If you missed part one of this series you can see it here. Basically I am trying to encourage young or would be photographers, photojournalists and documentary shooters to spend less time thinking about their equipment and more time thinking about their work and the quality of their subject matter. In hopes of showing what can be done with the cheapest gear around, I purchased a pocket sized point and shoot for $70 off the internet and took it with me to Uganda. You can see the first set of images I took there by following the link in the first sentence of this post and I am posting more below.
Why Buy Expensive Gear When You Can Take Great Shots With Cheap Gear?
Dont get me wrong, I am not saying that there are no differences between expensive camera equipment and the cheap stuff. My point is that people are far too hung up on this and let it become an excuse for taking not so great pictures "too bad I didnt have a good camera, this could have been a cool shot!" Anyway, here is a a very simplified explanation of the differences between cheap cameras and expensive ones (there are many of course, but these have the most effect on your image quality and output, in my opinion.)
Shutter Lag: This is the time it takes from when you push the button until the camera takes a picture. Most of us know what it is like to take a point and shoot and press the button, then three seconds later, once everyone in the frame has walked away, it actually shoots the shot. This is a big deal, especially in photojournalism when the decisive moment is critical. Usually you will end up paying more for a camera with less shutter lag, which is great if you can afford it.
Low Light: A nice camera with a large, high resolution sensor and good low light performance can be really nice to have, especially since in real life most of the pictures we take happen to be in lighting situations that are not ideal. A cheap camera will usually produce images that have a lot of digital garbage in them (it kind of looks like film grain but not as nice and round and even.) Point and shoot and cheap cameras usually struggle in low light, and you often have to pay a lot more to get a camera that can do really well. There is still quite a lot you can do with that cheap camera though...and they often have a built in flash which most profession DSLR's (digital Single Lens Reflex) dont have.
Wide Angle: About 80% of my portfolio was shot on a 16-35mm lens, which in normal English means that I shoot wide angle shots a lot. I am close to my subjects the vast majority of the time. Most point and shoot cameras do not shoot wider than about 28mm. In real life terms this could be the difference of getting a whole living room in a frame vs getting in just half the couch. Wide angle is really nice to have but it comes at a price. The crappy point and shoot I used for this post and Pt 1 of this series was 28mm at its widest, and it worked just fine for most situations, but once again, it was not ideal.
And thats about it. Of course there are many other differences including build quality, reliability, lens quality, ability to shoot RAW (a high quality, uncompressed file that is much better than the standard jpeg images) etc. The point and shoot used here shot only JPEG and again, it was fine but not ideal.
Tips and Tricks for Getting Great Images From a Not So Great Camera:
The most important by far is subject matter! Honestly, this is what your mind should be focused on. I would rather see a grainey, out of focus image of something interesting than a perfect image of something dull. If you want to capture people's attention with your photographs, shoot interesting subjects.
Composition is a huge part of the equation as well. Shoot images through doorways, broken glass, smoke, reflections in puddles, use something in the foreground to frame the background. No matter what kind of camera you have, you can play with composition to make your photos considerably better. As a matter of fact, you may even have an advantage with a point and shoot, as they are usually smaller than professional cameras and you can stick them in tight places easily, hold them over your head, down low, take candid shots...there is so much you can do with them.
One thing that helped me lot to capture the images below with a point and shoot was to shoot in continuous mode. This is the camera mode that allows you to hold down the shutter button and the camera will just take one image after another continuously. For instance the images shot from car windows were captured just by holding the camera up to the glass and shooting continuously whenever something interested appeared. It was also the secret to shooting people. When you dont have the luxury of a camera with a short shutter lag, you can shoot in continuous mode in order to capture decisive moments.
Another important thing to do when shooting with cheap camera equipment is just taking lots, and lots, and lots of photos. You are going to come home at the end of the day with a lot of crap to look through, but if you take 400 images instead of 100, you are going to have about four times more winners hiding in there (at least in theory :) Dont be afraid to fill up that card! It is free for gods sake, what are you worried about? If you think the worlds top shooters go out there and press the shutter button once and come away with an award winning shot, then you are sorely mistaken (which is ok...most professional photographers would like people to believe they possess these godly powers! Ha!)
Anyway, whatever camera you have, get out there and shoot with it. Find something you are passionate about and then document it. If you really care about what you shoot then people will see that in your photographs, whether they were shot on a $10,000 camera or a $100 camera.