On photographing to the level of one’s equipment

On the previous Thrifty Thursday, James commented:

You continue to amaze with taking your equipment to the limits of its ability, Alex.

On the contrary. The Thrifty Thursday images work because I’m *not* taking the gear to its limits.

Instead, I’m tailoring each photo to the strengths of the equipment, planning each to sit in the comfortable middle of what the gear was designed to do. When I pick up a camera, I ask what sorts of images it excels at capturing. Then, I find a subject to suit. The resulting images hopefully bring out the best in the camera without appearing strained or stretched.

Of course, if the goal is to photograph a particular subject then it’s best to take the opposite approach: what tool is optimal for the job? But that’s not what I’m doing with Thrifty Thursday.

7 thoughts on “On photographing to the level of one’s equipment”

  1. The scanner I have available can’t do anything like that, but thanks for clarifying. This just points to the level of my ignorance about the capabilities of these instruments. Anyway — Cool cicada wings image.

  2. Yes. I suppose another way to put this, is that it always helps to know what your equipment is good at so that you can arrange your shots to make it work as well as possible.

    Kind of vaguely related to this: there has been a bit of publicity lately from a company that is planning to introduce “light field cameras” this year:


    The basic idea is to get more information about the direction that light hits the sensor, and not just the intensity at that pixel. This allows them to take the picture information, and then focus after the fact at their leisure rather than before taking the picture. This would basically allow a single photo to be used to construct a stack for extended depth of field, and to take macro photos with the aperture wide open with minimal or no flash. It sounds like the trade-off is that they have to collect more information per pixel, so they end up with fewer pixels on their image sensor.

    I wonder if you have any opinions about this approach, and how many pixels the image should have before it would be useful for insect photography?

    1. I’ve wondered about the Lytro camera, too. But I think I’m going to need to get my hands on one before reaching any reasonable opinion about whether the image-quality and storage trade-offs are worth the gains in focal depth & creativity.

  3. Interesting that Alex seems to be arguing from an artistic perspective. I seem to remember a post claiming he was more collector of bug images than artist, but then perhaps he did protest too much.

    Fitting the image to the equipment makes sense for someone whose primary interest is a picture that may go beyond the level of identification or documentation. However, if one’s interest is primarily in producing a factual record (if something as abstract as a digital image can be considered factual), and can’t afford the appropriate high-end gear, then is this suggestion useful?

    I took a series of pictures with my point-and-shoot of a pair of syrphids flying in copulo last week and they all look like ‘The one that got away’. The background plants, however, were in nice focus. I could have used a Lytro here.

    I suppose I should have realized this is what would have happened and collected the pair (I think it was a species of Sphaerophoria and you need the males for a species id anyway) if I was serious about identifying it. Would have made a great picture though.

    Like ABM, I was wondering if Myrmecos would ever get around to a pin hole camera. I suppose you’d need to find some film and then develop it, but if a pin hole could be rigged to a digital sensor, that would be cool.

    1. That’s very perceptive, Dave, and about right. If you have a specific subject to shoot, the best strategy is still to use the most appropriate tool for that job. Thus, entomologists who work with small insects will need to invest in the pricey gear- and learn how to use it– if they want crisp, high-resolution photos.

      The point of Thrifty Thursday, though, is to demonstrate that inexpensive gear can take compelling photographs. It’s an antidote to the perennially annoying comment “Your camera takes great photos”. Good photos come from good photographers.

      I’m enjoying the series because it’s 180º from my usual strategy, as you note.

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