A friend and fellow Olympus hobbyist shooter used to be one of the most dedicated and faithful Olympus supporter I have met, using fully Olympus DSLR system, with some of the top Super High Grade lenses. He was (at that time) using everything the best, offered by Olympus, and he thought he had done it all, and believed he was on top of his game. The question that he asked next was: "Now, what else can I do if I want to push further and improve my photography to the next level?" He thought he was already reaching the limitations of his Olympus gear, and the only way to get even better, was to get even more capable gear. So he went Full Frame. Then he got obsessed with high ISO shooting, dynamic range, the bokeh-liciousness of the F1.4 lenses, and all technicalities that makes full frame superior. I did not deny the fact that the upgrade that my friend did was quite a jump, and his equipment proved to be very capable, and outperformed his previous Olympus gear by a significant margin. He was very happy. However, when he showed me his photographs, all I heard from him was "look at how clean this shot was taken at ISO6400", or "look at the bokeh, I don't even have to shoot wide open, even at F2.8, the bokeh is already so good". It is saddening to see that from a passionate photographer who shoots photographs, that friend has become obsessed with technical perfection of the camera that wows at and shows off his high ISO photographs.
The truth is, the majority of the photography crowd, which is made of photo-hobbyists, and mainly beginners or amateurs tend to think ahead a little too soon. Lets face it. Photography is an expensive hobby that not everyone can afford. Or else everyone would be shooting with a Leica M9-P by now. It is a big deal for many who would even want to step up from a compact point and shoot to DSLR. Similarly goes to those who are already using an entry level DSLR but wanting to upgrade to something more capable. We all constantly find reasons to justify our spending, and it surely was not an easy decision to purchase a new gear, or change the system entirely. For some, photography is not even their main hobby and they do not spend that much time shooting, so why do you need something so expensive?
If you have too much money and you have no other ways to spend it, and can afford the lens and camera upgrade, no one is stopping you. Go buy that gear that you lust after and lose so much sleep for. End of story.
If your purpose of getting that expensive camera and lens is to show off your gear, then, I shall not comment any more. However, if you claim that you have no other ways to improve photography but to upgrade your gear, please bear with me for a while longer, and I shall share my thoughts on how you can improve your photography, even without upgrading your gear. It all comes down to who you are sharing your photographs with. If your audience will only wow at the bokeh-ness of your image, awe at the clean, noiseless image at ISO6400 and look at how accurate the camera renders the white balance, you might want to consider shying away and stop all that measurebating, it wont help you much. If you come to me, I don't care what gear you use. Show me your photographs, not gear !!
All images in this entry were taken with Olympus DSLR E-520 and Zuiko Digital lenses: 14-42mm F3.5-5.6 and 25mm F2.8 pancake
Sultan Abdul Samad Building
Composition is probably one of the most important factors in determining good photography output, but often overlooked by many. Good photographers will never, never neglect composition when they shoot. You can get your exposure settings right, your horizons perfectly leveled, your white balance accurately set, and everything else perfect, but if your composition is not good enough, your photograph is just not good enough. Therefore, it is only natural that one of the easiest way, and most obvious way to improve your photographs, is to work on your composition.
The crucial consideration in composition, no matter how you approach it, is to draw the viewer's attention to your main subject. You can take a step further and draw your viewers eyes to something else in the frame that complements, and support your main subject. Playing with multiple subjects, interacting the subjects with each other to tell a larger story can prove to be more interesting. A good photograph is like a good movie, it has main actors and actresses, and it also has supporting casts, and the supporting casts play very important roles to highlight the characteristics and story-telling of the main casts.
Like everyone else, I started shooting by adhering to the Rules of Third. This composition rule still strongly applies to most photography situations, and works very well indeed. Nonetheless, while the Rules of Thirds proved to be the most "workable" and "safe" guideline to use, it has also been used countless times by almost everyone out there. In order to stand out from the crowd, you have got to explore something else, or incorporate something more than just the plain Rule of Thirds. You can either break the rule, or add something extra to it. Examples include placing your subjects at the far end of the frame to create tension, working with repetitive patterns and lines, framing your subjects between shadows or different foreground elements, looking for interesting backgrounds to place your subject against, etc. You can go even more extreme by exploring different angles, instead of just staying at eye level. Go low, very, very low, and I often shoot from the ground level, placing the camera literally on the ground. Or go high, shooting above the head level. Incorporate more negative space, by stepping backwards, leaving more room for your subjects to breathe. Or go extremely close to your subjects and fill the entire frame.
