Gerty PhilosophyThis is what I know for sure:
No-one gets to the end of their days and wishes they'd invested less time in their family.
Gerty Photography was created to help my clients fashion a visual expression of their family love.
I believe in service so friendly that every client feels like part of the Gerty family. I love meeting new people, and I know that it's an honour to be invited to be part of your family and life.
I want every client to feel like my favourite client.
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Tag Archives: tips
My son Will went for his first train ride the other day. He is mad keen on Thomas the Tank Engine, and excitedly points out any and every passing Thomas when we’re out driving. So to actually go for a ride on Thomas was an exciting and momentous occasion! I wasn’t going to take my “good” camera, but thankfully Bruce gently pointed out that I may regret it later on…
As I was editing the photos, there were a few that stood out as “perfect moments”. When all the elements of focus, timing, facial expression, exposure and background came together in 1/125th of a second. It gave me shots like this, which I love – they’re not all that timeless or award-winning, but they really show off Will’s gorgeous personality.
When I look at the photos taken either just before or after these moments, most of them are actually quite awful! Closed eyes, weird grimaces, etc. etc.
But if you want to increase your chances of catching those perfect moments when photographing your own family, here are my tips:
1. Take lots of photos
Digital media is really quite cheap, so there’s no reason not to take several frames. Just don’t forget to go through and cull them later, and only keep the winners.
2. Wait for it
If your kids (or other subjects) are about to do something photo worthy, get yourself in a good position, and then wait. Don’t just snap a quick shot and consider it done – wait for the cheeky smile, the superhero pose, the quick flash of personality.
Having a DSLR will help greatly with this – when you press the shutter, it takes the photo without delay. Often compact “point and shoot” cameras have a lag between the moment you press the shutter and when it actually takes the exposure.
3. Photograph unscripted
Will loves having his photo taken (thankfully!), and will happily jump in front of the camera when I want to take his photo. However, when I ask him to smile for me, this is usually what I get:
Believe it or not, that is the same kid! Those first four photos were not a result of any direction or encouragement from me. In fact, running along the train platform is exactly what he was told not to do! I’ve found the more I try to direct him (and almost every other child I’ve ever photographed), the more I just end up with high blood pressure and dodgy photos. You need a ton of patience, a little bit of luck, and a big memory card.
4. Know your settings for proper exposure
If you’re operating a DSLR on anything other than auto, you need to be confident in your settings before you start shooting. Getting it right quickly only comes with time and practice practice practice, but you’ve really got to be on the ball to capture these things that happen in the tiniest fraction of a second. And don’t be discouraged – for all the winners that make it to my website or facebook page, there are thousands of shots that didn’t make the cut and will never see the light of day.
If you’re getting disappointing results on Auto settings, or you’d like to learn more about taking control of your camera, you can contact me here to enquire about one-on-one mentoring.
Back in the day, I remember being told that you should stand with your back to the sun when taking photos – the idea being that the sun will be hitting your subjects and lighting them up nicely for the photo.
However, we all know that sometimes this can produce some serious squints and harsh, too-bright light.
So, where do you put the sun??
Here’s my top tips for lighting your subjects using natural light (sunlight) in three different scenarios:
1. BRIGHT SUN, IN THE MIDDLE OF THE DAY
If you can, I suggest avoiding taking your photos in full sun. However, often we grab our cameras to capture spontaneous events that are unfolding – we can’t always control when or where these things happen, or where the sun is positioned at the time.
If you can, move slightly to the side of your subject, so the sun isn’t hitting them directly in the face. In this shot, you can see the bright sun is hitting the bride’s left side, and doesn’t cause her to squint, or create an unpleasant shadow on her face.
You can also try to block the sun using another person or prop. For example, this was taken in bright sunlight with no shade around, but I used the groom to stop harsh shadows and bright spots on the bride’s face.
If you don’t have much shade, you can still get great results by taking your photos either early in the morning or later in the afternoon. The hour before sunset is known as “golden hour” and gives a beautiful warm glow to photos.
