Photos Tips & Guides

Let’s talk about cameras!

People can be quite shy about asking other photo-lovers about their equipment or post-processing tricks.

I remember when I first started feeling frustrated by the limitations of my point-and-shoot digital camera, and wanted my photos to change. I didn’t know the first thing about an SLR, and it was too overwhelming to read online reviews full of technical jargon.

I’ve certainly learned a thing or two in the past six years, and people ask me about cameras from time to time. So I’ve decided to openly share my camera gear, and I hope that this list will be helpful to somebody.

“Changing cameras means that your photographs will change. A really good camera has something I suppose you might describe as its own distinctive aura.”Β — A quote by Nobuyoshi Araki

The DSLR

I’ve been a satisfied Nikon user since 2006, when a nice Japanese lady handed me her Nikon DSLR and took me on photo adventures all around Kyoto.

My everyday companion for the past two years has been a D90. It’s comparably lighter and easy to use. It’s a DX camera, which means I can use any Nikon lens with the camera body. It also has a handy HD video function.

They’ve discontinued making these models, but my first Nikon was a D50, a solid entry-level DSLR and the older sibling of the better-known D40.

The Lens

I like most Nikon kit lens because they tend to be versatile. Mine broke on a trip, so I replaced it with a heavy duty Nikon 18-200mm f/3.5-5.6G. These days, I am totally hooked on my fixed prime lens, especially because it allows me to capture my meals in detail.


Sous-vide steak, kimchi, and a fried egg at Momofuku Noodle Bar, New York

tarta de higo
Tarta de Higo at Contramar, Mexico


New York Steak and Burger in Shanghai, China

I used to have a 50mm f/1.8D, and I loved it, but everything felt way too close-up.Β My current favorite is my 35mm f/1.8 DX. It’s small, sturdy, and great for low-light photos. Since there is no zoom, I still have to shuffle my feet a bit, but I can capture just about anything I want. It’s also excellent for low-light photos, so I hardly ever use my flash.


No post-processing here; it’s just my prime lens and a sweet tunnel in Washington D.C.

Digital Meets Analog

Another great thing about owning a Nikon DSLR is that you can use just about any of their older SLR lens. If you ever see one in a decent condition at a flea market, you can take it home and experiment with it.

If you have a non-Nikon DSLR body, you can still use an inexpensive adapter ring, and find a compatible lens for your camera.


On my D90 with an old vintage Nikon lens.

All Analog

I was definitely inspired to more actively use my film cameras after seeing my friend Cas bring his vintage cameras everywhere. My go-to film camera is my Nikon EM, designed for women with small hands in the 80s. I have a smaller range-finder Seagull camera. I found it at an old camera repair shop in Shanghai.

Otherwise, I have an assortment of lomography cameras that I’ve received on my birthday over the past few years. Another secret is that I have a huge vintage camera collection back home in Virginia. My brother found them all in a big box at an estate sale. You’ll meet them when I’m (finally) home later this year.

d4


This was taken with a toy waterproof camera in Mexico.

Other Things

Packing for Travel: When I’m traveling, I usually only take one DSLR + lens and one film camera. Bringing less is better than feeling burdened when you should be enjoying yourself.

-Self-portraits: Use a tripod and timer. If you don’t own a tripod, try putting the camera on a bookcase or something else sturdy.

Video gifs: A couple of you asked me how I made the video gifs. It’s super easy! You just upload a short video clip (just a few seconds long is enough) atΒ gifninja.com.

-Post-processing: I’ve read about photoshop actions, but I’ve never tried those myself. Occasionally I’ll search online if I’m curious about a camera trick (i.e. I’ve been meaning to take one of those magical levitating body photos).


My tilt-shift shot of Prague, Czech Republic.

& Anything else?

Let me know if you have any other questions! I’d be happy to try my best to answer them.

Pssst, most of you take beautiful photos and know plenty more about cameras! If you have any tips or advice that I should add to this list, please don’t hesitate to share them with me.

