So you’ve gone out and dropped your hard-earned money on one of those exotic lenses you see in the credits of the images you want to emulate. Or you’ve upgraded to the latest gigapixel SLR because you want your images to realize their full potential instead of plateauing in the “not quite” category. Yet somehow, after all the money you’ve spent, you’re less than thrilled — in fact, your images actually appear worse!
Well, the reason is obvious, of course. You got a bad copy of the lens. Or your camera body has a focus issue. It couldn’t be you — could it?
Buying Isn’t Understanding
With the huge growth in photographers stepping up to buy SLRs, I have noticed a trend. While the numbers overall are growing rapidly, the percentage of people who understand the physics of photography is dwindling just as quickly.
Let’s face it. We have auto-everything now. When was the last time you saw a usable depth of field chart on a lens? Many of us are quick to jump to the conclusion that any softness in our images must be from a bad copy of the lens and not from technique or exposure settings. After all, it was in PROGRAM; shouldn’t that take care of everything? I mean the shutter clicked, so it must have been set correctly, right?
Many people say they want one of those “fast” lenses so they can shoot in low light or get that great bokeh that they lust after. But few realize what else goes into making all that happen besides the purchase of the lens.
Photography is a balancing act. We are always trying to get the perfect exposure and composition, and to achieve that we have to decide which aspects we are willing to trade. Will you trade a slower shutter speed for more depth of field? Higher ISO to get a faster shutter speed? There are many variables and we need to understand them to know what is happening in our images.
Time to Look in the Mirror
We have all probably seen photographers who are quick to blame their soft images on an equipment problem, never once believing it could have been something they did. While it is true that equipment fails and occasionally bad copies of lenses get past the quality check, I think that more often we should look in the mirror and decide if maybe, just maybe we had something to do with the problem.
One of the great tools we have instantly available to us is our exif data. If you don’t know what that is or how to read it, find out today! Using this data, we can see a whole host of indicators of the conditions under which an image was captured and use that to dissect the image’s problems.
Did you have motion blur or missed focus? Check the exif data to see what shutter speed was used or, in the case of some manufacturers’ software, check the image and look at where the focus point fell. Did you focus on the eye or the nose or the tree behind your subject? With a razor thin f1.2 lens you don’t have room for error, and if your technique isn’t correct, there is not a copy of a lens available to the masses (yet) that will help you.
It’s easy to run to a forum or blog to bemoan your latest gear problems. But you’d probably be better off reading up on the physics and technical side of photography. Learn all you can about how focal length and aperture play into your images. For most of us, it’s likely to be a whole lot easier to get a good return on investment on a $20 book than a $2500 lens.
So next time you feel like cursing at your equipment, take time to look in the mirror instead. You just might find that some small detail has slipped through your thought process to gum up your image-making.