Photography: That’s a subject I never had much interest in until I began blogging. I think there are a lot of bloggers out there who could say that. Once you begin blogging and/or reading blogs, you become acutely aware of just how important the pictures you post really are, especially if your blog is about design, decorating or any topic where photographs are critical in conveying the topic and meaning of the post.
I cringe at the idea of writing a post about photography…I am so totally an amateur. But since I’ve received quite a few e-mails and comments with questions asking how I’ve taken the pics posted here on BNOTP, I’m happy to share what has worked for me. As I learn more, this process is bound to change.
Today, I’m sharing the “equipment” I use to take my pics. I think you’re going to be surprised (hopefully not disappointed) to find out just how little “equipment” there is.
In the Beginning:
When I first began blogging in August 2008, I took pictures with an Olympus Camedia C-720, a mere 3 megapixel camera. It was released in 2002, so by the time I began using it, it was already pretty outdated as far as camera technology goes.
I loved using it because it had “Live View.” If you aren’t familiar with Live View, that’s when you’re able to view the scene you are about to take through the window on the back of the camera prior to taking it, instead of having to look through the little view finder.
Nikon D40 Entered my Life:
I continued using the Olympus through 2009 and into 2010. Sometime in 2010 (forgotten exactly when now) a friend gave me a Nikon D40 he was no longer using. The Nikon D40 came onto the market November 2006 and was considered an entry-level digital SLR, so once again I was not using the latest available technology, but a great camera it was and still is.
I came to love this camera but intially it took some serious getting used to–not because it was difficult to operate, but because the pictures were cooler and less cozy than those I had captured with the Olympus. After using it a while, I realized it was because the Nikon was taking more accurate, more realistic photos than what I had been used to with the Olympus.
One drawback I encountered: the Nikon didn’t have Live View. Live View had been extremely helpful for taking photos of table settings because those pics were often taken at low or unusual angles. It’s not easy to photograph low objects or get fun angles when your eye has to be plastered against the view finder. For a while, I took pics of table settings using both cameras, which meant having to go through a gazillion pics to choose the ones I wished to use. I gave that nonsense up pretty quickly and began using the Nikon exclusively.
One big advantage of the Nikon was how much better it handled low lighting. It still struggled mightily when I attempted to take photos in my family room where the walls are all judges paneling, but in normal or low-light settings, it seemed to do a much better job than the Olympus had. This was a precursor of things to come. Today’s cameras are amazing in low light–so much better than ever before.
Nikon D5100: (Update February 2012…exchanged the D5100 for a D7000
If you’ve been reading BNOTP since before Thanksgiving, you already know I recently upgraded to a Nikon D5100. Right before Thanksgiving, my Nikon D40 had an accident and ended up falling from my office desk to the floor. It had a little furry, four-footed help with that leap to the floor. 😉 In the end, the camera was okay but a piece broke off the lens. Due to the tsunami in Japan and the floods in Thailand, camera parts are not being manufactured and shipped as quickly as in the past and the official Nikon repair place here told me they wouldn’t be able to get the part for about 8 weeks. Not wishing to wait that long, I gave myself an early Christmas present and upgraded to the Nikon D5100. I could have chosen any brand camera (more on that in a sec) but by this point I had become a Nikon girl at heart.
By the way, the part for the D40 just came in and the camera was repaired last week, so it ended up taking six weeks for the part to arrive. Be careful with your cameras, repairs take forever right now. The D40 will act as my back up camera and hopefully I’ll never need it.
So, all this is to say, when you’re viewing posts from 2008 through early 2010, you’re probably seeing pics taken with the old Olympus. Starting somewhere in 2010 and for almost all of 2011, pics were taken with a Nikon D40. And since Thanksgiving 2011, pics have been taken with a Nikon D5100. If you would like to know more about the D5100, you can see a demonstration, HERE.
UPDATE: Exchanged/Upgraded to the D7000 in February 2012 since I’m shooting almost exclusively in “manual” now. The D7000 is considered a “semi-pro” camera. It has the buttons/controls you most often access when shooting in manual on the outside within easy reach…no need to go through the menu to change the settings. I love it, so far. It’s more expensive than the D510o (ouch) but I expect to keep this camera for many, many years, so I think it will be the better choice for how I’m shooting at this point.
Important: Lens Filter: When you buy a camera, be sure to buy a good quality lens filter to protect your lens. It will save you heartache down the road and if you buy a top quality filter, it will not have any impact on your images…just protects your expensive lenses.
