On Cameras

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?

Down sides:

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.


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