Next steps for beginner digital photog?
December 8, 2003 10:08 PM   Subscribe

I'm finally getting the hang of taking nice digital photos with my Coolpix 4500, especially now that I've got a tripod that has put an end to months of blurry indoor photos. My question is this: For an digital photographer wannabe, what's the next step? Telephoto lens, maybe?
posted by oissubke to Computers & Internet (26 answers total)
Depends what you mean by "next step", really. Have you explored all the things you can do with your camera as-is (I know I still haven't experimented with my Coolpix 5700 as much as I eventually will)? You can always buy more equipment, or you can play around with photo editors, or you can work on developing your eye and figuring out what sorts of pictures you do best. Personally, the real differences I find between digital and film have little to do with the photography, and more to do with the tech, so I don't really know what a "digital photographer" is, other than a photographer who uses a digital camera.
posted by biscotti at 10:34 PM on December 8, 2003

Personally, I'd get real cozy with photoshop and all it can do first. Using PS to properly enhance/correct your photos can almost be like have a new camera (well, excpet without the fun part).

But, if you want new gear, look into what good filters can do. A polarizing filter can very useful, and neutral density filters can really help with tricky light situations. Picking up a good book about the mechanics of photography can also help you decide what to focus on next.
posted by Hackworth at 10:39 PM on December 8, 2003

Response by poster: While I won't contradict the joys of Photoshop, I think more specifically what I'm looking for is equipment that would increase the range of what I can take pictures of.

For example, I live far out in the desert, and could take some beautiful shots of the moon and stars -- except that I don't have any kind of zoom lens, so I just get small white circles or dots.

I was thinking of a telephoto lens so I could take some nicer shots of the moon (as an example), but also so that I can take some good close-up shots (e.g., portraits) without the perspective warp that comes from holding a camera in someone's face.

I see a lot of beauty in life, so I have a wide range of things I'd like to photograph. Some I can do now, but some don't work out so well. I'd like to take photos of landscapes, urban settings, people, etc., as well as macro shots, general family/friends/event photos, etc.
posted by oissubke at 11:06 PM on December 8, 2003

oissubke - If you club your subjects over the head, you can drag them right up to your camera and thus avoid the need for a telephoto lens.

But - seriously - you should be able to link your camera up to a motor-driven telescope that would compensate for the earth's rotation and so allow detailed moon or star pics. A telephoto lens won't do - you'll need a telescope with an electric motor and a rotational axis oriented to true North. But that's now a garden variety item - $150-$350
posted by troutfishing at 11:20 PM on December 8, 2003

Oissubke, you might want to check out the Canon Digital Rebel, which is an affordable digital camera with a removable lens. I've been thinking about getting one (I have a Powershot G2)--only thing stopping me is that the lcd doesn't rotate, which is a feature I think I need.

Btw, Steve's Digicam is the best site I've found for reviews of new products. It's ugly, but the reviews are extemely comprehensive.
posted by dobbs at 11:41 PM on December 8, 2003

My coolpix 2000 can take some real wicked shots, but indoors, its inconsistent. So for kids parties, its not even as reliable as a disposable, and they aint so easy to convert into a digital image.

I need some tips to improve my indoor shots: and in the fast paced world of the under 10's, a tripod aint the thing.

Any answers....please?
posted by dash_slot- at 12:17 AM on December 9, 2003

Any answers....please?

Using the flash gets you blown out shots of kids with their eyes closed, right?
posted by mathowie at 12:32 AM on December 9, 2003

To improve your indoor shots, get an outboard flash, if your camera can take one. Learn to "bounce" it. The outboard flash will also eliminate "red-eye."

A telephoto lens can be very fun, but don't underrate going wide-angle as well.

Polarizers are good accessories; they let you reduce or eliminate reflections on glass and water, cut haze, and deepen sky colors.

