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Photography dilemma

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11 replies to this topic

#1 of 12 Brian Perry

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Posted July 12 2004 - 04:49 PM

When our son turned one, we had some nice black and white studio photos taken by our wedding photographer. The pictures turned out great and I have a couple in my office at work as well as some larger (12 x 16?) prints at home. The whole thing cost about $800.

Now that our daughter is closing in on her first birthday, I am thinking about alternatives to dropping another $800 on the same thing (without trying to shortchange her). The two alternatives are:

1. Buying a digital rig like the new Nikon D70 (which everyone seems to give high marks) and taking the pictures myself. The advantages are that I can take hundreds or thousands of "free" pictures until I find some that are suitable for printing/framing, and while it will cost more than $800 overall (more like $1300), I'll have a nice camera when it's all over. The downside is that as nice as the D70 is, digital camera technology is advancing so rapidly I would be concerned about Canon coming out with something much better in three months.

2. Buying a used Medium Format camera. After spending some time at Ken Rockwell's website (his pictures are so cool!) and learning about what's really important about photography and equipment, I'm tempted to tinker with the larger format. It's resolution is leaps and bounds above 35mm, which itself is still superior to digital (in many peoples' eyes). I could buy a used Yashica or Mamiya camera setup on eBay for a few hundred (or more), spend another couple hundred on film and processing, and potentially have better results than I could with the D70. The obvious fear is that I don't know what I'm doing and it may take a while for me to be able to take any worthwhile shots. Plus, those cameras don't have the nice features we've come to expect such as auto film loading, computerized exposure, autofocus, etc.

So if it were you, would you buy a camera in the hopes of taking the pictures yourself or just pay the pro? (By the way, I do have a plain vanilla 3.3 megapixel camera for all-purpose snapshots.)

#2 of 12 Ari


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Posted July 12 2004 - 06:27 PM

How happy are you with the pro's shots? And how happy are you with your own photos?

Taking photos is more than the equipment and technical proficiency. It's about being able to capture the moment and seeing things from a different perspective. Some people refer to this as having the "eye". Some people have it right off the bat while some people never develop it.

One thing you should know is that digital photos still need a lot of work after the shot is taken in order to look their best. There's still the matter of cropping, retouching, sharpening, noise reduction, color correction, color profiling, etc. The same thing goes with medium format. If you want the best quality possible, you'll take the film to a custom lab, and custom labs are not cheap. If the pro is doing his/her job properly, the amount that you're paying may not really be that inflated considering the production work that goes into it.

One possible alternative would be to rent a D70 and a lens and play around it for a while and see if you like the results. Practice taking the type of shots you would take for the party and post them on photo critique sites. If it's not acceptable, then it's time to give the pro a call.

#3 of 12 Scott Kimball

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Posted July 13 2004 - 01:54 AM

If you're at all hesitant about taking the plunge (and it sounds like you are), then medium format probably isn't for you. MF will give you better quality, but that quality won't really show on an 8x10 or under. Of course, you could go medium format with a digital back... but you'd have to take out a second mortgage to do it. Posted Image

It is pretty well accepted that the new digital SLRs (6 megapixels and up) can provide prints even larger than 8x10 that are as good as what 35mm can provide with a fine grain film. It's not all about resolution... color fidelity and dynamic range are very important.

If you always wait for the next generation of consumer electronics, you'll always be waiting and never buying. Unless you know something is right around the corner, take the plunge when you feel the time is right for you. FYI: Canon usually announces new product in September / October. The product usually streets in short supply just before Christmas. I wouldn't expect to see a new Canon DSLR until then, and anything new will have premium pricing (of course, that would be the time to jump on a EOS 10D, which could see a drop in price).

I just purchased the Canon EOS 10D and am thrilled with it. It is almost identical to the D70 in features. If you're serious about it, look at the lenses available from each manufacturer, and see which options suit you best. Over time, you may buy more glass than camera bodies... and the glass is transferrable to later cameras by the same maker.

