FotoTip – Making Do

Mark Alberhasky looks at using point and shoot cameras and comes to the conclusion it is all in the photographer, not in the gear.
Most serious photographers base their approach to the medium on the premise that fine quality work requires advanced, expensive equipment.  This attitude has its roots in decades of experience where high prices and quality were synonymous.  But now that digital has matured, that dogma is dog-eared.  Sure, there is truth that for some subject matter, expensive gear is the only way to bring home the award winning shot.  But that doesn’t mean serious images can’t be made with equipment that most serious photographers would pass over without thinking twice.

Case in point … the point and shoot.

Generally considered a camera for the masses (by those who say “consumer” and roll their eyes), these are the all in one, typically compact models that traditionally had more limited controls and feature sets.  But have you been paying attention to the marketplace?  $350 these days can get you a 12 MP (not a typo) camera with program and scene modes, bona fide aperture and shutter priority modes, as well as true manual control.  All in an ergonomic body, that at the size of a thick deck of cards still easily drops in a coat pocket.  With specs like these, any photographer should take notice.

Now the question about how to make serious photographs takes on new dimensions.  Lots of shooters have been looking through a (D)SLR viewfinder so long, it would take some reorientation to adapt their creative workflow to 8 oz of technology without an optical thru the lens view.  Many will still insist on a backpack with 30 lbs of gear to head for their shoot, but here is what can happen if you choose a different path…

You can polish away some of the technique tarnish you didn’t realize had accumulated while you were ensconced in a “what you see is what you get” SLR viewfinder.  Working with a point and shoot requires a different mentality, somewhat like a throwback toward pre-digital days.  Since you don’t have a fuzzy, warm, 100% viewfinder with 50 user selectable focus points, you have to adopt a more basic shooting style and previsualize.  Why?  LCD screens, as useful as they are for a quick look, fall short of delivering the impact of an SLR viewfinder in portraying the potential of what you are about to shoot.  I even find LCD review on the camera after capture typically fails to convey the actual quality of what you just rendered (although the new Nikon LCDs on the D300 and D3 are about to rewrite that and rock your instant feedback world).

Instead, try using the time honored two handed framing technique, where you slide your thumb and forefingers together at right angles to make a composing frame viewed with one eye.  You’ll get a more realistic idea of the final result.  Yes, you’ll have an LCD to help line the shot up, and then give you a pretty fair real-time review of your capture, but it is a distinctly different shooting experience than with an SLR.  These limitations will force you to think more conceptually and that gets you closer to the holy grail of really serious image makers:  the ability to look around, spot a subject, and size it up in your minds eye, so that you know where to be with what focal length and what settings, even before you bring equipment toward your face.  Though the LCD view may not “wow” you in the field, contemporary point and shoots create amazingly high quality files that can knock your socks off back in the digital darkroom.  Plan good shots and work through your concept with good technique, confident that your lightweight can deliver heavyweight files.

Mark Alberhasky photography

My image came from a delightful predawn hike in suburban Atlanta, only a mile from my new home near the Chattahoochee River.  My companion, a fine photographer and veteran to the area, Tom Wilson, made me chuckle when he commented on how light I was traveling that morning.  A tripod and 8 oz of camera is a real treat at 6:00 am.  I was shooting with a Nikon Coolpix P5100 (is it fair to even call this a point and shoot?).  I had already thought beforehand about taking advantage of the manual mode in this little gem to shoot bracketed exposures so the images could be developed as HDR shots.  The bottom line is, shooting in a different way makes you think.  The thinking part is where the best images come from.

It’s not just the gear … it’s what’s between the ears.

Happy Holidays and Great Images,
Mark

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