Some observations from my recent spat of workshops:
1. Most of my workshop participants have crummy tripods. They have great cameras and lenses, camera bags, filters and most other stuff but their tripods are pretty dreadful. What does ‘pretty dreadful’ mean? It means their tripods are rickety, short and a pain in the neck to use. I understand this. Photographers are willing to spend lots of money on everything photographic except tripods.
I should say that it has always been this way, at least for the 25 years I have been teaching workshops. The irony is that if a slightly more expensive tripod and tripod head were to be purchased they wouldn’t be nearly so inconvenient to use. Spend $250 for a tripod and you will be a much happier photographer. Spend less than $250 and you might as well hand hold. Nothing is more creatively stifling and frustrating than a crummy tripod.
2. The art of exposure is dead. So is the art of thinking about exposure. The art of doing anything about exposure is on life support. Think of me as exposure IV tubes. First activate your histogram and highlights (blinkies) in your menu so that they are easily accessible. Most of my students don’t have these turned on so when I ask them how their exposure is they have to hunt around to find the histogram and see their blinkies. After every picture I take I check my histogram. This is one of the huge advantages of digital photography. No more guessing. Just check your histogram and you will know if the exposure is correct.
So why would anyone bracket these days? It makes no sense and is a complete waste of time. Just check your histogram and you will see if the exposure is correct. But you say, maybe I will like a lighter or darker version of the picture. You have missed the point. Taking a picture is just capturing data. That is what your camera actually is, a data capture mechanism. Adjusting the picture is what you do in your computer after the picture is taken. This is called processing. Photography is part capture, part processing. So if you want to adjust the exposure of the picture in your computer that is great. Just capture the data correctly (no blown out hightlights or blocked up shadows) when you take the picture and you can adjust to your heart’s content.
3. Another huge advantage of digital photography is the ability to change the ISO with every shot. Most of my students don’t do this. They keep the ISO the same no matter what they are taking. And most of the time they keep the ISO at old film speed numbers, shooting at ISO 100 or 200 but no higher. When I ask why they don’t change the ISO most of them admit that they don’t even think about it. Fair enough. But don’t complain that there is not enough shutter speed to ensure proper focus when your ISO is set to 100.
I know what many of you are saying: Isn’t the picture quality is better at 100! Yes it is, no doubt about it. But that is not the important question. The important question is whether the ISO you are using is good enough. The answer to that question is probably. Every camera has an ISO threshold beyond which the picture quality deteriorates very quickly. On my old D2X I couldn’t shoot much past ISO 800. With my D300 I can go all the way up to ISO 1600. On a D3 you can shoot at ISO 3200! So my default ISO setting is 640. If I want a slower shutter speed (perhaps to soften water) I will move the ISO to 100 or 200. IF I want a faster shutter speed (to stop a speeding cow) I will shoot at 800 or 1200. The point is I adjust my ISO just like I adjust my f-stop and shutter speed to what is best for the picture I am taking.