Learning How Your Camera Sees

This is the first post of a series of photography techniques that I am writing in hope that it will be of some value to photographers at any level to consider. 

There are a lot of resources that you’ll find on cameras from every era known to mankind, however in my experience there isn’t much on documenting a photographic journey.  I hope to focus on the journey of what I like to call learning to see photographically.

Learning to see photographically is a journey that one takes as they learn about creative aspects in photography.  I think photography especially film photography, is a balance between Art and Science. Creating a memorable, artistic, and pleasing photograph requires tangible components that are measurable like exposure, lighting, film and chemicals. When combined with things that are less measurable such as a dose emotion from one’s heart and soul translated into your camera.  The best photographs require emotion, execution and storytelling – this is what sets a photograph apart from a snapshot.

I plan on writing about these topics and of course more as I progress through the series

  • Photographic Vision
  • Elements of Design
  • Composition
  • Learning to See and Assess the Quality of Light
  • Challenging yourself

Photographic Vision

We all see the same things don’t we? Maybe – maybe not, consider two photographers standing next two each other in front of a scene. It it possible for them to take two identical photographs? The answer is simply no it’s impossible aside from the laws of physics, there is the human factor. 

  • As a photographer I may see a certain aspect of the scene
  • I may predict how that scene will evolve and I may want to show you that moment
  • I may want to show you the moment before the moment happens
    • Imagine shooting a wedding ceremony and the couple kissing for the first time as a married couple, what is the height of emotion the kiss or the moment just before the kiss happens?
  • I may want to include a wider view of the scene to tell a story of what led up to it
  • I may want to focus on a particular component of the scene because I believe it’s most impactful

How the Camera Sees

The human eye sees pretty much the same way a 50mm lens does on a 135 (35mm) format camera or its equivalent focal length for other formats. This is commonly referred to as the normal lens. Focal lengths shorter that 50mm are called wide angle and longer called telephoto.

I believe photography becomes art when you create a vision, not just capture one. Below is an exercise that I hope will help illustrate this for you.

  1. Pick your favourite lens if it as zoom, make sure you leave it on the same focal length during this exercise.
  2. Choose a subject an inanimate one works best, if you’re shooting a person they will need to stay in place a hold their pose as best as possible.
  3. From whatever the distance needed place your subject in the frame so it falls right in the middle; make sure there’s room all around your subject.
  4. While looking through the viewfinder make your first capture.
  5. Now walk 5 paces toward your subject and keep them in focus and make your second capture
  6. Repeat this until your lens can no longer focus on your subject.
  7. Without changing your lens’ focal length if you’re using a zoom walk back to your starting point.
  8. Now repeat, except do it on your knees, then do it on your belly.
  9. Of course now do this again with every lens in your collection!


A few things will become quite obvious as a result, the composition of the first image captured will include not only your subject but a bunch of other stuff that in a lot of cases will distract from your subject. The images you captured on your knees will likely have resulted in a much more intimate portrait of a small child.  Perhaps you captured a much more dramatic sunset or waterfall with depth and perspective that separates a snapshot from a photograph. While on your belly you captured a really cool composition of a surrounding park or architecture through the legs of your subject.  And the most valuable result of this you learned how your camera sees.

I hope you find this exercise helpful and welcome any comments and questions you might have.

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A Journey Back to my Roots – Why I Shoot Film

Is film better than digital? The animosity between some from either community puzzles me. In fact, it annoys me to a level I’d rather not discuss.

Photography is a perfect marriage of art and science.  Regardless of the medium you choose to use to make an image, it’s still photography. Either approach will get you a beautiful image. You still need the knowledge and talent and ability to make a worthy photograph though.

I’m an active member of the photography community and an avid film shooter. Film is my preference for personal projects. The digital route is what I choose for my professional work. I enjoy promoting film photography as often as I can. I enjoy writing about my journey and post a lot of articles on the subject, because I like it.

Let’s start with a broad assumption the mediums have more in common than most are willing to admit.

So Why and Why Not?

When shooting a film camera, especially a vintage one more often than not someone will notice. Whenever I mention my passion for film to a photography class and I tell students I love film. Most students want to know why. I’m often asked isn’t digital is more convenient than film? Can you even get film, where do you get it developed, you’re scanning a lot of it isn’t that digital?

Why I like it

In 1982 I fell in love with photography, it was fun for an 11 year old. Fascinated with the remarkable technology and engineering that went into my first camera a Zenit-E. Yes, I said remarkable engineering that went into my Zenit-E.

