Why I never shoot in Manual mode

At one point in my photographic career I’ve noticed that many photographers proud themselves in shooting only in manual mode. I get it, they want to emphasize the fact that they mastered exposure technique and  know exactly what f-stop and shutter speed to set for each lighting scenario.

“I shoot manual only” people generally look down on all the regular folk who are not in their club.
Well, guess what, in my opinion it is not wise and plain unnecessary to shoot on manual in this day and age.

Let me defend the case of Aperture Priority mode as the only one you’ll ever need to use whether you are an amateur or even pro photographer. There’s only one caveat here – if you shoot high speed events such as sports or racing you might want to consider Shutter Priority mode, but I’ll get to this down the road.

Why Aperture Priority you ask? It’s simple – because it gives you full control of your camera without forcing you to always be cautious of accidentally under/over exposing your shot. I wrote ‘accidentally’ on purpose, since you still have full artistic freedom of intentionally blowing out your highlights or deepening the shadows.

Ethereal beautiful woman swirling in a dance move

 

But first thing first – what is Aperture Priority mode?
In Aperture Priority mode you set your desired aperture and camera sets the shutter speed according to its built-in light meter. From my description it seems that you get only to control the depth of field (since that’s what changing f/stop does to the image). However, in addition to setting the aperture in this mode, you can also set exposure compensation, which leads us to the next question.

What is exposure compensation? By setting exposure compensation you basically tell your camera to use its built-in light meter to set the exposure, but then intentionally over or under expose the scene by the amount that you specify. For example you are shooting a sunset pointing your camera directly at the setting sun. Built it light meter will set exposure according to the bright sun, leaving the rest of the scene under-exposed. So if you want to achieve correct exposure, you need to set exposure compensation at about +1 or +1.5 stops. This way the camera will ‘add’ more exposure time to its measurement.

Now that we are familiar with exposure compensation, add it to your arsenal when using Aperture Priority mode, and you are almost set for any shooting scenario. The remaining bit of knowledge to mastering Aperture Priority is the ISO control.

Celebration of color and movement

By setting ISO you control your sensor’s sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO number, the less sensitive your camera will be to light. But why do we need different values of ISO? Example to the rescue again! Let’s say you are shooting people indoors where the light is dim, and people are moving. At ISO 100 and f/8, your shutter speed will have to be 1/15th of a second in order to correctly expose your scene. But at 1/15s anything that is even slightly moving will be blurred in the resulting image. One solution would be to open your aperture to f2.8 (for example), but what if that’s not something you want to do? Or in some places the light is so dim that even at f2.8 your exposure times are too long. The only option you have is to set ISO higher. In the example above you’ll need to go up to ISO 400 or even 800 to get acceptable shutter speeds.

The lowest ISO is usually 50, which you would normally only use when shooting in bright daylight. The highest ISO differ between cameras, the highest that I heard of was 409,600! It means that this camera can basically shoot in very dark conditions and still produce visible details.  Remember though, you always want to shoot at lowest ISO possible because the higher your ISO, the more noise you’ll have in the image.

That’s it! By setting your desired f/stop, exposure compensation, and ISO, you have full control of your camera as if you were shooting in manual but still let your camera do the tedious job of metering the light so you don’t have to worry about it.

Let’s reinforce this claim with a few examples.

1. Shooting sunset with sun visible in the frame.

a. Set the desired f-stop. I’ll go with f/11 to achieve optimal overall sharpness and depth of field for my taste.
b. Since the sun is in the frame, the camera’s built in light meter will under-expose the scene, so I’ll set exposure compensation to +1 stop.
c. If I use tripod, I don’t care that the exposure time might be too long, so I don’t mess with ISO and leave it at the lowest setting possible for my camera. If I don’t use tripod, I half press the shutter button and see what shutter speed my camera chooses. If it is too long, I’ll bump the ISO to the next level (ISO levels are 50-\>100-\>200-\>400-\>800-\>etc.) and check the exposure time again.

2. Shooting portraits indoors.

a. Set the desired f-stop. I’ll go with f/4 in this case to achieve low depth of field that will give me enough sharpness for all facial features but also a pleasantly blurred background.
b. Check that there’s no exposure compensation set, because I want my portraits to be correctly exposed using the available light.
c. Half press the shutter button and see what shutter speed my camera chose at the lowest ISO setting. Then bump up the ISO until the shutter speed is acceptable. Shooting handheld I normally don’t go slower than 1/30th of a second, or even 1/60th if my hands are a bit shaky.

