At What Point Does Gear Matter?

I read a fair amount of articles around when to get gear, arguments for and against gear and on and on and on….  Most of these articles do make valid points and I’m going to toss my 2 cents into the ring Smile

My standpoint is going to be a little different as I’m not going to approach this from the gear side – closer to the scenario side of things.  Let’s explore this a bit.

To me, photography is about capturing the moment.  If you can capture the moment, in reality, how you captured it, is irrelevant.  Now, in saying that, as one progresses and tries to improve, there is a bit of a natural progression.  You have a camera or perhaps decide to get a new one – the initial intent of course, is to take photos.  In fact, it might even be your phone – doesn’t matter.  Not yet anyway Smile  Soooo.. as one progresses, you may want to get better.  If you follow ads, that latest and greatest camera will get you better photos – right?  Well, it depends…..sort of……  IF you have learned the basics and rules of  photography AND perhaps reached a point where your existing camera simply doesn’t do something you “see”.  At some point you become VERY serious and may trade, or buy your way into your “dream” camera and here you are…..  Soooo….what do you end up with?  Perhaps one camera, a backup and related accessories?  More important here – do you have your camera with you at all times?  If you are a serious amateur, you likely don’t Smile  You may have a DSLR or even a mirrorless perhaps, but there is a strong likelihood you don’t.  Unless. of course, you are not worried about using your phone…..To me, it’s about the moment and the camera is the tool.  What that tool is, shouldn’t matter for the most part.  BUT in saying that, there’s another perspective.  THIS also depends on where you are on the totem pole.

I consider myself a very serious photographer.  I have over 15 years in 35mm film and have now been in the digital space for more than a few years.  From my 35mm days, I do know the basics and despite the fact I’m still developing my brand, I have developed some personal mandates. 

1.  It is about capturing the moment.  I have my own theory around that.  When I started in the digital space and started to acquire my cameras, the intent was to have a camera with me at all times.  The one thing I DIDN’T do, was get rid of my cameras.  And I have a LOT of them – 15+ at last count.

2. I do try to “get it right” in camera.  So what does that mean.  Two things – I know the technical side of the camera to ensure my settings are correct for what I want to do.  I get my composition as close to what I “see” on the shot.  Does that mean I don’t take a lot of photos?  Not really – it goes beyond that.  I will take different exposures, angles. compositions as well.  There’s a reason – reduce post processing time.  Look at it this way – if you are sitting at your computer, you are taking time away from taking photos or time to prepare to take photos.

When I got going on this, I actually got my gear based on what I was doing at the time and as my “direction” changed, I got different gear accordingly.  Everything I do, even to this day, is based on mobility – or having the least amount of equipment to get the job done.  To a point…..  My photography fits into two basic categories.  The casual stuff and the serious stuff to keep it simple.  Casual  basically is the snapshot area.  In other words, everything from social events to reference photos for my properties.  Serious stuff is the stuff that the public sees.  DSLR’s are my primary use cameras but I am not bound to them in some situations either. 

So, why DSLR’s?  I do have a Micro Four Thirds unit – a Panasonic GX1 with a couple of lenses and it does just fine.  I also have a Fuji X10 – another great unit that I still use.  DSLR’s get me “into the game”.  I went into DSLR’s for two primary reasons.  First – image quality – I knew I would be in the space where the larger sensor would become a factor.  As good as Micro Four Thirds is, I do like what the larger sensor returns.  My Nikons are APS-C and not full frame, but all things considered, my preference is still with my Nikons.  The Panasonic and Fuji’s render every so slightly warmer in some situations.  The second was based on circumstance – battery power was a key factor and even today there are times when the extra battery power of  my Nikons reigns supreme.  Does the extra weight get in the way?  Yes, there are times.  And then there are accessories.  Micro Four Thirds, to my knowledge, have only recently been in the high speed sync space.  In mirrorless it’s just hitting a point where the flexibility is there.  But not in all cases. DSLR’s have had that flexibility for accessories for a long longer.  For instance – if I need to use radio triggers for a studio setup or equivalent, I don’t have to worry about looking very far or even spending a lot of money to get them.  I have several sets of radio triggers actually depending on the scenario.  I recently bought a bare bulb flash unit for some very specific work – getting one for Nikon was easy.  If I had been using say a Panasonic GH4 – not a hope.  Try and get a radio trigger release or even a remote release for something other than Canon or Nikon – not as easy as you think.

Sooo.. the bottom line.  Is there a point where gear matters or makes a difference?  To me, yes.  It’s also a judgement call.  You envision a specific type of photo and your current stuff doesn’t quite fit the bill.  Will getting new gear or extra gear make you a better photographer?  No, it won’t make you a better photographer – it will get you the shot though Smile

New Directions–Gear to Fit

Let’s face it – most of us in this space a gear junkies to a certain degree.  I probably have way more cameras than I could possibly use let alone things like studio gear, flashes and accessories.  BUT, in saying that, in order to shift with direction changes or addressing some new markets to ply my “trade”, one needs to ramp up too.  I’ll explain a bit.

In my “real life”, I’m an unemployed Sr. Business Analyst in IT.   For a while now, I’ve been looking at photography as an alternate area.  Yeah yeah – I know – this could be a tough haul.  I know that, but at the same time…..  Indicators are there with the research I’m doing.  There are opportunities out there.

From the camera and lens side of things, I’m at a point where I “think” I’m in good shape to tackle everything upcoming.  Lighting or getting more of it is where I’ve been targeting my efforts recently.

When I’m doing close up work (flowers, plants mostly), I use flash where necessary.  Everything from fill flash to High Speed Sync to multiple units including continuous lighting.  For portraits, I use strobes.  Event work is mostly with flash and my LIghtSphere.  My primary flash is the Nikon SB700, with a Yongnuo as my backup.  For the most part, this works fine.  For a lot of my work in stills, I do use either a remote release whether it be Nikon’s infrared one or their cable release.  I also will use a radio trigger release depending on mobility requirements.  And then… I recently some stuff where the SB700 simply didn’t have the “oomph” I needed to light things up the way I wanted.  Sooo…. the hunt began.  My first thought was the Nikon SB900.  This would allow me to stay inside Nikon’s Creative Lighting System.  That was the first thought Smile  BUT… when I started to look at it closer, I thought there might be other options.  That option ended up being a StrobePro X360 Bare Bulb Unit tied in with a set of radio triggers capable of High Speed Sync. This was a bit of a tough call in it’s own right.

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Ok – this unit puts out at 300 Watt Seconds for starters. That’s strobe territory!!!  It does have a battery pack.  It’s got a lot of pieces, though keeping it partially assembled gets around that.  This is also quite a big unit.  Think SB910 but with a battery pack attacked.  The battery pack will allow me to go over 900 shots on a charge).  Now in thinking about that, I won’t be using it anywhere close to that in real life, but what I was after was power AND mobility.  What this now allows me to do, is increase WHAT I can do.  The tough call part…….

For  a little bit more, I could have got the new StrobePro LED strobe that just came out – it’s a battery powered LED strobe/600 WS  and in reality, easier to set up.  The deal breaker for me was two fold.  I didn’t want another strobe at this point and more important – I would literally have to haul more gear with me.  It’s not that I won’t get it – I can see needing one at some point.  Just not now.  Also for what I wanted to do, I would still need to add the HSS radio triggers anyway.  The X360 plus triggers actually cost less than the base strobe. More important – portability.  I can attach this to my D7200 (though I do have a bracket as well) if I need to.  If I used a strobe, that mobility would be lost.  THAT was real deal breaker.  At this point anyway, I wanted the most flexibility for the price.  Horsepower, mobility and High Speed Synch.  Set up time was a compromise I would have to sacrifice.

