Thursday, May 19, 2011

Photography Bits and Bobs

Seeing as folks were interested, here is a collection of comments on what has worked for me.

Firstly - I am a newbie, please take all this information with that in mind. I still have so much to learn. That said, I know I have improved greatly from the frankly horrible shots I used to take.

I had a cute little Fujifilm FinePix point-and-shoot which I bought in 2003. We took some very average photos together but that was my fault, not his.

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When we arrived in France I already had photography on the mind. I loved blogs and recognised that my photos looked nothing like those on my favourite websites. I also really wanted to document this once-in-a-lifetime stay in Europe and the lives of the three rug-rats in the house.

Then the Fujifilm seized up - it was time to buy a new camera. As I investigated buying an SLR I realised I knew so little about photography I couldn't even make an educated decision about buying a camera. So firstly, I did a lot of online reading. I basically read until I knew enough to understand the descriptions of the cameras I was investigating.

My two favourite free sources:
The Pioneer Woman - the photography articles on her blog
The Digital Photography School - great articles on how to choose a camera (and the rest) and you can  sign up for their free e-newsletter. I also found some interesting photography blogs by clicking on the author links at the bottom of the articles.  

Camera. So I finally bought a Canon EOS 500d SLR, which I'm very happy with. Not too complicated, not as expensive as some and it's a fairly small size for an SLR which makes it easier to hold and stash in a handbag. I bought the camera body without the kit lenses, as I personally think the lenses are super important and where you need to spend more money if you can afford it (just my opinion).

A tip with your camera - it's boring, but read the manual. And I mean literally go through every page and try the things they are explaining. You will be amazed what you learn. Just skimming won't cut it - you must DO it. I did this before my course and really learned a lot. 

Lenses. Holy crap but they are expensive! I had to give up my heroin habit. I bought a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 fixed lens when I got the camera - its a great piece of kit. It isn't very expensive (for a lens) and it takes great photos - I use it for all my patchwork close ups and some portrait work on the kids.

Photog1

Then after a ridiculous amount of research I bought a Canon EF 24-105mm 4L IS USM lens. It's a zoom and is such a great lens. I use it for sewing (full quilt pics), the kids and especially travel. It is the one that spends the most time on my camera.

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I also bought a new lens just before our recent holiday - a wide angle lens - a Canon EFS 10-22mm f/3.5-4.5. I had a great deal of fun with it on our trip and find it great for architecture. However, I still have a lot to learn about using this guy.

Photog4

A tip on buying a new lens - go to flickr and put the lens name in the search function and tick 'groups'. There is a flickr group for pretty much every lens and you can see a huge variety of photos taken with that lens. Does it do what you want it to do? You can even ask a question if you want some help. 

Photo courses. I did an online one. I googled online photography courses (find one with an associated blog so you can read it, see their photos and get a feel for whether they are a good fit for you.) I would have preferred a 'real' class (in a classroom), but being a complete newbie teamed with the language issue, it would've been too much. 

Camera bag. I have to share this because I really love my camera bag. It's an Epiphanie bag, which I ordered from the US and my ever-so-helpful little sister brought over when she visited last year.  My bag is a 'Ginger', and it holds everything I need for trip out with family - the camera, my three lenses, purse, phone, snacks, French dictionary, hand wipes, you get the drift. It wasn't as cheap as some, but I believe it is good value. 

Post processing. You can't avoid it - everyone edits their photos. By everyone I mean anyone who has a site with photos that make you go 'wow'. Some cameras come with a basic editor program (my SLR did), give it a try. Otherwise Picnik is a great free program, you can find plenty of tutorials on it via google.

My photography course recommended we use Photoshop as it's the industry standard. Yes, it's the best, but I knew I wasn't going to be a professional photographer, so did I really need it? Adobe has a free 30 day trial period, which I used during my course, and sadly after that I was hooked. The problem with this is the program is bloody expensive. The software costs US$700, but they charge AUS$1300 and EUR 1100 if you are Australian/European and I have no idea how they get away with such a rort. If you have a friend in the US I would wait until you visit them (or they visit you). Order it on Amazon.com and have it sent to their house (they won't deliver to a non-US address). There is no end of books and online tutorials for Photoshop - just google or YouTube the topic.

Photoshop CS5. I use Photoshop on all of my photos *gasp*. No, I don't airbrush my stitches or perform any other edits that I would term deceptive - for the most part I correct exposure. That's right, I still don't take perfectly exposed photos. Plus, most of our travel take place smack-bang in the middle of the day, when the sun is high in the sky making shadows and providing too much light. Not much I can do to avoid this, with a young family the golden hours of early morning and early evening are not available to me. So instead I use Photoshop to brighten shadows, put back detail on areas that have been over-exposed, that sort of thing. Although I did once photoshop a bollard out of the way. It was very liberating.

I don't find Photoshop a very intuitive program, and I really had to stick to it when learning. I probably only use about 20% of what it can do - it's a seriously powerful program. The things I love most about it are content-aware spot healing (this video is no longer a Sneak Peak as version CS5 was released in 2010), using actions and using layers.

Knowledge trumps equipment. I think that's about it. But I will say even though a spiffy camera helps, it's not the most important thing. You can still achieve very good photos with a point and shoot - the important thing is to read up about composition (the rule of thirds changed my life) and to know your camera. The camera is just a computer that follows the algorithms it's been programmed with. If you understand those, you'll understand why it does what it does and how to make the most of it (or circumnavigate it when it's being a pain). No way around it, you have to read your manual.

 I hope some of this is helpful to those looking to do more with their photography. Feel free to ask any questions in the comments and I'll do my best to answer if they're within my realm!

10 comments:

  1. Great tips! I love my nifty fifty! Also, for those not looking to spend an arm and a leg for Photoshop, Photoshop Elements is a great alternative. You'll find it around $100 but it's still really powerful software (layers, actions, etc).

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  2. Thanks Vanessa - do you know if you can do layer masks with Elements too?

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  3. Thanks for all the tips! I like hearing what works for other people who are figuring things out for themselves also. My photography skilz have really improved over the last couple of years, but some of your suggestions would greatly enhance my photos.

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  4. Oh boy that just looks like so much work! I just want someone to come and tell me what to do. I like an easy life I guess. I do love all of your photos though so I'm sure glad you went to the trouble of learning so much. Our SLR remains untouched since we bought a little handbag sized one. Perhaps I should give it another whirl.

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  5. Thanks for the info - especially love the link to the camera bag - very stylish and much nicer than the geeky one I am using:)

    Love the idea of an online course - may be the best way for me to go to fit in around work and the family.

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  6. Wow thanks for the tips, especially on the flickr groups and the Digital Photography School.

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  7. Thanks for all this great info. When I had a good quality camera in the pre-digital era, I never used anything but the automatic mode. For some time now I've been wanting a digital SLR, but have told myself I have to be prepared to do more than use automatic. This post is really helpful. Now all I have to do is start learning!

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  8. I'm going to start with reading the manual (I hate reading the manual)

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  9. Thanks Kirsty for this info - I have a Fuji Finepix and have been debating over the need to purchase a SLR - and if so which type to buy!!!
    I think it's the way to go!

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  10. Thank you Kirsty for all the information and tips! This is all very tempting, but would mean cutting down on my fabric addiction ...

    For some reason I'm tempted to try Photoshop more than the camera and lenses ... Does that make sense? Well, since there's a free trial period I guess I could check it out some time when I'll have some more free time at my hands.

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