The Phrase Photographers Hate: “Your Camera Takes Great Photos!”

brian1This past weekend some of my close family (uncles, cousins, nieces, nephews) were in town for a family event. Being the only photographer in the family, I try to bring my camera with me when we get together. Not just for big group photos, but I know how hard it is for families to get nice photos taken of themselves, so I’ll grab a few of my cousins with their kids, and my uncles/aunts with their grandchildren. Plus, as a writer, once you use one family member in a book, guess what. All of the others start to ask when they’re going to get in a book too ;)

Anyway, I took the photo you see here of one of my close cousins, Brian (who I grew up with seeing often) and his son Dean. I used my Nikon D800 with the Nikon 70-200mm lens on and just followed them around as they played, trying to coax Dean into being cute (not a hard thing when you have a cute kid). That’s why I love the 70-200 lens. It lets you stay back far enough from the action, so as to not scare the kids into wondering what this person with this huge camera is doing 2 feet away from them.

The Phrase We All Know And Love
Well, once I showed Brian, he loved the photo. So much so that an older aunt of mine heard, and came over to see it. And wouldn’t ya know it… what’s the first thing she said? “Wow! Your camera takes such great pictures!”. What do you say to that? Especially when it’s one of your aunts. I resisted the urge to say one of my favorite comebacks to that statement. A comeback I heard years ago and have yet to hear a better one: “Gee thanks… and your mouth makes such stupid comments”. But she’s my aunt so I held back. :)

Honestly, it’s not really a great comment to say to anyone. Most people don’t know any better. And if we’re truthful with ourselves, it IS partly the camera right? I mean, I would have never gotten a photo with the sharpness and depth of field with a point-n-shoot. And even with the D800, I’d have never gotten that photo with many other lenses. But still, it’s always something that irks us photographers.
BTW… yes, I’ve heard the response about how you’d never ask a cook what pots and pans he uses. I just like the one I wrote above better ;)

Techie Photo Info
Anyway, that’s my story for the day. As for photo info it’s below.
• First, I position the people between me and the sun, so the sun is behind them. That’s what gives the nice hair/edge light behind them.
• I put the camera on continuous shooting mode, Aperture priority, and set the Aperture at f/2.8.
• I rack out the lens to 200mm (don’t you like the camera lingo? “Racked out” just means zoomed as far as the lens will go) and stand back far enough to compose.
• At 200mm you’ve got some good distance between you and the subject. One last key elements is to make sure the subject is a good distance away from their background (at least 10 feet). All of this separation gives you those beautiful soft backgrounds that really help the people stand out.
• After that, it’s all about luck. I just shoot. I don’t pose much. I just watch them have fun and try to capture some of the action.
• Keep an eye on your shutter speed. Once it starts dipping below 1/250 to 1/125 I start increasing my ISO. As long as they’re not moving too much, and you try to capture the still moments after a movement, you’ll get sharp photos.

I processed the photo in Lightroom with some minimal shadow and highlight settings. Then I jumped into onOne Perfect Effects and added the Vintage Blue/Yellow preset along with the Big Softy vignette preset. I finished off with some sharpening and that’s about it. This one took all of 3 minutes to work.

Interesting/Amazing Side Story About My Cousin: It’s a miracle that Brian is even here today. He was actually working in the 2nd tower in the World Trade Center on September 11th. He was around the same floor that the 2nd plane hit the tower (extremely close to where the plane actually hit). It’s a long story, but he hadn’t evacuated so he was actually on that floor when the plane hit. Sadly, many people around his immediate area didn’t make it out, and it’s an absolute miracle that he did. The 60 or so minutes our family had to spend wondering what happened to him were some of the longest minutes I can remember.

  • Scott King

    I’ve noticed through watching a few of your KT Videos and in your books that you’re really good at getting a performance from family photos. Is there anything else special you do durring the, “I just shoot. I don’t pose much. I just watch them have fun and try to capture some of the action.” stage to get your subjects to liven up?

  • Dennis Zito

    Hi Matt, really nice capture of your cousin and his son! I’ve always had a rough time with family stuff. I just can’t get the interesting poses that you get. I know you said you just rack out and rapid fire … but I thing there’s more to it than that … right? Also, I get the same stupid remark from my daughter-in-law, but like you I generally keep my mouth shut. :-) You mention in your post process you used onOne suite. A few week back you did a webinar for onOne that had some technical difficulties. When will you be doing it again or did they video it anyway? Where can I go to see it! You always have some great pointers in those webinars! What a miracle that your cousin got out of the tower … wow … what a blessing!



