Tougher than I thought
For the longest time I have wanted to write about progress, specifically the progress in my skills and abilities from a ‘young photographer’ to a seasoned one. The more I think about it, the more muddied my thinking becomes, so bare with me here and let’s try muddle through it together.
I think it’s a given that most people who pick up their first camera will, after some years of regular use, show signs of improvement. Especially those who open themselves to learning from others or simply pushing themselves to try new or different techniques.
I started off with enthusiasm, and I suppose a modicum of talent (if one was to believe family and friends) My journey is fairly typical of DSLR users, I bought a Pentax K7 (Ok, here I deviated from the norm by not buying from the big two brands) with an 18-55 kit lens and a 70-300 telephoto. I had a fair understanding of hardware and what it would do for me.
I rapidly moved from taking photos of my kids riding horses and sunrises to photographing equine events, dancers, beauty shoots, families and weddings.
So what changed along the way?
Equipment for one thing. I acquired a few prime lenses, a couple of flash units with remote triggers and light modifiers and a light meter. None of these will make a better photographer of anyone, but they will give you more options to improve or fail with.
I also purchased a second camera body, which was a modest improvement over my original. This in itself was not a huge leap forward so much as just having two cameras on hand with different lenses and the options it opened.
So all of this begs the question, did it improve my photography? Well since it’s a visual medium, lets look at some samples and chat about that.
Horse & Riders
This was from my very first horse and rider shoot, I knew a fair amount about horses and people at the time, but not all that much in bringing them together in a pleasing way. I took this using a 50mm prime. It isn’t a bad image, and most the problems relate more to her hand placement and my less than stellar framing of the image than the exposure. The use of a 50mm lens, especially where horses are involved is a really poor choice.
Fast forward four years, many horses, and the purchase of a 70-200 f/2.8 lens …
This more recent image is shot using a speedlight in a small softbox (Which is horribly difficult to coordinate around horses, who love to move around, especially when you don’t have an assistant.) The 70-200 is a better lens for horses than the 50mm. Also my use of it to blur out the background more than the 50mm could do is a big part of the image ‘pop’, and the speedlight under the shade of the tree gives some good highlights. Her hands are better and not cut off, so I’m clearly paying more attention to framing.
However it does raise the issue of comparing green apples with red apples… It’s a problematic exercise and should be be done with care. Always be aware that variables like lighting, locations available cannot be ignored.
This was my second horse and rider shoot, It was overcast, and once again I was using the 50mm f/1.7 shot at @ f/2.8.
Equipment aside, my choice of moment is a bit questionable.
This was three years later, again using the 70-200 @200mm f/2.8. With both backgrounds being quite far from the subjects, the major contributor to the background blur in the second image is the lens at 200mm. It’s a clear indicator of equipment giving you the option to improve if used correctly.
Other improvements relate more to my spending time with the woman, getting the pose better as well as waiting for a better looking moment. These are improvements that have nothing to do with technology, but more to do with practice and expertise.
Conclusion here is that Yes I believe my horse & Rider photos have improved, partly due to equipment, and a lot to knowing my subjects better.
At some point the bug of dancers bit.. This was my first dance shoot which was built around these rather large ‘wings’ that I made specifically for the shoot. By this time I was using the 70-200 lens for most everything. I also was using a speedlight (un modified I believe for reasons)
Two years later, still the same equipment, I think my lighting setup and control was the only improvement from my side (I used a softbox). The weather conditions were clearly worse, all other differences were down to the dancers themselves.
Like I said, comparing red apples with green is problematic.
The next two images are also recent work, I have no older ones for comparison, these are just indicative of my experimenting with the equipment I have, pushing it further and seeing what I can do with it
Perhaps we can check back in a couple of years and see if I have managed to improve or not ?
A fair question would be what does the future hold, what gear do I plan on purchasing and why?
A big purchase would be a full frame body, particularly the Pentax K1 which I used for a few days and fell in love with. The image quality and handling in low light situations is phenomenal.
I would also like to get decent shorter telephoto zoom like a 17-70 f/2.8 so I can finally retire my kit lens and the junky 18-250 I have for wide angle work.
I would love a battery powered studio light solution as to have more powerful lights outdoors.
I would also like an Ice light or two, again it’s something I see being awesome for dancers.
I would love a reasonably priced, decent video device that will record at 120 fps or so. Why you ask ??
Well …. These BTS videos are done with my mobile phone, and sadly it shows, I would love to do more of this but way better
I would love some sort of under water camera rig, although I probably would drown
In summary, I can’t say that gear has made me a better photographer, taking better photos has made me a better photographer. That said, the right gear can give you more room to grow as a photographer, it can open up new possibilities, and that cannot be underestimated.
Disclosure: Sadly I am not sponsored by any of the brands depicted in this blog, They don’t send me gear for free and they don’t have any stake in my company.
Any gear companies reading this … Contact me to rectify this situation 🙂
If you love what I do and would like to see me continue you can support me on Patreon