Top 10 Things Your Automatic Camera Does Not Know

1. Why You Should Shoot…

What are your reasons or purposes for doing this shot, series or session in the first place? Knowing them will give you self-motivation and direction. Simple or complex, not knowing them is relying on dumb luck.

2. What You Should Shoot…

This is easy when who or what you are shooting is the reason for shooting. When it’s not, you need a real good handle on your goals. However, even the simplest composition could present additional elements such as background and foreground objects that add to or detract from the scene and its purpose. In the studio, you can physically control these objects directly. Location shooting often requires other methods.

3. Where You Should Shoot…

If mobility and time permits, you can make or break your chances for success by choosing the appropriate setting. This is especially true when people are the main subject. But, even with other subjects, simply taking them where you find them can be nothing more than a self-imposed restriction.

4. When You Should Shoot…

Nature and landscape photographers know this one well. Lighting changes from day to day and throughout the day. Bright, sunny afternoons are not always best. In fact, cloudy-bright days, morning haze, and the long shadows of a setting sun can produce some enchanting results.

5. Where to Position the Camera…

How many times do we just stand there, zoom for cropping and shoot from shoulder height? Our laziness knows no bounds. The camera height and distance can have profound effects on perspective such as the subject’s apparent shape and the background’s apparent obtrusiveness. Zoom also does much more than just crop the frame.

6. When to Zoom…

Old pros know that a “normal” focal length is simply that which approximates our own eyes’ angle of view and attention. Telephotos flatten the perspective and wide angles round it to the point of assumed distortion. Take a head-and-shoulders only portrait of someone at full wide- angle. Now shoot the same head-and-shoulders frame at full telephoto, backing up in the process. If you can’t see the difference, sell your camera and take up full time fly-fishing.

7. Which Way is Up…

Most cameras have no built-in spirit level. Without one, you must instead learn to use your viewfinder and take clues from the scene. Unless you are going for a special effect, telephone poles should be vertical and buildings should be level. As any urban or interior shooter knows, this is not always as easy as one would think.

8. When Auto Exposure Will Fail…

AE often allows you to concentrate on the many other things you should be concerned with. But you should also know when it is likely to screw up. Dominant lights or darks can produce unexpected results. Strong back lighting can result in practically unusable exposures.

9. When Auto Focus Will Fail…

Today’s cameras use subject contrast to determine the sharpest focus. This requires a certain amount of light and certain assumptions about where the main subject is. It seems that the best lit, most central and most detailed areas win. These may or may not be the closest objects and may or may not be your main subjects. Shooting with flash in a somewhat dark room with a day-lit window away in the background can be particularly enlightening.

10. When to Quit…

We need to look back at the first item to realize this decision. If you do not know what you are trying to do, how do you know when you’ve done it? Perhaps the camera will decide for you by simply running out of storage. Of course, one should always try potential alternatives as time permits, but a true marksman has little need for a shotgun.

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