All the way through
history, man has been trying to build a better mousetrap. Photographically
this is still the case. From the old box brownie of several decades ago, we
now have the all singing, all dancing, electronic marvels of today. And just
look what the new cameras can do - cameras that will even “think” for you
and work out the required shutter speeds for the kind of shot you are going
to take. With these sorts of mousetraps we should all be wonderful award
winning photographers. Unfortunately we are not.
This fine example of
Artificial Intelligence (AI) is not the be all and end all of photography.
Your camera may have all the algorithms, so the modern camera can get the
exposure close enough and the correct shutter speed for the type of shot,
but it cannot arrange the items to be photographed in the correct position.
Nor can the camera position itself in the right place relative to the
subjects to be photographed, nor does AI tell the camera just exactly what
do you wish to portray.
One of the principal
“rules” of photography is to remember just who or what is the “hero” in the
shot. This is one thing the better mousetrap does not know. It is not a mind
reader. You have to arrange the items and compose the shot to make the
subject the hero.
How many times have you
photographed someone in front of an important cathedral, temple or monument?
Many times I am sure. You also have a person you want to include in the
shot, to show that on your holidays you took Uncle Henry and showed that he
was there by placing him in front of the cathedral. And what do you end up
with? A tiny Uncle Henry in front of an enormous building. So small it is
difficult to recognize him!
With these types of
“people in front of a special place” shots first you have to compose the
picture by moving the camera into place so that you have all you want of the
special building, for example. Having done that, now put your subject in
front of the camera and you will instantly note that the person will
immediately move backwards to be closer to the building, almost as if making
sure of ruining the shot for you, before you begin! What you now have to do
is to look through the viewfinder and call the person forward till they fill
the viewfinder. Even go for a waist-up view to get the person even larger in
the photograph if you wish.
Another “rule” that I
have to continually tell new photographers is the “Walk several yards
(meters) closer” approach. More good shots are rendered useless by being too
far away from the camera, than by being too close to the lens.
While it would be nice
if the better mousetrap could ring a bell and tell you that you are too far
away, its electronic “brain” isn’t that good yet. You have to use yours.
That is one reason why good photographers will never be replaced by better
mousetraps. The technology may belong to the camera, but the “eye” is yours.
Just remember to use it!
Read an interesting
article on ‘white balance’, making out that this was something new and
magical experienced only with digital photography. Let me assure you, it
isn’t new, it isn’t magical and it isn’t the sole situation vis-à-vis film
and digital photography.
Have you ever tried to
photograph a polar bear? Or a black cat? Or even a white car, or a plain
black one? If you use an automatic camera set on A (for “amnesia”) then the
chances are very high that you ended up with a grey polar bear and a grey
cat. Very highly likely. The reason for this is the magic photographic
number known as 18 percent grey!
should become acquainted with the color known as 18 percent grey. Why?
Because after you understand 18 percent grey, you have complete control over
blacks and whites in your photographs – and by that, I mean in color
photography, not just the B&W kind.
The really dedicated
photo buffs will recognize 18 percent grey as being the cornerstone of the
“Zone System” and Ansel Adams superb prints are trotted out with sage
mutterings that if you understood the zone system, then your photos would
look like his too. This is, of course, BS. Ansel Adams spent hours
painstakingly printing his B&W work, specifically burning in some areas,
holding back others and if you think he didn’t then think again.
However, here is the
“short course” on the Zone System. What you have to remember is just the
simple fact that the meter in your camera knows intimately what is 18
percent grey, and is programmed to produce as much 18 percent grey as
possible. In other words, point the camera at your subject and the meter
will work out a combination of shutter speed and aperture to give an
exposure to get the whole shot as close to 18 percent grey as possible. This
is irrespective of whatever name the camera manufacturer gives to the
Now this works for the
majority of shots – 18 percent grey is close enough, and the Photoshop can
adjust the rest from there – but it is always a compromise. You do not even
realize what a compromise it really is until you take a photograph of that
aforementioned white car or a black cat, and see that it has been printed
This is one reason why
I keep on saying that if you run the camera in the fully A for automatic
mode, you will only get A for “average” pictures. What you have to do to get
whites or blacks is to run the camera in the metered manual mode instead.
Remember that when you are photographing the white car the exposure
indicated by the camera is the one that will make the white car 18 percent
grey. To get the car back to white it will need more light on the film.
Here’s what you do.
Imagine your camera tells you that the exposure should be f16 @ 1/60th of a
second. You need more light to fall on the emulsion, so make your exposure f
11 @ 1/60th and another at f8 @ 1/60th. That gives you both one and two full
stops of light more. One of those two will give you a white car,
irrespective of such fancy terms as automated multi-phasic metering, center
weighted metering or whatever.
Now when photographing
a black object, the camera meter will indicate a shutter speed and an
aperture to give you another 18 percent grey object. There is too much light
this time. What you have to do is cut down on the amount of light getting
into the camera. Again imagine that the indicated exposure is f8 @ 1/60th.
You want to darken things, so take two shots with one at f11 @ 1/60th and
another at f16 @ 1/60th. Again this is one and two stops decrease in light
levels. One of these will give you a black cat!
Put the camera in
metered manual mode and then if you are photographing something white, give
it one and two stops more light than indicated. Conversely, if photographing
something black, set the camera for one and two stops less light than