First-time traveling with a DSLR

I pride myself on traveling light, and traveling practical.

Out with the mascara and in with the band-aids, I say! In with the point-and-shoot and out with…the DSLR?

As an avid picture-snapper, I recently decided to invest in a DSLR for all my Picture Taking Needs. Yet until last weekend, I had never ventured out of Auto mode. And so far, my Picture Taking Needs have only included photographing my plum tree from various angles, and capturing every meal I find especially delicious…

Even in Montreal, I had to take pictures of the food!

It’s a rare occasion when people grace my photographs, and even rarer still when I take my camera outside my house!

It bothers me that after buying a DSLR (and Nikon D5000 for Dummies), I haven’t pushed myself to be creatively responsible for my pictures. Is it fear that’s stopping me? Mere laziness? I had a weekend trip to Montreal coming up and decided it was now or never – I decided to bring my DSLR along for the journey! It’s safe to say my first time traveling with a DSLR was fraught with mistakes and (really) bad pictures…but I think I’ve learned a thing or two.

1. Bags not required.

I took it upon myself to buy a new $60 Lowepro camera bag for the occasion since I felt the bag I already had was too big, cumbersome and just plain unattractive.  While this new bag was ten times more sexy (as sexy as DSLR bags go), I still ended up fumbling as I tried to take out my camera for every scene that caught my eye. All I got out of this was missed shots, and an impatient travel partner waiting as I tried to capture Montreal perfectly. If you’re in a relatively safe city and wont risk damaging your camera, I say – go au naturel. You’ll have much easier access to a camera that’s just slung around your neck.

2. Remember the setting.

Your worst enemy IS Manual mode – especially if you think you’re still on Auto. As a newbie, don’t worry about jumping straight into Manual, there are plenty “mid-way” settings that let you adjust one or two features while the camera takes care of the rest automatically. This way, you don’t have to take ten photos to get the perfect shot because you keep forgetting to adjust certain settings! Also remember to switch back to Auto when you get strangers to take a photo for you. If they do not have a DSLR in their hand, telling them “You just twist the lens until it’s in focus”, does not guarantee a perfect picture. Lesson learned.

3. Don’t trust the LCD screen – completely.

At first I thought I was just failing miserably with adjusting the features on my DSLR, but when I uploaded my photos onto my computer, I realized a lot of my shots were brighter (or darker) than how they appeared on the LCD screen! In fact, sometimes my original shot (of twenty) was perfect – I had only taken more because it looked too dark or bright on the LCD screen.

After some research, I’ve learned that you can adjust your LCD screen to match what you see on your computer, but the best way to be certain about a perfect shot is to read the histogram. As I have yet to figure out how to read one, I’ll have to stick to taking twenty pictures of the same shot…

4. Spend some alone time with your DSLR.

The bonus of practicing with your DSLR at home is that you are at leisure to snap away at whatever speed you like. There’s no one else to worry about, and food is never too far away. So it’s very easy to feel rushed when you’re traveling with others. They’re already walking towards Montreal Poutine, and you’re still trying to get shots of the Notre-Dame Basilica! Make sure you take some time to walk around the city you’re visiting on your own. This is different from being at home because you have much more to capture and less control of the environment (passers-by, climate). Some of my favourite shots were when I went exploring by myself one morning.

Enjoying some strawberries at a Farmer’s Market on Rue Saint-Dominique

Although I’ve learned a lot from my weekend trip with my DSLR, I’m still a far cry from being comfortable traveling with it AND exploring Manual or semi-automatic modes. While my DSLR wasn’t quite the millstone around my neck, it was difficult to enjoy my trip and capture special moments without worrying about my camera.

That said, I saw many people in Montreal carrying DSLRs. From 14 year old boys to moms with five kids. They may have been on Auto, but they were daring enough to take their cameras on a trip around town. I shouldn’t feel bad about using Auto so often, but I should take more chances with Manual – and bring my DSLR along to get-togethers or outings more often.

In the meantime, is there such thing as Reading Histograms for Dummies?

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Virtual Voices

Do I have a voice now that I blog? And what does it mean to have a “voice”, anyway?

It’s common to hear: “They don’t have a Voice! We are giving them a Voice! They had no Voice until now!”

I’m sure you’ve heard it. In social justice-speak, or just on the street.

These ideas about capital letter V “voice” assumes that some people are silent. They have no stories. They show no resistance.

– But they do. We just don’t hear.

What we hear is a small selection determined by the books we read and the writers behind them. How we hear, is also created.  It is determined by our ideas about what voice is. Are those who don’t speak using sounds disqualified from having a Voice?

I have my thoughts, I have my words and I have been speaking them forever. I have not gained a “voice” by blogging. I haven’t even earned an audience. However, I am learning how to communicate in a new way: I am learning how to create a virtual voice.

Is a virtual voice any different from “voice”? Do we speak more freely online because of anonymity? Or do we edit and re-edit since, after all, anyone can stumble on our blogs?!

As a newbie, I guess I’ll find out with experience…

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