Now about bare bulb units.  These aren’t for everyone.  Not cheap by any stretch but if one needs sheer horsepower in a smaller unit – these are definitely a consideration.  Sure there were others out there that were smaller and single unit, but nothing close performance wise.  The X360 comes with a reflector and diffuser.  My initial tests were done with the diffuser and to me, it’s amazing!!!  Even with the diffuser on it, this thing puts out!!!  My most powerful studio strobe is 250 W/S and for most things I do with portraits, I’ve got these dialled down.   From the mobility part  – a battery powered strobe would ALWAYS require a stand.  The flash wouldn’t – I could attach it to my camera or even a bracket if needed that way.  Ideally, I wanted to be able to use this on a stand.  Did I need more accessories around this?  Yes.  A couple of things.

As I mentioned before, I added some radio triggers.  Go figure – I already have radio triggers for my strobes, but they don’t support High Speed Synch.  That’s OK – my strobes aren’t set up for that anyway Smile  When I started to experiment with High Speed Synch, I was working inside Nikon’s Creative Lighting System (CLS).  In reality, this is a REALLY neat thing if you can incorporate into your photography.  I do Smile  When I was looking to get the bare bulb unit, HSS was definitely a consideration.  With the extra power that the bare bulb unit has, it’ll increase my capability to do other things in this space.  I have ideas……. Smile  This was also a consideration when it came down to choosing a higher powered flash – an SB910 or the StrobePro X360. 

Before I continue on…. a comment about power in lighting units.  It’s interesting how your perspective changes over time.  For instance, with my strobes and existing flash units, what I had currently is more than adequate for everything I was doing at the time.  THEN, I started to work in a few new spaces – product displays and still life work. It was then I decided to start changing things up a bit.  The thinking went along these lines….

When you are taking photos for yourself or even for competition, things like setup time takes a back seat.  By that, I mean, we are striving for “that shot”, and so we’ll go literally go to extremes to get the setup correct.   As we become more and more advanced, lighting becomes a little more complex depending on the session involved.  I like to work on the principle of keeping things as simple as possible.  That doesn’t mean I won’t go to a more complex configuration, I will, but then again, I’m constantly striving for a certain look to my photos – part of my “brand” if you want to call it that.  Part of the close up work I do (a lot with plants), involved experimenting with different lighting configurations.  My most sophisticated one for close ups was on a plant, an Amaryllis, where I used window light, a couple of LED lights and electronic flash to create the shot I wanted.  Over the last few months, I had been incorporating more and more continuous lighting into my close up photos.  Again, this was in specific instances.  At the same time, I was also watching what was happening in LED technology.  It was advancing and I started to work with more and more with LED studio lighting.   I had acquired a StrobePro L308 and a Neewer one for “testing” purposes and then, I had to do a larger type of shoot.  I was able to get by with strobes, but I had to take more than a few shots to get the lighting how I wanted it.  I decided that I wanted to get a little more efficient in doing this sort of things, seeing as this was an area I would be spending more time in.  That prompted a hunt that resulted in a StrobePro L1500, a 1500 watt LED studio light.    I went to StrobePro to check it out and play with it and then decided to buy it.  This is actually my first “pro level” light and WOW is all I can say.  That totally changed how I look at product work!!! 

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In the big picture, my existing camera bodies and lenses are more than adequate for what I’m planning to do.  The big puzzle now is the future adventures as I book more gigs.   Onward.

Best Laid Plans–Quick Decisions-Sometimes a Great Adventure “Happens”….

Decisions

In today’s world, and I guess we’ve all noticed this, is that technology (in theory), allows us to jam more things into a day and as a direct result, we tend to “stuff” more into a day.  At the pace we move at, a lot of times, it seems like a change in schedule can create some major drama as we re-schedule to adjust.  Something as a simple delay in something puts the rest of the day or week into turmoil as try to keep everything on track.

If one is into photography at the level that I am, which is quite “deep”, and also looking at it as a potential career path, one of the very key elements for me is actually time itself.  Having been unemployed for a while, AND having revenue properties (and one being prepped for rental), AND trying to figure out next steps on the photo side can be hectic to say the least.  As we have been coached to do – keep to routine, etc. etc. etc.  At the same time, we need to be flexible enough to be available for interviews, meetups, coffee meetings, etc.  To me, one the very key elements around this, is taking breaks – more important – taking breaks without guilt.  The one big saying from my past that I try to adhere to – “Slow down to speed up”.  That’s one that I interpret to mean that those “breaks” are more valuable than one initially realizes.  We already know that we should take breaks from being on our computers – but do we? I don’t think so.  As much as we try, that screen seems to swallow us to the point where we lose track of time.  Suddenly – we are rushing to get back on schedule. 

Anyway – starting to rant…..  With me, literally over the last year or so (I actually did have work for a few months), I’ve been dealing with several streams in parallel.  Looking for work, renovation work, photography all simultaneously and there comes a point where one literally does need to stop and take a real break.  Let’s face it – when things drag out (like looking for work in a tough economy), it can get very frustrating.  Getting away from that PC, or attending meetup after meetup, forever coffees and then back to other “stuff”, can really get one’s mental state down.  For me, photography is one of the few things that clears my head, but in saying that, I need to literally take either several hours or a full day  to “level out”.  Driving and looking for photo ops, for me, is amazingly relaxing. I have many hobbies, but this one is one of the ones that I am very passionate about.

Last year, our networking group took literally a day off and got out of the city.  Absolutely refreshing and we vowed to do it again at some point.  Well, it didn’t happen quite that way, but this year, I decided to make a more deliberate attempt at this, even if I did a bit on my own.  Especially this last month or so.  A more recent trip was to the Saskatoon Farm in Okotoks which was with some other friends turned into a wonderful time.  Most of our networking group couldn’t make it, but despite that, we went ahead anyway. 

This last time, things sorta happened more on an impulse than anything else.  It wasn’t scheduled in the sense of schedule – like deliberately planning ahead of timeSmile   A couple of things were happening in parallel streams.  I was doing renovation work on one of my properties and at the same time, as time permitted, I was flushing out photos for my portfolio.  The initial “plan” was to pay a visit to another person in our network.  Farah, one of folks in  our network, has been helping me with renovations as her time allows.  That morning, part of my “plan” was actually to  spend a bit of time taking photos before Farah and I got together to go visit Jen for something that I needed to get to her.  At the same time, I had this underlying urge to get out of the city.  AND to make it worse, I knew that renovation still had to be done…..  Anyway, it started like this:

I had to get gas for the car  – as I was getting gas, I happened to notice a rather interesting cloud formation that “might” get me a landscape shot or two.  AND at the same time, the plan was to get more photos printed for my portfolio.  Sooo… off to Nose Hill I went (one of my favourite spots for cityscapes) and I got this shot.

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Nice shot, but not “quite” what I was looking for.  You see, I need to add more landscapes to my portfolio to round it out.  Then, as I was trudging back to my car, Farah phoned to say we couldn’t get to Jen’s today.  Farah, had also, I think, planned to help with renovations once we visited Jen’s.    Wow!!  Suddenly there was this blank spot in the schedule and IF I didn’t do renovations…… AND with the weather being abnormally good for this time of the year, there could be an adventure in the works Smile   It’s actually Farah that calls these outings adventures, and they actually are to a certain degree – no set plan per se – just something very general.  A quick question about Farah’s schedule and it turned out she was game Smile  Soooo.. off I went to get her and then we got my prints made and THEN, we needed to decide on a direction. We decided on East to about Langden/Carseland, and then a loop back into Calgary somewhere south of the City.  The intent was to see if I could get not only some landscapes, but perhaps some old run down buildings, whatever.  We got to the printers, and as luck would have it, due to it being Remembrance Day, they weren’t going to open for another hour.  We decided to grab something to eat, THEN got the prints made and off we went.

