When I was 14 years old, shortly before I took off on my great adventure of hitchhiking from Dallas Texas to upper state New York, my mother gave me a Kodak Brownie camera. I’m sure I took some pictures with it before I made that trip, but, to my knowledge, none of those survived. However, one of the pictures I took on that trip to visit my grandfather on the St. Lawrence River is one that I still treasure and through the years has been a family favorite as well. It depicts my grandfather in the back of his old wooden boat, his hand on the tiller, and Shep, a Siberian husky and his faithful companion, beside him.
Through the years I have had many different cameras. The first one I remember after the Kodak Brownie was one I purchased when I was first in the Army. That one was a 35mm Petri. I only had that one for a short period before I realized that I will really enjoyed taking pictures. Plus, I seemed to have at least a bit of a good eye for composition. I say that because of the feedback that I got from my friends each time we got the pictures back at the PX.
Soon, I bought an Asahi (Pentax) Spotmatic at the PX in Frankfurt Germany. As I recall, that camera cost $110. That was a tremendous expenditure for me at the time for as a private E-2, I was making about $100 a month. That does indicate how serious that I was getting with photography. That camera served me well. I used it for the next 10 or 12 years at least.
Next came a run of Nikons. After the army days, then college, I got more serious and over the next few years, I had almost every model Nikon available, including the top of the line professional model F3T. I added a lot of other equipment including long lenses, light meters, tele-extenders, filters, and eventually a full color darkroom.
Gaining skill in the age of film cameras was not near as easy or clear cut as it is today with digital cameras. For when you took a picture with a film camera, there was no instant gratification. You had to take the film in to be developed (or develop yourself if you had a darkroom). Then you had to wait for sometimes as long as a week, before that you got your pictures back. Only then could you see how well you had done; how well your choices were with your exposure settings. That distant feedback was not all that conducive to improving your photography in a rapid manner.
If you were really anal about it, you could keep track of your shots. For instance, this morning as I sat by the lake, I took a few shots of a Great Blue Heron. If I was shooting with film, and was a serious photographer, I would have entered the shots in a log. That log would’ve included shutter speed, f-stop, and the film type to include ASA (ISO in the digital world).
Not only were those settings important when presenting your work for publication, but they were critical in evaluating your settings and learning to improve your skills. But, honestly, all of that was a pain. Only the most dedicated and anal photographers really did that. All too often, you were left with a general impression of what you were doing before and the implication you probably should have shot this at a higher shutter speed or you should have used a different f-stop to increase your depth of field. Without a log of settings it was definitely not an exact science.
Now with digital cameras, it is completely different. First of all, you have immediate feedback on how the photo turned out. You can see the image on the back of your camera. You can immediately see your composition; the exposure, etc. Then you can immediately make corrections and take another picture.
One additional caveat with the impact of digital photography is how fast one learns the technical part of how a camera works and the interaction between the settings. With film cameras you had to be more aware of your shutter speed and aperture and film speed. You were very aware what shutter speed was too dark or bright under the circumstances. You learned you needed to adjust by so many stops to make the correct exposure. You had to know not only what a stop was, but also how to computer the stops by changed the shutter speed or the aperture or both. There was more of a conscious knowledge about the numerical values. Those values had more meaning to you and were important.
With digital, you don’t have to know much for most people put it on Automatic and let ‘er rip. Almost all of the time, the picture will be good. There is no need to know anything about shutter speeds or apertures to get at least decent pictures. Only if you want better than average or decent pictures do you need to learn more. I think most people attracted to this website want more.
Most digital cameras also have little symbols on the dial like a running man, a flower, a mountain, or a head. The manual taught you set the dial to the running man for action shots, the flower for closeups, the mountain for scenic shots, and the head for portraits. That was about as complicated as it got.
For so many people there is little interest in getting past using their camera on Automatic or Programs. The more adventurous used the little symbols on the dial when they wanted more control. That is the true essence of Point and Shoot Photography.
However, there are a fair number of people who are not willing to except that low level of photography. They know they can get better shots if they just knew a little more about their cameras and the settings.
Getting your camera off of Automatic or Programs is not difficult. You can take control of your photography and take much better pictures with just a few adjustments. After you learn to make some of these adjustments, you will be amazed at the difference in your photos. In no time, you will be having people telling you how great your photos are and that you should submit them to National Geographic. (You should start practicing your “Ah, shucks” comments now.)
The next steps and beyond are the purposes of this website and blog. Here you will learn the first steps that someone needs to take with their digital camera in order to learn more about photography and take better pictures. Then we will move on to the more critical aspects of Nature Photography where you will learn more camera techniques as well as much about nature and how to get her to reveal herself so you can record that in your picture.
I do welcome any questions, suggestions, and other feedback about these blogs and what we’re trying to do.