Tuesday, 4 May 2010


I had an odd conversation with someone recently which has stuck with me ever since. I feel awkward even typing this post out, but I wanted to get some of what was said to me off my chest, by listing some of the photography peeves of mine that came up in the conversation (in the way of "I'm surprised you don't do this..." needles), as well as some other little things that I always try and avoid.

On-Camera Flash

Since I received my nifty fifty I haven't switched my on-camera flash on once. I hate it, and the general consensus in the online photography community is that on-board flash is only to be used for ultimate convenience in certain situations. That's not to say that a flash shouldn't be used at all -- certainly, if you have a flashgun mounted on your camera's hotshoe, that is already a step up from the on-board. The great thing about flashguns is that you can set their power manually, bounce the light off ceilings and walls, soften it with diffusers, and even mount them remotely on light stands with softboxes, reflectors, umbrellas etc. Then you're really getting into elaborate and excellent lighting setups which I would never turn my nose up at.

My point is this: on-board flash, even if you can scale it back a little in the settings, will more often than not end up with your pictures being flat, the subjects (especially people) being washed out, the shadows too harsh and unflattering.

Eek! (sorry Mike)

In this situation, I did not have my nifty fifty, and with my kit lens the widest aperture I could manage with this was f/3.5 at the lenses widest angle (18mm focal length). The further you zoom in, the narrower the minimum aperture is. Even with higher ISO (this shot was taken at ISO-800) the camera would have chosen a really slow shutter speed to let in the right amount of light; heck, even with the flash on, it still chose 1/60th, which is considerably slower than I would prefer.


This shot was taken with the 50mm, at f/1.8 and ISO-800. The shutter speed is still pretty slow at 1/30th but despite that you can see that the shot is reasonably well exposed and the shadows are soft and natural. Imogen's skin doesn't look pale, pasty, oddly-coloured and generally scary like Mike's did (sorry again, Mike). In my opinion it's a much nicer shot to look at.

So yeah - where possible, say no to on-board flash!

Prime vs Zoom Lenses

A little information first. A prime lens is one that has a fixed focal length (e.g. my 50mm); in other words, you can't zoom in and out.

There's a very simple reason that anyone would own a lens like this, and that reason is they want a "fast" lens which is affordable. By fast, what I mean is that the lens has a much wider maximum aperture than the affordable zoom lenses. For example, my 18-55mm zoom lens, which came with the camera, has a maximum aperture of f/3.5 at 18mm or f/5.6 at 55mm. The 50mm prime is of a comparable price and has a maximum aperture of f/1.8 -- significantly faster.

It is possible to get fast zoom lenses with maximum apertures of around f/2.8. If you're rich. A Sigma 18-50mm f/2.8 lens retails at around £400. I recently bought a 70-300mm f/4-5.6 zoom lens for £148; a Sigma 70-200 f/2.8 lens will set me back around £800.

Ok, so that's the lead-up knowledge for ya. This inherently isn't my peeve. My peeve is when people pick up my camera and rotate the focus ring when it's locked in to Auto Focus, thinking it's the zoom ring, then either don't listen to me when I tell them not to and continue to do it, or look at me as if I'm crazy to own a non-zooming lens. Ste rightly told me to stop letting people hold my camera without telling them this first but sometimes they just see a shiny toy and want to play. If the focus ring is locked in to AF and they move it, they can potentially damage the mechanism.

Know Your Settings!

I don't deny that people can take great shots in any number of scenarios, but I stand by the belief that they will mostly luck into them unless they at least KNOW what each of their camera's settings is for. Even if you shoot in Shutter Speed Priority or Aperture Priority, you should know why and how the shutter speed or aperture you choose will affect the rest of the camera's settings, so you will understand the resulting shot and know how to correct it in-camera if anything is wrong or not to your liking.

And remember that shallow depth-of-field is a side effect of opening the aperture, even if most photographers use this feature intentionally. The main purpose of a wider aperture is to let in more light.

A Big Lens Does Not a DSLR Make

Just because your camera has a big lens on the front doesn't make it a DSLR. Conversely, just because my camera is small doesn't NOT make it a DSLR. The presence of a reflex mirror behind the lens is what defines a camera as SLR or not. SLR doesn't necessarily mean better, it's just a definition of the type of camera.

Don't Use Your In-Camera B&W Setting

Why any serious photographer, amateur or not, would do this is utterly beyond me, but turning a shot from colour into black-and-white should always be done in post-processing. Otherwise you have no control over the shadows and highlights, and your shot will come out looking flat and dreary and your skin-tones will be dull.

Editing Shots is Part of the Process!

If you think professionals back in the darkroom days didn't perform any sort of processing techniques to get the results they wanted, you're out of your mind. Each person is entitled to produce whatever photographic results they want and the level of post-processing they apply is up to them -- it's a creative artform and it's all very subjective.

However it does irk me when people look down on post-processing as being impure. Get over yourselves! I've looked over some of the shots of these purists and let me tell you, they needed a lesson in post-processing, especially when it comes to the Unsharp Mask.

Recently I saw a really pretentious discussion where the purists accused the Photoshoppers of essentially cheating in a contest, because their expensive software package gave them an unfair advantage. However, open source programs such as The GIMP, GIMPshop or dozens of other free and online editing software packages are so easily available as to totally nullify that argument.

Beauty Really is in the Eye of the Beholder

Just because you don't like my subject matter doesn't mean it isn't relevant to me or someone else.

sigh... I think I'm done.

For now.


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