I’m going to insert this map a couple of times to give a bit of easy reference.

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I made the decision to go on the #1 TransCanada highway going east.  As we got to Chestemere, I asked Farah if she had ever been here and she hadn’t.  I hadn’t been there in a lot of years, sooooo…. we “diverted” to snoop around.  First off, we found this store called The General Store – it’s sort of a combination of a dollar store and curio/trinket type shop.  I’ve also seen one like this in Didsbury.  Then, we decided to tour around the lake, and stopped at a few spots.  Of course, to get photos Smile   Chestemere Lake itself was like a mirror – no wind.  One thing we also noticed, and it was a bit shocking, sort of, was the number properties for sale along the lakefront on both sides of the lake.

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Back on the #1.  We got to the Langden/Carseland turnoff and then headed south along Highway #24 to the Mossleigh turnoff and then headed back west towards Okotoks.  Along the way, we noticed a lot of harvesting going on with the good weather we’ve been having.  As we moved along, I was watching how the clouds were forming and with the sun peeping out or trying to the odd time, coupled with the cloud formations, I knew that a “stunner” would be in the works.   AND then we found a spot where we could safely pull over.  THIS was the shot.

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We actually spend about 20 minutes here.  Then, into Okotoks along 547 for a Tim’s and a short break from driving.  Now – for folks wanting a pretty drive in the country, heading west from Okotoks towards Black Diamond and Turner Valley, this is one for your bucket list Smile  You are starting to head into the Foothills and one sees the mountains.  By the time we got close, it was roughly 3:00 p.m. and as we hit the Priddis turnoff, I turned the wrong way.  I didn’t realize that until the first road marker showed we were on the way to Bragg Creek.  In reality, something should have twigged me that we were heading the wrong direction, but at the same time, it was not that big of a deal either Smile Sometimes, it simply works out.  Farah had never been in that area and I hadn’t been there in at least forever, so we “kept on truckin’”.  I had forgotten how pretty that stretch of road really was. 

One thing here.  When I drive on these little “tours”, I’m there for the drive and photos  and not necessarily too worried about routes or schedules per se.  The reason?  My car Smile  Because we never really had an extra vehicle available, and the way our lives are, getting out like this, for the sake of getting “out”, simply didn’t happen.  By the time we hit Bragg Creek, it was closer to 5:00 p.m., so we didn’t stop there and headed back into Calgary.  Now, again, I kinda wanted to head back via either #1 or even Cochrane, but I ended up back via #8…..

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It turned out that Farah had never been to Bragg Creek either, so perhaps another “adventure” could be in the works here Smile  Perhaps…… a loop from Canmore/Banff south back into Bragg Creek on the next one… Still thinking on that one…… 

Until the next one……..

Taking a “Break” from Job Hunting

In creating this entry, I was torn between posting this on my photo blog or my technology blog.  This entry sort of straddles that line Smile  Because it’s more photography driven, here we are in my photo blog.

As the coaches from our various networking sessions have told us, job hunting is a job in itself. It’s also mentioned that job hunting can also be a “lonely” thing and job hunting as a group makes things much less tedious as well as a bit more accountable Smile  They’ve also told us about the importance of taking breaks.  The “breaks” that have been mentioned tend to be short ones and one of the drawbacks I’ve found, is that they don’t always clear your head as they should.  Anyway, that’s what I’ve found.  Of course, in today’s economy where jobs are scarce and networking is a very key component of the job search, I’ve also found that those breaks tend to be few and far between.  Because I have several “streams” of options away from the world of IT, early last year, we took a break for literally a whole day and went into Kananaskis Country for our break.  Oddly enough, we didn’t do that again until recently.

The one thing I’ve found as part of that “head clearing” process, is that for my head to clear, I need to do”something” that steers my mind totally away from the job seeking thing completely.  More important, something that diverts me from my PC as well as my phoneSmile  For me, one diversion happens to be photography.  Now – in saying that, photography is not only a passion, it’s also a potential career path so taking photos on a constant basis is critical to getting more skilled. 

How many times have you heard of a location that you one day SHOULD go visit, but life gets in the way and you really never get there?  More important, when one is NOT working, there’s never really a better chance to do that, so perhaps this “guilt” comes into play and you don’t go because you SHOULD be job hunting.  One of our coaches, recently suggested we visit the Saskatoon Farm near Okotoks as a place that might be fun to visit.  I’ve been in Calgary since 1969 and wanted to go there more than a few times and never did go, so this “memory twig” was the perfect incentive to simply go.  Yes, there was a little planning to ensure I could get away for the day, but the day was picked and away we went.  Because, it’s quite late in the year, coming into mid October, we knew that flowers wouldn’t be in bloom – we wouldn’t be able to pick Saskatoons, BUT we were told there was an awesome restaurant (good food is always an incentive Smile) and most important, it was out of the city.  For those who don’t get out much – there’s nothing like a drive in the country side AND especially near Calgary, where is less than an hour from the Rockies to help clear your head.  More important – the weather cooperated and we had a nice sunny day!

Soooo….. the Saskatoon Farm is located near Okotoks just off the #2 south of Calgary.  About 20 minutes from the city limits.  There is a sign for the turnoff, so one does have to watch for it.

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On entering the farm, one is greeted by the main gate.

 

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As one gets past the gate, there are ponds on either side.

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In getting into the parking lot, one of the ladies in the networking group, Farah, noticed some rather interesting ice formations in frozen puddles.

 

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As one gets to the main part of the farm, we see this:

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It was suggested that we go right to the end and backtrack and so we did that.  The “farm” itself, straddles the edge of a valley and the Saskatoon growing area is situated in the valley.  The view (even in the fall) is quite stunning in it’s own right.

 

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One can actually go and pick your own when they can be harvested!!  This would be earlier in the year.  Definitely something to keep in mind for next year.

By the time we started backtracking, we decided that lunch would be in order so in we went.  The restaurant/general store is quite neat if you are into antiques.  The restaurant is modeled accordingly.

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The food was amazing plus, of course, being a Saskatoon farm, desert simply HAD to be Saskatoon Pie, with whipped cream and Saskatoon Ice Cream Smile

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With food out of the way, it was determined that we definitely needed to take a walk Smile  Notice that Farah & I shared the pie……  We meandered a bit through the store and looked at various things.

 

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If one is into antiques, knick knacks, whatever…. this is definitely an interesting place.

Of course, a little something for home….

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Once we were done at the General Store, we did a little exploring outside.  Despite we were there very late in the year, there was still a lot to see.

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We arranged to meet at about 10:30 a.m. and by the time we finished, it was close to 3:00 p.m.  I can’t imagine how much longer we would have been there had this been mid-summer!!

But WAIT!!  It doesn’t end there Smile  Farah has always said that it was always an “adventure” whenever we went exploring and I really wanted to get closer to the mountains, so rather than head back to the city, I decided on a slight “detour”.  We looped back to Okotoks and then headed west.  Of course, we were also due for a Tim’s so that became a priority once we got into Okotoks Smile  As we headed west, I totally had forgot about the “rock” and Farah had never seen it, so we stopped to take a closer look.

 

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We decided to take a walk around the rock and if one is into seeing patterns in the sandstone:

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The sun was starting to get lower and there’s this one “effect” I had seen and wanted to see if I could reproduce it.  It’s shooting into the sun, but creating a “starburst” effect.  To be a little technical, it involves putting the camera into Aperture Priority mode and using a smaller aperture (like f22 or f16) and the blades of the aperture create the light dispersion.

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Because we are in the foothills AND it was a sunny clear day, the Rockies were quite prominent.

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Rather than fight rush hour, we continued on to Black Diamond, Turner Valley, Millarville and took 22x back to Calgary. 

