Photography 101

Today’s Globe and Mail has a good article on how to shoot wilderness images. Written by an amateur photographer, the article is worth the time to read….but, there are a few points that need discussion.

First thing is photographing polar bears isn’t easy. Remember the bear is white. The snow is white. If it’s a clear day the sun is bright. And because digital photography is so affected by a technical term called white balance, most of what you shoot is going to come out looking blue. The photo that the editors used to illustrate the article comes from a professional photography site called (These stock photo sites have put a lot of good photographers out of business with their always-available, royalty-free images.) and sure enough the image has a blue cast.

Now in a “tips” section in the article, the first tip is read your manual. I agree only if your manual has a “quick tips” section. Most amateur photographers aren’t interested in all the technical stuff and just want good shots. Reading the manual is okay but most manuals are way too confusing. I suggest read the quick tips section and then go play with your camera for a couple of weeks prior to any big trip.

If you can, take a one-day workshop on shooting or travel photography. If you live in southern Ontario email me about courses I run for amateur photographers.

Tip two talks about shooting RAW. That’s great advice if (A) you know the difference between RAW and JPG images; (B) you have the software to open and edit RAW images; and (C) you are willing to take the time after the trip to work on all the images (all RAW images need editing).

Having said that I use both formats. I shoot RAW when I want images that I can edit in Photoshop (or Lightroom 3 or NX2) and make perfect. I shoot JPG went I want the camera to do all the thinking for me and I can shoot tons of images for showing online. Neither format is best for all things. RAW images can take much longer to record in smaller point and shoot cameras (many of which won’t shoot RAW at all).

Tip three about switching lenses is a good one. When I travel super light I carry a versatile 18-200 mm zoom (wide to telephoto) that covers most of my outdoor shooting needs and a 35mm f/1.8 lens for shooting available light shots or street photography. When I’m out shooting in a serious manner I also bring a 12-24 super-wide zoom, a 105 macro lens and a second camera body plus an expensive carbon-fibre tripod. Now we’re talking a serious amount of camera equipment that weighs a ton by the end of the day. Pack in two flashes and associated hardware and cables and now you’re going to need help.

Tip four talks about changing exposure. Your camera on “Auto” won’t cooperate but it will on “Program” mode or “Aperture” or “Shutter” Mode. If there’s one thing you should learn to do and that’s learn how to change the exposure of your camera. To do this, go take a photography workshop on digital photography. This is the first step toward becoming a much better photographer.

Tip five about don’t panic doesn’t go far enough. I don’t worry at all about water splashing on the camera but I do worry about it becoming submerged. A little rain or splash is tolerable but dropping the camera into the lake or worse, the ocean, is going to kill most cameras. Put a strap on your camera and wear it around your neck….always.

Reduce shake is the next step toward better images. Nobody but advanced amateurs and pros use tripods but that doesn’t mean you can’t find ways to reduce camera shake by leaning against a lamp post or using a fence or wall to help steady your shot. Using a higher ISO when shooting with long lenses (which accentuate camera movement) is a good idea if your camera can shoot high ISO without introducing too much noise in the image.

Research the wildlife. Yes this is good but it’s faster and more effective to hire a pro. Many pros offer one-day shooting workshops in your city or at your destination. The woman who wrote the Globe and Mail article got a lot of great help from the pros on her tour. I’ve conducted photo shoots and been a participant and I highly recommend them. If you want to get better faster then join a local camera club. Clubs often have one-day shooting workshops.

Be critical and delete shots. No. Don’t do this. Buy extra memory cards (4 and 8 gig cards hold a lot of RAW or even more JPG images. I can fill a 4-gig card in less than a day’s shooting while on vacation).

Don’t burn. The suggestion here is to watch for sunburn while you’re out shooting. And watch for exhaustion from carrying too much equipment and frost bite from shooting in cold weather and hypothermia and breaking a limb. In other words, be prepared.

Finally suggestion 10 is “It’s not all about the camera.” Couldn’t agree more. I’ve seen excellent shots taken with a cellphone camera and rotten shots taken with $40,000 digital large-format camera. My wife went to San Francisco with her mum, sister and our niece and took our FujiFilm F-30 tiny point and shoot. This ageing camera takes 6 meg JPG images and the shots she came back with are excellent photos.

She’s taking the images and making a photo book.

It’s not the camera folks.


2 thoughts on “Photography 101

  1. Hi Peter I looked in Friday’s Globe but did not find the article. Do you recall which section it was in?

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