Since I have a fair number of friends and acquaintances that are amateur photographers, I have to hear or read about “the best equipment” ALOT. They love to talk about this endlessly, as if it’s all you need to make a good photo. Or I hear, “Oh your camera takes such good pictures!” Really? Ok camera, I’ll be on a beach while you do all the work. So I feel the need to share a little secret; It doesn’t really matter all that much. A camera is simply a recording device.
I’ve used everything from a $50,000 camera to a cardboard box to make beautiful images. The only difference is the technical quality of the image file. Yes, the more expensive the camera, the more detail can be captured. But does it make it an aesthetically nicer photograph to look at than the one I took with my phone? Maybe not.
You can make beautiful music by banging on plastic tubs or with a Steinway grand piano. It’s just all about how you use the tools you have.
You and I can use the same camera, take a picture of the same scene, and have dramatically different results. Why? Because it’s how we see and interpret whats in front of us. I have the “photographic eye”; a gift that is constantly evolving and I have to work on making better, everyday.
The best thing you can do to be a better shooter is learn tips and techniques that make better photographs.
-Shoot what you like. As with anything, the more you like something, the better you will get at doing it.
-Don’t just point and click. Pause for a moment when you look through the viewfinder. Are you effectively using the frame? Where is your point of focus? Try moving it or yourself. It might look better. Pay attention to what’s in the background as well as where lines and objects meet. Is it distracting? Does it make sense?
-For the love of God, PLEASE expose your image properly. This is very easy to do once you learn what aperture and shutter speeds are. You’re guaranteed to capture the proper detail and cut time spent on the computer if you just do it right to begin with. The attitude of “I’ll just fix it later in post” is ineffective and lazy.
-Light is the magic ingredient in photography. Without it, there is no picture. LEARN IT, USE IT. It is like clay-you can mold it into practically anything you want it to be. As general rules for using natural light, the lower the sun is in the sky, the better the quality of light. Overcast days or north facing window light is better for portraits. It is an even soft light that makes your subjects look younger (and who doesn’t want that!) Artificial light is often more manipulatable. There are endless ways to do this.
-Look at photo books, read good magazines (Popular Photo is not one of them), check out professional websites, visit galleries and museums. Think about what elements make these photographs good and then apply them to your own work.
-Get critiqued. You may or may not like what you hear but it’ll make you a better shooter either way.
-Slow down and practice. You’re not going to get it all at once or on the first try.
Since you do need a camera to capture your creativity, I’m going to be a hypocrite and talk about equipment only because I get sick of seeing people buy the wrong things for their needs. If you’re a serious hobbyist, you’ll inevitably choose a DSLR. Most amateurs with money to burn love to buy $8,000 bodies and $200 lenses. Guess what? They just wasted their money. Investing in good lenses is far more important. The more expensive lens is simply much better made. It’s sharper, faster to focus, and can see far more detail. In general, any lens that costs less than $1000 new is most likely not worth buying. A good lens will last you years and it can get a “tune-up”, making it like new again; whereas a camera body has a short shelf life with todays rapidly changing technology. More expensive camera bodies are capable of much more than you need. Why spend money on something you are not using?
That being said, it doesn’t mean you can’t take an amazing photo with the camera in your pocket. Just think before you click.
With all that being said, I’ve saved my little rant for the end. PLEASE DON’T GIVE YOUR PICTURES AWAY FOR FREE. All it gets you is more requests for free pictures. And it’s hurting those of us trying to make a living by giving them away for money.