Wednesday, July 2, 2008

the one where you learn absolutely nothing.

I’m sorry all of my posts are about photography right now, but that’s what I’m into these days. Whadda ya gonna do? I’ll get back to writing lots of angsty stay-at-home-mom crap soon. I promise. Or not. Sometimes I lie.

Oh, and my post about Hungary is in the works too, but it seems like there's some interest in the technical aspects of photography for dummies like me so here it is, my first Photography 101 post. I don't know how much time I'll have to write this stuff, but I'll do my best to share what I know as often as possible.

Disclaimer - My goal is to try and keep this as simple as possible so even slow-brained people like me can understand certain technical aspects of photography. For those of you out there who know a lot of technical stuff about photography, I'm sure you will find all sorts of mistakes in what I write here. Many perhaps important details will be omitted in order to keep it simple. Please feel free to correct me or add to what I have written in my comments. I welcome your input and would enjoy improving my own skills through your knowledge.

I should also add a little bit about how I am learning to become a better photographer. I have not taken a course and I have not read my manual. This is because I am lucky enough to have two extraordinary photographers in my family who are patient with my thick brain. My dad is a walking encyclopaedia of photography. He's a bit of a genius in many areas, but when it comes to photography, I am confident in saying there isn't much he doesn't know about it both in a creative sense and in a technical sense. He's probably read just about every book and manual on photography that has been published since roughly, um... 1826.

Instead of opening my manual, I call my dad.

When my dad isn't available, I call my brother. He's an amazing photographer as well. And my brother's a little better than my dad at "dumbing down" the technical side of photography for me. Between my dad and my brother I've got it covered.

Now. Since I'm not going to hand out my dad or my brother's phone numbers to all of you, I thought I might pass on some of the stuff they've taught me. The "dumbed down" version of photography if you will. My photography is improving and my thick skull is starting to understand how it all works, so perhaps I can be of some use to you.

Let me be clear. I am a beginner photographer when it comes to Digital SLRs. I am just learning how to do this. My photographs are good, but not amazing. I say this because don’t want to seem arrogant. I'd hate to imagine someone out there reading this and thinking, "Her photos aren't that hot. Who does she think she is writing a lesson in photography?" But that's my point. I'd like to help you learn along with me. I have two amazing, knowledgeable resources at my fingertips in my dad and my brother and I'd like to share them with you. I would say that they should be writing this and not me, but the problem is that they tend to get way too technical and confusing sometimes. Not so much my brother, but my dad for sure. I've always found it extremely hard to understand what they mean. I'm hoping I might be able to pass on some of the technical stuff they have explained to me in a way that sinks in for people whose brains "just don't work that way". I consider myself more creative. I know how I want to the photo to look from a creative sense, but I just don't know how to get there technically. It is this drive to achieve a certain look in my photos that is forcing me to struggle through learning the technical aspects of photography. I spoke to a clerk in a photography store the other day and told her how intimidated I was by the technical side of photography. She laughed and said, “When it comes to the technical stuff, I’m on a need-to-know-basis!”

I thought this was an awesome way of looking at it. I’m on a need-to-know-basis too. As I need to know something, I learn it.

I'm hoping you're interested in learning these lessons alongside me...


So let's start with the most basic thing - the camera.

In my world, there are two kinds of cameras: the Digital Point and Shoot and the Digital SLR.

I think there are some hybrids out there, but I’m not familiar with them. And I'm not even going to discuss cameras before they went digital. I have nothing useful to share with you about working with film except that it's expensive.

For the purposes of my Photography 101 classes, I will generally be speaking about the technical aspects of using a Digital SLR. I will try to give hints on how to do the same thing with a Digital Point and Shoot, but you may not get quite the same results. The ideas are the same, but the Point and Shoots simply can not achieve the same things that the SLRs can. Sorry if this leaves you out, but they always say, "write what you know", and right now, I know about shooting with a Digital SLR.

I will say this about Digital Point and Shoots:

This is type of digital camera I have used for the majority of my digital camera using life. They are small, compact and very handy. But, in my opinion, they have their limitations. Sorry. It wasn't until I moved to a Digital SLR that I felt I could start taking my photography "to the next level". Most Point and Shoots can do all of the things a Digital SLR is designed to do, but not as well and not as fast. But don't despair. I will try my best to explain how you can achieve similar results if you have this type of camera, but my focus of these lessons will be about taking your photography to the next level with a Digital SLR.

