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Vivid Light Photography, digital and film photography online
Beginner Questions
by Chuck McKern

With over 12 years of retail and professional experience Chuck thought he'd heard it all - until he took this job.

Send us your questions for either the Beginner or Advanced columns by clicking HERE.  Please include as much detail about the technique, camera, lens, or film as you can so Chuck can answer your questions.

What is the difference between linear and circular polarizers besides the difference in price?  And when it comes to polarizers does the rule, "You get what you pay for" hold true?

Drew Anderson

The major difference between linear and circular polarizers is that circular polarizers are designed to work with autofocus cameras.

The difference in prices between like polarizers comes down to the manufacturer. Each manufacturer has a unique process for making their filters. It can be how the glass is made or how the coatings are applied. Of course each manufacturer touts theirs as the best. If you stick to filters from any of the major filter manufactures youíll get good results. I typically recommend either Tiffen, Hoya, or B&W. Try to avoid any obscure

names with cheap prices. The image quality usually isn't as good and you really don't know what you will be getting. Some of these "generic" filters may be made by the big names, but they may not necessarily be the quality of the brand name line.

My father and I are going on a trip to Glacier, Yellowstone and the Grand Tetons this summer for two weeks.  My question is, we are in a dilemma about what kind of backpacks to take.  We will be camping out most of the time in a tent.  Is there a  combination bag that will hold standard camping gear and camera components.  We both have Lowepro Trekker bags but for some reason I think we'll need backpacks too.  What would be your recommendation ?

John D. South, II

I don't know of a backpack that is designed for both camping gear and camera equipment, however there are several backpacks that are designed for travel that hold camera equipment. I would look at Lowepro's Street and Field Rover AW and Rover Light. When the Rover AW is used with optional waist belt and shoulder harness, they both can use other accessory pouches and cases to make the backpacks more customizable. The Pro Trekker AW also is usable for travel and can use the sliplock system accessories.

If these don't work, you may want to consider a waistpack camera bag and a backpack designed for camping and hiking. One final option, depending on how much gear youíre carrying, would be a lightweight camera bag that you can attach to the outside of a backpack. Just make sure that you distribute the weight. An off balance pack setup can be downright dangerous when youíre on the trail.

I intend to purchase the Kodak DX4900 digital camera. The specs say that it uses JPEG to save the images to the Compact Flash Card, so my question is: providing I save the images to my hard drive as a TIFF file will I really be getting the quality of the 4.0 megapixels that the camera says it provides in the high resolution mode? 

Rosemary Sauve 

The DX4900 from Kodak looks impressive. They claim you can get up to 20x30" prints from this camera in 4.0MP default and high compression settings. I haven't had the opportunity to try this out for myself yet. Even if it can't get a full 20x30" print, you should be able to get some very large prints (bigger than 11x14").

I currently us a "point and click" 35mm camera. I would like to move to a better quality camera and equipment but don't know what to look at where to look. Suggestions? Where do I start?

Stepping up from "point and shoot" style cameras usually means going to a single lens reflex (SLR) camera. This can be a major step that can greatly improve you photography. The first thing that I would do, is read the following articles: "Becoming a Better Photographer" at  and "Buying Your First Camera" (both from our May 2001 issue).

As far as where to go, the best people to help guide you into your new camera is a local photo specialty store. The people who work in these types of stores are usually photographers or photo enthusiasts. Also check out the camera reviews in our issues. We have reviewed several SLRs and they may help you in deciding on what features you  may or may not want in your new camera.

Consider what you want to shoot now and what you might want to shoot in the future. You donít want to get into an introductory level SLR if you have a strong desire to shoot sports. Intermediate level cameras would do a much better job. Also, if you have a serious desire to learn photography and feel that you will be sticking with it for a long while skip the intro cameras and start looking on the intermediate level. Youíll be less likely to outgrow them in a short period of time.

How does one begin in preparing to become a wedding photographer?  I have always taken pictures as a hobby.  Nothing fancy.  Just 35mm camera and choosing the correct film and pictures look great, people have always said, I took good pictures, however, they were just people and not photographers. I have a desire to do this and I don't know how to begin.  What kind of camera should I have? What type of film? What other equipment do I need?


Getting into wedding photography can be challenging on your own. The best way to start getting experience and learning the business is to find a local wedding photographer that you can assist. Many photographers don't mind showing their assistants the ropes and will help them work toward being a photographer.

There are a lot of photographers shooting weddings with 35mm, but the preferred format is still the medium format camera. If you start shooting for an existing photographer, they will probably allow you to use their equipment until you can afford to get a system of your own.

This doesn't mean that you have to start this way. I know several photographers who just started shooting on their own and have built up a good business. If you are going to start with 35mm, make sure your camera is reliable and that you have a back up in case your main camera fails during a wedding. You will also need several high quality lenses. Youíll need to be able to shoot group shots as well as portraits and candids. A Strong flash unit with a good high power battery pack for quick recycling will also be needed.

As far film goes, good pro level portrait films will do the trick (Kodak Portra, Fuji NPC, etc.). The film speed should be 160 or 400 depending on the speed of your lenses and power of your flash. Check out our film cross reference table to help with choosing the correct film. A lot of wedding photographers use various effects filters such as soft focus, SoftFX, and star filters (for some candle light shots).

A good place to start shooting weddings on your own is with family and friends. You would want to be fairly comfortable that you will be able to get the shots they want. If you do a good job, you may get some referral business from their friends and family. This is a good way to start building a portfolio and getting more experience.

There are plenty of good books on wedding photography out there. Two that I would recommend are: "Professional Techniques for the Wedding Photographer: A Complete Guide to Lighting, Posing and Taking Photographs That Sell" by George Schaub, Kenneth Sklute; Paperback - 144 pages Revised edition (June 2001) Watson-Guptill Pubns; ISBN: 0817456023, and "The Art of Wedding Photography: Professional Techniques with Style" by Bambi Cantrell, Skip Cohen, Denis Reggie, Paperback - 144 pages (October 1, 2000) Watson-Guptill Pubns; ISBN: 0817433252.

I've decided that I want to learn photography and I'm going to enroll in a series of six photography courses that are taught at the university here. I've been looking at cameras and lenses and its easy to spend a LOT of money plus the classes aren't cheap! There are a lot of cameras in your classified section but how do I know if I'm getting a good camera and how do I know that I won't get ripped off or that it will break down on me in a month? Is buying used a good idea?


Let's take your questions one at a time. First what camera and lenses to buy are a matter of personal taste. As you learn more about photography you'll learn what focal length lenses you prefer to shoot. 

But more importantly you need to find out whether the courses you're taking require a specific type of camera. Many college level photography courses require that you use a fully manual camera and there are many good ones available used. So your first step is to check with the Art Department at the university to find out if there are camera requirements for the course. 

Used cameras can be a great bargain, particularly used manual cameras. I'm constantly amazed at the amount of equipment that is sold through our pages. In the last year we haven't had a single complaint about equipment being misrepresented (he said with crossed fingers). Most people take care of their cameras because they're expensive pieces of equipment, and most cameras will provide years of service with normal use. 

That said there are no guarantees with used equipment (which is why its less expensive). You may buy a six year old camera in perfect working condition and it may die tomorrow or it may last a lifetime. There's no way to tell. Whether you're comfortable taking a chance is entirely up to you. An alternative is to buy used through a reputable dealer. Most will give at least a 30 day guarantee, but you'll pay a little more for that feeling of security.

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