Choose a theme to take a giant leap with your creativity
A friend and I were looking at the picture of Buzz Aldrin standing on the moon’s surface. Neil Armstrong and the Apollo 11 Eagle lunar lander are reflected Buzz’s visor. It’s an evocative, powerful and unique image.
My friend then pointed at a Bamburgh sunrise photo and said, ‘Do we really need to see yet another photo of that?’
Searching online for Bamburgh Castle sunrise images we found 110,000 results. This is not surprising; it’s a beautiful view and the most liked image on the Northumberland Gazette’s Facebook page is often of that very scene.
Yes, I’ve been there to photograph it too. There is something special, even spiritual, about watching the sun rise or set over the sea. Many photographers want to capture it to relive that moment.
Is there anything wrong with capturing a photo of something that has been shot so many times before? Of course not. Studying and copying what others have done before us is a super way to learn creativity.
Furthermore, to create our own art that is good enough to hang on the wall for ourselves and others to enjoy is a goal worth aiming for. It’s relatively easy taking photographs of beautiful scenery at dusk and dawn as those times provide perfect light for landscape photography. Almost any photographer of any level of skill can get an okay sunset shot, even with a camera set to auto.
“But, they are clichés!“ my friend said.
I understood the point, although didn’t agree with the sentiment. If people enjoy shooting that scene and others like looking at them, then that’s fine. What was really bothering my friend was revealed in the next question. “How do I get originality into my photos?”
To achieve uniqueness and a photographic style is a challenge for anyone, but not impossible. You can learn creativity.
Start a project to hone your creativity
Come up with a story you want to tell and take a series of photos to illustrate that story. Try concentrating on one theme, or a group of related subjects, and stick to photographing that for a few weeks or even months. Shoot that same subject from different positions and angles in changing light. Adjust the focus, aperture and shutter values. With each press of the shutter release button you will hone your skills, learning from each photo you take. You will create an interesting collection of images.
If you have another hobby then record what you enjoy. Many ornithologists photograph birds. I’ve met wood-turners, gardeners, hill walkers, painters, needle-workers and an engineer who created still life images, photographing both their products and the tools they use. Perhaps you are interested in the people living on your street, or the way wildlife thrives in a local cemetery. Do you have a particular political view? Maybe you care about the environment and want to record a conservation project.
Working with others is also great for inspiration. Try bouncing ideas off each other and even sharing a project. Take risks and experiment. With small steps, you can make a giant leap with your creativity.
How else can I get inspiration
Top photographers are always learning. So, look at studying a new area of photography you haven’t tried before. Read, watch videos, go on a course or workshop. Photography is often a lonely pastime, but I can’t emphasise enough how shooting with another person, helping each other to get a great shot, can improve your work. I am lucky, because I teach photography I spend a lot of time with photographers of all levels, and get inspiration and learn from them all of the time.
I find photography Zen-like. Concentrating on the subject, composing the shot and making fine adjustments to the settings is totally absorbing. It distracts me from the troubles of the world. I also love the experience of encountering creatures in their natural habitat, something I can find spiritual. Putting together those two elements together – wildlife photography – should be my idea of bliss. But, photography can detract from the experience of an encounter with wildlife. Even on a photo-shoot, there are times to put the camera down and just experience life.
Wildlife photography and the art of leaving the camera behind.
It’s sometimes important to put the camera down and just be in the moment. I’ve been lucky enough to stroll through the African bush with a Samburu guide, camped in the shadow of Kilimanjaro in close proximity to a pride of lions, stopped the engines of a small boat while a whale circled and swam beneath me, dropped the sails on a yacht to stop and watch a kingfisher dive into the water, seen elephant and rhino roam the savannah, climbed a mountain and come face-to-face with a stag, watched golden eagles sore on the Isle of Skye, and scuba dived on coral reefs off Zanzibar and Australia. On most of those occasions, I didn’t have a camera with me.
I don’t understand people who go to a concert and watch it through the screen of their mobile phone. Likewise, seeing a lion in its natural habitat is best experienced without a lens between you and it. Take a photo, but put the camera down too.
When you do pick the camera up…
Do I consider myself a wildlife photographer? Not really, although I really do enjoy capturing images of wildlife. True wildlife photographers spend huge amounts of time studying animal behaviour. They also tailor their equipment to achieve first-class shots. It’s an expensive, technical and time-consuming hobby. I would need to put in a lot more work, money and time before I awarded myself that title.
