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Where do I start?
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Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Disagree on 07/03/2013 04:36:38 MDT Print View

Hi Peter and Bob

Just my opinion, fwiiw.

Perhaps I could add that my idea of a P&S is something like a Canon G15. Definitely not a phone camera! It has been argued that such a camera (the G15) is a lot more than a cheap P&S, and I have to agree. Apart from the sensor size, it has most of the features of any DSLR - or more. On the other hand, I can carry it on my shoulder strap and get it out with one hand. So I take a lot more photos with it than with my old SLR.

In practice, I think I take two classes of photos: the carefully set up ones where I use the G15 as a small DSLR, and the on-the-fly ones where more than a few seconds delay would simply lose the photo. Which class gives better results? Hum ... :-)

Other advantages of the P&S approach over the $$$DSLR: much lighter weight, showerproof, faster shooting in bad weather, ...

One other thought, in relation to the sensor size. Since going digital I have never bothered with a print. But I stick an awful lot on the web.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Re: Disagree on 07/03/2013 04:47:36 MDT Print View

The G15 seems good for what it is. However, I have never seen a contrast-detection type autofocus that can hold a candle to a modern phase-detection autofocus like you find on a good DSLR these days. That is in terms of speed and accuracy.


Peter S
(prse) - MLife

Locale: Denmark
Balance on 07/03/2013 06:01:07 MDT Print View

Hi Roger

The G-series are definitely one of the best compacts when it comes to manual control, and yes, if the size makes the difference in bringing your camera or not, then a DSLR loses. But only on that criteria ;-)

Today, a beginner DSLR can be super cheap. There has never been a better time to buy a DSLR. Better yet, get a used one. Very easy to get a bargain, because everybody wants a mirrorless now.


It's probably best to mix and match. Bring the DSLR when creative motivation is high, bring P&S for the rest.

I would practice getting everything right when handling the DSLR.
Give yourself some challenges. Look at other peoples work, and when you see a picture that you wouldn't be able to shoot in auto mode, try and figure out how to shoot that same type of picture in manual mode. A hint...a lot of difficult shots require a tripod... I would actually go so far to say, that a tripod is essential for learning photography.

When using the P&S, i'd focus only on composition. Composition is everything!(auto-mode is good enough for 90 percent of all shots IMO (simplified). Practice moving your body to get the best shot, instead of using the zoom - and get down and dirty!

@Bob: If fallen in love with DSLR once, everything else is a compromise.

Peter S
(prse) - MLife

Locale: Denmark
The Dealbreaker... on 07/03/2013 06:10:55 MDT Print View

I forgot to mention:

What makes even the cheapest DSLR better than the most expensive compact when it comes down to learning photography, is the optical viewfinder. What you see is what you get. Nothing to distract you when all you see is the world through the lens (remember to close the other eye ;-))

Richard May

Locale: Swamplands.
The best camera on 07/03/2013 06:57:27 MDT Print View

My two favorite truisms about cameras:

"The best camera in the world is the one that's with you."
Check out

and also:

"Winter explains that it wasn’t the Hipstamatic-induced visual distortions that he was after in his decision to use the iPhone, it was actually the camera’s informality and lack of presence. ... The informality gave Winter a level of access and improvisation impossible with a larger, bulkier camera."

"It's just a f***ing box." Check out

Edited by richardmay on 07/03/2013 07:18:10 MDT.

Richard May

Locale: Swamplands.
Kicking a dead horse ... on 07/05/2013 08:02:55 MDT Print View

At the risk of kicking a dead horse ... Here are my thoughts regarding the 'best' camera for learning photography.

Peter and Roger are both correct because they reflect different learning styles. People who like things like f-stops, iso, shutter speeds, etc will gravitate towards SLRs and people who simply want to create pretty pictures will gravitate towards P&S.

Nothing is wrong with either approach and both, if followed diligently, will lead down a path towards meaningful, technically proficient images. The P&S learner will eventually realize that, while their images are nice, they could benefit from greater technical proficiency or control. Conversely, the SLR learner will eventually realize that while their images are technically proficient they could benefit from better content.

