Ok folks, I’m going to write this in English, in case some of my photographing friends who don’t speak Swedish might want to read it. And if you’re just google-stumbling in on it: This is not a tutorial blog on shooting, just a few thoughts and experiences from an amateur, but maybe someone picking up photography as a hobby might find something useful. Now, here’s a first advice for someone who wants to take up photography: Your first camera should be a fairly cheap one. And I’ll get to the reason later.
People often ask me how long I’ve been taking pictures and I tend to answer ”a couple of years”, since photographing started as an active hobby of mine as recently as 2009. That’s when I started the ZXC website and realized I had to get a proper digital camera. But actually, that’s a lot of bullshit.
My first camera was one of those all automatic plastic little pocket cameras that everyone had before the digital era. And I took hundreds and hundreds of pictures with that one. Mostly your standard holiday pics and things like that, but looking back now I’m amazed at how nicely some of them turned out.
I suppose photography has always been in my blood somehow. My grandfather, who recently passed away, was a great photographer, he had his own darkroom kit and all, but sadly had to give up the hobby before I was old enough share it with him. But he passed on the passion to my mother, who I suppose must have gotten me interested in pictures and graphics. She has sadly more or less stopped shooting now because of her fear of the digital world, but if there is anything good in my eye, I suppose I have her to thank for that. She is my harshest critic and I value all feedback she gives me.
Well, anyway, some fifteen years back, or so, she bought one of these semi-digital pocket cameras that were around for a while. Real film, but the cameras were sort of half digital. It took great pictures and I borrowed it whenever I could. I still used it some 4-5 years ago. Then I got my grandfather’s old camera, but the leap from pocket to system camera was to big for me at the time and I never really got the hang of it. It also had a few kinks that I never came to master.
My real school of photography was my summer job at Åbo Underrättelser, the local newspaper for the Turku region, where I worked four summers. When I first arrived they had these strange half static, half system cameras. Later they upgraded themselves to real Nikons, I think. But that was where I really got my first lessons in photography. The standard at the place was not that high, though. There was no photographer working for the paper, so the journalists had to do all of the shooting themselves. The rule was mostly ”If it’s not out of focus, we’ll use it on the front page”. Later they started taking in trainees from the local school of photography during summers and I learned a lot from watching them work. And then I bought my own system film camera, a Canon 300, from my friend Mats who sold it along with a couple of lenses and other stuff for a bargain price. I still use the Tamron zoom lense he sold me. In journalism school I also got in contact with both film and digital cameras, did the short course in press photography and then landed positions as editor of a couple of student magazines, where I started to learn the mysteries of digital images and photoshop. My first digital system camera of my own was the now obsolete Canon EOS 400D, a camera with which I have taken some of my greatest pictures. I recently upgraded that to an EOS 50D – mostly because it shoots better picturs in dim lighting.
I just heard of a guy who bought a Canon 7D as his first camera (with a standard lense, that’s 2000 euros). That is just plain stupidity. Your first camera is like your first car. It’s supposed to be cheap, simple and crappy. Because then you will get no technical help and just have to learn the dynamics of light, motion and timing. Because of its technical limits, it will lead you to experiment and take pictures from angles you would never have thought of, or play with the light to create small artworks instead of just a standard picture. When talking about system cameras, a ”lesser” camera will force you to use the manual controls ans step out of the boundaries of what would generally be looked upon as ”a good picture”. Shadows, motion blurs, searching for that one spot with decent light will render your pictures a personal feel. You have to learn the craft, instead of just letting the auto setting do it all for you.
If there is anything good in my pictures today, it’s all thanks to the journey I’ve had from my little plastic pocket camera through various semi-systematic cameras, film, semi-digital, digital pocket cameras and now to my mid-range 50D. And I’m still just a novice, I am currently starting to build up my first flash kit, tonight I’ll experiment some with multiple flashes down at Wäiski, taking new shots of Opaque Buff with their new drummer. It’s probably going to be a mess. But this is all a part of a journey I love. It’s exciting, fun, experimental. And that feeling you get when standing with a bunch of guys sporting equipment for 5000 euros, and you’re there with your 500 euro 400D kit, then reading the papers the next morning discovering you bested the lot with your pic.
So when people ask me what system camera they should get for their first equipment, I always say a Canon 1000D or 550D (which should be the equivalent of the obsolete 400D today). If you start off with the sportscar model, you’ll miss all the fun of getting your hands dirty beneath the hood. And you won’t know shit about how the engine works.