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Few Tips to Improve Your Photographs Immediately

Here are few quick tips that are in no particular order.

Below your knees and above your head. Things might look more interesting from a different perspective. Lay down on the ground or get to higher grounds.

Zoom in or out with your feet once in a while. It’s not the same as rotating the zoom ring.

Observe your subject silently. But be prepared. Few more seconds just might give you something better than a boring shot.

Sneak in a candid or two or more.

Lighting plays a major role.

With and without flashers.

Human elements add to the picture.

But nature is always glorious on its own.

Sometimes you need more than one picture to capture all that glory.

Arugam Bay

Get up before sunrise.

Wait until sundown.

Focus on the eyes.

It’s okay to frame tight.

Sometimes there are frames all around us.

But backgrounds can also be interesting.

Does your picture tell a story?

Images may not be copied, printed, re-displayed on another website or otherwise disseminated without the express written permission of the photographer.
Copyright © Jayaruwan Gunathilake. All Rights Reserved.

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RAW vs Jpeg – Which one is for you?

I think almost every photographer (including me) is at least a little bit guilty of telling people to shoot RAW. While learning how to shoot and process RAW is of utmost importance if you are to exploit the most out of your RAW capable camera, it may not be the best option for every situation. Let’s get straight down to business and see what these two really are.

RAW files are not really image files that can be viewed directly without a special software and the files are usually a proprietary format (the exception being Adobe’s DNG format). Canon’s RAW files have the .CR2 extension while Nikon’s RAW files have the .NEF extension. It is difficult to say how long these file formats will be supported by RAW reading/processing software. However, it’s safe to assume that whenever you buy a new camera, it will include a software to read its RAW files. The problem is that newer software may not support old RAW formats. Adobe claimed that they will always support their DNG format. So some people convert their RAW files into DNG files, which is a lossless conversion (no data lost during conversion, unlike JPEG compression). This can be easily done when you import your pictures into your computer if you’re using Adobe Bridge. Adobe also has a free DNG converter available. You can think of a RAW file as a digital negative. Thus it has to be developed (processed) in the same manner that you would develop a film negative. RAW files contain all the data captured by the image sensor which gives the photographer a wide range to work with during the development phase.

JPEG on the other hand is a universal format. You don’t need any special software to open them and they are readily available for printing straight out of the camera. They are fast and easy to handle but they lack some of the advantages that only RAW files offer. 

Screenshot 2014-07-09 14.18.33

Adobe Camera RAW 7.0 – The picture you see there is a RAW file straight out of the camera without any modifications. I sincerely apologize for cat pictures! I’m a dog person. It’s not even our cat but I digress.

Pros and Cons of Shooting RAW

  • You get all the possible data from the camera sensor.
  • If your white balance is off, it’s much easier to change it later.
  • Higher bit depth. Without going into technical details, this allows smoother transition between colors. Most DSLRs take 12 bit or 14 bit RAW whereas Jpegs are 8 bit.
  • Non destructive editing. Anything you do to a RAW file will be saved in a ‘sidecar’ .XMP file. However, when you’re editing Jpegs, you have to save an addition copy if you want to keep your original.
  • RAW files can be used as evidence. If you ever find yourself in a courtroom and need to prove that a picture belongs to you, providing the RAW file pretty much ends the argument in your favor. Let’s just hope it never comes to that.
  • Higher in dynamic range. If you shoot RAW, it’s much easier to recover underexposed or overexposed areas than shooting Jpegs. Although severely overexposed details are lost no matter what.
  • Pseudo HDR – This is where you make several different files with different exposures using a single RAW file and combining them together to achieve a better result. Of course real HDR will look better but sometimes we just don’t get the chance to bracket our shots the way we want. It’s good to have a fall back option. This is a task which could prove difficult for JPEGs to achieve.
  • Easier to battle with image noise.
  • RAW files take more space. A RAW file from a 15 MP camera would roughly take 15 MB. This of course depends on other settings like ISO etc. But with storage options being dime a dozen now, this shouldn’t pose much of a threat.
  • RAW files fill up the camera buffer faster. This may become a problem when shooting in the continuous mode. Since RAW files take more space, your camera buffer will be filled after you take a certain number of pictures. Then your camera has to stop and write those files to the memory card before you can shoot again. My camera clocks in at 9 RAW files before it needs to stop. This of course depends on the camera.
  • Requires special software to view and edit and is not suitable for printing directly. RAW files need to be processed before you do anything with them. You do need a relatively faster computer to edit RAW files since they contain a lot of data. Any modern computer should be able to handle RAW files with ease though.

