Photography 101: Basics

To begin this series on photography, the best place to start is with a discussion of basic needs.  Keep in mind I’m covering my bases from the ground up since I’m posting this series here where others with less knowledge and experience than Wayne might read it.

I use a dSLR.  My discussion of photography will therefore circle close to that flame while occasionally meandering toward more generic platform topics.  Please ignore those tidbits that don’t apply to the camera or type of camera you use.

(1) It starts with passion
Anyone can grab a camera and start clicking away, and that approach is wonderful for the everyday photographer who wants to memorialize the family reunion, the dogs playing in the back yard, or the progress of their new house construction.  But if you want to step beyond pedestrian photography, you have to be passionate.  It’s your passion that will see what others miss; it’s your passion that will sit still in a writhing mass of activity so you can capture that one perfect moment; it’s your passion that will learn about and understand your subject well enough so you can predict when and where the best shot will appear; and it’s your passion that will feed your drive to improve, to learn, to adapt.

(2) Head out the door empty and ready to roll
I remember a friend telling me once how the photographer at her wedding had to stop the march down the aisle because her camera battery died.  The newly christened husband and wife literally had to stop in their tracks while the photographer put a new battery in the camera.  It killed the spirit of the moment—and the subsequent images show that quite clearly in the faces of the not-so-happy couple.

Before you walk out the door, be sure you have a fully charged battery in the camera.  Likewise, be sure the memory card is empty and ready for use.  You can’t predict what will happen once you start taking photos, but you can make certain you hit the ground running.

(3) Remember the spares
No matter the circumstances, keep spare batteries and memory with you at all times.  The best laid plans have a way of exploding all over us.  That can be quite messy when you’re the one responsible for the photos yet your full memory card or dead battery keeps you from doing so.

(4) Cleaning equipment
Invest in basic cleaning supplies.  Microfiber cloths, tissue wipes, dust brush, lens cleaner…  There’s a veritable horde of items you need, none of which are expensive.  Most camera shops (online and offline) have cleaning packs that contain all the goodies you need.

Absolutely do not use anything not specially made for cameras.  The over-the-counter canned air is a perfect example of something that is terrible for your camera (because it has contaminants in it that can scratch glass and the sensor).  So always look for supplies made for cameras—and always carry those supplies with you.  Someone—even you—is apt to put a thumb on the lens at some point during a shoot, and swapping lenses has a sneaky way of letting dust into the sensor compartment.  Don’t be caught unprepared.

(5) Bag your groceries before you leave the store
Point-and-shoot cameras tend to be easy to deal with.  That’s a function of their design.  You don’t need to carry a bag of equipment and supplies because the camera is fully self-contained and needs little more than a wipe of the lens, additional memory or batteries, and maybe a filter or two.

dSLR cameras, on the other hand, lead to a variety of equipment, from tripods to lenses to filters to remote shutter controls and on and on.  Once you have a good idea about the amount of equipment you’re going to carry, invest in a good camera bag.  And I’m not talking about your daddy’s camera bag, either.

I highly recommend Lowepro and Tamrac.  Various styles and sizes fit every need, plus their products are durable and high quality.  I’m partial to the backpacks myself, along with the individual lens bags for added protection, but your mileage will vary based on how much stuff you take with you.

(6) How you gonna edit that picture?
While I’ll discuss the reason in a later post, you must have software that will edit RAW files.  Every graphics program can edit JPG images, but finding a good one to handle RAW pictures is equally important.

If you want the best free programs and have a technical mind to learn the ins and outs of their interfaces and controls, for Windows I strongly recommend the combination of Irfanview and GIMP.

If you want to spend a good deal of money to use the de facto standard, invest in Adobe Photoshop (or for less functionality and less money, Photoshop Elements).

If you want a capable program with fewer bells and whistles that can still do the job, there’s Corel’s Paint Shop Pro.

Personally, I use a combination of Irfanview, GIMP and Paint Shop Pro.  I do very little image manipulation outside of cropping and resizing, some histogram, brightness and contrast changes, white and color balance changes, and digital noise reduction.  I never turn an image into something I didn’t see (by masking and removing objects, changing saturation, etc.).  I prefer to capture what I see the best way I can, then present that image in its original form.  I guess I’m a photographic purest…

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