GreyMatter, Personal

It’s Not About The Gear

Many a times, I have offered helpful advice to friends on how to improve their photography skills.  While some of them are absolute beginners, others have had some experience with basic cameras and typically think of “upgrading their equipment” the moment they contemplate taking the hobby seriously.

Sadly, more often than not, expensive gear is not the answer.

If it’s “photography gear” you’re seeking to upgrade, I’ve covered it in Guide to Photography Gear.  However, if it’s your skills that really need the upgrade, read on…

It goes without saying that there is no “rule” as to what makes a great photograph; It is, after all, subjective.  That said, when people typically evaluate a photograph, they usually do it on two parameters:

1. Technicals
2. Aesthetics

Technicals refers to aspects about Aperture, Shutter Speed & ISO – the triad that makes for the right “exposure”.

The Digital Photography School is a great website to get started on the basics of any thing remotely related to Photography.  DPS1, DPS2 are two writeups that will explain the concepts of exposure more than adequately.

This should give you a decent understanding of the basics of Exposure, but feel free to dig deeper.  Highly recommended is Fred Parker’s Ultimate Exposure Guide.  Also highly recommended is the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson, and this writeup on Understanding Histograms.

But, if you’d really like to take this to the next level, I suggest you pick up an old (I mean decades old), manual film-based SLR and get your hands dirty with a few rolls of film.  Ask any of us who learned photography the old-school “manual” way, and you’ll see what I mean…

Aesthetics is obviously a matter of personal opinion, but includes that most critical aspect of good photography – “composition”.

In my experience, a good sense of composition can be developed over time, irrespective of the gear you use.  That’s the reason great photographers can make great pictures even with a crummy camera.  In fact, it may be argued that no matter how “advanced” your gear is, it will only help control (manipulate?) the light that enters the frame.  The rest is just composition.  In other words, as long as the available light is adequate, the kind of camera or lens you use does not really matter all that much in the end.

The most important piece of advice I have seen on improving your composition is in this article.  It’s written by Ian Bramham – an architect from UK who does wonders with the most basic, entry-level DSLR from the Nikon family.

FoldedSpace offers an explanation of why Photography can be such a challenge to many:

Photography is a subtractive art… during composition, the photographer works (yes, works) to subtract elements from the image until all that remains is that which he wishes to capture on film. Angles shift, focal points change, light alters until all that is left is that which the photographer sees in his mind’s eye.

Yes, modern technology has made it extremely easy for any one to try their hands on an art form that was barely accessible to the common man, just a few years ago.  But, no matter how easy (or affordable) digital photography has become, it is a daunting task to reduce the beauty of all that you see around you to a two-dimensional paper and make it convey what you felt when you were there.

That’s why, when you get it right, it can also be its own reward!