21st Century Dad
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Improve Your Family Photos, 21st Century Dad Style

January 29th, 2008 . by 21st Century Dad

Nikon D70s DSLR21st Century Dad has always been about being a dad and doing it the best you can. I’m a daddy blogger who happens to care about photography a little bit more than the average dad (I’m not saying every dad doesn’t want great pictures of his children). It would be unfair to keep my mouth shut about it. A blog’s value is in the writer’s personal stamp.

A few months ago, I made a pathetic plug for the Eye-Fi wireless SD memory card. That was hardly a worthwhile introduction to photography 21st Century Dad style.

I didn’t want my photography related writing to go over the heads of the point-and-shoot crowd. My original plan was to share more general photography tips that everyone can benefit from. DSLR users are notorious for spending more time online than shooting. There are plenty of camera aficionado sites out there for the technical information you crave (notice I didn’t call them photography sites). I’m here to talk about photographing your family. I know a better way, and I’m here to share.

What’s a DSLR and Why Do I Want One?

Oh wait a minute. I just got done saying I didn’t want to alienate the point-and-shoot crowd. What’s a DSLR? DSLR stands for Digital Single Lens Reflex. If you’re still scratching your head, it’s the camera that uses interchangeable lenses. You probably think of it as a “professional” camera.

DSLRs are now within reach of mere mortals’ credit limits. You can get an entire kit with a body, a great lens, and plenty of great features for under $500. So why would you want a DSLR?

  • Ready to shoot as soon as you flip the power switch on.
  • No shutter lag.
  • Higher image quality (a 6MP DSLR beats a 12MP point and shoot in image quality, no contest.)
  • Versatility and expandability through countless accessories.
  • Men like to play with advanced technology, no matter what it is.

That’s all fine and dandy. But what does that mean in real life?

  • “Honey get the camera quick! Jenny just put her Dora shoes on the dog!” By the time the cheesy little start-up song and cutesy animation is done playing on the LCD, Jenny has her little brother in a headlock because he put Play-Dough in her hair.
  • “Hey Peanut! What a gorgeous smile!” Click. Half your child’s face is out of the frame and out of focus.
  • A 6MP DSLR beats a 12MP point and shoot in image quality, no contest.
  • More cool stuff to buy like lenses and flashes.
  • How does GPS tagging of your pictures and wireless control of multiple flashes sound to you?

The Guitar Hero on 21st Century Dad's Flickr Photostream

You probably agree with me on all of the above except for the megapixel issue. There’s a technical explanation and there’s an easy explanation. The easy explanation is to take my word for it. I own both types of cameras.

If you want to make high quality prints at larger sizes, elevate your photography to the next level, and have more creative control, a DSLR will let you do that. The photo you see here on the left is an example of some of the creative things you can do with a DSLR. This image was created without the help of an image editing program like Photoshop. It was done completely in-camera.

Things You Can Do That Cost $0

Will buying a DSLR cure you of all your photographic ills? Can it magically transform your snapshots into captivating photographs? The short and long answer is NO. Great photography is a result of upgrading the gear between the ears. Here is a short list of things that cost $0 that you can do to improve your photography:

  • Get in close and fill the frame.
  • Change position to eliminate a cluttered background.
  • Use the longer zoom setting for a more flattering perspective when doing portraits.
  • Use the flash outside in broad daylight.
  • Avoid harsh mid-day sun. Early morning and late afternoon provide the most flattering natural light.
  • Get down to the child’s eye level.
  • Try the vertical orientation.
  • Join Flickr and post your photos. Get feedback.
  • Look at photographs you admire with a critical eye.
  • Keep your camera with you all the time.
  • Take more photos.

For more tips on how to improve your photos by spending $0, check out John’s article on photodoto.com

Is my Point and Shoot Camera Worthless Now?

La Bandida! on 21st Century Dad's Flickr photostream

Don’t put your little point and shoot up on eBay yet! The tips I just mentioned work on any camera, whether it’s the flagship pro model DSLR or a 3 year old camera phone. The camera you have with you will take better photographs than the one sitting on your desk at home. Sometimes, it’s just not practical to lug your DSLR rig around. Some people just don’t care to get a DSLR.

I used a point-and-shoot camera to take the photo you see here. There is no such thing as a perfect camera. The DSLR and the point-and-shoot each have their pros and cons.

Choosing a DSLR

Once you upgrade to a DSLR, image quality is the same, whether it’s an entry-level model or a flagship pro camera. When you spend more money, you only get more features and more pixels, not higher image quality. When I upgraded from a 6 megapixel DSLR to a 10 megapixel model, I only gained 866 pixels on the long side and 592 pixels on the short side. That’s not a lot.

As far as the different brands go, the image quality is really close. The decision will come down to price, the way the camera feels in your hands, and whatever I tell you. Canon and Nikon are the two top dogs in this game, and the consumer wins here. You get better OEM and 3rd party support. The community of users is much larger.

I spend my time with my children, writing for this site, and of course, taking pictures. I’d rather spend my time doing that than looking at “camera porn” sites. There are some links below to get you started. Making your purchase by clicking through to Amazon from this site puts a little money in my “tip jar” without costing you anything extra. This goes for anything you purchase on Amazon.

Next Steps

This is a daddy blog, not a pixel-peeper site. DPReview.com does a great job of running cameras through their gauntlet of tests. There is such a thing as too much information. You can just take my word for it, buy a Nikon D40 kit, and be extremely satisfied. You’ll be ecstatic with the responsive handling and image quality from any DSLR. If you’re not comfortable driving stick shift yet, the full auto mode works great. Even an entry-level DSLR has features you can grow into.

After you upgrade your camera, it’s time to improve your lighting. Direct on-camera flash is harsh, flat, and causes red-eye. Think of your driver’s license photo. David Hobby over at Strobist will show you how to use small flashes and a DIY MacGuyver ethic to get professional results. It’s nowhere near as expensive or difficult as you think. I’ll talk more about Strobist later.

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