My first cameras
At the age of ten I had my first camera. It was an inexpensive 120 format camera which I used to take photos of the Taj Mahal and many other places of interest in India, Pakistan and Ceylon (Sri Lanka). My father, an electrical engineer, at the time had been seconded to work for United Nations as an advisor to the Pakistani government on long distance telecommunications.
A year spent as a child experiencing vastly different cultures and scenery from which I was used to, has left indelible memories firmly planted in my grey matter. Unfortunately, the negatives and prints from my year without a formal education have been lost, though the memories of the scenes and the photographs I took, remain.
My first “quality” camera was obtained as a teenager. It was a twin reflex 120 format Rolleicord. The camera was second hand, but in good condition. It had belonged to my father who had upgraded to a better camera.
You are probably much younger than I, (most people are younger than I am), and maybe you are used to snapping away with your camera phone and/or point and shoot digital camera. The cost to you of taking hundreds of colour photographs will be negligible. Also, your photos will be available for you to post on facebook and other web sites, or to print, almost immediately.
120 format cameras used Black and White film that allowed you to take twelve photographs. After the twelve shots were taken, the film had to be manually rewound on the camera before the back of the camera was opened to remove the spool of film. The film then had to be taken to a photographic processing lab and your negatives and prints could generally be viewed around a week later.
Although 35mm film and cameras were produced early in the 20th century, 120 format films and cameras were the popular choice for photographers until around the mid-1960’s. I understand that 120 medium format film is still available and used today by some professional photographers. Perhaps I should sort through the boxes in my shed, find my old Rolleicord, and like the Phoenix, bring it back to life.
35mm film cameras
In 1976 I was fortunate to obtain sponsorship to study/investigate various community service programs operating in the USA and Canada. My Rolleicord was too big and bulky to take, so I decided it was time to purchase a new 35mm film camera.
Have you ever been phased by the number of choices that you have available when you wish to make a purchase? Well . . . , I certainly was at the time. As there is now, there were heaps of different brands and models from which to choose. An important consideration is of course, price. I did have a limited budget, but even so, there were still many choices for a person who at the time was relatively naive with regard to the pros and cons of the various options.
Fortunately I had a solution to my dilemma. Through my work I knew one of the leading press photographers with the Sunday Mail newspaper. After hearing my confusion regarding which brand and why, I received the following advice.
“All of the well-known brands on the market make good quality cameras. I use Nikon cameras, and most of the press photographers throughout the world do also. The reason is that they tend to be a bit more rugged and can take rougher handling than the other brands”.
I don’t know if the above still applies, but I did buy my Nikon 35mm camera back in 1976, and have generally stuck with Nikon with my other 35mm and digital cameras since that time. With different lens mounts and other things specific to a particular make, it can be an expensive exercise to change brands. Except for top of the range professional cameras such as Hasselblad, it seems that Canon and Nikon currently have the major part of the market for professional and semiprofessional cameras.
Processing Black and White film and printing
Tanks, other equipment and chemicals were available for developing your own film. This allowed you to view the results of your shooting sooner and also save a few dollars. It was also possible to print your own Black and White prints if you had access to an enlarger, developing trays and other associated equipment. Keen amateurs such as I would generally convert the bathroom into a temporary darkroom for such a purpose.
Often, I would have an assistant technician to help me. I remember my older daughter Alana being fascinated by the image magically appearing on a blank sheet of white photographic paper in the developing tray. Alana was around four or five years old at the time.
With the use of masks, filters, exposure time and different chemicals various effects could be obtained in the dark room. But, with the cost of silver nitrate photographic paper and chemicals, experimentation could prove to be a costly exercise. Photographic work in the darkroom was interesting and fun, but it was also time consuming and expensive.
The Digital Age
I have heard it said that the only thing that isn’t changing is change. Indeed change seems to be occurring at an ever increasing pace. Digital cameras, secure discs, computers and software programs have now replaced the darkrooms used a few years ago.
And, with the exponential growth in technology, equipment is becoming more powerful and cheaper as time goes on. Do you remember what you paid for gear a few years ago compared with what it costs now?
I remember buying a 1GB flash drive a few years back which cost me around $150.00. A few weeks ago I purchased a few 8GB flash drives which cost around $4.00 each.
Almost everyone has a digital camera or cameras today. Some software programs for working with images produced are free. Others are relatively inexpensive. Many professional photographers have had a struggle to remain financially viable with this explosion in popular camera use.
Fortunately however for professional, semiprofessional and competent amateur photographers; there is quite a gap between snaps taken with point and shoot cameras and photographs that have been taken with cameras having quality lenses by skilled photographers.
This quality is further enhanced with post-production software programs. The better programs are not free and generally require considerable time and skill to effectively master.
The more effort in getting as much right as possible before taking a shot will result in less post-processing work, which can be very time consuming.