Pros and Cons of Shooting JPEG

  • Smaller in size.
  • Can be printed directly.
  • No special software needed.
  • Can shoot a significantly higher number of Jpegs before it fills up the camera buffer.
  • JPEG is a universal format.
  • Camera does some processing for you.
  • Lower in dynamic range.
  • White balance data, color spacing data etc. are embedded to the JPEG. It’s difficult to correct white balance later with a JPEG than with a RAW file.
  • Some data are lost during the compression. Each time you open a jpeg and save, it goes through the compression process over and over again. It is advised that you keep the PSD file and export a jpeg whenever you need and if you want to make further changes, you can always fall back to the PSD file to prevent jpeg compression multiple times.
RAW vs JPEG

RAW vs JPEG comparison. These two were straight from the camera. On the left you can see the RAW image and on the right you can see the JPEG. It is obvious that when you compare these two images, the JPEG looks better. The camera did some processing for you. It appears a little brighter, sharper and there’s more contrast. So if you are not planning to process your pictures at all, shooting JPEG seems to be the better option. These two pictures were taken using the RAW + JPEG option which means they were taken at exactly the same time using exactly the same settings. The RAW file is 19.52MB compared to the 5.75MB JPEG. Click on the picture for a better view.

RAW vs JPEG 1

RAW vs JPEG processed comparison. The processed RAW image is on the left and the processed JPEG is on the right. Once they were loaded into Photoshop, both pictures went through exactly the same work flow. The only difference is that the RAW file was tweaked using Camera RAW before loading it into Photoshop. If you look closely, you might see a very subtle perspective difference too. This is because I applied the ‘lens correction profile’ to the RAW image. Whenever you take a picture, there is some distortion due to the lens. Shorter your focal length, higher the distortion. It can be easily corrected using Camera RAW. Since this was taken at 300mm, there is almost no distortion. You should be able to open your JPEGs using Camera RAW too but for some reason Adobe wasn’t letting me open it. I kept getting an error message. I did some research and it seems to be a common problem. While Camera RAW offers some control over your JPEGs, it won’t offer all the controls it does a RAW file. The processed RAW image is 9.53MB whereas the processed JPEG is 6.15MB. Click on the picture for a better view.

Now, after I processed the RAW files, I converted them to JPEGs to upload here. However, when you do, you lose the advantage of higher bit depth as it goes to being an 8 bit image. If you’ve noticed on the first screenshot up there, I loaded the RAW file into Photoshop as an 8 bit image (where it says Adobe RGB (1998); 8 bit; 4752 by 3168 (15.1MP); 240 ppi – you can click on this and open it as a 16 bit image) since I knew I was going to save it as a JPEG anyway. If you want to retain the higher bit depth, converting to a TIF file is the better option. Most professional printing services use TIF files (they will print JPEGs too of course). But if you’re getting your prints done in Walmart or printing them very small or both, don’t bother. So all of this depends on your needs. 

While during ideal situations where you have control over most elements (like studio lighting etc.), RAW offers little advantage over JPEGs. The further you drift away from ideal situations, and when speed and space is not a concern, shooting RAW is the best option in my personal opinion. In practice, you will be taking a lot of pictures in non ideal situations. I’m not going to go up to an angry charging elephant to hold up a gray card against it to get my white balance correct in camera. I seriously doubt he would be happy about it. I’d much rather spend an extra 30 seconds to correct my white balance during post processing. 

pseudo HDR

Here’s an example of a pseudo HDR I was talking about. On the right side you can see the original RAW file I used to make the pseudo HDR on the left. There was absolutely no way I would’ve achieved this level of details with a JPEG. I did not have a chance to bracket my shots here either as I took this shot while I was in a moving car. Click on the picture for a better view.

