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What Interests You?


Dallas
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What interests you?

I’ve heard it said before that the more successful photographers in the world aren’t actually interested in photography as much as they are interested in the subjects that they photograph. For these photographers the subject is everything and photography is merely a means to an end. I think there is a fair amount of truth to that. If you’re passionate about a subject, it shows up in your work in ways that the unfamiliar photographer isn’t able to reproduce in their work of the same subject.

 

When I was starting out as a photography enthusiast I was primarily interested in taking "artistic" photos of my family life. I use the word "artistic" very liberally here! At the time I had two young sons who were 9 and 2 years old. My original intention was simply to document their lives in an aesthetically pleasing way, so that at some point in the future (which I guess is now), I could look back at those photos and marvel at how they had changed over the years. I would have a record of the way they looked and also of the things we got up to as a family.

 

Other people pick up a camera for different reasons. I know so many photographers who started out with an above average interest in something and wanted to make photos of it. Fashion, wildlife, travel, portraiture, sports, etc. This interest then lead them to photography, which in many cases became a central theme around their primary passion. All the serious wildlife photographers I know seemed to get into it this way. I know a few sports photographers who followed the same path and who now, through their love of sports (or a particular sport), make a decent living out of photographing it.

 

The first and most obvious advantage to photographing something that you are interested in is that you will already have a good working knowledge of the subject matter, which will hopefully give you a bit of an insight into what makes good photos of it. Take surfing as an example. The best surfing photographers in the world were at some time surfers themselves (can you ever give up surfing?), so when they are at the beach taking photos, they already know instinctively when they should be firing the shutter so that they can catch the best moments. Same thing for rugby photographers. Or football photographers. You have to know something about the game in order to get the shots that others who also love the game will get excited about.

 

I remember the first time I got an accreditation to photograph a professional rugby match. I was petrified. But I knew already in my mind what I wanted to shoot and I set about positioning myself in places where I knew I would get something I wanted. Most of the professionals who were covering that game camped themselves behind the away team’s try line so that they could get shots of the home team scoring. I took a different approach and followed the action up and down the touch line. I got shots of the set pieces such as scrums being set, line-outs being contested, tackles being made and so on. This is because I knew the game. I loved the game! When I handed my photos in to the local newspaper editor he was quite taken aback with this approach and ended up running one of them on the back page of that Sunday’s paper. I was thrilled. Sadly I don’t have any of those images anymore due to poor digital archiving on my part, which is something we will discuss in another lesson, but the point is that if you have an above average interest in a subject you should be able to make above average images of it, provided you know your way around your camera.

 

In a nutshell, your muse in photography is the thing you are most interested in (not necessarily another human - I’m also being a bit liberal with the use of the word here). It will provide you with the creative impetus you need to push your vision of it. As you spend more time with your muse you will get to know its character better and as with everything you practise abundantly, it will reveal its true character to you, giving you better results than those of other photographers who’s interests may overlap slightly with yours and who spend very little time examining the same subject matter. Nature photographers are particularly adept at this and they are frequently rewarded with the most incredible images. This doesn’t happen out of randomness. These are people who will spend an entire day in a hide waiting for a species they are wanting to photograph to appear. They will not simply fire away maniacally when the species appears, instead they will observe its behaviour, wait and choose their moments. Subject knowledge is key to the success of this type of photographer.

 

So as a new photographer what things are most important to you? You need to know this at the outset if you are hoping to become a better photographer. I’d like to take a short amount of time to look at three main areas of photographic interest and point out a few observations I have made over the course of my involvement in photography and how interest can help you make better images in those areas.

 

Commercial Photography

This is probably the holy grail for many photographers who study the craft in formal settings. It’s the practise of making images that are designed to provoke feelings of desire in consumers and it can range from lifestyle type images to still life, to fashion. The photographer’s job is to get you interested in the product that is being sold by making as loud an appeal to your visual senses as possible.

 

There are very few who make it in this field. You have to have a superb sense of style and concept to be successful in commercial photography. Often times your clients are not purchasing your technical ability to get a particular shot, but rather your ability to see creatively. What are you bringing to the table that hasn’t already been said about their product? Other times you are just the camera operator on location while the art director spells out almost pixel for pixel how they expect your image to look. As a commercial photographer you need to be able to put your head into both these spaces and produce work either conceptualised by somebody else, or come up with the creative yourself. Confidence plays a huge part in the latter and your vision needs to translate to the product owner in a way that sells them on what you are seeing. You need to be interested in making the product stand out visually, which is a key ingredient to making successful commercial images. How you find that interest can depend on several factors.

