Sunday, February 19, 2012

What Your Camera Cannot Do

I have done my fair share of lurking around the online forums, following the discussions on the newly launched Nikon D800 as well as the Olympus OM-D E-M5. Everyone has something to complain about and everyone is searching for that “perfect” camera that can do everything. Camera is a tool that allows photography to happen, and having a good camera will ease the process of photography and benefit the photographer in many ways. However, true photography is not all dependent on the camera alone. All the new ground-breaking technologies of better high ISO performance, mega-resolution sensors and all other decorative specification write-ups will not instantaneously create an award winning photographer over-night. There are so many other components in photography that the camera cannot do for you. I just find it strange why so many people can lose sleep on how they wish the cameras could have been better, instead of wishing how they could improve themselves as photographers?

All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-5, Zuiko Digital 11-22mm F2.8-3.5 and Sigma 30mm F1.4

Old


Under the LRT


Find a good subject content

Your camera will not click on its own and make images happen. It all started with the photographer’s eye and vision. The photographer wishes to capture an image, hence he sees it through his eyes first, or planned the image beforehand in his mind. The camera is just equipment that the photographer uses to translate what he sees into pixels or prints. In photography, the photograph is a powerful medium of expression, to tell a story, or to convey a message. The original idea in the image must come from the photographer, who will decide the subject content to be put into his photograph. Your camera will not be able to differentiate between an ugly cockroach from the beautiful butterfly. The photographer has to decide “what” to photograph, and this is a crucial stage. Without knowing what you want to do and accomplish in the first place, how do you expect to have a good outcome at the end of your photography session? You have to decide your subject contents, and no magic cameras in the world can do that for you.

Composition

Composition is another important element in photography that will either make the shot, or break it. Your camera will not know which angle works best, or how to approach your subjects. Composition errors or failure cannot be fixed by post-processing. Being given a photography opportunity, most photographers would start to think what ISO works best, how to maximize the “bokeh” to blur the background away, or how to set the flash and diffuse the light to create that beautifully lit condition. All the concentration on controlling the camera and its settings without paying much attention to composition: something that you cannot control within the camera, will result in falling short of a stellar shot. I always, always think about composition first before everything else. Having a strong composition will draw your main subject right out of the image into your reader’s attention, and have the background to strengthen the overall story-telling. A photograph may be perfect in terms of technical execution, but it will lack the “oomph” factor if it was poorly composed.


Jalan Masjid India

Push

Father

Hanging cloths

Young

Up

Homeless

Decisive Moment

Instead of worrying about how the camera fares, the photographer should worry about how he handles his camera. How to anticipate actions and how quickly can he react to the opportunity? Decisive moments usually happen very suddenly, with minimal window of opportunity for the photographer to grab the shot. Even if your camera has superbly fast and most advanced Autofocus mechanism, if you did not notice the “moment”, or react too slowly to it (pointing your camera to your subject and clicking the shutter button can take some time too, you know), you will not be able to get the shot too. That is what separates a good photographer from the rest: being alert and sensitive to his surroundings and being prepared to attack at all times. No camera, no matter how advanced it is, can save you if you did not even manage to click the shutter button in time. It is either you get the shot, or you miss it.

Working your Subject

How do you get  near enough to shoot the portraits of people on the street? How do you get them to look into your camera? How do you get them to have that “natural” and friendly look in their eyes? How do you talk to them to engage that connection so that when you shoot them, they feel comfortable with you and not having that awkward reaction on their faces? Your camera cannot answer any of those questions, but you can. All this depends on the choices and actions that the photographer makes. It does not matter which approach he uses, or how he wants to approach the subject, as long as he accomplishes what he intended to do in the first place, then it works. You may have that super camera with an F0.95 portrait lens, but if you are not courageous enough to walk near and approach your subject, you wont be able to capture any good shots as well.

Joy

Youth

Friends, Kim Hang and Jian.

Legs

By the road

Innocence

Artistic Sense

Knowing exactly what settings to use and how to optimize the camera controls to get the best out of a photography situation are impressive and useful to many photographers. Nonetheless, what makes the photographs work require not only technical perfection, but also good artistic sense. Photography is a form of art, and art is a creative subject. Being all technical wont bring you far in photography. Knowing what is beautiful, being able to recognize art and make art happen, are not easily trained, or learned. Artistic sense cannot be passed on from one person to another, but it has to be developed within the artist himself. It has to be nurtured and grown over the years, and it does not happen just like that. You may be able to learn all the tricks and techniques of photography by paying thousands of dollars for workshops and seminars conducted by famous photographers, but artistic sense is about a journey of self-discovery.


