Autoexposure and Autofocus!

What Do Cameras Do

Your camera is capable of shooting in a lot of different modes. Each various mode controls the way the camera thinks while taking the image. The camera’s thinking is all about getting the right amount of light in order to take a correctly exposed image - not too bright or too dark.

These modes change the way Camera does things for you, and they change how much control you, the user, has over the camera. Automatic, or even A+ (…More Automatic?) mean that all the user has to worry about is where the camera is pointing, and when to push the button.

  • Metering modes are different ways for the camera to think, different ways to calculate the correct exposure. They have their various advantages and can be selected depending on the situation or shooting style.
  • Drive modes change how the camera takes pictures - does it fire once when you press the shutter, or a bunch of times. Does it wait 10 seconds before taking the photo? Drive modes won’t be important to us for a while, as they don’t affect the image, just the shooting style.
  • Shooting modes, Camera Modes, or just Modes without a prefix are us deciding which attributes of the exposure that we, the user, take into our own hands. Full manual control is one of these modes. Other modes let us define a certain attribute, for our creativity, and let the camera figure the rest out, for getting the correct exposure.

As we learn more in this guide, you will learn how to control more and more of the camera functions yourself. All of the reasons this is better than fully automatic settings will be apparent as you learn and use your camera. Aside from the concrete reasons, like creative control, taking more control of the camera is more fun! It makes one feel more accomplished, and has one think about photography more while being a photographer. These images we create, they don’t just feel like ‘right place right time’ luck, but a creation. Photographer’s don’t just take pictures, they make them. Let’s learn how!

Why Bother Using Manual?

Cameras have terribly complicated automatic functions, but there has yet to be a camera capable of deciding where to go and where to point. Or how to get there. Or to remember to charge the batteries. That’s all still up to the photographer.

When to push the button is a different story. Time lapse photography, using special triggers like ‘smile’ recognition on some compacts or sound, vibration or even laser1 based triggers, are forms of automatic shutter control2. But, more or less, we are in total control over when to press the shutter.

Now, camera settings are far more complicated than just getting the exposure right - you might have the right exposure, but the shutter speed is too slow, the depth of field might be too small to get everything in focus, or the ISO is too high and the photo is unusable. The right amount may have gotten into the camera, but perhaps in the wrong way.

Sometimes it’s a subjective opinion - how would this photo have looked a different way? What if it was with a shallower depth of field on that picture of the pancakes, or a slow enough shutter speed to blur the moving background in the train window? Totally automatic modes don’t give us the options to try out different shots.

Not to mention autofocus. Some automatic settings won’t even let you take a button if it doesn’t think the camera is in focus. This “Feature” is highly frustrating when the camera’s algorithm’s are incorrect or broken!

I had an experience at a zoo, where I could not auto-focus on the correct monkey. I was at a zoo once and the camera assumed I wanted to focus on the dirty glass or the hand rail, or the tree a bird was on, or - really, many things that were not the animal I wanted to take a photo of. If your camera has such a ‘smart’ picture to prevent you from taking blurry photos - turn it off!

Cameras have developed very sophisticated automatic settings that try and figure out what you are taking a photo of - and get the settings right. When given a choice between a great photo, or a usable photo, these automatic settings often produce photos that are - while, yes, usable - not what they could be. I’m putting this lightly.

In an effort to get this usable photos, autoexposure cameras are super into using the camera’s built in flash. Like, all of the time. Oh man, this can make for some terrible vacation photos! The separate light source shining on only the subjects can make them seem ‘removed’ from the background, like they have been pasted in with Photoshop. For vacation “Proof I was here” photos, that’s the opposite of the effect you want!

Since we, the user, know5 exactly what we are taking photos of, our brains are much more capable of handling many settings than a camera.

We also know when the cameras automatic settings will get the job done right. We can learn when it’s totally okay to use autoexposure and autofocus! When these features don’t cut the mustard6, we can take control.

The first modes we will learn will be all about adjusting the cameras autoexposure features towards a correct, or more correct, image. Then we will look at the different primary shooting modes - the bread and butter of modern digital photography.

Learn the basics, again and again

This section will be all about the basics. Once we will be done with one simple set of tools, we will learn more, different, basics. Photography is not so much a build up of various features, but a combination of many potentially separate features. Because of this, you can skip around this chapter and you will be okay! That said, I will assume you are reading everything in order.

Don’t Forget To Practice!

Photography is fun! It teaches you new and interesting ways to see the world, and can turn a boring landscape or room into a far more interesting field of potential photographs.

1 2 If this sounds interesting, check out the TriggerTrap. It’s a well-reviewed product that connects your camera to your phone, in order to trigger the shutter automatically, using features like the accelerometer or microphone. You could take a photo at the precise moment your phone would ‘hear’ a slap noise. Perhaps a perfect slap impact picture3. e Don’t slap your friends4. 4 Or anyone else, for that matter. 5 Or maybe we don’t, like firing the flash in a perfectly dark room. Note: Please don’t do this. My eyes! My eyes! 6 “Cutting the mustard” is common idiom that everybody uses all of the time for sure, deal with it.

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