Master the manual
Last weekend I was at a bookstore and chanced upon the photography section. I saw Joe McNally’s book LIFE Guide to Digital Photography: Everything You Need to Shoot Like the Pros and it was open (without the plastic cover). I scanned through the pages. It was an eye-opener, filled with techniques and tips based on the experience and expertise of McNally who was a contributor for National Geographic for 20 years, and a staff photographer of LIFE magazine from 1994 to 1998. Of the many quotable quotes from the book was this: “The camera is an engineer, not a poet.”
As I recall, McNally said it in the context of mastering your camera, especially its manual controls. He states that in Program Mode, you let the camera do all the calculations as far as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance and other parameters concerned to get the proper exposure. In Aperture Priority Mode (on a DSLR’s Mode Dial its A for Nikon and AV for Canon), you choose how wide the opening and the camera’s brains sets the corresponding shutter speed. In Shutter Priority Mode (S on Nikon, TV on Canon), you set the exposure time and the camera determines the right aperture. The correct mix between aperture and shutter speed will more or less produce a properly exposed shot. Which is fine and good, but Program Mode is for amateurs and Shutter and Aperture Priority Modes give you partial control. The brains of the camera will not work all the time in all shooting situations. It will always be a measurement, a forecast, a computation – crunching numbers to get the median balance and mix. That in essence makes the camera an engineer.
But you must step up in your photographic journey and go beyond the comforts and convenience of Program Mode. You have to master the Manual Mode (even some point and shoots now have full manual) and all the photographic possibilities it offers right at your fingertips. Though it is so easy to use the dozens of preset scenes and shooting modes in today’s digital cameras, don’t be tempted. Gone are the days of being a slave to whatever the camera tells you. You must be the one who takes charge and tells the camera what to do. Following through your vision as a photographer for every image you take requires you to have full control. You must be driven by your passion and art. You must beat the heart of a poet, crafting and creating, confident in your technical knowledge and convinced in your creative prowess.