So, if you must take photos in the bright midday sun, try positioning your subjects with the light hitting them from the side first. Most point-and-shoot compact cameras do a pretty good job of handling this type of lighting.
2. OPEN SHADE
For soft, even light that doesn’t cause harsh shadows, find a spot that provides nice even shade. You want to avoid the dappled/spotty light that comes through trees, so look at your subject’s faces before you take the photo and make sure there are no bright spots.
There are often lots of places to find suitable shade – the side of a building, under a veranda, indoors (more about indoor photos in a future post), a dense leafy tree, etc. You can even wait for the sun to go behind a cloud if the weather cooperates.
This is my favourite type of natural light for shooting portraits – here are a few examples:
This is the easiest type of lighting for compact cameras to handle, because there is a smaller difference between the brightest area of the photo and the darkest.
3. PUTTING THE SUN BEHIND YOUR SUBJECTS – BACKLIGHTING
If you have a D-SLR or a compact that allows you to manually choose your settings, and you’re comfortable with doing that, you might like to try backlighting for a more dramatic look. Backlight is definitely not something to be used for every photo you snap, but it can look gorgeous, and I also find it handy in some tricky lighting situations.
The most important thing to remember when backlighting is to ensure you are choosing the correct settings so that your subjects are properly exposed.
In this bridal portrait, the main light source is behind her coming through the lace curtains. This makes the curtains very bright, but the bride is properly exposed. I love the gorgeous glow that backlighting gives.
A big benefit of backlighting is that there are no harsh shadows on your subject’s faces, and they’re not squinting into the bright sun – and it can be used at any time of day.
You can also get dramatically different results, depending on whether or not the sun itself is in the photo. These two photos were taken only seconds apart, but I just altered my position slightly, and allowed the sunlight to “leak” into the shot, creating a lovely hazy glow.
These shots of my son at the beach, taken during the golden hour before sunset, are totally backlit, and they also highlight how different a shot can look when the sun is included in the frame.
The reason that compact cameras don’t handle backlighting very well is that they look at a scene and try to give the correct exposure for the entire scene. This usually results in very dark subjects in backlit photos. When you take a photo with the sun shining towards your subject, both the person and the background are equally lit, and your camera gives a good result. If you’re confident with manually manipulating your settings and/or metering method, use spot metering on the subject’s face for backlighting.
If you have a question you’d like answered about taking photos at home, let me know in the comments!
I am really looking forward to Christmas this year – even though Will will only be 11 months old, there’s a whole new excitement when there are kids to celebrate with. I have very fond memories of large family Christmas gatherings with cousins, aunties, uncles and grandparents – a tree swamped by presents for eight children, more food and lollies than I was usually allowed in a month, taking up a whole row at church (or half the church, if we were visiting my grandparents’ church!). The first year I moved out of home, I went back and stayed at my parents’ place on Christmas Eve, just so I didn’t miss out on getting a stocking on my bed in the morning.
Christmas is a special and important time for our family.
I was a little late getting our Christmas tree up this year. With a bit of strategising how to keep small 10 month old hands away from it, we finally got it decorated yesterday.
If you would like to take similar photos of your tree, you will need:
- A tripod (or other method for stabilising your camera)
- A DSLR or compact camera that allows you to manually choose your settings
- Ideally, a remote shutter release or the ability to set a self-timer
To get the little starbursts of light, you’ll need to use a very narrow aperture (hence the long shutter speed and therefore the need for a tripod). My settings were:
- Shutter speed: 25 seconds
- Aperture: f16
- ISO: Between 125 and 250
- Manual focus for the close-up shots
Using a remote shutter release (or setting your self-timer so that the shot is taken a couple of seconds after you hit the shutter), will make sure the camera stays steady for sharp photos.
My fairy lights have frosted, speckled caps over them, so it looks like only those directly facing the camera achieved the starburst effect that I was going for. Your lights may give you a different result.
I’d LOVE to see pics of your tree – you can share them on Gerty’s facebook page here. If you have any questions or would like more detailed instructions, please leave a comment below.