That doesn’t mean I don’t ever photograph wildlife. Where I live now, on the coast in Northumberland, there is a scattering of islands giving good opportunities to get up close to sea birds. This is great as, besides taking photographs and seeing wildlife, I love being on the sea.
Capturing reasonably good images of wildlife is achievable with relatively basic equipment and by learning a few techniques. That is something that more of my clients seem to be asking me to teach them. It’s a treat for me as it often means trips out on the water.
When I do take my camera…
In my home town is Puffin Cruises. If you are ever in this neck of the woods, you should try them. They have a converted fishing trawler and a former lifeboat. You’ll see from the water a whole array of sea birds that nest on Coquet Island, as well as the huge colony of grey seals that live on its far side. You may get to photograph dolphin too.
During the summer, you are guaranteed to see puffin.
Seascapes on a Puffin Cruise
Being at sea offers excellent photographic opportunities and not just of wildlife. Apart from seeing the puffin, you’ll get some close-up views of the Lighthouse on Coquet Island. The trip is great value at £10 per head for adults.
Photographing The Farne Islands
If you want to get very close to the sea birds, then a trip to the Farne Islands is worth considering. A more intense trip than the Puffin Cruise, it is worth the £70 in fees – if you can cope with the noise and smell of guano from thousands of birds. That money pays for the boat ride and landing charge made by the National Trust (the landing fee is waived for members). You’ll spend 5 hours between Staple Island and Inner Farne. Shorter trips to just one of these Islands are available too. I have just booked a day again with Billy Shiel.
Each visit I learn more and improve on the images I took the year before. I don’t take a fraction of the kit I carried on my first visit and I don’t fire the shutter as much, knowing what images will work and what won’t. I always take time to speak with the excellent resident wardens and learn a lot from them.
I am planning another trip to the Farne Islands in a couple weeks. Equipped with the knowledge of where to stand to get the best shots, what settings I should use on my cameras and what’s not worth shooting, I am hoping for another improvement on the previous years’ photographs. Photographers can and should always improve their techniques and their images.
If you fancy a guided trip to the Farnes or on a Puffin Cruise, or even a pre-trip lesson, give me a call.
If you walk down the street and see a shop window that is an untidy mess, would you go in? Or, would you visit the shop selling the same products a few doors along that has a stunning window display? Photographs of your business are like that shop window, and there are very good reasons for using a professional photographer to create those images.
I recently looked at websites of local businesses I considered using. Poorly written with photographs both composed and exposed badly, I wasn’t inspired. They sold services costing between £600 and £3000, a similar price range to cameras. So, I compared them with a well designed Olympus web page. Then, I looked at a cheap high-street retailer’s website. Like the camera manufacturer, they too had a crisp, tidy web presence with great product photos.
If businesses don’t put as much effort into promoting their own products as that low-end shop, are they saying that they don’t value their own goods as highly as Primark does a £3 T-shirt? It’s probably not their intention, but from a customer’s point of view, it does look that way.
The customer will walk on.
Isn’t professional photography expensive?
Go to Google and type in “Why are professional photographers” and look at the suggested predictions. At the top of the list is “… so expensive.”
I would argue that photographers are not expensive. You are paying for a high quality service, an outstanding product and a lot more time than the couple of hours spent shooting the photos. A professionally shot photograph is a valuable product.
What are you paying for?
A photoshoot takes much more time than the ¹⁄250 second click. Hours, or even days, can be spent developing and editing the pictures.
You buy into some of the photographer’s running costs too. They pay for various registration fees, advertising, web space, National Insurance and pension contributions, income tax, travel, plus endless other running expenses. Like any business, they have to earn those costs back, building them into their fees.
Also, you access the fortune invested in at least two sets of professional-grade equipment. Two sets? Imagine the photographer’s camera failing at an event. A friend’s DSLR stopped working halfway through a wedding service recently and they had no back-up.
How would you feel receiving blurry, grainy images because the lens was too slow and the camera’s low-light performance not good enough. Professionals own good quality equipment.
You are also contributing to their insurance costs.
If you only read one section of this post, read this one!
Some amateur photographers rush at the opportunity to photograph an event without considering whether or not they are insured. This is a big risk.
