Do You Really Need New Gear?

If you’ve been with us for a while, you’ll know that we stay away from the rough-and-tumble world of “Which camera should I buy?” While we’re happy to talk about the plusses and minuses of specific cameras with people, it’s not our focus on the website. We strongly believe that it’s not the camera that makes you a better photographer—it’s you.

In that vein, I recorded a short video with Hudson Henry last week, as part of his Approaching the Scene series on YouTube. We had a lively—and short—conversation on the topic, focusing on the things you can do to develop your photographic vision that don’t involve buying new gear. Along the way, we talk about understanding the gear that you have, knowing the principles of composition and exposure in the field, and looking at other photographers’ work as a way to inform your your own work.

Below are links to the CDP articles referred to in the video:

Taking Better Pictures Doesn’t Mean a New Camera
Overviews of Photographic History

If you’re interested in Hudson’s Moab workshop this fall, you can find more information on his Workshops page. I’ll be helping him in the field on that one.

And, if you have comments or questions on this topic (or anything else), we would love to hear from you. Drop us a line via our Contact Us page.

Fifty Years, by Keith Carter – Learning by Looking

The new book Fifty Years offers a wonderful opportunity to explore a sampling of the complete career of a single photographer. When that photographer is Keith Carter, such exploration is especially satisfying because for the last fifty years, Keith has produced work that is sometimes exemplary, and is always interesting. Even if you’re not taken by Carter’s style, diving deep into a single photographic career is a valuable exercise.

It can take a long time, and a lot of work, to develop your own style. During that process, you can find yourself worrying about all sorts of things from “am I repeating myself?” to “is this a cliché?” to “Is this a dead end/have I taken a wrong turn?” In addition to sapping your confidence, such thoughts are a distraction – they keep you from doing the thinking you should be doing when you’re working. What can be difficult to understand is that everyone has these thoughts, and no one follows a simple, consistent, linear path when pursuing any creative endeavor.

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Ben Talks Photography on PhotoActive Podcast

Ben was recently a guest on the PhotoActive photography podcast, hosted by Kirk McElhearn and Jeff Carlson. Ben spoke a little bit about the release of the new book; things to think about when learning composition; photographers he likes (and why that changes over time); and why instructing beginners to start with their camera’s Auto mode is one of the best teaching tools out there. At a mere 36 minutes, it’s a great listen.

Episode 34: Ben Long and Complete Digital Photography

(I was on the podcast in November, discussing the state of photo printing; as I noted at the time, Kirk and Jeff have created a well-focused, engaging show with a wide-ranging pool of guests. It’s worth subscribing to if you’ve got a interest in photography and want a podcast that spends less time on gear, and more on thoughtful topics of interest. They also keep the segments short, which is a big plus for me.)

Hudson Henry on the Exposure Triangle

I’ve been heads-down the past few weeks, working hard on the 9th edition of Complete Digital Photography. Last week, I was proofing the section of the book that covered reciprocity and the exposure triangle, and, in a little bit of synchronicity, my good friend Hudson Henry posted this cool video on that very topic. Hudson and his friend Andy Adkins — a true video wizard — did a fantastic job explaining the relationship between ISO, aperture and shutter speed. It’s worth a few minutes, especially if the topic is something that remains a bit confusing to you, or if you want a refresher.

For those of you who have been waiting patiently for the 9th edition, we really are in the final stages. You can find out more — and download a free sample chapter — via this link. I’ll post an update once we get our final proof copy from the printer, which should be later this week.

The Rise of Computational Photography

Computational photography is coming up more and more as a topic these days, driven largely by developments in the smartphone world. Apple and Google, specifically, have worked diligently over the past few years to overcome the inherent limitations in the cameras of their pocket-size phones—small sensors and tiny lenses—to produce better images than would be available solely from the phones’ optics alone. By using custom chips, advanced software, dual lenses (in the case of newer iPhones and some Android phones) and more, these phones can create photographs that once required high-end cameras or painstaking compositing to produce. (For more, see Jeff Carlson’s piece on DPReview.com about the computational aspects of the iPhone XS.)

The result is that our phones now use this technology to provide impressive images, ones combined in the phone from multiple “shots.” They include things like automatic high-dynamic range (HDR) photos, seamless panoramas, and portraits with shallow depth of field. Sure, you can find many online commenters who rail against the bad portrait shots and wonky panos as proof that this iPhone or that Pixel is not as good as a basic SLR or mirrorless camera, but that misses the point (something we talk about extensively in Taking Better Pictures Doesn’t Mean a New Camera). Read more »

Overviews of Photographic History

In my last post, about the person who wanted to “take better pictures,” I mentioned Beaumont Newhall’s classic book, The History of Photography: From 1839 to Present, and Edward Steichen’s The Family of Manas two books that influenced me heavily when I was younger. While I love monographs of individual photographers, histories of photography fascinate and and delight me, and I thought it might be worthwhile to mention a few more that I have loved over the years; most of these have found their way into my permanent library. Read more »

Taking “Better Pictures” Doesn’t Mean a New Camera

I had an interesting conversation with someone the other day, one that I felt was worth recounting here. I was at a bookstore, perusing photography books for possible review here on the website. It was clearly a very slow day at the bookstore; while I was at the register, the checkout dude murmured something like, “these look interesting…I’d really like to take better pictures.”

We had a short conversation about whether these books might help, and he then asked me if I was a photographer. I told him yes, but that I was really more of an editorial guy who published a website about photography.

Without missing a beat, he said, “I really need a better camera. Which one should I buy?”

To which I replied, “Which phone do you have?”

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Recognizing Tonal Potential

Very often, good photos are the result of a photographer being able to recognize the potential in a scene, and very often that potential is one based around manipulating tone. Learning to develop an eye for tone will not only allow you to get better shots, it will open up a realm of subject matter that you may not normally recognize. For example, consider this shot:
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Remembering Some Basics

Ask any educator and they’ll tell you that teaching is usually a two-way street. While, as a teacher, you always hope to impart useful knowledge to your students, (and possibly even understanding) you almost always come away learning something yourself. For the last four years I’ve had the great privilege to work at the Oklahoma Summer Arts Institute, an exceptional arts camp for 14 to 18-year-olds. And every year, our students remind me of some very simple, essential photographic tenets. If you’ve lately been feeling uninspired, or “stuck” with your shooting , perhaps some of these ideas will help you re-find your photographic footing.

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