Merry Christmas to you and your family!
I have been enthusiastically taking photos for a long time with any camera that was handy. When I first got my SLR some years ago, I went walking around Brisbane CBD taking photos, primarily of buildings & the river views.
I ended up chatting to a homeless man outside McDonald’s for quite a while and hearing his life story. Not surprisingly, it was quite sad; but he was very optimistic, and I think he just enjoyed having someone to talk with. He asked me to take a photo of him playing his harmonica, which I snapped quickly and without much thought to the technical or artistic aspects of image making. He gave me a little beaded crocodile on a key-ring to say thank you, which now hangs on my camera bag. I kept a print of his photo in my bag when I was around the city for a few months, but never saw him again.
Someone else’s experiences with taking photos “out and about” reminded me of this man the other day, and prompted me to re-visit this photo. Essentially, it is one of the first true portraits I ever made. It isn’t anything photographically spectacular, but it reminds me that every image tells a story, and everyone has a story to tell. I will always have fond memories of this day.
Do you have a special woman in your life? Is she the one who is usually taking the photos in your family? Are you looking for a winner of a Christmas gift idea?
A portrait photography gift voucher is your answer.
It could be a family portrait, a couple’s portrait of the two of you together, a mother and daughter portrait (think of all the mother-in-law brownie points you’ll get!), or a pampered session just for her (think day spa, hairdresser, then photo session!). How long has it been since she’s had gorgeous photos taken?
Gerty Photography vouchers are available for any dollar amount, or for a particular session and package (so she doesn’t need to know how much you spent). Get in touch today to have your beautifully wrapped voucher ready in time for Christmas.
You’ve been through the process of selecting a wedding photographer. All the hard work’s done, right? The photos will now take care of themselves!
If you’ve been to any number of weddings, you’ll know that some have the wow factor, and some kinda don’t. I believe it’s all in the attention to detail – how each part of the wedding comes together in a complimentary and thought-out way. My friend Sarah creates stunning wedding stationery, and she shows it off by demonstrating how a style and theme can be integrated into a beautiful event that exudes personality from the moment you open your invitation to the last look over your shoulder as you leave the reception.
Your wedding photographer is in charge of capturing your wedding day as it happens. You are in charge of making it happen the way you want it to.
Here are some ideas to help you make the most of your wedding photography.
One: Pick the Right Photographer for You
We’ve covered how to do this, but it’s still worth mentioning here.
Two: Plan the Type of Photos You Want
A photo-journalistic approach is very popular these days, and it seems like all the cool couples are asking for it. What does it really mean? A purely photo-journalistic style will mean your photographer is in the background for the entire day, documenting whatever happens. They don’t pose you, they don’t interrupt, you don’t need to spend time away from your guests, and you get a great record of your wedding day. Sounds good? Maybe.
Most of the classic wedding portraits that you see on photographer’s websites are created during a mini session away from your guests. If you want these type of photos, it is important to plan your schedule to allow some time for this to happen. Don’t forget to allow for travel to/from/between the locations that you want these photos taken.
If you never leave your guests, you’re probably not going to get many of those really gorgeous photos of you and your new spouse. You will always have someone in your personal space wanting to hug, kiss and congratulate you. I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with that (it’s the whole point of inviting everyone to your wedding!), but if you want that stunning couple portrait on your wall, you may want to reconsider a purely photo-journalistic option.
Lots of photographers (myself included) combine a bit of both. You don’t have to regress to the 80′s, stand-up-straight-and-look-at-the-camera-under-a-floral-arch kind of thing. Portraits that are “posed” by your photographer don’t have to look fake or staged.
Three: Make a List of Family Combos
This is what I affectionally refer to as the “herding cats” part of the wedding. Usually sometime between the ceremony and reception, the family group shots are taken. With two sets of extended families (and sometimes more), arranging all the family combinations is often quite a time-consuming part of the day. The last thing you want is to wave goodbye to your photographer, and then realise that you forgot to get a photo of the two of you with Great Aunt Bessie, and she’s not going to be happy.
