person holding a dslr camera

Mastering light in photography

Mastering light first is a smart move

Yes, size does matter in photography but before you get too excited about how big your megapixels are, it’s smart to think about the destination first.

Friends, family and colleagues often ask me to recommend cameras for them but before I answer, I  usually ask what he/she wants to do with their images.

There’s no point spending $900 on a Canon 60D Digital SLR with its 18MP sensor when the photos will go no further than social media where web size images at 1024 x 768 pixels and 72dpi will suffice.

A Smartphone camera such as the 8MP iPhone 5 with its f2.4 aperture is more than adequate for web use and small prints up to 4″x 6″.

When used by someone with a keen eye for unique subjects, composition and lighting, Smartphones can produce good images. As technology improves, the colour and sharpness of Smartphone photos will get better.

Smartphone cameras shouldn’t be discounted as legitimate cameras – my Instagram profile photo is a selfie taken with an iPhone 5 in natural light and no Photoshop tweaking. Check out Digital Photography School’s tips on how to take better Smartphone photos.

So, if you simply want an entry-level camera without spending hard-earned cash before knowing what you want from a camera, and if you own a Smartphone, then I suggest using it to brush up on composition and natural lighting techniques before shopping for another camera. You won’t spend a cent over your normal phone service costs (unless you print the images) and you’ll gain valuable skills in the process.

If you want bigger prints, to create photo books or have your images on canvas or acrylic wall hangings, then you will need a camera with more grunt.

Compact cameras will handle prints up to about A4 but for mid-size prints at least an entry level SLR such as the Canon EOS 60D would be a better option. To successfully print canvasses and poster or billboard size prints, or to sell to magazines, a professional SLR camera is needed.

With compact cameras, there are some fantastic models on the market now. Industry talk is that as technology continues to advance, these cameras (and Smartphones) will take over from the current entry level SLRs while the high-end professional cameras will also continue to advance.

I have two compact cameras – Panasonic Lumix TZ40 and Nikon Coolpix P330. (Later Nikon Coolpix models are now on the market.) Both cameras are fantastic for family outings or dinner parties when I don’t want to lug my big camera around, or if I don’t need large prints or wall hangings.

Of my two compacts, my favourite is the Lumix TZ40, except it doesn’t do RAW which allows for ultimate post-processing control. The Nikon Coolpix P330 does RAW but for people who aren’t into post-processing with software such as Photoshop, RAW isn’t necessary.

The Lumix TZ40 is billed as an ideal travel camera. I bought an earlier model for an overseas trip in 2012, leaving my Canon EOS 5D Mark II at home and found the experience liberating.

The compact camera did most things I wanted and as I wasn’t planning to use the images any larger than needed for an A4 photo book, I found it better to travel light. Unfortunately I lost that camera at the Arbi Darbi airport on the journey’s home leg, but thankfully it was the compact camera and not my Canon EOS 5D Mark II!

To compare the key features of the Lumix and Coolpix:
• Panasonic Lumix TZ40 ($330) – 18.1MP; f/3.3-6.4; 20x optical zoom lens (24-480mm 35mm equivalent), providing wide angle and telephoto shooting options.
• Nikon Coolpix P600 ($498) –16.1MP, f/3.3-6.5; 60x wide optical zoom (24-1440mm 35mm equivalent), providing wide angle and telephoto shooting options.

When it comes to brands, my personal cameras are mostly Canon and while I don’t mind indulging in friendly banter with my Nikon friends on what brand is better, the reality is both Canon and Nikon are excellent brands, as are many others.

My workhorse is the Canon EOS 5D Mark II with Canon 24-105mm f/4 IS USM lens. I have other lenses too but this is my favourite all-rounder.

However, without a good working knowledge of composition and light, don’t waste money on a professional SLR camera – the tool itself won’t make you a better photographer. It’s what you do with the tool that counts!

There are plenty of free tutorials online, such as Digital Photography School, from which to learn.

To quote Matt Hardy: “Beauty can be seen in all things. Seeing and composing the beauty is what separates the snapshot from the photograph.”

Another favourite quote from an unknown author is: “Amateurs worry about equipment, professionals worry about money, masters worry about light.”