Picture this

A couple of days ago, I had an idea for a photograph.  What the idea was is unimportant – but actually getting the photograph was a real trial.

As you know, the last week or so has been pretty miserable, weather wise, and my photograph needed to be taken indoors – so I needed some light on the subject.
Not a problem – I have a couple of table lamps for the purpose.  They’re fairly low wattage spotlights, which I can move around as needed.  Perfect.

So, I grab my camera, and do a trial run, and work out that I need to have the subject on the floor and the camera on the tripod over it.  So I set it up, and frame the shot, and get everything the way I want it.

Then I try to take the picture, and the built in flash pops up!

I don’t want flash, I want the shadows from the lamps that I just spent ages putting in the perfect spot – so I disable the flash.  Then I notice that the camera has adjusted the ISO rating to compensate.

(This is where I might lose those of you who never used a film SLR camera.)
A ‘perfectly’ exposed photograph is achieved by a combination of three things, which must be balanced.  These three things are film speed,  shutter speed, and aperture.

In reverse order, the aperture controls how much light reaches the film, by adjusting the size of the hole in the lens the light goes through; the shutter speed controls how long that hole is open for; and the film speed is how sensitive to light the film is.

There are many and varied rules and guidelines for choosing the settings – but the one thing that cannot change is the overall exposure.  So, if the shutter is open for half as long, the aperture should be twice as big, or the film speed should be doubled.
You can change any or all of the three settings, but they must all be balanced.

At least, they should be for a perfect exposure.

OK.  All of that applies to a film camera.  With a digital camera, the film speed is called the ISO rating, and can be anything from 100 to 12,800 on my camera.  ISO 200 is twice as sensitive as ISO 100, and half as sensitive as ISO 400 – so ISO 6400 is many times more sensitive, as you can imagine.

You might think that a higher ISO number is better, because you can take pictures with less light – and you’d be right, but… try an experiment: nearly close your eyes, up to the point where you can notice a loss of brightness – see how hard it is to pick out details now?
That’s what happens with a camera – the higher the ISO, the less detail in the photo.

OK, back to my picture.  The camera had set the ISO to 6400, which meant the photo would be useless for my purposes – so I tried to change it.

And that is where my story really starts…

It took me nearly an hour, with my inch thick manual, to find out how to force the camera to use the ISO rating I wanted it to use.

Then I had to work out how to get it to let me change the aperture; then how to change the shutter speed.

Three hours!  That’s how long it took me to take a simple photograph.

Oh, I could have taken the photo in seconds, if I’d allowed the camera to choose all the wrong settings – but I wanted to do what I used to be able to do with a £10 Zenith SLR: measure the light level, and set the correct shutter speed and aperture to match the film I had loaded.
I had (still have, actually) a light meter.  With this, I could quickly measure the light falling on the subject, then rotate a dial to set the film speed (ISO), and simply select the combination of shutter and aperture I wanted from the list of those available.
Then you set the camera to those, and take the shot.  And you’re done.

But no.  My fancy, expensive, clever camera is incapable of letting me make those decisions.  Even when I set the camera to total Manual control – where in theory I choose the ISO, shutter, and aperture – the camera will still overrule me.

Yep.  The more you know about photography, the harder it is to take photographs.

And… you know what is really annoying about this?

The photographs I take when I let the camera do everything are usually better.

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