So sit down with your guest list, and write out every single combination that you want. Super hot tip – write each combo in this format: “Bride, Groom, Bride’s Uncle Joe Smith, Bride’s Aunty Sue Smith”. Got it? Relationship to who, first name and last name. Why? ‘Cause it’s much more effective for the photographer to be calling out “Where’s Joe Smith?” than “Where’s the bride’s uncle?” when you’re pressed for time.
Four: Designate Runners Who Will Do Their Job
Another one about the family combos – pick a runner from each side of the family who can rally the troops for your photographer. Ideally you, your new spouse and your photographer will not move much during the family session, so your runners can gather up the necessary people for you. Pick someone who knows who all the relevant family members are, who has good attention to detail, and who is committed to helping you out. If you stress the importance of their role prior to your wedding day, you’re more likely to get the results you want, ’cause they won’t be distracted elsewhere.
Five: Don’t Overdo the Family Combos
Last one about the family shots, and this can be tricky. You don’t want to leave anyone out, but you don’t want to have a list of 40 combinations that takes over an hour to get through either. Consider what the important combinations are, and perhaps rather than leaving people out, combine a couple of groups into one shot. And try to not have three variations of each shot (i.e. bride & groom + group; bride + group; groom + group).
Six: Scope Out Your Locations
Go to the places where you want your bridal party portraits to be taken, and have a look around for spots that you like. If you’re really keen, go at the same time of day as your photos will be (close to your date) and look at the light. Sound strange? You don’t need to analyse the specifics of the lighting (your photographer will do that), but a lovely shaded area might look fantastic at midday and be dark and shadowy at 4pm.
Your photographer might be happy for you to take quick shots on your mobile and email them through so they have an idea of the specific spots that you like. Wedding shoes can be killer, so try to plot a course that doesn’t have you tripping back and forth all over the place.
Seven: Don’t Worry Too Much About the Camera
Nothing kills the atmosphere of wedding photos like fake, awkward smiles. Remember why you’re there – you’re madly in love and preparing to spend the rest of your life with this person. So look at them like you love them! Your photographer might have different ideas about what they want you to do, but I like couples that have lots of interaction, eye contact, and shared laughs. It makes for natural expressions and a better representation of the emotion of the day.
Eight: Don’t Hide Your Dress
If you’re carrying a bouquet, try to rest the middle of your forearm on your hip bone (I’ll wait while you hop up and try it…) so that the flowers don’t cover the beautiful bodice of your gown. Bouquets can be heavy, so often brides will hold them with their elbow at 90 degrees, which can really detract from the focus of the image – you! Obviously this doesn’t work for all styles of bouquets, but it’s a good one to remember. Share that one with your bridesmaids too.
Nine: Allow Enough Time
It’s entirely up to you how much variety you want in your wedding images. Some people are totally happy with just one location and a few “keepers” to go on the wall, but most aren’t. Finding a location that offers a range of settings is ideal. New Farm Park is a great example – you’ve got beautiful gardens, river views, and a bit of urban with the Powerhouse. Without having to drive anywhere or walk too far, you’ve got a huge range of options for photos. So think about what you’ll be happy with , and then work with your photographer to create a schedule that makes it possible.
If you only remember one thing from this post, remember number 7.
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Choosing a wedding photographer is a big decision.
Your wedding cannot be redone. It’s true that if you’re made of money, you could stage another wedding and use all the same people, props and places. But it wouldn’t really be the same, would it?
After your wedding, your photos are the main memory keeper. You share them with friends, you email them to relatives overseas who couldn’t make it, you flash your gorgeous handmade wedding album in front of every visitor to your home. I’ve read and heard so many horror stories of regret over disappointing (or even non-existent!) wedding photos – it breaks my heart.
So we’ve established it’s important to make a good choice, and that’s what you want to do. The pressure’s on now! How on earth do I choose from the hundreds of wedding photographers out there? Do I even really need a professional?
