camera + equipment: what I use and why…
Posted in pia's photos March 12th, 2010 by pia

pjb_peonierow5

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This morning over breakfast (my edible sunshine is almost gone btw and yes, I’m fretting) I told French Boy that the verdict was in: the question you had asked me the most was “what camera do you use?”. He thought it would be funny if I told you that I have lots of  cameras and each of them is a one-of-a-kind apparatus  handmade  in a tiny, unknown village in Japan and it’s near impossible to get one…

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I thought that was a bit funny too because well, it’s alot more interesting than the truth.

The truth is that what you see on this blog, and in all my published works like the photographs in Paris: Made by Hand, Amsterdam: Made by Hand, and editorial spreads like this one

hb-pia-cover

…are all shot on one camera, with one lense. The camera is called a canon 400d and it’s possibly the least fancy, already out-of-date piece of digital equipment around. The lense I use is the lense it came with which is a standard 18-55mm. I bought the camera 3 years ago when I moved to Paris. It was my first ever digital SLR.

Before that I had a 35mm canon AE-1 which I have had since I was 15 years old when I started learning photography. I never had different lenses for it.  And the only reason I don’t use that camera now is that it began growing some sort of mildew in it and whenever I developed the film there would always be a blur in the top right corner of every photograph. I had it ‘fixed’ twice but the mildew kept growing back.

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There is no trickery involved in my photography -  I only use available light and I abhor the flash so I never use that.  I don’t know how to use the digital settings on the camera at all. I just set the dial to ‘m’ for manual and use it like I would a film camera, with the only difference being that I can adjust the ‘film’ speed (I don’t even know what it’s called in digital language) with each shot in the camera, willy nilly. In fact, that is one of the only reasons I finally went digital. For years I couldn’t make myself do it and then finally, when I thought about the advantages of being able to change my ‘film speed’ without changing film, I thought yeah, I’ll give it a go.

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I have a university degree sub-majoring in photography and studied it as an art form full time for 3 years so it’s not possible to give you a run down of everything I know about the subject. Not only that, I’m far from being an expert. and not only that I am not a teacher nor do I have any desire to teach it at this stage in my life. BUT. I can give you a few helpful ideas if you like?

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As far as being able to photograph things the way you see and feel them, I can’t help you with as that comes with practice. But I can tell you these tips that might be useful:

1. short depth of field. It’s what we love – that tiny focal point when the rest of the shot is out of focus. This is achieved by having a low-numbered aperture -this allows the most light in and gives you that soft, atmospheric image that we all like. Try to get a camera where you can adjust the aperture. Go as low as you can go (i.e. f2.8 is a goodie).

2. learn to see detail. take your time with looking through the viewfinder and scan your eye from left to right, right to left, up and down, down and up the frame. You will get quicker at it as time goes on, but in the beginning just take your time.

3.  be steady. Learn to hold your camera correctly, focus all your attention on the shot and then press the button. I realise I probably exhale just before I press the button which helps to be steady. Use a tripod or prop your camera up on something steady if you are shooting in low light – also use the self-timer so that you do not get camera shake with the press of the button.

Until recently I have only ever had one camera at one time but these days, I have a canon G10 for snapshots, documenting ideas and recording little videos, and a secondhand polaroid 1200si for fun…

PJB_baffiandamsterdamcanon G10 for snapshots

PJB_bedandwaterpolaPJB_polaroidtriopolaroid 1200si for fun.

When I go on a commissioned shoot I usually just carry two things – my backpack which has my canon 400d,  an extra lense, an extra battery -  and my tripod. That’s it. I am certainly no camera gear expert and I’m usually lost when other photographers talk to me about lenses or the latest digital camera functions – I know what I need, and that’s all. I do almost everything to the photograph in camera as opposed to ‘in post-production’. I don’t have alot of time for re-touching or photoshop work as I have to take and process hundreds of images for my book projects – for example, I took over 5000 images when shooting for Paris: Made by Hand – that’s about 100 images in 50 locations. Then there is the processing and delivery of the images which is all part of the job. For editorial work I often only take a maximum of 20 photographs for the day of shooting – all the work is done on site – the set design, the styling, the lighting, photography and processing, and all of that takes a serious amount of team work – there are at least 5 people working on the day. As a professional photographer there is rarely the chance to sit with your images for long periods of time and play with them in post-production. Instead, everything you have ever learnt about making a beautiful image comes out on the day and thats where the magic happens – it’s so much fun to be a part of that, whether it’s as a photographer, a stylist, an assistant, a merchandiser, or art director.