33 Comments

  • Reply
    Thuraya Lynn
    September 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm

    certainly giving this a good read through when i’m back home!
    & indeed, the mindset concerning questions about photographers routine seem faux pas.

    thank you for the golden glaze information.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 1:54 am

      I don’t mind people asking me questions, but I don’t enjoy talking about numerical details such as, ISO levels or shutter-speed (mostly because it gets boring). I’d rather go out for a photo adventure, you know? :)

  • Reply
    ZEOLITE
    September 22, 2011 at 3:16 pm

    reading this simultaneous to talking about cameras with you right now!! i like the advice articles you’ve been posting lately.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 1:52 am

      Haha, well, you’re one of my favorite people to talk about cameras. P.S. I had such a hard time waking up at 6 this morning. I took photos and promptly headed back to bed. πŸ˜›

  • Reply
    Crystal
    September 22, 2011 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks for posting this! I’ve actually been wondering about your cameras because I love the photos you take! I currently have a Nikon D40 and am looking at purchasing a Nikon D90 later this year or early next year. Maybe in January, start the year fresh with a new camera! I’ve also been wondering how you take photos of your meals because I’m quite fascinated by food photography but have come to realize that it’s not nearly as easy as it looks! It’s not that I ever thought it would be easy, but through trial and error have found that there’s a lot that goes into it that I never imagined.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 2:50 am

      Ohh that’s exciting. I think the combination of good natural lighting, low f-stop, and prime lens helps for food photos. I think my favorite food photographer is a girl who doesn’t even consider herself a photographer: roboppy.net/food/ Everything looks sooo delicious here!

  • Reply
    Lindsey
    September 22, 2011 at 4:49 pm

    As much as I enjoy taking photos, I am extremely ignorant about cameras (my current dslr was suggested to me by a friend), so I really enjoyed this entry :]

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 2:56 am

      Ah, but you still take beautiful photos! :]

  • Reply
    Estelle
    September 22, 2011 at 6:28 pm

    Nice topic! Since i started my blog, i use the camera of my iPhone 4 a lot, mostly for the fun of playing with “camera plus” or “cross process” and because I have it with me all the time… Otherwise, I use an amazing Lumix GF1 with a 20 mm…But i love oldest cameras. I uses to work with a Rolleiflex and a leica M6. But I’m so disappointed each time i have to digitalize my films… And it’s so expensive…

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      I’ve been really into taking photos on my iphone, too! Instagram is so much fun, isn’t it? Ohh Rolleiflex AND a Leica! I’m totally envious. I know what you mean about the extra cost of digitalizing film…

  • Reply
    catarina
    September 22, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    this post is definitely great, sewon! thank you :)
    and yes, i’d love to get something back! i’m trying to remember if i sent your envelope last week or this tuesday, but i believe it was last week. if my calligraphy is legible enough, you’ll be opening your envelope tomorrow or in the beggining of next week! i’m so anxious about having your feedbacks from all over the world!
    <3

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:25 pm

      Ohhh I’m excited! I’ll work on something this weekend and send it to you soon. :)

  • Reply
    anastasia
    September 22, 2011 at 10:37 pm

    This is awesome! I’ve JUST started looking at DSLRs, it’s time for an upgrade. But I’d be looking for a Canon since I already own two canon lenses, but I’ve been looking at Nikons, too! Awesome C:

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:26 pm

      Ohh I think Canons are great, too, but I’m too deep into Nikon to ever make that switch. :)

  • Reply
    cas
    September 22, 2011 at 11:13 pm

    SEWOOOON!!

    Even thou ur such an expert using all ur gear, remember its not the camera but the phorographer :)
    ur photos are that good because of u and ur talken
    … but yeah cameras, lenses, tricks and even films are always useful [;

    i miss u<3

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:27 pm

      Thanks, Cas. But seriously, I love your analog photos and I’m definitely trying to use mine more. Come visit me in CHINA! πŸ˜€

  • Reply
    hollypop
    September 23, 2011 at 12:13 am

    fabulous post, Sewon!
    i’m currently in that ‘overwhelmed’ stage of transferring from digi p+s to a dslr. you’re so right about the technical jargon. it can be so confusing. i just got a nikon d7000 with the kit lens. i think i need a 35mm lens. because i really dislike flash pictures and seem to take loads of shots in low light.
    when you were starting out. how did you learn? did you read books or have a teacher?
    now i have a decent camera it feel like i don’t know what to do with it or where to point it sometimes.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:32 pm

      Ohh you’ll love the 35mm! It takes such good photos, even in the middle of the night or at a dimly lit cafe. The Japanese lady I mentioned briefly in the post showed me how to use her Nikon, and encouraged me to take photos of details (even moss on rocks or tiny tea cups). Once I got my own camera, I mostly put it on auto setting and eventually figured out the rest (ISO, shutter-speed, white balance, etc.). I think it’s good to take lots of photos, even if they don’t turn out quite perfectly. Just don’t get discouraged, and keep shooting!

