…and some words of advice and encouragement for new photographers
When starting out on your journey as a photographer there are many things that others pitch to you as things you should worry about. Most of these are received wisdom and hearsay and should be totally ignored.
This article is some friendly advice from a wise old snapper.
I have taken the time to list the top ten things about which new photographers need not worry…
I’ve aimed this at Sony shooters, but it applies equally to Nikon, Canon, and indeed, any other shooters alike. Clearly this list is not scientific. It’s made up from the perennial questions that are trending and arise time and again on Facebook Groups.
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1. You do not need to have the latest Sony Alpha body
Every Sony Alpha camera can produce award winning shots. Even the very earliest Alpha Cameras have amazing image quality.
“Whatever Alpha you have, enjoy it”.
Remember, not a single photographer in the 20th century had a mirrorless camera. With 35mm film, none of them could come anywhere near the image quality you can now acieve by simply setting the camera to auto pointing it at a subject and clicking the button.
Use what you’ve got and upgrade only if and when you can.
2. You do not need to have the latest Sony Lenses
Every Sony lens in the Alpha range is more than fit for purpose.
“Aren’t GM lenses better?”
Yes, they are much better, but very few shooters “need” that quality. I know we all want to be included in that group, but most of us are not. If you are shooting for social media, you are using only a fraction of the information that your lens can resolve. When you prepare your JPG for posting you are throwing away most of the image information.
Learn how to process your RAW files before you spend a single penny on a “new, or better” lens.
Understand the term “apparent sharpness”.
Use what you’ve got and upgrade only if and when you can.
3. You do not need to worry about changing lenses in the field
Where does this come from?
This is a modern trope that has appeared with the ascent of mirrorless cameras and the exposed sensor.
“Do you really believe that SLR and DSLR shooters never suffered from dust on the film plane/sensor?”
It happened all the time…
With mirrorless cameras you simply need to take ” a little more” care when changing lenses. Use your common sense. Do not change lenses on a windy beach, just like SLR and DSLR shooters never do. Always point the camera body down when you do change lenses, to reduce the chance of dust and particles landing on the sensor.
Change the lens at a sensible speed. Don’t rush! Here’s a good procedure to follow:
- Position the lens, ready for exchange.
- Remove the chosen lens’ back cap
- Remove the fitted lens from the camera body
- Place the now removed lens next to the chosen lens
- Fix the chosen lens on the body
- Replace the lens back cap on the old lens and store it safely back in the bag/case
- Remove the lens cap on the camera and enjoy!
Always use the body cap, back caps and the lens caps
NO EXCEPTIONS! – Easy Peasy.
4. You do not need to worry about dust on the sensor
This is normal and routine.
“YOU WILL GET DUST ON THE SENSOR!”
If you don’t, you’re not using your camera often enough.
Dust is generally easy to remove in the field. Just blow it off with a blower. Blowers are as cheap as chips and should always be in your bag. If the dust won’t come off you can gently remove it with a dust removal kit. The instructions are easy to follow. The sensor is much tougher than you think. Just remember to ut the camera into cleaning mode before touching the sensor. This has nothing to do with the sensor. it stops the shutter closing on the cleaning stick/brush and damaging the shutter mechanism. FYI: in 5 years of ownership I’ve had many dust specks on the sensor. They all came off with the blower except one and that came off with a cleaning kit. Relax and enjoy your kit. Remember, if you miss the dust and it’s recorded on your files you can remove it in post-production in about 5 seconds.
Job done, even in the worst-case scenario.
5. Stop worrying and obsessing over Bokeh
This too is a modern malaise.
I love the bokeh my lenses render too, but if you are thinking about the bokeh, you’re not paying enough attention to the basics like exposure, focus and composition.
There are literally hundreds of priorities begging for your attention that supersede bokeh.
Bokeh is something that the lens takes care of. It is something one should consider “when purchasing a lens”.
You have no control of the bokeh once you have selected the aperture. It’s more productive to think about the aspects of exposure and composition that you can control.
I can’t remember the last time I was thinking about bokeh whilst actually shooting? I’m usually thinking about lights, the subject, the focus, the rain, the client… Almost never the bokeh 😊. The lens takes care of that.
