Trial and Error: Photography and Me…

I feel there is so much more to photography than achieving a faithful reproduction of a subject – it can be that, but it can also be so much more. It is a way of showing the world not just what something looks like, but how you as the photographer see it, capturing a specific image through your generic lens. I love that artistic, creative side of photography. I love the narrative potential of the still image, the way a particular photograph can sometimes catch your eye, draw you in, give you an intimate feel for the subject, create a bond between you… that’s the kind of photography I’d like to achieve, one day…

Unfortunately the science of photography requires a veritable mountain of knowledge and expertise I’m still struggling to climb – in the grander scheme of things I’m probably still stumbling around in the foothills somewhere. I understand the absolute basics – the importance of letting the right amount of light through the lens and onto the sensor; the relationship between aperture and shutter speed and what is and is not possible to achieve between the two. I understand better how to compose a more interesting shot, and how to vary depth of field. But when it comes to other things, on most occasions I still tend to rely on the camera to know best.

For now I’m happy twiddling a straightforward dial on top of the camera between A, S and P to achieve the shot I want, but I still get all too frustrated at the thought of having to fiddle with myriad confusing menu settings when all I want to do is take a ‘straightforward’ picture – especially when I then have to go straight back in and change it all back again. To date I’ve never actually used the Manual setting, but I also know the day may come when needs must.

Everything I have learned about photography so far, I’ve learned because at some point I wanted to be able to achieve something specific, but didn’t know how, inevitably screwing up somewhere along the way. I tend to learn best by trial and error – from making mistakes and then finding out how to correct them in the future. I now know, for example, always to alter the white balance when taking snow-scenes, using a slight pink-tinge to correct the inevitable blue-cast on my final images.

I’m currently learning how best to utilise lens filters – I know that many traditional colour filters are now redundant with digital camera settings and image processing software covering many bases, but for me, I actually like the hands-on, practical feel of adding or taking away filters. I have an ever-so-subtle warming filter for taking portraits, giving a more pleasing natural blush skin-tone to white-skinned subjects. I have UV filters for all my lenses, as I find they remove the hazy grey sheen that appears on any foliage in shot, keeping greenery more green, more like the human eye sees it.

I’ve also been experimenting with using a circular polariser to see whatever effects can be achieved, with some great successes and some clear unmitigated disasters. I’ve achieved some glorious deep blue skies and rich, vibrant colours – but also some very muddy-looking green-tinged algae-filled pond-water that looks absolutely awful, and totally unnatural. So I live and learn. I’ve also discovered that taking away all surface reflections on a body of water can sometimes create a better picture – but not always. Sometimes it’s the presence of reflections that actually make the shot more interesting, and less flat.

I’d initially thought I could use the polariser as the equivalent of sunglasses for my camera when taking pics in bright sunlight, but I’ve found out the hard way that doesn’t work in all situations. So my latest addition is a Variable Neutral Density filter, which should hopefully do the job I’d thought the polariser would do, effectively creating variations on light-to-dark (non-polarised) sunglasses for my lens, but this time without any distortion of the original colours, and potentially allowing for a wider aperture and slower shutter speed in bright sunlight without completely blowing the final image out. Even playing about with exposure compensation I’ve never quite managed to achieve the desired effect in such bright sunlight, so fingers crossed this time I’ll meet with more success… 🙂

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