Since then, I spent many years walking around with a 35mm SLR. I joyfully pointed my lens at pretty much everything. After pressing the button, and waiting 24-48 hours and sometimes 1 hour for processing it was like Christmas morning. I experienced so much joy as I opened my envelope of 24, or 36 photos.  Most of the shots were pure nonsense, occasionally a well composed and exposed image would emerge. That sense of anticipation that was a big part of what drew me to photography. A few years later in high school I took a photography course and had my first darkroom experience. I loved seeing images I shot appear on paper. Today, darkroom printing is my favourite aspect of analog photography.

Every time I pull my negatives from the tank and see lovely images those feelings come back.

When I’m working on a professional shoot, I tend to always do it with a digital camera. The images are right there in front of me, it’s super convenient but the “magic” of anticipation is gone. When working professionally, I’m not there to feel “magic.” I’m there to do a job. Doing the job efficiently is where digital is the most effective for me.

Recent History

Since the dawn of digital sensors photographers have been swapping their old systems for the latest and greatest technology. Over the past 5-10 years, film photography has been making a significant comeback. More people are acquiring and digging out their old vintage film cameras.


One of the biggest questions that pops up in this argument is the comparison of resolution. How does film compare to a digital sensor? Digital sensors measure their resolution by the number of pixels they can jam on a sensor. Film doesn’t use pixels, so we need to use a term called ‘angular resolution’.

“Angular resolution or spatial resolution describes the ability of any image-forming device such as an optical or radio telescope, a microscope, a camera, or an eye, to distinguish small details of an object, thereby making it a major determinant of image resolution. In physics and geosciences, the term spatial resolution refers to the precision of a measurement with respect to space.”

Digital sensors all come in various size resolutions. The same goes for different film types, film resolution ranges between 4 and 16 million pixels.

Size Matters:

Kodachrome 64 film has an effective comparison of around 10 megapixels. Most entry level DSLR’s these days have a resolution of 24.2 MP in this case film doesn’t quite cut it.

Medium format however, includes sizes like 6cm x 4.5 cm, 6cm x 6cm and 6cm x 7cm. Large format includes 4″ x 5″ (10.16 cm x 12.7 cm) and 8”x”10 (20.32 cm x 25.2 cm) which yield a much larger resolution.

Medium format has the capacity to produce a whopping 400 Megapixels. When scanned “digital negatives” fall somewhere between 50 and 80 Megapixels and Large format reaches 200 Megapixels.

Yes, aunt Karen’s 35mm film SLR will not outperform modern digital camera resolution. A medium or large format, however, will leave them in their digital dust!

Digital Grain (or Noise) vs. Film Grain

Unwanted textures in your images are referred to as grain. In the digital world this is called noise. In film, this is the result of the silver halide crystals not receiving enough light. Conversely, in digital, the noise is a result of visual distortion. It is caused by the electronic sensor trying to deal with a lack of light. Digital noise results from electrical interference on the sensor. Increasing ISO, or using a high-speed film makes your images more susceptible to noise and grain.

Dynamic Range

Historically, film has a high level of dynamic range and as a result has always been the choice over digital. In the past 2 to 3 years some very high-end sensors, and advanced processors have grown immensely. As a result, dynamic range and contrast ratio higher in digital systems are incredible.  Digital cameras can easily match and outperform film in the dynamic range department these days.

Film Speed

Film is available at speeds between 1 and 3200 ISO, yet you can find 6400. You can also push the film, by underexposing it and over developing it, this is called pushing. Pushing film increases the contrast. Professional digital cameras, such as the Nikon D5, can produce images with an ISO of 3.2 Million.  Digital cameras have the greatest advantage as you can readily change ISO back and forth as you see fit.


Think about your workflow. A digital system is very fast and convenient. You can capture a scene, edit and share on social media in minutes if not seconds.

You need three days for processing, 30 mins for scanning and another 30 mins for editing. Even without any glitches it could take over three days to complete a film based professional workflow.

Pros and Cons

Lower initial cost Negatives last an infinite amount of time.
Most do not require batteries More forgiving of minor focusing issues.
Tougher cameras for bumps and scrapes. Need filters for some lighting situations.
Tend to be heavier cameras.
Film takes up physical space Cost of film.
Takes longer to see captures Lab or home processing Many do not have light meters Slow or no autofocus
People tend to ‘spray and pray’.
Point and shoot resolutions produce large prints
Lighter than film cameras.
Memory cards don’t require much physical space and can store hundreds of images.
Digital images are available immediately.
Digital storage can be lost easily.
Focusing in low light conditions can be difficult.
Can malfunction in extreme situations

My Final Thoughts…

Film was once the pinnacle of modern photography, without film there would be no digital photography. In terms of resolution, cost and convenience digital has won the race. Film photography still garners a huge following. In recent years there is a resurgence into film, it is alive and kicking. Several new films have been launched in the last 2 years. The biggest problem to solve in film photography the availability of cameras.

