Cameras these days are smart. Very smart. Actually, cameras have been getting smarter for a long time now. It was back in the 1960s when cameras first sported the ability to measure light, removing the need for the photographer to have to use a separate light meter, and fifty years on, this is trivial for any modern camera. Light can be measured at single or multiple points in the frame with an extremely high degree of accuracy – the modern photography enthusiast has been relieved of the necessity to be mindful of the thing at the core of photography.
This is all very convenient and photography is faster and more accurate than ever from a technical point of view. There is no doubt though, that we have become spoiled and it is a sad fact that many of the people that put these marvels of modern engineering and technology to use don’t understand what the camera is actually doing, and something like ‘manual mode’ can assume the proportions of a giant scary monster.
We all start off fearful of taking responsibility for our images and this is not surprising. Almost everyone these days begins his or her journey through photography with a small ‘point and shoot’ digital with which almost no meaningful user-control is possible. When we graduate to higher levels of photographic technology (acquire a DSLR, for example), we take this fear with us and are often very reluctant to get out of the coddled comfort zone that encompasses the various ‘program modes’ on that new camera.
If you are one of those for whom the manual modes are unfathomable territory (and there’s no shame in it, every photographer was once), take a step into the unknown. Once you click out of the program modes, you are clicking into the essence of photography, for no matter how simple or advanced your camera is, there is only one thing that really matters, one thing that is at the heart of all cameras, the prime function for which all the surrounding bells and whistles are but incidental – shutter speed and aperture value. Hang on, that’s two things. But those two things do come together to give us that one thing: exposure.
Understanding exposure – the relationship between the aperture and the shutter – will enable you to be much more creative with your images. Now you can intentionally create those effects you sometimes get by accident and wish you could duplicate.
Did you ever take a portrait and wonder how the subject was nice and sharp, yet the background was beautifully blurred? Open up the aperture and raise the shutter speed. How about at night when you got some wonderful long-rayed stars on point light sources? Close the aperture and slow the shutter down.
Appreciating the intimate relationship between the shutter and aperture will do much more to further your photography than any amount of poring over that manual trying to memorize all those quirky functions the modern camera has. I really recommend you knuckle down and make the effort. Indeed, once you get a real handle on exposure, everything else becomes much easier to get your head around. Get out there and give your creativity a fair go.