This is the blog for Brett Trafford Photography based in Leek in the Staffordshire Moorlands. More information can be found on the web site, Brett

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Lesson 2- The Camera

When I was a member of a camera club one of the first question I was ask upon meeting a fellow member was, “what sort of camera have you got”, it was a way that they used to judge your social standing in the club. It was as if the better your camera, the better your photography, a real case of size matters.

A camera is a tool, like an artist brush or a sculpture chisel, you should pick the right one for the job, unfortunately the decision normally comes down to one thing, money. So this lesson will explore cameras and try to point you to the best one for you.

Cameras can be split into hundreds of groups but for me they fall into 2 families and 2 types.

First the families, on one hand we have the nobility, film cameras, a long history and at their best unrivaled in quality, but like most nobility now a bit down on their luck. The second family is the nouveau riche, the young pretender, Digital cameras, still fresh and full of life, but mistrusted by the old guard as just being a flash in the pan.

Now the types, the first is the SLR (single lens reflex) or normally referred to as a proper camera. Next the point and shoot camera, sometimes call a compact camera. Both types can be found in both families and can vary in quality and price.

So how to choose, well as I said cameras are just tools, so to know what camera you want, you need to know what job it is needed for, and which camera will do that job the best.

Camera families

Film or Digital, that is the question. With film, even with the cheapest camera, you have the ability to use high quality film, giving an image unreachable in detail by even the best digital cameras. So if quality of image and detail is what you need then film still has the edge, but it comes at a price, everything has to be spot on, you wont know if you have got it right till the film comes back and each time you press that button it costs you money. On the plus side it’s a great incentive to learn to do it right.

Digital, less image quality although it is coming on in leaps and bounds, the cameras are getting cheaper, giving people access to what was only available to the top photographers only 5 years ago. The plus side here is that you see your photo instantly and it cost you nothing to take a shot, I’ve used the equivalent of 277 films in a year that would have cost me £2777 just to see the photos. With digital the image is ready to put on your computer and share with the world, with film you have to scan it, which means a reduction in the quality that gives it the edge.

Film is great and as more people switch to digital you can really pick up a bargain in the second hand camera market, if you want to learn the hard way then this is it, the end result will be a good photographer, but a poorer one as the cost of taking loads of photos will add up.
With digital you will be able to take good photos faster, but its up to you if you become a good photographer, take enough photos and some will work even if you have no clue as to what you have done, the danger is that it is so easy you wont learn how it works, something you cannot afford to do with film.

Camera types

Single Lens Reflex (SLR)

These cameras are what most people think of as a proper camera, they normally come as a body, holding all the working parts, and a separate lens, which is usually part of a group that will fit the body giving different focal lengths (how close or far away the subject looks). These are the cameras you want if you are looking to do a larger range of things, the changing lenses and range of controls you normally get gives you the most scope when taking photos. The big drawback is size and weight, not to mention cost, to carry one of these with all the attendant kit can be quite a chore and can make you stand out, not good in some areas.

Compact Cameras

These start at the very bottom of the scale with disposable cameras, running on to high end all singing and dancing models. Cost equals quality in these, but not always in the picture, the more expensive the better some feature will be, but if that is an important one for you is another matter. Take build quality, you pay more for a metal body and waterproofing, but if you are using it inside you could skip that model and spend the same amount on one with a better lens. Compacts are great for most normal shots, families, parties and holidays, they don’t give you full control, but can go nearly anywhere without you being buried under tons of equipment.

Which is best? There is no best camera; it is down to the job you want it to do. After years working in the camera trade I have seen people throw money at the best kit, when a camera at a fraction of the price would have done a lot better job. Think in terms of cars, a Lamborghini is a lot more expensive than a jeep, but which would you take off road? Cost and quality do not mean it right for the job, the good news is, most of the things you need to take a good picture come from the photographer not the camera. Holding the world’s most expensive chisel will not make you a sculpture, learning how to use one might.

Note on the photos, from top to bottom

Cheap film compact
Film SLR
Digital compact
Digital SLR
Digital compact

Monday, January 26, 2009

Lesson 1-In the begining

Where to start, there is so much information that you need to take a good photo and a lot of it will be personal to you, how your camera works, the right setting for the lighting conditions, how to frame and position the subject and any of a thousand variables that make a photo good. So my idea is to teach you the back ground and basics, so that you can then answer the personal questions yourself.

God is a photographer, near enough the first word attributed to him (or her), were “let there be light” and that is the main ingredient in photography, light. Light and the effect it has on the subject form the back bone of any photo and the correct capture of that light is the main aim of most of the controls on your camera. So I will start with the basic way that light is controlled and captured in a camera.

