Things, stuff, and other items of interest

April 4, 2011

My camera is considerably more intelligent than I am.

Image: Front, a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share-Alike (2.0) image from my photostream

  That picture probably took more time than any other picture I have in my collection. Admittedly, it's not the most eye catching shot you're ever going to see but I had fun making it and I like it. That's really all I'm looking for from my efforts. If others get a kick out of it as well, then that's a bonus. If not, well there's always next time.

This one picture is comprised of forty-six different shots. Each of those shots was one of three taken, in one of three sessions. Each session required about thirty to forty-five minutes set up, which consisted of setting up the placement, the background and managing the lighting (sunlight + a forty inch gold reflector). I needed to set the controls of the camera so that each shot appeared (more or less) consistent. The post processing wasn't too bad, some light retouching, minor uniform cropping, resizing and consolidation of the shots into the picture above.

Sounds boring right? I'm starting to yawn just typing it in, and I find this stuff fascinating. My point is that this particular shot was more about the learning process than the final product. Not the most beautiful shot I've ever taken, but probably one of the more complex ones to date. Which is a little pitiful considering that it boils down to me taking pictures of my baseball hats in the middle of my living room over a couple of weeks.

I've been playing around with cameras on and off (mostly off) for quite a while now, and I have something of a small confession to make: I know diddly squat about cameras. I've got the basics just barely covered, but my knowledge doesn't extend much beyond that. If I'm going to be honest then I should probably admit that I could use a review session or two on even that paltry modicum of information. Basically I know enough to be able to gauge my own stupidity and very little else. This is both very encouraging and crushingly depressing all at the same time.

It's easy to hide my expansive ignorance because the cameras that are being sold today are terrifyingly smart. Even the most basic point & click camera performs a few thousand calculations every time you press the shiny button. The camera starts by focusing on the subject for you, then it gauges the light, chooses the appropriate aperture size that the lens can accommodate while also managing the shutter speed and iso levels of the sensor that captures your image. While it's doing that, it's also determining the appropriate white and black balance so as to be sure that your colours are coming out near-perfect. As though this weren't enough, most cameras come with a whole slew of preset configurations for a variety of different situations. Outdoor in retina-searing sunlight? No problem! Indoors under life-sucking fluorescents? Easy-peasy. Low light? Night time? Under water stuck in a cave with nothing but a single key-chain LED? Done, done, and done.

I'm all for the unending march of progress and technology, but there is something to be said for learning things the old fashion way. Believe me, I love the idiot proof camera mainly because I'm it's target audience. Just being around cameras for a while you'll eventually pick up some understanding if through nothing else than a weird application of osmosis. If I considered myself a real photographer then I'd talk to you about composition and lighting, about framing your subject, about managing your depth of field through setting your aperture and shutter speeds accordingly, all while making sure you've a ideal exposure for the appropriate iso level. I'm not a real photographer though, I'm just a guy with a camera who's killing some time and having a few laughs. An analogy I heard recently springs to mind that I believe captures the sense of 'la mot juste' that I'm looking for:
Buying a camera doesn't make you a professional photographer any more than buying a tooth brush makes you a dentist. 
- A very bitter, angry & abused professional photographer.
So what's with the rant about amateur camera enthusiast vs. the professional photographer? Well, I wanted to establish that I understand the difference there in. I consider myself barely qualified for the title of amateur. I feel I needed to make that perfectly clear before moving on to this next step as it's a bit of a doozy.  I've been getting a few questions lately about camera stuff. Actually, that's not entirely true. I've been getting a lot of questions about camera stuff. Trust me when I say that no one is more surprised about this than I. My first concern was that I wanted to stress the point of how completely unqualified I am to answer those questions. Thankfully, I've never let that stop before so I don't see why it should now.

What I know about cameras, photography, and pressing shiny buttons I've scraped together mostly from online sources, a few books, and a hefty chunk of trial and error. (Emphasis on the 'error') I could try to pretend like I had half a clue, but no one's going to believe that for very long. Instead, what I thought I would do is add a page / tab at the top of the blog for camera stuff. This will be coming online over the next few days and weeks. This will largely consist of online resources for camera info that I've found. Sites that I check regularly, links to helpful pros, etc. That sort of stuff. I'll do my best to keep it current and up to date. It's likely that it'll be more up to date than my regular posts are.  Hopefully some of you will find this useful, and I won't come across as too much of a pompous ass while regurgitating other peoples knowledge and hard work. If there are specific questions that you'd like to see addressed, either add a comment below or send me an email and just keep in mind... I have no idea what I'm doing.

[ April 13th 2011 - UPDATE: ]

I've finally got the camera page started. You can find it here if your interested. If it's missing something, feel free to send an email or leave a comment.