If the only lens you have is the regular ole kit lens, meaning the lens that came with your camera, fret not. All the photos you see here at BNOTP were taken with the 18-55mm kit lens–every single one of them. Let me say that again. All the photos you see here on BNOTP were taken with a standard kit lens…the lens that came with the camera, even the close-ups. So, if you’re new to blogging (or even if you’re not) and you’ve been worried you would need expensive lenses to take great pics, relax because it just ain’t so. Additional lenses can certainly enhance your photography and are more convenient in certain situations, but they are not a requirement for most photography.
Eventually I hope to purchase a Macro lens for those super up-close shots and maybe even an 18-200mm zoom to use as my “walking around” lens to give me a bit more zoom, but I’m not in any rush. A kit lens will meet your needs just fine for blogging and if you’re not a blogger, it will work fine for most everyday photography, too. Today we’re just talking camera equipment, but I’ll share in another post how I get the close-ups you’ve seen posted here with just a regular kit lens.
If you really get into photography, you’ll find there’s a lens for just about every type of photographic challenge you may encounter and there’s a lens for just about every effect you wish to create. Some are better at portrait photography. Some are terrific for birding.
The Sneaky Gotcha:
In case you don’t already know, some lenses are insanely expensive. For example, the 18-200mm lens is a popular “walking around” lens due to it’s ability to take normal, everyday pics, but it also has great zoom, capability too. That baby is in the $800+ range. Ouch. And that’s how the camera companies ultimately getcha. They know once you buy a couple of those high-dollar lenses, you’re probably going to keep buying their brand camera whenever you upgrade your camera because you’ll still want to use all the lenses you’ve accumulated. Most folks just aren’t going to change brands and go from a Nikon to a Canon or from a Canon to a Nikon, once they have spent the big bucks for all those speciality lenses. So, once you start buying lenses for your camera, they probably have you for life. So think long and hard about your camera choice in the beginning.
My dining room is on the north side of my home. The walls in my dining room are RED. Those two factors can make for some interesting lighting challenges when I’m taking pics in that room. I think this photo was taken with my ancient old Olympus.
When I’m taking pics in the family room, the judges paneling soaks up the light. With the Nikon D5100 I’m having a lot less trouble taking pics in these two rooms. That’s because Nikon put a super-sensitive light sensor in this camera. (Again, pic below taken with old Olympus.)
Before I purchased the D5100 a few months ago, it was almost impossible to capture the kind of photos I wanted in the family room. This next photo demonstrates the problems I had with lighting in this room. When you are taking pics in low lighting situations, the slightest movement can make for a blurry, non-crisp photo. That’s when you would normally want to use a tripod, but sometimes it just isn’t possible due to furniture placement, etc… I should have mentioned, I never use the flash on my camera. I keep my camera set on the little “lightning bolt” symbol because the built-in camera flash normally ruins the picture…sucks the life right out of it. Update: I’m mainly using my camera in manual mode now…sometimes in Aperture mode.
To compensate for the lack of light in some rooms, I purchased two soft boxes. (They came two to a box.) They really come in handy on cloudy days or when I’m photographing in rooms where there just isn’t a lot of natural light. I’ve found I can only do so much in “manual” mode and the extra lighting helps in these hard to photograph spaces.
Softboxes are life savers when you need them. I normally use just one in a room because they are powerful. When I use one, I point it straight up at the ceiling. It bathes the room with the prettiest natural lighting. I’ve even used them on the screened-in porch on really cloudy days or when the huge trees shading the porch block the light I need for taking pics out there.
These next two pics were taken with my Nikon D40 and with the use of a softbox directed upward at the ceiling over in a corner far away from the fireplace itself. Sometimes I’ll even point the light box away from the room; they are that powerful. They are a bit bulky, I store mine in the garage which so far has worked out fine. I like knowing I have them on those cloudy, gloomy days. I paid around $200 for two soft boxes. They are used by professional photographers for portraiture, but they have solved some of my lighting issues. (The light you see on the chair to the left is from the lamp on the table beside the chair, not from the softbox.)
Much better! Lighting makes all the difference, something we’ll talk more about in a future post.
You can also buy a portable flash. Honestly, I have no idea how those work. I know they are metered so they are supposed to give you the light you need based on the situation. It’s also my understanding that you can direct the flash wherever you wish. This is very different from the built-in flash on a camera, which you have very little control over. These are not that terribly expensive and are worth looking into. They may solve those lighting worries we all have in some rooms of our home. I hope to learn more about these as my classes progress…will let you know what I learn.
