Cameras Again

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After purchasing a new dSLR, Matthew lamented:

Modern photography is still full of technical jargon that I don't
begin to understand. f-stops, focal lengths, and even flashes come
with reams of technical details that are going to require lots of

Graham replied:

That's backwards.
Photography is about capturing "this" on film, and not "that".
The more clearly your audience can see the "this", the more connected
they will be to your shot. Your definition of "this" is up to you.
By way of a concrete example, maybe your "this" is a ladybug sitting on
some grass. But if you take a picture of a whole lot of grass, how do
you ensure your viewer looks at the ladybug? The ladybug might be lost
in the noise, all they can see is "that" grass, not "this" ladybug.
Now, your technical knowledge of the camera kicks in.
You might choose to make "this" in focus, and "that" out of focus. Your
viewer's eyes are likely to lock onto "this" which is in focus, and
ignore "that" which isn't. This is called using "depth of field",
explained in grotesque technical detail in your manual.
Second concrete example, maybe a racing car is moving, and you want to
show that it is moving. Your "this" is the car, your "that" is the
track. Take the shot at a high speed, and your racing car looks like a
car parked in a car park. Boring. So, you purposefully choose a lower
speed, and pan the camera with the car. "This" car remains clear, "that"
background becomes smeared, and your shot tells the story that your
subject is moving. The manual will tell you the technical details of
choosing a shutter speed.
Another way of focusing on "this" is by removing "that" from the image
entirely. A bird against a clear sky might make a more striking image
than the same bird against some foliage. I say "might", that's the
beauty of it, there are no hard and fast rules.
You might catch "this" to be the smile on the face of a person.
Eliminating the "that" in such a photo is an art form in itself. As is
getting them to smile at your camera at all. This is where it gets hard
(and interesting).
In all these cases, you want to capture "this", and you reach for the
functions your camera gives you based on the method you've chosen to
eliminate "that".
It's also why the "automatic" mode on cameras ultimately gives you
disappointing results in most cases. If the only photos in the world
that stirred the soul were pictures of people with gormless smiles on
their faces, then automatic cameras with "face detection" would be fine,
but from experience they aren't. The world is far more interesting that
The real trick with photography is to choose your "this", and quickly
use the technical tricks your camera gives you to capture "this" before
the moment is gone. The technical stuff is just a means to an end, not
the end in itself.

Graham's Pet Peeve:

I have a pet peeve: A camera is *not* a gun sight.
People have a habit of going "a photo of Jack and Jill, let me put the
bullseye of my gun sight, er, I meant camera on the forehead, and go for
the kill shot, er, I mean picture".
What do you end up with? A picture of the back of the room, with some
people in the way at the bottom of the picture.
Yuck yuck yuck yuck.
So I would encourage framing the images in all sorts of imaginative
ways, as long as it's not the awful common cliche.
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