So, what camera to start with? That depends on the learner's style. The technically minded should go with the SLR, it will be a more satisfying experience. Abstract thinkers will enjoy freedom from technical constraints by starting with a P&S.

In either case, once proficiency and confidence has been developed in their strong areas the learner will face their weakness and either stop there or, work through them. This is what separates the wheat from the chaff.

Dale Wambaugh
(dwambaugh) - MLife

Locale: Pacific Northwest
Re: Where do I start? on 07/05/2013 08:28:17 MDT Print View

I studied photography for years and my favorite way to get tuned up was to go the library, get a stack of books with photos on an area of interest and look at them critically, analyzing the angle of view, distance from the subject, lighting, colors, etc. Books on photographic technology are great if you have questions on how the gear works, but aren't very good for looking at images. The monographs on photographers like Minor White, Ansel Adams, Edward Weston and others are much more inspiring.

Get a stack of old National Geographic magazines and cut them up. Make a photo wall or poster with the images that excite you. Figure out why they excite you and try to duplicate them.

Then get out there and be prolific. When I started, film and processing costs were inhibiting, but with digital gear there is no excuse for not bringing back a good selection of images. Then be critical and analyze your photos as you did the ones you looked at in the books. Be honest. Keep trying. Keep experimenting. Take time and go alone, without the interruptions and obligations of being with others.

It is hard to work in a vacuum. Some of the best photographers I know have a connection to the subject-- they were into a particular kind of wildlife, an outdoor sport, etc.

Another way is to make a selection of subjects to tune into. Go out and concentrate on trees, or flowers, or clouds, or flowing water, or rocks, and tell everything you can about that subject. You need to get beyond "looking" to "seeing." Once you get practiced at looking for these interesting subjects you will have a well to draw from.

It's not about the equipment. Would you rather have an iPhone photo by Ansel Adams or an 8x10 camera shot by an inexperienced amateur? The gear does have limits, but what the camera is pointed at and how it is treated is much more important. The gear does give a "syntax" to the image: the way it records color, lighting, contrast, focus and the rest forms part of the way the photographer approaches a subject. With experience you can learn to use the idiosyncrasies of a particular camera system creatively, just as painters use different painting styles. You can get so tied up in the equipment that you lose the inspiration for the photo, so I think it is best to keep your gear simple. You might try keeping your zoom lens at one setting for the day and learn how to see "wide" or "telephoto". In the old days, I would go out with a camera and one fixed-length lens just to get over the equipment and concentrate on seeing.

In one photo class I was given an assignment to photograph a door-- nothing more. I liked that. Your assignment today is to photograph a rock.

Edited by dwambaugh on 07/05/2013 08:43:08 MDT.

Richard May

Locale: Swamplands.
Re: Re: Where do I start? on 07/05/2013 08:36:44 MDT Print View

" ... Your assignment today is to photograph a rock."

How I wished the forum had a like button!

Josh Brock

Locale: Outside
Im a beginner too!!! on 07/09/2013 15:38:31 MDT Print View

I have been using my DSLR for only the last 2 years and have only shot just over 5000 pictures with it.

I was told to shoot pictures if I wanted to get better.....learning my camera T2i did not take very much time at all.... but I was told to shoot as much as possible and then look at the images and decide what I like and dont like.

If your goal is to have other like your images then I would shoot alot and share and see what others have to say.

I find that Flicker has some good groups to check out. I love the carl ziess lenses So I tend to gravitate toward the Ziess groups. but I can spend hours on flicker looking at other peoples photos, not yet having the guts to post my own. Also some times on Flicker people will post the camera settings used to achieve the image. which is a good starting point. Obviously photoshop can be a big factor

HDR!!!! A lot of people dont really like HDR but I love it. You can make your images unreal... giving them color only seen in movies and dreams. A good place to start with that and in general is "Trey Ratclif-stuck in customs". He teaches a ton of tutorials and is a wealth of information plus if your lucky and somewhere he is you can sign up and do a pohoto walk with him.

If you want to look at some cool lenses and pictures shot with them carl ziess USA has there line up of lenses and with each lens tons of pictures shot(by different people) with that lens.

