Sharpening Your Focus, And Other Puns

April 16, 2015

First, let’s have a little history. I’ve taken photography classes before. I’ve hit a few of them, both in high school and college. I performed well. Nothing you’d write home about, necessarily, but I always left class feeling that I had a relatively sound understanding of the concepts.

I should preface that these were all film photography classes — not digital. Though I wouldn’t have guessed it, that has proven to be quite a difference. I always felt pretty comfortable with the analog side of things — or was at least willing to chalk errors up to being “happy accidents” of an organic and natural process. Digital photography was a horse of an entirely different color.

I had a point-and-shoot digital camera that I used to tinker with, but I was always left feeling very underwhelmed by the whole experience. Well, that’s not quite true. Honestly, I felt self-conscious and discouraged. Not being able to produce high-quality images was a real sore spot for me, and the idea of sharing my attempts was assuredly less than appealing.

The worst part by far was certainly the successful one-offs. From time to time, the perfect storm of physical happenstance in my surroundings and digital divination amidst my button-mashing combined to created a half-decent photo. But the pattern was erratic and entirely based on chance rather than skill. I had stumbled onto a more ideal set of circumstances and all I had to do was depress the trigger. These small successes would fill me with self-confidence, and I would attempt to conquer more complex scenes. I’d think to myself, “All I have to do is adjust this setting, set the light balance here and that should produce exactly the result that I’m looking for!”

Rarely did it. The colors were wrong, the light not properly metered, and it hardly ever had the depth of field that I felt it ought to. Not too long ago I was able to take an introductory session addressing some of the nuances of digital photography. Nothing terribly intensive, but it was eye-opening. I had always assumed (wrongfully, I might add) that because I could compose images and had a basic understanding of photographic principles that I would be able to produce strong photos. What I lacked was a genuine comprehension of the tools at my disposal.

I never took the time to reconcile the differences between analog and digital cameras as devices. Analog cameras don’t have preloaded preferences, and if you can’t take a solid photo on your own, they really can’t help you. Digital cameras, on the other hand, try to help you a bit too much at times.

In a digital camera, almost every potential setting is there for you: what kind of light is present, to standard portraiture, or the game-winning touchdown shot at the Super Bowl. The camera is designed to help you shoot a wide array of potential subjects, but the truth is that many of those settings come with a number of inherent pitfalls. A sunny day at noon in the middle of August and one at the same time in the middle of January will look very different. But the camera will only understand one instruction: ‘sunny.’ They all address a generic setting, which makes getting a specific result difficult.

I’ve been trying to learn a bit more about the digital camera I have at home, and it has made all the difference. I’ve taken it out of full-auto (somewhat terrifying to start) and have begun manipulating settings to get my desired results. So far it’s been encouraging. Not “Ansel Adams” encouraging, but hey, at least the pictures don’t make me shutter (pun).

Here’s a small sampling of some of the images thus far.