What a wonderful way to end the day!  In one sense, it was tough coming back to real life Smile

Fit for Purpose…”Stuff” for “Stuff”

Sooo… what the heck do I mean by that?  Smile  From previous posts, I guess you do know that I’m a gear junkie. Actually, I’m like that beyond photo gear too……  If you didn’t know, I’m also a person that is a firm believer in the correct tool for the job.  When I started my “passion revival” in digital photography from 35mm film days, as I advanced in the gear I was obtaining, there was this realization that set in.  These smaller cameras actually did a pretty job.  Once I hit DSLR’s though, I really didn’t stop using them.  AND, I have more than few Smile

I guess there are a few trains of thought around this and to a certain degree, there’s merit to both.  Here’s sort of my take on this.

I’m a fan of high quality images just as much as the next serious amateur.  Perhaps the biggest difference for me, is that I’m very conscious of what the end image needs to look like in high quality for a specific purpose.  Here’s a take for you.  I have revenue properties.  I need to take reference photos constantly for inspections, potential investments, repairs, etc.  I do need a good quality image, but I sure the heck don’t need RAW.  A pointy shooty of sorts more than fits that bill.  Does that mean I DON”T use my DSLR’s?  Not really, if I am putting up a property for rent, THAT will be shot on my DLSR’s.  Maybe…. Smile  It’s going to be web sized photo.  Content is more important – image quality should be good.  Look at it this way.  Why would I spend time doing image processing on something that may or may not even get looked at more than once? 

Family events, or social events with friends.  You know – for the most part, if it’s convenient, I’ll take my DSLR’s, but one of my more advanced pointy shooties like a travel camera is more than adequate.

The DSLR perspective.  I guess one of the key differentiators of when I do use my DSLR’s tend to be this “end purpose” thing.  Anything that says “formal” or even resembles formal – it’ll be DSLR’s first and Micro Four Thirds. IF image quality is paramount – it’ll be the “big stuff”.  Event shoots, landscapes that I may show, my close up work all will be done with my DSLR’s.  RAW, of course Smile  BUT… there are those “compromise” moments too.

Have I gotten great photos with stuff other than my DSLR’s?  Absolutely.  It all breaks down to being able to squeeze out the best in each unit I have.  My travel cameras and hybrids have big zooms.  My Fuji X10 gets me into low light where my DLSR’s don’t always do that great.  Well, they do, but sometimes….. I shoot with Nikons with APS-C sensors.  Not fully “pro” but more than adequate for what I do.  Yes, I do paid gigs Smile  There’s also budget Smile  Staying here, allows me to get experience with gear I wouldn’t be able to afford. 

One area that I’m exploring is available light, or lower lighting conditions don’t always merit a flash.  I attend networking sessions where I’m simply too far away to use flash and even with the travel cameras there’s a limit to how high I can kick up ISO and still get a decent image.  Not a high quality image, per se, but a good working image.  AND, at these events, I rarely bring my DSLR’s anyway – simply too bulky.  They are my reference photos for other things.  What I was looking for, was something that didn’t break the bank, had a fast lens AND a pretty big zoom.  That solution turned out to be the new Panasonic LUMIX FZ200.  24x zoom and f2.8 thru the zoom range!  I recently acquired this and did my first “tests” at a recent networking event.  I was able to shoot at ISO 1600 quite easily and got some pretty usable shots for what I needed.  I’ll show some of my results once I do more testing and get a little more familiar with the camera.  I’ve only had it a week or so, but I’m pretty pleased so far.   More a little later.

For me, I like to have a camera with me all the time.  My normal “truck around” type camera will be something like the Nikon S9400 or S9900 – both are quite small and easy to chuck into my “man purse” or brief case.  I will also take my Fuji XF1 – quite a bit smaller than my X10 – as well.  That gives the versatility of both big zoom and low light.  BTW – that S9400 or S9900 has gotten me some pretty great shots Smile  IF I have a bit more time in tasks, I will take my DSLR’s. 

Does it sound like I have a lot of cameras?  I do Smile  As I progress over the last few years, I’ve acquired cameras to suit my changing needs. Compared to many, I didn’t sell any of them – in fact, I do use them a LOT.  There are a few that I don’t use a lot of – my Panasonic GX1 – it’s a Micro Four Thirds unit.  AND I really should use it more as I have several lenses for it and it does give me a great image.  BUT with the advent of me acquiring more DSLR gear, especially bodies, it’s getting lonely, I think Smile  It used to be my backup unit as was my Fuji X10 for a while, but with each progression, they get used less and less.   And then there’s planning for the future.

Up until recently, my “top end” DSLR was the D7100.  Before that, I had a D3200 and D5100.  I got the D3200 to get me “into the space” and as a learning tool.  Then I got the D5100 for it’s articulating LCD viewer to allow me to do close ups and portraits easier.  High speed synch was the motivator for getting the D7100 as the other two couldn’t manage that.  One of the key things here though, is that there’s a bit of a difference in controls and under certain conditions, the other two, don’t quite have the functionality of the D7100.  I decided to get the D7200 to offset that and stay consistent. 

When it comes to lenses – there are tons of articles that talk about all those lenses that one SHOULD have.  Again, this is something that should be taken a little tongue and cheek.  So here’s the thing.  IF you get a DSLR, that kit lens isn’t such a dumb thing.  Images are more than adequate and it’s a pretty good starting point to boot.  The Nikon one is an 18-55mm and it covers short wide angle to medium telephoto.  Where most photos are generally  taken.  The other thing and I guess it depends on where you are coming from, but there will be a bit of a learning curve in figuring out those controls.  The metering is different to those smaller ones.  DSLR’s, I think, are a but reverse in that you do need to understand controls to achieve the “art” or at least the vision.  Or to put a little different – you can now get closer to the vision Smile  Everyone “sees” a photo different and as you advance in the art, getting the camera to reflect the “vision” is the trick.  Software can get you even close if the camera can’t though getting it right in camera is where it’s at to me.  I’ve had instances where things like polarizers and ND filters still don’t quite reflect what I see so LightRoom it is.  Getting the exposure to the point where you can do that however – new issue Smile  To me, it’s very critical to know the limits of the camera.

Back a bit to lenses.  I’ll give you a but of insight into my “working lenses”  The brunt f my work is based around mobility and efficiency.  What that means, is that I want to work with as few lenses as possible while being able to be mobile and not lug tons of gear.  For me, I like landscapes so rather than restrict myself to prime lenses, I have a Tamron 10-24mm super wide to wide angle zoom.  My other lens is a Sigma 18-250mm which give me a bit of overlap on the wide side and a fairly significant zoom on the other.  This lens also has macro, so it covers some of my close up work capability.  Now – to stay even more flexible – I have two bodies.  That way – no swaps.  Does that mean I don’t have primes?  NO – I do have primes around the things I do.  I do have a Nikkor 50mm f1.8, Micro Nikkor 40mm f2.8 and a Tamron 60mm f2.8.  The 40mm and 60mm cover off my close up work.  The 60mm sits right in my “portrait” focal length and the 50mm is my general purpose lens.  And then there’s the accessories Smile

A tripod is a given – I have two, actually.  One heavy duty one for portraits and close ups.  The other for portable.  For my close up work, I use flash a lot so have an extension cord for remote flash work, focusing rails, extensions tubes and close up lenses.  For my portrait work, I use strobes, electronic flash so have those, plus backdrop stands, umbrellas, reflectors, radio triggers, etc. to accommodate how I do “stuff”.

I’m going to chat about workflows vs equipment acquisition for a bit as I feel it’s relevant. 

