Since traveling, hiking and photography go hand in hand, I have been working on different ways to improve the quality of the pictures I take. I often feel amazed and inspired by some of the photographs I see, and wish I was also able to cause the same reaction when people look at my shots.
Last month I bought a refurbished Nikon D5100 DSLR with the standard 18-55mm kit lens. At $440, the price was finally low enough for me to bite the bullet. It also came with a longer 1 year warranty, which is not common for refurbished cameras. It had a shutter count of 512, which is pretty low. It is a natural progression from the Canon S95, which I got a year ago. The S95 was my first experience playing with manual controls (aperture, shutter speed, ISO). The D5100 allows me to do many other things. such as time lapse videos. What I’m most excited about is to play with prime and wide angle lenses. I’m considering getting a Nikon 50mm f/1.8 prime, and a 10-20mm Sigma wide angle (great for landscapes) in the future.
I’m still unsure about carrying a DSLR on long hiking trips, or the upcoming round the world trip. I put a big premium on carrying a small and light backpack, and a big camera with multiple lenses go totally against that idea. I did not take the D5100 to my recent 18-day trip to Dominica. I’m glad I used the pocketable S95 instead since it would have been extremely uncomfortable to hike in such rough terrain while carrying a DSLR. There would have been way too circumstances where I would not have taken a picture because of the hassle of taking the big camera out of the bag. With the S95, I was able keep it in my pocket, use one hand to quickly get it out and take a quick snapshot, while using my other hand to hang onto a tree root or a rock.
I do know that simply getting a better camera won’t make me a better photographer. Earlier this year, I learned a lot from John Greengo’s Fundamentals of Digital Photography. It was a 5-day online class that was a real eye opener for me. Like other courses on CreativeLive, it is free to watch the show as it is being recorded live, but you have to purchase it if you want to rewatch it later. Ever since I watched it for free in April 2012, I’ve been wanting to buy the course and watch it again. I did just that that a few days ago, and I’m slowly going through the course again.
One last thing I wanted to do was to process all the RAW images I have taken in the past year with the S95. Most of the time the camera was taking pictures in both RAW and JPEG formats, and I was only using the latter ones here on my blog and to share with friends. Last week I downloaded the trial version of Adobe Lightroom 4 and I’ve been extremely impressed with it’s features and easy of use. Without reading any guides or tutorials, I was able to salvage a lot of pictures that had the wrong exposure on them, transforming them from bad to decent photographs. There’s still a lot to learn though.
The thing I will struggle the most will be composition. I don’t think I have a natural gift for it, although I’m able to absorb little bits here and there. Sometimes I look at the hundreds of pictures I take during a hiking trip, and they mostly all look the same to me in terms of composition.
I’m really excited about getting a bit more serious with photography. Recently I have been fortunate to meet a few new friends that are also very much into photography and have way more experience than me. I’m hoping to learn much from them.