Here’s my two cents about a few key things to consider when choosing your wedding photographer.
Before you complete this checklist I’d suggest that you build a list of potential photographers based on recommendations from family and friends, and any other data gathering you might like to do. Sites like Easy Weddings are a great resource to help find relevant suppliers in your area.
First things first: Like their style
Visit their website (if they don’t have one, run quickly in the opposite direction!) and have a look at their portfolio. Does it represent a fairly consistent style? Or does it look like the photos were taken by 10 different photographers? Can you picture yourself (all dolled up in your beautiful gown) in the place of the couples in the photos? Ask if you can have a look at one or two “complete” weddings, so you can get an idea of how they document an entire wedding day. Not every photo will be worthy of a 20×30 inch canvas, so make sure you’ve got realistic expectations about the final set of images you will receive.
If you like their style, then it’s now worth investigating further.
Second: Like the person
You will probably be spending a fair chunk of the happiest day of your life with your photographer. Meet them before you book, or at least have a phone conversation – don’t do it all over email. Do you feel comfortable talking to them? Do you feel comfortable talking about your desires and ideas for your wedding? Can you tell that they are really listening to you, and aren’t just imposing their own ideas on you? If you can hit it off with your photographer, it makes you more relaxed, which makes the photos more natural.
This is one of the main reasons I offer engagement shoots – I get to know my couples, they get to know me and how I work, and they get used to being in front of my camera.
So you like their style, you get along great, time to keep ticking off the list. By now your shortlist is probably a bit shorter, but that’s ok – we’re working towards one winner.
Third: Like their price
Figure out your budget and stick to it. You might think it would be in my best interest to leave this one out, but it’s not. If you’re not comfortable with how much you’re paying, it won’t be a positive experience overall. There’s a reason this is third and not first though…
Think carefully about what percentage of your wedding budget you allocate to photography. You really do get what you pay for (almost all of the time). Think about the value that these images, albums and prints will hold as you reflect on them all through your married life. You’ll probably find that the value will greatly outweigh the initial cost.
So far, so good – it’s all coming together. Everyone would love an unlimited wedding budget, but maybe your list is a little shorter now ’cause one or two of your contenders is just out of reach of your bank account.
Fourth: Like their products
Every photographer will offer different “finished products” with their wedding services. If you have your heart set on a particular album style, high-gloss acrylic mounted print, or DVD slideshow, make sure it’s on offer before you sign on the dotted line.
If you’re not sure what you want, look for a photographer who offers a range of different ways to display your images. Most pros will have good relationships with their suppliers too, and will be able to help you with custom requests – it’s worth asking the question so you’re not disappointed later. Most high-end products are only available to photographers, so if you choose a package that includes only a disc of images, you may not be able to DIY the same quality as a good photographer.
Almost there – eliminate any more from your list that you need to, and it’s time for one last step before picking a winner.
Fifth: Like their recommendations
Check out their testimonials or reviews. Maybe ask if you can phone a previous bride to talk about their experience.
Now you’ve got all your info, it’s time to book. Hopefully you’re left with a clear winner!
Ultimately, your wedding photography should be all about you – if you feel comfortable with your photographer, and confident that all your requirements are being met, you’ve got a good start to a successful partnership that will result in images you’ll treasure forever.
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Ok, you read Part 1, and you have a conceptual idea of what you want your new camera to be able to do for you. But how do you turn that list of desires into a shopping list? Here’s a few common things that people would like to do with their cameras, and the corresponding equipment that will make it possible.
If you’re just starting out, you might want to read this article that explains crop factors and how that affects what you see through the viewfinder.
1. I want to get in close to the action, without having to physically get too close to my subjects.
You’ll want a telephoto or zoom lens. For capturing your kids at a moderate distance in the back yard, anything from 100mm to 200mm should be fine. Any more than 200mm gets very difficult to hand-hold without shaking – you’ll need a fast shutter speed, and maybe also a tripod or monopod.
