Cameras are stupid (but you're not)
Conducting photography workshops in Yosemite, Hawaii, and other locations throughout the west has shown me that many aspiring photographers are hindered by the mistaken belief that their cameras are smarter than they are. But, despite all indications to the contrary, we humans are in fact (and will be for the foreseeable future) smarter than our electronic devices.
Consider the computer: A computer can't anticipate, reason, or create; it will blithely continue repeating a mistake, no matter how egregious, until it is instructed otherwise or it destroys itself. Most errors occur because the computer just didn't understand: If I misspell a wurd, you still know what I mean (rite?); not so with a computer. All this applies equally to cameras: no matter how advanced its technology, a camera just can't compete with your brain. Really.
For example, if I'd have allowed my camera to decide the exposure for this crescent moon rising above Yosemite Valley, the result would have been a useless mess. The camera would have decided that the foreground trees and rocks were important and allowed enough light to reveal them--at the expense of a completely washed out sky. But I thought the contents of the foreground shadows were a distraction. I wanted to simplify the scene to its most basic elements: the moon's delicate shape and the strong silhouette of Half Dome and Sentinel Dome etched against the rich, blue twilight glow.
Scenes like this are why I never trust my camera's decisions. In my thirty-five or so years of serious photography, I've never used anything but spot metering in manual exposure mode because that gives me the most control over my results. And since I try to have elements at different depths throughout my frame, focus is always my decision.
Today's cameras are more technologically advanced than ever; the auto modes are quite good, good enough that nobody should feel they must switch to manual at the expense of the pleasure photography brings. But if you define photographic pleasure as getting the best possible results, try taking more control of your camera. In my workshops, where I teach (but never require) manual metering to anyone interested, people frequently marvel at how easy it is. Could this be you too? You'll never know until you try....
©Gary Hart, 2011
Read more of Gary's writing on his blog.