A camera is essentially a box that opens to capture light. Once you figure that out, then photography becomes clear. It all sounds so Zen, but it is actually difficult concept to fully grasp. It is true that there is much more to even a camera than the shutter opening, but this principle makes it easier to find the box you want and to decide upon the other two components: lenses and medium.
Most people will say that film is dead and that the only medium left is digital. To a large degree this is true. However, I love film. I love its feel, its unpredictability, its dynamic range and that hardly anyone else is using it. It does make it more expensive and harder to find than it used to be, but for now it still exists so I will use it for all of my travel photography. It also allows you to take some badly blurred or exposed images and still have them look artful. I went back to medium format 120 film, and cannot get over how beautiful those negatives transfer to digital via my scanner. Film also separates my work from the tour buses full of digital cameras that flock to every major world site.
Digital is perfect. It allows us to capture things unheard of even four years ago. I can take 10 frames per second and capture that precise moment of beauty I was searching for. It is infinitely modifiable, and in the right hands can be godlike. The main problem with digital is that few people ever print their images these days. In my heart, I feel like they are losing their memories on a daily basis and that once their hard drive fails (and it will) then they will have nothing to remind them of the time Stinky Williams fell off the roof of the car in the Muskoka. Digital lets you see what you capture instantaneously, it is cheap, and it allows direct retouching and posting online. The best digital files also have the wide dynamic range and richness of film, but then you are up in the expensive camera range which is beyond most enthusiast budgets.
So what should you buy? I think that cameras have to be a personal choice, as we do become attached to them. I wish I owned a Hasselblad or a Leica. I love the Nikon system, but they feel awful in my small hands, so I went with Canon and Mamiya because they feel solid, have tonnes of options for expansion, and fit my professional budget. After carrying cameras on a camel ride to the Valley of the Kings, trust me when I say that how it feels is key. I also know that not everyone wants a dlsr with lots of lenses because of practical reasons: weight, portability, simplicity and pretty colours.
Chandler’s Basic Principles
1) Lenses are more important than the camera. The light you are trying to capture is coming through all of that glass at the front of your camera. The better the glass, the more pleasing the image. The best lenses also tend to be better built, will travel with you as you change camera bodies and they dictate what style of photography you can do. You can also resell an L Series lens much more easily years later, than the plastic fantastic. Buy the best lenses you can, and keep them close.
2) Zoom lenses make you lazy and teach you nothing. Everyone love being able to zoom into a scene and snap a photo, but zooming teaches us nothing about perspective, makes it harder to learn about aperture and about how we see the world naturally. If you find yourself too far away or two close, then move your feet and reframe your shot. One more thing, using the same prime lens for an entire trip will give an automatic coherency to your images, thereby making them easier to turn into frame-able photos for your home. Buy a prime lens instead of a zoom.
3). Just like with Elvis or the Beatles, you have to choose. You are buying into a camera system so decide if you are a Canon or a Nikon personNow you could go with Sony or Pentax or even Samsung, but really the other two systems are more complete at this time. If you are really cool and have the cash, then I would totally go Leica M8.2, but I just don’t have cash for that type of luxury camera. Still, if you travel with Abercrombie and Kent, then I highly suggest picking one up. I use Canon, but would be just as happy if I had gone with Nikon.
4) Learn to use the Av and Tv Priority settings on your camera. Learning to use aperture and shutter priority is what creates the artistry of photography. Otherwise, you are best off taking snapshots with an automatic camera. Aperture controls the amount of light let in and Shutter controls the time the shutter is open. By altering these in relation to each other, the photographer strikes a balance between light, depth and sharpness.
5) Edit everything you take, and only show people the best. Editing is another lost art, but it is so important to feeling good about your work. I remember being at a workshop where when it was time to show our work, an elderly gentleman came in with 725 photos of doors from a specific part of Toronto. He proceeded to try to show us EACH AN EVERY DOOR. On the flipside, I went to Paris, shot 172 images on film, got 10 great images, but feel that only two were really spectacular – but those two made it all worthwhile. I am sure that Vincent LaForet or Chase Jarvis can go on assignment and get a much higher keeper rate, but I am not there yet….but I will be, and so can you.
Take pictures every day. So many people want to learn to take better pictures, but so few people actually try to take any pictures at all. Be simple. Start something like a collection of your breakfast cereals at the table each morning. Take photos of loved ones. Collect your memories and cherish just how wonderful this life can be.
*Note: each photo on this blog entry was taken with a different camera, lens and medium.