I love photography – it remains to be one of my favourite means of story telling. And it doesn’t matter how much you think you know about it, there is always more to learn, to explore, to experiment with. I am forever learning every single time I pick up my camera and take a photo. I cannot recommend it enough as an art form and I suggest that if you have an interest in it too then do yourself a favour and book yourself into a local, hands on photography course. Because truth be told mes amis, it’s not the camera that takes a good photo, and every good photographer will tell you that.

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Okay so that’s it! That is my last post for a while. And this will be my last post about camera equipment and such as I actually have very little interest in the technical stuff.

I am going to miss you guys while I’m in isolation-writing-retreat mode. I’ll  be thinking about you everyday no doubt, and wondering what you are doing. But I will look forward to coming back all the more and reading your blogs and catching up. I have so much to share with you when I get back – with the book launch coming in June I have a bonanza of fun in store for the (blog)house when I get back.

See you soon my dear friends! And don’t forget to check out the archives for some inspiration if you feel the urge. I recommend just clicking on a random month in the archives widget in the right hand side bar, I find that to be the best way for rediscovering forgotten posts. But also, check out blogs in my blogroll as there is oodles of inspiration to be had there – I’ve updated it lots lately so there are new blogs for you to explore. And finally, here is a list of some of my random favourites posts…

playing with props and peonies

shadow puppetery is awesome

some colours du jour

the sounds of my floating home in summer

and

when it rains

and when it storms.

the sounds and sights at the carousel in paris

and the cathedral in reims

and the sights and sounds in the rainforest in queensland, australia.

a photographer who I’m inspired by continually

and another I adore.

some interiors to ogle,

food to make,

and nests to build.

à bientot!

xx

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soundscapes...
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56 Comments

  1. Maia says

    GREAT post, Pia. It’s always important to be reminded that the most expensive equipment does not make the artist. Great list of tips too. I thoroughly enjoyed this! Thanks

    March 12th, 2010 | #

  2. Victoria says

    Thank you Pia for this staight forward editorial on your camera use. I am always curious to see, how other photographers work. I have a very simple digital powershot canon camera, but I want to get the digital Canon Rebel XSi, 18 -55 mm lense. makes for better details.
    And I am going to miss your lovely posts, but wish you good luck in all your endeavors! See you back in June? Bye darling!

    XX
    Victoria

    March 12th, 2010 | #

  3. Nicole says

    woooahhhh 400d is mine too. I always thought the bog standard lense on it was not too shabby (tho I do have a tamron one for it now and am one of those annoying lens loving people :-)

    Your shots with it are just amazing and is further proof you don’t have to have an expensive camera to get amazing shots

    I love the fact that you use your digital like a film camera. I too shoot completely manually on mine, unless I feel super lazy or am trying to do some super quick street photography shooting.

    My fave camera these days tho is my 1975 Canon TX … you gotta love film! I went back to it when the 400d died after 20,000 photos and i’m still using

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  4. Eva says

    I really enjoyed this too. Very interesting about the minimal post-production. Good luck with the book!

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  5. Kathy VK says

    Ahhh, relatively lo-tech. That’s what I was hoping to see. Thanks so much for the techie post, hopefully not too annoying for your last one before hibernation. I’m a borderline luddite, so your minimalist approach is very much appreciated.
    Happy hunkering!

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  6. and flowers pick themselves says

    this post is chock full of wonderfulness. thank you so much!

    xo Alison

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  7. Eloise says

    This was a wonderful post! I’m shocked that you have a fairly standard dslr, you take some truly wonderful photos, your exposure and composition is second to none!

    I have a great respect for the styling you do with every photograph, I’ve tried to do some similar and it’s so much harder than it looks! Thank you for sharing your gift with us!