The key here is to introduce variety of shots. A good movie has the cinematic effect, where a same scene has been shot at multiple angles, with different cameras, recording all at the same time. Being dynamic, having different angles on your photography subjects can create a more dramatic outcome. How you arrange your subjects, where you shoot your subject from, all will come together to compose that photograph you are shooting. No gear, no matter how expensive and powerful, can help you improve in your composition skills. Yet, being good in composition separates you from mere average photographers.
The Coliseum, KL
Another simple way to improve your shooting skills, is to explore a different focal length of choice. If you are already very comfortable with wide angle shooting all the time, it is time to explore long tele-photo lenses. If you are constantly shooting with zoom lenses, it would be very advisable to try out single focal length primes, eg 50mm to refresh your perspective and challenge yourself with just one focal length. If you shoot with long lenses all the time, the most logical challenge you can present yourself next is to dare yourself to move closer to the lioness' mouth and at the same time, not having your head chewed off. Ok, just kidding on the last part, please don't do anything life-threatening, unless you earn a fortune from your photography, I suggest that safety should be prioritized at all times.
I have met so many different photographers who have completely different preferences when it comes to focal lengths. Some will swear by their 50mm "normal prime" lens, and proclaimed that they can do everything with the 50mm. Many modern street photographers would go very wide, going 35mm or even as wide as 24mm on the street, getting close to their subject. Whichever your preference of focal length is, I also believe that it is very important as a photographer to be able to employ different focal lengths, and use them very effectively to produce good photographs. It would be prudent to be able to shoot wide angle, medium range (50mm) and subsequently tele-photo range (100mm or longer). Am I suggesting the photographers to buy more lenses, which would contradict my recommendation of not upgrading your gear? Not exactly. Most new photographers who bought into their first camera system would at least have two lenses, usually the standard kit lens and possibly another cheap prime (50mm) or a long tele-photo zoom lens. Even if you ONLY have the kit standard zoom lens, you still have varying focal length to play around with. A typical kit lens, say Canon or Nikon 18-55mm is roughly equivalent to 28mm to 85mm, and you already have a set of wide angle to medium tele-photo range at your disposal. Kit lenses are cheap !!
I acknowledge that it is up to the photographer's own shooting style and preference when he chose certain focal length for his shooting. As a learning photographer like myself, why not explore ALL the possibilities that your lenses have? Even just the mere, cheap, often neglected kit lens, you have 28mm, 50mm and 85mm to play with. You do not have the F1.4 bokeh and sharpness, but there are so much more to photography than bokeh and sharpness. Most kit lenses can already produce very decent (acceptably good) image quality to match the bundled camera body. Looking at different possibilities that one tiny lens can open up for your photography can be quite refreshing. I also often get complains from friends who bought an 50mm F1.4 lens as an upgrade, and finding that they do not quite know how to use the lens, and immediately dismissed the lens. Before you buy that 50mm lens, why not zoom in your kit lens all the way to the longest tele-photo range, and see if shooting at that focal length suits your shooting? If you find difficulties shooting at that focal length, then it is time to take that up as your next challenge: shoot with that focal length and find ways to improve it !!
Flower vendor who has sold out his flowers
There is only so much you can do in your camera for creative purposes, when playing around with in camera settings. The basic primary three variables to play with, the ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, all contribute in their own ways in creating how your final image looks like. As a photographer, no matter how new and inexperienced you are, you have got to master these three settings. If you cannot fully control all these parameters, please, do yourself a favor, do not consider upgrading your camera until you can fully control your camera's exposure settings.
Shutter Speed, if controlled well, can produce amazing results. Slowing down the shutter speed can induce intended movements in photographs that suggest dynamic subjects, as opposed to traditionally believed photographs which is stereotyped to be static. Creative motion blur can add a lot of drama, and the visual effect, if used carefully, can create sense of motion as your viewer looks at your photos. Varying motion blur on subjects and background, alternating between clear subject and motion blurred background and blur subject but clear background can give you interesting images. The typical clear subject with blurred background is called panning shots.
