A week ago, I was lucky enough to be invited to a lunch hosted by the Sauder MIS division. There, I had the pleasure of meeting some super talented students, a few Sauder faculty members, and Murray Jamieson, the VP of Development and Support at TELUS.
Near the end of the lunch, the topic of photography came up. Murray and I were discussing the tradeoff between the convenience of a smartphone and the quality of a full DSLR. I happened to have my work camera with me, so at the end of the lunch, we asked our wonderful waitress to take a group photo for us; one with Murray's iPhone 6, the other with my Nikon D4 with a 24-70mm f/2.8 lens.
A few snaps later, we both had our photos. While I knew there wouldn't be a significant difference between the shots given the fact that the lighting conditions were ideal, and the waitress had done group table shots around "a million" times, I literally couldn't tell the difference between the two photos on my phone screen.
(Click the image below to switch between the two images. Note that the two images were edited for consistency in Lightroom)
Yes, if you look at the images up close, you may noticed the blown highlights, lack of fine detail, and larger depth of field in the iPhone photo. The problem is, most photos we take only really end up on social media for consumption on our laptop/desktop/phone screens at a reduced size. Hopefully, nobody out there looks at every photo on social media with a discerning eye for such technical flaws.
This brings me to one of the most common question I'm asked as a photographer: "What camera would you recommend if I'm thinking of taking photography more seriously?"
Many people, my past self included, assume that by buying a big, professional-looking camera, you'll magically gain the ability and willpower to take perfect photos of all your food and friends with bokeh balls bigger than the sun. While technical capabilities are somewhat of a focus in photography (no pun intended), as you saw before, it really won't make much of a difference in many cases. For me, improving my photography was all about growing my creative mindset and becoming more determined to take photos.
Despite the gear I've shot with, my everyday photos had never been too strong until about a year ago, when I first started to explore the Instagram community. The many people I follow there are extremely talented. Masters of having an eye for everything aesthetic, these photographers can take any mundane moment and turn it into an eye-catching wonder.
Below is an excerpt of the many Instagrammers who never cease to inspire me. I highly recommend following them if you're looking for beautiful photos, elegantly written stories, and overall awesome people.
What's my addiction? Drinking martinis? 🍸 No. Watching Netflix? 📺 Not really. Vaping? 🚬 Definitely not. Shooting cool staircases? 🌀 Bingo! I get a rush of excitement when I look down from the top or up from the bottom of one, and I dream about finding new ones. That's how entranced I am with the design of geometrically beautiful staircases. So it was a very good day when my dear wife reported that she saw a stunning one in her friend's apartment building, which I've driven by many times, oblivious to what's inside. The friend was willing to let me in to shoot it. That's how I ended up in this historic seven-storey, Georgian Revival building, completed in 1912. According to lore, it was once the home of @justinpjtrudeau, @officialsarahmclachlan, and a few other celebs. Apparently Emily Carr also gave art lessons to a friend there. As we start to run out of interesting staircases in public buildings to shoot, I think apartment buildings will be the next frontier. So it was exciting to see this, especially with my stairs buddy @yvr.alana. Big thanks to my wife and her friend, and to Alana for expertly playing the part of the #instagrammerdown. Check out the superb shot she took in her awesome gallery. If you know of any great staircases in apartment buildings please leave a comment. May the stairs be with you. 🔦 #wongskistaircases
I fondly recall my first Instameet (a gathering of local Instagram users). Not knowing what to expect, I came armed with a huge honking DSLR with a set of lenses, expecting others to do the same. When I arrived, I was surprised to see that most of the other Instagrammers had brough nothing but their phones or simple point and shoot cameras.
The kicker: after the meet, even though we all walked the same path, their photos came out much better than mine did. For them, the limitations they faced with their cameras encouraged them to use composition, framing, timing, and clever direction to make their photos stand out. They didn't have 14 stops of dynamic range, endless lenses to switch from, or even a hint of bokeh. They carried creativity, curiosity, and a sense of experimentation with them instead.
Now with all that being said, let's revisit that question: what camera would I recommend to people looking to get more into photography?
Whatever camera that motivates you to take more photos, to get experimental, and to push yourself outside your creative boundaries.
My answer's a bit of a cop-out, but hear me out. You can buy the most expensive camera in the world, but if you aren't motivated to bring it out and take photos, it's as good of a camera as one that's broken. Many people I know have fallen into the trap where they purchase a DSLR in attempt to catalyze their jaunt into photography, but never end up using it because it's too heavy or impractical to tote along.
For me, I've changed my personal cameras from DSLRs to either mirrorless or film cameras for the size. Even with a camera I can toss in a packed messenger bag, it can sometimes be a hassle to take my camera out, especially if it's raining and I'm unsure of whether the photo is worth taking or not.
As odd as it sounds, one my favourite cameras in the past few years has been the one found in the Samsung Galaxy S6. This was the first smartphone camera that caused me to fill the internal storage of my phone. Why did I like using it so much? The speed of course. I could pull it from my pocket, launch the camera, grab a shot, and put it back in under 5 seconds.
Yes, it's not nearly as technically capable as the other cameras I've used, but as the first part of this post showed, who cares?
Of course I'm not saying that the camera doesn't matter at all, that would be hypocritical. A good portion of my blog is me ranting about how much I love using certain cameras.
Rather, that if you're thinking of dabbling into the world of photography, chances are you have an amazing camera already in your pocket. One that you have with you all the time, one that takes images strikingly similar to top-of-the-line DSLRs, and one that you have no excuse not to use.