How to annoy your humble author

I’m in London for a long weekend, and spending a lot of time in tourist areas while I’m here.   As you might well guess, this means there are lots of people walking around with digital SLRs around their necks.  In the past year or so, dSLRs seem to have really moved into the market that digital point & shoot cameras used to occupy.

I’ll tell you a little secret, if you promise not to be too terribly shocked.  I’m a gear snob.  When I see cameras, I check them out.  What kind of camera is it?    Is it old or new?  What lens is on it?   Does the user look like they have any clue?

I’ve seen several low-end dSLRs on this trip, but I’ve also seen quite a lot of higher-end ones.  40Ds and 50Ds seem to be surprisingly popular.  I’ve seen spotted a 5D Mark II.  I pay more attention to Canons than other brands simply because I’m more familiar with the product line, but I’ve also seen plenty of Nikons and a few others.  Almost all of the cameras I’ve seen have tended toward the newer end of the spectrum.

Since I started writing this blog, I’ve also gotten into the habit of glancing at the exposure mode dial on top of the camera.  What I’ve seen makes me both angry and sad.

Nearly every camera I’ve seen this trip has been in some sort of automatic mode.  Most of them are on green boxes, or on one of the silly picture modes.  I even saw someone with her camera in flower mode while I was standing in line waiting for theatre tickets.  About five seconds after I noticed this, she picked up the camera and took a picture of a statue on the other side of the square.   It will probably work out sort of OK for her, since a bright sunny day gives some exposure latitude, but it’s far from optimal.

I did see a few people with their cameras in aperture priority mode, which is what I would choose if I was walkabout in a city.    See f/8 and be there for more discussion.

I’m sure that a lot of these people will get home and wonder why they spent all that money on a camera that takes sort of OK pictures.  That makes me sad.

Oh, yes.  Remember the guy with the 5D Mark II?  He had close to five thousand dollars worth of equipment around his neck, and the camera was in green box mode.  That just pisses me off!  If you’re going to drop serious coin on a high-end camera, learn to use the bloody thing.

And if you ever see a pink-haired woman on the street checking out your camera, make sure it’s not in green box mode.  You’ll make me happy.

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12 Comments

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12 responses to “How to annoy your humble author

  1. All said is very true: i feel your pain! :)
    «I have a big expensive camera» is something about status message, not making pictures.
    Nice post, thank you.

  2. Daphne

    I find what you say here both true, but a part of it pisses me off LOL! Im shooting in auto mostly for now as im focusing on getting my compositions right. One thing at a time for me. SO i find what you say true but also rather judgmental.
    i just spent a day in Sydney Harbour and as i walked around sight seeing i shot in mostly auto with my Nikon D60 and almost all my pics have come out great. Taking in my composition, lighting etc etc….I have been told by someone who knows what they’re looking at they are good!

    • stopshootingauto

      Of course it’s judgmental. However, this is a blog devoted to getting people to take their cameras out of automatic mode, so you probably shouldn’t be surprised.

      Still, why not drop your camera into aperture priority mode and pick an aperture? Set the aperture for f/8 and shoot away. That will prevent the camera from doing something silly like shooting wide-open and ruining your shots.

      • Daphne

        True true, and i enjoy following along. I guess i would not have liked your judgments pointed at me without knowing anything about why or why not…BUT i do see what your saying. keep up the great blog!

  3. Wilfred

    Hey, your website has been a great help to me so far. I bought a Nikon D40 (cheapest DSLR I could get my hands on) and I’m still learning plenty.

    Two little questions:
    Autofocus: when should/shouldn’t it be used? I’ve played with manual focus but I can’t quite nail the same precision.

    Any hints on portrait photography? What height would you hold the camera at? Would you focus simply on the face or the whole body?

    Thanks!

    • stopshootingauto

      My short answer is that you should use autofocus when it does what you want it to. Unlike auto-exposure modes, that’s surprisingly often– autofocus will often be much more accurate than your eyes. That’s especially true in cameras with smaller viewfinders, such as my old Rebel XT.

      Or, put another way, use manual focus when autofocus won’t work for you. It’s particularly valuable in situations where you’re using a wider aperture and therefore have very little depth of field. Portraits are a good example- they’re often shot at wider apertures. In portraits, eyes are usually what you must have in focus, and at wide apertures there’s a big difference between having the eyes in focus and having the nose in focus. You also have a fairly static subject, so you have time to focus manually.

      Having said that, I’ve mostly exhausted my personal knowledge of portrait photography. I would focus on the face, and in particular the eyes, but there’s no one right way to frame a portrait. I’m certain that there are quite a few books on the subject, though, probably with lots of examples and discussions of various styles. Sorry I can’t be more help, but it’s really pretty far outside of my area of expertise.

  4. Ross

    Haha … made me laugh out loud, let me know next time you’re over visiting the UK and I’ll make sure my 50D is not on auto :-)

    Actually, I’m doing well and already experimenting with Manual + Av/Tv, love your site it’s extremely helpful to have everything in laymans terms.

    • stopshootingauto

      Mid-November. If you’re anywhere near Glasgow or London, look out for a pink-haired woman checking out your gear. Your camera, that is. :-)

  5. When I walk in the city streets I also set my camera to Av mode, that way if something comes up worth shooting I could easily make a decision on how shallow the shot would require.

    Like you, I also see other people buying dslr’s and having their dial on the green box, really funny. They should have bought a point and shoot.

    :)

  6. I love seeing a hi-end DSLR with a cheap piece of crap lens on it. If it is a hi-end Canon body, I want to see that red ring around the end of the lens.

  7. I know people with expensive DSLRs that never ever get out of the green rectangle. They though “This is an expensive as hell camera. It must take awesome photos!” Tada! No more need to think about exposure, composition, backgrounds! The camera is expensive and takes great photos… Sad, sad, sad.
    But then again, the joy of point and click is something liberating. Not having to thing about aperture, shutter speeds, iso, etc, sometimes feels great. But that is why I have an Holga :)

  8. I can’t agree more! I always say it is not the gear that makes a difference but who is behind the camera makes the difference. Many people think the better the gears they own, the better pictures they take. They just need to know what they would normally use the camera/lenses for then go make the purchases. I personally think many people insult the high end products if they don’t even know what they are doing. Sad, sad, and sad.

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