Business Insurance is costly. My private home insurance doesn’t cover me for developing commercially shot images in my house. If my business computer caught fire and burnt the house down, it would be my business insurance that pays. Nor will the private insurance cover the cost of replacing my camera equipment if it were lost or stolen while I was working.
Social, Domestic and Pleasure car insurance won’t cover driving to and from a commercial shoot. I need business cover for that too.
There is another insurance that is even more important that so many people don’t even consider, and it’s one that you should check if you are employing anyone to do work for you. That is Public Liability Insurance.
Photographer’s household policies won’t cover accidents when they are working. There is no legal obligation for a business to have this insurance, but it is foolish in the extreme for them not to. It is something you should check before engaging a photographer.
Accidents can and do happen. Studio lights fall over, battery packs catch fire, valuable items get smashed, cameras break or get stolen, memory cards lose all their data and people get hurt. You might end up with no photographs and want compensation for that.
It could be worse!
While researching for this article, an insurance broker told me a horror story. A couple of years ago, a photographer raised his camera to his eye, stepped backwards to take the shot and knocked into someone who fell, banged their head and suffered brain damage. Although insured for £1 million public liability, it was not enough to cover the £1.5 million claim made against them. They were left £500,000 shortfall.
Don’t be afraid to ask to see an insurance certificate. If a photographer has £5 million public liability insurance, you can be certain that they take their profession seriously.
How to choose a professional photographer
Perhaps not since the dawn of time, but certainly over the last 100 years, businesses employed professional photographers to promote their services.
There are excellent professional photographers in this world. Most are friendly and well versed in the artistic and technical aspects of photography. As with every trade, there are some whose work doesn’t meet up to the exacting standards you expect. Choosing the right photographer is a minefield.
What should I expect from a photographer?
As I pointed out above, if you are advertising your wares, you need high quality photographs to reflect their worth. If you are getting married you will want a photographer who will produce an album of photographs that you will look at with joy and not disappointment.
Professional photographers need to deliver exactly what their customers expect every time. They need to guarantee great images that illustrate their customer’s identity. A folk singer’s promotional photos will be very different from those for an accountant, which, in turn, will be different from wedding portraits.
It’s not just the photography that counts. Photographers must get along with everyone, yet also become invisible and blend in with the crowd.
Is the photographer reputable?
There are hundreds of fantastic professional photographers. There are some that are not so fantastic. Six people in as many weeks told me how disappointed they were with photos they had commissioned from what they discovered were rogue wedding photographers; they had all of the equipment but lacked the skills.
Were these charlatans trying to make a quick buck? If so, they picked the wrong trade; it’s hard work being a professional photographer and the outgoings are enormous. Or, maybe they were misled into thinking their photography was good enough when it wasn’t. That happens a lot.
Digitally fixing another photographer’s failed images is something many professionals, including me, have been asked to do. I’ve seen wedding photos with a host of rudimentary mistakes, including a bridal portrait with a road cone lying on its side in the background. I’ve been shown children’s pictures with blown-out highlights on sweaty faces, pets with crusty eyes and important family members missing from wedding albums. This is sad both for the clients and for the photographers whose reputations are forever tarnished.
Going through the trauma of getting a photographer’s fees refunded at a small claims court does not bring back a wedding day. Choosing the right photographer for you will guarantee great results.
How do I find the best photographer for me?
If you are commissioning a photographer you want them to provide photographs that tell your story or reflect your feelings. A photographer should know what you are looking for and choose the correct lighting and camera settings to achieve that.
Websites and portfolios can be a good guide to the quality of the work, but they only display a small selection of of the photographer’s work, images they choose to showcase. They are not a true record of the overall standard. Furthermore, can you be sure that the photos were taken by that photographer? Plagiarism is commonplace.
Personal recommendation is often sited as being the best way to choose a photographer. A lot of work comes my way through word of mouth and I get a lot of return custom. I am grateful for that, but not everyone who gives a recommendation is necessarily qualified to do so. A friend was raving over her wedding photos. In truth, they were not that good. In several of the pictures she had stray hairs running across her face, a rudimentary mistake that should have been fixed before the shoot and, if not then, certainly afterwards during editing. Horizons were wonky and unwanted distractions were in many of the shots. She paid £3000 for that album.
Membership of a trade body may be a measure of quality, but some fantastic photographers shun these establishments.
