Monthly Mailbag, July 2011

The Manual Photography Cheat Sheet (image by kind permission of Miguel Yatco)

I’ve decided that toward the end of each month, I will excerpt some of the mail and messages I get here on The First 10,000. Names have been changed, but I’ve kept the content of the messages largely intact.

Our first message comes from Murphy Brawn, who says, “I’m enjoying your blog even though I am not a photographer by any stretch of the imagination.”

Murphy, that pretty much makes you my target audience. Well, I’m kidding, but only slightly. There’s a reason I started this blog, and targeted it at inexperienced photographers: a lot of blogs and sites tend, I think, to assume a certain experience/interest level among the people reading. The challenge, therefore,  is to reach people who are casual shooters that either a: want to get a bit better, or b: aren’t really sure where they are in relation to photography. I guess the way I’m looking at it is taking something about which I’m passionate, and hoping some of the passion rubs off.

Of course, the other reason I’m targeting the inexperienced is that if I targeted professionals, I’d get laughed off the internet. My chops aren’t up there with the big guys, so it’s a matter of learning as I go, and hoping that someone finds my (in)experience helpful in some way.

All of which is a longish way of saying, “I’m glad you read it, and even more glad you enjoyed it.” Thanks.

Jon Orton sends along the picture that graces this post, courtesy of Miguel Yatco of Living in the Stills (click the photo to enlarge/print it, click the link to visit Miguel’s site). It’s a great little “Cheat Sheet” to explain some of the camera’s workings, and to visualize what’s going on with the camera when you’re changing certain settings.

Short Trini asks, “Any tips and tricks for taking good photos with those disposable cameras? My mom buys them a lot, and sometimes the pics leave a lot to be desired. Sometimes they are out of focus, or they just have that “disposable” look to them.

That can be any number of things. First off, disposables don’t give you much control over focus, shutter speed, or aperture, so the camera’s not always going to be focused where you’d like it to be, nor is it necessarily going to expose the way you had in mind. As is the case with any kind of camera, you sacrifice control for simplicity and cost. One problem you also tend to get with point-and-shoots of pretty much any kind — whether it’s a disposable or a digital — is that the built-in flash can be a bit harsh. If you don’t need the flash, shut it off (most disposables will let you do that).

The other thing that makes a difference sometimes is the brand. Disposables made by Fuji or Kodak, while they’re generally a bit more expensive, come loaded with better film, and are going to be “new,” whereas some of the off-brand disposable cameras not only use cheaper film, they also sometimes use recycled and re-badged disposable bodies. So if the person who last shot with it knocked it around, spilled their drink on it, etc., you’re already starting off with a strike against you.

Finally, sometimes your processing makes a difference, too. Places like CVS and Walgreens do a much better job at processing than they used to, but if the lab’s not using a “name” photo process, the quality of your photos can suffer, too.

Long story short (which is to say, longer): It might not be anything your mom is, or isn’t, doing. Could be the camera, the processing, or any number of other things. The one thing I’d suggest is that if she’s shelling out a lot of money over the course of the year on cameras and developing, a digital compact might not be a bad idea. You can get a decent one without breaking the bank, and while it might seem like a fair chunk of change, it may actually represent a savings depending on how often she uses it. Right away you’re saving on processing, since processing a roll of film where everything came out badly costs you the same as one where it all came out right, whereas with digital, you can pick, choose, process, and print only your “keepers.”

One last thought: as the first month of The First 10,000 draws to a close, thanks to everyone who’s been reading, and for the words of encouragement many of you have sent along. Next month brings more of the same, with the possibility of some surprises in store.

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