“Creativity, by common definition, is the production of things both novel and useful; whereas representation in photography, quite literally, is the re-presenting of something already in existence. In the context of photography, therefore, representation is accomplished primarily through technology and skill, and a fortuitous convergence of ‘right’ place and ‘right’ time. Creativity requires something beyond objective qualities that are inherent in subject, tools, or circumstances — something subjective originating from the unique mind of the photographer that would not have existed had they not created it.”
From Beyond Auto Mode: A Guide to Taking Control of Your Photography by Jennifer Bebb:
“The camera … is merely the tool we use to create our images and, like any tool, needs input to be used most effectively. Setting a camera on a pre-determined mode, such as ‘portrait,’ is akin to a carpenter setting a saw to cut and walking away from the machine. The saw doesn’t know what result the carpenter is looking for, it is merely one part of the process. The same is true with your camera — it cannot know what you want to do, it can merely guess based on the settings you choose….
“The camera makes decisions designed to best suit the way it’s been programmed, not necessarily the best settings for the specific images you want to make. The camera doesn’t care how your photograph looks, it simply uses a pre-determined formula that satisfies a set of criteria that likely has nothing to do with the photo you are creating.
“Making better photographs is about taking control of your camera settings and deciding how you want your images to look. It’s about moving beyond the automatic modes.“
This is the fifth post in my autumn series of new photos from Oakland Cemetery. Last year at about this time, I took all of my fall photographs using one of my camera’s automatic modes, mostly because unrelenting rainstorms limited the number of outdoor photography days to just a few, and I was so inexperienced using manual settings that I wasn’t confident enough to step off the automatic approach. This year — after having spent so much time using manual mode on my garden macros — I didn’t use the automatic settings at all, so I could get more practice with manual mode on landscape-style photography. The second book I quoted above — Beyond Auto Mode — has some excellent tutorials on making the shift from automatic to manual, along with practical exercises for use in the field.
One of the clever tricks I got from the book was this: instead of using any of the automatic modes, take shots of a subject with the camera’s program mode — which will set the shutter speed and aperture to what the camera believes is optimal exposure for the scene. Make a mental note of the shutter speed and aperture the camera selected, then switch to manual mode and initially set it to those same two values. If you took shots using these settings (and the lighting stayed about the same), you would get equivalent images from program mode and manual mode, since the shutter speed and aperture are the same. Now, look through the camera’s viewfinder and think about how you might change the result, considering things like this:
- The camera’s program mode reacts to a scene by creating a balance between light and dark elements, regardless of the fine detail in the scene, some of which may get lost in its determination of optimal exposure. Still, its chosen settings will help you understand how much overall light you have available, which is what matters most when you switch to manual. If, for example, program mode chose a shutter speed of 1/500 of a second and an aperture of f/9 — well, you’ve got a lot of light to work with.
- Take the shot; you may delete it later but take it so you can use it for comparison. Switch the camera to manual mode, and set the shutter speed and aperture to the values the camera selected for program mode. Change the initial aperture setting from (in this example) f/9 to f/11 or f/13, which will increase the depth of field — effectively bringing more of the scene into focus. Depending on your camera’s capabilities, you may see the effect through the viewfinder or you may need to press the camera’s depth of field preview button to see the difference — and see how much of the image behind the actual focus point is made clearer by the higher aperture setting. With most of the images in the gallery below, I wanted as much foreground-to-background detail as possible, more than program mode would automatically include.
- Since increasing the aperture setting reduces the amount of light coming into the camera’s sensor, you may need to now lower the shutter speed to bring the light back up. Whether or not you can lower the shutter speed, and how much you can lower it, depends on the circumstances: for images like those below, there were plenty of stationery elements but the shutter speed had to be high enough to freeze any wind-movement of leaves on the trees. A shutter speed of 1/100 seemed to work well with a light breeze, though that still required a steady hand and was too low when the wind picked up. Short version: you want a higher aperture setting to increase focus or detail, combined with a shutter speed that’s fast enough to stop motion blur.
- Creative control comes from practice, but also benefits from familiarity with your equipment and on some awareness of the capabilities of post-processing software like Lightroom. Knowing that you can recover detail from shadows or highlights gives you greater flexibility in the field, especially if you’ve used your camera and lenses enough to know how much you can overexpose or underexpose — keeping an eye on the camera’s exposure meter or histogram — and get acceptable results. Two of the lenses I use most often (a macro lens and an 18-250 mm zoom lens) capture detail in the shadows very well when I underexpose, and seem to render better color than if I overexpose. All of the images in the galleries below were technically underexposed, in part to reduce the effect of the bright sunlight, then I lightened the shadows in Lightroom to bring back some of the detail.
There are, of course, many different ways to think about these things, but this is one of mine. Exposure may seem like a complex topic in photography — and technologically, it is — but using a trick like this helps me quickly and easily try variations on the same scene. Most of the variations will get culled in Lightroom where I try to eliminate all but one or two shots of each scene for further processing.
The photos in this first gallery were taken near the center of the cemetery, chosen to illustrate contrasting bright-light and shadow elements. Select the first image to view a slideshow, though — depending on the device or display you are using — you may want to choose “View Full Size” from the slideshow to get a better sense of the fine details.
These three images are about having the sun in your eyes, but taking the photos anyway. When I took these, I could barely see the images in the viewfinder or on the camera’s LCD screen, so relied on the exposure meter to tell me if my settings were adequate. I liked them enough that over the weekend I took the camera to Grant Park and shot an entire series with the sun facing toward me, which I’ll process and post as soon as they’re finished.
Reds and oranges dominate the images of these two trees, prompting me to separate many of the images I’m still working on by color, into an orange gallery and a red gallery that I’ll post later this week.
These trees are located toward the back of the cemetery, near a roadway that bisects the grounds. The smokestack in the last image is across the street from the back end of the property, on part of what used to be the Fulton Bag and Cotton Mills. It’s now a landmark on the same property — surrounded by a village of maintained and renovated “company town” houses called Cabbagetown, In its current incarnation as condominiums and rental units, the mill property is now known as the Fulton Cotton Mill Lofts.
My previous autumn 2019 photo mash-ups, and a few other posts with new fall color photos, are here:
Thanks for reading and taking a look!