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Working with you and for you to make your memories last forever.

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Wednesday, 31 July 2013

Looking Beyond the Megapixel

Many people, when they go shopping for a new digital cameras, are convinced that the megapixel count is the most important consideration. While megapixels are important to take into consideration, it is only one piece of the purchasing question. Buying a camera with the highest megapixel count might make you feel endowed, but it won't necessarily make you happy in the long run. Instead of zooming in on the megapixel count when going to purchase a new camera, the first thing you need to ask yourself is what types of photos you want to produce.

I mean, do you even know what a megapixel is? That's what I thought.

The answer to that is actually fairly simple: picture data is made up of individual dots. With film, lower film speed means a finer grain (or more dots) and the higher the film speed the fatter the dots. Now with digital, the sensor captures information on pixels. A megapixel is just a measurment of the number of dots on the camera sensor. The more dots, the sharper the image -- so more megapixels means a better camera, right?

Unfortunately, not all megapixels are created equal.

For example, look at my smart phone camera: I have an HTC, and it has a 5 megapixel camera, which it says is a resolution of 2592x1552. That means the image size is 2592 dots by 1552 dots, mathematically calculated as 2592 times 1552: 4022784, which they round up to 5 million, otherwise known as 5 megapixel.

Now, when I shoot professionally I use a Canon Rebel T3i. It's an 18 megapixel camera, with a maximum resolution of 5184x3456. Compared to the phone camera, the resolution of the canon is 3.6 times greater -- but the resolution is only about double. Why don't they line up?

The answer, my friends, is easy: it's all about sensor size. When you're shooting in digital, the key to image quality is not just megapixel, but also sensor quality and size, and when you're out there shopping for a camera you need to consider all three.

Now, if you're only going to be using this camera to create online albums or print some small photos for around the house, then a good camera phone or a point and shoot is really all you need. If you remember, in an earlier blog I talked about the camera in the latest iPhone. It really is fantastic for something with such a small sensor, and I've read that within the next five or ten years the point and shoot camera will become obsolete; any smaller camera will be the one you find in your phone.

Now, that camera phone will do a fine job if you're just looking to post photos on Facebook, but you'll really need a DSLR if you want to enlarge your work for a poster or what have you.

Take, for example, the photo below. It's a photo I took on vacation in Alaska last year, and it's hanging on my wall as a 12" by 36" canvas print. Try doing that with your iPhone!

The lesson I'm trying to leave you with is to look beyond the megapixel when purchasing a new camera. If it's not backed up by a sensor, then all those megapixels are about as useful as a trophy wife. Pretty numbers are nice to brag about, but wouldn't you rather have someone dependable to accompany you through life? Do your research, and make sure you get a good sensor to back your numbers up. 

Saturday, 20 July 2013

Getting Social Media in Gear

Over the past couple of weeks, I've been talking with friends and colleagues about blogging and its importance. A couple have been surprised to learn that I blog about my work, but I'm more stunned to discover how many professionals don't use social media at all, and the excuses they have. No time, poor writing ability, the infamous writers block. In reality, there are a ton of things that can stop you from using social media to its full potential. Excuses have never been more easy to come by.

But a social network is just that, a network, and if you're willing to use it that way it will only benefit you.

Today, having a social media presence is so very important and is often underused. Personally, I've been working pretty hard at improving this aspect of my work, and you're right -- it's not always easy. But it is important. Anyone who believes starting up a photo business is just taking a few shots will soon learn how much more there is to the business the second they try to market their work. Clients want to know what to expect, they want to know what you've worked on, they want to know you're both serious and passionate about what you do. and perhaps most of all they want to know if they're going to get along with you. These are all elements that social media is practically designed to help you ace.

That being said, it can easily get overwhelming; there are many social media sites begging for new members, and the first task is differentiating the useful ones from the ones that will just waste your time. Social media is important, but by no means should it be taking up the majority of your time.

My three go-to must-haves are Facebook, Twittter, and this personal/professional blog. I try to give the three of them my attention at least weekly, Twitter and Facebook probably even more frequently.

The thing you'll want to work towards (something I'm only putting together now, myself) is a dedicated website. It goes without saying that this is a ton more work than just updating a Facebook status once in a while -- you'll want galleries of your work, an incorporated blog, contact and pricing information, and not to mention the fact that content needs to stay fresh and current so clients are interested in going back to see it and search engines will continue to monitor it.

I recommend sticking mainly to those three: Facebook, Twitter, and a blog/website. If you're a social media whiz, you can dive into Instagram, Pinterest, 500px, Reddit -- the list goes on. Just remind yourself that updating social media isn't your job, although it is a great excuse to procrastinate doing any real photography work.

