One way to improve your photographic skills is to think like your camera, or more precisely, know how your camera thinks. Today’s digital cameras are technological wonders. Not only are they imaging devices but mini computers as well. The contain algorithms for auto exposure, auto focus and many other complex functions.
However, with all its sophisticated electronics and software, a modern camera is still just a dumb machine. The camera can’t tell if you’re if you’re taking a good picture or a bad one. It treats one with the same kind of proficiency and efficiency as the other.
While camera can quantify the amount of light there is in a scene, it can’t tell you what the quality of that light is or even what direction it’s coming from. It doesn’t know if the light is as soft as a summer’s breeze or hard and contrasty. A camera can’t tell if it’s the low, warm light of the golden hour or if it’s the harsh overhead sun of midday.
A camera doesn’t know a thing about composition. It’s ignorant about the rule of thirds, leading lines or symmetry. A camera can’t tell if you’re close enough to your subject. It can’t tell if the background is too cluttered or if there’s a streetlight sticking out of your subject’s head.
Cameras also don’t know when to take a picture. They know nothing about when to press the shutter button to capture the decisive moment or just when to shoot to get a great action photo.
A camera (and lens) is just a hunk of metal, plastic and glass and like it or not, you’re the one that’s going to have to do the thinking.
In many ways taking a picture with one of today’s cameras is like driving a modern car. The majority of new cars have automatic transmissions so you don’t have to worry about shifting any pesky gears. Radio and climate controls are easy to use. There are even safety features that you don’t even have to think about. You just have to turn the key, put it drive and go. But if you want to go to somewhere fun or interesting, that’s something that the car can’t decide for you. It’s a choice that you’ll have to make for yourself.
Perhaps one day in the distant future cameras will come with a little voice that says things like: “You’re too far away, take a step closer” or even “this light is boring, come back in 3 or 4 hours,” but until that day comes, you’ll have to do the thinking and make the decision on what pictures to take and when to take them.