I’ve had this blog post in the back of my mind for a while now. You see, when I show people my work, or when I tell new friends that I’m a professional photographer, one of the most common responses is:
“Oh, those are amazing photos! You must have a really nice camera!”
People often want to compare megapixels, and they’re shocked when their point and shoot has more megapixels than my huge dslr! I also frequently have people ask me to come to an event and bring along my camera, expecting photo magic even though their event is at noon in full sun. Or worse yet, ask if they can use my camera, believing shooting with it will give them beautiful photographs.
Think of it this way, after a delightful meal, you would never tell the chef, “Wow, that was a delicious dinner! You must have a really great oven!” Well, we all know that ovens don’t magically make great meals. Because if they do, I need to find the owners manual for mine!
This is the same in photography, it’s approximately 20% equipment and 80% skill. I do use an amazing camera, and more importantly amazing lenses. And without at least moderate equipment, I would not be able to produce professional quality images. But it’s not a magical camera. My camera doesn’t automatically know how to expose for difficult lighting or better yet find good lighting. My lenses don’t automatically know how to focus on the right spots while blurring the background. I am the one BEHIND the camera that knows how to work in manual mode and how to find good lighting.
It’s kind of embarrassing, but before I got into professional photography, I believed that really great photographers used special filters or special lenses to make skin glow. I thought they had special equipment that was able to deal better with difficult lighting. That their cameras could somehow expose for bright light and shadow at the same time. Because if the camera wasn’t doing it, how else did it happen? And if only I could buy a better camera, my images would be amazing too! But experience has told me that the camera has very little to do with it, and it’s the photographer behind the camera who controls the lighting and how it’s used.
To illustrate my point, I took my dear husband and 2 little ones out to Old Town San Diego one evening during golden hour. The hour where the sun is low on the horizon and the light takes on a warm dreamy color. It’s the easiest time to shoot, but you still have to look around to find pretty lighting. So our experiment went as follows: I handed my camera to my hubby on fully automatic mode and asked him to shoot 5 different photos/locations using our kids as models. Both he and the kids took their paycheck in Jelly Beans, so I figured it was a good deal. So he took the following photos (unedited, only resized and sharpened for web):
I love my hubby dearly. But with a Ph.D. in Chemical Engineering, photography has never really been his primary interest. As far as snapshots, his photos are great! The colors are pretty. The kids are having fun, and the memory of the evening is captured. The problem is that the camera is not magical. It doesn’t know to increase exposure when the subject is in the shadow and there is bright light in the background. It doesn’t know how to turn the kiddos so their faces are not in half sun/half shade. It is an amazing camera, but it doesn’t make amazing portraits with a few simple clicks in auto mode. I’m already planning another blog post where I can suggest ways he could have improved his photos for those looking to take better snapshots, but I’ll save that for another time.
So after he was done with his session, I took a few. Same location, same lighting, same gear, same models. Though the Jelly Beans were starting to send them into crazy mode lol! Here are my 5 favorites (also unedited, only resized and sharpened for web):
Now if you want to say: “You take amazing photos! You’re kids must be really cute!” Please go ahead, but my camera has very little to do with that. I set the kids up in pretty light and I watched my light meter and exposed for their skin. I watched my composition to avoid distracting details in the background. And I set my camera settings so both kids are crisp, but the background is blurred. These are things that don’t happen in auto mode.
The next (and actually more time consuming) part of professional photography lies in the editing. Remember the photos above are all straight out of the camera. Photo editing takes a well exposed photo with good lighting and makes it a professional quality portrait. Editing cannot “fix” a bad image. It only enhances what’s already there. Just for fun, here are my 5 images after a little editing in lightroom and photoshop.
Though hubby’s pics were good, it is amazing to see the difference. So no, my camera is NOT magical. I have just spent countless hours practicing and educating myself. And that is what I want to do for you. I want to capture the best photograph I can of you and your loved ones and edit them to make them EVEN more amazing!
Stay tuned, in a future blog post, I’ll highlight suggestions for taking better snapshots with your own camera, and some quick fixes hubby could have done to turn his snapshots into portraits…