Even if you hate taking advice and you hate change and you hate social media, I still highly recommend that you make the leap into it if you're serious about your business. I was a stubborn hold-out for quite a while, and when I decided to finally get into the game I felt (and still do, some days) that I was a long ways behind. There's definitely a learning curve, and I stumbled sometimes and took a while to catch on to the way some things worked. But in the end, it's absolutely worth it -- even if you hate it, it's a great way to keep eyes on your work, including your own. You'll find yourself keeping to a schedule and multitasking better, not just within social media but also in your photography projects.

Wednesday, 17 July 2013

Location, Location!

Choosing a photo shoot location is one of the most overlooked (and yet critically important) areas in photography. If you're thinking about investing in new equipment, you're going to spend a large portion of time looking at the market and researching the product. But while we all salivate over one gadget or another, how many of us go out for the sole purpose of researching, finding, and testing shoot locations?

A photo shoot location may be as simple as your backyard or as complex as the top of a volcano in South America or Hawaii. These locations change, sometimes dramatically, according to time of year, time of day, weather conditions and a host of other factors. How do you even begin to explore them photographically?

Before you get overwhelmed by the options, take a deep breath and start simple: step into your backyard. Easy, I can hear you saying. Nothing too dramatic there. But go into your yard and really look at it. Leave your camera inside and look at it without a lens. Can you see how the shadows are falling from your house or that big tree? Is there a strong vantage point you could shoot in the middle of the day when the lighting is not great?

Once you think you know the space like the back of your hand, change your point of view. Stand on a ladder, lay on the ground on your stomach and then roll over onto your back. I guarantee you'll have different ideas about the space than you did before.

After you have the space firmly in your mind, visualise clients or subjects in your yard. Where do you want to put them? Layer the elements one at a time -- and don't try to run before you can walk.

But you may not always have unlimited access to a photo shoot location to prepare and brainstorm, so how do you get ready for that?

Again, we return to the importance of research. Now especially, research is at your fingertips. The obvious places to start? The Internet, travel magazines, your local library. However, there is another, somewhat overlooked resource: photographers. In this business, as any other, it's important to network. Contrary to popular belief, even as an artist-based community, we usually don't "guard" our secrets. I, for one, am quite flattered when someone asks how or where I got a particular shot -- and I know they walk away thinking about how they might do it better. That's how we all got into photography in the first place: we see the beauty of a work, and then go on to figure out how to change it. This is how photography, as an art form, continues to evolve.

If you're feeling a little shy, however, the library is a great place to start. I recently took a gander at a book called The Print and The Process by David duChemin. This is an artist based out of Vancouver and I found it to be an incredible resource. Among others, he tells a story (which really illustrates the point of shoot location preparation) about a trip he took to Iceland to photograph some of the natural landscape. He was there with another photographer, Dave Delena, and when they arrived they drove out into the country for a week or so, making notes about location and conditions and shooting the occasional photo. It was on the way back that the magic happened. They looked over the notes they had taken, having already considered what they wanted to shoot, and from that game plan they produced the best possible outcomes for the return trip.

On the other hand, when we go on a vacation with our families as amateur or semi-professional photographers, that system probably will not work for most of us -- backtracking is not always possible, and taking a thorough look at your surroundings while travelling can bore the rest of the family to tears. On the other hand, you can do a couple of things. Step one: look at what where and when other photos have been shot. This is easy enough to research before you leave, and this gives you a good jumping-off point. You can get a rough idea of locations you may want to explore further, and from there you can plan some family events in those areas. Even when you get to your holiday spot, I suggest making brief unplanned excursions for an hour or two to take some family "snapshots." The family, after all, is expecting you to document the vacation -- and if you spend all your time focusing on personal photography, they might get a little steamed when there are no memories of the family vacation. Spend time with your family or travel buddies first, and don't forget to come out from behind the lens.

Meanwhile, think about where and what you want to shoot on the way back. Once you have a few places in mind, set aside the hours or day that you need to create your pictures. Your family will be more patient, as they have had your undivided attention for a good part of the trip, and you won't feel rushed, because you filled your family's needs first.

Whether shooting at home or abroad, remember that research is just as important as knowing your equipment and taking the actual photo. Take some time and research your yard, your local park, and any particularly picturesque areas within 50 km. Network with other photographers, both in your area and in areas you would like to travel.

Lastly, have fun.  Don`t be afraid of your failures; these are just successes in a different frame, and creativity comes to those who wait and are relaxed.