It’s not all doom and gloom. Most professional photographers are good and, even if you choose one at random, you are most likely to get a skilled artist.
The best way…
The best way of deciding whether to employ a photographer is getting a first-hand experience of them at work. Any photographer worth their salt will take you on a pre-event photoshoot.
Apart from seeing if their images are any good, you will discover if this is someone you want at your event, or associated with your business. You’ll also get to know whether their photographic style is to your taste.
On a pre-event shoot, the photographer can also decide if they want to work for you too. I am lucky, all my clients have been great. I do know photographers who have turned commissions away because the clients’ expectations were unrealistic, or simply because they could not get on.
Be Prepared for the worst the weather can throw at you
Suffering for art is not something I believe in; I like being comfortable. Most of my favourite images happened in atypical weather. The first sign of fog or snow and I’m out with my camera. Even rain can bring interesting light and unusual sights. Fortunately, being comfortable usually equates to being safe. If heading into the Cheviots or a remote stretch of the Northumberland coastline, preparing for bad conditions can save your life. Without proper equipment and knowledge, mishaps become disasters. As the Scouts say: Be Prepared. Even benign landscapes on sunny days can jump up and bite you.
The day I got blown off the hill and ended up in hospital!
Hillwalking in Scotland one winter, the weather changed abruptly. A violent squall accompanied by a deluge of freezing rain and snow knocked me off my feet. Furthermore, visibility completely vanished and the ridge turned white. I grabbed the bothy shelter from my rucksack. Huddled beneath it, I opened my flask of hot chocolate and waited, cosy and dry, until the elements improved. Without proper preparation, the outcome of that trek could have been very different.
When I got back, I told a friend what had happened. That evening I went to the village pub and someone came over to ask if I was okay. They had heard I was in hospital after being blown off the mountain. Chinese whispers!
Proper Prior Preparation Prevents…
Accidents can happen on a deserted beach, in the open countryside and especially up hills. If you are heading out, especially on your own and even in summer, give someone a copy of your route and you planned return time. Also, write it down. Don’t rely on them remembering the details for the Coastguard or Mountain Rescue teams.
Good quality, layered clothing is essential. Avoid cotton, it absorbs moisture and feels cold against the skin. Prepare for heat as well as cold; heat stroke is just as dangerous as hypothermia. Wear a hat and good walking boots too. Carry water and high-energy snacks. Pack a basic first aid kit and learn how to use it. Check the weather and, if photographing the coast, the tides and sea state too.
A call for help
Mobile apps can use GPS to log your location so your family can see where you are. Make sure your phone is charged, but don’t rely on it to get you out of trouble. I have problems getting a signal in my kitchen and service cannot be guaranteed in the shadow of Helvellyn. Much of our coastline is without a phone signal too. Take a whistle to call for help. Six blasts repeated every minute is the recognised distress signal.
Can you read a map and navigate? Would you be able to find your way off a hill in poor visibility? Walking to the top is easy; it’s upwards all the way. Coming downhill, a multiple of possible routes lead in different directions to the bottom. The quickest descent – plummeting several hundred feet in a few seconds – isn’t what you want. People fall off the north face of Ben Nevis because they cannot navigate in thick cloud.
Of course, we are never prepared for every eventuality. However, we can reduce the risk of coming to harm. But, remember why you went there. Alone or with a friend, there’s no beating the tranquillity of the great outdoors. Not able to see or hear any sign of human life is an experience like no other. Cresting a ridge and coming face-to-face with a stag is amazing – not getting your camera out in time is frustrating. Not Prepared! For that reason, I missed the photo of a stag, so here’s a tree sparrow instead!
A long time ago in a cinema far, far away… well, 40-years ago this summer at an Odeon in Norwich, my big sister started my photographic education when she took me to see Star Wars. Spellbound by every aspect of the film, the young me was captivated especially by its visual style. That was the work of self-taught cinematographer Gilbert Taylor. He was also Director of Photography for Ice Cold in Alex, A Hard Day’s Night, Flash Gordon and Doctor Strangelove. Watch one of Taylor’s films and you’ll see the magic he put into lighting and composition.
I can’t watch television or go to the cinema without noticing, and then learning from, the cinematographer’s work. As well as taking photos for a living, I deliver training to my clients, which I love, so I am always learning; keeping up to date. Besides analysing films, I read books, magazines, photographers’ blogs and tutorials. I watch documentaries and academic lectures. Plus, I am always trying new techniques and pushing my boundaries.
