As with most photographers I’m often asked the question “what camera and lenses do you use?”. Whilst admiring their capable point-and-shoot compact camera, the reply is an embarrassingly long list of expensive equipment that leads them to enquire whether I’ve recently won the lottery.
The assumption is that to achieve professional results you need a top of the range camera with a selection of expensive lenses that resemble tree trunks in size and weight.
Dispelling the myth
I can assure you, this is a myth. There are many reasons people purchase a camera, to capture their new born child terrorising the family dog or maybe to show off their beachfront holiday hotel and pool to friends on Facebook. If all you require is a visual record of your exploits in snapshot form a simple point-and-shoot camera is perfect. But that’s not to say the same camera can’t be used should you feel the urge to get creative.
Why did I pick these two images? They’re certainly not award winning photos, but they do demonstrate that the basic principles of photography can always be applied no matter what camera you use, whether it’s a camera phone, compact or disposable camera. The lighting and composition of both shots could have been captured with almost any camera.
Focus on the basics
For many people the obvious solution to taking better photos is a new camera. Or is it? Before trawling the Internet to find a suitably shiny camera, have a look at the equipment currently at your disposal. If you already have a camera of any description take a moment to read the article ‘10 great tips for improving your photography’ from BetterPhoto.com:
- Move in closer
- Be quick
- Compose with care
- Be selective
- Focus on your subject
- Experiment in time
- Look at the light
- Watch the weather
- Keep it simple
- Be bold
The majority of these principles can be applied using any type of camera on which you could easily spend years perfecting each technique. If you are new to photography and already have a camera I’d highly recommend you spend a few weeks learning these basic principles. Resist the gadget buying urge inside you for a while.
You should reach the conclusion that you can dramatically improve your photos if you take a step back and apply some thought. Depending on your budget you might decide to carry on honing your skills with an existing camera or invest in a new model.
What to look for in a new camera
If you are looking to purchase a new camera you should be asking yourself the following basic questions:
- Digital or film? – I’d strongly recommend a digital camera over film for the majority of users, if only for the time and money saved on film and developing. Whilst film is still preferred by some for the look and feel of the images, the image quality derived from modern digital cameras is generally considered superior.
- What type of photography will the camera be primarily used for? – Popular forms include portrait, travel, sports, landscape, wedding, fashion and still life photography. Your primary focus will help determine the features you look for in a camera. For example, sports photography often requires a long focal length with a good zoom range whilst landscape photographers work mainly with short focal lengths to accommodate the scale of their subject.
- In what other situations are you likely to use the camera? – Thankfully cameras are adaptable to shooting different styles of photography, although some cameras are more suited to particular styles than others. Sales staff and reviewers should highlight a camera’s strengths and weaknesses in these fields.
- Will anyone else be using the camera? – You may need to consider factors such as usability, grip and weight if the camera is to be used by more than one person.
- How much money do you have to spend? – Don’t dismiss the second hand market, especially if your budget is tight.
Additionally, if you are looking to upgrade from an existing camera:
- Why are you upgrading? – It sounds obvious, but assess why you are upgrading your camera and ultimately whether it is necessary at this stage.
- What are the limitations of your current camera? – For more creative control you’ll need to manually set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO and possibly the white balance. These features are standard on most DSLR cameras but can increasingly be found on more advanced digital compact and bridge cameras.
Upgrading; time to ditch the compact?
If you are looking to make the jump to an SLR camera don’t be too hasty in selling your old compact. If your bank balance allows it, hold on to your compact camera for a few weeks or months as you may still find it surprisingly useful. Here are a few scenarios in which I still use a compact or camera phone:
- Reconnaissance missions – If I’m researching a location, particularly for a landscape shoot, I’ll always aim to visit beforehand to make some notes. By taking several test shots you can quickly ascertain the best vantage points whilst ruling out areas that may have been a wasted hike with a heavy camera bag and tripod.
- Days off – Inevitably whilst travelling there are days when you simply don’t want to lug your expensive and heavy kit around so you’ll be thankful you didn’t sell your old compact. I’ve lost count of the number of days I’ve regretted not taking a camera at all only to miss out on capturing a glorious sunset.
- Shy subjects – Not everyone is comfortable having a 2ft camera lens pointing in their direction. For situations where you have a shy audience a compact camera can be invaluable for helping to relax your subjects.
- On the beach – Sand and salt water are a camera’s worst nightmare. Unless it’s a dedicated beach shoot I’ll often opt for a compact on beach days. In comparison to an SLR, it can be passed around to friends without the constant worry of damaging an expensive lens or DSLR sensor.
Hopefully this introductory article has helped you to start planning your path into photography, routes you may want to explore and the various options that are available. In a follow-up to this article I’ll be looking to discuss some of these topics in more detail. Don’t forget to leave a comment and suggest which topics you think should be covered.