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8 Dec 2011

Clickety Click

Taking photographs when the sun is up and shining bright, is probably the easiest. An automatic point-and-shoot camera is all a photographer needs and even the worst ones can manage a few good pictures. Most amateurs prefer a sunny day to say, a cloudy or rainy one, for this reason. I have discovered that all of this is bullshit. Mostly, if not entirely.

Sunlight means shadows. Partial shadows are usually bad news. There are a handful of good pictures where half of the photograph ends up darker than the other. Most of the time, you either want the picture in light or you want the entire object inside the shadow. Sometimes, sunlight can be harsh. This is not easily noticed in an automatic point-and-shoot because the camera adjusts its settings, as required. Auto settings, however, are limiting. They are pre-programmed to go one way or the other, or another. A reasonably decent photograph might still need editing to adjust colour and contrast if the light was too harsh for the automatic settings. A sunny day with few or no clouds means a boring skyline. In other words, pictures should exclude as much of the skyline as possible. If the landscape around the object is not interesting enough, taking a good picture becomes a challenge. In other words, bright sunlight is not necessarily a photographer’s best friend.

I’m no photographer, let alone a good one. I carry a semi-automatic camera that I have used in auto-mode for most of the time that I’ve had it. The only settings I’ve used are the macro mode, scenery mode (which does not seem to work the way I want, most of the time) and the pre-set timer. I read the manual once and fixed the settings when someone had stuffed around with my camera and messed up the scenery mode badly. By fixed, I mean that I changed a few things randomly and took pictures till they stopped looking like a sheet of white. Since then, I’ve never trusted myself to use the camera in scenery mode. A fear lurks in my mind that I might take a picture in the mode only to later find that it doesn’t look like the real image.
A couple of weekends ago, I learnt a few things about what my camera is capable of doing. Being a semi-automatic, there are limitations but I liked learning that I could be a better photographer than my camera’s auto mode. The discovery of being able to change the aperture and shutter speed has spoilt the automatic mode for good, for me. When I switch to auto, I wonder if the camera is using the most optimum settings for what I want to achieve. My mind goes back to numerous photographs I’ve taken in the past that I’ve had to delete once I get home and load them on to my computer. ISO, focus and composition are terms I have never had to think about when I take pictures. How naïve of me!

Having a digital camera means I can take a few hundred pictures to come home and edit or trash as I please. I can delete pictures on the camera, to make more space, if I need to. When I think back to the days we bought a ‘roll’ for the camera before going on a holiday, I wonder how we did it. I would buy 1 roll (if I could convince mum/dad, we would get 2), which came in sizes of 25 pictures or 32, and try to fit out entire holiday into that. The worst part was waiting till the roll was completely used up, before we could take it to the studio for developing. This usually happened with the second roll. After scrimping and trying to save for the best pictures, you inevitably end up with an unfinished roll. Then, it was a few days of waiting – sometimes as long as a fortnight or more – during which we would hope that the pictures were not shaken or distorted. We had the option of selecting ALL or GOOD on the order form, to indicate whether we wanted all the photos or the good prints only. I always worried that if I marked GOOD, the photographer might not print something that is important to me if he regards it as poor print.

The digital cameras improved photography without improving anybody’s skills by much. It provided the option of taking a number of pictures and selecting the best of the lot. A number of pictures mean various compositions. Somewhere among those hundreds of pictures, there will be a few that followed the rule of third and we end up with a pleasing image. That is how some of us with automatic cameras can still manage to click a few shots that our friends can ‘Like’ on Facebook and drool over. Over time, if the count of pictures with the ‘Like’ increases, we feel like we’re good photographers. Or atleast we attempt to become better ones, to keep the ‘Like’ going.

So, really, Facebook makes us better photographers. Eh? Of course I’m kidding! I’m just a wanderer, lacking photography skills, trying to write a piece on photography. It appears that I have wandered along a couple of roads with the writing too. When the realization of that hits, I know it’s time to put the cap back on the pen!

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