the photoshooter's journey from taking to making



AFTER ALL THESE YEARS, ONE OF THE ONLY TIMES THAT I SHOOT AT FULL AUTO, that is, literally just pointing and delegating all of my upper brain functions to the camera, is when a brand-new lens comes into my life. Because just as I love the romance behind the idea of  SOOC (or “straight out of the camera”, a state I aspire to but seldom attain), I also flirt with the concept that automatic focusing and exposure systems might eventually progress to the point where I could concentrate on nothing more than subject and composition. This second ideal I call shooting “SOOB”, or Straight Outta The Box. It’s a little like hoping that the four millionth horse you see in a corral will somehow, also, be a unicorn. And just as likely.

I admit it; I’m incurably curious about what a fresh piece of kit will do simply by being snapped in place and turned on, and I will usually spend a few days or even weeks after a new purchase taking a near hands-off approach to shooting with it. I know that technology is inching ever closer to intelligent machines that can nearly, nearly second-guess my intentions, that operate with their own pseudo-intuition. And yet, after this honeymoon period, I predictably revert back to my personal comfort zone, which is shooting on nearly 100% manual settings, minus the occasional crutching on auto-focus. Why is this?


Another new lens, another try at full auto shooting. Certainly acceptable, but I still feel the need to intervene…

It’s just a fact that a significant number of photographers the world over are perfectly fine with letting their cameras make nearly every exposure decision for them (as in the fully automatic exposure seen here), with millions more at least clicking on full auto and fixing the faults later, either in-camera or with software or apps. Most importantly, the manufacturers of cell phone cameras have staked their amazing success on making their devices sweat the details of making a picture so that users can sweat it that much less. The trend line over time in camera tech has always run toward easier execution, with each succeeding generation of features making it more and more tempting to let the camera assume greater control, all with the promise of better results.

But better according to whom? There is a line, in the minds of many photographers, between removing technical obstacles to acting on your picture-making instincts and relying on the tech to, in effect, execute those instincts for you without your active participation. SOOC still means that you are personally shaping your decisions, as best you can, ahead of the click, trying to get things so right that modifications after the fact can be minimal.  SOOB, at least for me, is asking me to relinquish all creative control because a device can maybe guess what I would have wanted anyway, and I’m not ready to go there yet. Like anything else in this racket, it’s a matter of degree, a game of inches. But those inches matter more than anything in the pictures that emerges from the process.


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