“Wow! You’ve got a nice camera! It must take great pictures!”
“Cool pictures! You must have a lot of megapixels!”
“I wish I had an expensive camera so I could take great pictures too!”

Every time someone tells me one of these phrases, I generally have one response, “Thanks.”
The truth is though, on the inside, I’m cringing. Now, I realize that not everyone is knowledgeable about cameras and taking pictures, which is why I generally don’t let it bother me. But I thought I’d write this article so that more people could be educated about the subject, and help realize that, while their comments might be meant as a compliment, what they say can actually be hurtful to some.

-You have to know exactly what you’re doing
I’ll be the first to admit that having good, quality equipment can make a world of difference. If you’re not fighting with your camera to take the shot you had envisioned, it makes everything easier. What I’m trying to get at here, is that a professional, i.e. someone who should know what they’re doing, knows exactly what the settings are that he/she needs. In any given moment during a wedding, a photographer has to keep quite a lot of factors straight in their head. Let’s look at an example:

Camera chose: f/2.8, 1/60 shutter speed, ISO 200, +0 exposure compensation
Full auto mode chose: f/2.8, 1/60 shutter speed, ISO 200, +0 exposure compensation

This first image is taken with the camera’s full auto mode, or the “green mode” as I like to call it, due to the little green arrow that usually denotes it on the scene selector on top of the camera. When in this mode, the camera determines everything about how the shot is going to turn out, except for the composition. The camera’s meter detects low ambient light, so the first thing it does is pop up your on-board flash. Now, since the flash is on, the camera is thinking that the flash is going to take care of lighting the subject. Great for the subject, but not great for the scene as a whole. Notice how the lighting is pretty flat, there’s harsh shadows in places that don’t look good, and the ambient light is pretty drowned out.

Now let’s see what happens why I choose the settings. Same camera, same lens, but with a few twists of my own.

I chose: f/2.8, 1/30 sec. shutter speed, ISO 400, +0.5 exposure compensation
I chose: f/2.8, 1/30 sec. shutter speed, ISO 200, +0.5 exposure compensation

There’s a few settings to look at here. Note that there are only a few changes, but they make a huge difference. Generally, I always crank up the exposure compensation a bit, as I like to bring more light into the image from the get go. Some people refer to what I’m talking about as “exposing to the right”, but that’s for another article. I also chose a slightly slower shutter speed. The reason for this, is that I wanted to let in more of the ambient light, so that the subject becomes part of the scene, rather than takes it over completely like in the first image.

Something that makes the biggest difference in this image is the apparent lack of use of flash. I did use flash though, so why can’t you tell? I decided against using my camera’s on-board flash, and used my bigger SB-800 unit. What I didn’t do though, is aim it right at my subject. I rotated the flash head 90 degrees and pointed it at the wall. Yep, I shot my flash at the wall instead of my subject. Sounds stupid, doesn’t it? Well, look at it this way. Have you ever been out on a bright, sunny day only to be blinded by somebody’s white shirt? The thing is, you’re not being blinded by their shirt, but by the sun reflecting off that shirt. The same principle applies here. I’m shooting my flash at the wall, so that it reflects back onto my subject. What this also does is to essentially make my flash one BIG light source instead of a tiny one. In essence, the entire wall becomes my flash. This makes the shadows on my subject much softer, and less harsh.

I also framed the image in a different way. Generally, when taking pictures, people tend to get in the habit of putting the subject right in the middle of the image. This sometimes works, but generally it’s more visually appealing to have the subject off center. You can read more about that particular aspect of composition by looking up “Rule of Thirds.” Trust me, you won’t have to look too far, there’s literally thousands of places you can check it out.

-Your camera doesn’t necessarily matter-

Last night, I took my daughter to the park to feed the ducks. At 21 months old, she really likes to run around a lot. I wanted to take a camera, but my big DSLRs and even bigger lenses aren’t always practical. So instead, I took my wife’s Canon PowerShot SD1100 IS. It’s a great little camera, and is probably more than most people even know they need. She ran all over the place, and I attempted to snap a few pictures while chasing her. Now, what I ended up with isn’t going to hang on any gallery wall, but I thought they turned out very well, considering she only stood still for fractions of a second at a time.

Canon PowerShot example

Canon PowerShot example 3

Canon PowerShot example 2

I can easily think of things that I would have done differently had I had my D200 and 17-55 f/2.8 lens on me. That’s not the point though. I was able to carry around this little camera and not have to be bogged down by the weight and clutter. I can still make great images, because I know what it takes to get them.

I’m going to end this article by asking you a question:

If you were to go out and purchase a Stradivarius violin, would you go out tomorrow to audition for the London Symphony Orchestra? I surely hope not. Likewise, buying an expensive camera doesn’t make anyone a better photographer, especially if they don’t understand how to properly use it.