I’m sure most have read about the pros and cons of acquiring gear.  There’s a lot of merit to this.  One of the pitfalls of just going out and buying gear for the sake of buying gear isn’t always a good thing and it definitely doesn’t make you a better photographer.  I’m just as impulsive as the next person for getting stuff, but despite all that, I do plan a lot before acquiring gear.  It’s also a matter of balancing usage vs budget.  I can’t emphasize enough about researching before you buy.  Researching includes the internet, of course.  BUT that also means heading “out there” and taking those photos – chatting with other photographers (photo meetups are a great way of learning, BTW), and even assisting a pro if opportunity shows up.  Even with the amount of experience I have, I’m constantly learning new stuff.   And the heart of things – taking photos……

I go about it like this.  I do take a lot of photos – I do a lot of experimenting in the areas I’m interested in.  I’m also VERY cognizant of what my cameras are capable of and so if I need to use software after, I also take that into account if I can’t get my cameras to do what I “see”.  I’m also game for trying out new areas that I normally don’t consider if the opportunity arises.  For instance – I may be out with the express intent of landscapes (I recently did this, actually….), but along the way, I found some flowers, I had an opportunity for some street photography and candid work – we were in a curio shop or two and I got some pics of some furniture for a future woodworking project – reference photos.  Bottom line here – LOOK AROUND!!! 

I guess a lot has to do with your interest level.  I’m quite passionate about several hobbies – photo being one.  I’m not so fussy about others.  I’ve run into so many folks who have quite sophisticated gear but simply don’t “see” stuff.  They will take the odd photo, maybe some vacation pics or family events and that’s that.  They are not interested in capturing the “moment”, I guess.  PLUS, they don’t use their cameras all that often, as you can imagine.  I use my cameras at every opportunity – I like to have a camera with me all the time as well.  Do I have moments where I don’t take photos?  ABSOLUTELY!!  Do I have moments where I can’t find a thing to take a photo of?  Yes.  Do I force myself to take photos?  NO!  What I will do though, is read or do something else.  I am very busy, so for me, when I do get the chance to take photos, I’m usually ready Smile 

I also find that researching stuff around photography gives me inspiration to try other things.  I see a pic and think “How did they do that?” – research, experiment to see if I can duplicate that, and then if I can’t, try to decide if it’s something I want to do on a more regular basis.  For instance.  I was at a job fair and saw a pro taking photos.  He had a rather unique reflector on his flash.  I inquired about it.  It turned to by a Gary Fong LightSphere.  Our discussion prompted me to investigate further.  That conversation resulted in me totally changing certain techniques for events and certain types of outdoor things.  It also launched me into a whole new level of photography.  There was a ripple effect – one thing that one of  the videos showed, was using the LightSphere in conjunction with High Speed Synch to achieve an effect I was trying to do Smile  The issue – the cameras I had at the time didn’t support it.  At the time, I had a D3200 and D5100, which were more than adequate for what I was doing at the time.  I got the LightSphere and started to experiment like crazy to figure out the nuances.  I was also contemplating getting another body – the choices being a D7100 or D7200 both of which would support high speed synch.  I happened to hit a sale and got the D7100 for a very good price.  I looked at it also as an opportunity to find out what the next level was for gear.

From what I thought to what I found out, were totally different – believe me.  Even knowing the extra capabilities didn’t prepare me for the learning curve!  Operational was easy – taking advantage of extra controls was a whole new issue!  The big thing was, was where it’s taken me.  When I was deciding to get the D7100, there were a couple of things that were going to make my life easier.  More battery power, dual card slots for starters.  Learning all the external controls away from menus and a larger buffer were some of the benefits.  Battery power was a key thing for me – certain events I had done still required me to swap batteries.  The D7100 did away with that with it’s extra capability.  Despite all that – I was ecstatic about getting it.  It ultimately prompted me to acquire a D7200 body as well.  It’s also driven me to take even more photos and try even more things!  Bottom line here, for me, is that it’s starting to define certain areas of photography a little more clearly for the long term.  Very important for me as I’m considering it as a sideline, not a hobby.

The bottom line here, is that I do research and experiment a lot before making an equipment acquisition.  I also will try to DIY first to see if something can be done that way.  In the case of the LightSphere, before, I was using several different flash attachments – the LightSphere did away with that.  The other reflectors weren’t that expensive compared to the LightSphere but the efficiency of the LightSphere more than offset the cost.  I actually have two with a complete accessory kit, so if needed, I have a super portable indoor/outdoor studio.  For what I do, this was a worthwhile investment.  For me, I will look for a DIY  solution first, and then decide if the commercial solution will be easier and more convenient.  To me, speed and efficiency in setup in certain environments is critical.  For close-ups, another example.  I could have done some DIY things to achieve a lot my results but it was simply more efficient to get extension tubes or a focusing rail.  For my studio – I’ve researched a ton here to see how to get the best results with the least amount of equipment.  Yes, I’m still learning, but I’ve hit a point where I can get some pretty great results without getting sophisticated. 

A bit on the researching piece.  When researching, of course, on of the things is reading reviews.  Now – to me, it’s one thing to read a review about a piece of gear one is considering.  It’s also critical to look at the BIG picture around YOUR style and YOUR gear requirements.  Sometimes, one piece of gear may offset another and end up saving you big bucks.  Here’s an example of an offset that I encountered.  I was toying with the idea of getting Nikon’s new 18-80 f2.8.  I was looking at this lens for low light work.  A very versatile lens that could potentially be helpful in the long term.  The more I thought about it, the more I hesitated.  It’s not that I could use the lens – I could but  I had this gut feeling there might be a better solution.  That ended up with me acquiring another body – the D7200 – they were about the same price.  The reason the body made sense was that I could now use both the D7100 and D7200 together on a shoot and not have to worry about consistency in menus.  The D7200 had a better sensor and processor and so could address the buggering on sequential shots that I encountered in certain shooting sessions.  The new sensor could handle low light better than the D7100 sensor and so I could shoot at least a stop faster with little image degradation.  I had more battery power.  In the end, though, it did cost me more Smile  That came in the form of the Panasonic FZ200 with it’s 24x zoom and having F2.8 thru the whole range.   So why the hybrid?

There are times when size becomes an issue.  I attend a lot of networking events and there are times when I simply don’t have the focal length I need.  My Fuji X10 or XF1 stop at 4x.  If I shoot with any of the travel cams, I get more quality loss than I like.  At the extreme telephoto end, the f stop isn’t good enough so I do have to boost ISO “up there”.  The FZ200 does away with that.  Not as bulky, so easier to take.  I can’t just stuff it in my briefcase, but I have a case that makes it easier than taking my DSLR’s.  Image quality based on current testing so far is showing that it’s more than adequate for what I need it for.  Web publishing and general viewing.  No – I’m not shooting RAW with this unit – JPEGS are fine at this stage of the game. 

And then there’s that constant battle between JPEG’s and RAW.  To me, if I am using my DSLR’s, it’s hit a point where I shoot both RAW’s and JPEG’s on my D7100 and D7200.  On my D3200 and D5100, it’s also RAW’s.  Everything else – typically JPEG’s, despite the fact that more than a few can or should be RAW’s.  The reasoning?  For the most part, I’m doing the type of shot that really doesn’t need RAW’s.  JPEG’s are fine for the end use.  In other words – I ensure that the exposure, etc. is correct when I take the shot, so I minimize post processing.  I’ve hit that point in gear that I can basically split off what I want to do with gear.  Is there overlap?  Yes – definitely.  Certain types of close ups I do, are not really achievable with something other than a DSLR.  Despite that, I don’t miss all that many shots – so far anyway.  Knock on wood Smile  Again – knowing what your camera can and can’t do. 

