Get to grips with the basics

To capture a great shot, we need to know how to both use and position our camera.  Picture by Ivor Rackham.
To capture a great shot, we need to know how to both use and position our camera. Picture by Ivor Rackham.

The European Space Agency’s Euclid deep space telescope, due for launch in 2020, has a 600-megapixel camera.

Photographing 15,000 square degrees of space, a little over a third of the heavens, it will produce huge amounts of data.

Euclid has far more resolution than we photographers should never need. I often hear people claiming that a greater pixel count gives more scope for cropping. Although true, there are many advantages to having fewer pixels, besides the smaller file sizes.

Atmospheric conditions mean it is always better to get close to your subject than stand back and crop. As the great Robert Capa said: “If your photos aren’t good enough, you are not close enough.”

Larger and less tightly-packed photosites – the individual light sensitive dots on the sensor – result in reduced noise and greater dynamic range. Furthermore, flaws in lenses have a greater effect with greater resolution.

I do like technology. My newest camera can shoot 60 raw frames a second. Despite probably never using that feature, the built-in gizmos give me a buzz of wonderment. This precision instrument is a technological marvel, achieving things that were unthinkable a handful of years ago.

Some photographers do not enjoy discovering their camera’s hundreds of settings. I do. I read the manual, then experiment. Learning a new camera using boring manuals is not everyone’s cup of tea. Thankfully, there are courses, websites, videos and books. As I deliver photography courses, I need to learn so I can pass that knowledge on.

Complexity in a camera does not necessarily mean better pictures. My new camera allows me to achieve results I could not otherwise manage, but only in very few circumstances. In fact, all these intricacies can be a distraction. I enjoy photography more with my smaller, simpler, second camera, especially when I fit a very old manual focus lens.

The camera body is lowest on the hierarchy of importance. We see great photographs in the Northumberland Camera Club shot with basic cameras. The most important part is the eye looking through the viewfinder.

To achieve great photos, we must master composition. Also, we must learn how to focus and the relationship between the settings that alter exposure and the look of the image.

Understanding how changing the focal length, subject distance and aperture affect the photo, and knowing the best camera positioning, are essential skills. Getting to grips with these basics is the biggest step we can take to improving our photography.