By MICHAEL PERKINS
I KNOW THAT I APPROACH THE IDEA OF SHOOTING ON MANUAL with what must strike some as evangelistic zeal. We’re talking full-on-John-The-Baptist-mad-prophet mode. I do so because I believe that, the further you can go toward overseeing every single facet of your picture taking, that is, the less you delegate to a machine that can’t think, the better. Generally. Most of the time. Almost always.
Aperture Priority, the mode that I most agree with after pure manual, can be very valuable in specific conditions, for very specific reasons. In AP (Av for Canon folks), you dial in the aperture you want for everything you’re about to shoot, depending on what depth-of-field you want as a constant. Then it’s the camera’s job to work around you, adjusting the shutter speed to more or less guarantee a proper exposure. Let me interject here that there are millions of great photographers who nearly live on the AP setting, and, like any other strategy, you have to decide whether it will deliver the goods as you define them.
If you are “running and gunning”, that is, shooting a lot of frames quickly, where your light conditions, shot-to-shot, will be changing a great deal, Aperture Priority might keep you from tearing out your hair by eliminating the extra time you’d spend custom-calculating shutter speed in full manual mode. Fashion, news and sports situations are obviously instances where you need to be fully mindful of your composition, cases in which those extra fragments of “figgerin'” time in between clicks might make you miss an opportunity. And no one will have to tell you when you’re in such a situation.
Conversely, if you are shooting more or less at leisure, with time to strategize in-between shots, or with uniform light conditions from one frame to the next, then full manual may work for you. I have shot in manual for so many years that, in all but the most hectic conditions (cattle stampede or worse), I’m fast enough to get what I want even with calculation time factored in. But it doesn’t matter what works for me, does it, since I won’t be taking your pictures (pause here to thank your lucky stars). If you need one less task to hassle with, and AP gives you that one extra smidge of comfort, mazel tov.
One other thing to note about Aperture Priority: it’s not foolproof. Change your central focal spot to different objects within the same composition (say from a tree to the rock next to the tree) snap several frames, and the exposure could be vastly different on each image. Could that happen when you’re on manual? Certainly. You can, of course, fiddle with exposure compensation on AP, essentially overruling the camera, but, to take the time for all that, you’re really not saving much more time than shooting manual anyway. See what you can live with and go.
This blog is a forum, not the Ten Commandments, so I never want to profess that my way is the only way, whether it’s taking photographs or deciding what toppings should go on pizzas. Although, let’s face it, people who put pineapple on them….that’s just warped, am I right?
By MICHAEL PERKINS
AUTOMODES ON CAMERAS ARE SUPPOSED TO AFFORD THE PHOTOGRAPHER AN ENHANCED SENSE OF COMFORT AND SAFETY, since, you know, you’re protected from your very human errors by the camera’s loving, if soulless, oversight. Guess wrong on a shutter speed? The auto has your back. Blow the aperture? Auto is on the case. And you always get acceptable pictures.
That is, if you can put your brain on automode as well.
Okay, that statement makes the top ten list for most arrogant openings in all of Blogdom, 2014. But I stand by it. I don’t think you should get comfortable with your equipment calling the shots. However, getting comfortable with your equipment’s limits and strengths, and gradually relying on your own experience for consistent results through exploitation of that knowledge….now that’s another thing entirely. It’s the difference between driving cross-country on cruise control and knowing, from years of driving, where in the journey your car can shine, if you drive it intelligently.
Photographers call some hunks of glass their “go-to” lenses, since they know they can always get something solid from them in nearly any situation. And while we all tend to wander around aimlessly for years inside Camera Toyland, picking up this lens, that filter, those extenders, we all, if we shoot enough for a long time, settle back into a basic gear setup that is reliable in fair weather or foul.
This is better than using automodes, because we have chosen the setups and systems that most frequently give us good product, and we have picked up enough wisdom and speed from making thousands of pictures with our favorite gear that we can “set and shoot”, that is, calculate and decide just as quickly as most people do with automodes…..and yet we keep the vital link of human input in the creative chain.
Like most, I have my own “go-to” lens and my own “safe bet” settings. But, just as you save time by not trying to invent the wheel every time you step up, you likewise shouldn’t be averse to greasing an old wheel to make it spin more smoothly.
How about that, I also made the top ten list for unwieldy metaphors.
A good day.