As a general rule, you’re used to me being the ever-optimistic “go for it” guy who tells you that you don’t need to best camera setup to take great photos. And, for the most part, this is totally true. There are a lot of cases where you don’t need the fanciest setup, just a knowledge of what works and what doesn’t, in order to get your shot. Wielding a scratched up point-and-shoot someone was about to toss in trash, you can still get a decent image.
Unfortunately, we live in a real world with real obstacles. Not every shooting situation is ideal for the photographic effects you want to create, and sometimes it’s better to know your limits than to attempt to get an image that just isn’t possible with the conditions and equipment you have with you. It’s not like you’re giving up on the shot altogether. You’re just being smart and knowing your limits, only to come back and get the shot later on.
So, with that said, what kinds of limits can we encounter as photographers? Which ones are real, and which ones do we impose upon ourselves? Let’s sort that out.
When shooting conditions limit what we can do
Sometimes the conditions just aren’t right, and there isn’t much you can do about it. You wouldn’t try to get a sunset picture in the middle of the day, would you? There is a time window for those kinds of shots, and you need to be there for it. Otherwise, the conditions just don’t permit the shot. That’s a limit.
The scenery can limit what we’re shooting as well. Have you ever gone on a long walk through the forest, only to find yourself utterly stumped (literally and figuratively) at what to shoot? Depending on where you’re hiking, there might not be an isolated subject or open space for miles. No matter how hard you try, you just can’t turn a dense thicket of random trees with no underlying theme into an interesting photo. You’re better off putting your camera away and enjoying your hike.
The best scenery for taking photos is usually some kind of open space with landmarks and isolated subjects dotting the landscape. Closed spaces with noticeable openings also work well. But when you’re dealing with a wide open field or a completely closed forest, there just isn’t much you can do. Nothing stands out.
When equipment limits what we can do
The first time you dealt with an equipment-based limit, you were probably using a point-and-shoot camera that didn’t allow you to zoom in enough. You wanted your subject to fill the frame, but you just couldn’t get close enough. Equipment imposes limits all the time, but unlike the limits shooting conditions can present to us, they are easier to overcome.
If you don’t have a zoom lens, you can usually just walk right up to your subject. Your feet might not cost anything extra, and they are certainly no technological marvel (unless you consider all those millions of years of evolution it took for you to be born with them), but they do get the job done.
In some cases, your feet won’t work. You aren’t going to get much closer to a faraway surfer with your feet, unless you’re willing to risk your expensive camera. That’s when you might consider an equipment upgrade if the shot matters that much.
Macro photography is another arena where you don’t have much choice but to upgrade. You can still take macro photos, but without a proper macro lens, you won’t be able to see small things with the same degree of magnification typical of professional-grade macro photos. No matter how hard you try to get the ladybug to fill the frame, it’s just not going to happen. That’s when you need to decide if a macro lens is worth the investment.
Equipment can also impose limits when it comes to lighting. Most beginner camera kits don’t include a powerful flash. The flash is usually good enough to take most amateur snapshots, and when it comes to fully illuminating someone from a distance or bouncing the flash off a wall, they fail miserably. If the flash just isn’t reaching, you probably can’t get the shot until you get a better flash. Know that limit, and you won’t be the frustrated photographer at the party.
When equipment limits what we can do, there is usually a solution. It isn’t the solution we like, but we can do something about it if we want to. What’s the best way to get over an equipment-based limit? Get involved with other people who share your passion for photography, and kindly ask them if you can borrow a lens or a flash for a day. It’s a lot less expensive than purchasing a piece of equipment just so you can get one shot.
And don’t despair when you hit a brick wall in your photography. Brick walls are there so you can smash them down later on. You just need to know how to do it.
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