This is one of a series of regular articles featured in Kruger Magazine.
While a serious case of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) may very well get you some wonderful camera gear it will probably make little difference to the quality of your photography. Having said that, you will certainly need some (often rather expensive) equipment to achieve your photographic goals, and so spending some hard earned money is inevitable - the trick is to know what works and what doesn’t. Here are a few tips and thoughts about how to shortcut the route to wonderful images.
1. Get the gear you need and only the gear you need. Decide where you are going with your photography - what you like to shoot - wildlife, portraiture, fashion, landscapes, travel etc. Once you have figured that, get the equipment you need for you what you are doing. I know that all the social media icons and professional photographers are all shooting with the very best and latest kit but here’s the thing: They need it for what they are doing. If you are not a pro, do you really need that Canon 600mm f4 at R😳. And the 1DX? Or could a 80D and Canon’s wonderful 100-400mm (equivalent to 160 - 640mm on that body) work just fine? You could save yourself a bomb and shoot some wonderful images with that combo. And let me tell you (from experience here) that using an 80D and 100-400 is way, way easier than using the 1Dx and 600mm f4. You’ll be shooting pics hand held, and much quicker than the guy with the big body and lens - no way you can hand hold that outfit - well not for long…
2. So, you’ve been clever and got the smaller, lighter rig and saved about R200 000-00 (no, really! Check it out!). Imagine what you could now do with that in terms of actually shooting pics (remember, that’s why you bought the camera in the first place).
3. I would do a couple of really great photography workshops/safaris with photographers you admire, and who’s work you like and aspire to. If you choose right, you’ll get some excellent photography done at the same time. Be careful though - make sure that there will be image analysis, instruction and information - you don’t want to be paying for the instructors trip and get nothing in return. Early in our photographic careers, Pat and I had the opportunity to work with Chris Johns - at the time he was the chief photographer for National Geographic Magazine, later becoming their editor. We learnt more during the 6 weeks we spent with him than we have before or since. It was invaluable!!!
4. Now, with the balance of the money you saved (and there should still be quite a bit left over) I would book some amazing trips or amazing models or amazing whatever- you- have-chosen to shoot. Now you are are going to be shooting frantically and gaining experience. That’s valuable - way better than upgrading that 100-400 to a 500 f5.6 - invest your money in getting photographs rather than in getting camera gear.
5. Read, watch YouTube movies, listen to podcasts and look at pictures by the boat load. Really look at them. Analyse them - what works and what doesn’t? Compare them to what you have shot. How are you doing? Not so good? Why? That’s important - why? And I bet you it’s not camera gear. I would suggest it’s probably creativity and knowledge. If I’m right, work on that.
6. There are few shortcuts in photography - most of it is really hard work, involving early mornings, late nights and complete obsession. Sure, you’ll get lucky from time to time when it all comes together for that brief moment when the shutter is open. But mostly it’s about going out and making the pics happen.
7. Beware of pixel peepers - very often they get fixated on irrelevant issues and just create noise. Canon brought out their 50D some years ago to criticism - it was, according to those who spend a lot of time in front of their computers, “a noisy” camera. Mmmmmm, not too sure - we were using them at the time and were quite happy with the results. So, I printed A4 pics of 2 images I shot - one at ISO100 and they other at ISO1600 and showed them to a friend. He studied them for ages and couldn’t tell the difference. (I never did tell him what the difference was and I think he holds this against me!). I then showed them to the participants at a photo safari I was running. Same thing and this time I explained it - they wouldn’t believe that there was so little discernible noise in the ISO1600 pic. Stay Calm - go and Shoot Some Pictures.
8. Make friends with your tripod. While they can be a right pain in the butt, they can save the day and if you are looking to get sharp images in marginal conditions they are essential. We’ve been there, thinking that the pic will have enough depth of focus at f5.6, chosen because you can’t hand hold the camera steady at 1/15 sec, which is what the shutter speed would be if you used f16. And in the end, it was a waste of time because it wasn’t enough…
9. Think about what you trying to achieve rather that simply blazing away with the drive set to high. Put those photographs together with care - look at composition, watch the corners and edges of the frame, and keep an eye on what your subject is doing. Look at the image in your viewfinder and not the scene in front of you.
10. Learn to work the subject, to take the picture to its limit. After shooting the obvious pic, have a think… How can I take this to the next level? How can I do this better? Different? How do I grow as a photographer…?
11. Go back and re-read points 4 and 5.
12. Become totally au fait with your camera gear. You need to get to a point where the camera becomes invisible to the creative process - where you are not thinking about the technical aspects of creating the image but rather thinking about the creative process because it is this that will make you a great photographer.
13. Learn how to edit and enhance photographs. In the old days, shooting film, one’s involvement often ended when you pressed the shutter release. With digital it’s different. You are only getting started in the creative process when you press the shutter release button.
Please let us know what you’d like to read about in these columns - what interests you, what you need to know photographically. Also, hook up on Instagram (@RogerdelaHarpe) and Facebook (@Roger and Pat de la Harpe).
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