'How to take good photos for under $1000'

Discussion in 'Philosophy of Photography' started by TraamisVOS, Dec 13, 2013.

  1. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    Stu's latest blog post:

    http://prolost.com/blog/2013/12/11/how-to-take-good-photos-for-under-1000.html

    I can imagine that some people, especially the online enthusiast photography community, may not agree with what Stu is recommending but I can completely see where he's coming from and I completely understand what he's trying to do with regard to 'the masses'.

    Stu comes from a filmmaking background, particularly in the VFX field, having been involved in a few major Hollywood projects:

    http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0556179/

    He is also a keen photographer and highly skilled when it comes to post-production in both still photography and in filmmaking. In fact he designed and created one of the industry's well known filmmaking colour-grading applications, Colorista, amongst other things.

    It was actually Stu who first introduced to me the existence of 'serious compacts' where I discovered the LX5 before I eventually discovered Serious Compacts and which started my interest in still photography.
     
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  2. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    I do not disagree with the basic premise of the article, but I do disagree with three of his suggestions:

    1. DSLR kit lenses are, for the most part, not all that bad. The latest Canon 18-55 is actually reputed to be quite good. I certainly would not throw it away.
    2. A 50mm lens is not what I would recommend as a first or only lens on an APS-C DSLR. Too long, unless you only intend to shoot portraits.
    3. I do not believe "spray and pray" is a recommendable strategy for learning photography.

    Antonio
     
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  3. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    From having followed Stu for years, I know why he would have said that. It's because kit lenses are usually slow (f/3.5 and slower) and produce deeper depth of field. 'The Masses' who don't know much about photography and are more used to taking photos on their iPhone or smaller cheaper compacts don't have the luxury of shallow depth of field so when they see photos with shallow depth of field, the masses perceive it as better or more professional-looking photos.

    Slower lenses also means less applicability in low light. Most people who use the iPhone or cheap compacts will trigger their automatic flash in low light conditions and they end up getting a cheap flash look in their photos. So using a faster lens will allow more natural light to come into play in darker conditions, leading to fewer deer-in-headlights type shots.

    This is what I believe Stu is getting at.

    See above. A vast majority of photos that 'the masses' take are people photos - selfies, photos of their friends, family, kids etc. That, and the shallow depth of field that people cannot achieve with their iPhones and cheap compacts, makes the fast 50 exactly what the masses perceive are 'better photos'.


    True. Most people aren't interested in actually learning photography though. They just want to know how to make their photos look more like professional photos taken with those big black heavy DSLRs. The positive thing that may come out of this is that eventually some of these people might actually develop a genuine interest to delve deeper into photography beyond spray and pray.

    As Stu said, focus on capturing moments first and foremost.

    Digital photography has allowed me to learn by almost spraying and praying, I was able to learn very fast what works and what doesn't, immediate feedback via chimping. When I was younger and using actual film, I was far too conservative, I was far too concerned about the cost and permanency of film. I didn't learn very much about photography when I was younger and I lost interest in it.
     
  4. Luke

    Luke Super Moderator

    Nov 11, 2011
    Milwaukee, WI USA
    Luke
    spray and pray is exactly how NOT to learn to be a good image maker. It may make one a good editor sorting through hundreds of photos to find the 10 decent ones. Maybe what he meant was that when one sees something worth photographing, it's a good idea to try 10 different shots (different angles, different framings, different DOF, different points of focus, etc.) But the phrase "spray and pray" to me is implying that you are praying one will turn out after spraying with high speed busts all day long.

    I also think the author's implication that shallow DOF makes photos better (or even that people who shoot with cel phones thinking that shallow DOF makes photos better) is injurious to photography in general. I think people should master interesting composition with everything in focus before they even start thinking about composing in 3 dimensions. I think that the average cel phone shooter given a DSLR with a 50mm lens set at f1.4 will be very frustrated at how many of their photos are "all blurry".
     
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  5. john m flores

    john m flores SC All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    Thoughtful editing is a great way to learn though. I've improved over the years simply by taking lots of images, editing carefully, and then thinking about what made the chosen images better. Next time out, I had that knowledge with me.