P.s. I do not have any affiliation with Ziess, Im just a fanboi.

Josh Brock

Locale: Outside
Primes on 07/09/2013 16:08:32 MDT Print View

I forgot you can learn a lot from shooting with primes..... Also typically the image quality is better with a prime. and as others have said the more you have to move around your image to achieve the right shots the better practice it is. But you lose versatility.

Oh and Roger not to jump on the dog pile but I think with the right set up a DSLR can be equally as fast or atleaset make the difference neglidgable. But this set up is not that easy, light, or as cheap to achieve.

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Thanks all on 09/03/2013 19:04:23 MDT Print View

I've yet to order any of these books but plan to this winter when things slow down. I've taken a few suggestions I've received from this thread and have applied them to how I take pictures.

Of those suggestions,

I've increased the number of pictures I take and in turn, more pictures are making the final cut.

When time allows, I take the same picture from a number of angles. I find that when I review them at home, I get a better sense of what I like and don't like.

Mike Oxford
(moxford) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley, CA
Gear and learning on 09/05/2013 16:37:22 MDT Print View

Honestly, the Nikon 5000 you have is actually quite a good camera.

I would start with and go through the lighting tutorials. Much of what you learn in there about applying light artificially will help you "see the light" in the field.

There are a number of good books on photography, but you do not need all the technical aspects anymore. Now, don't get get me wrong, as I'm not saying they're useless, but the percentage of time you'll need those is very small. You see, the gear these days, including that d5000, will do a whole lot for you. What it will not do, and what will set you apart from everyone else, is your composition, subjects, lighting, angle ... all of the artsy stuff. Do you need to know the exact ratio for Rembrandt lighting? Not usually. Do you need to know WHY the stops go f1.4-2-2.8-4-5.6..? Not really.

You WILL need to know the relationship between shutter-speed, ISO/EV and aperture. But you will find this out by playing around and experimenting. Many will say "yes! That shows you need to go read a book!" I say "no, it does not. The book will give you the cold details but the creative warmth and innate FEEL for what it is doing is worth more."

Develop your eye, and the art side. That d5000 won't get in your way for a long long time. And once it does, it has plenty of options and power to take you to the next level. As you start shooting you'll start to wonder, and when you wonder and play you'll seek out that knowledge and learn. By doing it that way, you'll continue to enjoy it instead of thinking "I need to read these 4 books and study all this stuff ahead of time." Talk about a way to kill a passion ...

Have fun, shoot a lot and see what you like. What you love. You may never need the heavy technical aspects. Don't try to do everything at once ... do it all a little. Shoot some birds. Some rocks. Some long-exposures of cars. Join a photography group so you're not trying to play in a vacuum. Invite friends to go along and shoot with you.

You can read all the books you want on how to play the piano, but until you get in there and plink on it, hear it, touch it, FEEL it ... you won't really know how to play. But many play by ear, by feel, and don't need all the super-heavy (and quite often, super tedious) music theory. The same is with the camera.

I suppose the same can be said for backpacking, too. You can read and read and read ... or just get out there and do it.

Once you're hooked, then the studying and GAS sets in ... >:)


Mike Oxford
(moxford) - MLife

Locale: Silicon Valley, CA
Your avatar on 09/05/2013 16:51:21 MDT Print View

As a starting point, do a self-critique on what you like and don't like about something you already have.

Using your avatar as a starting point, what do you like? What do you not like? What do you think would make it better? What is your subject? Can you see as much detail as you'd like? The background...are you happy with it, and if not, what would you change? How about the pose? Clothing? Trees poking in around the edge? The tree behind you?

After that, how would you change it? If you were not happy with, say, the detail in the shirt, how can you fix that? As you start looking at ways to do that, you will notice other things changing. Example: If you have a longer shutter speed to bring out more detail in the dark areas, your lighter background is now blowing out. So if the spread of light is wide, and the camera only captures a narrow portion of the range, how do you bring the two closer in range so that the camera gets the detail in the shirt AND the detail in the background? (possible answers: add lights to frontal, change background, wait for better light so the overall scene is less contrast-y between light and dark, change your clothes to lighter clothes, let the background blow out because you like the look, etc.)

