Airborne Cats, or Wow My Photos Suck

Spaceball by Jun KumagaiAfter taking pictures at a couple of horse shows, I am paying more attention to my photography. I currently use a Nikon Coolpix camera that we got back in 2004. The camera takes great point and shoot vacation pictures, but if you want any type of action, or need a camera that shoots and writes fast, this would not be it.

I am looking into getting a new camera. I have been investigating the Nikon D70s, D40x, or the Canon 20D. If you are thinking of buying a new camera, David wrote a great post on Strobist.com, Chips, Glass and Light: Assembling an Inexpensive Camera Bag, about getting a good foundation camera set. I want to get a good solid camera, but I don’t want to break the bank to do it. I need a camera that can keep up with Nicole at her horse shows, but that I can expand when time allows.

Just to get back into taking pictures again, I have started taking pictures of my cats bird watching, and looking at pictures on flickr. Now my pictures aren’t as exciting as Junko’s amazing airborne cats series on flickr, like the top picture in this post. Jun Kumagai is an excellent photographer that really captures the joy of being a cat, chasing things and being airborne. Finding his pictures really made me feel more sane about having taken pictures of my cats. In my defense the cats do work really cheap.

I would feel disheartened seeing how great Jun Kumagai photos are until I saw the following quote from the experienced photographer Mike Johnston, in a post by John Nack, “Most of your pictures suck.”

To be honest, most of my pictures suck. The saving grace of that admission is that most of your pictures suck, too. How could I possibly know such a thing? Because most of everybody’s pictures suck, that’s how. I’ve seen Cartier-Bresson’s contact sheets, and most of his pictures sucked. One of my teachers said that it was an epiphany for him when he took a class from Garry Winogrand and learned that most of Winogrand’s exposures sucked. It’s the way it is.

I am thankful that I saw this quote. I thought is was just most of my pictures that sucked. I see great photos on the web, and wonder how these people take such great shots. That is when I realized I wasn’t going to get any better by just getting a new camera. I should start practicing with the camera I have, so when I do get a chance to upgrade I will have already started practicing my basic photography skills. I am hoping to have much better shots from next years horse shows.

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15 Responses to “Airborne Cats, or Wow My Photos Suck”

  1. Opal Tribble Says:

    That first cat picture is surreal! 🙂 I love your picture also of the cat watching the bird. I’m still chuckling over “kitty porn”. You came up with the perfect name for it.

    Thanks for linking to Strobist. I had stumbled upon their site a while ago and had even linked to one of the articles but I was having a hard time finding it on myblog. Strobist has been added to my blogroll.

    Oh yeah most of my pictures are crap! I’m getting a macro lenses this week a Raynox 250 it will tide me over until I purchase “Big Bad Momma” aka Nikon 105mm

  2. Thomas Says:

    Opal – Thanks for stopping by, even though you are on your break 😉
    The airborne cat series is awesome. Jun is a great photographer.

    I always enjoy your pictures. You are one of the people that I think of that always seem to take good pictures, then I look at mine . . .and, oh well.

    Watching my cats watch birds, “kitty porn” is the first thing that comes to mind. I am working on two series; my cats bird watching, and through the window series about the wildlife we get on our deck.

    Strobist is a great site, and I have found some good information there. I am looking forward to seeing what your new lenses can do.

  3. Snoskred Says:

    Well, as far as “I realized I wasn’t going to get any better by just getting a new camera” – I have to say that’s not entirely true in my experience.

    It’s interesting because right now I am going through a lot of our old photos from when we had the three cameras before we finally got the Canon 10D. We easily spent twice as much as it cost us to buy the Canon on cheaper, less good cameras. Looking back through those photos there are some good shots but they are few and far between. One reason is, the camera really limited the photographer.

    Many of the shots are grainy, blurred, or out of focus and the reason for that is not because the photographer was bad or drunk or didn’t know what they were doing, but because the camera was incapable of doing what the photographer was asking the camera to do. Out of 100 photos, maybe 5-10 would be usable, and occasionally there would be a fantastic shot.

    Once we got the 10D, the chances of getting a bad photo decreased. We could go out and take 100 shots, and 95 of them would be usable – in focus, not grainy, not blurred – and 5-25 of them would be fantastic. This is when the real learning began.