    Agreed. The fundamental premise appears to be Shallow DOF=Good and that's a gross oversimplification.

    I did a motorcycle photo workshop last summer, riding around Western NC with a bunch of folks, stopping at scenic places and helping them take better photos with their cameras. Most had point-and-shoots, but simple tips on composition, framing, and using zoom creatively helped them tremendously, and for much less than $1000
     
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  6. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    The problem with the masses though is that they're not likely to know how to begin doing this.

    Nah Stu knows that good photography involves shallow and deep DoF depending on each circumstance and I have seen photos from him that demonstrates this.

    But for every Bob and Jane off the street who have zero idea about photography, all they want to see is shallow DoF. They have had all the deep DoF they can get from their iPhones. So for every Bob and Jane asking him how he takes beautiful photos, what they really mean to ask if they knew the technical terms is: "How are you able to capture great moments as well as achieve beautiful depth of field and bokeh, in a way that our crappy little iPhones can't? What do you do that is different to what I'm doing with my iPhone?" Or: "Why can't I take those types of photos with my iPhone?"

    That's the question (and demographic) that Stu is responding to and I completely understand where he's coming from.

    He could spend a whole mega blog post explaining the breadth of photographic excellence from Ansell Adams' landscapes with DoF that reaches beyond the horizon, or he could talk about Jeff Ascough's beautiful wedding photojournalism in which he uses shallow DoF and no artificial lighting setups or flash, and he could then write another chapter on HCB who uses the entire photo to frame urban compositions to document life on the street. He could encourage them to go out and try these different techniques and styles until they develop their own style.

    But 'the masses' aren't likely to care. All they probably want to replicate is Jeff Ascough's style (and Stu's family photos) so that they can continue taking their selfies with friends and family. That's what the masses perceive as professional, beautiful, and hopelessly unattainable with their tiny sensors with questionable low light performance and crappy automatic flashes.

    Stu has given lectures in photography (more or less) and colour grading and general post-processing to photographers and enthusiasts. He's certainly not giving them the 'buy a cheap dslr, a fast 50, and spray and pray to your heart's content' lecture. They are a more educated audience.

    Not so for the masses.

    I was hanging out at a bar with a friend and his friends last night and I was asked the same question. This person and his wife had gone to the shops with the intent to purchase a big black DSLR so that they can take beautiful photos of their kids (while they're still young) with blurry backgrounds and clear foregrounds. He didn't use the phrase "spray and pray" but he did describe wanting a camera where he could fire off a few shots so that he can definitely and absolutely capture the moment. I'm paraphrasing here but you get the gist. He said the salesperson sold them a "Canon 9". I suspect it's the G9. But anyway they're not interested in actually learning photography. Incidentally he's bought a huge hard drive to store all the huge multiple files.
     
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  7. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    I think that the author is being fairly specific in that they are recommending a cheap way to get good people photos, hence the "fast 50" recommendation for portraits. The article isn't entirely convincing however. I agree that a basic DSLR is the cheapest way to get this type of lens with this size of sensor, but this statement really has no weight to it.

    i.e. ignore mirrorless cameras...just because I said so.

    Next, I wouldn't be recommending to anybody to shoot either of those two 50mm lenses wide open. Both are pretty awful at f/1.8 and sharpen considerably by stopping down to f/2.8, which will still give a nice shallow depth-of-field.

    Lastly, I don't think that the audience the article would be targeted at will be all that keen in shooting in raw and processing in Lightroom.

    In all fairness, if the article gets someone nicer people pictures that they would with their phone camera, and sells a few of the author's Lightroom presets, then no harm done.
     
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  8. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    I did say this right at the start:

    Because the enthusiast photography community knows better. We have a more developed eye and are more critical of little details that the masses wouldn't know about.

    The masses don't care. Stu's advice to them is exactly what they need or exactly what they want to hear. Post-processing is important in trying to replicate his photographs. And his presets aren't structured to be expensive for mega-profit. He did however develop these presets which are his own and for himself over a long period of time.
     
