Taking photos my way, Part 1

Asian Cajun girls asked me to do a tutorial on photography last week. When asked, I deliver.

One thing is clear though I wouldn’t call what I do ‘photography’. People sometimes ask me if I’m a photographer. I am NOT. I just like taking photos of certain things in a certain way. When people ask me how I take photos I tell them that I just point and shoot. I don’t listen to what so-called experts say so what I’m saying here is just to show you how I do things and not asking you to follow. If you’re just interested to know how I took shots at the Elsa Couture launch, Fremantle High Street collective and other events..read on.

Beck's Music Box Stage

What I shoot, subject : I snap all the time but I do like shooting in high energy places such as busy restaurants, concerts and most of all fashion shows. I don’t like having to set up lights, and props etc since I’m not a photographer nor a stylist. For that reason most of my photos are taken with available lights. More on that coming up.

Whitfords Beach Sunset and Stuart

If I didn’t use the flash (not full but 20% I think) here he would have come out really dark. Check the settings here.

Flash or not to flash: I don’t use flash. Not usually that is. Only time I used my Nikon Speedlight 800 was at the Burlesque party. I rarely use the on-board flash on my camera but it did come in handy when I was shooting some sunset with my guy in the scene. As for the outfit post photos, I’ve been using lots of lamps around the room when I was living in my old house. My dressing room there was pretty dark so I had to but where I’m now I don’t have to as there’s really bright halogen lighting in the kitchen. I never use the red-eye setting. Doesn’t work and it just drains my battery much quicker.

Which camera?: This seems to be a perennial question for a lot of photo enthusiasts. I use Nikon D50 which my guy bought for me in 2005. Nikon and Canon both make really good cameras. There’s are lots of famous names but I haven’t used all of them so I cannot speak with any authority. I don’t participate in Nikon vs Canon battles either. I used both and they both make great pictures. Don’t listen to people raving about pixels. Now we can buy 24mega pixel cameras. Honestly, I don’t need one of those. Mine is 6 MP. Extra pixels don’t make good photos. For professionals shooting landscape and portrait stuff extra pixels will be good but for a snap shooter like me I don’t need all those pixels. Why? More pixels demand faster everything. Faster memory cards, faster computer and more RAM on my machine etc..it takes more time for everything. Downloading, storing and manipulating the list goes on. As I always say, time is of essence.

For the burlesque photos it would have been just as good to use a small pocket camera such as Canon SD880. Single Lens Reflex camera such as Nikon D50 or Canon 5D (confused? don’t worry.. I’m confused too) are good if you are willing to lug around a relatively heavy camera gear. They are not exactly small enough to fit in a handbag if you know what I mean. If you are thinking of buying a new camera I’d go with a Canon pocket camera and play with it a lot before going into buying an SLR. I even took photos of fireworks with my really old Canon digital IXUS 400 this year. This model came out in 2003 and I still use it. I see a lot of good photos taken with small pocket cameras and a lot of crappy photos taken with the latest mega Mega Pixel SLRs.

I’m thinking of buying extra camera(s) for these reasons:

  • D50 is not a full frame camera – almost all digital SLR cameras are about half frame. This doesn’t mean much to people. Simply put if I want to use a super wide angle lens which allows me to fit as much stuff as possible close up in one shot I need a full frame camera such as Nikon D3, D700 or Canon 5D. Why? Say 14mm lens isn’t really 14mm anymore with D50. It becomes more like 28mm in which case it’s wide but it’s not super wide.
  • D50 isn’t really fast enough – my old Nikon F90 (old film camera from 1992) is much faster than D50. I can only shoot 2.5 frames per second(FPS) with D50 as supposed to 4.1 with F90. I just can’t shoot action (eg fashion shows) that well with D50. I saw what I could do with more FPS when I was using Canon 40D (6.5FPS, shown above) at High Street Collective. I was having a burst of three shots in a single release (shutter press). Super!
  • D50 takes crappy shots at ISO1600 – ISO is basically the light sensitivity setting which used to be the film speed for film cameras. With day light I shoot with ISO200 (I’d use 100 if I could but D50 only goes down to 200). As I mainly shoot with available lights without flash I need to have it higher so I go up to 800 when there is very little light. If I use 200 (less sensitive) at night time, D50 will take forever to get enough light to take a shot. While the camera is doing that I have to hold it still. In most cases my photos are blurry that way. Now you know why your photos get blurry. That’s the shutter speed. When using lower ISO settings the shutter speed slows down. It’s fine if I’m using a tripod with a remote release but if not I do need to increase the ISO so that the shutter is a little faster. If I could use ISO 1600 my photos will be a little sharper but D50 makes really grainy pictures with that setting. Higher ISO means nosier and grainier photos. With later models I could get away with ISO1600 although some people will tell me never to use 1600. I don’t care what others say as long as my pictures look good to me.