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  8. Frolic in Fabric says

    Thank you Pia so much for all the advise. I will have to re read it all to let it sink in. The only setting i really know is macro so i have a long way to go. All the best with the book. Elizabeth X

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  9. Catherine says

    A bientôt ;o)

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  10. erin says

    you’ve managed to make a dry subject sound simple and sweet.
    wishing you a productive break–may it be filled with creative inspiration and quiet time to write. all best,

    erin

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  11. liz says

    Dear Pia,

    Thanks for generously sharing your knowledge about photography which is very inspiring. Your work has a lovely human dimension in addition to your very good “eye” Go well and hope you will succeed more and more in all your endeavours. Sad to hear you are making a blog break but time flies so see u soon !!
    BTW your Paris by Hand book is lovely and the places in it as well. Looking forward to having a look at the Amsterdam one

    March 13th, 2010 | #

  12. agneta says

    Yes yes yes, your blog is just soooo wonderful and gives me a lot of energy!

    A footprint from Sweden by Agneta

    March 14th, 2010 | #

  13. bokmalin says

    How beautiful and encouraging! But what kind of equipment do you use when you record sounds, and how do you publish them on your blog?

    Please share with us sometime, Pia…

    March 14th, 2010 | #

  14. Ciara says

    Well, I know it’s a long long time since I commented here, but I adore your work and this post has made me so happy! I have the same camera and now I have no excuse! Thanks so much for sharing this with us.
    Look forward to your return!

    Ciara x

    March 14th, 2010 | #

  15. Ariella says

    I clicked on every link! Thank you…I love them all. I found the PBS coverage on Sally Mann really fascinating and such a human look into an artist’s life.

    I only started reading your blog a few of months ago, so I am going to take your advice and read some of your archives.

    Happy writing! Best from Montreal! Ariella

    March 15th, 2010 | #

  16. MK says

    Bravo! Well said. I bought myself the canon sd780is a year ago and am using it for all my photography needs especially after carrying my nikon d80 in my bag for 4 years. The big camera comes out for events and the like. Thank you for your photography tips as it was a refresher course for me. Happy “isolation-writing-retreat” mode and I look forward to your return.

    March 15th, 2010 | #

  17. Galit says

    Pia, I love you for this post!!
    Such great tips! I implement couple of them right away and was amazed by the the result!!
    Thanks so much for sharing!

    March 16th, 2010 | #

  18. em-jae says

    WOW fabulous and i am SO loving everything about your blog right now. kuddos for your awesomeness!

    March 16th, 2010 | #

  19. MeganK says

    Thanks so much for that post Pia, beautifully written. I love coming over here and seeing your gentle images, wonderful to hear you explain your approach. All the best with your writing.
    x

    March 16th, 2010 | #

  20. Galit says

    Pia, I have another question for you please for when you’re back.
    How do you process your Polaroids into digital? I guess the obvious answer is scanning but do you have any tips for that?
    Whenever I try it I got really bad results (I use a regular home scanner, one of those 3 in one printers).
    Do you do it yourself or at a lab?
    Thanks a lot and have a good, blissful time working on your book!

    March 17th, 2010 | #

  21. Lolo says

    Great post!
    It’s always good to remind people that you don’t need the most expensive/up to date camera to take great photos!
    I use a mixture of film cameras, peel apart polaroid and my Canon 350D. I’d love to update my digital camera at some point as I’ve had it for over 5 years now(!!!) but it’s not a massive priority.
    What is a priority is getting my hands on a medium format SLR via ebay!!!

    March 17th, 2010 | #

  22. Catalina says

    Thank you thank you Pia! so inspiring! of technique is not all….:)…your pictures have a so magical atmosphere!

    March 17th, 2010 | #

  23. Debbie Schramer says

    I love your blog…..it is truely one of my most favorites!! Always so enchanting, inspiring and fascinating!!

