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Photo Writing is the web version of the Photo Writing mini-magazine produced by Limephoto and Emil von Maltitz since 2010. As of 2015 it is now completely online. Feel free to browse through the articles and please leave comments in the comments section if you would like to engage with us.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Drakensberg workshop - The Camera Doesn't Matter

Returning to the same locations continuously often affords incredible opportunities to see the changing character of a place. So it is with the regular workshops that I run along with African Impact in the Drakensberg. I am often asked by the photographers whether I get bored of coming back to the same sites again and again and again. Yes, there is certainly a sense of monotony before I actually arrive, but once I'm back in the mountains and the light is unfolding before me, all sense of monotony disappears. The light is never the same twice. 

 Right now, though, the Drakensberg is looking incredibly dry. The meteorology station keeps talking about impending drought, but walking along the top of escarpment near Tugela Falls one gets the sense that we are in drought already. There isn't so much as a trickle running down the side of The mountain. The falls are nonexistent. So it felt good arriving at Giant's Castle on our first day with the rain pouring down. With any luck there will be more of it and the Tugela Falls will be flowing again soon.

Working this last weekend with the photographers, it struck me the range of equipment that comes through the Drakensberg. We get everything from the newest off-the-shelf cameras to cameras that are going back 4 or 5 camera generations. Admittedly this doesn't mean that the cameras are particularly old (after all Canon and Nikon both seem to iterate their entry level cameras on an annual basis). So on this occasion although we had two Canon 700Ds and a Nikon D5200 (all new), we also had a Panasonic GH-1 and the now quite Long-in-the-tooth Canon 450D. The advances in cameras become particularly evident when looking at the 450D against the 700D. Everything about the 700D seems to be better, from the way the camera operates to the way it feels in the hand. One would think that this would also come through in the images, but not necessarily.

Looking at the photographs on the last night of the workshop, the Canon 450D held its own admirably. Yes, the photographer didn't have as much dynamic range as the more recent cameras, but on screen, there was little if any noticeable difference. If dynamic range really is required, a blend of different exposures can broaden the range of tones in the final photograph (the same can be said for resolution where a stitch can dramatically increase the usable pixels). This was particularly evident with the images from the Panasonic GH-1. When highlights clipped they did so glaringly, but when used carefully, the photographer produced absolutely beautiful, crisp, clean images that belied the low resolution and small nature of the sensor (m 4/3).

The point of this really is that it isn't the camera that takes the photograph, it is the person behind the camera. An understanding of light and composition is integral to creating a good photograph. Without this it doesn't matter what camera the photographer is using, the camera becomes just a point and shoot. If you know the limitations of the camera you can pretty much do anything with the right technique.

What a great weekend though. It's always a pleasure to be able to go into the mountains with photographers who are keen to better their skills and want to go that extra mile to get their images. Not for everyone is a 3:30am wake up followed by an hour long hike to get to a peak for sunrise. Our little group of photographer did, and without complaint. Just sighs of contentment (and a little stiffness) as the sun slid through a layer of cloud that lay hundreds of meters below our feet. What a fantastic way to spend the weekend. Great company, great location, great light and the possibility of some decent photographs to boot.

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