Which one is for you?

By now you should have realized that photography is a very subjective field since I mentioned it over and over again. Thus there is no one right or correct way to do things. Whether you will benefit from either RAW or JPEG depends on your needs. If having absolute precision is critical, RAW is the way to go. It offers a wide range of possibilities than JPEGs. This also means that you will probably have to sit and process through copious amount of RAW files. When you keep doing it, you will find easier ways, short cuts and it will significantly reduce the amount of time you spend with one RAW file. RAW is both the holy grail and the downfall of a beginner. As a beginner, you’re likely to make a lot of mistakes when shooting and that’s okay. But if you shoot RAW, much of that can be corrected during post processing. Now, this does not mean that horrible snapshots can be magically converted into world class photographs though. I know there’s a ‘get-everything-right-in-camera’ group. Sure, if you can get everything right in the camera, that is absolutely fantastic and you will get there eventually. But I personally am not there yet. So I shoot RAW. The reason why RAW could be the downfall of a beginner is because the work flow can appear overwhelming at first and even your processed RAW files may look worse than your camera processed JPEGs. But don’t be discouraged. You can only learn by doing it. A while ago, Adobe released a free version of CS2. So if you don’t want to pay a lot of money for software, that may be a good starting place. You are going to have to make a free account with Adobe to download this or you can pick it up from numerous links available throughout the internet. I’m not entirely sure what type of RAW files are supported in CS2 however.

If your pictures are only going to end up in social media and you don’t intend to make and large prints, shooting JPEGs may save you a lot of time. If you’re taking pictures for a craigslist ad, there’s no need to shoot RAW either. Some action photographers resort to JPEGs to save the camera buffer from clocking in early. Some wedding photographers shoot JPEGs just because they don’t want to sit through 2000 RAW files. An untrained eye won’t be able to tell the difference between a properly shot JPEG and a processed RAW image.

As you can see both formats are useful in their own way. I set my camera to RAW couple months after I bought it and it hasn’t been changed since. But that’s my personal choice. I prefer the range it gives me to work with. I make large prints from my pictures for exhibitions and RAW files give me exactly the controls I need over an image. Shooting RAW however doesn’t make you a ‘professional’ (whatever that means) over night.

Modern DSLRs offer the possibility of shooting RAW + JPEGs at the same time. Why don’t people use this and end the debate once and for all? Because it takes a lot more space and while it may be the best option when it comes to the range of possibilities, it can be confusing as hell at times. You will have two files with the same file name and can be difficult to organize your files etc. This is a good option if you want to compare RAW and JPEGs because it will make the both files exactly the same time using the same settings like my examples above. It also comes in handy if you want to display/print something immediately but still want the option to process them in your leisure. This is however a terrible option when shooting in the continuous mode.

What do other people think?

Ken Rockwell says why he “never shoots RAW” and Petteri Sulonen makes his point on shooting RAW. It seems like much of Ken’s examples are rather old. He mentions how his friend was filling up his 256MB card so fast because of shooting RAW. I doubt anyone is using 256MB cards anymore. You can still buy them for like $5 from Amazon but at the same time, a 16GB card is only around $10. So why would you? Like I said before, space is no longer an issue. Ken also mentions something I disagree on; “Which should you shoot? If you have to ask then just shoot JPEG”. Unfortunately most of us were not born with all the photographic knowledge. I know I was not. I learned everything I know today by talking to experienced photographers, reading, and practicing. Nonetheless, both are interesting articles and I will leave it up to you to decide which one is best for you.

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The Very Basics of Photography

Exposure Trianlge

The exposure triangle consists of three (I know you wouldn’t have guessed that) main components – ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. With all the other technical details apart, these three dominate how you are going to make the picture. Understanding the exposure triangle is critical for anyone who wants to master the art of photography. I mean really, there is no other way around it. These concepts should be second nature to you. Do not worry though, they are not too difficult to comprehend. I’ll explain what each of these does and then how they are related to each other.