Formal Photographic Courses – Are They Right for me?
There are formal qualifications in photography. A-level art has a photographic route. In the UK, National Vocational Qualifications (NVQs) are delivered by a host of providers, NCFE being the awarding body. City and Guilds provide similar courses but they are not renewing their photography accreditation and their courses will soon cease to exist.
The NVQ Level 3 Certificate is an accredited course that takes upwards of 260 hours to complete. Promoted as a step towards getting employment in commercial photography, the Level 3 Diploma is more demanding, requiring at least 730 hours of study. A degree is most likely to get you employed in that highly competitive career and the NVQ can be a stepping stone into that field. However, they don’t offer a great gateway into employment.
The NVQ route may suit some who like a formal, rigid structure even if they are not looking for work. There are some excellent academic providers of both tutored courses and distance learning.
Beware of Sharks!
Beware! Do your research. Quality of provision on courses varies enormously. There are also providers that mislead, calling their completion certificates ‘levels’ and ‘diplomas’. These are not qualifications. Others offer the NVQ Level 2 and 3 Certificate and call them a Diploma; they aren’t. I challenged one provider about this and it transpired that their ‘NCFE accredited diploma’ was not even an NVQ. I would not touch any of these with a tripod!
Do think whether on-line or correspondence training is for you. It doesn’t suit everyone and it can be difficult to keep enthused if you haven’t got peers around you to help push you along. Seeing a good tutor face-to-face can also be very motivating.
Might Alternative Training Suit Me Better
Choose the learning style that suits you best. If you are not concerned about having a qualification for employment, then do contemplate private training from a professional photographer. It is often better value, more flexible, targeted to your needs and hands-on. I have to declare an interest here; I am a professional photographer that offers training.
What photographic education great names get?
Many employed in the industry today got there by following the academic route, but not everyone.
One young woman I know has just secured a place working in one of the biggest studios in Europe. She learnt some techniques on one of my courses and she has no formal photographic qualification, she just has buckets of talent and enthusiasm for photography.
It’s a different story too for most of the great names in photography. Bernice Abbott, Annie Leibovitz, Robert Capa, Richard Avedon, Diane Arbus, David Bailey, Linda McCartney, Ansel Adams and a host of others did not study for a photography qualification. Like Gilbert Taylor, they learnt their skills by taking pictures, usually supported by other professional photographers. They developed their own styles away from the education establishment.
Of course, there are a host of other ways to learn photography. I have over 50 books acquired over the years, some new and some bought second hand. I always search charity shops for new books to read. General photography books are all pretty similar, covering the same topics. I have a great fondness for the books of Michael Freeman ever since I bought a copy of his 35mm Handbook about 30 years ago. His later works have lost none of their accessibility or interest.
Specialist books can also help if you are interested in a specific style or genre of photography. My library includes excellent books on weddings, wildlife, landscapes, portraits, studio lighting and so on. I also have collections of works by different photographers from Linda McCartney to Koo Stark. My bookshelves are weighed down with huge volumes of collected works and photographic history books. I am forever dipping into them, learning and getting inspiration.
Four people in the last week have asked me about buying a camera. With Christmas not that far in the future this is probably a good time for me to write about this.
I usually reply with a question: What sort of photography do you want to shoot? The needs of a wildlife enthusiast are very different from those of someone who just wants to take holiday snaps. Cameras are expensive pieces of precision equipment and you’ll want the system, design and model that will best suits your needs and budget.
Don’t Fall for Reviews or Personal Recommendations
Publishers don’t win advertising revenue by featuring unfavourable reports of their sponsor’s latest shiny new kit, so I’m sceptical of professional camera reviews. I read separate reviews of the same camera in two popular photography magazines. One reckoned the camera was a technological wonderment, the second gave it a mediocre rating. The first review was adjacent to an advert for that manufacturer – a manufacturer that didn’t advertise in the second magazine.
Reviewers also fuss over tiny performance differences. It makes good reading, but the small variances within similar price brackets make little difference to the majority of photographers.
There are some cameras that are game changers, but in the most part, similar priced cameras are similar in both design and features.