Given your post, if you want to buy a DSLR, the Canon Rebel may be right for you. It's under $1000, and if you decide to upgrade later on, any lenses you buy would work on future Canon releases (except for one lens for the Rebel, all Canon lenses fit all models).

And, to echo what Ari said, good digital pictures require some post processing, as do good prints from a darkroom. I think most of the DSLRs come with a copy of Photoshop LE, which could get you started down that road. The full version of Photoshop will run you another $600.


#4 of 12 Jay Taylor

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Posted July 13 2004 - 06:17 AM

Brian, I agree with Scott. Go with a digital SLR. If you purchase a good one like the Canon EOS 10D or the Nikon D70 and purchase at least one high quality lens you’ll fall in love with photography. Skip buying a large number of low quality lenses. Instead purchase only one or a couple of high quality lenses to start. You may add more high quality lenses later as your budget permits.

You’ll soon learn the advantage of post processing digital photos yourself compared to paying the pros to post process film photos.

You’ll have instant feedback with a digital SLR as to the quality of your shots. This benefit of digital over film can’t be overstated.

I have no doubt that you can make large high quality photos of your children that will be worthy of framing.
"Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." - Arthur C. Clarke

#5 of 12 Tom Meyer

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Posted July 13 2004 - 07:11 AM

The only thing I'll add is to sure to get an add on flash (eg the Nikon SB-800 or SB-600) as proper lighting is usually what separates the pros from the unwashed masses. If you *really* got into it, you can get a basic light, umbrella package from calumet for like $600.

#6 of 12 Seth_L



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Posted July 13 2004 - 07:30 AM

Unless you take pictures that look like the pro took, you're going to shortchange yourself with either option. A Pro has experience, not just expensive equipment.

#7 of 12 ManW_TheUncool



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Posted July 13 2004 - 10:55 AM


I agree w/ most of the sentiments expressed here even though some are almost at odds w/ each other.

Given what you've told us so far and assuming you're not particularly experienced in photography beyond typical p&s and don't really want to dig that deep into it, I think you should go w/ the pro photog at least for this particular situation. Even if you do want to dig deeper like the rest of us, it may still take a lot of learning and practice and more $$$ than you think to get to the point where you will be perfectly happy w/ the results -- and then, there's also good likelihood that you may never get the same kinds of results as you would from a good pro. Of course, being "perfectly happy" and getting same results as a good pro are not necessarily the same things, so YMMV.

Still, you have to remember that your situation is a time sensitive one, ie. daughter turning 1-year-old specifically, as well as highly personal/sentimental. And using the same photog for all of these shoots probably preserves a certain style, etc. and also might help establish some sort of desirable tradition or the like.

If you can afford it, I would suggest doing both. Use the pro photog *and* get a new camera and learn to make good use of it -- or learn to make better use of what you already have also.


Just another amateur learning to paint w/ "the light of the world".

"Whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things..." (St. Paul)

#8 of 12 Eric_L



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Posted July 13 2004 - 02:35 PM

Here's what I do;

Every November we get a new family portrait. We wear coordinated colors and alternate colors each year. (Last year was orange)

The photographer takes many different shots of us, our kids, each kid, etc. We are only charged for one sitting.

Then we purchase the prints from the photographer.

There is never any issues about who we spent the most money on, because we were all there together, as each was born they became a part of it.

Ultimatly, your kids will never care how much you spent, they will be only interested in how the picture looks. Maybe shop different photographers. Don't do it yourself. Cut corners always show.

#9 of 12 John Kilroy

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Posted July 13 2004 - 04:37 PM

Lots of good advice in this thread, the most important being that it is not your professional photographer's equipment that makes him a good photographer.

In my experience, 90% of portraiture is three things: repoire with your subject, lighting, and composition.

If you are photographing family, repoire should not be a problem.