Another fun toy is an infrared filter. Some digital cameras are fairly sensitive to infrared light, and by getting a filter that blocks most or all digital light you can get some quite striking photographs. (All foliage turns out white, for example, as do most people's irises.)

Rather than a tripod, get a monopod and learn how to use your body to form the other two legs of the "tripod." Monopods are very portable.
posted by kindall at 12:36 AM on December 9, 2003

digital light

I meant visible light.
posted by kindall at 12:38 AM on December 9, 2003

I wouldn't think that your coolpix 4500 could take another lens. Maybe I'm wrong about that camera. Were you planning to buy a new camera or were you looking for what you could do with your current camera.

For whatever it's worth: How to photograph the moon
posted by willnot at 12:43 AM on December 9, 2003

I've found Digital Photography Review to be a great resource.
posted by anathema at 5:24 AM on December 9, 2003

Response by poster: I meant visible light.

That's a shame. "Digital light" sounded quite interesting. ;-)
posted by oissubke at 5:37 AM on December 9, 2003

Response by poster: Using the flash gets you blown out shots of kids with their eyes closed, right?

At least with the standard flash, the thing I don't like about it is that it pretty much destroys any light/shadow arrangement. You might see a beautifully-lit photo with your eyes, but then when you take the shot it looks like a police lineup.

I think kindall's right about bouncing it instead of using the on-board flash. I might need to look at that next.
posted by oissubke at 5:41 AM on December 9, 2003

Two things:

1) Biting the bullet and moving up to a digital SLR from a consumer digital was the best thing I've done in the last ten years. It's literally changed my life for the better. The flexibility of being able to change lenses was a sea change.

2) Try forcing yourself to take pictures you've never concidered before. Rather than taking a picture of a fountain, try getting a single water drop. Instead of a table, zoom in on a reflection on a spoon. So, rather than change the camera, you change the way you look at subjects.
posted by y6y6y6 at 5:59 AM on December 9, 2003

Oissubke, I'm pretty much in the same boat, but moved up to the Digital Rebel last week. I'm very happy, so far. A good online resource is The Luminous Landscape, which has reviews, tutorials, and lots of nice pics. A book you might want to look at: Photography and the Art of Seeing.
posted by stonerose at 6:19 AM on December 9, 2003

The best way to improve your photography is to give it more purpose. Set yourself a project. Pick a subject that you know a lot about (or want to), or are passionate about, and set some photographic goal around that. It could be anything from documenting historical sites in your town, to following a local sports team, to recording native species of fern in your region, to helping a friend advertise their work, to following a friend's band, to... you name it. Once you have an objective, the limitations of the tools you have and what new stuff you might need become much more obvious, because you have a much clearer idea about what your pictures are for.
posted by normy at 7:40 AM on December 9, 2003

I highly recommend this book: Learning to See Creatively by Bryan Peterson.
posted by kindall at 8:17 AM on December 9, 2003

it's more that i get a lot of 'light smears', where it seems like what you'd get in slow exposure of tail lights...but the pic doesnt actually have any movement in it at all.

I am a photographic newbie, and not that techie minded generally, but i really want to improve. That's so i can justify to myself (& my bank manager...) the purchase of a digital SLR (",)
posted by dash_slot- at 10:02 AM on December 9, 2003

it's more that i get a lot of 'light smears', where it seems like what you'd get in slow exposure of tail lights...but the pic doesnt actually have any movement in it at all.

If the subject can be lit by a flash, and you can trigger the flash to pop at the end of a slow shutter exposure, I think you can bring the subject into sharper focus without losing the smear of movements. That will probably give you the effect you're looking for.