ISO

ISO stands for International Standards Organization. It’s an organization which sets standards. Who would’ve thought, right? In photography, ISO is an indication of how sensitive your image sensor to light. When you have very little light available, you have to increase the light sensitivity of the sensor to achieve a reasonable shutter speed to capture the image without causing blur. Seems simple enough. But here’s the catch. When you increase the ISO, the image sensor tends to heat up and produces grainy images (image noise). This is the place where bigger pixels trumps the pixel count. So when possible, shoot at the lowest ISO that allows a reasonable shutter speed for the occasion.

Here’s an example of what ISO does to your images.

f/4.0, 70 mm, 1/60, ISO 100

f/4.0, 70 mm, 1/60, ISO 100

f/4.0, 70 mm, 1/4000, ISO 6400

f/4.0, 70 mm, 1/4000, ISO 6400

Notice that the top image is sharper and much cleaner and the bottom image appears very grainy and not as sharp. These are the two extremes that my camera will go. Any ISO between 100 and 6400 will produce an image in between these two extremes. Also note that I kept the aperture (f number) and the subject distance a constant to achieve the same depth of field. So I had to change the shutter speed to get a properly exposed image. Keep these things in mind because it all comes together to form a good image. I will address the focal length and the depth of field in a future post, to learn more about aperture, shutter speed, and the exposure triangle, keep on reading.

Shutter Speed

Seems a little obvious but here goes. Shutter speed is the time the film or the digital sensor is exposed to incoming light. A higher shutter speed is required to freeze the motion, especially comes in handy in sports photography, bird photography etc. A lower shutter speed allows to capture the motion. One of the most popular use of low shutter speed, but not limited to, is taking pictures of waterfalls. It gives the picture a silky feeling. Shooting at lower shutter speeds can produce very creative results. In fact, there are specially designed filters called natural density filters (ND filters, my personal favorite) to cut back a portion of incoming light to achieve very low shutter speeds without over exposing the image. A tripod is essential when using lower shutter speeds to avoid blur caused by camera shake. There’s a rule of thumb called the 1/focal length rule. It means, if you’re shooting at 50mm, your shutter speed should at least be 1/50th of a second to handhold the camera. Anything slower will cause camera blur. Most entry level DSLRs have a maximum shutter speed of 1/4000th of a second whereas high end professional cameras have a maximum shutter speed 1/8000th of second. To achieve these speeds, DSLRs employ a mechanism called shutter curtains. There are two shutter curtains and at higher speeds, as one curtain opens up the other one is already closing. So there is a small slit that allows the light to pass through the curtains into the image sensor.

f/1.8, 50mm, 1/4000, ISO 100

f/1.8, 50 mm, 1/4000, ISO 100

This was taken at 1/4000th of a second and since the shutter speed is very fast, it froze the motion of the droplets.

f/11, 10 mm, 75 sec, ISO 100

f/11, 10 mm, 75 sec, ISO 100

This one on the other hand was taken over a period of 75 seconds. I had to use a 10 stop ND filter to cut back the incoming light to capture the motion of the waterfall. If it wasn’t for the ND filter I would never be able to achieve this shutter speed because it was a bright sunny day and it would have over exposed the picture.

Aperture

Aperture refers to the opening of the lens and is represented by f/number. When the f number is low, for instance f/1.4, the lens has a larger opening. When the f number is high, for instance f/22, the lens has a smaller opening. This greatly affects the depth of field.