6. Stop worrying about shooting with the aperture wide open
This is an absolute rookie mistake that has led to more reshoots than most other errors.
Yes, modern lenses are fast and sharp, but this comes at a cost in the rate of attrition of hits and misses, when it comes to focus. New shooters seem to believe that just because the new lens opens up to f1.4 then every shot should taken at f1.4.
Take the time to understand “Depth of Field”.
Get yourself a Depth of Field calculator for your phone. There are many free versions. 15 mins with the DoF calculator and you’ll realise that most of the time you want, and need, to be lower than f2.8 because the subject demands it.
Run some tests to see it for yourself before you buy that Sony 85GM f1.4
A good analogy here is a Ferrari… Sure it will do 170mph, but most of the time you’ll be doing 20-40mph, in traffic. Well, your lens is the same as a Ferrari, you’ll mostly be shooting between f4 – f8, not f1.4.
7. You no longer need to worry about using zoom lenses, as opposed to primes
Sure, prime lenses will always give a better, cleaner, sharper image. However, almost all of us simply cannot tell the difference when challenged in a blind test.
This old truth about primes needs to be reviewed.
Primes were much better than zooms during the 1980s & 90s but in 2022 the gap has been significantly closed. If the images are for social media it’s simply not an issue.
In 45 years of shooting, not one single client has ever said “that would have been sharper if you had shot it on a prime lens.” And, if someone in the group says they can tell what’s shot on a prime lens and what shot on a zoom, they are full of it!
Once again, we use a fraction of the file when viewing online. If you use a quality image processor, like Adobe Camera RAW, or similar, the lens profile will be applied during import. This will correct out any pin and barrel as well as any chromatic aberrations, etc. They really have made great strides in this area, and it’s only at the very extremes that a lab technician could tell the difference. When you are printing photo prints for exhibitions it may be time to use prime lenses, but my advice is to do it for other reasons, not because a perceived quality change on social media. If you really do love the “very shallow depth of field” look, then having a prime lens, with a wider aperture may be for you, but remember, modern zooms can also convienience and have wide apertures too.
8. Stop worrying about high quality lens filters affecting image quality
Since forever, using high quality, optical filters has been a part of photography.
With the ascent of digital image sensors and the digital age there was a significant improvement in the quality of the light that is recorded. Film could be significantly affected by UV light and this was unpredictable. The effect was that the transparencies could be desaturated with a blue colour to the image. This could be corrected by using a UV, or Skylight filter.
During this period these filters were proportionately expensive and required an investment.
Now that modern sensors are everywhere the UV effects on images is significantly reduced. This doesn’t mean that you should not use a UV or Skylight filter. So many photographers claim that it will reduce image quality. If you come across these people ask to see their “real world” tests. In addition to this, ask them if they always fit the lens hood?
It’s very unlikely that anyone could actually see the difference. I have tested this extensively. In fact, the filters are just as likely to improve the image as they are likely to degrade the image. In other words, they have an almost unnoticeable affect on the image. You’ll need to go beyond pixel peeping and shoot a scientific lens chart to be able to see a difference.
Note: Some shooters insist that filters can affect the camera’s ability to focus at extreme focal lengths, and who am I to argue with this?
Specialist areas like Birds in flight (BIF) and Astro may well have issues of this nature, and the use of filters in these marginal areas may require shooters to remove the filter. What I can say, as a professional photographer, is that I have never shot a single frame without a filter because of either process and quality concerns, including the limited BIF that I have shot.
Lastly, whether you are an amateur or a pro, the most important point I would make is this:
Lens Protection. This seems to be a topic all of its own.
“Filters protect the lens. Fact”.
Your filter can act as a last resort of protection when shooting a job. If you drop the lens a filter may save that lens. If it falls on the front element it may save the glass from scratches or even cracks and dings.
If, like me, you shoot rally cars, it may save the front element from being turned to glass powder as rally cars throw stones!
I have heard some shooters say that a good insurance policy for your lens is cheaper than say 4-5 high quality filters, so why would they use filters? Simply insure them… At face value this sounds like good financial advice, however, I would counsel you to consider this…
People that think like this have rarely had a professional photography job. This does not consider many things, but the most important one is this.
