November 15, 2012
By virtue of the way a camera captures an image, photography is a practice inherently built around compromise.
The most obvious issues are;
The tug-of-war between shutter speed and aperture.
Limitations and challenges of shooting in available light, both bright and dark.
Sensor sensitivity versus noise.
Maintaining depth of field when shooting fast moving subjects.
Within the next ten to fifteen years we will probably see cameras which will eliminate all or at least most of these issues. There is talk of cameras that can capture vast latitudes of light and be able to focus from the tip of the lens to infinity, allowing the photographer to select various focal points in post-production.
Aperture versus Shutter-speed
The relationship between aperture and shutter speed is the most pivotal point of compromise in photography. The size of the aperture dictates the amount of light that can enter the camera, which in turn controls your choices for shutter speed and depth of field. These intrinsic limitations means there are conditions that require making a choice weighted more towards shutter speed or apertures.
Unlike our eyes that can simultaneously register a very broad range of light from deep shadows to bright sunlight, cameras can only deal with a relatively small segment of the latitude of the light present. What that means is that on a sunny day the camera can easily capture the brightly lit detail in the sky and the clouds but will under expose the people sitting in darker shadows under the tree. If the exposure is made for the shadow areas the highlights in the clouds blow out, being over exposed.
The Dark Side
Photographing a fast moving subject in very low light is a hard won prize. If the imperative is to get the shot, then the speed at which the subject is moving will dictate everything from shutter speed to aperture and even the ISO settings. The image you end up with may be in sharp focus but will be very shallow depth of field and very noisy from high ISO settings. That being said, if you actually nail the only photo of a UFO blasting past your house at midnight, you win.
In the Light
If you are shooting a subject fairly close to the camera in bright light you have some options; you can use a bounce/reflector or flash to direct light into strong shadow areas. But if the subject is big or far away there will be a compromise to maintain a balanced exposure given the high contrast light. If the subject is static you can bracket exposures, catering for shadow and highlight detail, and blend the separate files together in post-production.
It’s Getting Better All the Time
Having trained in film, shooting digital is like a fairytale in comparison to working with even the most forgiving films. Digital photography captures a much wider latitude of light. Post-production also allows you to manipulate the exposure, raising the exposure in shadow areas, and retrieving detail in the highlights. It is not uncommon to splice sections of various images together to build a final photograph. With every generation of digital cameras comes lower noise at higher ISO’s. And unlike film ISO can be adjusted for each photograph. So many of the issues that plagued me as a film photographer are greatly lessened by using digital but by no means have they been eliminated. It’s still photography.
The silver lining
The specific way in which a camera works allows for some spectacular abstractions of light and form. These “limitations” are in fact the gifts that makes photography such a great medium for generating art. A silhouette is a phenomenon which occurs in cameras more often than with the naked eye, as our eyes can render detail in a broader range of light. The distinctive look of shallow depth of field is inherent to lenses and the effects it creates with light are extraordinarily beautiful. Distortion from a wide angled lens is another great device in some image making. Then there is black and white, which allows the graphic aspects of a composition to shine. Now we have digital manipulation in our arsenal, any idea we can conceive can become reality in an image. These effects used individually or in combination are all part of the huge pallet we draw on as photographers.
This image was shot handheld straight into the sun. Moments before this had been a full dandelion and a gust of wind blew all but a single seed away. As the wind was destroying my subject I franticly shot three frames and this was the last of the day and one of my all time favourite photos. This image gives me a sense of a lamenting figure who knows the end has come, the job is done.
The point is there are situations where you are very limited in how you deal with getting the shot simply because of the means in which a camera generates an image. Being restricted and therefore pushed to make decisions you wouldn’t normally choose to make is a good way to break habits and broaden your knowledge base. Experience is the magic word as the more time you spend shooting the greater your ability to make the most of what is presented to you in any situation.
It would be great to get your feed back on these posts. My hope is to generate discussion so if you have any areas that you would like covered let me know.
I hope this finds you well, Andy
Images and text © Andy Rasheed 2012
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