  • Reply
    Merissa
    September 23, 2011 at 2:39 am

    Hi Sewon,
    I love that tilt-shift shot in Prague!
    I’ve been meaning to rent out a tilt-shift lens for my camera so that I know which one I should buy (^^)!
    The look is so fun and magical!

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:33 pm

      Ohh you should try out the post-processing trick for the tilt-shift shot! There are plenty of tutorials on achieving the same effect on photoshop. :)

  • Reply
    3lin
    September 23, 2011 at 4:16 am

    Did you wash your own film roll? If yes, can you make a tutorial?

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 23, 2011 at 3:35 pm

      Do you mean developing film at home? I can definitely do a tutorial once I return to the states. I’m trying not to buy too much material goods during my last few months in China.

      • Reply
        3lin
        September 27, 2011 at 9:39 am

        Yes, developing film. Great…Thanks =)

  • Reply
    Jen Hammer
    September 23, 2011 at 6:14 am

    I love this post! And we have almost the EXACT same equipment…I have a D90 with a 35 and a 50mm, except not the 18-200mm. And my first camera was a D50 as well! I don’t really use my kit lens cause I’m way too in love with my prime lenses.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 25, 2011 at 1:47 pm

      Oh my, we DO have almost the exact equipment. I know, I love my 35mm so much, everything else neglected around here.

  • Reply
    Kelly
    September 23, 2011 at 7:39 am

    Great post Sewon!! I have only just bought my first DSLR. Its an Olympus Pen E-PL1. Its pretty cool and has a slightly old style look about it. But I am not very good just yet so I just set it on Auto. I also have a small collection of analog cameras too.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 25, 2011 at 1:48 pm

      Ohh exciting! Sometimes the simplicity of the auto setting is just what you need. :)

  • Reply
    Omar
    September 23, 2011 at 8:42 pm

    Sweet post! I have never really played around with lenses too much, so I appreciate this insight. Also, that last photograph of Prague is so cool, it looks like a scale model or something. Your photos are super inspiring.

    • Reply
      Sewon
      September 25, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      Thanks, Omar. I started writing in a new paper journal, thanks to your inspiring poetry works! I haven’t written poems yet, but who knows?

  • Reply
    NM
    September 24, 2011 at 1:00 am

    Great post, very informative but not too technical.
    I’m still a novice when it come to cameras, I still just point and click and hope for the best!

  • Reply
    Emmie Rae
    September 24, 2011 at 4:36 am

    Thank you for this! I am really shy when it comes to ‘photo talk’ I would love a DSLR but knowing where to start is so hard. I will definitely be coming back to this little go – to guide. Oh, That self portrait of you is truly gorgeous! Also, Thank you ever so much for the Lusine recommendation. I LOVE it! Discovering new music is one of my favourite things, so always feel free to share! hehe xx

  • Reply
    Celsy
    September 24, 2011 at 11:45 am

    Woohoo yay for camera posts, somehow i always get excited by them just because i can jot and learn new things :) i really2 love that sunglasses photo, it’s amazing. of course so is your food photos, they make me drool. Yumm :)

  • Reply
    Rina
    September 27, 2011 at 2:18 am

    I love this post!! Thank you for sharing your wonderful camera expertise!
    I’m debating if I should get a DSLR or not. I’m more or a film girl myself. But you know it’s expensive!!
    So I think getting a DSLR would b ea good investment, nothing too fancy though.
    Ah! Look at your tilt shift photo!! It’s brilliant!! I’ve always wanted to try that!!! You have a tilt shift lens? Do those lens also work with analog?
    Maybe someday if I’m lucky…
    xo

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