Different apertures. Image courtesy – Wikimedia

f/4.0, 70mm, 1/200, ISO 400 - Shallow Depth Of Field (DOF)

f/4.0, 70mm, 1/200, ISO 400 – Shallow Depth Of Field (DOF)

Here the background is out of focus where as the foreground or the subject is in focus. This is what we call a shallow depth of field. I will be referring to depth of field as DOF from now on. DOF, in a nutshell, is the area in focus. Aperture is a key factor when it comes to achieving the desired DOF but not the only factor.

f/22, 70mm, 1/30, ISO 1600 - Deep Depth Of Field (DOF)

f/22, 70mm, 1/30, ISO 1600 – Deep Depth Of Field (DOF)

Compared to the above picture, this one has a cluttered background and the background is in more focus. Notice the apertures used in the two pictures. This one has a deep DOF than the other. Usually a deep DOF is used in landscapes to capture sceneries with both the background and the foreground in focus. At best, this is a crappy DOF but enough to demonstrate the effect of aperture has on DOF. Like I said before, aperture is not the only thing deciding the DOF. Also take note of the different shutter speeds and ISO values I’ve used.

When the lens is at its lowest possible f number, it is said that the lens is wide open. When you look at the name of a lens, the f number mentioned there is the widest aperture (lowest f number) the lens can go. In other words Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 lens can open up to f/1.8. If there’s a range of apertures given, for instance Canon EF 70-300mm f/4.0-5.6 L IS USM, it means at 70 mm the widest aperture the lens can achieve is f/4.0 and as you zoom in the f number will increase too. At 300 mm the widest aperture the lens can achieve is f/5.6. You can of course control the aperture using a small dial on your camera or on older lenses using an aperture ring. Increasing the f number is called stopping down the lens because it stops portions of light as you increase.

The Triangle

Exposure Triangle

Exposure Triangle

Now, you saw the effects of ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture. You need to combine all three of these to achieve your desired goal. Each one of these can throw out the balance of your picture if they are not in correct proportions. you would either get an over exposed image or an under exposed image. 

f/14, 10 mm, 1/160, ISO 100 - Properly Exposed

f/14, 10 mm, 1/160, ISO 100 – Properly Exposed

f/14, 10 mm, 1/40, ISO 100 - Overexposed

f/14, 10 mm, 1/40, ISO 100 – Overexposed

f/14, 10mm, 1/640, ISO 100 - Underexposed

f/14, 10mm, 1/640, ISO 100 – Underexposed

There are several popular analogies to explain the relationship between these three. I will mention a few.

Equilateral Triangle – Imagine that the perfect combination of ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture (perfect exposure) is similar to an equilateral triangle. If you change an angle or a side of the triangle, it’s no longer an equilateral triangle. So you have to adjust the other two accordingly to get it back into an equilateral triangle. Bottom line is that the perfect exposure can be achieved in many different ways. The combination you want to use depends on the result you need. Once you find the perfect combination (cameras have built in light meters to help you with this, although not always very accurate it does a pretty decent job), you can play around with the values. You can lower the f number and increase the shutter speed. You can use a slower shutter speed with a lower ISO etc.

The Window – In this analogy, the camera is similar to a window with shutters. Size of the window is your aperture. Bigger the window, the more light gets in. The time frame you have the window open is like your shutter speed. The longer you have it open, you let more light in. Now, there isn’t exactly an easy way to include the ISO here but imagine that you’re inside the room with your sunglasses on (douchebag alert!). The sunglasses decreases the sensitivity of your eyes to light much like ISO does. Taking off your sunglasses is like boosting the ISO, increasing the sensitivity to light.

Rain Bucket – Unless you do the rain dance, I’m assuming you can’t control the rate of rainfall. This is similar to available light. While there are many ways to manipulate the natural light, let’s just think of a scenario where you’re just shooting as it is. But you can control several other factors to collect just enough (proper exposure) rain water. You can control the diameter of the rain bucket. A wider bucket will collect more rain water in less time whereas a narrower bucket will take much more time to collect the same amount of water. You can also control the amount of time you leave it out there to collect water. Now do you see where I’m going with this? ISO, Shutter Speed, and Aperture are completely under your control to get a properly exposed image.

Here’s the take home message. Lower f numbers (higher apertures) let in more light whereas the higher f numbers (lower apertures) let in less light. This might take some time to get used to because it’s kind of counter intuitive. You can also think of the f/number as a fraction. When the number in the denominator is bigger, the overall value is smaller. This is true for shutter speeds as well. Faster shutter speeds allow less light in and slower shutter speeds allow more light in. Again, think of the number in the denominator. ISO on the other hand is straight forward. Higher the ISO, more sensitive the image sensor is.

