Game of Tones: Musings on Photography


For many years now, I have been an occasional (but zealous) traveler. For just as long, I have been an occasional (but fumbling) photographer. And by “photographer” I mean “I pointed cameras at things.”

I have always liked to think that I had a better eye for scene and setting than other people, but really it was just that I didn’t like to have people in my pictures of famous places. Why would I go all the way to London just to take a picture of YOUR FACE with Buckingham in the background? You=anywhere; Buckingham=only there. In honesty, my pictures really weren’t that interesting, and when they were it was purely accidental.

An early decent photo, taken with my (film-based) Canon Rebel X SLR. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

For whatever reason, over the years I have stuck with Canon. I have gone from an old film-based Canon Rebel X SLR (for anybody under the age of 25, film is something that existed before memory cards), to a Canon Powershot S2 IS several years later when I decided to go digital, to a Canon Powershot S5 IS when I got a good deal on it, to a Canon Powershot S90 when the S5 was, umm, “appropriated” by a friend and then-coworker who borrowed it for a day that turned into…well, that was four years ago. I waited a little while before getting the S90, but after a few years it started to look like I wasn’t going to get my S5 back and I had a trip to Turkey coming up.

I wanted a decent camera that wouldn’t take up a ton of space and had good low-light performance so I didn’t have to blind people with the flash anytime I wanted to take a picture in anything less than full direct sunlight. The S90 certainly fit the bill. It was a fantastic little workhorse of a camera through many tens of thousands of miles of travel – in Turkey, Vietnam, Korea, and Palawan in the Philippines. Sadly, partway through that last trip, the lens motor and/or lens retracting gears got sand in them. That little “clickclickclickclickclickclick” on turning the camera on and off was the beginning of the end: my poor S90 was on its way out. Just a matter of time.

For a point-and-shoot, the S90 took some damn good photos. Palawan being insanely gorgeous helped. One of the last shots before my S90 took a fatal dose of sand to the guts.

I had been idly eyeballing DSLRs for a while, thinking that whenever I needed or decided to replace my camera I would like to step up to a DSLR. Now, what is the single most important thing you can do to make your pictures better? As any wanna-be photographer can and will tell you, you’re exactly right: BUY NEW EQUIPMENT. More expensiver, betterer, biggerer gear will make you a better photographer. EVERYBODY with a 1DS is an amazing photographer, right?! Ergo – if I have a 1Ds…I too will be an amazing photographer! [ed. note: yes, that was sarcasm]

Skill and technical learning aside, there are certain technological and physical realities to the basic image quality of a DSLR over a point-and-shoot camera. To REALLY boil it down, DSLRs have bigger, better sensors than your little pocket camera. Photography is the capture of light, and DSLRs are better at capturing light. That said, if you’re an idiot and take a picture with a lamppost in the way of your subject, it doesn’t matter what’s in your hand – nothing can see through or around your stupidity. But as somebody in search of a hobby, I thought photography could be a contender.

One day at Costco in Busan, South Korea, I noticed that they had Canon’s EOS 550D (known in America as the Rebel T2i) on clearance, making way for more stock of the slightly newer 600D I suppose. I grabbed a package which included the body, Canon’s 50mm f/1.8 II prime (fixed-length) lens, and Canon’s “kit” 18-55m f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens for about $25 less than the same package would have cost back in the States. Score!

I’ve now had the camera for about 2 months and roughly 1000 shots, and I decided to start this blog as a way to recap my experiences stepping up from amateur to…well, slightly better educated amateur. I don’t know exactly what you should expect to find here over the coming months and years (I hope) except a forum for me to vent my frustrations, share my successes, toss up the occasional rave and probably slightly more frequent rant (I do love to rant), review gear, talk about what I’ve learned from shoots and various experiences, and generally just get whatever photography-related stuff is on my mind, onto digital paper. I’ve already got posts in mind to review my first major purchase since getting the camera itself (a new bag, the LowePro Flipside 400 AW), a few posts about various shoots I’ve gone on in the past two months, a few before-and-after shots of images that I’ve processed (for now I’m using Aperture, which seems fairly newbie-friendly) to get feedback on how I’ve done…we’ll see where it goes from there.

Thanks for reading! I’ll leave you with one of my favorite pictures I’ve taken since I got started with this DSLR.

I was at Gwangalli Beach in Busan on a particularly gorgeous spring day. This little kid nearby was jumping off these…whatever you’d call them…and I grabbed the shot.

P.S. a note on the title of the blog. I was kicking around ideas for a title for this photo-oriented blog with a friend of mine. Many rejected titles later, he threw out “Game of Tones,” which I thought was terrific since photography is, you know…a game of tones (light tones, color tones, contrast tones, etc). Also it sounds like that TV show that this friend and I happen to both adore. I hope we don’t get sued though!

This entry was published on May 1, 2012 at 6:55 am and is filed under Gear, Learning. Bookmark the permalink. Follow any comments here with the RSS feed for this post.

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