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Balancing Equipment and Training Expenditure

Very many people buy cameras, most get at least some good photos out of them. Anyone who takes enough photos, even if they use it as a point and shoot will get some good photos, and for many this is all that they wish to achieve.

For others of course the desire is to become more proficient, to move to a situation where getting good photos is more than a case of luck, but one of being able to photograph most things with a very high rate of success and then moving on perhaps to far more challenging situations where getting good shots by luck would be unlikely.

Stonehenge, Wiltshire

A few years back with film photography things were somewhat simpler, cameras had very few basic controls, no menus and editing was unheard of and most were more snaps than artworks. You chose an ISO, we called it ASA then, by selecting a film and sticking with it, many always used the same film. Colour balance was unheard of and your camera either had a very basic meter or did not, now we have 3 advanced ones built in. Focusing was manual and approximate, now we have autofocus that works in a variety of modes, and we generally use far more lenses and longer lenses. There was no feedback, no images you could check to see the focus, if detail was burnt out, no curves, but you did have the advantage that by the time you eventually got the films processed and back you had forgot what was there so didn't spot the inaccuracies. Of course we would no more want to go back to the 35mm film camera than we would lug about a plate camera, and the results we get now are out of this world compared to what we were happy with when using film. What was exceptional exhibiting quality prints are now something we can routinely produce.

Progress of course has a cost, equipment used to last a large chunk of a lifetime now its out of date in a few years, because more people are doing more, items that would have been unavailable on a normal budget are now available, but there is a desire of course for more of us now to want to use these items, and of course can. In many ways we have never had it so good, but on the other hand there are very many people who have this equipment and can't drive it. They are spending their money, but only getting a small part of the benefit they should as they don't know how to use it fully.

There is some similarity between buying extra equipment, particularly lens, and training as both will allow you to get good photographs on more occasions. With a longer telephoto you may be able to get more wildlife photos, with an extreme wide-angle you may be able to get items in that others could not, and with vibration reduction lenses (VR) you can often use slower speeds, coping with lower light levels and increasing the depth of field available. Similarly with several flash units you can use creative lighting indoors or out, allowing you to light more situations.

With training on the other hand you get to make the most of what you have, get to understand which extra items would be worth considering, and of course carrying, as there is a limit to how much we want to carry about with us. However the major benefit that comes from training is the ability to routinely get good results. There is a lot more satisfaction when you know fully how to use the options available, understand what the options are and when each is applicable.

A Bluebell Wood in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire

The major difference between a professional photographer and most amateurs is not that one is paid and the other not, but that a professional should be able to go out on any assignment confident that they can come back with acceptable results. The professional at a wedding should be able to get all the photos to come out of course, but more than that the colour of the bridesmaids dresses should be both correct and consistent throughout all the photographs, you can't get this by leaving all the settings on automatic. Similarly the landscape photographer who understands what they are doing should be able to put together a panorama, with no scraggy bits between without having to use stitching software to hide the errors and where each image that makes up the panorama is the same colour, and brightness level.

We need both equipment and skills to use it, either the skills without equipment, or equipment with no training is unlikely to produce a successful and enjoyable outcome.  So we would suggest those who don't have a camera and don't intend to get one, would be wasting their time and money undertaking photography training, unless they have a particular need for it, while with those who have equipment, or who are about to get it, training is necessary to get good, consistent results and make the most of what is available. If you were to take a photographer who has a camera and say a couple of lenses, even if they had quite a bit of experience, a days training would improve both their photography and enjoyment of photography far more than the same amount spent on another lens or accessories.

Moving forward balancing the need for training to make the most of the equipment and the desire for additional equipment is the challenge, you ideally need both, but often the budget wont stretch to meeting all your requirements.

Photography training works best one to one, where you can move rapidly over the areas you already know and fill in all the missing pieces, asking questions as you go. Looking through cameras with different lenses attached, looking close up at the options, and settings, and discussing when each is applicable. It can be done as a group, but of course take very much longer to achieve the same depth of understanding, one organisation estimated that you can compare it simply as the number of days equates to the size of the group, so with 10 people you need 10 days training to achieve what a person can do on a day one to one. Photography is a very practical art form, you need to actually be handling a camera, be able to ask questions and clarify points raised before moving on.  Its a huge subject of course, and while in a day one to one, you can make a really giant step, undertaking all the concepts, the controls, and menus of your camera and more, you can also make use of other days to understand using flash well, including creative lighting, portraiture and studio photography, and of course editing.

Let's assume you have a Nikon camera and are looking potentially at spending a day with Camera Images, so where do you start if you already have some knowledge, and experience, should you look at the popular Hands on a Nikon day or should you be looking at a Masterclass or some other.  As with one to one you can go quickly over the ground you know filing in the missing pieces, asking additional questions, and looking at topics that particularly interest you this is not a real problem, even top professionals from around the world have found that the Hands on a Nikon day is right for them. Similarly a person who has just bought a camera and never done any photography before can start with the same day. While its the same training day in concept of course the ground each covers is quite different, the professional will have lots of questions, difficulties they have encountered and want to be able to get over in the future, while the beginner will spend far more time going over the basics but have far fewer questions and difficulties they want to talk over.

A Goldfinch

It works out far cheaper to get to the same level by taking one to one rather than group courses, and is both far more enjoyable and efficient. You get to use what you have now and can, as and when you like have additional days that move you on from the point you have reached, while allowing you to recap or look at again any points you want to. Photography is a hands on practical skill, perhaps a little like driving, and its a good job when teaching people to drive its done individually one to one, just imagine how impractical it would be to take out a coach load of say 30 people and have the driver just talk over what he is doing, and then expect those present to be able to successfully control the coach.

The best balance may be nearly a leapfrog operation, get a camera, get quality one to one training to learn how to use it, and at the same time get to know what you want next. Get some training in editing and the relevant software. Get some training in flash and creative lighting, plus perhaps reflectors, then get the flash units, reflectors etc and so on.

Eventually you will get to a point where, you may want to venture out, with more on site training, perhaps with wildlife photography or out photographing steam trains, where you can make use of the training you have already obtained and both put this into practice but at the same time look at practical applications to over come specific situations that arise. Perhaps at the same time trying out graduated filters and a variety of other items to see how you would get on with them.

Later as newer cameras come out and you upgrade you wont need to redo the same courses but you can do a conversion course, so as to get the best from the later equipment.

Your skills improve, you  enjoy it more, so you do more photography, perhaps eventually you will start to look at getting your work published, or putting images on to picture libraries, and then things start to switch around, now the income starts to role in, now holidays are enjoyable and the images taken one year and selling are covering the cost of the next years holiday. Maybe its accumulating year on year, more and more images are out there making money, now you can afford the extra equipment and training, and perhaps you wonder why you didn't do this far sooner. You now get to chose what you do, enjoy it, and its viable.

So perhaps we should look at not only the balance of the budget between training and equipment but how this can, if managed properly, also lead to an improved lifestyle and more.

Military Re-enactment at the Festival of History - August 2004

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