Sometimes, you have to intentionally underexpose or overexpose images because the cameras are not just yet advanced enough to capture everything we see in one go. Then you have to combine the best of each image and come up something new.

Combination of the above three images

Combination of the above three images

When you do, it’s called a High Dynamic Range (HDR) image. More on this later though. I’ve dragged this post long enough for now! 

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On Cameras and Choices – What is the Best Camera?

Imagine that you want to build a dog house. Then you find out that you don’t have a hammer. Naturally, you start looking for one. Then you hear stories, legends, and ballads about this great hammer. You embark on a quest to find this legendary artifact. For years you travel through jungles, rivers, oceans, conquer mountains, volcanoes, blizzards and finally you find this supposedly mythical hammer. You take it, go home, and build your dog house. Then it turns out to be crappy. Why? Because you have no experience in carpentry what-so-ever.

Now imagine the outcome if you spent all those years you wasted finding this mythical hammer, honing your skills and carefully designing what you were planning to build. You would end up with a beautifully finished work of art. When you want to make something, do you focus on the product you’re making or the tools you use to get the job done? When you see a beautiful painting, do you ask the artist about his paint brush? When you enjoy a nice meal, do you ask the cook about his stove? Then why do most people end up asking a photographer about his camera?

With the introduction of entry-level DSLRs to the market several years ago, digital photography has become one of the most popular hobbies. Yet one question keeps appearing all over the internet. What is the best camera? It’s very simple. It does not exist. When you post a picture somewhere, there is always that one guy who inquires about the camera you used. The best camera is what you have. You cannot take pictures with a camera that you don’t have. Stop chasing around something that does not exist and learn to use what you have.

Now, a perfectly legitimate question that you can ask a photographer is how he planned the shot and what settings he used. If EXIF data is available to you (in most cases it is) you can easily look at all the settings that were used to make the shot. You can learn a lot from that. But all those famous camera brands have yet to release a camera that takes no bad pictures.

I think the question “what is the best camera?” originated from the misconception that the camera does all the work. But it is a tool just like a paint brush or a hammer. Perhaps the fact that there are so many brands and models is confusing. Why are some cameras more expensive than the others? It’s simply because some offer features that others don’t. Is it absolutely necessary have all these features? Not at all. At the end of the day, a camera just take pictures.

When it comes to buying a camera, you really are spoiled with choices. The range is incredibly large, going from cheap compact point and shoot cameras to high end professional DSLRs that cost as much as a used car. I know I said that the tool you’re using does not matter. But now I’m going to tell you why it would be advantageous to have a decent DSLR. This is a little tricky. Does it matter or not? Well, yes and no. If you can snatch a priceless moment with your cheap pocket camera, that would be much better than a regular snap shot captured by a very expensive DSLR any day. Let me put it this way, it’s something like 75% the photographer and 25% the camera. So it does matter a little. I know, I lied.

So what is the advantage of having a DSLR? First and foremost, it’s electronics vs. mechanics. Compact digital cameras use an electronic shutter system whereas DSLRs use a mechanical shutter system. So the shutter lag in DSLRs is minimal, allowing you to freeze the moment. A DSLR is as fast as you are. Unlike point and shoots that takes couple of seconds to turn on and couple more seconds to take a picture, a DSLR is always ready. Then there is RAW capability of DSLRs, although some compact cameras now offer this feature. But shooting RAW is a story on its own, which I’m hoping to cover in a future post.

DSLRs have larger image sensors than compact cameras. Which means, if you look at a 12MP compact camera and a 12MP DSLR, the DSLR will have larger pixels. Thus it performs way better (higher quality) than the compact camera, especially under low light conditions. High quality and speed, these are the two main advantages of having a DSLR. There’s more but there’s always a catch, isn’t it? The catch is that they are big, heavy, and annoying to lug around. Please do the world a favor and don’t buy a DSLR if you’re just going to keep it on your shelf. You’ve been warned. Now you know it’s heavy and not many people are ready to make the commitment.

