Nikon D-3000

Since the beginning of time (way before colour images showed up in newspapers) I was a professional photographer shooting for money. Now 40 years later I’m trying very hard to become an amateur photographer! Okay I’ll still cash a cheque that’s offered but my passion is to shoot images for the love of taking pictures.

And in that passion I’m not alone. Several of my friends have just bought Nikon D-3000 cameras. Now I don’t review cameras but I thought it might be helpful for me to share with you the best features of the D-3000 and let you know what’s just hype (and trust me in the photography business – especially at some retail stores – it’s all hype).

First let’s get one thing straight: All camera bodies are simply light-tight boxes. Doesn’t matter if it’s the D-3000 (selling for $579 with an 18-55 lens that has vibration reduction – more about that later- at Vistek, where the pros buy their equipment) or a D3s for $5,499 (and that’s just for the body) they’re main function is to keep extraneous light off the sensor. Okay for an extra $5K you do get a bigger sensor and some additional features but you don’t necessarily get better images!!

Where you invest your money (after taking a few inexpensive classes from Peter West Photo) is in your lenses and more the most part you can use the same lenses on your D-3000 as the pros do on their D3s.

So what do you get for your money?

You get the latest in Nikon technology. This camera comes with a 10.2 megapixel DX (cropped) sensor. Is this a good thing? In fact, for most shooting we do, it’s entirely meaningless. For average snapshot (4″X6″) prints or shots for your website or Facebook page 10 megapixels is a huge amount of over kill. A decent point & shoot with a six megapixel sensor will do. So what’s a 10, 12 or bigger megapixel sensor good for? When you’re shooting with more megapixels it will allow you to print BIG prints or crop an important part of your image and blow it up without any adverse affects.

Funny thing is, if you’re like me, I rare do either. In fact, the biggest my home printer can do is a 16″X20″ print which is enormous on my walls and your 10 megapixel sensor can easily output an image of this size. In fact, too many megapixels on a sensor can end up looking more “noisy” (looks like the old grain in film images) than images from a smaller sensor.

Now your D-3000 comes with a modest 18mm (fairly wide on a DX cropped sensor and is the equivalent of 27mm lens on a full-size sensor) to 55mm (slightly longer lens at 85mm equivalent for full-frame) and slow (a “fast” lens like a 35mm f/1.8 lens lets in lots more light for shooting indoors without a flash) at f/3.5 to 5.6 (the lens changes aperture size as it’s zoomed in and out. For most amateur shots this doesn’t matter. Pros would hate it because as the aperture changes so can the colours in the image.).

So is this lens any good? Yes it’s excellent because it covers the sweet spot for most photography from fairly wide (you can shoot three or four of your friends without having to back halfway down the hall and it can be used as a pretty good portrait lens.What it doesn’t do really well is shoot in low light. For that you need a fast lens like the 35mm (sort of normal perspective on the D-3000) f/1.8 (really fast lens that when shot wide open creates a nicely blurred background with your central objects sharply in focus. Cool pro look.) In fact, when asked I recommend buying a fast lens way before buying a telephoto or super-wide. I would also recommend a macro lens as you can always find things to shoot close up.

One other important feature is vibration reduction. Nikon builds VR into its some of its lenses. VR helps to keep the camera shake that results from shooting with slow lens in too little light down to a minimum. It’s not perfect but VR is worth having and this lens has it.

The D-3000 is a small camera. Because it’s small, it’s also light in weight. You’ll appreciate that if you carry your camera around all day. It’s got a big and bright LCD so you can easily see the images you’ve shot.

There are a ton of other features, but overall, I give the D-3000 two thumbs up. It’s a sweet camera that is capable of taking images every bit as good as the best cameras out there. Congratulations.

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New courses for beginners

I’m just adding new dates to the course schedule. If you’ve been shooting in automatic with your digital single lens reflex camera now is the time to move into the more creative modes and take control of your photography. In our digital camera basics course we’ll look at what happens when you shoot in automatic and what you can do when you start to use the pre-sets. One thing I can guarantee is that by the end of the course you’ll be taking radically better photographs.

BTW if you and three of your friends want to create your own custom course I can do that for you at either our Oakville or Toronto location. Email me at peter @ peterwest.ca for details.