When looking for a camera a few months ago, I asked other photographers for their advice and was met with vigorous promotions of the brands they invested in. You’ll never hear a photographer saying, ‘I bought X but made a terrible mistake and wish I had got Y instead.’ They endorse the brand they use with an enthusiasm to put sales staff to shame. They’ll also decry rival brands with equal gusto.
I’m not going to recommend the brand that I use to you (I use Olympus). For me it is the perfect system to meet my needs. But that does not mean it is necessarily the perfect brand or model for you. That is a decision only you can make.
My Recent Decision
My main DSLR still takes fantastic quality pictures, but it’s six years old now and technology has moved on. I need performance beyond its capabilities for my work. Researching the market, I found a bewildering array of models.
Every reputable manufacturer produces fantastic cameras throughout their price ranges and I needed to find one that worked for me.
In the words of the song and album title by the late, great George Harrison, All Things Must Pass. I was met with a barrier that Olympus had discontinued producing DSLR cameras, and so the lenses I had would not fit their mirrorless range without an adaptor. That left me with a quandary. Should shift to a totally different brand and system and sell off my old equipment, or stick with the Olympus brand and adapt what I had to fit the Micro Four Thirds mount.
How I Made My Mind Up
I made a list of my priorities: exceptional low-light performance for photographing events without a flash; a fully articulating LCD screen to view when I use a low-set tripod and for macro work; lightweight, so not to suffer a neck injury from carrying it all day, and robust enough to take hiking or cycling in all weathers. If the camera could be made compatible with my existing equipment, that would also be a deciding factor.
I needed a camera of good enough quality so I could use it for shooting a wedding or party, but also slip in my pocket without damaging it. I wanted something discreet for candid street photography.
Because much of my work is built around training, a large, clear articulated screen with a live preview of depth of field was a must. Finally, I set a budget.
Ergonomics is so important; some cameras are just too fiddly for my large hands. After numerous trips to shops trying different models, I rejected plenty. Even on some large cameras, I found my fingers inadvertently hitting other buttons when I pressed the shutter. With some cameras, I could not hold them to my eye without them pressing uncomfortably onto my nose .
High pixel count is a marketing ploy. 16 megapixels – about the smallest pixel count on the market at the moment – is twice the size needed to produce high quality A3 prints. Wedding album photos are far smaller and many images I sell end up online, reduced in size to around 2 megapixels. Larger image files also take more time to upload and use up valuable storage space. I neither needed nor wanted a 50 megapixel monster.
The Perfect Camera For Me
There are two brands I am really adverse to. I won’t mention their names but one I think makes really ugly cameras, and artists should use great-looking equipment. The second brand, and this is purely anecdotal from conversations with other photographers, seems to break down a lot.
I did find and buy camera perfect for my needs. I decided to stick with Olympus. For me, it’s perfect. It fits my hands, it’s portable, it looks stunning, I can fit it in my pocket, it’s robust, it has a large, clear LCD display and viewfinder, the image quality is fantastic and it has game-changing image stabilisation.
If you are interested it’s an OM-D E-M5 mark ii mirrorless camera. At some point I will also buy an Olympus E-M1 mark ii.
As I said, this is not my recommendation to you. Like any other camera owner, I am pleased with my purchase, but I want you to find the right brand, system and model to suit your needs.
Which Camera System is the Best for You?
Like all aspects of photography, there are compromises to be made. There is always a trade-off to be made. Here is a quick run-down of the common camera systems with some of the advantages and disadvantages of each.
Digital Single Reflex Camera (DSLR)
The most expensive, but delivering (arguably) the best quality, DSLRs are large in size. They can be heavy to carry, but versatile for shooting many different types of photography. That versatility is brought about by buying a range of lenses. The quality of the lens has more to do with the quality of the final image than does the body of the camera.
Camera bodies usually come in three levels: entry, enthusiast and professional, with some overlap. The build quality and performance increases with each, as does the complexity of use and the price bracket. Prices range from a little over £300 to over £13,000.
Sensor sizes can vary. Cameras with larger sensors are bigger and they cost more. They do have greater dynamic range than another contemporary camera with a smaller sensor. Saying that, the performance of modern DSLRs (and CSCs) with smaller ‘crop sensors’ – up to half the size of a 35mm ‘full frame’ sensor – is outstanding.