 

Last week I was guest judge for a commercial photography competition on viewbug.com and while there were many technically amazing shots entered into the competition, the image I chose as the winner showed to me that the photographer knew exactly how to make light and colour work together to best illuminate a subject. Those are his interests and he makes them work for him commercially.

 

Nature Photography

Up until I led my first photo safari to the Sabi Sands in 2010 I wasn’t really all that interested in nature. When we were there though I fell in love with the bush and the animals and other bugs who inhabit it, so nowadays I am more inclined to want to go and photograph nature than any other subject, mainly because I am now more interested in it than I am in making (say) images of women's shoes.

 

I also saw passion for the wild from the rangers who drove us around on those safaris and this bore itself out in the images that they took (with mostly inferior equipment to what we were using). This one time we were in the middle of a herd of hundreds of buffalo and I simply couldn’t find anything of interest about these animals to photograph, but Ranger Rika, who was one of our guides on that safari, sat a couple of feet next to me and somehow saw shapes and patterns in the horns of the buffalo that made outstanding images. From then on I began looking into a nature scene rather than just at it.

 

Making successful nature photos requires complete immersion into the natural world. You have to have spans of time that you can dedicate to being out there observing, ingesting and then expressing the things you see in ways that others just don’t see. This is probably the one area of photographic interest that requires the most dedication and personal sacrifice to be really good at, but it certainly seems to be to be the most personally rewarding. I have never seen an unhappy nature photographer while they’re out there, even when the light is poor or the animals are winning the game of hide and seek! They just want to be amidst the wild and letting what they see there reflect outwardly in the form of photographs.

 

Human Photography

I’m taking a very broad brush here to describe photography that includes humans. Everything from portraiture to reportage of news, to wedding photography to the family snapshot could fall under this description.

 

Humans are the first things we encounter in the world and we either love them, tolerate them, are indifferent to them, or dismiss them. Whatever our attitude towards other humans is will become evident in the way we go about photographing them. Me? I find myself very shy around new people initially, so it takes me a while to build up the kind of confidence that is needed to make great photos of people I don’t really know. Which is why in my professional life as a photographer I don’t make attentive human photography a priority. I’m just not that good at it with strangers, or even sometimes people who I know but who don’t feel comfortable being in front of my camera. This doesn’t mean that I don’t like to take photos of other people, I actually love making people photos, but I do it differently. I like to make candid photos and photos where people are unaware that they are being photographed - no not voyeuristic imagery, just shots of people maybe interacting with their surroundings without being aware of my presence. OK, that sounds creepy enough to be interpreted as voyeuristic, but rest assured, it’s not my intention. :-) I’m usually taking photos of people at events where they are focused on something else and not on me. Probably why I do quite well at events as a “reporter with a camera” where there is no interaction with the subject. Inattentive subjects.

 

I think for those photographers who are intent on making the human an attentive subject in their photos, being acutely in tune with other humans is key to the success of the images they make. You have to be aware of what makes another human respond in a photogenic manner if you want to get the best out of them. There’s no magic wand for this. Some photographers have a knack for it, others don’t. Some photographers, like me, suck at it. The most important thing to take away from this lesson is that you shouldn’t become discouraged if you’re not making great people photos straight away. Working on your people skills is probably the best thing you can do to get attentive subjects to respond favourably in front of your lens. Tell a joke, issue a stream of compliments (be genuine about this because most people know exactly when they are having smoke blown up their asses).

 

There are of course many other areas of interest for photographers, most of which either overlap with these three in some way, or are even more specialised (consider astrophotography, UV/IR photography, etc). Directing your photographic attention towards something of deeper interest to you will most definitely result in more engaging photography. It doesn’t really matter what your interest is, use it to further your photographic ability. It will certainly result in better results than trying to photograph something that you aren’t all that interested in.

 

This article's feature image is by:

Spencer Backman

Edited by Dallas

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      Editor's note: simply wonderful. Not much else I can add! Seen here. 
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      If you have any questions about this lesson please feel free to add a reply. 
       
      This article's featured image is from:
      Danis Lou
       
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      There are a lot of entry level cameras to choose from and these days there are very few being made that aren’t producing amazing image quality at a variety of different applications. I actually can’t (and don’t) keep up with the camera releases at the bottom end of the market, simply because there are new ones out every time I open my myYahoo page and look at the RSS feeds I have there from a number of camera review sites. We are certainly spoiled for choice and I suppose it’s like trying to get a handle of what new smartphone to buy these days. A minefield awaits.
       
