The making of great photographs requires an investment. We need a camera, computer, software and, possibly, we need to attend classes to learn how to use all this equipment.
Should we buy a Mac or a PC? Which camera should we buy — Nikon, Canon, Leica, Hasselblad? Which workshops or photo books do we require? We’ll need to read reviews of these products before making the investments.
However, the No. 1 investment a photographer can make isn’t about gear or training. It’s to invest your time and, as the Boy Scouts put it, “be prepared.”
National Geographic photographer Jim Brandenburg moved to the forest edge in order to have more time photographing wolves and other animals. He wanted to be ready when the time came to make those outstanding photos.
National Geographic photographers and writers usually spend three months on an assignment. They take a break in the middle of the shoot, come home and review their work. This gives them time to pause and reflect, so they can go back and fill in any gaps or expand parts of the coverage.
We can’t always devote three months waiting for great photo ops, but like Jim Brandenburg, we can be ready when the time comes.
How? By always having a camera with us.
Point and Shoot
The problem, of course, is that the size, weight and bulk of the best-we-could-buy camera we own, not to mention the ancillary gear, can make that difficult.
That’s why many professional photographers have invested in point-and-shoot cameras. These small, pocket-sized cameras are as tiny as the old Kodak Disc cameras introduced back in 1982. Today’s point-and-shoots have resolutions that rival the medium format film cameras, enabling you to enlarge to mural-size prints.
About a month ago, I bought a Panasonic Lumix DMC-TZ5 — and I have been busy learning all that it can do ever since. In the process, I have rediscovered the excitement I felt when I first began taking pictures.
It is so small, I now carry it everywhere. While waiting for my food at restaurants, I enjoy playing with the camera’s cool macro mode. It is fun just photographing saltshakers and other small objects on the table. Discovering interesting compositions and watching how the light affects these objects is a joy.
The depth of field is much greater than with larger 35 mm digital cameras. The ƒ-stop of the ƒ/3.3 on my little Lumix (wide open) compares approximately to ƒ/22 on a 35 mm.
On the other extreme, this little camera has a 10 to one zoom! That’s equivalent to a 300 mm lens, and it fits in my shirt pocket. A 300 mm lens for a 35 mm camera weighs six pounds and is over 10 inches long.
At times during the past month, I have wondered why I have all this professional gear at all — because I am able to do so much with this little camera.
Pros and Cons
As I’ve used it more, however, I’ve gotten a clearer sense of the pros and cons.
For example, even with vibration reduction, these cameras are exceptionally tricky to hold steady. A tripod is a great help.
Additionally, for most of these cameras, obtaining a shallow depth-of-field is impossible. My advice: learn to live with it.
The camera manuals are not written as they are for traditional cameras, either. You will need to not only read the manual, but practice what it preaches using all the available functions to discover what each mode will do. These cameras have many modes that take some time to understand.
Having said all this, I’ve found that carrying this camera helps me to see and make photos more often; it fine-tunes the eye.
Of course, carrying a camera all the time can cause some minor problems with your family. As my son joked last night as I took his photo at a restaurant, “It’s like having your own personal paparazzi!”