I sometimes wonder what it is about digital cameras that makes new photographers believe in magic? Well, maybe that’s not exactly right, but when I am approached by photographers with troubled questions about why some aspect of their photography isn’t working, I do wonder just what they expect.
A photographer with his new digital camera came to me with the question as to why the labs were making better pictures then he was with his personal home printer. Was there a problem with how his camera connected to his computer? Was it his computer’s out-of-date programs? Or was it because the printer wasn’t very good? Unlike the photo lab he was taking his memory card to, he hadn’t calibrated his monitor, hadn’t done any postproduction sharpening on his image, and hadn’t profiled his printer to the paper type he was using. I guess he thought all his equipment should know what he wanted the print to look like, just like magic.
A photographer I met last weekend, admired the lens I was using and said, “I think I need to get a better lens”. He said he couldn’t focus very fast, and sometimes when he pushed the shutter it took a long time before the camera took a picture, and thought that it must be a lens problem.
When I looked over at the lens he had mounted on his camera I noticed it was a newer motorized, electronically focusing, vibration-reducing model, while mine was over ten years old with none of those modern features. I asked him if he was using his camera on its Program Mode, even though I knew he would say, “yes”. I guess he, like the photographer that was unhappy with his home printing, thought his equipment should magically know how he wanted his photograph to be. Computers must be told what to do, whether on one’s desk, or in a camera. Home computers are set up by the manufacturer to print, I expect, on the paper they sell and the computer screen doesn’t have any way of understanding colour unless it’s programmed, and that’s why there are controls for light, dark, contrast and so on.
I have written about camera modes before. I like Shutter Priority mode when photographing fast moving subjects like horseracing. I might select a fast 1/500th of a second shutterspeed that is capable of stopping fast movement and leave the aperture selection to the camera. For scenics I might choose Aperture Priority where I select the aperture and leave the shutterspeeed to the camera. I want to control depth of field; a wider aperture means less depth of focus and a small aperture gives me more. When I am photographing people, as at a wedding or a portrait session, I use Manual Mode. I also prefer Manual if lighting conditions are very bright or when the light is fading. Manual gives me complete control over both the shutter and the aperture.
Cameras also give a point and shoot option, or Program Mode. I do use that mode at parties or Christmas in small, bright rooms when I am using the camera’s popup flash. I would never use Program for anything serious. I wouldn’t use it for sports or scenics, and I would never use a mode as unpredictable as Program for weddings.
Cameras have had auto or program features added for years and I recall requiring students to turn their camera to manual exposure for all assignments. Program Mode is usually chosen by new photographers (that believe in magic), and when their pictures aren’t like they imagined they start blaming equipment malfunction, instead of themselves.
Equipment, of course, should be state of the art if a photographer requires high quality. I don’t think brands, or operating systems, matter much as long as they are used properly. However, magic shouldn’t be part of the equation. Purchasing what some experts says “is the best” will only be successful if education on how it works comes next. Photographers need to take some time and learn how the cameras, computers, and printers they purchase work, then do some reading on how photographers that specialize set their systems up, use them, and lastly, make some time, and take a class. When I talk to professional photographers they do just that, they read, they discuss, they attend workshops. Professionals are always second-guessing their equipment, relying first on knowledge gained from study and second on their cameras and computers. However, when I ask new photographers if they read their camera manuals, or any books on the photography they like to do, or if they have ever taken a class they usually say, “no”. And I expect that is because they believe in magic.
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