    The photos that weren’t good, you could easily tell how to improve them – we needed a monopod, so we got one and used it. Now 98-99 and sometimes 100/100 of the photos became usable, and the percentage of fantastic shots increased each time we went out.

    We were going to the zoo a lot at the time, once a week, and each time we returned home with 100-200-500 shots. The more we used it the better the shots were. One thing we could not seem to do was remove the bars from our photos. It wasn’t our skill, it was the lens. So we went to the photography shop and investigated getting a new lens, and we ended up spending more than we did when we bought the camera to get some proper L series glass.

    Now that we had the new lens.. there was nothing holding us back except the heaviness of the lens and getting used to it. At first the quality of the photos went down a bit due to the learning curve, but soon out of 100 photos, 25-50 would be fantastic and the rest would be usable.

    I also had a Nikon Coolpix – and I won’t lie to you, practicing with that thing probably won’t do you much good. Here’s the piece of advice I would give anyone looking to buy a camera these days, after throwing a lot of good money down the toilet in the past.

    Purchase the best base unit you can afford at the time. If you have to put it on a credit card in order to stretch and get the good equipment you want, so be it. If you spend less you will regret it in the long run. The Canon 20D is an excellent base camera and usually comes with a couple of good lenses to get you started. I personally use the basic lenses most of the time around the house, it’s only when we go somewhere special that I get out the big lens. If you can get a monopod as well, even better.

    Once you have the base camera, you can start saving for better lenses if you want to. You will probably need just one L series lens which can cover the range you want. Yes, you will look like a paparazzo. Yes, people will make comments about your lens. But when you get great images you will not regret it for one second. Once you have that, save for a decent flash.

    Insure your camera and lenses as “specified” items in your insurance policy. All professional (and many amateur) photographers do this – if you drop it or anything goes wrong, you’re covered. You spent money on the equipment, this is a worthwhile thing to do to protect your investment. Right now my lens is being fixed because it got dropped. The quote to fix it came in at 2 grand or so, it’s still half the price of getting a new one. It’s covered under my insurance.

    I don’t regret for one second buying the Canon 10D or the L series lens. I do regret spending at least 7 grand in previous cameras over the years when we knew all along what we really wanted. We would have been better off finding a way to get the camera we really wanted.

    Hope that is useful! 😉

    Snoskred
    http://www.snoskred.org

  4. teeni Says:

    Holy – moly! Snoskred wins the coveted award for comment-spewing. LOL. It’s not a bad thing, Snoskred. Opal and I had kidded about how we feel bad leaving long comments sometimes on other people’s sites and end up apologizing for it. But usually, the recipient enjoys getting long comments so there is no need to apologize. Opal and I both admitted we actually appreciate receiving long comments from our readers. I just usually refer to it as comment-spewing when I do it. It normally indicates a good post though and is great because sometimes it inspires a corresponding post of your own.

    So, Thomas, I would normally apologize for this mini comment-spew here but, um, it’s really nothing compared to Snoskred’s! LOL. 🙂 BTW – I like the photos I see at all three of your sites Thomas, Opal and Snoskred!

  5. Thomas Says:

    Snoskred – Thank you for your comment, it contains awesome information. I will take your advice and buy the best camera I can afford. As I mentioned I am leaning towards the Canon 20D, and the Nikon D40X. I do like the Canon a bit better, I have big hands, and the camera feels more comfortable in my hands. For the price of the Canon, I can get the Nikon plus 2 lenses. So I am still weighing it all out. One of the main reasons to get the camera is to be able to capture better photos at my daughter’s horse show, so I need a camera that does well with sports photography. I still have a while before I am buying, so it is good to start getting this information now. I am a huge fan of doing a ton of research before I make a purchase.

    teeni – I feel the same way after a long comment, but I know I appreciate good information so I am glad to hear that others feel the same way. I am glad to hear that I am generating discussions, I must be doing something right. I realize that some of the pictures I take are pretty decent, but it is always nice to get compliments.

  6. Snoskred Says:

    Teeni – It’s clearly a topic I am very passionate about! 😉 If I can save someone from making the expensive camera mistakes I made, it’s worth making a long comment. 😉

    The better equipment you have, the harder it is to get a bad shot. 😉 I know a lot of plane photographers and they’ve taught me a lot about photography. The first time I met them L series glass was a rare sight – now it’s rare for someone not to have it. 😉

    And seeing these photos you have taken? Once you get a great camera like the Canon 20D, there will be no stopping you. 😉 I’m a big fan of wildlife photography – and cats, of course. Birds are one of my favourite things to photograph.

