, especially, they are very excited about the newest products.  Photographers should be building a selection of equipment that will allow them to do photography the way they like and that works effectively for the subject they want to photograph.

As much as I do like talking about cameras, lenses, and other assorted equipment, what I really like to talk about is photographs.  So, last week, when a photographer stopped by my shop with some nice enlargements, I was pleased to say the least.  We talked about how successful her photographs were at capturing the viewer’s attention, where the photos were taken, her objectives for each, the colors, and why she cropped them the way she had.  They were good photographs and looking at good photos sometimes lets you know a bit about the person who took them.  We started talking about photographic composition; not so much of the photos we were looking at, but just a general discussion.  So today I thought I’d put some thoughts down that people could think about when composing a photograph.

A person painting or drawing can truly compose an image; they have total freedom to place, arrange and alter the appearance of visual elements.  Photographers are limited by the actual physical appearance of the subject being photographed and depend on using camera position, point of view or the perspective created by different focal lengths of their lenses.  With photography we try to produce exciting, well balanced images, depending on the subject and how we want to communicate with those elements in the photograph.

What is your photograph about?  Instead of shooting right away, stop to decide which part of the scene you really want to show. Let the content determine the size and importance of the objects.   Try what I call the apple technique:  You are driving along and see an inspiring scene. Don’t just point your camera out the car window!  

1. Stop the car.

2. Get out.

3. Leave the camera in your bag.

4. Get an apple and eat it as you are looking at that inspiring scene.   Think about what you like about it. Make some choices. What would you like to say to the viewer?

5. Then get your camera and make the picture.

As you are making your basic choices and deciding on what visual elements are important think about what the famous War photographer Robert Capra, known for the intensity and immediacy of his images, said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you aren’t close enough.”  Getting closer eliminates distracting objects and simplifies the contents of a picture. It reduces busy backgrounds and focuses attention to the main subject or center of interest.

Another consideration is whether to photograph horizontal or vertical.  I listened to a discussion by successful magazine photographer, Scott Bourne.  He asked the question, “When do you take the horizontal?”  His answer was, “After you take the vertical.”

A final thought is to think about important visual elements and how best to arrange them in your photograph. The Rule of Thirds – Draw imaginary lines dividing the picture area into thirds horizontally, than vertically. Important subject areas should fall on the intersections of the lines.  For example, a photograph of an old barn in a field; move your viewfinder around to see how it would look placed in the upper right intersection the each other after that. If you take the time to decide and compose, your photographs will be much more successful.

What are your thoughts and opinions?