      For Casual Photographers
      Brand wise there are the two main players, namely Nikon and Canon. Both of these companies have been around for a long time and have built up formidable lens and flash systems around their products. They have cameras at every level of user proficiency and you can go crazy trying to decide which lenses you should buy.
       
      A lot of the lower end Canon and Nikon cameras will often be sold with bundled kit lenses, such as the 18-55mm and 55-200mm zoom lenses. I don’t have too much experience with these lenses but on the lower end cameras they certainly give you a wide range of options photographically. You get a moderate wide angle for the times you want to go on holiday and take wider shots, plus you have a telephoto lens that you can use to photograph kids playing soccer or other sports. I would happily recommend these kits to those people who are probably never going to become serious photographers, but who want those Swiss Army Knife features. The systems are affordable and you will seldom have any difficulty reselling them later because everybody knows those brands are the ones the pros use.
       
      There are other brands to look at, including Sony, Samsung, Pentax, Fujifilm and the system I am now using, Micro Four thirds, which is supported by Olympus and Panasonic. However, apart from the Micro Four Thirds system which has models in all the user segments, the other brands are slanted more towards intermediate users and this is reflected in the pricing of those systems. There are very few sub-$1k systems available from those brands. The Sony, Samsung and Fujifilm ranges in particular are still evolving, especially on the mirrorless front, so the pricing of those products is more in the $1-2k range. There are also much smaller markets in the west for these emerging brands than there are for the two big players, so reselling could be an issue later on.
       
      For the casual photographer therefore I would look at the entry level DSLR options from Canon or Nikon. You can build onto those systems easily and there are lots of lenses and bodies available to buy second hand.
       
      For Serious Photographers
      This is where it starts to get a little tougher to make recommendations, mainly because there are so many more options and the choice of brand and format becomes more of a factor to consider.
       
      As I mentioned at the beginning of this lesson, I started on Nikon, moved to Canon and then moved back to Nikon, before now settling on Olympus. Somewhere inbetween there was a brief, but voracious love affair with Leica (a brand that I don’t think any intermediate photographer is going to want to dip their toes into just yet). My takeaway from using all those systems is that they all have their plusses and minuses. They all do the same thing at the end of the day too. Make photographs.
       
      The serious photographer should have in his or her mind, before even deciding on a camera system, what kinds of photographs they want to make. This will make it easier to pick a system. Are you looking to do wedding photography? Do you want to do photo-journalism? How about landscapes, portraits or macro photography? Will you be getting into flash photography? Are you going to be printing really large prints?
       
      All of the main systems will give you gear that will enable you to do those types of photography, so you need to look at each system very carefully and decide what is most important to the kind of work you want to do. Let’s look at bodies first.
       
      DSLR Bodies
       
      Canon and Nikon have concentrated their camera business on the DSLR format. If you don’t know what that means, basically it is an abbreviation for digital single lens reflex. The light enters the camera through the lens, bounces off a mirror that is positioned at 45˚ in front of the sensor, is then reflected onto a focusing screen and then either by prism or other mirrors is inverted into a viewfinder that you look through to frame your photos. When you press the shutter button to take a shot the mirror flips up, the shutter opens and the sensor is exposed to light, which is then converted into a digital image that gets stored on the memory card. It’s a complex system that has some advantages, but also has some disadvantages for photography. More on that in a bit.
       
      Within the DSLR eco-system of the two main players are a couple of different sensor sizes. There is what is commonly (and irritatingly incorrectly) referred to as “full frame” sensors, which are based on the traditional 35mm film system of old, and there are what is known as APS-C sensors. The APS-C sensors are smaller sensors that are a crop of the traditional 35mm frame. The Nikon system refers to these two different sized sensors as FX (full format) and DX (cropped format). Canon don’t bother with a designation like this, which can make it a little difficult to pick out the full format and crop format models from their lines.
       
