This is the third part in our “Pointing Your Camera” series which is designed to help you filter the scene your eyes are seeing, and find that memorable scene your camera can see.  Part One  and Part Two  before this are worthwhile reading.

Fuji x100 @F8 1/75th ISO 200


This is the third part in our “Pointing Your Camera” series which is designed to help you filter the scene your eyes are seeing, and find that memorable scene your camera can see.   Part One  and Part Two  before this are worthwhile reading.

“BkkSteve, once I find what I want to photograph, does it really matter what settings I use?”  This is a wide open question so I’d have to say of course, the settings control your composition just as much as any other factor, so knowing how to change your settings for best effect can be very useful. You’ll often hear people say “modern cameras are so good that if you just concentrate on pointing your camera you’ll end up with good pictures.”

This is true.  But it’s also a bit like closing your eyes and pointing to something on the menu, some dishes you’ll order will taste good, others will be disappointing.  Learning how to control your camera is like learning a foreign language, it opens up possibilities and compositions you didn’t previously think were possible.  And it’s also the difference between an amateur and a professional.  A professional is paid to get the shot every time, there can be no excuses, so you must know how to control the camera.  An amateur isn’t under the same pressure.

Let me ask you this:  You’ve already paid a lot of money for your gear, you’ve already put a lot of time/effort/expense into being on the scene, don’t you want the best photos possible for all your work?  Of course you do, and learning to control your camera through its settings isn’t difficult at all.  And like any language, the more you practice, the more proficient you’ll become to the point of fluency.

Let’s look at the scene above.  A beautiful sunset backing up a lonely car on the highway.  My choices when taking this picture included shooting straight up or down the road, straight across the side of the road, or the oblique angle I chose.  I chose this angle so the car would enter the frame on the right, and the road would then capture your eyes all the way off the frame on the left.

In this scene exposure was key.  If I’d left the camera is automatic I’d have ended up with this scene below:



Fuji x100 @f8 1/300th ISO 200


As you can see the automatic sensor on the camera used the brightest part of the sky to set the exposure making the bottom half of the frame so dark that it was unusable.  My eyes could see the road, why couldn’t the camera?  The camera could see the road, I just needed to explain to the camera how.  I did this through the exposure settings, my simply dialing in 2 stops of positive exposure compensation my shutter speed dropped from 1/300th to 1/75th with several results.

The sky now looked much brighter than before, more similar to what my eyes were seeing, and now I could make out the road.  I waited a moment for a car to pass and I snapped another frame hoping to capture it’s headlight beams on the road surface.  I was somewhat successful.  A much better photograph that I’ll keep, vs. a frame which disappointed and would be discarded.  All because I changed the one setting.  A profound difference.

Night shots, such as subjects on the street, left to the cameras control, will often go the other way and picking up on more dark areas will overexpose the image.  And that’s not to mention ending up with a heavily color cast image (overly pink/red is very common in such cases) because the white balance is off.

Probably 90% of a casual photographers exposure settings can be accomplished while using an automatic mode, by just using the exposure compensation control. You can learn more about Ev in a tutorial I posted back in 2008.  Give it a read.