If the worst does happen and your filter is destroyed whilst protecting your lens, it may mean that you can finish the job… It may well mean that you can remove it. Dust the lens down and finish the job.
The Job Cost = The travel costs for the team, the time to set up, the chance that it may be the only opportunity to finish. The cost of the models, the cost of the stylist, the cost of the make up artist, the transport drivers, the plane tickets, the planning, the deadline, explaining to the client why you can’t carry on, giving your client the best service you can. These are the reasons why you should use a filter over the front element of your lens, and of course… common sense.
Feel free to add and remove to the “cost list” above you can add them in the comments below:
9. Stop worrying about whether you are using a Mac or a PC
This old chestnut simply won’t go away.
Those of us who have used both extensively know that it simply doesn’t matter. You’ll most likely have your favourite system for other reasons, and my advice is to stick to what you know. I do have an opinion, but like everyone else’s opinion, it is just that… an opinion.
From what I gather Apple’s new M1 chip is in the ascendency at the moment. Now that Adobe have written their apps to run on native M1 code it seems to be very fast and efficient. I also remember a time when Apple and Adobe fell out and Adobe released Photoshop on PC first to demonstrate to Apple that it is their apps that people buy the Mac for. This left Apple users on an old version of Photoshop. I can also tell you that Apple’s lead won’t last. AMD, Intel and NVIDIA will not allow this lead to continue, and we will all benefit from this competition to win our hearts and minds… and MONEY!
Concentrate on establishing your own “workflow”. Try to calibrate for a “closed loop” , so that you can then concentrate on the creative, rather than the technical. Your attention is better placed on what application you use to process and retouch your images.
10. Stop worrying about what application you use to process and your images
This debate is another futile waste of time. Here are the facts. If you want to work within the creative arts industries of Photography, repro and printing you are going to be using Adobe products. Photoshop, illustrator and InDesign are the industry standards. Without Adobe Acrobat you’re not going to be able to produce professional PDF files to the standard and specification that may be required.
“I hate the subscription model too, but it’s that or use other tools.”
If you do not work in the graphics arts industries and your clients are not professionals then, by definition you are a social, or a commercial photographer. This does not make you less “professional” but it defines your work and informs you that you can use whatever application you want. Usually this means that your clients are usually the end user. The consumer if you like.
In this case there are many applications that a photographer can use to process and develop their work. If you have a favourite use it. I’ve used third party apps for many years too. They offer great value for money and some even have better tools than the Adobe products, industry standard or not, but be under no illusion Adobe products are indeed the industry standard and if you are working with a repro house or a design studio they will expect files prepared using Adobe products.
In summary – Make your own judgements by doing your own tests.
The web is full of evangelists for one system or another, or for one way to do it rather than another. It’s my experience that, like a lot a things in life, there are rarely absolutes that one has to follow. Photography is a craft, and as such, it can be approached from many different directions. Do not listen to the zealots who say they know best, and that includes me! Well intentioned technicians and practitioners often cite received wisdom that no longer applies. It may sound good because of the platform on which it appeared, but beleive me, there are some dinosaurs out there.
Remember, you are shooting at a time when image quality is the best it’s ever been. It’s easier to create a technically proficient image now, than at any point in the history of the craft.
Lastly, and it can be a somewhat bitter pill to swallow, do not make the mistake of hiding behind a weak, sentimental statement like “well it’s my art” therefore it’s good. Lazy thinking like this will restrict your growth. If your work is only to be viewed by you, in your environment then continue to think like that, but if you are going to create an image and you are going to put it out in to the world, you need to understand that your work will be judged and compared to the work of others. And it’s correct that it is like this. This is quite a thing that you are doing. Take a moment to think about it. You are putting something into the worl… A creative statement. It will speak volumes about you and your subject and your talents. Always view your work this way before you put it out there and you’ll find that your work will improve in leaps and bounds
The secret is to find a voice that you trust and act upon their word to improve your craft.
get out there a take some pictures – and stop worrying about all this stuff – Colin
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