I’m not a photographer. I have friends who are, so I know the difference. I take pictures like most people, using a point-and-shoot camera that I carry round most places I go. It’s a little more versatile than my phone camera. However, I got a digital SLR a few years ago and that’s what I use to shoot most of the pictures on this blog.
This page is about what difference a camera makes. It’s not just for making pictures, it is a tool for seeing.
Since digital cameras got close to 35mm in their ability to produce a decent resolution, the advantages have become obvious.
- The pictures are self-documenting (carry the date and time as well as a lot of data on the camera settings at the time).
- So they ease note-taking. Of course, you want to take other, written notes too, but a quick snap captures the time, the weather conditions, the state of the vegetation,…. You can take a lot of detailed notes before even picking up the pen. Don’t forget to write down the photo number for x-ref. Of course a smart phone camera can do even more by integrating with a note tool.
- The camera sees many things the eye does not.
- I originally got a medium telephoto with the camera and almost immediatly bought a macro lens for close ups. I should have bought macro rings first – just a few bucks gets you immediately into that whereas a good macro lens is several hundred dollars. Now I have both and they combine for extreme close up. I always wander round with a small hand lens (who doesn’t?) and the camera doesn’t magnify that much, but the resulting pictures often reveal more than I saw at the time.
- Once winter set in, no mini-fauna and flora, but even in our cold climate, there are always lots of birds and other animals as you will see by looking through the blog. So I switched to the telephoto. Once my finances recovered from the macro lens, I bought a bigger one (500mm). Again, I often carry binoculars and they are always on the kitchen table. In this case, the binoculars are more powerful than the lens but the lens still sees more because:
- Cameras are time machines.
- Fast shutters reveal things the eye cannot catch. We went for millenia not knowing how a horses legs move when running, until someone was able to photograph them in motion. The other day I was watching a flicker catch things in the grass. I had no idea what and they swallowed them faster than I could see. A photo made it easy.
- Time lapse lets you see slow changes quickly, which allows our brains to understand what is going on.
- Rapid-fire shots lets you capture things in motion your eye cannot pick out. Most cameras will do video, which takes that another level.
There is another advantage to the photographer: the camera teaches you to be more observant. I’m not sure how, it just happens. Part of it is just the effort of looking for a good picture but as I’m less interested in a good picture than seeing something interesting, that is only part of the story. I think it is just that the eye sees differently than the camera and you can learn to do both. Do you know the famous psychology experiment where a gorilla walks through the middle of a basketball game but the subjects don’t see it because they were focusing on another task? Well, the camera sees the gorillas and I learned to look at what is to be seen.
Finally (well, for now), I have my own perspective on things. I take my kind of pictures from that perspective, but I love to see things from others’s points of view? What are yours? Where are your blogs?
Some people get too obsessed with taking pictures that they don’t take the time to look around. And it is easy to get sucked into spending more time on a picture than it is worth. But this is just a lesson to learn or risk becoming a photographer.
Weight. A 500mm lens is not light, so tricky for backpacking. I don’t do much of that any more but as I get older, even a ten mile hike with a lot of weight is tiring. So I got a smaller pair of binoculars. Same magnification so just fine for OK light conditions. I just argue with myself a lot on what to carry.