Guest Post: Photography Q & A with Dani Girl

Hello again! After a very fun week of guest blogging here at Canadian Family, today is my last post. (Ed note: :( ) Although I was quite prolific (perhaps the Family Jewels editors might say even a bit too verbose!) (Ed note: Nah!) in the past four posts, I ran into a dead end when I sat down to write this post. So much left to say, and I couldn’t figure out how to organize it into a coherent post. Then I realized that people had left me some excellent questions on my own blog when I started talking about this guest-blogging stint, and some of those questions I even knew the answer to!

So, here are some questions on photography from readers of Postcards from the Mothership and my best answer to those questions.

Joy asked: Is it necessary to have an expensive camera, or do cheaper digital cameras take good pictures, too?

I was going to be cheeky and say something like “cameras don’t take pictures, people take pictures” but this is a very good question that deserves a longer answer. Yes, it’s true, a fancy camera will give you more options and more creative control when taking pictures. You can adjust for ISO (the amount of light that hits the sensor) and finesse your aperture and shutter speed, and even change your lenses for various situations.

But you know what? Excellent cameras take crappy pictures, too. And crappy cameras take excellent pictures. I’m so infatuated with the iPhone pictures that I’ve been seeing online that I want one just for that!

If you are serious about learning photography then yes, investing in something like a dSLR will probably help you learn on a steeper curve than a $100 point-and-shoot. BUT, if you don’t bother to learn the fundamentals and how to work the controls of the dSLR, you’re probably better off with the $100 camera.


Taken with my point-and-shoot Fuji Finepix.

Melissa asked: Should I compose my picture when I’m shooting or is cropping after the fact a better method?

You should always strive to make the best picture you can with your camera. (She said in the voice of every photography teacher she has ever had.) Ahem. Having said that, post-processing software is your friend. You should always try to make the absolute best image you can before you press the shutter, but I see the use of processing software like Lightroom, Elements, Picasa or Gimp (to name but a few) as just another tool in helping you realize your vision for that image. Some pictures are perfect straight out of the camera, and some pictures need a little help.

You don’t have to shell out $600 for Photoshop to get a good photo-editing program, by the way. I picked up a copy of Photoshop Elements for $88 at Costco last month. If you are a teacher, or have a student in your house, Adobe offers some excellent educational discounts. Picasa and Gimp are both highly rated and completely free!

Fun with Photoshop!

Shannon asked: How about tips on organizing the tons of photos you take and how to keep up with them? In this digital age, you take so many photos and it can be overwhelming to narrow them down.

This is something I struggle with. Now that I’m using Lightroom (I’m a recent convert, but positively evangelical about how it has changed my photo life!) I’ve started to do smart things like make back-ups of my photos and use keywords to organize them. You simply have to find an organizational method that works for you and then stick with it.

This is what works for me: Each day I upload the pictures from my memory card to the camera and save everything in a chronological file by month and day with the image number (DSC2515) as the title. I edit the ones I want to keep and save those in a different spot. I put them in folders with titles like “Nova Scotia vacation” and give the images a meaningful title (“Lucas meets the ocean”), as well as uploading them to Flickr.

Did you see that drive-by mention to backing up your photos? I keep my favourite images in at least three different places. If you remember ONE thing I’ve talked about, remember to think about the light. But if you’ve got room in your busy brain for TWO things? Please please please make regular back-ups of your pictures. You’ll cry for days if you lose them. External hard drives are dirt cheap right now—you can get a terabyte for $200. Even I can’t fill one of those puppies. (Well, not yet!)

Dawn said: I would LOVE some tips on avoiding red eye…my camera has a red eye setting on it, but it never seems to work!

When I first read this question, I thought, “Hmmm, maybe that’s something that a dSLR does better than a point-and-shoot, because I almost never get red-eye.” And then I realized that the reason I almost never get red-eye is because I almost never use the flash! So the answer is: Don’t use the flash! As I suggested in my first post, go for natural light whenever possible.

Having said that, yes, I understand, sometimes you really need that flash. If you must, take a look at some of the image-editing programs I mentioned above. All of them have one-click red-eye fix.

Carrie said: I wish I could figure out how to capture those action shots. I suspect it has to do with my camera and a need to buy something with some funky features but any tips would be appreciated!

Capturing action shots are about freezing the moment. To freeze the movement, your camera has to work fast. To get your camera to work fast, you need to feed it lots of light. (Have I beaten the “see the light” horse to death yet?) As much as possible, adapt your expectations: you won’t get great light after dinner on a stormy day in November, but you will get great light at mid-day at the park. Or you can boost the light in the room if you’re indoor; throw on all the lights and open the curtains.

This is one of those times when a more expensive camera will help you out. I have to admit, the number one reason I moved from point-and-shoot to a dSLR (I’ve had my Nikon D40 for about three years now) is the fact that there is virtually no time delay on the shutter release. If you’re looking for a new camera, make sure you’re getting one with the minimum possible shutter delay, it’s far more important than mega-pixels or just about anything else the camera store will try to sell you on.

If I could impart one last piece of advice to you, it’s this: have fun with your camera. Don’t be afraid to experiment. Try wacky angles and crazy compositions. Take your camera everywhere, and don’t be afraid to whip it out in the grocery store when the light on the bananas strikes your fancy. (Oh yes, I did.)

Thanks a million to Megan and the Canadian Family peeps for letting me come out here and play with y’all. (Ed Note: Our pleasure!) And if you have any questions about any of what I’ve written about this week, don’t hesitate to ask in the comment box or to find me online.

—Dani Girl, Postcards from the Mothership

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