Through the Gadling Lens: shooting with something other than a $5000 digital SLR

Yesterday morning, I received the following e-mail:

Hello Karen,

I have been experiencing quite a bit of “camera envy” lately. Maybe you could write something about that. How you don’t necessarily need a fancy Canon 5D to take great photos … Just an idea…

Have a great day!


I love this idea. So today, I thought I’d share some great images that were shot with cameras other than fabulously expensive single-lens-reflex cameras — and some tips on how to turn what you’ve got into prime photograph-taking machines.

Check out the following incredible shots:

Aren’t they breathtaking? These were taken by photographer and friend Kate Inglis, whose work you can see more of at her blog, sweet | salty and her flickr pool. Most importantly, however, these images weren’t shot with a fancy, expensive single-lens-reflex camera, but instead, an old Kodak point-and-shoot, the DX7590 (which according to Kate is “long obsolete”). I learned about Kate’s amazing talent when we both began contributing to the photoblog Shutter Sisters, and was amazed at the images that Kate was able to capture with her point-and-shoot (particularly since it had been a good decade since I’d ever shot with one). With her point and shoot, Kate is able to capture both brightly colourful and timeless images like the ones you see above. She does some truly stunning work.

Toy cameras

Looking to do something more artistic and unusual with your photography, but don’t have thousands of dollars for a fancy camera? Dude, look at these:

These two amazing shots, by writer and photographer (and also friend) Jen Lee (whose work you can see at her website,, and her flickr stream), were taken with a Diana F+ camera — commonly known as a “toy camera,” because of its plastic body. It’s a vintage camera, so Jen takes her film into a store to be processed — but instead of getting prints, she scans her negatives into her computer, and does her own “development” of the film digitally — to obviously stunning results. Says Jen: “The perks of shooting with diana+ are the abilities to create different looks with different films, the option to create multiple exposures, and even the ability to create a unique look with the option of cross-processing your film for extra saturation or surprise color shifts. For about $240 you can get the Diana deluxe kit, which comes with the 35mm back (so you can shoot more exposures per roll, panaromic shots, or include sprocket holes if you like the look). The kit also comes with every Diana lens: wide-angle, super-wide angle, close-up, telephoto and fish-eye; and the cable thingy so you can do self-portraits.”

You can purchase vintage “toy cameras” like the Diana online from sites like eBay, or, it turns out, you can purchase new remakes of the Diana by Lomography in retail stores or online.

Camera phones

Or perhaps you don’t even have a camera at all, other than the one that comes with your cell phone:

Both of the images above, shared in our Gadling Flickr pool, were taken with Apple iPhones. The first shot, by jameskadamson, is pretty fantastic because of the amazing, sepia, vintage feel of the image. The second image, by the ubiquitous ultraclay!, has classic framing — it totally reminds me of that old Beatles album cover, remember the one? Great work.


One of the most annoying things you can say to a photographer is, “Yeah, well, if I had an expensive camera like yours, I could take great shots too” — I think the amazing images above prove that in every case, it’s not the expensive machine that makes the art, it’s the artist. Beautiful work doesn’t require an outrageously costly camera to do the job, it requires technique, practice, and above all, an “eye.” And so, even if you’re not shooting with state-of-the-art, tens-of-thousands-of-dollars-worth of camera equipment, the following are some tips for creating some stunning images with the equipment you do have:

1. Shoot and shoot and shoot. I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again: the only way to be a photographer is to go out and be a photographer. Get your camera (or camera phone), film or otherwise, and shoot — every day, if you must. Every hour, if you’re so inclined. And don’t worry about whether or not “you can’t take a good photograph,” or you “don’t have the eye,” — every single photographer, everyone one of them, including Ansel Adams or Annie Leibovitz or any other fabulous photographer you can possibly think of, has taken a crappy shot before. Every last one of them. But frankly, the crappy images are how you learn to take the really good ones. Shooting constantly is how you learn to see the light, and the shadows, and how you learn about proper exposures and white balance and shutter speeds and aperatures and everything else that anyone can learn to take a technically good shot. But most importantly, constantly shooting is how you develop your eye. And your eye is how you’re going to become a great photographer.

2. Learn your machine. Every camera, from your camera phone to a $25,000 Hasselblad, has its strengths and it has its limitations — the trick to making a technically stellar image is to maximize your camera’s strengths and minimize its weaknesses. Read your camera’s manual to see what it can do, and shoot in all kinds of lighting conditions, to really see how your camera performs. For example, Kate learned how to maximize her old point-and-shoot presets: “I also tended to use the ‘bright beach scene’ setting on my camera – a preset that tended to overexpose slightly and make blue skies pop.” From there, Kate would enhance any other aspects of h
er image digitally, which brings us to …

3. Do not be afraid of Photoshop, or any other post-camera processing software. Remember, always remember: there is no shame to using photoshop or any other post-camera processing software. Think of it this way: it’s your 21st century darkroom. It’s the darkroom chemicals on your desktop. That’s all it is.

And so, in Kate’s case, after adjusting her camera presets, for the shots she shared above, she did some final tweaking on her computer: “I’d go into Photoshop and either apply a very simple action to boost the contrast, or just play with the curves a little. These are not adjusted in terms of saturation… it was just a matter of the angle of light and the colours of these days.” So again, her processing wasn’t about completely changing her image — it was about giving her image a little boost. Nothing wrong with that.

And again, remember that Photoshop can also help with your camera’s limitations. For example, in the following shot, taken by my husband with his old Canon point-and-shoot:

His camera wasn’t able to capture the entire scene in one click — so instead, he took several shots (keeping the horizon constant), and then “stitched” them together in Photoshop. The result is a stunning, panoramic image.

4. Play with taking shots from different angles and perspectives. Part of what makes a good photograph a great photograph is the composition — how you frame the shot. For example, in ultraclay!’s image, above, what makes the shot intriguing is that so much of the frame is composed of the actual street, drawing your eye upward to the pedestrians. And again, as Kate indicates in her statement that follows, a little forethought can make the image: “I tried to choose shots that showed inventive composition – unexpected crops and perspective (many were shot from the ground up – I found myself changing my stance a lot with the point and shoot to get interesting shots… had to work harder for it. Also important, to me, was an extremely minimal background – no clutter, anything distracting cropped out.”

And finally:

5. Don’t be afraid to create your own style. What makes Jen Lee’s images so bloody striking, above, is not that she shoots sidewalk stores or telephone lines — obviously, many people have shot those subjects many times, and done so without creating much of a stir — but that Jen has developed a style of taking photos: her use of film, and ensuring that the image is processed to that it bleeds through the sprocket holes of the film, as well as ensuring that her images are saturated with colour. In fact, one quick glance at her flickr stream, and from now on, any time you see images shot in a similar way, you’re likely going to think of Jen.

In other words, armed with the knowledge of your camera’s strengths and limitations (see #2, above), figure out how to exploit them, and do so with abandon. That’s what makes a photograph art — that’s what makes it worthy of hanging in a gallery, let alone your own home.

And so, no more camera envy –banish the thought! Instead, take the machines you have, and start clicking. And as always, if you have any questions, you can always contact me directly at karenDOTwalrondATweblogsincDOTcom – and I’m happy to address them in upcoming Through the Gadling Lens posts.

Karen is a writer and photographer in Houston, Texas. You can see more of her work at her site, Chookooloonks.
Through the Gadling Lens can be found every Thursday right here, at 11 a.m. To read more Through the Gadling Lens, click here.