Also, I haven't been able to master this technique with a digital camera yet, but if you can pan with your moving subject as you take the photo, then it stays in focus while all of the background gets some nice motion blur.
posted by willnot at 10:24 AM on December 9, 2003

Or, maybe I didn't read you right. Are you saying you want to convey a sense of motion, but you aren't getting it if you use a flash, or are you saying your subjects aren't moving, but because of low light, you have a slow shutter, and your hand shakes too much? If that's true, then Matt is right - turn on the flash, or turn on a bunch more lights, or rest the camera or you against a firm fixed object light a table or a chair to create an impromptu type of tripod, or get steadier hands.
posted by willnot at 10:37 AM on December 9, 2003

oh, thanks willnot. I was thinking along the lines that the ccd was sensitised, and previous movement in composing the shot was effectively captured when the shutter was depressed.

I've experimented with this, and found that if i can take longer to compose, with a still steady hand, my results improve. Its just that that aint practical most times. Is it also a problem with other cameras?
posted by dash_slot- at 10:40 AM on December 9, 2003

rather than change the camera, you change the way you look at subjects.

This is excellent advice. Looking at things in different ways can turn even very mudane things into beautiful pictures. Even simple things like changing your height (climb up on something, lie down on the ground), or the angle at which you see things (get above and look down, get below and look up), or the distance from it (get closer, get further away, zoom in, widen out) or depth of field (if your camera allows aperture adjustment, open it way up to shorten your depth of field, closing it down has the opposite effect), play with exposure, try over or under exposing, pick one element to describe the whole (the aforementioned water drop, or a bit of bark), play with different kinds of lighting (sun streaming through sheer curtains, direct sunlight, candle light). To my mind the single best feature of digital cameras is that you can take LOTS of pictures without any worry about what it costs, and as such, take LOTS of pictures, the more you take, the greater your chances of taking a good one, and the better you get. Also, I generally never edit in-camera except for very obvious mistakes (and even then, I try to wait) - sometimes the picture that isn't what you were looking for is much better than the one you were looking for, but being in the mindset of looking for something specific at a given time can blind you to that - wait and edit on the computer (if then, I keep most all of my pictures, memory is cheap).
posted by biscotti at 10:50 AM on December 9, 2003

All of that is true. I like this thread!
posted by dash_slot- at 10:55 AM on December 9, 2003

Is it also a problem with other cameras?

There're two ways to get light into the camera. You open the aperture (the hole light passes through) more to let in more light, or you open the shutter for longer periods of time. Once you get the aperture on your camera as open as it can get, if you still don't have enough light to get a good exposure, your only option is to put more light into the scene (flash or other lighting), or leave the shutter open longer. The longer the shutter the more likely that you will get blur due to your subject or you moving. Other cameras might be able to give you a bigger max aperture setting, or their ccds might be more sensitive so they don't need so much light, but basically, yeah. This is going to be a problem with all cameras to some extant.

I just got a new camera - a Minolta Dimage A1, and one of the cool things is that it has an anti-shake technology that in low light situations notices the camera is moving and moves the ccd to compensate. It's a little like a steady came, and it means I can take hand held shots in slightly darker conditions that I otherwise could manage. It's not a magic bullet though. It will only give me about one additional stop.
posted by willnot at 11:05 AM on December 9, 2003

Yeah, I have the A1 too. If you are very careful, you can get close to two stops from the anti-shake. If you can brace it against almost anything even slightly, you can get a decently sharp picture on any exposure up to 1/5th or even 1/4th of a second.
posted by kindall at 12:22 PM on December 9, 2003

My suggestion is that you try to take different pictures from the ones you are taking now. If you take mainly pictures of people, try landscapes or objects, and vice-versa.

I just bought the new Panasonic Lumix FZ10 a couple weeks ago, with 12X zoom Leica lens and optical image stabizilation. Much better colors than my Sony, and full range of Digital SLR features without having to carry a camera bag with extra lenses. The sensor is smaller, but it makes great prints.

Dobbs: the rotating LCD won't help you much on an SLR. Because it's an SLR, the LCD doesn't work while shooting (the mirror is between the lens and the sensor), only when reviewing shots.
posted by planetkyoto at 2:51 AM on December 10, 2003

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