2. I want blurred backgrounds so that my subject really stands out.
There are two ways you can achieve this. With any lens, the more you are “zoomed in”, the closer you are to your subject, and the greater the distance between the subject and the background, the more likely your background will be nicely blurred.
You can also use a lens with a wider aperture – the maximum f-stop number will be a low one (like 1.4 or 2.8). Using these lenses at their widest setting (the lowest possible f-stop value) will help you blur out the background. You can get a great 50mm prime lens for Canon or Nikon that is f1.8 at its widest setting.
3. I want to get really deep blue skies.
You will need a polarising filter. You buy the correct size to fit the diameter of your lens, and just screw it on the end. Circular polarises have the ability to rotate on the end of your lens, which increases and decreases the effect. It’s like buying sunnies for your camera – it cuts glare and enhances colours.
4. I want to take portraits indoors using flash, but my on-camera flash gives me washed out faces with harsh shadows.
A speedlight will help fix this. You can “bounce” the light off the ceiling or other surrounding flat surfaces, to give a nice even light. Speedlights are also a lot more powerful than on-camera flashes, and can also be used in manual modes to give you greater control.
5. I want to take photos of my kids on stage in a dimly-lit auditorium. And I will be sitting 30 rows back.
I hope your credit card is warmed up! You can get fantastic lenses that combine great zoom and a wide aperture, but they don’t come cheap. Often you’ll get a kit lens with an excellent zoom range, but the widest aperture you can achieve is around f5.6. If you really are keen for good results, save your pennies and invest in something like a 70-200mm f2.8.
Something else that will help in low-light situations is a body with a good ISO range. ISO is a measure of how sensitive the sensor is to light. A low number (e.g. 100) indicates a low sensitivity, but will give you the clearest image. A high number (e.g. 1600) indicates a high sensitivity and will allow you to capture images in low light. The trade-off is quality – high ISO = “noise” artefacts in your image. The better quality body, the better it will handle high ISO settings. For example, my first DSLR was way to “noisy” for my liking at anything above 320, so I was really limited. My current camera body performs beautifully even at 1600, giving me tons of flexibility to get great images in all kinds of dodgy light. It is one of my two favourite things about my current camera.
6. I love taking photos of my kids playing sport, but I seem to miss the action shot most of the time.
Most DSLRs have a “burst mode” option that allows you to take continuous shots for as long as you hold the shutter down (until you camera needs a break to copy all the files to your memory card). Look for a camera body that has a high frame rate (it could be anything from 3fps (frames per second) to 12fps. That way you can get your focus right and shoot a few in burst mode. This is also a great way of showing an action sequence.
You’ll also want a fast memory card too, so you don’t get slowed up waiting for the camera to write to the card.
7. I want to take close-ups of bugs and insects.
There are a few ways you can achieve this, but the simplest is to buy a macro lens. They allow you to get right in close and fill the frame with your tiny subject. There are some modification options for standard lenses to make this possible too, but you’ll have to research more elsewhere – I’m not a guru where that’s concerned.
8. Sometimes the kids are just too cute and I want to catch some video of their antics, not just photos.
Quite a few DSLRs now have hi-def video capability built in, so you can switch between still shots and video quickly and easily. Keep in mind that you can only record relatively short snippets (roughly 12 minutes I think, don’t quote me…) as the censor will overheat otherwise. It’ll also chew heaps of space on your memory card, so buy a big one if video is your thing.
9. I don’t want to change lenses, is there one lens that does it all?
Unfortunately, the short answer is “no”. The reason there is such a huge range of lenses available is that there are pros and cons to every lens. Prime lenses are usually fast (have a wide aperture) and sharp, because the optics are designed to produce a great image at a single focal length. But zooms are great too, because you get lots of flexibility in how you frame your subject, without moving your feet. The payoff with zooms is that they aren’t as sharp all the way through their range, and often can’t achieve the same wide aperture that primes can. Lenses like an 18-200mm let you capture a whole range of different shots, from wide-angle landscapes, to close ups from far away (and is a really popular option for travelling). But the quality is just not going to be as good as a lens with less range.
