I’ve been taking photos pretty much my whole life.
I was only 5 when I received my first camera – a Kodak Instamatic. Oh, how I loved it. And I took photos of everything – feet, the ceiling, the grass, the occasional head, and animals (well, mostly the bars that were keeping the animals in their enclosures at the zoo). Of course, back then cameras used film. None of this digital technology they all use these days. And photo editing was unheard of, most likely not even invented. Yes, I’m showing my age now.
I was 15 when I picked up my first SLR camera. It was a Fujica, and it was old. But it took beautiful photos. It was my favourite accessory that summer, and I lugged it everywhere. Most of the photos I took were silly ones I took of my friends, doing what silly young kids do. I learnt to use the light meter, and auto-focus was something I’d never heard of. Everything was manual. And that’s how I learnt to take photos. On a manual SLR camera.
Within a few years, after progressing from my Fujica to my dad’s beloved Pentax, technology had changed. Now there were Point-&-Shoot cameras that took “okay” photos, and weren’t so cumbersome to lug around. In fact, I could just throw it into my handbag and know it wouldn’t get damaged (unless I dropped my bag into a body of water). And I found myself becoming rather lazy with my photography, with auto-focus and auto-everything. The old P&S became my favourite style of camera. It still used good ole’ film, but it was so effortless to take a photo using it.
It wasn’t until I was 29 and living in Tokyo that a friend introduced me to my very first Canon digital camera, and so began a love affair that has lasted over 10 years. It was a Canon Powershot S40, with a huge 4 megapixels! I was in love. I never knew taking a photo could be so easy, and so much fun! Now I was not only taking photographs of EVERYTHING, but I was also storing it on my computer. I was able to take hundreds and thousands of photos, and not spend a cent having film developed.
I progressed from the Powershot S40 to the Powershot S70, and have used them to record memories around the world. But always in auto mode. And this restricted my creative potential. And so, in December 2006, my husband surprised me with a Canon EOS 400D DSLR. And I’ve been shooting on that ever since.
And now for my dilemma. For the most part, I have kept shooting on Auto mode. For over 5 years. On a DSLR camera. You can call it laziness, you can call it staying within my comfort zone, or you can call it fear. The fact is, I have not taken advantage of using a DSLR for what a DSLR does best – producing amazing images by taking control and adjusting the settings. I have friends and family who do just that – use their DSLR’s to its full potential and take the most amazing photos, taking light and composition and location perfectly into account. And so, on New Years Day this year, I made a promise to myself to go back to basics and learn all about my camera. And to leave my comfort zone behind, throw caution to the wind, and to switch my camera to Manual. Or at least Semi-Manual. So far, I’m self-taught and have learnt a little from magazines or talking to photographer friends, but my photos are always pretty safe and staged. I saw a photo taken by a friend of mine, where her husband and child were sitting in the dark and hunched over the bright light of their iPad. It was beautiful, stunning even, and a little haunting. And so, I did what I’ve never done before – I asked her what sort of settings she had used.
You see I understand what aperture, shutter speed and ISO are, as well as manual focus and composition, but I get so confused about the correlation, the relationship, between all of them. If I lower the aperture, what to I do with the shutter speed, and how does that affect my ISO setting. It’s like learning to drive a manual vehicle – there’s the clutch, the accelerator, and the steering wheel. And let’s not forget the brake and our destination. Each on it’s own is quite easy, but trying to drive the car and putting everything into play without knowing the basics and practising is a recipe for disaster. So I have decided I need to focus on how to use each function by itself, or perhaps two at a time, before throwing myself headfirst into full Manual mode.
In the meantime though, I took my friend’s settings advice that she used for her photo and put it into practice myself. And this was my resulting shot. And do you know what? I’m pretty damn happy with it.