Dates of our beginners’ courses are Feb. 27 and March 10 in Toronto and March 31 in Oakville.

Street shooter

In Canada and the United States, a photographer generally can shoot whatever they want without asking for permission from anyone. That’s the basis of street photography and my life-long career (on and off) as an news photographer for over 40 years. So long as you are using the images you take for artistic or editorial purposes (and not for commercial purposes where you get paid for your work which will appear in a publication or online) you’re safe and you don’t need permissions or model releases or anything.

In Canada, so long as you are on public property (like the street) you can shoot anything you can see (including kids, pedestrians, the poor, people being arrested, dead folks…well you get the idea).About the only people who are protected are individuals being arrested under the Canadian mental health act (although that can be tough to determine on the street. BTW you can shoot images of juveniles getting arrested you just can’t publish them if they could identify the youngster.). About the only way someone can successfully sue you is if you publish a photo that holds the individual up to extraordinary ridicule or derision. This is really hard to do even if you’re trying so I wouldn’t worry about it.

Here in Toronto, Sam Javanrouh runs a website called the Daily Dose of Imagery. Sam is one heck of a photographer and he describes his street-shooting experiences on the streets of Toronto in this blog post. If you’re interested in street photography then hang around. We’ll be heading out into the mean streets of Toronto as soon as the weather warms up and you can join us. More details to follow.

More free stuff

Here’s a link to PhotographyBB, the free online magazine. This is issue number 24 of the PDF download and it’s one of their best. Among other great topics is an excellent article on using negative space in composition. I mention composition because so many of you who have taken my Digital Camera Basics Courses Part I and II have been asking for a course on what to shoot and how. So I’m working on a composition course right now. And, don’t worry if you’ve already taken one of those instant Saturday morning courses at another photo school. It was my experience that after they showed you a couple of slides on the rule of thirds and talked about it for a few minutes, the rest of the time was spent just watching a slide show as the presenter wasn’t really a professional photographer but a store clerk. And for this they ask a hefty price! Yikes.

At our course, we’ll be looking at composition in the same way professionals setup their photos. When I was shooting for the newspaper industry, it was the photographers who understood composition who sold the most photos and who were always in demand by photo editors. We’ll review some of the best images ever shot. We’ll talk about what worked for you and what didn’t as we review the images. You’ll love it and, here’s a secret, I’ve got a new downtown location that I’ll be announcing soon. Also coming this spring, we will be offering some walk-about workshops with myself and some other top-professional photographers including one photographer who is an old-world master of landscape.These walkabouts will give you actual photos that you’ve shot that you can use in your portfolio (or at least your screen savers on your computer). We might even throw in a dinner at a trendy restaurant as well. But we’ll wait until the weather gets a little warmer.

BTW we’ve been talking so much about knowing who your instructor is going to before you part with your hard-earned cash, one of the bigger photo schools put out a hugely expensive (and your course money went to pay for it) flyer last week that was promoting one of their star teachers. Unfortunately, the ad makes it look like the instructor took the class and wasn’t the teacher. This has got to be hugely embarrassing (not to mention an expensive mistake) but that’s what you get when you get so big that the customer becomes an afterthought. Sort of like letting Curly, Larry and Moe run the show. At Peter West Photo, you just get me and my 40 years of experience as a photographer and teacher. I think you’ll find that’s more than enough and remember, my classes are always kept to just a handful of students so we can offer you personal hands-on instruction.

Radically better photos starting right now without taking a single lesson!!

Thought I’d give myself a challenge this morning. After almost a month of wonderful photography basic classes (and thanks everyone who attended and thank you for your great emails), I thought I’d offer my five killer tips on how to get radically better photos without having to take the time to go to a photography class.* BTW the photo on right is a self-portrait taken during David Tejada’s fabulous Small Strobes-Big Results workshop held last year in Buffalo at the deserted Buffalo Train Terminal Building. Cool place.