Cameras and Lenses
(May 2015 update)
This web site page was written back in 2013. So some of the information below is out of date. I will not rewrite it all now. My main camera is now a full frame Nikon D800 which shoots with an amazing 36 Megapixels. A second D7000 has also been purchased along with some Nikon lenses.
My first choice is my Nikon D7000 camera. My preferred lenses are Prime lenses with the following sizes: 35mm, 50mm and 85mm. I also have a Prime lens for extreme wide angle work and another for macro (close-up) work (Nikon for reasons I do not know, call their macro range of lenses “micro” lenses).
Many photographers will prefer to use Zoom lenses for their photography. With Zoom lenses the photographer can easily change the focal length of the lens, making the subject appear either closer or further away from the camera (telephoto or wide angle). Zoom lenses are therefore more versatile than Prime lenses. Generally they are also less expensive. I do have Zoom lenses, but I don’t use them as often as my prime lenses.
Why . . . ? You may well ask.
Manufacturers of quality cameras and equipment such as Canon and Nikon generally produce equipment for both the popular market and the professional market. Prime lenses are known in the trade as being “faster” lenses. Their aperture can be opened far wider than any zoom lens, they are normally made of better quality optical glass, and as they have fewer glass lenses internally for the light to travel through, produce better quality end results.
Most infra-red photos you may see will be of buildings and landscapes. The reason for this is because most infra-red photos in recent years have been taken with a regular digital camera onto which special infra-red filters have been placed. I have these filters and have used them on my D7000 and other cameras. However, they do require a tripod and exceptionally long exposure times. Regular cameras have sensors for visible light, and when this is cut out, it takes much longer for sufficient infra-red light to get to the sensor to create an image. This makes regular cameras with infra-red filters attached totally useless for photographing people.
People can however be photographed with a camera which has had its regular sensor removed and replaced with an infra-red sensor. These cameras don’t require the long exposure time that cameras with infra-red filters need. The down side to these cameras is that they can no longer be used for regular photography.
Another Nikon I have is a D70s which has been converted to shoot in the near infra-red and infra-red light spectrum ranges only. The conversion was done by a firm in the USA. At the time of my purchase, 2012, and I assume currently as well, there were/are no firms in Australia providing these replacement sensors and doing this conversion.
Why infra-red . . . ? Well, with photography I like to explore and experiment. Some very surreal effects can be obtained by shooting in the near infra-red and infra-red light spectrums. Green vegetation becomes almost white, because the chlorophyl in plants radiate infra-red light. The more chlorophyl in the plant (greener), the whiter will be the image. Blue sky becomes almost black. People’s skin takes on an almost translucent appearance. If someone is wearing sun glasses, the camera will look straight through the lens and the person’s eye balls will appear clearly.
If you would like to see some infra-red photos, the background photo on my facebook page, was taken with my infra-red camera. On my site 21c Stock Photos there is an infra-red tab. Click on that and you will see some recent photos of people taken with my infra-red converted camera.
Apart from cameras and lenses, and of course the photographer’s expertise, lighting is the next most important consideration with regard to quality photographs.
My preference is to shoot using natural light whenever possible. Any experienced photographer will confirm that the best light during the day for photography is early morning and late afternoon. However, any light can be modified. This can be done with external reflectors and filters, on camera filters or with supplementary lighting. On camera flash, external flash, strobes or continuous lighting can all be used to supplement available light whether outdoors or indoors.
For indoor work particularly, I am a fairly recent convert to LED light panels. The colour temperature is about 5,500K’s which is similar to natural light on a shady day, they don’t get hot like tungsten lights, they are lighter and more portable, and importantly they cost far less to operate and have a longer life. Because the light is softer and more diffused than light from other sources, they don’t need the large and bulky light tents or umbrellas that other sources require.
Because they are so light and portable I plan to use some of my smaller battery operated LED’s as supplementary lights for outdoor work as well.
There is an extensive range of software that can be used to post-process photos digitally. This software ranges from being free of charge to costing many hundreds of dollars for each program.
It is a cliché, “you only get what you pay for”, but when it comes to quality software programs for photograph manipulation, it is probably reasonably accurate.
Most photographers and photo retouchers have their favourite software programs. Often the most familiar ones are the first choice. Also relevant regarding choice is the final effect that is wanted.
The programs that I regularly use in approximate order of frequency are listed below:
Adobe Photoshop CS5 with Nik software , Nikon Capture NX2, Lightroom 4,FXhome Photokey 4, Portrait Professional Studio Studio Max, Corel Photo-Paint 12, Corel Painter 12, Photomatix Pro 4, Aperture, Visual Watermark. I use Nikon Camera Control Pro 2 when I tether my Nikon cameras to my notebook and Nikon View NX2 for transferring files from my SD cards to the computer.