My advice is to find a good balance for your needs: choose a lens of the highest quality you can afford, with the shortest zoom range you need for flexibility, and the widest aperture possible. It’s all a trade off between sharpness, aperture and zoom flexibility – and of course, cost!
10. I want to take photos of my son’s cricket match, but I don’t want to hold a heavy camera all day.
When you’re in the same position for a while, a tripod or monopod will make life that much easier. Unfortunately, all tripods are not made equal, I could write a whole post on choosing both your tripod legs and head. Suffice to say that investing in quality is my top recommendation – putting your expensive camera gear on a flimsy plastic tripod is a recipe for disaster!
For a little bit of weight relief, but great manoeuvrability, a monopod could be a good option for you too – you can change direction and angle almost as quickly as if you were hand-holding, but you don’t have to take the weight. It also provides some stability to minimise camera shake, and doesn’t take up much room.
Two more general hints:
- The kit lens or lenses that come with your camera will be of a comparable quality to the body you choose. So an entry level body will come with entry level lenses, and a pro body will come with a high quality lens. You can buy bodies and lenses separately, but buying a kit is a little cheaper than buying the individual items separately. Often the kit lens is a good choice for first time DSLR shooters, but if it’s portraits you’re interested in, a prime lens can be a good investment. Both Canon and Nikon make an affordable 50mm f1.8, which will give you heaps more flexibility to shoot in low light conditions and achieve a shallow depth of field (blurred background).
- Megapixels actually aren’t that important. When digital cameras first came out, more was definitely better. We started at 1, 2, 3 megapixels, and it went up from there. Now it’s nothing to see 12, 18 or 20 megapixels, even in a compact camera! Bigger pixels are better than many pixels. 10 megapixels on a full-frame sensor is better than 14 megapixels on a compact camera’s sensor, because each individual pixel is much bigger and can capture and hold more light information.
Want to get the most out of your new camera? Check out Love My Camera for a fantastic opportunity to get some pro mentoring!
This isn’t an exhaustive list, so if you’ve got any other scenarios you’d like tips on, leave them in the comments.
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So you’ve seen your friends get great results from their fancy new DSLR camera, and you want to do the same. You love the way you can blur the background to really make the people stand out. You like being able to get in close to the action, without physically having to jump into the enclosure with the lioness and her new cubs.
It’s time to buy your own!
But how do you go about choosing from the plethora of options available for first time DSLR users, and how do you know when enough’s enough?
Here’s my suggested list of top 10 things to figure out before you get your credit card warmed up!
Tip 1: Pick a brand and stick with it!
DSLRs are not like cars. With cars, when you need a new one, you start all over. It doesn’t matter if you’re going from Subaru to Subaru, or Ford to Holden, because it’s out with the old and in with the new. With DSLRs, the brand you choose now is probably going to be the brand you stick with. You might want new features that come out in a year or two, but you can probably get them by buying a new body and keeping your existing lenses. If you change “systems” down the track, it can be super expensive to start all over again. So choose your brand wisely!
An important reason for this is…
Tip 2: Where are you going with this?
Do you just want to take better photos of your kids? Or do you want to be the go-to family photographer for birthdays and events? Do you want to work on your skills and improve over time?
The reason you should think about this now, is that your decision about your first camera can either save or cost you money in the long run. Buying an entry-level, basic DSLR will give you a great advantage over your current point-and-shoot. But if you want to get into the art of photography a bit deeper, you might want to consider spending a bit more now, to give you greater flexibility and creative control later, without having to upgrade your equipment too quickly. And if you’ve chosen your brand wisely, enhancing your kit down the track can be done seamlessly and more affordably.
Tip 3: What frustrates you when taking photos with your point-and-shoot camera?
Think about the times when your point-and-shoot just doesn’t cut it. Does it not get you close enough? Do the shots come out blurry when you take photos of your kids on stage in the school auditorium? Maybe you need a bigger zoom, or a camera with a higher ISO capability. Write a list of “frustrations” with your current camera, and then make sure your shiny new DSLR is designed to address those issues.
