Same Insanity, Same Results (Your Camera Doesn’t Learn)

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The great Albert Einstein once said:  “Insanity: Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” Your camera, therefore, must also be insane.  If left to its own devices, your camera will predict the same settings nearly every single time.  Not surprisingly, the results will be the same every time as well.  So Einstein’s wisdom impacts more than just the science world.  But knowing this fact, my question is terse:  Why do you keep trusting your camera?

“But wait,” you say, “I’ve been shooting full-auto and my pictures turn out great!”  For those of you who stand by full-auto, I want you to explain how you call yourself a photographer.  Is it because you shoot pictures?  Is it because you have a camera?  No, my friends, you’re not a photographer if you’re shooting pictures.  Pictures are moments in time, a historical record.  They are no closer to photographs than an Encyclopedia is to fiction.  As a photographer, you are a creator of art.  You will never get what you want shooting with only your camera’s brain.  As powerful as that little brain may be, it doesn’t have an ounce of creative spirit.  That’s your job.

Sometimes Your Camera is Too Safe

That’s right, I said it.  Your camera plays it safe.  It looks at the subject and chooses the safest approach and uses the safest settings.  In some cultures, safe is synonymous with the word boring. Play it safe, and your photos will be boring.  In turn, you’ll become a boring photographer.  Fortunately, camera makers have no misconceptions about this fact, which is why they also offer Manual Mode, priority modes (Shutter Priority and Aperture Priority) and Program Mode (which I personally feel is more complicated than manual mode, but I digress).  In one of these modes, you will find more control.  You’ll be able to overexpose the shot as you please, or underexpose to hide the flaws.  You can also mess with things like white balance to completely change the mood and texture of the shot.  And lets not forget about things like lens filters and strobist photography.  There is a world of possibilities, so stop playing it safe.

Sometimes Your Camera is Just Wrong

As I look out my window – a scene that isn’t going to win awards by any photographer’s hand – a new coat of snow blankets the ground.  To boot, it’s an overcast day.  I see the snow as white.  This is in part because my eyes are better than the camera.  But it’s also because my mind is playing tricks on me.  The human brain is an incredible tool, and it is telling me that the snow is white.  But it’s really a trick of the mind, because that snow is reflecting a slightly bluish hue an I’m just not really paying close attention.  If I take an automatic shot of the scene, the snow is going to look gray, and the warm brownish tones will look greenish instead.  Shoot it again, same result.  Again, same result.  Welcome to insanity.  You will never be able to teach your camera to meet your needs.  So why bother trying and trying and trying again?

But wait!  You mean we have control over our cameras?  Absolutely.  That camera is your servant – nay, your slave – and it will do only as its told.  If you take the power out of your cameras brain, you can fix the things that it does wrong.  You didn’t expect it to be perfect all the time, did you?  It is only a slave, after all, not skilled labor.  So put the thing back in shackles and make it do your bidding.  Push the exposure up a bit with the Exposure Compensation button.  Better yet, flip that sucker into manual and decrease the shutter speed.  Use a pre-set white balance.  But whatever you do, don’t trust that your camera has a shred of understanding of what you want to do.  You’re the master, now act like one.

Throw Your Stones

Every time I preach my beliefs on the subject, I hear at least one or two voices speak out in defense of their camera’s superiority over the capture.  Their camera can do tricks.  It can jump 12 feet high, it can do back-flips and it will make you a five-star dinner…for lunch! To date, I have not heard a viable defense of Auto or Program mode.  So I want you – you know who I’m talking about – to set the record straight.  Prove me wrong – explain why I’m the grumpy old man who won’t accept technology.

But for those of you who are more sane, I want to hear from you too.  I want you to give me a better argument for my beliefs.  Quite frankly, I’m tried of repeating myself.  So I must be saying something wrong.  How can I say this better?

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About Author

D. Travis North is a professional Landscape Architect, a Freelance Photographer and founder of Shutter Photo. Ever since he picked up his first SLR, his father's Nikon N2000, he's been hooked on photography. Travis likes to photograph urban environments, architectural details and has a new-found interest in close-up photography. His work can be found at D. Travis North Photography. Follow Travis on twitter: @dtnorth.

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