Tuesday, January 29, 2019


I see photographers on the internet asking for or offering “settings” to photograph specific types of subjects or situations all the time.  As a professional photographer and artist I’m still confounded when I see this and I’m left scratching my head wondering how these random settings could be of any possible use to anybody!

It’s like asking a chef for a list of the spices he cooks with without the in depth knowledge of how to use them. It’s like lowering photography to the level of those old paint-by-numbers kits my mom did back in the sixties; a hollow, soulless, exercise that reduced painting to a manufacturing process.


The combined settings can be mixed (like a cake) in thousands of different ratios to arrive at a good exposure—but merely getting a proper exposure is NOT our goal as artists; we want to create something great (the cake has to TASTE GOOD—not just LOOK like a cake!)

This is why I teach my students to live in the world of “M” (manual mode) not “Auto mode”. Yes, the “P” mode can produce a proper exposure (most of the time), but that’s about it.

The fundamental reason why the Auto modes fail is that the camera doe not SEE anything—it does not know what it’s being pointed at!  It treats ALL subjects the same; in fact its on board meter is programed (the first knife cut in the death of art) to render the whole world in 18% gray.

In Manual mode you will learn to create your own settings when you fully understand the Exposure Triangle—(Aperture, Shutter speed, and ISO).

However, that does not mean that you will be creating formulas that apply to similar situations or even the same subjects. Whenever I happen upon a subject that tweaks my fine-art eye, wether I have a camera or not, I let the subject tell me the most important artistic aspect in the scene; after all it attracted me so I listen, but with my eyes.

Here’s an example….
30 sec. exposure on EKT H.S. Daylight film @ ASA 1000
Sometimes I have to visit a scene several times for it to tell me how to dramatically tell its story. Daylight photography without clouds was ruled out—mostly because the CHP asked me to leave several times, and the lower operational part of this freeway interchange was so busy.  So, this became a night shot that would benefit from the Mixed Color Temperatures of the sodium-vapor street lights against the purple sky I would create by using Ektachrome HS Daylight film pushed to ASA 1000.

The most important setting in this scene…

Sitting there under cover of early darkness, wearing dark clothes and using my black tripod, hoping to evade the notice of the CHP, I noticed that the small aircraft, approaching the nearby airport, cut low across my scene, much of the time, on their final approach. I knew that this was always going to be a time exposure, but this revelation completed the scene. So, I counted how long it took for one of the small planes to track across the scene, with its flashing landing lights, visible in my viewfinder.  Now this image became all about shutter speed.   It took about 30-seconds or less for most small planes to cross this field of view. The 30-second exposure would also make the passing cars all but disappear.  Of course I did images without a plane flying across the top of the scene, but they lacked the “icing on the cake” punch that those landing lights created.

Another example….

 f13.0 @ 1/400 sec., ISO 400; Lens @ 170mm
This image’s most important factor was Aperture…

While photographing an old barn in Eagle, Idaho, I saw a couple smaller out buildings nearby. One was starting to lean, had great curled wood texture and was missing the top half of its door so I could see through the building and out the rear window. This became all about Depth-of-Field, because I wanted the face of the building as well as that weed outside the window, on the other side of the building, to be sharp. So, an Aperture of f13.0 did the job well. In addition I compressed the scene by using my telephoto at 170mm—optically bringing the doorway and window closer together. Backing-up, using telephoto, also gave me more Depth-of-Field.

This brings me to a topic I’ve wanted to write about for a long time—that is how the focal length we choose inter relates creatively with the exposure triangle—I’ll go there in Part 2 of this blog.

Until next week, go out and play with the information I have giving you so far and see what you can create in “M”!

Author:  Jerry W. Venz, PPA Master Photographer, Craftsman
Training site: http://www.LightAtTheEdge.com

Client site: http://www.TheStorytellersUsa.com

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