Here’s the best and the worst part of having a DSLR. Interchangeable lenses. Why is it the best? Because the quality of the pictures mostly depend on the optics and with specially designed lenses for specific jobs, the performance is fantastic. Worst part? They are going to cost you an arm, a leg, and a liver. Soon you will find out that you’re going to need more than one lens and they cost way more than what you paid for the camera, which is already a hefty sum of cash. Remember, it’s much better to have a cheap camera body and a decent lens than a very expensive body and a crappy lens.

When you buy your first DSLR, it’s easy to get frustrated real fast because you probably only have the kit lens that came with it. The kit lens performs far better than its reputation but it has a lot of limitations. There’s no alternative other than slowly building up your lens arsenal. Until then, stay strong folks!

“Having a camera makes you no more a photographer than having a hammer and some nails makes you a carpenter” – Claude Adams.

DSLR

 

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On Photography

I’m sure that you’ve heard the saying “it’s not the camera. it’s the person behind.” It’s true. the world’s most expensive camera is useless in the hands of a person who doesn’t know how to use it or someone who knows nothing about the basics of photography. That expensive camera will take high quality snap shots but wouldn’t make brilliant photographs. Well, that being said, high quality gear (expensive stuff) does help. It improves the quality of the picture but to make it a memorable photograph is the job of a photographer.

If you’re just getting your first DSLR, read your manual. There’s a lot of information available in there and some of them will be specific to your camera. You need to know your camera like the back of your hand so you won’t miss an opportunity when it presents itself. Look at a lot of photographs. See what you like about them and what you don’t like about them. It’ a subjective field. Think of what you would’ve done differently. Accept constructive criticism. That’s one of the best methods to learn IMO. There are a lot of websites that teach you a lot of different things, different kinds of photography. Read them regularly. Some of them will start to make more sense when you read it for a second time. Be a part of a photography forum. Go on field trips with friends with similar interests. Talk to professionals/experienced photographers. Figure out what type of photography you’re most interested in. Sooner or later you will find out that you tend to take certain types of pictures (landscapes, portraits, street photography, macro, wild life etc.)

There are several stages an upcoming photographer goes through. When you first get your DSLR, it’s like ohh look I took a close up of a flower. My pictures are amazing stage. Unfortunately many don’t get over this stage. Next is my photos are crap stage. You compare your shots with everything else you see and then get disappointed. You see pictures on flashy travel magazines, all over the internet, art galleries etc. and then think to yourself that you’re not good enough. This is where you need inspiration. Instead of thinking that you’re not good enough, learn from all the pictures you see. There’s always a take home message. You will always learn new tricks, from how to compose a good shot to how to manage your pictures to how to process your pictures. Given enough time, anybody can master photoshop. But make no mistake, no amount of photoshopping will turn a snap shot into a brilliant photograph. After this stage, your skill level gradually increases. You will feel satisfied with some of your shots. Good photographs are hard to come by. Even Ansel Adams only expected one good photograph every month. Soon you will have a collection of your favorites. Upload your pictures to somewhere like flickr or 500px. They are great places to share your pictures. Facebook is not as good. It’s good if you want to share your pictures with friends and family but flickr and 500px are mostly for photographer and if offers a whole lot that facebook doesn’t. And I can’t stress this enough, print your favorite pictures. If you think your pictures look good on a monitor, it will blow your mind when you print them. It is a great feeling. This is what helps you feel good about what you’re doing. It’s like “wow, I made that”.

If it’s ever possible, forget digital and get a film camera and use a prime lens (fixed focal length, no zooms) for a little while. It will drastically improve your photographs because you have a limited number of exposures and you have to do the leg work to compose a pictures properly. At the same time, you will be thinking of aperture and shutter speed depending on your film ISO and available light. You need to understand the basics before you try this.

There’s a lot more I can tell but it already turned out to be longer than I expected. I’m sure you can find most of them all over the internet. However, as an end note, I’ll share this.

Ira Glass