You’re smarter than your camera, because…

Gary Hart Photography: Cradled Crescent, Sierra Foothills

Cradled Crescent, Sierra Foothills
Sony a7RII
Tamron 150-600 (Canon-mount with Metabones IV adapter)
.4 seconds
F/8
ISO 400

Your camera is stupid (and you’re not)

In a previous life, I spent a dozen or so years doing technical support. In this role, job-one was convincing people that, despite all failures and error messages to the contrary, they are in fact smarter than their computers. Most errors occur because the computer just didn’t understand: If I misspel a wurd, you still know what I meen (rite?); not so with a computer. A computer can’t anticipate, reason, or create; given a task, it will blithely continue repeating a mistake, no matter how egregious, until it is instructed otherwise, fails, or destroys itself.

All this applies equally to today’s “smart” cameras—no matter how advanced its technology, a camera just can’t compete with your brain. Really. If I’d have allowed my camera to decide the exposure for this crescent moon scene, I’d have ended up with a useless mess: The camera would have decided that the foreground hillside was important and allowed in enough light to expose distracting detail and completely wash out the color in the sky. But I knew better. Wanting to simplify the scene, I manually metered and banished the insignificant details to the black shadows, capturing only the moon’s delicate shape and a solitary oak silhouetted against the indigo twilight.

It’s scenes like this that cause me to never trust my camera’s decision making, and why, in my (many) decades of serious photography, I’ve never used anything but manual metering. And since I try to have elements at different depths throughout my frame, focus is almost always my decision, not my camera’s, as well.

Today’s cameras are more technologically advanced than ever—their auto exposure and focus capabilities are quite good, good enough that nobody should feel they must switch to manual if they fear it will diminish the pleasure they get from photography. But if you define photographic pleasure as getting the best possible images, try spending a little time mastering manual metering and hyperfocal focus, then use that knowledge to override your camera’s inclinations. In my workshops, where I teach (but never require) manual metering and hyperfocal focus to all who are interested, people frequently marvel at how easy and satisfying it is to take control of their camera.


(Images I couldn’t have done in Auto mode)

6 Comments on “You’re smarter than your camera, because…

  1. I’m curious if your focus point was on the tree, or if you used some depth of field and focused beyond the tree to make the moon slightly sharper. (You didn’t specify the focal length you shot at, but if you were close to 600mm I know there’s not much depth of field to play with.)

  2. Thanks for solving the mystery about the “big moon” with the tree 1/2 mile away. That’s the only way to get a big moon in a shot with a foreground. Also thanks for giving the EXIF. Love your gallery below the article.

    Kent O.

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