    My husband and I are both artists and have wanted to go to Europe for so long. I was wondering, if you might know of anyone (artists or creative people) who need an assistant. We really would like to go to Europe to work and do our art. We actually have a lot of experience in caretaking and working with children, cooking, chauffeuring, etc. Just thought I would ask…..we would love to work for some artists!!

    thank you so much for all the beauty you share! it brings so much light into my day!!

    debbie

    March 17th, 2010 | #

  24. alicia bock says

    Pia-
    I was a huge fan before this post, but even more so now… if that is possible. The question you answered is probably my least favorite to answer too, because as you have shown, it really doesn’t matter. You could give us all your same camera to photograph the same location and I believe we would all end up with a different perspective. Thank you for sharing your beautiful view of the world! Cheers- A.

    March 17th, 2010 | #

  25. Leanne T says

    i love my 400D. i just bought a couple of fabulous lenses for it. a 50mm 1:4 and a macro 100mm 2:8. both let in loads of light and give you the short depth of field that is so lovely. happy writing.

    ps. if anyone is living in sydney and want a great, short camera course, i just did camera craft 1 at the australian centre of photography in paddington – brilliant!!! only goes for 5 weeks, 3hrs one day a week. x

    March 18th, 2010 | #

  26. virginia says

    the best post. thank you.

    enjoy your solitude.

    i have one camera, don’t like a lot of gear, and fashioned a “string-pod”, which fits in my messenger bag. created one after seeing a tutorial on u-tube, and it’s the perfect portable tripod.

    a bolt which screws into the camera, a length of string tied to the bolt, and a giant washer attached at the bottom of the string(to step on, for stability).

    March 18th, 2010 | #

  27. Have a Cup of Tea | Little Black Guidebook says

    [...] Pia Jane  Bijerk a wonderful photographer, blogger and author of Paris: Made by Hand. Share and [...]

    March 19th, 2010 | #

  28. Janine says

    When simple is better! Thank you sharing this… I love learning the tricks of trade, especially from someone as talented as yourself! Look forward to seeing you back on the blog – good luck with your writing;)

    March 20th, 2010 | #

  29. Rachel says

    Thanks Pia – yep, the techy stuff is a bit of a drag! But refreshing and interesting to see your approach to it. Enjoy your time away – look forward to seeing the products of your labours!

    March 20th, 2010 | #

  30. Patty says

    Thanks for posting, I’m just starting to get into photography and it’s always so great to hear tips!

    March 21st, 2010 | #

  31. elis vermeulen says

    wrote and deleted all these words explaining why I like this post so much.. Just do.

    March 22nd, 2010 | #

  32. Miss Thé Dansant says

    Bonjour Pia,

    It was so inspiring to read this post! Your photography has always been a huge inspiration to me, and it’s so refreshing to see it’s all done with such basic gear.
    Thank you for sharing this little behind ‘your’ scenes :)
    Bisous,
    Miss TD

    March 23rd, 2010 | #

  33. Punctuation Mark says

    Your images are gorgeous! the tips on taking pictures are great… I have a hard time always holding steady and have gotten small tripods to help me with close ups… have a nice week!

    March 23rd, 2010 | #

  34. Heather says

    I love that your posts are so generous; you share so much about your daily life and for that (and your beautiful photography), I think yours is one of the very best blogs out there.

    Thank you for making my tea breaks so utterly rewarding.

    March 23rd, 2010 | #

  35. Princesseneige says

    So beautiful posts! No matter the camera, the most important is what you see and how you feel it inside.
    A bientôt!

    March 23rd, 2010 | #

  36. joslyn says

    this is a great post friend…great tips! thank you, thank you, thank you!

    happy writing.
    xox

    March 24th, 2010 | #

  37. Cindy says

    Thanks for posting. So inspiring.

    March 25th, 2010 | #

  38. kelly says

    Thanks for this posting… its so nice to know when someone as talented as yourself is not a techno-maniac when it somes to technique. I’m slowly learning everything again on the g11…

    March 25th, 2010 | #

  39. emily says

    came across your blog and couldn’t have at a greater time.

    i’ve been ‘venting’ fairly often lately, about how photography is an art form in so many vast ways and at times it can be difficult to identify yourself, for lack of a better term. i am beyond amateur at this point, but eager to learn more – i have this thing…not necessarily anti- but, had been inspired once by an art museum in zion’s national park, here in utah. the photographer noted that he didn’t use photoshop in any of his photographs. they were brilliant. vibrant and spectacular photos.

    it inspired me to do the same. just as photographers like yourself inspire me as well. thank you for your individuality and uniqueness. you have beautiful work.