Equipment – I do own a lot of cameras.  Sure, there are a few that just sit for a while, but generally speaking, they do get used.  Some, I simply have spare batteries and for those, it’s the ones that I use a lot.  My Fuji X10 was my first advanced camera and that’s the one that got me really going, and that’s still one of “ go to” units when I need a small unit for some advanced work.  My Micro Four Thirds unit, the Panasonic GX1 is another one that I use when I need a unit for event “snaps” or simply need a high quality shot for some occasion that I’m at.  My travel cameras are a constant companion and I’m constantly using one or the other on my “day to day” travels.  My first hybrid was the Nikon P520, a super zoom at 42x and articulating mirror.  My Panasonic FZ200 is a hybrid with low light capability – a nice alternative to DSLR’s for some of my networking events. 

When it comes to accessories, I focus on “stuff” for my DSLR’s and more important, for the areas that I really do a lot in.  Close ups and portraits are my primary focus areas, and landscapes are also in there.  I have a lot for close up work ranging from extension tubes to focusing rails.  My flash units serve double duty.  I also have radio triggers.  One set specifically for Nikons and another for other units that drive my flash units.  Oh yeah – I have several flash units as well so I can be super mobile if needed.  Polarizers, ND filters for my lenses as well. 

Bottom line – I feel that in order to get better, it makes sense to add accessories to simply be more efficient.  The other thing – budget.  There are times when a DIY option is necessary when you simply can’t afford to buy a commercial unit.  Totally understand that.  There are certain reflectors, for instance, that I’ve made simply because I couldn’t find something OR quite simply – easy to make and cost next to nothing.  A piece of white foam board can be got for a couple of bucks at the Dollar Store – why would I want a commercial one?  I do have a commercial white reflector, but it also folds up into a pretty tiny unit.  For around the home – either works.  I go to fabric stores to find backdrop material.  At $5 per meter on sale, it sure beats dropping $100.  Granted the more expensive ones are 10 ft ones instead of 6 ft wide, but then again, it’s what you need.  For head and shoulder shots – 6 ft is plenty.  Yes, I do have a couple of big ones for my big stand.  Again, fit for purpose.

Onward…..

Gaining Experience–Kicking It Up a Notch or Two

From my last musings on getting better, a few things have changed.  Actually,  a lot of things of changed Smile  Considering I’m not working, I sure am busy!  I’ve been networking, of course, but lately, I’ve been backing off a bit and only networking where it really counts.  Anyway… that’s another post in another blog…..

The experience I gain, the more I find that my needs are changing.  Just today, I picked up a Nikon D7200 body.  The reason – have two bodies in the same model range.  I’m actually glad I picked up the body first.  I ALMOST got a lens instead.  I potentially saved some cash, though testing will be the proof of the pudding.  What I was initially after was the ability to shoot in lower light conditions with no flash.  The option I was looking at was simply getting a faster lens – actually, I wanted the D7200 body too Smile  BUT, it turns out that the D7200 has better low light performance so I may still wait on the lens for a bit.  

In being out of work, but looking at options, one of the things I have been doing, is taking more photos.  A LOT more photos.  Earlier this year, I did the Linkedin photos for a job conference and recently I went to a Linkedin photo shoot that had a pro shooting.  It was actually set up so anyone with a camera could come, but in reality, you could use the existing backdrops but not the strobes or light modifiers.  I initially hadn’t planned on taking any  photos but ended up taking more than a few.  I used my flash and LightSphere.  This was actually my first time that I used the LightSphere in a studio setting – I normally use my strobes.  More important – I had my SB700 on my camera – nothing cute and fancy.  I was actually pretty pleased with what I got, though I should have set up in manual instead of Programmed Auto.  The LightSphere, though, is designed to be used in Programmed Auto Mode.  Didn’t matter – the results were awesome!!!

My primary focus (no pun intended), has been more in the area of close-ups and portraits as opportunity presents itself.  Most plants on the close up side of things. I’ve been looking at stock or micro stock type photos and in doing so, wanted to accumulate some “inventory”.  I do want to do some landscapes as well and that’s going to happen very soon, believe me. 

Photography is one of the options I’ve been looking at as an alternate to the IT space where I consult.  There isn’t a lot of work there and being out of work for a long time is only proving that out.  Also real estate.  To make things more complicated, I’m on a course building meetup, and more recently, started to revive a past hobby in woodworking.  I have revenue properties and do a lot of that, so woodworking was an easy jump – I did some before properties anyway.  This time around, though, it was to help a close friend with some furniture needs.  I thought I had it tough – WOW!!  My troubles are nothing compared to hers!!  I help every chance I get.  Another friend needed to prep her house to sell (same reason as me – needed to sell to survive) and that took a fair amount of time.  I really didn’t realize how much the technology space constrained me, now that I’ve been away from it. 

I’ve also added some studio gear, but I’m going to need to get more if I do more in this direction.  The D7200 purchase, for the moment is fine, though I would like to obtain the SB910 flash.  We’ll wait on that though.  Sooo.. is the D7200 better than the D7100?  Based on specs – yes.  I got it because there would be a short learning curve – like literally zero, though, I did learn a few new tricks.  Now to back those into my D7100 Smile  Constantly learning…..

I’ve also been studying the market a bit – trying to figure out where I fit in or could fit in.  The flowers look promising – actually, stock photos.  IF and this is a BIG IF, I do find work, this may be a way to drive a bit spare income.  Real estate looks good, but it’s going slower than I initially thought and there some uncertainty about how much cash I will need to survive until a steady stream of income shows up, so I do have to be careful with my cash.  The D7200 was my “treat” for selling one of my properties. 

Onward…  So far, I’m noticing that the colors seem ever so slightly richer than the D7100 despite the same settings -  I need to study this a bit more.  Might be a setting – might be the newer engine.  Anyway – I like what I see!!!!  I’m currently shooting in 12 bit RAW  but may switch to 14 Bit RAW to see if there’s a difference.  So far, the 12 bit RAW has served me well, but……..   And then there were lens considerations……

I was initially looking for an “event” lens – Nikon has one – the new AFS-DX 16-80 f2.8-4.0  I initially was looing very hard a this lens and then thought about the the Sigma equivalent, but once I got the D7200 body and started to figure it out, the higher performance of the D7100 may have offset that.  Mind you, I still need to test that theory too Smile  Should I be adding more?   Dunno – I’m going to ponder and experiment more here.  Onward….

The other thing I’ve been running into over the last couple of months anyway, has been SD cards.  For my D7100, I was using 32 GB ones and shooting just enough that I was starting to get them pretty full.  Not that I don’t have spares, but I’m the type that likes to keep things safe.  I do shoo both RAW and JPEG’s but at 32 GB, it gives me about 575 pics, and I’ve been hitting anywhere from 300-400 pics per session.  Not that I don’t have a but of “fudge” there, but for me, cutting it a little close.  I recently came off a shoot where I did hit about 450 shots in one session and that’s what got me thinking a bit.  With the D7200 now going to be my primary unit and the D7100 being my backup or secondary, I figured I should “up the ante” and got 64GB cards.  That gets me 1000+ shots – a little safer by also a little riskier.  Oh – and I found out something I wasn’t counting on.  With the two card slots, they need to both be the same capacity!!! 

And then there’s learning curve Smile  I THOUGHT I had my D7100 pretty well figured out and it should have been pretty simple setting up the D7200 to match.  Well…… I ran into a few features I didn’t know about (NO – I don’t read manuals – only to reference when I need to figure out stuff) and go figure, they were on the D7100 as well!  AND they were nice shortcuts for certain things. 

Onward….

Musings on Getting Better

The other day, I took delivery of a strobe to add to my studio gear.  I have a fairly big shoot coming up and wanted to try a slightly different config for this shoot.  Nothing too fancy here – it’s simply some head and shoulder type shots but they need to be “business” shots.   Nothing cute and fancy about these – for me, that is.   Recently, actually before that even, I got thinking about the various ways I’ve progressed over the years. 

