Ten ways to smooth your entry into amateur photography
1) When buying a camera, be honest. You might save yourself some money.
If you just want to take pictures and don’t care for the technical aspects so much, don’t buy an SLR. Without the yen to learn the rules of optics you’ll get no more from an SLR than you would from, say, a Canon G series camera. And don’t feel as though you’re selling yourself short – I know some working photographers that keep a Canon G in their bag as a backup.
2) If you’re determined to buy an SLR, learn what the confusing numbers on the top mean.
You’ll hate yourself for spending all that money and having to take a large camera bag everywhere with you. Meanwhile, your friend is owning you with a pocket-sized Canon G camera and a keen eye. A lot of the time I’ve heard about people buying SLRs because of a certain ‘look’ they expect to get, but in fact the camera behaves appallingly without the human touch and a little know-how. Optics are difficult to grasp at first. There’s a lot of variables and they all affect one another. My advice would be to start with F-stops (the aspect that controls depth of field) and work your way out from there.
3) Cameras aren’t like your eyes.
Cameras and lenses bend things, freeze things, compress things, blur things, shorten things, extend things. It’s about creative possibilities. Your eye only sees things one way. The possibility of a camera is choosing to see it another way… so try and learn to see things the way your camera might.
4) Just ask.
People usually say yes.
5) Be systematic.
One thing at a time. If you don’t understand why you’re shooting a big white rectangle and you’re outside on an overcast day, check your ISO isn’t at 6400 before you start winding the shutter speed to 1/8000 and pushing your camera far harder than you need to. If you literally know nothing about optics, that’ll sound like Greek.
I’m not a super-experienced street photographer by any means, but I know there’s a lot to be said for stopping and waiting for something to happen. You might see a nice stripe of light down a street coming from a low sun, and think ‘oh.. pretty’, and shoot right away. Why not pick a spot and wait for a harrassed looking office worker to come through it, then blaze away? Best to do this when alone, as having colleagues around tends to make you feel rushed, and also helps you get made.
… a lot on lenses. If you can. If you can’t, get cheap prime lenses. They’re fixed focal length – no zooming – and though that sounds tyrannical, you quickly learn the sort of looks you get from different focal lengths, and you’ll be a more instinctive photographer for it. They’ve also usually got very wide apertures (around f2) meaning that coveted shallow depth of field look. I’d recommend a 35 or a 50mm lens, and cheap incarnations are available for most cameras.
8) Photoshop is good.
But, you’re better than that. You can’t save a bad picture in photo editing, not really. Getting it right on the day is the best policy, and putting a sharp, well composed picture into Photoshop for a tickle is a far more optimistic process.
9) Superzooms are crap.
17-200mm sounds like a genius all in one solution. Wildlife and landscapes and I never need to change a lens? Perfect… only you bought an SLR because you want image quality and creativity, and what you’ll most likely get is blurry zoomed pictures, poor sharpness and totally useless performance on sunny days. There are no professional grade superzooms because no one has worked out how to make them any good yet. Only buy a superzoom if you truly don’t care, in which case, embrace.
10) Spray and pray?
Remember that scene in Men In Black where Will Smith is going through his assessment (if not, fine. It was a while back) and part of it takes place on a shooting range? While the candidates blaze at aggressive cutouts of aliens, at the very end of the exercise Smith fires a single bullet through the dome of a schoolgirl carrying a suspicious book – and in doing so, proves he understands the test? No..?