Mirrorless (Compact System Camera, or CSC)
CSCs also can produce excellent quality images and come in the same three price brackets. The most expensive are around £5000, the cheapest nearer to £300. They too have interchangeable lenses. They are usually far smaller than DSLRs although share similar sensor sizes. Their small size is their big attraction. Saying that, some models are just as large as a DSLR, a marketing error realised by Sony whose sales of their over-sized mirrorless camera, the A7Rii, were disappointing.
Instead of viewing the world through a prism and a mirror like the DSLR, the viewfinder is electronic. This has an advantage that you can see pretty much how your photograph will look when you press the shutter. Information like the histogram and blown highlight and shadow warnings can be seen.
Most mirrorless cameras have a ‘contrast detect’ focusing system. It is slower to focus than the ‘phase detect’ system used when looking though the viewfinder in DSLRs, but is also more accurate in some circumstances. Modern electronics have narrowed the margins between the two systems and many photographers won’t notice the difference.
In Live View (looking at the image on the back LCD screen) a DSLR will also usually uses contrast detect. Some mirrorless cameras, such as the Olympus OM-D E-M1, have both focussing systems available.
There are mirrorless cameras without a viewfinder. They rely on you using the live view screen, like taking a photo on a phone. These are cheaper and often smaller, but can be difficult to use in bright light. Furthermore, holding a camera at arms length is unstable. Some have viewfinders you can purchase separately that are mounted on to the flash hot shoe.
The Bridge Camera are so called because they bridge the gap between compacts and DSLRs/CSCs. They are similar to CSCs in most respects apart from having a single, permanently attached zoom lens. They are often marketed on the range of this zoom, and are sometimes called super-zooms because of this.
The image quality is good, though not as good as an interchangeable lens camera. No lens can perform exceptionally well across a wide range of focal lengths because of optical limitations; images will be soft at the zoom’s extremes and colour fringing (chromatic aberration) may be noticeable along high contrast edges in the picture; you may see a purple or green fuzzy line around the edges of a person pictured against a bright background.
The sensor is also much smaller than in CSCs and DSLRs and this can bring a noticeable difference in image quality. The smaller sensor also makes it more of a challenge to get a blurred background.
If any one component of a bridge camera fails then the camera becomes unusable, if you scratch the lens, the whole camera is out of action.
Compact and Phone Cameras
The compact camera market has collapsed since the advent of the camera phones. There are still some models available, but many are more like small bridge cameras than what we used to think of as compacts.
The ubiquitous camera phones are the backbone of services like Instagram, Twitter and Facebook where people can quickly and easily share images of what is happening in their life. They are familiar to almost everyone and so I won’t wax lyrical about them. The quality of the images has come on enormously. They are not as versatile as the cameras listed above, but they serve a purpose and can produce great results.
Consider Buying A Pre-Owned Camera
Do you use Flickr? It’s a photography sharing site owned by Yahoo. Images are not heavily compressed as they are on Facebook, and photo metadata, which may include your copyright details, are preserved. Facebook strips images of their metadata.
One of the great things about Flickr is that one can search for images taken by a specific camera model. Choosing cameras that are now ten years old, I searched through images taken with the Olympus E-3 and E-510, Panasonic Lumix DMC-L10, Nikon D40X, Canon 40D, Sony A700 and Pentax K100D Super. There are still fantastic photos being taken with those cameras. Much newer models are available than these for a lot less cost than they were new.
There is an old saying that the most important component of any camera system is the one holding the camera and looking through the viewfinder. Flickr proves that point; you don’t need the latest model to capture great images, you need the photographic skills. (If you lack those, contact me for training!)
Newer models will produce better results in extreme lighting conditions and may achieve faster shutter values. But, all the cameras listed above still produce excellent images and they are available second-hand for a song. If you have a restricted budget, then do think about buying second hand.
If you don’t like the camera then you can sell it on again and the resale value won’t change that much. A used camera also means a far lower carbon footprint. Older cameras are likely to have had firmware updates. Plus, the raw files will be compatible with software like Lightroom, On1, Photoshop or Elements. That’s not always the case with new cameras.
Check out user Reviews for Older Model Cameras
User reviews will also tell you if an older model has common flaws and how long they last. Check the shutter count against the life expectancy of the camera as the mechanics of a shutter will wear out. My pro-level DSLR should be good for between 250,000 and 350,000 shutter actuations, consumer end cameras have a lower life-expectancy of around 50,000 shots.