At one time, back in the 35mm days, I was a very serious amateur that did a bit of free-lancing at the time.  I also owned a photo retail store and had quite an interesting career that surrounded photography.  Then, a career change took me away from that for about 30+ years and over the last few years, I’ve regained my passion for this hobby.  Digital made things easier in some aspects, but more difficult in others, but it was nice to see that I could still “see” Smile  My current career as a Business Analyst, has given me the skills to be a little more methodical in my thinking, hence this entry on learning.  Oh – and I also have done a lot of training – not photo though – concepts are the same.  Sooo…. I guess one of the key root questions in photography – How does one get better in the art itself?

In the beginning…. Smile  Thought I would toss that in there…..  I feel that in order to even think about being a better photographer, one needs to have a bit of creative talent.  The ability to see things “differently” for lack of a better term.  To me, it’s one thing to look at picture and ask the question “How did they do that?”, turn around and continue on, and totally another to try to sit there and figure out how they actually did do that. Smile  Like any hobby or creative venture, it’s getting to that next step or at least taking it.

The vast majority of folks who use cameras, use them to simply take snapshots and basically that’s it.  Their only concern is catching the moment (not that that’s a bad thing),  and their world simply stops.  Let’s face it – today’s technology does a pretty good job from the technical side of exposure, etc.  Composing or understanding some of the “rules” – totally different issue.  There’s a big difference between a photo and good photo Smile  I’ve seen some photos that are simply not good and person thought it was a great photo.  To each their own.  I’ve also seen some great shots embedded in a photo and all it took was a little cropping to make it a great photo – they simply didn’t fill the frame.  To me, this brings up the issue of that “line” between the casual photographer and the more serious photographer.  Let’s explore that a bit.

IF one does want to get better at the “art” itself, I feel that there’s this combination of learning the art and learning your equipment that comes into play.  I mean, let’s face it – something as simple as understanding how the Rule of Thirds works and applying it to your camera will move one forward almost instantly.  BUT, in saying that – how many folks even know about the rule?  OR learning the basics of exposure and being able to tie that in with what the camera can do?  Technology, to me, has come a long way in assisting with the exposure piece.  Even the pointy shooties or phones for that matter, do a surprisingly good job, all things considered.  Sooo.. what are some of the “blockers”?

This is a little subjective but in most places, I sometimes think that “other” technologies surrounding our respective lifestyles is HUGE blocker.  We need to make a living, so photography like any other hobby is exactly that – we “dabble” the odd time and leave it at that.  Quite simply, there are other things that need to get done.  Fair enough.  Even with me, I have a surprisingly limited amount of time in today’s world for photography itself.  My knowledge spans over 15 years in 35mm film plus motion picture and now digital.  When I first got going in this, photography was my only hobby.  Today, I’m an IT Consultant, have revenue properties, write blogs, and a myriad of other things and if anything, I have less time now than I used to pursue this hobby, which I am loving dearly.  BUT, I still try to keep learning at every chance.  

In understanding the “art” and basic things to getting better at photography.  To me there are two pieces to this.  The first, is getting the information about the art.  The second is implementing what you learned.  In other words, getting out there and using your camera.  Todays technology make this a very inexpensive proposition to the film days, so taking a lot of photos shouldn’t be that big of a deal.  Results are instantaneous.  A big part of your learning should follow along these lines.  You take a photo – it didn’t come how you thought.  Was it you, or was something set wrong in the camera?  OH – do you know what your camera is capable of?  Smile  To me, it’s amazing how many folks I run into that  tell me that they are having trouble using their camera because they had trouble with the controls.  What – they didn’t read the manual?  They didn’t try taking photos with the settings to see the result?  To me, the term point and shoot, can be a but misleading.  Those little pointy shooties can be surprisingly complex.  the other thing.  When they say point and shoot, did you know that basically meant a sunny day or using the flash (within their limitations).  Not necessarily those cloudy days, or funny lighting conditions.  To me, creativity is one thing – knowing your camera… well… you need to know.  We seem to always be in a hurry  and one wants to be good instantly.  Sorry – doesn’t happen that way.  It comes with time.  Sort of like buying your first set of golf clubs and expecting to qualify for the pros Smile  Sorry again…..

For me, it sort of goes along this path.  From the photo side of things first.  I may see a photo or perhaps a technique that interests me.  I try to figure out how the shot was done and then figure out how I would take that shot.  I usually can’t duplicate the shot due to location, so I have to apply the same technique to something different.  OR, I look at something and it dawns on me that there’s a shot hiding in there Smile  Same thing – How do I pull of the shot I “see”.  Then, I grab my camera and take the shot or shots.  Sometimes….. I get the shot.   Many times, I don’t get the shot right away.  Some of the factors – lighting didn’t come out, exposure might be off a bit, composition wasn’t what I thought it was going to be.  Sooo… I start to experiment.  Adjust settings. bracket the shot, change  composition – maybe set up an external flash, add filters.  Oh yeah – I also take notes Smile  Sometimes, I can only get close and have to rely on software (though I hate doing that).  All breaks down to understanding your camera and also what YOU know about getting that shot.  AND I take as many photos as I need to.  Deleting stuff after is easy Smile  Notice I said after.  Yes, I’ll punt the shots that were simply bad right away.  The rest – well, I’ll leave them until I get  a chance to see them on screen.  I’ll give some examples.  I went looking for a location one day to get a cityscape of our skyline.  I found the location, the lighting was what I wanted.  I took about 20 shots that encompassed location more than exposure and got what I wanted.  My wife has plants.  She had this one rose that I wanted to capture a pic of.  The lighting wasn’t ideal and I ended up using flash with hi speed synch to get the shot.  That shot took a couple of hours and close to 100 photos to capture a couple that I thought were good enough to show anyone else.  I kept about 10 and punted the rest.

And then there’s the equipment.   I can’t begin to tell you how many times I’ve seen people jump to DSLR’s because they thought it would get them better pictures Smile  Quality is one thing – yes, the DSLR will get you a high quality image but so will a pointy shooty if taken in the right context.  It ain’t the camera!!! I have a lot of cameras – we won’t get into the extra stuff I have for the moment.  What most folks don’t seem to understand – a DSLR has a LOT of extra functionality.  That functionality takes a long time to learn – if can’t take advantage of that, it’s gonna sit in your closet colleting dust because it was either too bulky or too complex to learn.  Even the entry level ones aren’t necessarily that easy to learn.  More important – you don’t get one of these to keep in “Auto”.  You can actually get a camera that does more, is smaller and likely less expensive.  A DSLR can actually do more but you need accessories – that means more money.  AND more bulk.

Let’s assume you already have a camera.  Or maybe you are looking at moving “up”.  Perhaps even from your smartphone.  What typically will happen?  We happen to be going by the camera section at a department store and the thought occurs – “I should get a new camera.” Smile  It’s only then, you try to formulate in your mind the “why”.  Some questions here – have you figured that “why”?  Have you hit the limits of your camera?  Are those limits enough to justify stepping up?  Yeah, it can be a tough call, but it’s a good reality check too. 

