My Adventures In Photography

A while back I started a photography column for my hometown's local newspaper — you'll find all of my columns from those pages here as well as new ones that I write.

To see all of my blog posts to date, click here.

‘Who needs a pricey camera? I’ve got a phone!’

 POINT IT; SHOOT IT: Small camera technology has really advanced in the past few years. While point-and-shoots are not perfect, a user can still get great photos. Cameras are just tools.

POINT IT; SHOOT IT: Small camera technology has really advanced in the past few years. While point-and-shoots are not perfect, a user can still get great photos. Cameras are just tools.

Before we dig deeper into basic photography, let’s cover different camera types. This post will cover point-and-shoot cameras and the next one will explain a little more about the ever-pricey DSLR cameras. From then on, the focus will be on photographic principles more than on what type of camera you own.

First thing’s first: You have a phone. That phone has apps and those apps use your phone’s camera ... which is, at best, decent. Does that mean you’re a photographer now? Not necessarily — but there’s a difference between having an eye for photography and having the tools for photography.

Phone and point-and-shoot camera technology has done more than take leaps and bounds over the past decade, it’s downright blasted off to the moon. These cameras are versatile, which is fantastic in a pinch. I’ve used my Samsung (and in the years past, my iPhone) for hundreds of pictures. The picture quality and affordability of point-and-shoots has made mid- to high-level photography accessible to just about everyone.

Regardless, owning a phone or point-and-shoot camera for you to take sideways pictures of every sunset you see in a parking lot does not mean you are a photographer.

Devoting yourself to a craft that is centuries old requires more than the tap of your finger on some plastic.

But hey, that’s why we’re here, right? To learn! As mentioned in the last post, anybody can be a photographer. You can own a professional DSLR or a tiny Lego camera (yes, they exist) and still practice the craft correctly. The methods vary but the outcome can be fantastic.

The obvious advantages to point-and-shoot cameras like a Canon PowerShot or your phone’s camera are that they are affordable and easily carried everywhere you go, but there’s a catch with these cameras. Let’s discuss some limitations to the point-and-shoot camera before going any further.

Point-and-shoot cameras are mostly automatic. Things like shutter speed, aperture, ISO, white balance ... blah blah blah — they’re all decided for you through the camera’s light metering technology. Long and short of it? The camera “sees” how much light is hitting the sensor and decides what numbers to use to expose a good picture.

The unfortunate thing about that unique feature is that many times the camera gets it wrong. If you’re outside in bright daylight you can generally expect your photos to turn out really well. People moving very fast will be sharp and in focus most of the time and everything will be what you wanted it to be when you invested in the camera/phone.

What about when things get darker and there isn’t as much light for your camera to “see?”
That’s when things go astray. A phone’s camera is terrible in situations where it’s really dark, and sometimes, even when it’s moderately bright out. In darker conditions, there’s a lot of noise (nasty splotches of what looks like dirt) in the photos taken and the subjects generally turn out blurry because of shaky hands (we all have ‘em). In near-dark conditions the point-and-shoot camera’s autofocus is practically useless because it cannot “see” what it needs to focus on and you don’t have the option to manually focus.

Here’s where knowing the basics of photography comes in. Most phones and point-and-shoot cameras allow for at least some manual control nowadays. Using that can help your photos turn out brilliantly. Even the basic rules of composition apply without owning a gigantic (and hugely expensive) DSLR.

Being a photographer is more than just being able to take photos, it’s about being able to take good photos all the time and doing it intentionally.

Point-and-shoot technology will only continue to evolve, and maybe someday we won’t need to know as much about photography to take really good photos. But for avid followers of the art, it’s fantastic to know just what’s going on behind that first element of glass.

As aforementioned, the next post will cover some of the more pricey cameras — DSLRs. After that, we’ll shift focus and take a look at how to accomplish different photographic feats using varying pieces of equipment from cheap to expensive.