Sunday, January 1, 2012

Becoming a better photographer

In keeping with my 2012 information diet, I've resolved to both blog more and take more photographs. Late last year I upgraded my camera - from a Nikon D80 to a Nikon D7000. Thought I'd document a bit about the gear I'm using and how I'm committing more to my photography hobby.

My primary lens is a Nikkor 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6 VR II lens; I waffled a bit between this lens and a better zoom (had my eye on the Nikkor 80-200mm f/2.8), but ultimately opted for the greater flexibility of the 18-200, along with the VR capabilities in the lens that should make hand-held shooting better. (For good reviews of the 18-200 that helped me make up my mind, see Thom Hogan and Ken Rockwell.) It also didn't hurt that the 18-200, while not inexpensive, was quite a bit less than the 80-200.

I put a 72mm Hoya UV filter on the lens, and will probably pick up a polarizing filter before our summer trip to Alaska.

Ade Oshineye echoed a recommendation I'd heard from several photographers: keep the camera with me at all times. To make that a bit easier, I picked up the Kata 3n1-33 backpack that will carry my camera and gear, as well as my laptop, power cords and books. I've really liked the bag, which can be a backpack or a sling, and features a nice easy-access compartment that makes getting to the camera really fast. Thanks to Chris White for the recommendation on Google+ - it's been a great bag so far.

After I upgraded the camera body, I asked for some recommendations on books that'd help me improve, and have picked up several of the books that were suggested:
  • Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. This book does a great job explaining the 3 critical parts of a photo: ISO, aperture and shutter speed. Great illustrations and very readable copy make this a very solid explanation of how pictures are composed and how to get the right exposure every time.
  • David Busch's Nikon D7000. I read through the Nikon manual - it does a great job explaining how to do things with the D7000's incredibly sophisticated controls. But what's missing is the why you'd do certain things - why you'd use one auto-focus option over another, why you'd tweak that noise reduction setting, why you'd choose one option over another. Busch's guide is a veritable bible for the camera, and is giving me much more appreciation for what the camera can do (and how I can take control of it).
  • David Busch's Nikon D7000 field guide. This stays in the Kata bag, and is a condensed version of the D7000 bible mentioned above.
BTW, many thanks to some great photographers/friends for their advice on Google+: Erica Joy, Chris Chabot, Bud Gibson, Ade Oshineye, David Hobby, and Thomas Hawk. You should follow them!

Finally, I've switched from Picasa to Adobe Lightroom for managing my photos. While I was generally happy with Picasa, I've found Lightroom to be a more fully-featured app - both for managing photos shot in RAW and for the large volume of photos I'm shooting. I'm still getting the hang of it, but have found Adobe's Lightroom TV a great collection of tutorials to get more out of the app.

Of course, none of this is any good without developing a better eye, and lots of practice. To that end, I'm following a lot of photographers on Google+ and observing what I like (and what I can understand!), and am trying to take a lot more pictures. I've had the camera less than a month and have taken well over 1,000 pictures. We took some family down to Monterey right before Christmas, and I took a couple shots I'm really happy with:

Really looking forward to taking many more thousands of pictures in 2012. Stay tuned!


  1. Light room is a great switch. Nothing wrong with picasa, but its very entry level. Just got out of the photography biz. 16 years I was in it. Taught as an adjunct professor too. You have a pretty good eye.... practice "your eye" by shooting very wide angle and cropping various images out of it to see what you could have done. This is a good method of developing a feel for composition.

  2. I made pretty much the same resolution last year in preparation for a trek up Kilimanjaro. In addition to getting a camera backpack that would allow me to carry my heavy camera equipment for long distances and which would stand up to inclement weather (I opted for the Tenba Shootout), I also got a Black Rapid camera strap so I could hike with the camera out and ready for shots. It was one of my most useful photography purchases of 2011.