If you take photos, sooner or later you’re going to need a tripod. There are times when the lighting will be very low and any movement at all is going to blur the picture you’re trying to take. I rarely use a tripod, I’m just too impatient most of the time. But there have been occasions when I was glad I had one available. My new D5100 has something called vibration-reduction which means the camera helps compensate for those slight movements we make when snapping a pic. I’ve seen a big improvement…less blurred pics, since buying the D5100. That means less time having to cull threw all my bad pics to find the least blurry ones. I think vibration-reduction really does make a difference. Scott Kelby (professional photographer) recommends turning VR (or IS on Canons) off when you are using a tripod, unless your manual states it isn’t necessary.
The tripod I use is a Manfrotto 785B. As I recall it was around $65. I had read good things about Manfrotto and knew to look for a tripod with a ballhead design and a quick release. The ballhead allows for effortless rotation of the camera in pretty much any direction and the quick release will let you pop the camera off the tripod quickly and attach it back again just as quickly. Definitely go with a tripod that has a ballhead and quick release. I’m sure there are lots more features you could shop for in tripods, but those were the two that were important to me.
I attended a photography class earlier this evening and the speaker, a professional photographer, sang the praises of the Bogen Neotec tripod. When I got home, I looked it up online and it turns out Bogen is now part of Manfrotto. The Bogen Neotec is pretty expensive…well over $300 but the design of the legs is very intuitive and easy to operate. For the little bit that I use a tripod, it would be overkill for me, but if you use a tripod a lot, it may be worth the extra expense. Apparently, the lightest weight tripods are made of carbon-fibre, but prepare yourself for sticker shock. I’m sure they are worth the extra expense it if you’re a birder or professional photographer and you’re lugging a tripod all over the place out in the field.
Where to Shop for Cameras:
When I upgraded my camera, I wanted to buy it locally so in case I had a problem, I could return or exchange it quickly and without a hassle. The store I normally shop in (Wolf Camera) will match pricing found online, as long as the online store is an authorized dealer for that brand. They also offer free classes when you buy from them. Check around when you buy your next camera–you may find the stores in your area doing something similar.
Before you go camera shopping check the online retailers so you know what the going prices are for your camera. That way, you’ll have some negotiating power when you walk into your local store. Print out the ad you find online and take it with you.
Some online stores to check for pricing are: Amazon, Newegg and B & H. My son shops Newegg all the time for computer stuff and he swears by them. They always have a “deal of the day” and it can sell out quickly. Update: I was reading Scott Kelby’s book, The Digital Photography Book, Volume 1, again this evening and he absolutely sings the praises of B & H. Apparently, they have amazing prices and a great selection.
Buy the Best You Can Afford:
I want to encourage you to buy the best camera your pocket book will allow. You can get a great digital point-and-shoot for a lot less than an SLR and you’ll find lots of wonderful pictures online that were taken with point and shoot cameras. Nothing wrong with those at all.
But if you’re looking for a camera that will give you more versatility with your photography, one that will grow with you as your picture taking skills improve, consider a digital SLR. An SLR is going to let you add new lenses as your photography interest and abilities increase, and its ultimately going to give you better picture quality and versatility.
Most SLRs will run between $500 to $900, but you can spend thousands if you really want to get fancy. Totally not necessary, though. I found this video online to be really helpful in explaining some of the differences between point-and-shoot cameras and SLR cameras.
So, as you can see, I don’t have a lot of fancy equipment or lenses. I’m just using a good quality SLR camera (Nikon D5100) (D7000 now) with a kit lens. Eventually, I’m sure I’ll add some fancy lenses to my photography arsenal, but for now I’m rocking along okay with the standard 18-55mm lens that came with my camera. Update: I’ve added several lenses to my lens arsenal…loving the fixed lenses because the clarity of the pictures is just so much better.
Hope this info has been helpful…let me know if you have any questions about what I’ve posted. Or, if I’ve shared any info that’s incorrect (because I’m very much a neophyte) please let me know and I’ll correct it. Coming soon: I’ll be sharing a little info about how I take pictures and how I edit pics when/if I do edit them, and some of the software I use. Again, I am not an expert in any sense of the word. But I’m happy to share what works for me in hopes it will prove helpful for you.