[Edit - I agree Daryl, the Point and Shoots come equipped with a wide variety of programs and manual features that let you achieve some excellent results, but in my opinion, the faster interchangeable lenses and the more extreme Aperture setting options are what really set the Digital SLRs apart. As you'll see in my next Photography 101 post, I'll do an exercise that can be done with a Point and Shoot, but the results won't be quite as dramatic as with my SLR. I hope I don't seem too negative towards Point and Shoots. They definitely are a great asset to a photographer's repertoire. I just find though that my camera skills reached a certain ceiling with a Point and Shoot that couldn't be surpassed until I moved to a DSLR.]

Also. Do not run out and get a Digital SLR just because you think this is the key to better photos. Read Corey's first photography tutorial post to see why. In a nutshell, owning a great camera will not make you a great photographer. Stealing from Corey's post, that's like saying owning a great typewriter will make you a great writer. You need to know how to use the tool in order to have great results. Only practice and study and some creative talent will make you a great photographer.

(I should also note at this point for Ciara that I have no advice on what type of camera is best to buy for you. Perhaps in reading these series of posts, you might learn about some camera features that you know you would want in a new camera. Choosing a camera to buy has everything to do with what you plan on taking photos of and how you want those photos to look. I will try to explain the features of my camera that are helping me to get better photos and perhaps you can use it as a guide for the features you would look for in a new camera.)

Moving on.

About Digital SLRs:

SLR stands for "Single Lens Reflex". I have no idea what that means. What I do know is that a DSLR is different than a Point and Shoot because the DSLR uses a series of mirrors inside the camera so that you, the photographer, can see exactly what the lens is seeing when you look through the viewfinder. If you have a Point and Shoot, I recommend composing your photos by viewing the screen on the back, instead of looking through the viewfinder. The viewfinder is not seeing exactly what the lens is seeing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but I believe the screen is.

Another difference between a Point and Shoot and a DSLR is the lens. A Point and Shoot has a fixed lens. You cannot change it. The most exciting thing about a DSLR is that you can change the lenses depending on your subject and your shooting conditions. Knowing about different lenses and what they can do is one of the first steps to improving your photos with a DSLR.

My most favouritest thing in the whole wide world about a DSLR is the reaction time of the shutter release. It's much faster than the painfully slow Point and Shoot. Sorry to the Point and Shooters out there, but I love getting actual photos of Csilla's face. The speed of the shutter release on a DSLR makes such photos possible.

There are a bunch of other differences between Digital Point and Shoots and DSLRs that I will touch on in future posts, but that's the gist of it for now. I know this post didn't teach you anything new, but I felt an introduction to where I was coming from was necessary.

Sorry to drop it like it’s hot, but that’s all I have time to write.

Next lesson... The One Where You Make Stuff All Blurry on Purpose


Jen said...

Shoot. Now I've got the Drop it Like it's Hot song in my head. If you only knew the story behind that. Let's just say my BIL got this song stuck in my head for the rest of my life (by singing it over and over, programming it as a ringer in my phone, etc) and now I use it for everything not meaning to. We'll be driving through a parking lot to the store and you'll hear me, "Park it like it's Hot". Man, it just cracked me up that you'd say that. So funny to me! Anyways. I loved this lesson and look forward to more! You're AWESOME!

Daryl said...

Just so you know, many of the new Point & Shoots have programs included so you can do a lot more than P&S but w/o having to be a rocket scientist ... and you can change the ISO and you can pretty much do a lot of things a DSLR does except that heart thing/camera hood cover ...

I'm just sayin...


Kimberly said...

Wow, I just learned a ton I didn't know! Off to read the manual for my camera now...

Angella said...

The title cracked me up! Good job of explaining, Carolyn.

Way to empower the people!

Jenty said...

Very nice explanation!!

Potty Mummy said...

OK, that was really interesting - not least because Husband thinks he's the one in charge of the camera, and now after reading only one of your posts I already know more than he does. Mwahahahahahahah....

david mcmahon said...

You can certainly add me to your list of `Photography-Type People To Call In A Crisis;.

And speaking of objects that are deliberately out of focus, you might like (do a Google search maybe) a post of mine called (I think) ``In Charge Of The Lights Brigade'' where the main subject of the photo is (deliberately) out of focus.....

Corey~living and loving said...

so sorry I have been MIA. computer issues......abound. argh.

great post. :) can't wait to see what you share next. :) Photography tutorials are fun to write. :)

Hope all is well for you...besides feeling sad. Cancer sucks.

laura - dolcepics said...

I totally agree with you about taking it to the next level from the P&S to SLR. Even though P&S's have manual controls, the sensor size is still so much smaller and as a result, yield images that aren't as rich and detailed as an SLR can create. I wrote an article like this comparing P&S to SLR's as well with a photo comparison so it's pretty clear the limitations of a P&S.

I do, however, recognize that wonderful photos CAN be taken with a P&S... sometimes it's hard to tell the difference. But that depends on the photographer. :)