3. Shooting rays of light protruding through trees in the forest.

This is not an obvious thing to achieve. I am talking about those beautiful rays of light seeping through the dense foliage, and hitting the low vegetation.
a. Set your f-stop at whatever value that you want. No suggestions here on my part.
b. Here’s the important part – set the exposure compensation to about -1.5 stops. Reason being – you want the rays of light to stand out, so you need to under expose your scene. Don’t worry about the rays – they are so bright that they will still be perfectly visible, but your background now will be dark enough for the rays to stand out!
c. As usual, if you are not using tripod, half-press the shutter button and check the exposure time. Adjust the ISO accordingly.

Ethereal beautiful woman swirling in a dance move

In conclusion – Aperture Priority mode can be used to deal with any photographic situation without the hassle of manually metering the light as you would need in manual mode. Therefore it is to me an absolute winner between those two modes. If you have another opinion, please, feel free to share it in the comments as I am always willing to learn.

 

Oh, I forgot to mention the Shutter Priority mode for sports and stuff. When you shoot fast moving objects such as race cars or football players, and you want to freeze their motion in your frame (in other words produce sharp images), you need to make sure that your shutter speed is short enough. Let’s say 1/500th of a second and shorter. Achieving that is easy with Shutter Priority mode, in which you set the desired shutter speed, and camera sets the f/stop. In Shutter priority mode you can still control all the rest of the settings by using exposure compensation and ISO controls exactly as you would in Aperture Priority mode.

The curse of Instagram

If you want to achieve any sort of publicity, it’s all about social media nowadays. Businesses are getting their names out there, individuals become famous, and  various groups grow in popularity. So anybody who wants any sort of attention takes it to social media.

I am a photographer, and obviously, I want to share my work with as large audience as possible. And if you are a photographer (or any other kind of artist) chances are that you too are seeking attention.
For photographers the obvious choice would be Instagram – the largest photo sharing social platform on the planet. Even though I’ve been using Instagram almost since it was created, I really started actively trying to gain a following little over two years ago.

A photo posted by Greg Brave (@gregbrave) on

I have to admit – I wasn’t successful in this endeavor, but I am not giving up just yet. In this article I’d like to share my experience and insights from the last two years of trying to get a following on Instagram. Please remember that this article consists of my opinions based on my own experiences with the platform.

I’ve studied various guides on ‘how to get a following on Instagram’, which basically all give the same advice. In short, here it is:

1. Post unique, beautiful, interesting etc. content.
2. Post regularly – posting images every day is considered to be the best practice
3. Add an engaging story/description to your images
4. Engage with your audience – when somebody posts a comment under your image, reply to them.
5. Be active on Instagram in general – leave meaningful comments under images that you like etc.
6. Participate in contests, giveaways, and collaborations on Instagram.
7. Use hashtags wisely – they have to be relevant to your content but also not too popular. If you use a hashtag like #instadaily, your image will get buried straight away in thousands of other images.

That’s about it.

A photo posted by Greg Brave (@gregbrave) on

I tried to incorporate most of the above into my Instagram routine and here is what found out:

1. When everybody tries to be unique, there is kind of sameness to it. We are all the same in our uniqueness (C) 🙂 . I am mostly a nature photographer, so nature and landscapes are what I am creating and sharing. There are so many beautiful and unique nature photographs out there that sometimes I no longer see a point in sharing more of those. Even if each photograph was amazing and unique, when you have millions of them – they start to look all the same.
2. People mostly comment for two reasons: Either you have a big following on Instagram and therefore you are popular so they want to be seen ‘in your company’ and maybe get a follower or two from people who see their comment. Or you don’t have a big following and will be so happy to receive a comment that you’ll go follow their profile straight away as a way to say thank you. Of course there are exceptions to this, but in my opinion this is a pretty accurate generalization.
3. Most of the comments I receive for my work consist of one or two words, or even less – an emoji, which in most cases I even don’t understand the meaning of. Like an emoji of clenched fist under an image of sunset over ocean. And the words are typically: ‘Amazing!’, ‘Gorgeous!’, ‘Love it!’, ‘Really Good’, ‘Very Cool’, ‘Great shot’ – you get the idea. I don’t want to be too harsh on these people, they left me a nice comment after all, but I feel that the intention behind most of these comments is only to grab my attention and maybe to get me to follow the commenter.
4. I get many people who start following my account, but after two days unfollow it. At first I didn’t understand why after posting an image I get 2 to 5 new followers but by the next day, when I post another image pretty much the same number of people unfollow my account. I thought to myself: can it be that this photo is that much worse than my previous one that those people got disappointed in me so much that they decided to unfollow? This question bothered me very much until I found a great little iPhone app called “Followers”. It shows you exactly who unfollowed you (instagram app only tells you the good news – when somebody starts following you, but when they unfollow you don’t get notified). Using that app I found out that a lot of my new followers unfollow me after a few days (or just one day). So I decided to do an experiment – I started following back every account that started to follow me. The results were very interesting – number of ‘unfollowers’ was greatly reduced. My conclusion from this experiment is simple – people start to follow me in hopes to get a follower and not because they like my work. The worst among these people (and there are quite a few) are the ones who unfollow you anyway – it is just their strategy to get followers without clogging up their own feed.

A photo posted by Greg Brave (@gregbrave) on

To sum it up, nobody has the time to really look at photographs and think about what they are looking at. At least not on Instagram. Hard to blame people for that – we are constantly bombarded with content that competes for our attention. Instagram became a stage for worldwide competition for attention.

I know that it is  popular to be all happy and positive these days, but in this post I tried to look at the reality of things, at least the way I see it. If you have anything to add or dispute – you are welcome to leave me a comment here or on Instagram 🙂

Our Incredible Obsession With Gear

What do I mean by “gear obsession” ? It is the thought that using better photography gear will get you to take better pictures. I was so guilty of it in the past, and still sometimes get the irresistible urge to buy that new something that just came out.

Let’s do a little test. Does the following thought process sound familiar to you?

– The camera that I have is pretty old, and just yesterday they put out this new model with far better focusing, noise reduction, continuous shooting, _____________ (fill the blank).
– Once I get it, my photos will be crisper, sharper, clearer, and definitely MUCH better.
– Ok, I got this camera, but my huge collection of lenses (more than three I consider to be huge) doesn’t have the new 50mm f1.4 lens, which is MUCH better than its predecessor, and is not that expensive!
– Once I get this lens, I’ll really start using a 50mm lens and get wonderful photos with it! (Doesn’t matter that I already have a ‘worse’ 50mm lens and at least two of my zooms cover 50mm mark).
– Ok, I have a 50mm f1.4 lens now… But hey what about this new tripod from Manfrotto!? Yeah, I do have a pretty good tripod, but this one must be that much lighter and more stable! Having it will FOR SURE make me get up at 5 o’clock in the morning to shoot sunrises.

This constant feeling that something is missing from your photo bag, and getting it will finally allow you to take better images can go on forever.

If it does sound familiar, then you have the same problem that I had for quite a while. The real problem here is that getting all this stuff Absolutely Will Not help you take better photographs. And since the flow of new and better cameras and all other photography related stuff never ends, you are facing the danger of constantly chasing that next new thing coming out next week, month, year.

You might say that I am not totally right, and better equipment does produce better images. Well, yes and no. If by ‘better’ you mean better technical quality then, maybe yes. This is even not a certain yes. In many cases, the quality of light is one of the most important contributors to the technical quality of your work. Let’s say you want to shoot portraits in natural light, but it is high noon, and your subjects are standing in an open area without a hint of a shadow. It doesn’t matter that you have the best camera out there – you will still get unpleasant lighting on your subject and very harsh shadows. But if you wait for the sunset (for example), and move your subject into a slightly shadowed area where you’ll get beautifully diffused light, even a point and shoot camera will get you great results.

However, technical quality constitutes only about 1% of how good your image will be, and this is something that I’ve come to learn the hard way. Photographic forums are filled with thousands of bleak, uninteresting, and simply ugly images taken with the best cameras out there (Canon EOS 1Dx, Nikon D800, you name it). On the other hand I also found many beautiful photographs taken with point-and-shoots.

So what makes a photograph to be good, or even great? Well, it is a pretty tough question and here is my take on it. Good photograph is one that makes the viewer feel something, that evokes emotions within the viewer. Good photograph creates a mood or tells a story. And the more intense the emotions it evokes in the viewer, the stronger the mood – the better image it is.

