People sometimes say to me things like: “You take great photos. You must have a really good camera.” I do have some sophisticated cameras that allow me to take photos in a wide range of lighting conditions, but the real secret to better photography is about using your eyes and brain, not about using a camera. Once you visualise the image in your head you need to use whatever camera you have that will allow you to capture that image. If the camera you have with you can’t do what you’ve thought of then you need to think of another image.
Take these three images all taken with different cameras:
This first image was taken with my “walkabout camera” on a geocaching trip with a friend. It’s a partial “icebow” formed when sunlight refracts through high cirrus clouds. These clouds are so high that they are made of ice rather than water vapour. I’ve increased the contrast and saturation in Photoshop to show the colours better. The camera was a Lumix TZ-100 travel zoom camera. It’s not the best performer in low light, and the long end of the zoom lens is soft, but it’s pretty good quality and is nice and small(ish). The other camera I had with me, my mobile phone, would not have been able to isolate the small part of the sky the icebow was in.
For this fabulous female “Broad-bodied chaser” dragonfly in the garden I used my Olympus E-M10 Mk3 and my longest focal length lens set at its widest aperture. It’s equivalent to a 600m lens on a full-frame camera. Whilst my TZ-100 would have got me as close it would not have allowed me to separate the background as well, and the separation was part of my vision for the image. I had to wait till the dragonfly moved to the right position so the sun was shining through its body. My phone camera would have been hopeless…
…but it excelled here! I know I have mentioned it before, but the “Silky Water” mode on my Huawei phone camera allows me to produce images that my other cameras just can’t do without a lot of post-processing work. It’s extended my photographic vision quite a bit. Here is some moving water at Watersmeet in Devon, and I’ve moved the camera during the exposure. I love the dreamy abstracts this technique can produce.
The important message here is that I was looking for, and visualising, these images well before I touched a camera. The camera is just the tool that helps turn the idea into reality. We don’t tell David Hockney that he must have really good paintbrushes!