Here’s a long post of (possible) interest only to (amateur) photographers and the rare people who like either my writing voice or my photography (or, in rarer instances, both). If you don’t fall into either category, move along; there’s nothing for you here.
Not to give myself airs (I’m nearly bald) or toot my own horn (I don’t even own a horn) but I occasionally get complimented on my photos.
The compliments are immediately followed by the usual insult . . .
“What kind of camera do you use?”
An unintended insult, to be sure, but . . . Look, I’ve said it before; you don’t hear people asking authors what kind word processor they use or asking chefs what kind of pots they use or asking artists what kind of brushes they use.
I mean, yes, they get asked those questions in the context of people wanting advice about the tools they should use and I too get those questions as in “What kind of camera would you recommend?“
The second is a genuine question I’m willing to engage with because I have opinions.
The first question — although similar — has other implications and it’s usually asked by people who want similar results to photos I share and think it’s the equipment that matters and not the user of the equipment.
Meaning, they ask the question in relation to their perception of the quality of the photos as dependent on the camera and not the photographer.
The answer has nothing to do — by and large — with the camera. The answer to the actual question — “how do I get photos like that?” — is simple . . .
Shoot and shoot and shoot some more . . . and post-process.
Take the above photo . . . I walked into a candy shop in Hilo and these shells formed a part of a decorative display by the entrance (right after the complementary piece of candy and sample of coffee which were the reasons we stopped there . . . well, that and clean facilities).
That shot was taken with my Note 8 last June and processed last night using Lightroom and Nik’s Color Efex Pro 4. At the time, I had no plans for the photo I took but thought I might someday use it . . . and here it is eight months later; I think it’s a nice photo.
The Note 8 takes pretty good photos . . . but the difference between it and other phones is subjective. Ten years ago phone cameras were more of a convenience than an artistic tool. But it’s been a while now that phone photos have as high or better quality than most consumer cameras from not that many years ago and are as good as some point-and-shoot offerings (except for the ability to zoom).
And here’s the thing . . . even moderately inexpensive cameras have better resolution than my first digital camera, the D100. That was a 6MP camera then priced at $2K. For most of the time I used that camera, I used what are considered mediocre lenses. And yet, I can point to many, many photos people like that were shot with that camera.
“But,” you say, “it’s a $2,000 camera!“
You can — today, right now — buy that camera for less than $100. You can buy a 70-300mm lens also for less than $100.
Note: you don’t have to buy a 17 years old camera; more recent used equipment is still relatively cheap and even entry-level DSLRs are quite reasonable. By the way, here’s the price for the used market camera I’m currently using. For that same price, on eBay, you can also get the kit lens. That camera body was $1,100 when I bought it. For less than the $1,100 I paid for my D7000 you can (today) buy the D7200 and the 18-140mm lens (27-210mm equivalent) HERE. Read the reviews for the D7200 and ask yourself why you would need more (it’s what I’m asking myself right now).
Using the D100 and an 80-300mm lens setup (which you can get today for less than $200) I got this shot while still learning to use the camera (I still think the D100 has some of the best internal processing that I’ve seen as far as color and tonality go). Each year, I got better results with the D100 because I used it and used it and used it.
I processed that photo. I cropped it so that the eye falls exactly on the rule-of-thirds grid point. I added contrast (which darkened the photo but increased apparent sharpness) and increased the brightness and sharpened it and removed a bit of noise. There are free tools that can do that but you can also get both Lightroom and Photoshop for a $120 yearly subscription. You can also buy Affinity Photo and own it.
Heck, many cameras come with a free version of Photoshop Elements.
The point is that the equipment is peripheral to getting a good photo. I had decent photos with my old Kodak Single Reflex film camera. Back then, film was the limiting factor in improving my photography; it was expensive to buy and process rolls of film.
What few people realized (what I didn’t realize at the time) about professional photographers who shot amazing photos . . . they shot hundreds of photos and shared only the best. No way I could afford to shoot that many photos.
When I bought the D100, when I shot that photo, I knew little about photography . . . but I I was suddenly able to shoot a crapload of photos. Digital made Shoot and shoot and shoot some more possible. Every person with a phone can, today, do the same thing.
Digital allowed me to practice . . . and allowed me to try and duplicate photos I liked. But, to do that, I had to figure out what I liked about those photos and figure out how to go about duplicating what I saw.
I had to do a bit of reading. Not as much as people might think — I had a number of photography books that I bought, both used and new . . . but I can’t say that I read them. I used them as reference books and read only what I needed when I needed. And, of course, the Internet helped. The Internet put information and examples at my fingertips in a way that books never could.
Side note: you can take classes you can take online courses and go on seminars and so on. My personal opinion is this: your time is better invested in practicing with a purpose (really, that’s all those courses do; they get you to shoot with a purpose) and the money is better invested in lenses (or, as the pros and pros-wannabe call them, glass).
By the way, these days it’s surprisingly simple getting decent photos because the Auto and Programmed modes in cameras are very, very good.
But, no matter how good the equipment or photo, get in the habit of doing some processing. Some people pride themselves in never having to crop. Good for them. I’m not one of them. The above is a decent photo. I think the version below is better.
