Lucy Reed, editor of The-Triton has asked me to join the crew as a tipster to help all of you sailing photographers. We would like to see you capture perfect picture results of all those beautiful ports-a-call. There is a lot to cover and talk about. For each issue this column will focus on a particular aspect of photography. I will attempt to blend a relationship showing how technical aspects affect your creative outcome. If you have questions, feel free to send them to me and it may be the next topic. Now I am going to jump right in.
I will begin with the question I am asked most frequently when someone hears that I am a professional photographer, and that is “what camera do I buy?” Once, during one of many adult education classes I have taught, I was asked “How do I take a great picture?” In either case, what is baffling to me is being expected to give my answer in fifty words or less. I try to please, but like everything else in the Universe, photography follows Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The complete answer is relative to how much you like to be in control, your innate talent and developed skills, your dedication, how much you really know about photography, and how much you want to spend in time to learn and money to pay for equipment. That being said, I am just like you: I like to keep things simple and get the most bang for my buck.
If you have not yet purchased a camera or if you’re thinking of buying a new camera I would suggest you buy a digital camera. To avoid any misunderstanding, there is nothing wrong with having a film camera. It’s just that digital cameras are the wave of the future, there is no turning back, and the advantages this new technology offers outweigh the (current) disadvantages. It’s a good idea to review and give thought to both, which I will help you do step by step with these articles.
The digital cameras offer tremendous possibilities, especially with the control you can have throughout the entire process from taking a photograph to making prints or e-mailing them home to family and friends. It is important to keep in mind is these advantages are all made possible through electronics. These cameras have few mechanical parts. Mariners are the first to know that water and electronics do not mix well and that is a disadvantage. Your photographs are always taken on or near the water, and the frequent conditions of fog, drizzle, and humidity play havoc with electronic equipment. I suggest you keep a zip-lock bag (big enough to hold your camera) handy. Except when taking photographs, I always keep my camera in a plastic zip-lock bag out at sea. This also helps protect digital cameras against condensation when switching quickly between extreme changes in temperature that is from outdoor heat to cabin air conditioning. A zip-lock provides simple, inexpensive protection in a damp wet climate.
Another ying-yang peculiarity, especially with all consumer digital cameras currently available are lens configurations. In photographing my sailing adventures, I’ve learned on board, in confined spaces you always want a wide angle lens able to encompass a large part of a small room …. filled with your friends. On deck you want a telephoto lens able to bring closer subjects that are far away. Unfortunately, unless you go for professional gear, most popular digital cameras from the $100 to $600 price range offer 3X or 4X optical (true) zoom, usually rated as a 35mm equivalent of 35 to 105 or 35 to 140, respectively.
What does this mean? Most consumer digital cameras (unfortunately) do not offer a true wide angle, but do have a reasonable telephoto reach. Wide angles lenses, suitable for interior shots, begin at 28mm or less. With a few exceptions, you rarely find consumer cameras with that wide a lens. I recommend mariners look for a digital camera with an effective optical zoom somewhere in the range of, or as close as possible to 28mm by 112mm. This range is good for interiors, scenic, portrait photography with some capability to bring distant subjects a little closer. If, however, you already own a camera with a widest aperture of 38mm, you may want to consider hiring on to a larger vessel.
Joking of course, just keep this in mind for your next purchase.
An ideal range within technical feasibility would have the zoom range from 28mm to 210mm, a 7.5X. The problem is such lenses are expensive, large and heavy, which is opposite of our desire for smaller, lighter, and less expensive cameras. One more important thing, when you read about optical zoom and digital, consider the first to be a true zoom and the latter an artificially-interpolated-electronic or useless zoom. That’s it for now: Permission to come ashore. Send me your questions to possibly cover in next issue.