      Both manufacturers make lenses for each of the formats, but because both formats use the same size lens mount, it is possible to use lenses designed for the larger format on the smaller format. It’s also possible to put lenses for the smaller format onto larger format cameras but the image circle is reduced and as such the frame isn’t fully covered with those lenses. Nikon FX cameras deal with this by masking off the parts of the frame that are not covered and essentially make a photo with less pixels using the centre part of the frame. I’m not sure if the Canon system does the same thing, but what I can tell you is that there are not all that many APS-C lenses designed for serious use as there were at the beginning of the DSLR revolution when we didn’t have the full format 35mm sensors. Nikon seem to have pretty much stopped developing DX lenses and have turned their attention to updating their extensive range of FX lenses.
       
      Nikon are also bringing out more and more cheaper FX bodies these days, so for the serious photographer I would suggest looking at the 35mm full format bodies rather than the APS-C ones. You can pick them up at decent prices second hand, especially the older top end pro bodies like the Nikon D3 and Canon 1DS. I just saw a Canon 1DS Mk3 selling locally for the equivalent of about $1100k. That’s a very, very nice camera that offers a 21MP sensor and a full range of features that a pro would use.
       
      However, having said that, there is a benefit for wildlife photographers in using the APS-C formats mainly because you have a couple of benefits when using telephoto lenses designed for the full format on these crop format bodies. What happens is that because the crop format is only reading the central part of the image circle, the often less optically pure outer edges of the projection onto the sensor are cropped off, meaning that from edge to edge of the cropped frame you will see less light fall off and also sharper corners. The other major benefit is that you get what appears like a closer view of your subject than would be the case if you were using the same lens on the full format. In layman’s terms you get a tighter view of a subject. I will go into more detail on this in another lesson, but suffice to say that wildlife photographers prefer the smaller sensor size because of these factors.
       
      Some DSLR’s are better at some things than other DSLR’s are. For instance, if you are aiming your creativity at the studio photography, or landscape side of things, you don’t need a DSLR that shoots at 10 frames per second or needs to track focus of low flying aerobatic aircrafts. Your needs will be perfectly suited with a higher resolution sensor that you can shoot at lower ISO values. Similarly, if you are intending to become the next Al Bello of the sports photography world you are not going to be well served with a camera that only shoots at 5 frames per second and starts producing more noise than a death metal band at moderate ISO values like 1600 (I’ll get into more detail on these issues in other lessons). These are camera specs and traits that you will need to research online. There are many, many sites out there that provide free equipment reviews. Wherever possible it’s a really good idea to rent the kind of camera you would like to use to see if it is going to fit with the type of work you want to produce.
       
      DSLR Advantages:
      lots of bodies and lenses to choose from good resale from the main brands covers most photographic needs adequately excellent battery life  
      DSLR Disadvantages:
      Mostly quite large and heavy bodies lenses are big pro level gear is hugely expensive optical viewfinders are not always practical sensors attract a lot of dust  
      Mirrorless Bodies
       
      We now live in an age where mirrorless cameras have fully come into the serious photographers sphere of interest and this has sparked many an online debate as to whether a DSLR is actually advantageous in any way to mirrorless cameras. Personally I have completely moved away from DSLR’s to mirrorless cameras, but for many other photographers the mirrorless cameras don’t quite break the hold that DSLR’s have on their needs just yet. Let’s first have a look at what a mirrorless camera is.
       
      As the name implies mirrorless cameras don’t have that 45˚ angled mirror in front of the shutter. When you take the lens off a mirrorless camera you stare directly at the sensor, which can be a little unnerving at first. The imaging process is slightly different to that of a DSLR. What happens is that because the sensor is always exposed to light and there is no complex optical system of prisms and mirrors to bounce the light up into an optical view finder, the mirrorless cameras make use of electronic view finders (EVF’s). The live view that is being picked up by the sensor is transmitted to the EVF so you are seeing a digital representation of the unfolding scene in front of your lens.
       
      When mirrorless cameras first hit the scene a few years ago the EVF’s were not that great. They were laggy and had somewhat diminished resolution, which meant that for action photography they were no good at all. Also, the sensors relied on a different kind of technology to auto focus the lenses, namely contrast detection, whereas DSLR’s used a technology known as phase detection. The latter is much better for tracking of moving subjects. However, over the past couple of years these mirrorless technologies have improved dramatically and on the more modern mirrorless bodies the EVF quality is exceptional, as is the auto focus tracking ability.
       
      One of the many advantages of the mirrorless systems is that they are a lot smaller than their DSLR counterparts and in the case of the micro four thirds system (the one I use) the lenses are much smaller than most of those used by DSLR’s. When you’re carrying around a fair amount of gear for any particular job this becomes a critical factor in selecting a system.
       