Settings, forget about camera settings: This is another area which makes people go crazy. I don’t listen to what other guys (yep, it’s usually guys who crap on about camera settings) say about settings. What looks good for them looks crap for me in general. This means I have to do things my way. Luckily my way is pretty simple. I use program Auto which is ‘P’ in my camera dial. It’s basically Automatic but with the P mode I can change things around. I sometimes just shoot in Auto with the flash turned off.


At fashion shows for example, I take a shot and if it looks okay I’ll continue to take photos with the auto or P mode. If the shutter is too slow (making shots a little blurry), I increase ISO. If it’s little too dark, I lower the aperture number (F setting). There are times when I go with the manual mode for example for fireworks. Here’s the settings for the photo above. I followed the instructions from Ken.

28-70mm F2.8 I bought second hand for $1500. Image from Ken Rockwell

What’s with aperture? I’m not going to get into this in any depth but if your lens (pocket or SLR) says F2.8 this means you can take an easier shot with less light than when taking a shot with F4.5. That is one of the things that pushes the lens prices. For example, my mid zoom lens was AUD $1500 second hand because it’s F2.8. My regular lens is only F3.5 and I can pick that up for less than AUD$200 brand new. This is one of the reasons why sometimes pocket cameras take better pictures. My old Canon IXUS 400 is built with a F2.8 wide angle lens. Want to know a little more? Read an article by mr. Rockwell himself.

I think this is enough for one post. I’ll continue this in my next installment.

Join the discussion 10 Comments

  • Brigadeiro says:

    Great ‘tutorial’ Songy,! 🙂

  • Couture Carrie says:

    I would say your expertise makes you a “Photographer”, darling! This is an excellent post, so informative. And your pictures are beautiful!


  • agnes says:

    I totally agree with Couture Carrie.

    And what I also like about your photos is the way you ‘reflect’ beauty. So unique.

  • K.Line says:

    Wow – You are such a photog – do not sell yourself short! I tried to focus through this – Lord knows, I have a fancy camera and I should figure out how to actually use it. But I think I”m more of a hit and miss, figure it out as I go along or when someone next to me shows me which button to push. That’s why I wish you lived here!

  • AsianCajuns says:

    Hiya Songy!!! You are so sweet to do this tutorial! Especially when I know you must be super busy. This comes at the perfect time because my sweety bf just bought me a Nikon D40. I’ll use your tutorial like a genius handbook 😉 Thanks!!!

  • Sweety P says:

    You always have the most helpful posts!

  • dapper kid says:

    Argh I hate the on board flash on my digital. I’m saving up to buy a Nikon dslr hopefully, and I don’t mind about MP, I’m happy with 4mp shots for the most part! With my manual cameras, I use a multi directional so I can bounce of ceilings when indoors (or use a thin sock as a diffuser lol), but I would rather have the convenience of a digital, with my flash just in case, for most situations.

  • enc says:

    I have the silliest digital camera; it’s so limited. Reading this post, I want to go out and drop thousands on a really good quality digital. Alas, I must pay my mortgage!

    Thanks for all the eye candy, though!

  • Vanessa D. Alexander says:

    All I can so is you go girl! Great blog!

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