Composition, as applied to portraiture, is knowing how to make a subject look their best. It takes time to get right, and the best photographers do it instinctively and on-the-fly, being able to instantly compose a shot and getting a candid and classic look at the same time. No amount of equipment will help you gain this skill, only time, patience, and tens of thousands of shutter releases.

Lighting, on the other hand is a little more easily mastered, but takes either perfect (and rare) natural lighting, or a good amount of equipment to get it right. The cheapest way to start getting good lighting is to:

1. Shoot outdoors on a somewhat overcast day. This gives even lighting without hot spots on facial highlights and deep shadows in eye sockets. If the shots are low contrast (and they tend to be), contrast can be punched up later to a certain extent. Get a good sized (at least 36"x"36") reflector and use it to fill in any shadows that your subject may cast. For example, to diminish a nose shadow, hold the reflector under the subject. Everybody likes their nose to look smaller in portraits, and if you minimize the shadows, you can help accomplish that.

2. Shoot indoors near a north-facing window, or a window that does not have direct sunlight streaming in. Take the same reflector from the preceding example and place it on the opposite side of your subject from the window to get some fill light.

There are, of course, many other ways to get good lighting, but beyond these, things tend to get expensive, because you need to move the light source off the camera, and that involves multiple light sources, wires, etc. If you buy a flash and stick it on your hot shoe and snap away, you are not going to get results that approach professional photography.

A word about equipment: a camera body is a light-tight box with a hole that you can open and close. It's the lens that takes the picture, not the camera. Get the cheapest SLR you can get your hands on, and spend the extra money on a lens. If you want to do primarily portraiture, you need something with a focal length 100mm or greater, and you need a wide aperture, say 2.8 or better (the smaller the number, the better). If you get the cheap 28-80 kit lens the salesman tries to sell you, your portraiture options will be limited, and if you try to enlarge past 8x10, the reason why that lens is cheap will appear before your very eyes.

Portraiture is extremely rewarding, for both you and your subjects, but it is a lifelong pursuit that always remains challenging. Let me know if you have any questions or need some advice. Good luck, and let us know how it goes!

I'm John Kilroy, and I approved this message.

#10 of 12 Thomas Newton

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Posted July 13 2004 - 05:39 PM

By the way, I do have a plain vanilla 3.3 megapixel camera for all-purpose snapshots.

If your daughter is turning 1, you're going to have a lot of opportunities to take candid photos over the next five years. I'm guessing that many of the photos you will have a chance to take will be revealing of her personality or interests in ways that studio portraits simply cannot match.

Medium format cameras are probably not good for candid work. (Too bulky; if it's too much work or too disruptive to get the camera, you will not get the picture.)

35mm film SLRs, and digital SLRs like the Nikon D70, are portable enough to make it feasible to "bring the camera to where the action might be". They are also less likely than point-and-shoots to get in the way if you are trying to achieve some specific (composition / lighting / depth of field) goal.

#11 of 12 Thomas Newton

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Posted July 13 2004 - 06:13 PM

If you want to do primarily portraiture, you need something with a focal length 100mm or greater, and you need a wide aperture, say 2.8 or better (the smaller the number, the better).

There's a lot to be said for having a fixed-length 50mm ("normal") lens (of the camera manufacturer's brand), in addition to any other lens you might buy.

1. Normal lenses are fast (anywhere between f/1.2 and f/2.0). (This makes it possible to use faster shutter speeds in low light, or to more completely blur unwanted backgrounds when taking a closeup picture.)

2. They're cheap (if you get the f/1.7 - f/1.8 ones), small, and lightweight.

3. They usually have very high quality.

4. On a DSLR with a 1.5x crop factor, a "normal" lens offers the same effective magnification as a ~75mm ("low end of portrait range") lens.

#12 of 12 John Kilroy

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Posted July 14 2004 - 01:11 AM

Yeah, that's right, a nice 50mm becomes a great value with the DSLR focal length conversion factors!

I am waiting until the factor becomes 1:1 before I get a real nice DSLR, but I am starting to question that strategy...

I'm John Kilroy, and I approved this message.

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