Why do we ask questions? The main reason is because we all want to learn. I would like a penny for every primary question that a photographer has been asked and if that happened I would be a millionaire. Well what do I mean by a primary question? There are in fact five primary questions photographers get asked and they are: - 1, What camera have you got? 2, What lens did you use? 3, What shutter speed did you use? 4, What F stop did you use? and 5 What ISO did you use? Lets work through them.
What camera have you got?
There are several reasons why we ask this but the main reason is, when we are looking at a great photo taken by someone else and we want to know if the camera is better than the one we own and if it is then we think that’s why the photo’s so good and we can’t do that. This is one reason when people see a good photo they say “That’s good you must have a good camera”. Basically a camera is a box with a hole in it with a button that opens and closes this hole. I tried telling this to a lady on Facebook when she started dismissing her camera. I don’t think she understood what I meant and she stopped her dialogue with me. Most if not all professional photographers will tell you that you don’t need a top of the range camera to take good photos and they are right. In wildlife photography it is usually right time right place. If pro’s say that then your next question should be why, especially wildlife photographers, have they got one. Apart from what it is made out of, it can take more knocks and it is more waterproof, and a couple of other things the biggest reason is because of all the bells and whistles on the camera makes it quicker to change settings and get the photo when it presents itself. We all want better equipment because we think it will help us produce better photos but the bottom line is if we can’t take a good photo with a cheap camera buying an expensive one will not help. Another words if you can’t parallel park in your “reasonably priced car” buying a £200,000 supercar won’t help you parallel park.
What lens did you use?
This is a reasonable question but it’s similar to the camera answer. Look at a photo and if you are going to ask this question then it should immediately be followed by and how far away were you from the subject and how much did you crop the original by, but it rarely is. People are funny about giving out, or asking, details about cropping and yet most wildlife photographers do crop, because of the action being so fast, to get the composition they want. In wildlife photography you can use any lens from wide-angle to super telephoto. It all depends on what type of photograph you are after. Yes I know you see lots of photos of wildlife photographers with big lenses and people think you need that lens to get good photos. 500mm and 600mm F4 lenses are big and heavy and you will have a bad back or sore shoulders after carrying it around with you all day. Before I go out on a photography trip I always think about what I am going for and could encounter. If it’s flight shots then I prefer a 300mm F4 or 400mm F5.6 lens as they are lighter and easier to hand hold. If it’s going to be from a hide then I take 2 lenses, either a 300mm F4 or 400mm F5.6 and my 500mm. The best advice is buy the best lens you can afford without breaking your bank and losing all your savings. If it is only a 300mm lens then work on your fieldcraft skills and get closer to the wildlife. You could connect a 1.4 converter to a 300mm F4 lens which would make it a 420mm F5.6 lens. You could try second hand lenses but go to a reputable dealer. One last point to think of, whichever lens you buy from 300mm to 1200mm it will never be long enough. On one occasion I met a person who was using a 600mm + 1.4x + 2x converters making it a 1680mm F11 lens! And it was on a cropped camera!
There are a lot of people out there who get obsessed with the equipment side of photography and the camera firms love them. I am one of these people, I love cameras, lenses and all the equipment, the buttons, wheels and the sexy smoothness of the bodies, sorry, I digress. To be honest forget about the equipment and use what you’ve got. Learn how to use the equipment you have and learn how to change the settings quickly so they become instinctive. Once you have become one with your set-up then you will find out what other equipment you need to take the types of photos you want. Doing it this way saves you spending so much money on equipment that you thought you need and end up using it once.
What shutter speed did you use?
This question is only relevant if there is something within the photo that you want to replicate like the blurring of wings on a flying bird photograph or the wildlife is doing some action and it is all sharp. The answer would give you an idea of the shutter speed needed to achieve the same result. I always try to have a minimum shutter speed of about 1000th second to stop most movement but it will always depend of the type of photo I am trying to achieve. It’s no good setting 1000th second if I am trying to blur a lot of birds taking off, 10th second or less is more appropriate. If the wildlife is still why waste shutter speed when you can lower your ISO to get a smoother photo or increase the depth of field with a bigger F stop.
What F stop did you use?
The answer is similar to the shutter speed but obviously relates to the amount of depth of field in the photo. In my view this question is a bit pointless because it is never followed up by the next question. How far away from the wildlife were you? If a photographer tells you the answer to the first question you need to know how far they were away, for you to achieve the same depth of field as in their photo which I presume is the reason for asking the question. The closer you are to wildlife then the bigger depth of field you’ll need to get all the wildlife sharp. But do you need all the wildlife sharp? The answer to this is no, as long as the nearest eye of the subject is sharp our brain fills in the rest and this relates to all wildlife unless you are being creative and just want to photograph a certain body part of the wildlife then that part needs to be sharp. One thing to remember is that the smallest and the largest apertures are not normally the sharpest.
What ISO did you use?
I’m sorry but this is another pointless question, unless you have the same camera as the photographer because you will not achieve the same smoothness, noise using the same ISO and even then the sensors might be different. The next question after this is answered should be, how was the image post processed, but again it never is. No matter what the ISO setting is if you run the image through noise reducing software then it will change the final photo. The photo might change even if you do not use noise reducing software and just post process it through Lightroom, Photoshop or some similar software. So to achieve a similar result as the image you are looking at then you need the same camera and to know the ISO, the post processing software used and all the adjustments made.
So people ask all the above questions to try and replicate an image but with the answers usually given they don’t really learn a lot which defeats the questions asked. So what type of questions should people ask? They could ask the above questions as long as they follow them up with the other questions to get the full answers they require to learn. Learn about composition and ask why the photographer composed the image a certain way. Learn about the histogram, how to read it and get the exposure right for the type of photo you are after. Learn and ask questions about other skills like fieldcraft that will get them closer to the wildlife. They should not copy a photograph, as that’s been done, they should look at the photo and ask themselves what makes that a good photograph and how can I improve on it. They should ask the photographer about the light conditions and why photograph in that light. How did you know when to press the shutter release to get that action on the photo? How close were you from the subject? How did you get so close? What were you trying to achieve when you took that photo? The bottom line is you should ask the types of questions you will learn from the answers given and ones that make you into a better photographer, it might be 2 or 3 questions that relate to the same thing but always get the full answer.