Where to Buy
Reputable dealers like Camera Jungle, Wex and MPB all sell used camera equipment. Their descriptions are accurate and cameras come with a guarantee. Some great deals can be found on online auction sites too, but there is an increased risk of buying a stolen camera. If buying privately, do ask the vendor for photos of the serial numbers of both the camera and the lens. If they refuse, don’t buy. There are internet-based services that help track stolen camera equipment using the serial number.
What if I Really Want a New Camera
Low light and high ISO performance have improved enormously in recent years and I needed that facility for my work. If you do need very fast shutter values in low light, then a new, high-end camera might be what you require.
Look for discounts from retailers selling open box, returned and display models to save you a few tens of pounds. You may consider ‘grey’ goods, cameras built for overseas markets. Take care. You can get caught out by import duties and not all camera manufacturers offer a worldwide guarantee.
Don’t Forget the Lens
High-end cameras don’t always come supplied with a lens because you are expected to choose lenses to meet your needs. Cheaper cameras are usually supplied with one-or-two reasonable quality kit lenses.
Good quality lenses make far greater difference to the quality of your photos than a change of camera body. Buy the fastest lens you can afford, i.e. the one with the lowest -number.
If you are stuck choosing, please do contact me either on social media or by replying below and I’ll gladly help you choose the right model for you.
This article is an extended version of two of my columns first published in the Northumberland Gazette.
Earlier this year, a collective groan resounded around me; yet another election. The one silver lining for me is that political activity can offer a super opportunity for photographers.
I’m too young to remember the decade of the protest movement, though I love the music. Great photographers of the sixties, like Benedict Fernandez, made their name with classic images of the demonstrations and rallies that changed the world.
On the March People are on the march once again. NHS cuts and hospital closures, the increasing wealth gap, loss of social care, opencast mines, homelessness, tax-dodging corporations, standing up for war refugees and social equality inspired many ordinary people demonstrate recently. Despite being passion-fuelled, these protests are usually good-natured, colourful affairs, bringing a wide mix of people together in a carnival atmosphere. Protesters want you to see them standing up for what they believe in. They expect and welcome photographs. They are a street photographer’s dream.
Be aware if you shoot overseas Britain doesn’t have the same overly-strict privacy laws as France. It seems incredible to me that the homeland of both Robert Doisneau and Henri Cartier-Bresson introduced legislation that killed street photography there. Even if it is not a legal requirement, asking for (or even paying for) permission to take someone’s portrait is something to consider. Do check local laws and customs before travelling overseas with your camera.
Street Photography in The UK In the UK, if you see an interesting face on the street, there is nothing stopping you from capturing it. That does not equate to you stalking and harassing people with your camera, which will get you into trouble.
It’s not always possible, but I try to have polite interactions with those I photograph on the street. I then send them copies of their image. Especially so for the street performers I photograph, I also give them permission to use my pictures as a thank-you for being entertained.
Can I photograph that building? Architectural photography is another popular genre for those who take to the streets with their cameras. Security guards may challenge you, but there is nothing in UK law they can do to stop you shooting images from the street, though the police can if you are causing an obstruction.
There are restrictions in Britain. You can be told not to photograph from within privately owned property, including shopping centres. Do so against the wishes of the owner and you are then committing trespass. You can be asked, or even forced if you refuse, to leave. In England, there is no right to roam. You don’t have the right to enter private land, such as school grounds or farmers’ fields. Doing so and trampling crops or breaking down fences may be criminal damage.
Photographing members of the armed forces, intelligence services and police officers with the intent of preparing an act of terrorism will land you in prison. Poking your lens through the fence of a military base, a dockyard, a factory or the Prime Minister’s private house can end you in hot water too.
There are other common sense limitations, too many for me to fit into the confines of this article, but easily found on internet searches.
Express your politics Valuing my human right of political expression, I turned out to vote and hope you did too, whichever party you support. One thing I didn’t take with me was my camera. Photography is not allowed in the polling station.
The Northumberland leg of the Tour of Britain passed by us today. My E-M5ii was mounted on a tripod with the 45mm f/1.8 lens. I pre-focused it and composed the shot, setting it to shoot its maximum frame rate, achieving around 10 frames per second
With my older E-5, I had it set to continuous autofocus and has the 12-60 f/2.8 zoom mounted. I chose the slower frame rate, achieving around 4 frames per second.