I have spent nearly 50 years taking photographs, for forty years I was actually paid to take photos. For about half of those years I was paid to teach photography. Having said that, I am still learning how to take a decent photo.
One of things I’ve learned is that most great photos are the result of actual work that often includes physical discomfort. You do not see that in the photograph, but it is there.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include the quick snapshot that just “presented” itself, no planning, no work, just an accident of having a camera at the ready. My problem as an instructor is to tell people that “intentional” shooting will always create a great photo if your planning is successful. No need to wait for the perfect shot.
The following is a typical “shooting plan”…
1. Critically analyze the choosing of the best camera depending upon the required circumstances.
2. Evaluate the use of film or digital for the specific need of the image.
3. Distinguish the advantages of automatic settings over manual (or vice versa), and how the relationships between ISO, shutter, and aperture effect the image.
There are hundreds of camera designs and styles, far too many to describe here, but there are some basic designs.
In the film world I will break it down into camera designs based on the film size that is used.
Similar to the rangefinder, the photographer would look through one set of lenses, and the actual image would be taken by another set. This created a potential parallax problem that got worse the closer the camera was to the subject. The two lenses were set close together, but there was still a difference. The good thing was that when you focused the viewing lens, you automatically focused the taking lens. Photographers love the larger film and better resolution.
Ideally the photographer would want the best of all needs in one lens. Unfortunately that isn’t possible because of physics. However there is a compromise that solves most problems, and that lens is called “your walk around” lens. Good for most things.
The real power of the SLR was the full range of manual/automatic controls, and the swappable lens. Everything was adjustable even if the film size was small.
Over the last few years the sensors have been improving in resolution, and more importantly the camera body’s have been improving as well.
One of the huge drawbacks to digital images is the inherent noise that is often present. While this noise can be the result of a number of factors, the most common is the sensitivity of the sensor.
This sensitivity is codified by the ISO rating that is set by the photographer.
Most digital cameras have a sensor that begins at ISO 100 or ISO 125. This is a great setting for normal light outside.
The first digital cameras had adjustments to raise the ISO to 400, to increase the sensitivity for indoor shots without a flash.
The problem was that a random noise pattern would also appear in the image. It was so bad that I often recommended to never set the camera at the highest ISO setting because of this noise.
That is not so much the case now. Most new cameras have better sensors in resolution but also in noise suppression. In fact, the improvement is so radical that I advise buyers to buy the new cameras even if the old models are working perfectly.
Another great advantage is that the new digital cameras can easily mount the older film camera lens that you might already have. In fact, I am always on the hunt for “old glass”. Some may not have the automatic focus or exposure controls of newer of the newer lens, but I like to shoot manually so I don’t care!
The immediate advantage is that the camera is smaller. The burden of carrying a large digital camera in order to get the quality desired is still a factor.
Another less obvious advantage is the quiet. The combination of the mirror flop and the shutter click can created a lot of noise. In some venues this can be a tremendous distraction. Not only are the subjects aware that a photograph has just been taken, but the bystanders can also be disturbed by the sound. Imagine being in a theatre where someone is firing a continuous stream of pictures during a dance recital.
One last possible advantage is the reduction of “shake” during very long exposures.
The problems of mirrorless cameras also need to considered. It is lighter and possibly more susceptible to movement. There can be the issue of having to buy more lenses that can’t be used on other cameras. All in all, the mirrorless choice can be a very good one, particularly if camera mechanical noise is an issue.
Film or digital?
The answer is always “it depends!” Specialized photography such as high speed or high contrast, generally does better in film, because there is more control. Also, moisture is not great for cameras and really bad for digital. Steamy damp rain forests might demand film instead of digital.
Interestingly, extreme cold is not ideal for digital as well. Another good rule is that if it hurts your eyes it may hurt the digital sensor. No bright welding shots.
Basically, digital rules the common need!
The real question is, “Can I complete a course in a digital photography class with the camera in my phone?” The answer is yes, depending. If the course covers basically photographic knowledge that may not be obvious in the controls of a phone camera. The phone is digital but it does not have all the digital aspects of a digital SLR.
The course can be completed, and the images can have all the necessary qualities, but the photographer will not have the full digital experience of capturing an image. What I have found is that most successful students upgrade their digital equipment to capture the images that they most like.
Sometimes photography is the amazing “opportunistic” images that occur because you are there, and you are ready with a camera. They occur everyday and you must be ready because the moment never lasts too long.
Most of photography falls into another category, the “intentional photograph”. This type of photo is well planned several hours, days, or months before the actual image is taken. The photographer develops a written plan, describing the intended image, and everything necessary to bring about the intended image. The plan should include specific equipment, time, light conditions, potential problems, access, permissions.
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