Compared to the mid-1990’s only a small portion of original films remain available. They are becoming more and more expensive each year. For example Fujifilm has been eliminate their film production faster and faster.

There are several start-ups and boutique companies, such as Lomography, Polaroid, Silberra, Ferrania, and others that produce film regularly.

In conclusion, we have the best of both worlds right now. We should be readily using both Analogue and Digital systems.

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Image Critique and Approach – What’s Important to You?

I often wonder how and why people judge photography, what constitutes a “good” photo versus a “bad” photo?  What gives anyone or me the right to express his or her opinion on anyone’s photography?

Firstly, photography is a visual art form both in the way it’s created, and the way it’s appreciated.  The nature of photography is that it is something we do for others to look at. As photographers we hope our images will leave an impression on their viewers. Secondly, most people want to know what others think of their efforts.  This feedback is vital to grow as an artist and become better photographers.

The Value of Constructive Criticism

So what is constructive criticism, or at least was is most beneficial to developing the art of photography?  As a Wedding Photography instructor at Sheridan College, I would regularly critique and grade students’ work. Critiquing someone’s work is not an easy task. Several things need to be considered:

  • Experience of the photographer.
  • Equipment being used, stylistic influences,
  • Ability to execute the assignment, and technical photographic execution

Most feedback is valuable, however, which is the most important?  I’ve given this matter a lot of thought over the years. I’d like to share with you some background on how I approach taking a photograph. This article will hopefully give you a better idea on what kind of feedback is important. I want to help you become the photographer you want to be. I also hope to illustrate what is not so important.

Lets reflect on a few things first…

Why did you press the button?

Photographers have the ability to freeze time, and preserve emotion. This ability can bring back those who are far away or no longer with us, even if for a moment.   Photography captures emotion, and emotion, brings on more emotions when viewing an image.  Regardless of your subject, the opportunity exists for all photographers to preserve that emotion in their images.

What emotion did you see or anticipate as you made the decision to release the shutter? How did you feel as the scene developed before you, what quality of light were you waiting so long for; how did you feel at that moment?

More importantly how do you want your audience to feel when you show that masterful shot, that crafted image?

If we’re honest with ourselves as photographers this is the feedback we typically fear the most.  Because these are the skills we cannot learn, we can only develop this skill through experience.

Now the technical stuff is important. I think the technical aspects less important than the emotional components. Anyone can learn exposure, appropriate DOF, and shutter speed etc.   A perfect execution of an emotionless subject matter is simply forgettable – It’s emotion that makes images powerful – period.

What Now?

So what’s the compelling message? The next time you have the honour of offering a critique, tell the artist how it made you feel.  Only the photographer will know how close they came to evoking the feelings from the viewer. Ultimately the most valuable gift your critique could offer.  It teaches the photographer how to see, how to develop not learn the art of seeing.

Before I conclude a few words of advice, focus yourself before you focus the camera. I grew up shooting film. When I was young film was the only medium. There was a sense of scarcity when shooting, each release of the shutter cost about $.50 cents; in the digital world of abundance today it costs nothing to press the button.  I suggest changing your photographic paradigm from abundance to sufficiency.  Sufficiency not an amount it’s an experience. You as the photographer are an artist only you know if you did enough.

I hope this brings a new perspective on your approach whether you agree or not  I hope it helps… now get out there and start seeing first.



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Jennifer & Christopher Get Engaged!

Recently, I photographed the wedding of a great friend and talented photographer Christopher Porto. Please check out Christopher’s work at www.christopherporto.com.  I’m really looking forward to their summer wedding in Burlington.  Christopher and Jennifer are a such a great looking couple and were so fun to work with, we had a wonderful time capturing some engagement images in Hamilton, Ontario.

I hope you enjoy some of the images from their engagement session

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This fall I shared the day with the most super fun couple and awesome bridal party at the Manor at Kettleby.

Here are a few images from our day. Our photography and video team had a blast hanging with Vanessa, Carmen and their families and friends. It was was a chilly fall day although the fun kept us very warm.  We started the day in shooting in Mississauga at the Living Arts centre and the atrium at Mississauga City Hall.   Mississauga city hall is a popular wedding photography venue so we wanted to make sure we captured some unique images,  having such a great couple to work with certainly made it easier.  I hope you enjoy some of the images from our day.


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