Travel photography: Nice shot, what kind of camera do you have?

Posted in Photography, Travel at 13:13 by RjZ

The number of digital single lens reflex cameras (DSLRs) is proliferating at a wild pace lately. So, many of you have already spent handfulls of cash on a shiny new camera with interchangable lenses. That probably means you’ve already heard the standard question aimed at one of your better shots: “what kind of camera do you have?”

Everyone else seems to think your camera took the shot all by itself; that you take it with you and it jumps out of the bag on its own at just the right moment to snap an incredible photo. Who can blame them? Heck, I want that camera too!

Eventually the learned response is that it’s the photographer, not the camera, who takes a great shot. Of course. Honestly, though, that’s not completely true, is it? I mean, if it were, how would you convince yourself and others in your life, that it makes sense to spend another couple-of-week’s salary on a new lens? Cleary, the camera has something to do with it.

For me, going to pretty places is one of my best techniques to ensure good pictures. That, and taking a lot of pictures. Eventually, the numbers win out! What role, then, does the camera play at all? Well, good quality cameras, and optics do make better pictures. The colors are more even, contrast is dramatically improved, and focus is better, or at least more likely to be where you meant it. Better optics also increase the range of what is possible. You can now capture a wider view or a closer look than your cell phone camera will allow. Most interchangeable lens cameras are also fast enough that you can point them at a fleeting subject, press the button, and actually expect it to focus on something and record a picture before the shy moose, or perfect kiss in Paris streets, has vanished.

That brings me to my incredibly simple tip for great travel photography. Know your camera. It matters little what kind of optics your camera has if it hides in your bag and you have to fiddle with it when you finally pull it out. Even if you plan is to play the numbers game like I do, you’ll be able to choose from many more not-exactly-poor shots if you’ve been able to make the camera at least do what it’s capable of.

Whatever your camera can do, from auto-focus and magic scenes, to fully manual pixel level adjustments or feeding that old stuff, what was it? film? your job is knowing which end to point at what you want to record and what’s going to happen when you press the button that makes it take a picture. The only reliable way to do this, is to have taken many pictures in a variety of situations.

If you can have an idea what all the buttons do and which ones save you time before taking a shot, which ones make sure you focus where you wanted to, and which ones make the flash come on, or stay off, then the numbers game, enabled by cheap digital images, will surely pay off. For this reason alone, if you’re planning a trip and thinking about a new camera for it, great, this is a good excuse! But, and here is my second indespensible tip, get the thing early enough and take a load of pictures with it before you head out. If you haven’t familiarized yourself with your camera, or cellphone, you’ll never even get to answer the question “what kind of camera do you have?” except, maybe, when it comes from some snob hoping to justify a decision to have bought something else.


  1. Barb said,

    October 4, 2011 at 14:20

    So what kind of camera do you have?
    I pulled out my “old” film camera (purchased in ‘03) with autofocus and headed into the scenery. I had the paper manual along, so even without Internet I could relearn what all of the features were. Got back, spent $37 getting film developed only to find that the focus is just off on almost all of my well composed, getting-the-light-just-right photos.
    That’s it. I want to go digital so I can take many more pictures. And I want to get a camera that I see good pictures coming off of. So… what kind of camera do you have again?

  2. RjZ said,

    October 4, 2011 at 14:37

    What do *I* have? That doesn’t matter, of course, but you can see what camera and lens each picture in my flickr stream is taken with by checking out the meta-data attached to the shots. I mostly shoot Olympus and they do seem to make great glass at good prices, but there are plenty of reasons to go with other cameras.

    It depends tons on how you want to use it (size, speed of use) and what kinds of pictures you absolutely need to take? That is, we all want to take *all* kinds of pictures, but if we have to make some compromise, such as size, or most likely price, what could we live without?

    Check out micro-four thirds from Olympus and Panasonic–these take great pictures with relatively few compromises. Check out the G series from Canon…fixed lens point and shoot with high-end performance. Check out Nikon’s DX000 series. These lower end SLRs deliver great performance, especially at lower light levels where the micro-four thirds suffers.

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