For the rest of this post, I’ll concentrate on just phone photos. We’ve already established that those who want a camera can get one at a fairly decent price. But, if you really can’t afford the $200-$300 dollars for a DSLR or Point-and-Shoot — and the associated peripheral equipment necessary to process the photos — you can still do a lot with phone photos and tools that are free or nearly free (Snapseed and Pixlr and a slew of other photo apps).
Yet another side note: I still shoot a lot of photos, but there’s a big difference between 17 years and 12 years and even 5 years ago and now; my ratio of “keepers” is much higher. I’m at the point where I could scale back the number of shots I take because I’m reasonably certain I’ll have mostly keepers. In fact, most of my photo culling isn’t to get rid of bad photos; it’s to get rid of duplicate good photos. I’m not bragging; I’m pointing out that practicing helps. Knowing your camera helps. Shooting with a purpose helps.
Sure, if you want to create art, you might need expensive equipment . . . or, you can shave your beard and take a photo of it . . .
Put some effects on it . . .
. . . and you got yourself abstract art . . . heck, you can even frame it.
OK, so that uses Topaz Studio (free) and some modules (not free but with lifetime free upgrades). But, still, amortized over however long you’re going to live and use the tools, it’s pretty cheap, especially if you wait for their sales.
By the way, you can do the same thing — frame a photo, that is — without the modules if you have any program which uses layers (digital frames). I listed before a number of cheap or free photo-editing tools but things change so fast that if you’re interested, just do a search.
Anyway, back to getting decent photos . . . Shoot and shoot and shoot some more is, unfortunately, not the only thing you need to do. But, the other thing you need to do is related to Shoot and shoot and shoot some more.
You need to learn to “see” the final product and that’s related to taking — and processing — a lot of photos.
Most people see a flower . . . and that’s nice. But I also saw an angry little dude trying to get unstuck from the stem . . .
Mind you, the photo of the flower itself is fine but the additional visual (at least for me) ads to the enjoyment of the photo.
This next photo is of a label stuck on a post on Aliʻi Drive . . . I don’t remember what it advertised but I saw the possibility for a cracked fresco rendition . . .
. . . plus, I like the skull she’s carrying around . . . because that’s the other thing. Notice the details and it adds to your enjoyment of the photo.
This is a wall on a side of a building in Kapaʻau (on The Big Island) . . . I liked the texture and snapped the photo.
Only later did I noticed the vague visage of a pachyderm . . . but I still primarily liked the contrast in textures, colors, and materials.
My main interest was the texture . . . because I’ll probably use it elsewhere.
. . . or, on its own.
Others don’t have to like any of those photos. The only requirement is that I like it and that’s the motivation you should have for taking photos.
I’m sure 80% of the people who read this post won’t find anything they like in here. Some will even tell me how much they didn’t like it. But, a few will like what’s here and fewer still will let me know they liked a particular photo.
The point is, I’m not here to try and please the majority or even a given percentage of people. I’m only here to share what I like and if a few people also like my photos, well . . . that’s just gravy on an already fine meal. Actually, I don’t like gravy, but you know what I mean.
The way you get photos you like is to . . . you guessed it: Shoot and shoot and shoot some more . . . but you also need to post-process to a vision you have regarding about what you photographed.
Photos can — on occasion — just happen but for the majority of the time, for the photo to at least have the chance to be interesting to the photographer themselves, the photographer has to shoot with intent.
Sure, some photos are taken to document something as opposed to showcase it.
The photos I share are shot with intent because some elements in the photos triggered my interest; I show them to share what interested me.
What captured my attention for the above photos was the combination of colors, patterns, and textures. I’m always on the lookout for those things . . . because I’ve been trained both by my efforts and those of other photographers I follow (HERE and HERE, for example).
Those two sites are primarily responsible for me “seeing” the possibility of photos like this one . . .
Of course, I do my own interpretation of what Ken does; I don’t copy but I’m inspired by what I see. Not everything, but a lot of his work.
This was shot in a parking lot last week . . . pretty bland, ain’t it?
. . . except, this is what I saw when I looked at that tree . . .
Almost all the photography blogs I follow serve as an inspiration for things I might want to do. In some instances, I just like the photos and I’m not likely to try and duplicate them (portraits, street photography, architectural, sports, etc.) but I still look at the composition and colors and what makes the photos work.
I’ll end with a gallery of photos I took at a rest area in Tennessee. Literally, five minutes worth of shooting with my phone (the camera was in the car but I didn’t need it for this). By the way, you can see five minutes shoots on THIS site.
Surely, if you want to improve your photography, you can take five minutes out of your day and shoot and shoot and shoot some more.
Would you have taken as many photos? Those are all of the photos I took; I used every one of them and each was taken with intent. Meaning, all of them were usable and of sufficient quality because I knew what I wanted and took my time in shooting them; no spray-and-pray for me, thank you. Each photo shows something that captured my interest and each is processed to show what captured my interest in the best possible way (for me).
Want to take photos that you will like and will want to share?
. . . work at it because there’s no equipment you can buy that will do it for you. And even if there was . . . why would it then need you?
Here’s the gallery of all the photos
in random order:
That’s it. This post has ended . . . except for the stuff below.
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