    March 25th, 2010 | #

  40. theaxx says

    AMAZING post!

    thea.
    xx

    March 26th, 2010 | #

  41. ana patricia says

    fantastic post! really great advice :)and very inspiring

    March 29th, 2010 | #

  42. Hanna says

    Thanks for this post, Pia. You inspire so many of us :) Peacefull and happy times :)

    March 31st, 2010 | #

  43. A Merry Mishap says

    Those Peonies make me really excited for warmer weather and outdoor markets!

    March 31st, 2010 | #

  44. Lynne, Tea for Joy says

    I’m the world’s worst photographer but there are some great tips here which make me feel like I could actually improve without too much work…I love the self-timer tip, I would never have thought of that. I’m going to sign up for a course too but this will make a great start. Hope your break goes well.

    April 1st, 2010 | #

  45. Theresa says

    Thank you this is great. If you want come see what we are giving away today. Happy Easter!

    April 3rd, 2010 | #

  46. Erin says

    Thanks for this post. I use a pretty generic digital camera and I have been spending a lot of time learning how to take good photographs with it. I can’t control the aperture time (or I haven’t figured out how yet) which I don’t like, but otherwise,I think I am progressing, bit by bit. This is the first time I’ve seen your blogs and it is FANTASTIC! I will definately be following it!

    April 3rd, 2010 | #

  47. Jen says

    the flowers look so fresh and lovely!

    April 4th, 2010 | #

  48. Medha says

    This is one of the best posts Ive read in a longtime over which I think yourphotography is remarkable. Keep up the awesome work.

    April 4th, 2010 | #

  49. kerryanne says

    Beautiful images as always, Pia. I’ve been away for a while but lurk when I can :) I love that you are doing so well!

    April 5th, 2010 | #

  50. Aron says

    How lucky I am! My first time seeing your site I am rewarded with answer to the most asked question! Looking around I can see why. I’ve got the same camera, only the older model. Actually, it died on our trip to costa rica for about a day and I almost had heart attack! Fortunately, its back running again but I think I might buy a new one so it doesn’t happen again on our next trip (India).
    I enjoyed reading your tips. My wife and I are just building our blog and it has been such a fun exercise in photography and writing.

    All best,
    Aron

    April 5th, 2010 | #

  51. Maria says

    I came to this too late, but my question would have been if it is possible to see a floor plan of the houseboat, in order to make my day dreams more accurate…

    April 14th, 2010 | #

  52. Anna Ward says

    Hi Pia/ Everyone

    I’ve just started getting into your site Pia (read about you in Dumbofeather and you got me through an incredibly uninspired week of university).

    I’m living in Brisbane, Australia and wondering if anyone knows of any good short term photography courses around the town?

    Thanks guys, bon nuit.

    xx Anna

    April 22nd, 2010 | #

  53. Maria says

    Thanks so much Pia. This was quite informative and like you I have no use for all the techinical stuff. Certainly not at this point! Congratulations with the book! Please feel free to stop by my blog, I would love to have you! :)

    Thanks again,
    http://musingswithmaria.blogspot.com/
    Maria

    July 23rd, 2010 | #

  54. parisbreakfast says

    wonderful post!
    Love the first back-lit window shot..just what I would like to paint…

    July 30th, 2010 | #

  55. Keri says

    Ahhh.. a wonderful and refreshing post. As a photography student, it was nice to read that I am not the only one who enjoys simplicity… no major gear, just me and my simple camera. I have six children and I don’t even like to carry a purse. I have a Canon Rebel XSI. I also abhore the flash and rarely (if ever) use it.
    I am not a “blog” reader, but came across your website whilst browsing information on Sally Mann. I will be keeping your blog at the top of my list of must reads and “come back to often” sites.
    Thank you :)

    August 24th, 2010 | #

  56. photographer says

    I love your pictures! As a digital photographer I am aware it could be challenging to choose the best ones although these are great.
    I prefer a number of Lightroom presets to maintain some uniformity in my own.

    December 13th, 2013 | #


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