Some Caveats About Digital Photography

by William Lulow

I have written about digital photography a lot during the past year. As someone who has invested a lot and studied a lot about photography, I am disappointed somewhat with digital image making. One of the things that I don’t like is the autofocus mechanisms found on just about all DSLRs. I find it often difficult to get really tack sharp images when the camera is left to its own devices and tries to figure out what I’m actually shooting. For instance, I recently did a shot of a nice tree silhouette. I had the camera on AF and made a shot hand held at about 1/100th of a second at f/5.6. When I downloaded them, they were almost all just a bit soft. I think the reason for this was that the camera’s AF mechanism was fooled by a sky that was lighter than the tree itself. Even though I was aiming my AF points at the tree, the clouds and sky seemed to be sharp and the tree was not. I later went back, put the camera on complete manual settings, used a tripod and stopped the lens down another couple of stops. I made sure that the manual focus was on the tree trunk itself. When I examined the images, low and behold, the tree (and fence in front of it) were tack sharp. I usually confirm this by making an 11×14 print. If everything is sharp on the print, then everything is sharp! You sometimes cannot tell just from looking at a computer screen.

This brings me to my point. These days, it’s not enough to put even a good camera on “Auto” or “Program” and let the camera try to figure out what kind of an image you want to make. YOU have to decide! Today’s DSLRs, even the really good ones, are often fooled by tricky lighting situations. There have even been many articles written about digital lenses that are not performing the way they should and I think one of the reasons is that the “AUTO” settings can often be fooled. This makes it even more important for photographers to decide what kinds of images they want to make, what they want to focus on and what kinds of exposures will work best. I often tell students to take their cameras off the auto settings and shoot completely in manual mode. This makes them think more about the entire image-making process.

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