  • Stephen Foster

    As always Matt I love your posts. Your blog is always one of the first places I visit each morning. Thanks for sharing!

    You are an awesome photographer and a great ‘teacher’ too and I have learned a great deal form you.

    I do have a question though… now that you have had your own D800 for a
    bit… any thoughts you would like to share? I have saved up to get one
    and ready to pull the trigger on it and would appreciate any thoughts
    you might share on your experience. I realize everyone’s needs are
    different… but I do mostly landscapes and have been working on
    improving my portrait skills. I do pretty good with the casual family
    photos so we are similar in shooting style.

    The D4 is also of interest to me… but I can get more glass if I stay with the 800.

  • LS3

    I love your posts- you must have a great keyboard!

  • CMfly

    Ahh don’t let the “your camera takes great pictures” comment bug you. Most people don’t know the difference between the camera and the photographer. These are often the same people saying “my camera takes such crappy pictures” when you hear them say that just smile :)

  • Ken Johnson

    Thanks for a little comic relief and then bringing us back to reality. Aaron Johnson comes up with many zingers in his photographer cartoons.

  • Francis T

    Here’s a more polite response I like which injects a bit of humor to keep things light. :)

    “Your camera takes really nice pictures.”

    “Thanks, I taught it everything it knows.”

    • Matt Kloskowski

      I love it!!! I’m SOOO using that one :)

    • Shai Yammanee

      That really is a great response

  • Tomasz Kuzel

    So true, and I laughed hard for this “Gee thanks… and your mouth makes such stupid comments”. I’ll sell this very quickly, oh yeah! ;)
    BTW, Thanks Matt for your mails/posts. I really love to read your photographic advice – a Wealth of Knowledge :)

  • Chris Belyea

    Yet another great blog post … and damned fine image as well :-)

  • Mike Wilson

    Its not the hammer, the saw or the nail, its the carpenter. We could say, “it is a good camera, but I can make it sing! Without some study and practice most folks can only make it hum off key a bit.”
    We don’t need to tell them that they are stupid but they may see the thoughtless comment they made for what it is. They are making an assumption that comes from magical thinking. People can point a magic device at some thing and come away with a wondrous image without going to the drug store and sending off film to a place of magic that will send back photos you can actually SEE! However, they could just be stupid, such is life.

  • Mike Wilson

    Oh, and thanks for the techie stuff.

  • Miguel Palaviccini

    Great article Matt! You mentioned “Once it starts dipping below 1/250 to 1/125 I start increasing my ISO.” Have you used the auto-ISO feature on the D800? It’s great! You can set it to change the ISO/shutter as a function of your focal length. There are a couple more options, but I won’t get into that here. And it’s just one button (ISO) and turn (front command dial) away. Easy to turn on and off.

    Again, thanks for the post!

    • Matt Kloskowski

      I have used it before but not in a while. I’ll have to revisit though. Thanks :)

      • Donald

        Matt, Check page 111 in the D800 Manual. With ISO Sensitivity settings On, you can select your max ISO setting and select a minimum shutter speed you don’t want to exceed. No worries about manually making the ISO change.

  • John Swarce

    Great post, Matt. I had the same thing happen to me at my nephew’s 1st birthday party. Everyone was taking pictures of the birthday boy, and my Mom saw one of the pictures I took on the LCD screen. She spoke the dreaded words and I didn’t say anything (well, it’s my Mom…). All I did was zoom close to my nephew with the 70-200 so he filled the frame. :-)

  • Garrick Boyd

    “It really does, doesn’t it? I’ll let you borrow it sometime.”

  • Ralph Hightower

    Yea, since you put it that way, your camera does take some nice pictures, after all, cameras these days do the heavy lifting with auto-focusing, usually with aperture priority or shutter priority.
    I was at a college baseball game with my Canon A-1 with my 80-205 zoom lens (since it measured within their 6 inch max length); at the concession stand, the vendor asked “do you get paid to take photos?” I replied “I wish.”
    Most times, my camera is on [P], shutter or aperture priority. I have used full manual control. But I have to focus by myself.

  • Deb Moran

    “Gee, I’d like to think that all of my photography training and practice has led ME to make such nice pictures.”