Imagine the camera is a room; it has a window with both curtains and a wooden shutter. If you open the curtains fully and open the shutter for 1 second, you will let an amount of light into the room. If you nearly close the curtains and then open the shutter for a second, you will let a lot less light in, but if you leave the shutter open for longer you will eventually let in as much light as you had done with the curtains open.

The wall opposite the window is being exposed to the light, the longer you leave the shutter open, the longer that exposure. Technically if the window was a lens, you could tape some photographic paper to the back wall and use it to take a photo, don’t laugh this is really how the first camera worked, although the artist hung normal paper and copied the image, like tracing a picture projected on a screen.

So the controls on your camera basically manipulate only 2 things the curtain (Aperture) and the shutter, the way they vary the length of time the shutter opens or how wide the curtains are, will effect the final photo, but regardless of what camera you have it will always go down to the interaction of just these 2 parts.

Now we have the light trapped how do we get to see it? Traditionally the light fell onto photographic film and a chemical reaction took place, more often now it falls on to a charge-coupled device (CCD) that converts the light into an electrical image by magic. Again no matter what camera you have this is always going to be the end of the road for the light, hitting some form of image gatherer.

One last player in the journey of the light is the thing it comes through to get into the camera, the lens. For most people this is the item that is most over looked and it is the one that can really separate good cameras from bad. Light coming into a room through a window will not form an image on the back wall, that light needs to be gathered and focused by a lens so that an image is seen, the better the lens the better the image. The shutter opens and closes, the aperture does just the same, they either work or they don’t, regardless of the camera these 2 are very much black or white. The lens is the grey one, it can make changes to the light, alter the sharpness and even the colour, exposure if correct will be the same in every camera, but light coming through a lens is different for each lens.

These are the basic players in the drama that is photography, how they interact is going to be the focus of the next few lessons, but to finish up this one the biggest rule to taking good photos.

When ever I show a picture to someone, the first comment I get is usually, “you must have a really good camera”. Yes I have, but, no camera I have ever owned (or ever will) has ever got off its arse, gone out, got rained on, got muddy and wet and taken a picture for me (I really wish they would then I could just sit in the warm reading a book). The biggest single rule, in fact the only one you must do, is to go out and take pictures, its not the camera that counts it is where you get it to. Most modern cameras will capture a sharp well exposed image, that why they are called cameras, it what you point them at that is important. An expensive camera that sits in a bag and never takes a shot will never beat the images captured by the cheapest point and shoot, if that camera is pointed at something interesting. The quality of your images is normally a direct correlation to the effort you put in, look at some good pictures and then think what it took to be stood there, given that you were in the same place at the same time with whatever camera you have, could not you have taken a similar photo?

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Photography course, Introduction

Welcome to the first part of my photography course, the aim of this is to improve your photography and the important word there is YOUR.
Photography is a difficult subject to quantify, it’s part science, part art and part history, you can become a master at the technical side, know all the major photographers and their techniques and still be unable to take a single photo anyone likes. This is because its an art form and when all is said and done, regardless of how the image was captured, it’s the image its self that’s important.
Years ago I started to take pictures to please other people and soon started to hate photography, I had gotten away from one of the basic goals of taking pictures, enjoyment. Once I had realised this I started to shoot images that I liked, the result was I enjoyed it more and took more photos and started to create images that made me happy.

So back to the aim of the course, if you are looking for in-depth technical analysis, long winded historical comparisons of past masters or three rules to make you gods gift, go back to Google. If you want to improve your shots and get more enjoyment out of your pictures then read on.

Back to the word YOUR, they are your photos, your images, your art and the only person that has to like them is you, otherwise what’s the point spending time, money and effort taking them, so before we even get to thinking about how to take photos what you need to do is to think why you want to take photos and what photos you want to take.
If you give someone a camera and tell them to go out and take 10 photos, the shots you get back will be a mixed bag of images with very little to connect them and with very little thought behind them. If you ask the person to go out and take 10 photos of 10 buildings, that is what you will get, but they will still be disjointed and to a degree unconnected. But if you then add that you want them to show the development of the town through the ages, you should end up with 10 images that link together and have a lot of thought behind them.

Pre course work, Sit down and think what you want to do with your photos. Is it to win competitions, recording family events, capture beautiful scenes or to help with another project. Review what you have already taken and see if it fits in with what answers you have just come up with, being able to judge if it fits or not and why, will highlight what you need to work on and what you do well. There is no right or wrong, only what works for you, the blurred badly exposed and poorly framed shot of your first born first smile, while a poor photo, is priceless to you and shows that you have mastered one of the most important of all photographic lessons, have your camera ready and take the shot, they are normally gone before you can blink.