With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
Some of you may have gotten a new camera with an endless array of high tech features over the holidays. Even more readers probably wish they had. But with all that power and capability, how is it that cameras these days are so easy to use? And does any of this affect your role in composing and taking good photos?
Auto-focus, auto-exposure, auto everything — everything except auto composition that is. The one thing even the best cameras are incapable of is deciding what to take a picture of, and how to frame and compose it. It can be easy to lose track of this what with everything a camera actually can do for you now. With all of its automated features enabled, a user can point their camera in the general direction of an interesting subject, press the shutter release and end up with a serviceable image.
But with a new camera with all the bells and whistles, is this really where we should set our sights? The camera may be powerful and capable, but are you? No matter how easy a camera me be to operate, it still takes a capable operator to put to its full potential.
Your first job is to see the potential of a scene. That means setting aside your presuppositions of what there is to photograph and actually looking at what is there. Yes, it can help to position yourself in a scenic location but this isn't a requirement. There are great images to be made most anywhere. Remember, it's your job to see them.
Your next job is to explore that potential and not rush to press the shutter release too soon. Look at it from all sides and think about what you discover. What can you do with what you find? A group of photographers can go to an ideal location together and some may return with amazing images that draw the viewer in and convey a true sense of having been there while others come home with no better than run of the mill snapshots. They may even have all had the same camera and lenses, no matter. The difference is rarely in the camera. It's in what each photographer puts into their craft.
Yes, you have to be able to effectively use that camera and lens, and this is your third job. No matter how automated your camera may be, at least some of its capabilities involve choices — choices you have to make. What metering mode should you make use of? What lens should you mount on that camera? And so on. Not only do you need to think about the possibilities as you explore your subject, you have to think about the possibilities inherent in operating your camera. You are unlikely to need every control on that camera, but knowing what they do is a good start towards putting those you do need to use. And those that do fit your style of shooting are worth practicing so you can effectively put them to use when it counts.
"With great power comes great responsibility" — so said Peter Parker's Uncle Ben in Spider Man, at least in the movie version. You don't have to have super powers to be a good photographer, but you do have to be willing to apply yourself and not leave everything up to your new, automated camera.