010 A Photography Myth Busted

I think the one thing that every photographer has been told or asked at some point (more than once) is...

“You must have a good camera to take photos like that?“

While it's more than likely said with good intention, it’s one of those statements that makes you cringe, shake your head and grind your teeth all at the same time, because you know that it really isn’t true.

Creating a good image isn’t just down to the equipment that you have in your hand, in fact that's a very small part of a good image. Let me explain... 

But before I move on I'll tell you a story about the start of my journey. I was at Donington Park circuit with my trusty Canon 600D. As I was taking my photos all I could hear was the rattle of the shutter of the guy standing next to me. He had the all singing Canon 1DX with his L lens... Camera envy... A bit. But when I was talking to him, he explained he knew nothing about photography and had just bought the most expensive camera/lens combo he could because he felt it would get him the best photos. He took all his photos in the auto mode, and in his words

"I just press the button and hope"

Well not wanting to be rude, hope was failing him in a big way! That was the realisation for me that just having the best camera wasn't going to guarantee me getting the best photos.

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One of the driving forces behind taking, or at least wanting to take great photos, is a passion for photography. Its a passion that goes deeper than just taking a quick snap on your iPhone. Its where you can visualise the photo that you are wanting to create before you even look thru the viewfinder. When you ignite this passion, that's the moment the fun and the pain and the years of learning begin. So lets go to the beginning. 

You've got your camera and just spent a couple of hours reading the manual, from this you will now know how to basically operate the camera, and I do mean basically.  But now you know which one is the fire button you are ready to be Player 1...    

So you've read the manual and know which button makes it fire, now if you stay in the Auto mode you are never going to get the photos that you are capable of getting, you need to learn the technical side of how a photo is made. The exposure triangle, learning about how depth of field affects a photo, what the best shutter speed is for different situations, what does the ISO do.

Then its the actual learning to get your eye in, about the best way to compose a shot and how to frame it. With these in the bag you now head into the journey for real, its not a quick trip, its going to take you to places that you maybe didn't want to go to. There are times you are going to get frustrated as you can't get your images to look like the ones you have seen on the internet. But that's where the years of practising what you have learnt come into play. You spend so much time looking thru the viewfinder, changing the settings become second nature, you become one with your camera (I am with the camera, and the camera is with me) Mistakes are made, mistakes are learnt from. When you think you are really getting the hang of it, but want to get better you start to get outside help, you become a Padawan (yes ok I am a Star Wars fan)  and learn from the masters with workshops and training sessions, online courses, books, magazines. Investing a lot in yourself in both time and money long before you are investing in the equipment. There's no point in having an all singing and dancing camera if you only let it dance to the one song.

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After all that time learning, training and practising you now know how to take a good image, it doesn't end there.  Now you are ready to start doing photoshoots, but with any shoot be that, Brand, Pet, Portrait, Landscape (I could go on but I won't) there's more preparation to be put in on the days leading up to the shoot. Have you been to the location or do you know it? If not maybe you need a quick trip or hit the google maps to have a look from the sky. Then there are things like checking the weather, finding where the sun will be at the time of the shoot (yes I know it's up there in the sky). So all that has been done and you have  packed your bag, then unpacked it because you don't think the thingamajig is in there, but it was so you've repacked it (you might even have a checklist) and now you head to the location. On arrival and pretty much straight away you are looking for where the light and the shadows are falling, looking for things that don't need to be there or shouldn't be there, or could be there as they add to the photo. If you are on a shoot with a client then you are making sure that they are ready and happy with what is being planned.

Now you have walked all those steps, you are now ready to look thru the viewfinder and start putting everything you've learned into play. Framing, focusing and adjusting the settings to the way you want the photo to be to suit your editing. I always use the full manual mode for my photos to have the full creative power over the image.

Then its "CLICK"  and your photo is taken... 

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Get in there, you have the picture (or the hundreds of them) saved to your memory card. But it doesn't end there.

What do you mean it doesn't end there, I've taken the photo, what more do you want from me???

Oh... the processing...

When I started my journey, I really didn't want to have to spend time editing my photos. But now it has become almost as enjoyable for me as taking the photo, it's here the final image is born/created/it's alive!

Yep now we have the processing to do. As well as shooting in manual I always take my images in RAW. This is so that again I have full creative control over the final image I produce, instead of letting the algorithms inside the camera decide how the image will look. For the processing you are looking at more investing in yourself, workshops and online courses to learn how to get the best from your chosen software. Oh yeah you need to get that software as well. The route I have taken is the Adobe one. 

I look at the processing as you would've back in the film days.

If you shoot your images in any of the JPEG modes then essentially you have taken your roll of film put it into an envelope and posted it to one of the generic photo labs who will process the images to a standard set of parameters. So the photos you get back are just developed exactly the same way as anyone else sending theirs to that same lab, with no thought over the creative side. Using the JPEG and a selected scene mode in the camera it will just use the standard algorithms in its software to make the adjustments, and like the photo lab there will be no consideration over the creative side and you will end up with a very generic look.

Now if you shoot in RAW then you are basically taking your roll of film to your home darkroom and developing the photos with your own combination of timing and chemicals to get the exact look you want. Using Lightroom with all of the awesome setting and sliders I am able to really bring my photos to life and to have them looking exactly how I imagined them when I finally got round to pressing that fire button. You will build a collection of presets based on your editing style. You will look for the little imperfections that need to be tickled out of the image, you'll slightly crop the image, maybe it needs a tweak on the rotation. The when you think you are done, you will go back and have another look just to be sure. Trust me this is fun (or maybe I am just old....)

So to go back and answer the question "You must have a good camera to take photos like that?"

Yes I have got a good camera. I've upgraded to it as my learning and understanding of photography has improved. Does it take good photos? It takes the photos that I tell it to...

One final thing to say on this, please don't say this to photographers, especially those carrying large tripods...

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