The intersection of gear and skill

I’ve been taking photographs with a dSLR for about three and a half years now. I’m constantly reading a variety of articles on gear and techniques; things like that. For some reason I still read articles that cover some of the most basic topics just because I appreciate the refresher and enjoy the slight nuances that may be presented by a different author.

My favorite site for learning has been Digital Photography School. Their photo tips page is constantly being updated. They even have a great subset of tutorials for beginners which I typically recommend to anyone who asks me how I got started. By reading sites like this one and countless others you can generate a wealth of knowledge on how your camera works, how to shoot, what gear you need, etc.

The next step, and actually should be done in conjunction with reading online articles or books, is to get out and shoot. It’s the best way to learn in my opinion. Together you can learn much quicker than if you just studied at home or just went out and shot. One of my goals when I started this blog was to demonstrate, with examples, how this learning comes together.

A few weeks ago I was up in Roberts Creek, BC and visited the Cliff Gilker Park. It’s a little municipal park that is completely unassuming but even better than some of the national parks in the region.

street view - cliff gilker

the entrance to Cliff Gilker Park

I’ll let you do your own investigation of the park since that is not the purpose of this post. Here I want to show you how knowledge and equipment can combine to make the best of your photos. The park has multiple waterfalls just steps from your car and with the heavy canopy, soft mosses and moving water it is a perfect candidate for long exposure shots. I had all the necessary gear with me to make the best of the moment but you’ll see how understanding what to use and when to use is also fundamental.

The moment I came upon this waterfall I knew it would be a great photo. I climbed down into the ravine with my camera, bag and tripod to compose my shot. I typically shoot in aperture priority and use exposure compensation but sometimes I’ll switch into full manual mode. I framed up the shot and capture this. Not bad but then I remembered something…

SHA_7105lr

28mm, f/14, 2 sec, ISO 800, exp bias -0.7

There is water in the shot and to me that just screams polarizing filter. When you screw on your filter you have to turn it in order to optimize its effect. Honestly, I can’t remember if I had the filter on and forgot to spin it or if I failed to even put it on at this point. Either way there is a ton of distracting light reflecting off the water and the rocks.

SHA_7107lr

28mm, f/14, 3 sec, ISO 800, exp bias -0.7

Now that’s noticeably better. The polarizer isolates the water that you want and enhances the colors of the rocks and mosses. But now it accentuates another problem that I frequently overlook. You’ll notice that the image has a blue hue and it is particularly noticeable in the water. I have my camera set to Auto White Balance. This isn’t a huge issue because I also shoot in RAW. White balance is not actually applied to the RAW images, only the JPEG. So while this looks odd it is easily fixed in Lightroom – if you remember to do it. Ideally you would correct this on the spot by specifying the white balance but that is a skill I have yet to even address in the slightest way.

SHA_7107lr-2

28mm, f/14, 3 sec, ISO 800, exp bias -0.7

Now the image looks much more natural. Adjusting the white balance removes the blue hue and brings back the warmth of the scene that was present.

You can see from the progression of the three images above that it took specific items from my camera bag and the knowledge of how to use them. Having the best gear is definitely not required but having the right gear and knowing how to use it is the key to capturing the best image you can. There is still a lot for me to learn and when I learn it I will hopefully share with all of you my knowledge and the path that got me there.