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Overequipped and Undertrained

December 13, 2012

As cheaper and better DSLR offerings come on to the market more rapidly, I see worse results with better cameras. Under and overexposure, out of focus, motion blur; the gamut of bad pictures. Look on Facebook, Twitter, SmugMug and Flickr. People believe that if they buy the latest offering from, Canon, Nikon, Olympus, Panasonic et al, their photography will improve proportionately to the money outlaid.

Sadly, nothing is further from the truth. In fact, the results are generally worse and eventually the camera ends up in an expensive gadget bag, in the bottom of a cupboard and the purchaser resorts to taking photos on a smartphone. At least their results improve.

Why?

Put simply, the camera doesn’t make the picture, the photographer does! Regardless of its price, pedigree, purported magic properties and technological wizardry, if you don’t  compose the shot properly, understand the camera’s limitations and how to use it within those limitations, you won’t get satisfying results.

I am neither a technophobe, nor a Luddite. Just the opposite, in fact. However, a camera is just a lightproof box with a lens and some form of image capture and storage mechanism. It needs a viewfinder and a method of downloading the photos.

That’s why smartphones give good results. A viewfinder, a shutter, a lens and very little to play with. In a DSLR, the expense is in the the quality of the lens, the size of the sensor and the complexity of the electronics.

DSLRs, professional and entry level, now feature amazing technology. Multi-mode autofocus and auto exposure to name two.

Auto Focus: What could possibly go wrong?

The new DSLRs offer phase and contrast detection, cross points, multiple points, facial recognition, 3D tracking with wraparound etc.

So why do I continue to see blurry, miss-focused shots from these expensive cameras? Easy; shooting in low light with a lens insufficiently fast enough. Choose the wrong focus mode for the type of shot. Lack of awareness of the what conditions the camera needs for its auto-focus to operate properly. And sometimes, auto-focus is the last thing you need. Macro photography particularly, is far more accurate when manual focus is employed. Portraiture and telephotography with shallow depth of field benefits from manual focus as well.

Exposure; Too dark, too light or no picture at all?

How can a brand new DSLR with through-the lens metering give bad exposures? Easy as pie! Pick the wrong mode out of the many offered and see (or not see), what you get. Oh, didn’t you know there were different exposure modes? I see that a lot. Shoot into the light in the wrong mode and your portrait is a silhouette. Black or white backgrounds? You need exposure compensation. Do you know how to do it? Did you know that an uncorrected exposure under these circumstance isn’t worth making? Most photographers don’t. Night shots? Have you taken a shot and got few bright spots in inky blackness? Did the flash pop up at night when you were trying to take a landscape? It happens. A lot!

Are you shooting in aperture priority, shutter priority, manual or the amusingly and misleadingly named “intelligent auto.” In my opinion, if you’re shooting in anything but the first three, you probably don’t need a DSLR. Save the money and spend it on books or photography lessons.

The point I am making is that photography can be a frustrating experience for those who don’t understand the way to use their cameras and the limitations of their equipment.

My recommendation is to buy a cheaper camera and invest the difference in a few lessons. Classes are held by various organisations including technical colleges, universities and civic groups. I personally conduct one-on-one classes which help to accelerate the learning curve for most clients and have them getting full enjoyment from their cameras far more quickly than a group class, but it is down to personal choice.

The best advice I can offer is that you should analyse the type of shots you want and buy a camera that will meet those needs. Whatever your decision, learn how to use the camera, understand its limitations and shoot lots of pictures. Then be self critical. Delete the bad ones. And, get some lessons then photography will be a joy.

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