Tip 4: What environments will you be taking photos in?
Similarly to Tip 3, try to think about when you take most of your photos, or when you would like to take photos. Sometimes I take a photo with my iPhone and think, “Why on earth did I spend so much money on my camera gear when I can get results like this from a phone???” The thing is, in perfect lighting conditions with the perfect subject, even the most basic of cameras can take a great shot. If you’ve got high hopes for getting awesome close-ups of the bride and groom exchanging vows from your seat 20 rows back, chances are that’s going to point you towards a particular lens (think telephoto!).
Tip 5: What’s your budget?
You can get some pretty awesome equipment for pretty awesome prices these days, but it’s still a considerable investment. Figure out your budget and stick with it. Chances are there’s something great out there that won’t break the bank.
Tip 6: Do you need it all now?
I often tell people who are looking at their first DSLR to get a decent but basic kit that will serve them for their general needs, and play with it for a while. It might be all you ever need. Or maybe you’ll soon start to build a wish-list of features, such as closer focussing to get great macro shots, better lighting for portraits at night-time parties, the ability to turn the sky a deep rich blue that makes your shot look like a postcard. Once you know your camera (and its limitations), then start expanding your kit. If you try to get everything you think you’ll need straight up, you’ll probably end up spending too much money and have a heap of gear that never gets used.
Tip 7: Don’t forget accessories.
When planning your purchase, don’t forget to budget for the necessary extras like memory cards, UV filters (optional, to protect your lens – but that’s a whole post on it’s own!), protective carry bag, lens cleaning cloth etc. Many people are surprised that new cameras don’t come with memory cards, but it’s a bit like buying a film camera and expecting a supply of film to be thrown in. And while we’re talking about memory cards, don’t go cheap on those. I use Sandisk exclusively, and have never personally had a problem with data corruption or lost images.
Tip 8: Plan to protect your investment.
When you get home, before you open the box, make sure you ring up your home and contents insurer and get your equipment added to your policy. In most cases, you will need to specify each individual item as a portable extra (or whatever terminology your insurer uses), so that it is covered when in use outside your home, as well as for theft and loss.
Tip 9: Don’t buy online…
This is a tip, not a rule, but I think it’s super important. For two reasons.
One. The advice and customer service you receive by supporting a local camera store is invaluable. I know that not every salesperson in every camera store is wonderful and knowledgable and helpful, but many are, and there’s just nothing like a hands-on comparison between brands and models to help you decide.
Two. Yes, you can save $$$ by buying from a grey-market importer online. But what happens if you need to make a warranty claim? Many of these sellers offer a standard one-year warranty, but it’s not always a genuine manufacturer’s warranty, and could cost you heaps in time and money getting it fixed by their nominated repairer (i.e. it might be Joe Bloggs up the street, who tinkers with camera gear in his spare time; or worse, back to Hong Kong!).
There is lots I could say about this, but I’ll keep it short: I am not an advocate of going into your awesome local camera store and picking their brains, handling the gear and trying to beat their price down to match an importer (who has minimal overheads and provides you zero service), and then going and buying it online anyway. I know you would never dream of doing that, but I’ve seen it happen plenty of times. Enough said.
Tip 10: It’s not a magic wand (unfortunately).
Your camera is a great asset to help you on the road to taking better photos – you’ve got to like it, be comfortable holding it and feel good using it. Choose something that feels right. But don’t expect that buying a DSLR will anoint you with miraculous powers to turn out professional and award winning images every time. The equipment you use is only part of the story – the rest is up to you. Get to know your equipment and what it can do. Get to know what it can’t do too, so you can find strategies to improve.
And if you and your shiny new DSLR aren’t quite seeing eye to eye just yet, maybe you could benefit from a bit of one-on-one mentoring from yours truly – check out Love My Camera for more info.
PS. For what it’s worth, I shoot Canon and have never had a moment’s regret with the brand.
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