  9. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    I don't have any experience with the Nikon but I have the Canon 50mm f/1.8, it's not a bad performer at all. Stopping down to f/2.8 will make it a but more difficult in low light conditions where most people are likely to take their photos (in homes, backyards in the evening, dinner parties, bars, etc).
     
  10. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    I dunno.....
    In the 70s, oftentimes, one's first film SLR came only with a nifty fifty :smile:
     
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  11. Jock Elliott

    Jock Elliott SC All-Pro

    Jan 3, 2012
    Troy, NY
    Editing is, indeed, a useful way to learn photography (notice I say this as if I know something about photography :wink:). Particularly with the instant gratification of digital. Look at the photo and critique it: does it do what I intended it to do? Does the result square up with the reason I took the photo? What could I do to improve this photo? and so forth. I have a tendency to fall in love with whatever my latest effort was, and I find it useful to revisit "favorite" photos some months later and re-critique them.

    Shallow depth of field can be a powerful tool but it can also be a Cheap Trick to compensate for not particularly wonderful composition.

    Speaking strictly for myself, lately I've been trying to move away from "rules" about photography (except for take a camera everywhere) and I have been trying to operate more out of my heart, taking photos that move me.

    Cheers, Jock
     
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  12. ajramirez

    ajramirez SC All-Pro

    Jul 9, 2010
    Caguas, Puerto Rico
    Antonio
    Yes, but on a crop sensor (APS-C for example) it's the equivalent of 75-80mm, which is a short telephoto. Great for portraits, not so much for general use, IMO.

    Cheers,

    Antonio
     
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  13. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    You know...
    I remember a Micro Four Thirds user/owner criticizing a Nikon 1 shot of mine because of it's "small sensor shallow depth of field".....
     
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  14. RT Panther

    RT Panther SC All-Pro

    Dec 25, 2012
    Well,
    The DX (APS-C) Nikon 35mm ƒ1.8 is a hair under $200 bucks....:biggrin:
     
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  15. john m flores

    john m flores SC All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    If the target audience is the masses, and the subject is portraits/candids, my three tips would be:

    1-make sure there aren't telephone poles coming out of their heads
    2-make sure there aren't harsh shadows on their faces
    3-don't line them up against a wall like they are in a police lineup or have their heads below the center of the frame.

    Those tips alone would improve 99% of snapshots. And I won't even charge $1000 for them. Just a coffee. And a donut.
     
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  16. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    (PS. I bought an A7 yesterday.)
     
  17. Luckypenguin

    Luckypenguin SC Hall of Famer

    Dec 24, 2010
    Brisbane, Australia
    Nic
    You clearly weren't taking old mate's advice about spending less than $1000 then :smile:
     
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  18. TraamisVOS

    TraamisVOS SC Hall of Famer

    Nov 29, 2010
    Melboune, Australia
    Bah that two-bit advice about cheap DSLRs and even cheaper 50s? ;)
     
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  19. john m flores

    john m flores SC All-Pro

    Aug 13, 2012
    LOL. Leave that advice to the hoi polloi!
     
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  20. Tilman Paulin

    Tilman Paulin SC Top Veteran

    681
    Nov 15, 2011
    Dublin, Ireland
    That's exactly it in my opinion.
    When creating a photograph, you want to guide and direct the viewers' eyes to the important areas of the image. This can be done with composition, colors, light and darkness, sharpness and softness, ...
    From all these "techniques" shallow depth of field is the easiest to use. It doesn't require the photographer to take many creative decisions (like lighting or composition), and it's applicable everywhere, no matter what the environment is.
    So in a way it's a great tool, but it can also prevent you from learning "that other stuff"...

    What my VFX colleague Stu describes here, is a very technology-driven recipe, that might work for a lot of people. But it's not the be all end all way of doing things...

    For me it wouldn't have worked at all. My photography improved leaps and bounds when I moved away from a DSLR to a small, pocketable camera that I could have with me all the time. This was the original Sigma DP2. (And I'm fully aware that the DP2 isn't a camera that would work for everyone, just as DSLRs aren't for everyone :)

    But... the internet is the place for easy recipes... not for differentiation and "this might work for some of you... or you could try that..." :)
     
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