      Right, so now that I have explained what a mirrorless camera is, who makes them and which one would be right for your needs?
       
      At the present time the open standard micro four thirds system (m43 or MFT) is by far the most well supported mirrorless system available. There are loads and loads of lenses being made by many different companies for this system and there are also two main manufacturers of bodies (and lenses), namely Olympus and Panasonic. Both companies have been around for almost 100 years and have fairly diverse product ranges. Neither of them exist purely to make camera systems, their main businesses are in other industries. The m43 system is at the leading edge of most technological innovations in camera systems today, with such astonishing features as in body image stabilisation (IBIS) and multi-shot high resolution pioneered by Olympus, touch screen technology on LCD’s, wifi, and now also affordable 4K video in the Panasonic GH4. It all makes for a very enticing camera system and since I moved to it I have become a very contented photographer gear wise.
       
      But it’s not the only system out there for mirrorless cameras. The other serious players are Fujifilm and Sony. Fujifilm have developed a very well loved range of cameras in both rangefinder and DSLR like retro-styling. The sensors are technologically different to those used in many other cameras and as such they boast superior colour accuracy and dynamic range to that found in many other systems, including some DSLR’s. The lens range is increasing gradually, plus they have excellent firmware updates for older cameras, often bringing many new features to older bodies. The downside is that because it is a proprietary system there are not that many (if any) 3rd party lens manufacturers adding to the pool of options for this system. That said, you can adapt pretty much any lens from any maker onto the Fuji’s by using an adapter. You lose the advantage of auto focus and shutter priority metering, but that seldom seems to be a concern amongst the growing family of Fuji users.
       
      The other major name in the mirrorless world is Sony. What Sony are doing with their range of cameras is a little confusing, simply because there are so many different systems within one brand to chose from. I’m still not quite sure what lenses work with what bodies, but what I do know is that they are the only camera manufacturer (apart from Leica) to be producing a full format 35mm sized sensor in a mirrorless camera, namely the Alpha a7 range. This larger sensor means you get better high ISO performance, shorter depth of field and of course in some models more resolution. At this time there are 3 different Sony a7 models on the market, each of which is tailored to a specific use. The a7 is a 24MP, general purpose body, the a7R boasts 36.4MP resolution and the a7S is a 12MP super low light sensitive, 4K video capable machine. Each body does well in some areas and not so well in others. If you think that this is the system for you, my advice is to research each one thoroughly before making a decision. They’re not that cheap either.
       
      Mirrorless Advantages:
      some really amazing technologies (EVF, IBIS, wifi) pro level equipment is much cheaper than DSLR equivalents smaller, lighter systems growing market segment with lots of interest from enthusiasts can adapt lenses from any system for use on mirrorless bodies dust is less of a problem  
      Mirrorless Disadvantages:
      autofocus tracking not as good as DSLR's battery life is not as good as DSLR's resale value is poor some systems don't have a full range of accessories professional backup not as tight as it is from Nikon and Canon  
      DSLR vs Mirrorless: which one is right for me?
       
      This is a personal thing. The only person who can answer this question is yourself.
       
      As I mentioned near the beginning of this lesson, the most important thing to consider before deciding on which system you want to make your own is to nail down what kind of photography you want to do and then find the system that works best for that type of photography. Each available system has it’s own pros and cons for each type of photography, so you need to know what you want out of it before you go and lay down your money. Research, research, research! Ask me questions. I’m here to help you find your way.
       
      As I wrap up this first lesson what I’d like to re-iterate is that once you have chosen your gear, please go out and shoot the daylights out of it. Don’t sit indoors on forums and blogs comparing your shots to those of other photographers using different gear and then surmise that you can only get the same shots if you change your gear. Change your attitude instead! Shoot every day and grow your vision. Learn all your camera’s functions, even the ones that you don’t think you’ll ever use. Make the camera an extension of your body. Make sure that driving the camera is as easy and natural as walking and chewing gum for you (I’m assuming that you can do those things!). The famous golfer Gary Player has a saying that I am somewhat fond of. He says “The more I practise the luckier I get.” It’s true for everything. Repetition is the foundation of excellence.
       
      In the next lesson we will start to look at lenses and what you should be looking to invest in when you’re starting out. 
       
      This articles featured image is from:
      Søren Astrup Jørgensen 
       
       
    • By armando_m
      Editor's note: I love everything about this shot, the lighting, the processing and the composition. Excellent work by Armando seen here. 
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