As you start to look at what you like and don't like, more and more, then you will start to plan for the limitations of the camera and the scene.

However, we can read all we want, but since you took a photo (your avatar) you now have an actual, tangible, starting point. Now you iterate, and the more you change the more you learn and the more you will get better.

Good luck!

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Your avatar on 09/05/2013 17:14:40 MDT Print View

"Using your avatar as a starting point, what do you like?

After that, how would you change it?"

One method of improving your photographic results goes a bit like this, and it is one method that I used for my first couple of years in digital photography. Basically, you need to improve your vision.

Take a trip and shoot fifty photos. When you get those home an onto your computer, use a top-notch photo editing program such as Photoshop. Improve your photos to suit your own eye. That first requires you to develop some skills with the photo editing program. It also causes you to focus more on the small details that can make the photos better or worse. After you have done that post-processing for a while, some of it transfers over as vision toward preconceiving the image before the shutter flies.

If nothing else, then this post-processing will alter the photos. Assemble a focus group of family or friends, and then show them various photos before and after. See what they think. That serves as a doublecheck to your own vision.


Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Gear and learning on 09/05/2013 17:24:27 MDT Print View

"There are a number of good books on photography, but you do not need all the technical aspects anymore."

During my first few years in digital photography, I read a number of books on the subject. A few were oriented more toward composition, and those were motivational if nothing else. The technical books mostly had the same problem. They would start off with a summary of the technical photographic basics of exposure, and then they would drift off into a discussion of each and every technical feature that the authors could stuff into the chapters. That wouldn't have been so bad, if the authors had kept them generic and non-brand oriented, but they didn't.

I would be using Brand C, and the books tried to explain Brand N. After a while, that gets old. Eventually I learned just which authors wrote their books around Brand C.


Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Re: Gear and learning on 09/17/2013 08:13:30 MDT Print View

I forgot to "watch" this thread and just read these responses. Thanks gentlemen for the solid advice regarding composition, light, etc. I really appreciate it.

Daniel Collins
(Diablo-V) - M

Locale: Orlando FL
learning etc on 09/21/2013 23:42:47 MDT Print View

I learned as a kid by taking a photo school at about 14 years old.
They loaned me an old Yashica 35 MM and an light meter that weighed more than most P&S cameras do now. Taking a photo required a sequence of actions starting with pointing the light meter at the scene and hoping you were reading the correct part of the scene.
Then there was this little lever on the lens that you used to set the aperture.
Another dial set the shutter speed. You made sure the setting on the light meter matched the ASA speed of the film you were using. Then you did your best to manually focus. Then you pressed the shutter and hit the film advance lever. I built several darkrooms before I was 16, only for black and white photography. And getting the photos turned into actual prints took hours of work and I'm guessing about 50 gallons of water. To this day I can't stand the smell of the chemicals used, and it brings back memories of all of the wasted film I shot trying to get one or two "great" photos.
The point of this anecdote is that you are very lucky to be able to learn in the digital age where results are instant, and cameras reliably do much of the actual work for you.

My advice is to invest in a camera that allows manual settings AND manual focus as well.
Learn these things and what they do (as mentioned above): ISO speed, Aperture( depth of field), shutter speed, white balance temperature, and light source or angle in relation to subject and lens. That's the science part.

Regarding the "art" - learn the rule of thirds (Google- photography rule of thirds).

The rest is up to you - ideas and inspiration are an idividual thing. Use the science part to get the inspiration part accurately recorded in the final product.

And, for anyone who wants to dabble in HDR - it is more often mis-used than not. HDR is a way of recording the range of shadow and light that the human eye perceives, and that a sensor cannot. (A sensor or film cannot do it in one photo, but must combine several). But some of the so-called HDR work is taken to an extreme that is "unreal" indeed, belongs more in the category of digital painting/ fantasy - than photography.

