Beginning Photography Blunders

   If you like any of the photos I post on this blog, you are seeing the result of many years of practice. I did not get to where I am today overnight and I am surely not anywhere near my limit. I have tons and tons (and tons and tons and tons...) of stuff to learn about photography. I am nowhere near some of the masters of my craft, and I am willing to bet that even they would say they have room to learn. Photography is a massive and complex mix of science, technol
ogy, and art. Photography has evolved arguably far more than any one art form over it's history. It is impossible for one artist to have completely learned everything there is to know about photography. If in some way they have, then tomorrow I guarantee they will need to learn something new.

   What you are seeing me produce has come from a lot of practice and many many blunders. Now I am at the point where I am consistently producing a technically correct image almost every single frame, but this wasn't always the case.

   Look, getting out of auto mode on your camera is tough. I know this. Sometimes you may even ask yourself, "Why even bother?" I could argue against that forever but to some degree I can see where some people are coming from. Camera technology has come so far that for some people getting out of auto really isn't necessary. If you just want the image to remember your child's soccer game and not as a piece of art, then yes there is no point to getting out of auto. If you are not wanting to spend hours at the computer editing your image, then yes there is no point. There is nothing wrong with that. But if you want full control over every aspect of your photo and have the ability to make a conscious decision to bend and break some rules, then you need to get out of auto. There just simply is no other way.

   Other than when I had point and shoots that didn't allow manual controls, I never shot in auto. In fact my first SLR didn't even have a light meter, so auto was impossible on that camera. Some would argue this is the best way to start out in photography. I can argue for and against starting this way. On the one hand, I wasn't using the camera's auto settings as a crutch because there simply weren't any. But on the other hand, I wasn't even aware of the mistakes I was making. Let me explain a little bit.

   So my first SLR I bought off of eBay not even knowing anything about light meters or the lack thereof. I knew really nothing about cameras at all. I knew the basics of how to expose an image correctly and that was it. That small bit of information would prove to be highly useful but I did not really know it at the time. So when I got my camera I immediately went out and bought some rolls of film (I bought some 400 speed film not even knowing what the 400 meant), I located my shutter speed dial, and learned how to change the aperture on my lens. From school I remembered the relationship between the shutter speed and aperture but I had forgotten, or perhaps never learned, what film speed(ISO) brought to the equation. So that was my first blunder.

   Then comes my second blunder. On my shutter speed dial there is a little red x near the 1/60th spot. For some reason completely unknown to me I mistook this x to mean a "normal," or "all purpose," shutter speed. I reasoned that this x meant that if you leave it at this speed and the scene isn't too dark or too bright, you were pretty good. Looking back now I can't even believe I could think that and I have no idea where I got that idea from. So for most of my photos I was leaving my camera at 1/60th of a second and of course using the largest aperture I could which was f1.8. But here is where the real confusion starts to set in. When I took my camera out, I was taking it out on overcast days. I have always liked the quality of light that comes from an overcast day. It just does something for me. Even if the images are slightly under exposed, the mood is what I am looking for. So every time I went out, what should have been completely washed out images in bright sunlight, were actually fairly well exposed images. This simply added confidence to my "all purpose" shutter speed theory. Later I would start to see that I was wrong when I started to get back over exposed images because I was shooting in brighter sunny days.

   My list of blunders does not end there but you get the idea. It took me a lot of wasted rolls of film to understand that I was doing something wrong and I needed to change something. My point is however, I would have never made this mistake if I simply had an automatic mode (or a light meter for that matter). But if I had never made this mistake I would have never seen the importance of evaluating the light in a scene and then changing my settings.

   Not having a light meter or auto settings taught me how to look at a scene and guess my settings from there. I am not always 100% correct, but most of the time I can look at a scene, and guess within a stop over or under what my settings should be. This is absolutely invaluable with the type of photography I like to do. There is no way I could have learned this from leaving my camera in auto.
Blundered (unedited)

Not Blundered (unedited)

   So that's the point of this post. I want to say that auto settings are okay for certain situations. If you don't care about how your images look, you just want them to look reasonably good, then auto is a great way to do that. Also, if you are just beginning, being in auto is not bad per say. But a word of caution: do not rely on auto. If anything just rely on your light meter and your digital screen (for DSLRs). Getting an image wrong 3 times but seeing what is wrong with it is much better than never getting it wrong, but never having to think about your settings. If you are trying to advance your photography, GET OUT OF AUTO NOW. It is crippling you. If you don't know where to start, how about taking a look at my past Photo Basics posts? Links below. Go create a scene people!

Beginner Photo Basics posts:
Photo Basics: So Many Buttons
Photo Basics: Aperture
Photo Basics: Shutter Speed
Photo Basics: ISO
Photo Basics: Rule of Thirds