I admit, I too, am obsessed with all the new cameras and lenses that I can get my hands on. Nonetheless, it is prudent to remind ourselves that photography is not fully defined by the gear that we choose to shoot with. We, as photographers, should define our photography. To improve in photography, getting better cameras alone wont help us that far. There are so many things that the camera cannot do, and at the end of the day it all comes down to what you can do with your camera, rather than what the camera can do on its own.

Pork Roast for lunch. VERY NICE !!!

We need a bigger table !!

I still have a lot to work on, when it comes to composition and artistic sense. I am in no rush, and I do photography at my own pace and time.


23 comments:

  1. Robin, Nice essay. I too lust for the EM5 and in fact have preordered it knowing it won't improve my photography, as I am already a GH2 owner!

    So, I can only conclude that buying more "tools" is a goal all by itself. Yes, these tools can make photographs and are therefore a "means to an end". But the acquisition of toys and the creation of a "tool collection" is a viable hobby all by itself.

    The reason I know this is true for me is that I have never had anyone look at a photo of mine and say " you should have had a different/better camera".

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    1. Excellent post! I completely agree, the camera is our tool for creating and we can't get caught up in the latest and greatest. I have had my camera for 6 years now and have wanted to upgrade, however can't afford it right now. I am now telling myself when I start lusting for a new piece of gear to go out and shoot instead. It has been a tough exercise for me but has definitely helped with surpressing the inadequate thoughts of not having the latest and greatest. I am happy with my camera, whatever it will be in the future, it is my paintbrush.

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  2. Hello Peter,
    You have a GH2, wow ! That is one good camera.
    I guess we do need the "tool collectors" to push the market going, they are the ones to drive the improvement of camera and lenses technologies. That itself is important.
    But you were right, usually people would not comment on what camera we use to produce our photographs, it is what we do that matters.

    Hello Will,
    Thanks for the compliments ! I believe the most important thing is to be happy with what we are using, and through all these years with your camera, you know it inside out and how to handle it so well, that you are efficient at maximizing its potential. That is crucial to be fluid in making art.

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  3. Interesting article. Especially the part about the artistic sense. Very much agree on the importance of composition also.
    What does bother me still today though is digital menus. I mostly shoot in Manual mode and I like to have analog controls.The problem is that you need to shell out a lot of money just to get two dials and a few more buttons, meanwhile paying for some huge beast of a camera and a 36MP sensor that you don't necessarily need. Thankfully, nowadays there are cameras like the NEX-7 and the OM-D, so I might actually replace my trusty Canon G10 and stop borrowing my friends' DSLRs just to get bulb mode :)

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  4. Hello Vladimir,
    Thanks for agreeing, and yes, the two dials control is VERY crucial to me too in most of my shooting needs !
    True, sometimes we spend a lot of money on the gear and we don't necessarily need all the features that it provides, like that 36 MP you have mentioned.
    You shoot with Bulb mode a lot? You will love the OMD E-M5. You can preview your images from a set interval (say, 0.5 sec) while still shooting in Bulb. Very useful function.

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  5. Yes, I saw that function and I really find it to be an amazing addition. I hardly shoot that much in bulb mode, but I love fireworks. Let's say it is a rare, but important occasion.

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  6. hello vladimir,
    I believe having control over the camera is very important. Indeed bulb is not something that we use often, but when we need it, we really need it. I love fireworks too!! But we do not get many in Malaysia.

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  7. That is surprising. After my stay in Japan, I thought that all asian countries have fireworks constantly :)
    Last time, I had a loose gorillapod copy, no remote and I was playing with the timer, supporting the camera with one hand and whatnot. In the end, I spent all the time fiddling with the gear and I saw nothing. I will never again spoil a fireworks display like that. The actual experience is way more important than some photo.

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  8. Vladimir,
    Sometimes we are so engrossed with the process of shooting that we did not even had the chance to stop and smell the roses. As much as we wanted to grab great shots, we too must enjoy life and its moments. Thanks for reminding, and this too could be my future blog article: not to get stranded in shooting and let our lives pass us by.