Roger Caffin
(rcaffin) - BPL Staff - MLife

Locale: Wollemi & Kosciusko NPs, Europe
Re: Kicking a dead horse ... on 09/22/2013 00:32:23 MDT Print View

> People who like things like f-stops, iso, shutter speeds, etc will gravitate towards
> SLRs and people who simply want to create pretty pictures will gravitate towards P&S.

Overly simplistic. That leaves a huge gap between the two extremes of SLR and P&S. Do you really think the manufacturers have left that huge space empty? Not a chance!

I started with a non-SLR 35 mm in the 60s. I 'graduated' to an Olympus OM-2N with a range of lenses, and I have a whole shelf of albums of photos from that era (and 2 OM2s and all the lenses, sob). But the (D)SLR is a clumsy beast which has to be cossetted and sheltered, and that did not suit my style of photography. A lot of my photos are taken while we are still moving - often in bad weather. You can get really good photos that way, in a storm on a mountain, but you would never stop and get a DSLR out under those conditions.

I never use Auto, but I do use Program mode a lot. I also use A, T and M modes, and I twiddle the ISO setting too. And I use macro mode a lot as well,and sometimes twiddle the f-stop compensation.
5438 Calochilus paludosus, near Cunio Pt
Calochilus paludosus, near Cunio Pt, 20-Sep-2013


Jason Elsworth
(jephoto) - M

Locale: New Zealand
Where do I start? on 09/22/2013 01:33:14 MDT Print View

The film P&S cameras I have owned had very little control over anything. However, when I got my first digital P&S I was pleasantly surprised to see that I now had a lot more control. I now use an Olympus XZ-1, which I guess you would class as a high end P&S, and it allows me a lot of options for controlling all factors or just going in auto mode. I generally use aperture priority or manual mode.

I had my own small photo business for about ten years and used both digital and film SLRs. However, I have been very impressed with the images from the XZ-1, which I mainly just use online. Unless I am going to take a tripod and invest significant amounts of time taking photos at the start and the end of the day then I just take the XZ-1. In the future I may look at the 4:3 system cameras or the Sony NEX or Fuji X-E1 systems (currently have an Fuji X100, but don't like it that much as a backpacking camera). There are some great options for backpacker photographers now, but unless I have time on trip to devote myself seriously to taking photos then I am generally happy with a P&S.

Richard May

Locale: Swamplands.
Re: Re: Kicking a dead horse ... on 09/22/2013 06:58:39 MDT Print View

That's a pretty flower Roger.

> Overly simplistic. That leaves a huge gap between the two extremes
> of SLR and P&S. Do you really think the manufacturers have left
> that huge space empty? Not a chance!

Simplistic? Yes. But it helps many find direction. Most are somewhere in between and there are cameras that will cater. P&S have manual-override controls but emphasize automatic settings. DSLR's are (largely) the inverse. Knowing what you want helps choose a more appropriate camera. I've met people with DSLR's that really just need a good P&S but made a bad choice because they thought that's what they needed.

> But the (D)SLR is a clumsy beast which has to be cossetted and sheltered,
> and that did not suit my style of photography

Yep, that's why I replaced my DSLR kit with a Fuji X-Pro. I hated the drag the DSLR had become. For me it was the way DSLR's scream "I AM A CAMERA AND YOUR PICTURE WILL BE TAKEN" Also, I never had it on me, so I wasn't photographing as much as I wanted to. The switch changed that.

> I never use Auto, but I do use Program mode a lot. I also use A, T and M modes,
> and I twiddle the ISO setting too. And I use macro mode a lot as well,and
> sometimes twiddle the f-stop compensation.

I don't argue that P&S can't do this. You are a more sophisticated photographer than anyone who is just getting started and are looking back with skill, knowledge and experience. Beginners don't have that luxury. To ask themselves if they are technically minded or not is an excellent starting point, and the right camera will take a student a lot farther.

Personally, I too use a mixed approach, switching between automatic and manual modes depending on the circumstance at hand. Either way, understanding how your light meter works is fundamental to getting an exposure you are happy with. That knowledge is kind of technical no matter how you slice the pie.

edit: OCD fix of quotes. they weren't lining up right... aargh.

Edited by richardmay on 09/22/2013 07:07:38 MDT.