A note about photography

I’m about to share with you my biggest pet peeve when it comes to photography. If you’ve ever been guilty of said pet peeve, do not feel badly or think I secretly hate you (I don’t! I promise!). I think a lot of it boils down to ignorance. People just don’t know any better.

When people see my photos, they sometimes ask me “What kind of camera do you have?” So I respond (a Canon Rebel XTi), and then they say the phrase I hate the most: “That’s a great camera, it takes GREAT pictures!”

No. I take great pictures.

I’m not an expert photographer. I like to think of myself as a skilled amateur who is trying to up her status. I take a lot of pictures. A LOT. Some of them are crap. But, if I look back from when I first got my camera, I am LEAPS and BOUNDS better because I take a lot of pictures and I am actively trying to become a better photographer. I am learning by taking classes, by reading, but mostly by DOING. I am nowhere near where I want to be, I’m a work in progress, and I doubt I ever really feel I am “where I want to be” because the whole beauty of the art is trying to better yourself, always wanting to up your “game”.

Don’t get me wrong. A good camera is gold. In fact, I can’t wait until I can upgrade because the camera I want has better light sensors, better features, etc. etc. that will help me improve my photography skills. But. You can no more stick a $10,000 camera in someone’s hands and expect them to be Annie Leibovitz, Ansel Adams, or Dorthea Lange, than you could stick a $10,000 guitar in someone’s hands and expect them to be Eric Clapton or Jimi Hendrix. On the same note, Eric or Jimi could probably play amazingly on a $25 beginner’s guitar and Annie, Ansel or Dorthea could take amazing pictures with a point&shoot. I’ve seen it done, some of my favorite pictures have been with a point&shoot. There is talent, skill, and practice involved with photography, just like any other art. Some would argue that you either have it or you don’t, but that’s up for debate.

The OTHER thing I hear a lot of, which also annoys me?: “Well, if I had photoshop, I could have amazing pictures too!”

Um. No. Photoshop is a tool. An amazing tool that I love. I use it. BUT I have found that the better I get, the less I rely on it. It is a lot like make-up. You can only enhance, you can’t create something from nothing. If you have a crappy picture, you can only make it less so.

One of my photography instructors liked to say “You are smarter than the camera. The camera can be tricked, so you have to know your craft so you can get what you want out of your camera. Make it work for you.” Not the other way around.

This post would be useless without pictures, so let me show you an example.

This is SOOC (converted to JPG)

I didn’t do much in photoshop, except a slight unsharp mask; something I do on all my photos, as the conversion sometimes causes the photos to become slightly fuzzy (probably not noticeable to most folks, but I can tell). I also erased the stones in the background b/c I felt it took away from the picture. Not necessary, and they could have been cropped out, but I didn’t want to lose empty space. On its own, this photo is fine. Very cool. I could have boosted the colors slightly and called it a day. But I’m slightly obsessed with this free lomo action (watch the tutorial and read up on actions if you are unfamiliar with them or how they work). I decided to run it and see if it made the picture any better.

And I loved the results. But, had the photo not been good on its own, this would have looked bad. Because I’ve tried this action on photos that weren’t “right” and it looked awful.

And before you say “what did people do before photoshop?” Well, people have been doing stuff in the darkroom since photography began. It’s an art. I don’t feel my photos are less genuine because I use “make up” on them.

I don’t work for my camera and photoshop. They work for me.

Special thanks to Suzanne who expressed interest in photography “tutorials”. I’m no expert, but I’m happy to share what I know. Expect more of these types of posts!

6 comments to A note about photography

  • Here’s a question – Should I invest in Photoshop? Right now I mostly DO rely on my camera to take the good pictures for me. I feel really really hopeless when it comes to the technical parts of photography. The terms and numbers just fall right out of my head ever time I read them – it’s like Algebra all over again. But I’ve seen a lot of Photoshop actions (the Pioneer Woman uses them)(and offers free ones to download, in case you didn’t know) and would love to play around with them but really? I can do a lot of stuff in Picasa or Picnik, which are free, and since my picture aren’t stellar to begin with it might be a waste of money.

    (p.s. I think we could get Photoshop at the student rate since my husband is technically a student.)


    Natalie Reply:

    I love photoshop. BUT there is freeware program called “GIMP” that is just like photoshop, except I do not think you can use actions with it. There is also photoshop elements or photoshop lightroom that are much cheaper and kind of an intro version of photoshop. PW’s actions (yes, I love them!) have been modified to use with elements, and most of the free ones I download have elements downloadables as well. Definitely look into the student discount.


  • You are so right. I get so tired of hearing that about the cameras. I take a lot of the photos on my blog with my cell phone. I have a half decent camera, now… not even a dslr but most of what ends up on my blog is taken with what I can quickly grab & capture what I see or what I feel.

    It’s not about the camera. It’s about the photographer.
    I am better at it that some people I know. And I have friends who are WAAAAY better at it than I am. I avidly watch what they do and experiment & try to get BETTER.

    I love your guitar analogy. It reminds me of a favorite quote from Pride & Prejudice…

    “I must have my share in the conversation if you are speaking of music. There are few people in England, I suppose, who have more true enjoyment of music than myself, or a better natural taste. If I had ever learnt, I should have been a great proficient. And so would Anne, if her health had allowed her to apply. I am confident that she would have performed delightfully.”

    People who say they would take amazing photos if they had a better camera, remind me of Lady Catherine.


  • I’ve been debating this comment, but I am just going to go ahead and throw it out there. It is very true that the photographer takes great and exceptional pictures. I do think that mediocre pictures can be moved up to good by the camera itself. There is something about the blurry background that elevates a picture. That said, the theory only works for not good pictures, but I do think that (in focus) crappy DSLR pictures look better than crappy point and shoot pictures. The aren’t GOOD, but you get what I am saying.


    Natalie Reply:

    I think that is a valid point.

    I didn’t mean to imply that a p&s and a DSLR are the same, b/c I knew from the first picture that my DSLR was amazing in comparison. I just meant to say that I’ve seen some people who can’t afford DSLRs, but love photography, take really nice pictures with what they have, vs the friends who just go out and buy a $800 camera because they can and take pictures that are no better than the friends with a P&S…does that make sense? I guess it is my own experience I am drawing from, and not a general blanket statement. It probably applies to things that don’t move. When it comes to photographing things that move, A DSLR makes it much easier to capture what you want.

    I have debated buying a small point&shoot so I have that to throw in my bag and not have to haul a big camera around, but I realized I would have been very unhappy with the outcome, precisely because of what you are saying. I love the freedom I have to play around w/ settings.

    Never debate your comments! I appreciate the chance to clarify my position ;o)


  • [...] the breaks. The more you get into it, the more expensive it gets. Yeah, I know, I said that a great photographer can take great pictures with a point and shoot. I stand by that! BUT most of the time, the automatic controls of a point and shoot can only make [...]

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