How can all this be achieved within a single image? Well, most certainly not by technical quality of photographer’s equipment. It can be achieved through lots and lots of practice, through looking at work of masters and trying to understand what is it in the image that makes you feel the way that you feel. It is way past the basics such as rule of thirds, contrasts, lines, patterns, etc. Of course, you have to be familiar with all of the above, but to use it effectively, and break the rules where necessary is a whole another level of photography. In short, only developing your vision will allow you to create good photographs, and you can do it with almost any camera out there.

I find it liberating taking pictures with my mobile phone because I don’t have to worry about changing lenses, and being afraid of missing the shot because I don’t have the correct lens on my camera. With the phone I simply don’t have that choice, and instead I start to look around more, think about what I am looking at and create various compositions in my mind, The camera is there only to capture what I saw in my mind. It is really just a tool that helps the photographer express himself.

What do you think makes a good photograph? Leave your thoughts in the comment section below.

Headache and Photography Copyrights

Many photographers nowadays are concerned with how to protect their photos on the web from others using them and I think this is bullshit for the most part of it. Over the last couple of years I came across lots of forum discussions, blog posts, podcasts, and articles around this issue and I think the main driving force of most people’s complaints about rights violation is greediness.

Here’s the argument I saw the most:

“Well if they found my photo on the Internet, and used it in their project then they should pay me!”

It was the same thing when recently Instagram tried to change their TOS – most of the angry people said “If they use our photos then we should get paid”.  It’s like – if no one uses your photos then anybody can look at them and it is fine by you, but the second you notice that someone makes money off them, then you immediately want a share of that. Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that it is allright to steal others work, but something about people’s reaction doesn’t sound right to me.

My take on it – if you want to make money off your photography then take action, do something about it. Create your own website and sell your photos there, upload them to stock photo websites, sell prints. There are many ways you can make money from photographs. Hell people are making money from iPhone photographs. I’m not saying that it is easy, but it is possible. If your photos are any good of course.

If you don’t want anybody to illegally use your photos, don’t share them on the web period. The reality of the current situation is that if I can see your photo on my screen, I can have it. Not in great resolution, but just fine for web applications. If you put your nasty watermarks all over the image then people won’t be able to see your work so that kind of defeats the purpose of putting it online. I am adding my name to my photographs for one reason only – for people who see my photo and like it, to be able to find out more about me. And I am a strong believer in sharing, and not only in photography but also in life – the more you share and give the more benefits you get back from it. Karma thing.

To conclude this rant – my advice to all the people who are loosing sleep being afraid that their amazing photographs are being stolen on the web – stop worrying about it, strive to put as much amazing work out there as you can and promote the shit out of it.

Adding filters/effects to your photos – good or bad?

It has been a long going trend, most notably with Instagram and Hipstamatic to slap a filter on any photo that you take. As a result we have lots of photos converted to all kinds of retro styles with artificially added “film” grain, faded colors, funny colors, distortions of all kinds and many other “cool” effects. Normal colors in a photo just aren’t cool anymore.

My question is – what does this trend mean to photography as a form of art, and to our perception of what good photography is?

I think nowadays people forget that in the analog age photographers tried hard to achieve the true colors of what they photographed, and to reduce the amount of film grain as much as possible. But now this “retro” look is highly sought after and is created artificially by adding digital effects to initially very good photographs (true colors and no film grain).

Personally I like using these great iPhone apps and playing with various effects to see what they can do to my photographs. But I also think that any effect that you apply to your photo has to serve a purpose, and not be applied just for the sake of it. For example if you photograph your friends at costumes party and they are dressed in the 60s theme, then applying some retro effects to your photos would make sense. However adding these effects when photographing a corporate event is inappropriate.

Another thing that worries me is that many people, especially on Instagram, feel that adding an effect to any photo instantly makes the photo great. So they just snap away their photos thinking that they’ll slap a ‘Sutro’ or ‘Nashville’ on it and they will look like a million dollars no matter what is actually on them. In my opinion you can’t save bad composition by changing the colors.

In conclusion, I think that photography is first and foremost about expressing yourself and sharing your way of seeing the world. If you need to add filter to your image to help do that, then its fine. But slapping filters on all your photos just for the sake of it is simply wrong.

What do you think?