~Since 2004~
A site about memories, thoughts, photos, and unrepentant opinions about motorcycles and motorcycling after four decades of twisting the throttle.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

"Sometimes It Is All You Need"

"I rode one across America when I came home from 'Nam!"
"Oh yeah? I rode one over Hitler's foot in WWII!"

A comment that I have heard now and again (sadly, not often enough) about my photographs is "Man, I wish I could take pictures like that!" The next question is "What kind of camera do you use?" The fact of the matter is that unless you are a professional photographer (and I'm not) the camera in use doesn't much matter as long as it is not a seriously crappy bargain basement camera. The eye of the person holding the camera for the scene, the light, and also an understanding of basic rules of composition can make an inexpensive but decent camera look really good.

Point in case is the photo above which not I but my wife took at the vintage bike show earlier this year.* The colors are bright and the view of the two old guys engaged in conversation over an old Harley fairly begs the question "What great stories are they telling?" I think it's a good photo because it's pleasant to look at and invites or tells a story.

The camera used for the photo was e's Olympus FE200 6 mega-pixel point & shoot camera set on full automatic. Not a completely inexpensive camera at $239 but not big dollars either.

Could the picture have been improved? Sure, no photo is perfect and most are far from it. I heard a story once about a fellow asking photographic legend Ansel Adams "Are ALL your photos so perfect?" Adams replied with a chuckle "Believe me, we only print the best ones."

The point is that it was the wife's eye for the scene and the colors that allowed a fairly inexpensive "entry level" point & shoot camera to take a nice photo. Also, had she noodled around worry excessively about the widgets and dials of a fancier camera the moment of the conversation might have been missed. Sometimes quick and simple gets the job done so don't think that you must have a $1500 zillion-megapixel camera to take good photos of your rides and riding buddies. If you happen to be an aspiring photo geek then go ahead and spend the $1500. Tell your wife I said it was ok.

Some points to consider:

A basic camera works fine as long as you are willing to stop for a moment and SEE what you are pointing the camera at. Pay attention to the picture you see in the viewfinder because it's what the camera will record. The guy's head in the very middle of the viewfinder with no legs and a stop sign sticking out of the top of his head is what the camera will record.

Will your $250 point & shoot take as sharp and clear of a picture as a $1000+ Nikon or Canon DSLR camera? Nope, but if you are not going to print your pictures out at 16x20 inches it doesn't really matter. If you only want to post pictures on a website it matters even less.

Generally more expensive cameras from the major makers such as Nikon, Canon, and Olympus will have better quality lenses and light meters. Those two things matter more than the number of megapixels. Personally I think a used Nikon CoolPix 995 with a lowly 3.3 mpx is a better choice than a 10 mpx Acme Plasto-camera. The old Nikon will still have a better quality sensor, lens, and light metering than many new cameras.

Can you get a good quality camera for less than $200? Yes. See above. Visit Ebay.

An expensive camera packed safely away in a saddlebag is worse than a cheap camera within easy reach and actually gets used.

Lots of cameras, even inexpensive ones, have "vibration reduction" built in. That means your hands, still buzzing from hauling butt down the road on your hard tail bobber, will be compensated for by the camera. Get a camera with vibration reduction.

You should learn to use an image editing program like PaintShop Pro or Adobe PhotoShop Elements if for no other reason than your friends will appreciate it when you don't e-mail them twelve 5-megabyte photos in one e-mail. Spend two evenings learning the basics of image cropping and re-sizing. It's worth it. You can also learn to erase that stop sign sticking out of your buddy's helmet.

Back in 2004 I had the fun of working for a week and a half on an automotive press trip in Death Valley, CA for European auto manufacturer Skoda Auto who is a subsidiary of Volkswagen AG. The pool photographer for the trip was Michel De Vries, said to be the top automotive photographer in Europe. Was I doing the happy dance to be able to just work around him and ask questions and make a pest of myself? You bet! At one point in the trip DeVries pulled a small Canon point & shoot camera from his pocket, snapped a couple of photos, and put the camera away. "What up with that?" I asked meaning "Why not the $8000 Canon wonder-camera sitting in the car?" "Sometimes it is all you need" he said patting the camera in his pocket.

*Disclaimer: The photo has been cropped to remove clutter and resized for web display.

Just for reference:

3.1 megapixels, Nikon CoolPix 990. About $75- $150 on Ebay

5 megapixel Olympus FE200 $239

12 megapixels. Nikon D90 $1500

1 megapixel (raw image from the Mars Rover "Spirit")**
**The Mars rovers use a 1 megapixel camera but it's a perfect 1 megapixel. You can't afford it.


Anonymous said...

Thanks for the tips.

Ride on,

Mr. Motorcycle said...

You are so right here!
Great examples shown too. So much of it is in the eye of the photographer, the right lighting, good composition, correct distance to the main object being photographed for the amount of zoom you have, or don't have, etc.

Bad photographers can take a crappy picture with a really good camera, and a good photographer can take a really great picture with a mediocre camera.

The same holds true with music and instruments, and tradespeople and their tools.

By the way, Yes, you do take some really great photos.

Electra Glide In Blue said...

I was thinking I needed a high-dollar camera, but after reading your post I will stick to my handy old Kodak C340. It fits nicely in my vest pocket on the ready to point and shoot.

Electra Glide In Blue

FLHX_Dave said...

Hey Doug, this was really good. Knowing how megapixels, resolution, size and final output work I would say that you put it simply and easy. That "Basic on Composition" was really helpful. To me that is the key to a good picture.

For a guy like me...a fancy high end camera would just annoy me to the point of spiking it on the ground sooner or later.

Good info. You take some great shots so that makes the info even more valuable.

Thanks Doug

mq01 said...

i absolutely ADORE Debbies pic of the two gentlemen talking. she captured a genuine unplanned pure moment that i just cant explain. i wish i could have been part of their conversation. beautiful.

Swag said...

People always often surprised to find out that most of the pics on my website were shot with a Canon SD1000... a cheap point and shoot. I've even used it on occasion for images published in the state magazine.

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