    I’m biased against Nikon, just so you know! 😉 Among my photographer friends, you’re either a Nikon person or a Canon person. The majority of them are Canon people. But the fact that a body is the same price as a body and two lenses says a lot, I think.

    I’ve been putting some of the old shots aside for the thought of the day posts. I can easily tell the difference between those shots and the Canon shots. I’ll see if I can dig out one of my favourite full res shots and send it to you via email.. 😉

    Cheers!
    Snoskred

  7. Snoskred Says:

    And I forgot to say omg, your cats are so gorgeous! 🙂

    Cheers,
    Snoskred

  8. teeni Says:

    I just have to say that is IS awesome for Snoskred to share that information and possibly save someone a bit of money. I am not into photography but many of my friends are and I know what an expensive hobby it can be.

  9. teeni Says:

    Oh yeah – I also think your cats are sweet. And I was thinking that your flying cat photo might make a wonderful submission to the I Can Has Cheesebuger? site. Just need a cool caption for it.

  10. Thomas Says:

    Snoskred – Thanks again for the great information. I have noticed that people seem to break into camps. I am not a camp person, I am a ‘want the right tool for the job person.’ Keep in mind that the airborne cat photo isn’t mine. The credit goes to Junko on flickr, that person takes amazing cat shots, and seems to have 5 or 6.

    teeni – I agree it is an expensive hobby. I have been saving for a while to get the camera I want. I am trying to be patient, but I want the camera now. Like I said the flying cat photo isn’t mine, I don’t think my current camera could manage a shot like that, without taking quite a few photos.

    As my wife, says we have the boring tabbies. I don’t think they’re boring, but I think you and Snoskred are confusing the flying cats with mine. Mine are the sedate bird watchers.

  11. teeni Says:

    D’oh – didnt’ we just have a discussion where I said I’d be re-reading before I posted and made a fool out of myself. Well, yeah, I hope you forgot about that discussion too because obviously I did. Sorry for mistaking the flying cat photo as YOUR photo when it really is the sedate one. I just checked out more of your photos. You get quite a nice array of wildlife where you are, including mutant squirrels. Anyway, I apologize for reading too quickly and commenting yet again. LOL. No more staying up late and reading posts for me. It is now 11:52 and I’m going to bed! 😉

  12. teeni Says:

    By the way, I think your cats are gorgeous!

  13. Thomas Says:

    teeni – No worries. I would love to be able to take credit for the airborne cat photos. The cats having taken up bird and squirrel watching as of late, have really toned down their crazy cat ways. They aren’t the leapers they once were.

    The funny thing is, that all the wildlife photos are taken from inside the house, and they are all on our deck. We leave by a wooded area on a dead end, so it isn’t that hard to entice the animals on the deck. I am saving for that new camera, so I can kick my photography up a notch.

  14. Connie Bensen Says:

    Hey Thomas,
    I see a backlink, but I can’t find it…
    So I’ll write here, since I’m on your blog. 🙂

    I just took delivery of a Nikon D80 with a 80 – 200 mm lens with VR. My initial thought was it’s going to be too big (the whole shebang). My husband’s question was – why do you need another camera? (coming from a man with Swarovski binoculars & optics on his guns that are worth more than they are!). He’s adjusting now.

    And yes – it was an investment, but I took it out tonite & was so intrigued by wanting to adjust the depth of field, that I put it on manual! The autofocus on that lens was incredible. I”ll be blogging at acdsee.com soon (not tonite) but putting up a few photos within a couple of days.

    So if you want to keep up to your daughter – you may want something like that. The Canon 40D has twice the shutter speed but is very similar to the Nikon otherwise. It’s a good investment & the photos will last you a lifetime!

  15. Thomas Says:

    Connie – I hope the new job at ACDSee is treating you well! The products from your post sound interesting. It appears that I am getting similar advice from both you and Snoskred about getting the most camera I can afford.

    It is definitely interesting what we spend our money on. I was giving a buddy of mine a bad time for spending $500 on a yo-yo, and only to realize I spent almost 3 times that on my Harley.

    I look forward to seeing the photos that you take, and learning more about ACDSee. Best of luck on the new job!


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