When I look at new gear, there’s very little impulse – well sometimes there is Smile  I buy gear to fill some specific thing that I can’t currently do easily.  Notice – I said “easily”.  When it comes to cameras, I stepped up to DSLR’s in very small steps.  I knew I ultimately would end up there because of my history – I just wasn’t in a hurry to get there.  When I decided to move up from the pointy shooty class, it was because I wanted something that could deal with low light.  It was a big shortcoming on a vacation I took, and when I got back, the hunt started.  My thoughts were to get a camera that was advanced enough to handle low light but at the same time, for me to grow and find out more about the aspects of digital photography in a more serious manner.  The camera I got was the Fuji X10, which, at the time, was one of the more advanced cameras out there for a compact advanced camera.  I  still have that camera and still use it Smile  I used that camera for about 6 months exclusively.  Two things came out of that – for some of the stuff I was doing, I was running out of battery power, coupled to flash range on some events I took photos at.  Second – it only had a 4x zoom, which was a bit of a restriction for a few things I wanted to do.  I got extra batteries – fine.  I then looked at units with a larger zoom.  That prompted my journey into travel cameras.  At the time, I was commuting and time was a huge factor, so being able to stuff a camera in my daypack was convenient.

Between the two, my passion for photography began to grow and I started to do more and more, and with that came more cameras.  I wanted to get more serious, but DSLR’s were still a bit “out there” for me.  I wanted a more advanced unit, but wasn’t sure where to go and one day, I chanced on a Nikon 1 J1 on a clearout.  This is an interchangeable mirrorless unit, but it was pretty well fully automatic.  It was a cheap buy as I got two lenses and the body for under $500.  It was a chance to play in larger sensors to see what they could do.  There were certain aspects that caught my attention immediately.  For certain things I did – scenery, close ups – the colors were richer.  Image sharpness was the same at normal viewing but when I enlarged to crop – the image quality held up.  I used that for about 3 more months, and then I had an opportunity to be a backup photographer at a formal event.  I knew I would need way better gear and I made a decision to stay with mirrorless.  I got the Panasonic GX-1 with two lenses and spare batteries.  I got the gear about two months in advance of the event to ensure I would be comfortable with it.  Wow!  What a difference to the Nikon in performance.  Mind you – the extra control was what I was after.  BUT, the big shortcoming there was flash power.  I was restricted to about 20 ft. and around 100 flash shots per charge.  That meant a lot of battery swaps.  I had the Fuji X10 as my backup.  This event prompted my move to DSLR’s.  I got chatting with the pro about her gear – she had Nikon.  What I did notice were a couple of things – her flash cycle times were literally nil compared to me at a couple of seconds.  No battery swaps – she didn’t miss a moment.  She also mentioned that I did a good job with what I had.

I had to make a hard call here.  I wasn’t sure I wanted to go in this direction and moving to DSLR’s was too early.  I knew that.  BUT this event got me into another one about 4 months out for the same group.  A couple of weeks later, I found a sale on the Nikon D3200 with a kit lens so I got one to “dip my toe in”.   THAT put me into a whole new space and from there, it basically “got me back”.  It also flushed out certain things I wanted to do.  I love my scenics and close ups, but one area that wanted to explore was portraits.  I decided on flash and strobes.  I already had the flash units and strobes were a natural migration.  I now have 3 bodies and a bunch of lenses and a pretty full blown portable studio.  I do a fair number of events. Some paid, some volunteer but it’s also carving a possible future path.  Still out there on that one.

Did I stop using my other gear?  On the contrary – NO.  In fact, I didn’t sell any of  my gear – I still use them (so does my wife).  I look at it this way.  As much as I love my DSLR’s, I’m not tied to them either.  There are times when I need them for their versatility and functionality.  BUT – for other stuff, I don’t need them.  ANY of my other gear will do just fine.  Even when I take my DSLR’s, I’ll take one of my travel cams with me and in many instances, use the travel cam first.  For what I shoot and use photos for, the others are more than adequate.  I get the results I want and that’s what counts.

I can be impulsive at times, but when I need a piece of gear, it’s at the point where my purchases are very targeted.  They have to fulfil a very specific function.  Have I made some bad buys?  Sure – who hasn’t.  BUT in saying that, I’ve also made some buys that have moved my photography to a whole new level and expanded my capability too.  Here’s a good example of moving up.  I was at an event taking some casual photos for my reference.  I noticed this bulb thingy that was on top of the pro’s flash.  I asked about it.  It was the Gary Fong LightSphere.  For me, up to that point, I was using reflectors and softboxes on my flash.  His comment was to the effect that if I got one of these, I could probably get rid of the rest in most instances.  I started to research and got one.  Man – was he right. What  wonderful things.  I have two plus all the accessories.  That was one thing.  The other big thing came out of the research.  One of tutorials was about Nikon’s CLS (Creative Lighting System) and using High Speed Synchronization.  After seeing that, my mind went nuts on how I could use that.  The blocker – my D3200 and D5100 didn’t have high speed synch.  I would have to move up to the next model body – a D7100 or D7200.  I found a demo D7100 (saved me about $700).  This was on a clearout and last years model, but it got me “in the game”.  And WOW!  I couldn’t believe the extra functionality I got!

Learning curve – this camera is targeted at the serious amateur and possibly semi-pro category.  After about 5 months and more than a few thousand photos, I’m still finding out stuff.  But, I can do the stuff I normally do without blinking.  For the novice – they could be out taking photos instead of trying to learn.   One of the big pitfalls I’ve seen, is that most folks quite simply don’t take that many photos.  Interesting in one sense, as more photos are being taken more than ever, but at the same time, I feel that many simply don’t take enough photos to get familiar with even their cameras let alone try to learn.  To me, I think this is a very common thing.  One wants to “look the part” without the knowledge backing it. 

Anytime I get a new piece of gear – back up.  Let’s look at what I do when I get a new camera – maybe this will help more.  I’ll use the example of my most recent “smaller” cameras that I got.  It was the Nikon S9900.  The reason I got this one was two fold.  First, it has an articulating viewer – handy for doing low shots.  Second was the 30x zoom.  It’s also quite a small unit, so handy too.  Once I set  it up.  The first series of test shots were to ensure that the metering was consistent to my other Nikons.  I normally set my ISO to 200 and put the camera in Programmed Auto mode with matrix metering as well as matrix type autofocus at the beginning.  This gives me a good idea of how the camera sensor renders generally.  I also set the camera to the “vivid” setting.  I found that overall color rendering with my Nikons is pretty well the same across all my cameras.  I find the photos “bright” with a slight emphasis on blue – not noticeable if you haven’t shot across various brands.  Once I get those shots, I will try the under and over exposure setting to see what they do and ensure that the EV values are what I expect.  And then, I’ll fiddle with the zoom – perhaps take a few shots at various zoom levels.   At this point, I will know what I can do with the camera under normal conditions.  THEN, I’ll grab a coffee and start to go over what’s in the menu to see what else is hiding there that might be useful and to familiarize myself with the menus themselves.  What I am after at this point, are the places where I need to get at changes fast.  ISO, metering, autofocus, etc.  The things that I may change “on the fly”, so to speak.  I do look at the Scene modes, though I rarely use them.  For me, I target myself to start using the camera as fast as I can. 

Once I get fairly comfortable with the camera itself in being able to use it for most normal things, I’ll then start looking at the more advanced functions.  Some of them I may use, others I probably won’t.  Like Wi-Fi and GPS – no use to me at this time.  Generally speaking, there is a bit of a charge in the battery, so I’ll use it for a few shots or until the battery is drained and then charge it overnite.  Then, I may or may not use it the e next day – it depends on what else I have on my plate.  If I can I will, if not I don’t sweat it.  On a smaller unit, I’m usually not concerned with learning a lot at the beginning – I’ve done this for more than a few cameras (I own 15+), so it’s come naturally.  BUT, if it’s something I’m trying to learn on my DSLR, that’s a different story.  It sometimes takes a bit of scheduling but I will try to block out several hours if  I need to learn a new technique or something like that.  I count on the fact that I will be taking a lot of test shots to perfect the technique.  I’m at that point where if something like portraits needs some tweaking, it’s worth taking the time to learn and be good at it. 

Onward……