“Your Camera Takes Really Nice Pictures”

A dear friend of mine shared this with me on facebook some months ago and I couldn’t help but smile.
I’d like this to be the topic of the day and hopefully educate the general public a bit more on the many facets that create a great photo.

I am trying out a new lens this week. A gorgeous wide angle. Its been an adjustment so far. I’m amazed at how close you can get to a subject! I am a little disappointed by the distortion. I had heard with this particular lens I’m trying that the distortion is virtually non-existant, but that is not the case (for me). Case in point:
RTB_5699-2 RTB_5699

But the colors it captures are truly unparalleled — in my experience anyway, so take that with a grain of salt 😉 but still amazing colors in my opinion.

Now, lets move onto the subject – Your Camera Takes Really Nice Photos.
Lets experiment with this thought. I changed my settings back to full Auto today (I haven’t done this since November, took me a few minutes to remember how…). Auto means the camera chooses every single setting. Let me explain.

The camera chooses white balance. White balance sets the color of the light in the photo, ranging from really cool blues to very warm almost oranges. Example:
I was SO PROUD of this photo when I took it. I’d had my camera for about a month and had no clue what White Balance was. There was a ton of funky lighting going on (purples and blues from the DJ in the corner) and my camera obviously spazzed out here and decided orange was the true tone in the room (WRONG). So while I was super proud of this photo at the time, I look at it now and I just cringe. I tried to fix it in Lightroom, but since the photo is in jpeg format and not RAW (again, I was just a super newbie) my software couldn’t fix the coloring very well. This was the best I got (before and after):
RTB_1196 RTB_1196-2

No good. It is very important to get the White Balance (coloring or tone of the photo) right in the camera.

The camera chooses the shutter speed. Shutter speed is how long the shutter is open. This setting can take freezing time to a whole new perspective, using a very fast shutter speed makes someone jumping in the air look like they’re flying. A slow shutter speed makes the camera illustrate motion. Think of a fan. Our brains have a fast shutter speed, if you will. If something is moving, we can see it and understand it. But if something is going so fast and our brains can’t keep up, we see that as motion. When the blades of a fan are spinning at full speed, it looks like just a blur. The same thing happens with a camera. When the shutter speed is very slow (like our brain’s speed comprehension is not as fast as a fan) it shows blur. Maybe thats not a good analogy, but it makes sense to me. Here’s examples of fast shutter speed (freezing a moment) and slow shutter speed (taking the entire moment into consideration):
(Train was moving a good 35 mph (or more). I had my shutter speed very very high so I couldn’t risk any kind of blur.)
2-24 a (1 of 1)-2

And slow shutter speed (set with the shutter open for a full 30 seconds):

I took the above photo back in January with my 50mm 1.4g lens. For fun, I took out my wide angle to recreate this shot. Here’s what I got:

I like my second try better. 😉 Yet another little success check point I use for myself to see a difference in my growing pains of photography.

Fun Fact: a common newbie mistake in photography is setting the shutter speed too low. Our hands are only so steady and our subjects are only so still. Often, if our pictures turn out fuzzy or “soft”, we want to blame the lens, when in reality its most likely our fault. While I’m still new to photography, I had a bit of a problem with my wide angle and the focus landing on the wrong spot. I asked a pro why this might be happening and she suggested that my shutter speed was too low because she knew I was a newbie and automatically assumed that was the problem. My shutter speed was very high, so that was definitely not the issue. I was slightly offended and I thought, “I’m new, but not that new.” 😉 I’m thankful for her time, though, and it taught me in the future to not jump to conclusions when helping other newbies.

The camera chooses the aperture. Aperture determines how much of your subject is in focus and what is not. Object lesson: Put your hand really close to your eye and try to focus on the rest of the room using your peripheral vision. You can see the rest of the room, but its blurrier than your hand. Now put your hand down and focus on the rest of the room and use your peripheral vision to focus on other items in the room. MUCH more is in focus now, right? Aperture works similarly. Example: 4/1.4 (not much is in focus) and f/16 (almost everything is in focus)

I had a really small depth of focus here (I want to say it was 1.8 or something like that) because I wanted to only focus on the core of the flower.
3.31 (1 of 1)

Here I wanted a really large depth of focus to include the entire building. Aperture obviously also plays a huge role on what you are wanting to capture.

The camera chooses ISO. ISO simply helps you out with the lighting situation. Say you have your aperture wide open and your shutter speed is slow, your lens is letting in a lot of light into your camera (the brain). Lets relate this to the pupil of your eye. In a dark room, the pupils of our eyes are wide open, letting in as much light as is available to see. Then you walk into the sun with wide open pupils, the sun hurts our eyes and it takes a moment for our pupils to close up to tiny holes so you can handle all that light. The ISO helps with this. It serves as sunglasses or night vision to our cameras. However, the higher the ISO, the tendency to create “noise”. Noise is the grittiness in a photo.

Ok, so that was a lengthy explanation and I apologize if I’ve lost ya for a bit there. But my point is, all these settings either you can choose or your camera can choose. Auto gives all these decisions to your camera, your camera has an algorithm that determines the settings for each lighting situation. Like a dictator, it tells you this is what you want for a great shot, whether you like it or not.


I can show you the world, shining, shimmering, splendid! Tell me, Princess, now when did you last let your heart/camera decide? — Ahem, Disney moment.
Now here is my version of the exact same shot that Auto chose (sorry, the wind blew and I had to reposition the leaf). Auto thought I wanted the whole leaf in focus. But I didn’t. I only wanted the spline of the leaf in focus:

And what I’ve talked about is just half of it (maybe not even half!). There’s editing, too. I’ll talk more about editing another time. 😉

Okay, I’m off my soapbox now. I hope I’ve taught someone something today. Yes, nice cameras are nice, but nice cameras don’t automatically take nice photos! The operator takes nice photos with the equipment she/he worked very, very hard for.

A little more food for thought:
A professional photographer and her husband both take photos as the same time using the same gear and shows you the result: not everyone can just pick up a camera and take great photos.

Have a great week, everybody!


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