  1. Regardless of the camera (point & shoot or digital single lens reflex), get out and shoot at least once a week! Give yourself assignments like shooting a snow-covered scene or taking pictures of the kids. Take a photo of the same scene at different times of the day.
  2. Join a camera club and attend their monthly meetings. Good camera clubs bring in great speakers who will inspire you.
  3. Shoot in automatic! Let the camera do the work while you concentrate on your creative vision. I can teach you the mechanics of photography but I can’t teach you how to see (although courses will help you grow your own creative vision.)
  4. When it comes to shooting get closer – a lot closer. Most people shoot from way too far back allowing for stuff in the background to clutter the image.
  5. Surf the web. There are lots of great photographers who post their amazing images online. Think there’s nothing to shoot around your house and neighbourhood? Go visit Rebekka Guðleifsdóttir’s website. This 30-something photographer lives in Iceland and in 2006 was proclaimed one of the web’s top photographers by the Wall Street Journal. And, this is going to hurt: Rebekka is primarily self-taught. Okay we’ll never shoot like Rebekka. How about Sally Mann? On the edge of 60 Sally Mann has been shooting much of her life. Called the best photographer shooting in America by Time magazine in 2001, Sally has been using 100-year-old wet plate technology (popular during the American Civil War) to shoot images of her children and the landscapes of the American south. (So it’s not the quality or cost of the camera that’s important.) Here’s a link to Artnet which has some of Sally’s images on display.

* Okay so maybe you might want to take a camera class if it’s time to get off of automatic mode and really learn the secrets of digital photography. At virtually every class I teach, someone discovers something amazing about their camera that did not know. Whether it’s how (and why) to shoot in RAW rather than JPG or how (and why) to change the white balance while shooting or how to use exposure or flash compensation, come to one of my classes offered at various locations in the Greater Toronto Area and all will be revealed. If you’ve got a small group of eight or more students we can work out a special price just for you 🙂

Flash for beginners

I got a really nice email yesterday from a new student who is asking about how to get better photographs when using an external flash.

Here are some thoughts:

First, sign up for one of my flash courses. You knew I’d say that 🙂  If you’ve taken one of my basic courses I’d recommend taking te advanced camera course before taking the flash course as you will want to be familiar with shooting in Aperture and Shutter Priority, plus Program and Manual modes. Each mode creates different results when you’re using flash. (BTW some of the big and expensive photo schools in Toronto don’t even teach manual mode anymore as it’s too hard for their junior instructors to teach. That means nobody is teaching you how to shoot fireworks which must be shot in manual mode for best results. What’s with that?)

But even more important than taking courses, play with your equipment. Put the flash on the camera and, just for now, put the camera into “P” mode on your mode dial. This allows the camera and flash to do all the work around calculating exposure. At our course we’ll work with you and your equipment and experiment with what happens in the other modes but for now “P” mode is the way to go.

Once in “P” mode turn your camera on and turn on your flash and take a picture of somebody or something. When I was learning how my SB900 worked on my Nikon D300 I took photos of my favourite girl and I have to admit my favourite girl isn’t my wife,it’s Buffy The Cat. Why? Because unlike my wife who complains about the flash after the third shot, Buffy will let me shoot her all day long so long as I rub her head once in awhile. (This doesn’t work so well with my wife.)

Anyway if you don’t have a cat then get a potted plant and use it as your subject.

And here are some of the exercises:

  1. Take a photo with the flash pointed directly at your subject and look at the results:
  2. Now take a photo with the flash pointed straight up (almost all external flashes will rotate and pivot) and again compare your results;
  3. Same thing, but this time bounce off the side walls and compare;
  4. If you’ve got a diffuser dome or Gary Fong Lightsphere or HonlPhoto flash modifiers try those and see how they modify the light from the flash.

Now if your camera and flash combination will allow for wireless control, you can take really professional looking images by getting the flash off your camera entirely. That’s just one of the professional secrets we reveal during our advanced flash workshop. Not only is it great fun but you’ll learn how to shoot like a pro. This shot was taken at the David Tejada Small Strobe – Big Results workshop when it came to Buffalo, New York last year.

If you can’t get yourself to a Tejada workshop (highly recommended) then wait for this spring when we announce our own small flash workshop (with models and maybe even a lunch) at one of Toronto’s best neighbourhoods for photography. We’ll be doing workshops using studio lights and backdrops as well as workshops using small strobes, real models and both indoor and outdoor locations. You’re going to love it 🙂