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  9. Robin,
    I will be waiting for that article :)

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  10. My take on this is that the decisive moment is very much the wrong moment for technical perfection. One should aim to achieve that before the moment comes.

    After all, technical perfection is easy to achieve while shooting boring subjects, so why not do it that way? Last evening, I spent several hours just shooting objects in my apartment to figure out things like how to get sharp images hand-held, how useful a sharp image at very high ISO is, if I can use raw images taken at ISO 6400 or if they are as useless as the jpegs and so. I put the camera on a tripod and took a series of shots of my stereo with various lenses and apertures. I took another series of pictures through my open window at the street below, again with different lenses and apertures.

    In the end I formatted the card. None of the images had any artistic value or other kind of usefulness. The main reason for taking the pictures is to make sure I know my options better when I see a decisive moment.

    Also, the camera is a tool. To know if the camera is good or bad and if there is a better camera, first you need to know what you want to do. Only then can you know if you have the right tool.

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  11. Hello Rasmus,
    Constant practice and staying in the game are important to keep the photographer ready. Being fluent in camera controls and settings come hand in hand with technical execution.
    You were right about knowing what to do: thats when the photographer decides the subject content, and plans on what he wanted to achieve in his photograph. Without that in mind, it will be directionless.

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  12. Very true what you said. By the way, where was lunch?

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  13. Richard,
    Lunch was at Yut Kee, Dang Wangi.

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  14. pa Cik...in the last pic, please tell me what is that fried looking food with fried fries & curry gravy in orange plate ??

    it looks greaaattt...*slurpzz*

    oiya...i'm still counting on your review to buy E-M5 + 45/1.8...please hurry, otherwise my bike would swallow my camera money :)

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  15. Hello Konikonaku,
    That food was Pork Chop served in brown gravy, not curry. And yes it was very nice.
    I have no control over when I will get the camera from Olympus Malaysia. They may not have it yet, so it all comes down to their arrangement. I also wish to do the reviews as soon as I can.

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  16. another thing, pa Cik...i found that Zuiko 14-54mm f2.8-35 mkII is the only 43 lens that CDAF ready

    can you test it too with E-M5 ?
    if the result positive, I believe it will be good news to someone who want fast zoom don't you think

    thanks in advance for all the trouble... 8-)

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  17. Hello, Robin!
    EM5, amazing! Looking forward to your review, but I will not buy it...though I am sorely tempted. I´m surfing the internet every day, reading reviews of cams, lenses, equipment, I am gear crazy, I am a man and I love toys...but when I think deeply about it, I´d say I´m saturated with what I have, already owning the E600, E510, E1, EPM1 and several lenses (amongst them the lovely 11-22 and the amazing 45/1.8).
    I cannot catch up with every new camera-development, it´s enough (at least my wife thinks so...)!
    The camera I love the most: E1...slow, poor high iso, only 5mp
    Still have to learn so much about using strobes, adequate pp
    but the most important: find interesting subjects, compose in an interesting manner and capture the decisive moment.
    Always enjoyed and learned much from reading your Blog so far, keep on feeding it!!

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  18. Got to say, I absolutely love your street shots man. Great to see a fellow Malaysian capture such candid shots in the open. Keep up the good work.

    And yes... I'm buying the EM5 :)

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  19. hello Svenreinhold,
    Thanks for the kind compliments.
    I agree with you that photography is a learning process by itself. I myself is not so well versed with many things, including the control of strobes which you have mentioned.
    E1 is a beast, and if I have the opportunity, I would love to own one and try shooting with it.

    hello Friedbeef,
    Thanks for the kind comments.
    Glad to know you will get the E-M5 !

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  20. "Camera is a tool that allows photography to happen, and having a good camera will ease the process of photography and benefit the photographer in many ways. However, true photography is not all dependent on the camera alone."

    Excellent quote, Robin. I really enjoy the first shot in this post, as well as the photos with a combination of still and movement.

    Cheers

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  21. Hello Ian,
    Glad to have you here again !! Thanks for the compliments. i always enjoy your photography work as well. Get more of them published on your blog or something !!

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  22. Awesome post.
    But cannot wait to get my hands on an OM-D! ;)

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