Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Do photographers dream of autonomous imagery?

 Subtitle: Permission to be serious and joke, both at once.....

Auto focus, auto exposure, auto flash, auto white balance, one button printing.

Does your camera sport these super, high tech functions? I bet it does.

Have you ever wondered why "pro" cameras seem to lack some of these helpful features? You have? Good!
In Japan, or Korea, or wherever, there are teams of really smart people making really smart electronics. They mathematically calculate light, distance , colour, contrast, intensity, angle, temperature, etc etc. They KNOW how a photo is made scientifically.
Fine. It's their expertise which allows the photographer to use the tool called a camera, to record light in a predictable way. A way which directly relates to the scientific, precise and clinical design of the equipment. Imagine trying to shoot some images with a camera which just did what it felt like!! No good 'eh?
OH, HANG ON,        That's what we have! A camera which does what it "feels" like. What it's been programmed to do, what is correct, precise and scientific........... Oh oh. Now we're in trouble!
What can we do?
Do nothing. The photo's are ok!
Are they?
It snowed here in the Midlands of the UK in Winter 2010. It snowed fairly hard. Cue 10 million photographers and their £1000 cameras!!! " Everybody out! It's snowing!!!  Kids! Look cute, right now!!"
999,999 images with dark figures against a bluey looking snow. Great! That, dear reader, is what your camera is supposed to do. Really, it is. Honestly!
Technically, the camera wants grey. It loves grey. It sees a scene and says "great! I can make grey out of this!!!"  No, not quite literally, but consider this: Take a picture of a white paper. Now take a picture of a black paper. What do you get? ............... Grey paper. It's actually backwards in reality. The camera works by calculating from grey. Grey is the reference point, you see.
I'm not going into all this here. You could read this GREY , if you really want to.
Anyhow, I digress.  The fact is that "auto" settings, no matter how clever, will get it wrong sometimes, even in a fairly ordinary situation. In the early 1980's (I think), I bought a Pentax ES, (I love Pentax actually, though I use Canon), which was really high tech. It had auto focus, auto exposure and tea making facilities. It was a FILM camera. A 35mm film camera, (see other entries), with auto!!  To me, this was a revelation, especially the auto focus bit!
It was a good camera, that Pentax. Good but troublesome. I understood that it did everything, so I relaxed my guard.It ruined about 6 rolls of 36 exposure FP4, before I realised what was happening, (yes, I was young then....). Auto focus missed about 40% of the time, autoexposure was out about 20% of the time. Why? Well, you know why the exposure was out, because I already explained that to you, didn't I? I should have known better!
Auto focus missed, but why? Simple: Contrast. Early auto focus was even more picky about contrast and detail than todays cameras are. It just didn't like some subjects.
..............Dear Pentax. May I have a complete list of unfocussable subjects at a range of light levels and distances please? ..... Yours in eager anticipation, I.M.A. Idiot.
Yeah, right!
How did I get over the problems? How can you, dear reader, overcome similar problems?
Yes! A solution to exposure problems!!  A new mode for every occasion!  Joy and much feasting! Bring on the dancing girls, I mean people.....

A list of scene modes:
Child with dirty mouth
Cute dog
Over friendly buffalo in a small field

Cool eh? What else could you need? Nothing, really.
But hey, what about auto focus scene modes? Single shot, auto moving sevo thingy and all singing, all dancing mode!  Yay! More feasting and joy, more dancing, err, people.

A list of auto focus modes:

Dead thing
Nearly dead, but moving a bit, thing, mode.
Elderly people
Sound waves
Bankers earning money.

Wait, wait wait............ This is ridiculous.
Is this blog remotely serious? Am I REALLY a photographer? Yes, actually. All will be revealed in chapter two. 

12 Hours later..........
Right then. What I'm really saying in this mad sort of way, is this: Folks think that manual control is a big deal. It isn't.
Trying to understand what AUTO will do is a big deal! If I set my camera to ISO 100, f8, 160th, I know what it does. If I set auto, then what?????? 
Imagine this simple scenario; You are sitting in a shady nook. Your gorgeous girlfriend is facing you with the sun behind her. You set auto, (yes, you clearly have nothing else to do), and shoot that pretty face. It comes out sort of black. No problem, use compensation! 2 stops might work..... click.....
Now her face is reasonable, but the backgound is white, and some of her hair seems to have been lost in the glare.  Rats!
OK, a bit of pop-up flash. .....Foop!..... Now her face is correct, but the rest isnt.
Ah, take off the compensation!   ..... Foop!............ Better, but the light is flat and 'orrible now!

Ask yourself, did auto work?
No. There isn't a quick fix here, but the shot is perfectly possible.

Here's the problem stated differently. The contrast between two, (or more), areas is too high to record them all, eg; dark face, bright backlight.
This is why I don't use auto; I just think the following..... "Equalise the light levels without ruining the effect"
So, brighten the face, or darken the background. Simplz!!!
A reflector can bounce light back to the face...... Problem solved. A different location.... Problem solved. An off camera flash.... Problem solved. Auto? No. No need. It's quicker, simpler and more accurate NOT to use it.