Prolonging the shutter speed can also open up a whole world of possibilities. Shooting with long exposure on tripod at night, capturing the city lights, car light trails, or the night sky can be challenging and rewarding at the same time. Or producing that silky smooth waterfall or ocean waves that are creamed to mists. I guess, what I am trying to say here is that, even with whatever camera you use, knowing how to set the exposures, control them efficiently, playing with them creatively, can get you very good photographs. You do not need very expensive gear to master your exposure controls, and you do not need powerful cameras to try out creative shutter speed shots. There were a few incidence of some so called self-claimed photography masters here locally, that when you asked them about "slow-synchro" or "second curtain" flash, they do not even have a clue on what that is. If you do not even know how to work second curtain flash, it clearly shows that you have not explored many capable and powerful tools in your camera to maximize your photographs. In many photography genres, photographers will tell you how important controlling the shutter speed is.
If you have not mastered your exposure understandings and control of the camera, it is time to look into that, do more reading, and do even more experimentation on your camera until you get it right. NO EXCUSES, you just have to do this exercise, you cannot afford to skip this step, and you will thank me later. If you are fairly confident in your controls of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed, it is time to take that further, and play with varying shutter speed, either slowing it down or speeding it up, depending on your shooting needs.
The one that got away
As a learning photographer, its is very important to keep the desire burning, and motivated at all times. The worst thing that could happen to any hobbyist, is to lose interest in that hobby. Keeping the passion to shoot alive is not easy. Getting new gear to keep your passion alive is not a very effective way to do so.
I find it useful to explore different categories of photography. You do not have to be super ambitious and do everything and anything at the same time, but opening up your options and preferences, diversifying your photography subjects can give you a broader perspective, and gain you interesting ways of seeing things. If you shoot street photography, and only street photography, you surely wont understand what the landscape photographers are going through, or gain the benefits or what you can learn by shooting landscape. Sometimes, you might even apply what you learn from another genre of photography into what you usually shoot. Photography covers such a wide scope, and since you already have a camera, why not use it to try something else?
Photography opportunities are EVERYWHERE around us. I particularly frown on people who come to me and say "I do not know what to shoot". Seriously, just grab that camera, go out, have a stroll, and if you open up your eyes (and heart of course) you will come back with tonnes of images even with just a short one hour walk. If you love nature, bring your camera when you climb that hill, or hike in the forest, shoot that rare blue mushroom you saw, or that beautiful pink beetle having sex with a dragonfly. If you love fashion, go to the nearest free fashion show at the shopping mall, and attack the models as they strut their stuff down the catwalk runway. If you love planes, go to the airport, find a nice location, and aim your bazooka (pun intended) at the planes. Shoot what you love, and your passion will show in your photographs. Shoot more than just one category of photography, because, as human beings, we love multiple things. Just don't tell me there is nothing to shoot, and you leave your camera collecting dust at home. Seriously, if you have the heart to shoot, there will always be something to shoot.
Picking up a new photography genre will have you learning all over again. The camera will not get old, because you always have something new to shoot. Two years ago, I did not know I would love shooting street, and if I did not pick up street photography, I would not have discovered how much I enjoy shooting on the streets.
At the corner
I am sure most (if not all) of you reading this blog already have a camera system, and many of you are like myself, a hobbyist, and a learning photograph. You all know that, I love my camera, and I love shooting with my camera. It is important to be comfortable with your camera system, thus try not to wish you have better equipment all the time. I still use my E-520 often, and I also love the newer PEN E-L1. They are considered obsolete cameras now, but I still love them. What is there not to like?
I find it fascinating on how online forumers can chat on and on about how this camera is better than that camera, or how this lens can outperform the other lens. At the end of the day, you do not even see that many photographs coming from them. I choose to shoot. I choose to share my photographs, and I shall continue doing so in this blog. You can argue about how the "equivalence" (my goodness, this argument trumps the chicken and egg debate) or superiority of any gear, but that has nothing much to do on how a photographer can improve in their game.
Lets shoot more photographs !!