Get Off The Program

Really think about what you want as an end result
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When I run my photo tours, I often get asked what exposure reading I'm getting. Rather than share with my participants the meter reading in my camera, I gently answer, "Why?" The standard retort is they want the information to make sure they're getting a proper exposure. At that point, I nod my head in agreement and answer, "It all depends."

The reason I do this is to get every photographer with whom I work to think about what it is they want as an end result. If I'm photographing a waterfall and I want to freeze the motion of every drop cascading down the rocks, I'm going to choose a shutter speed / aperture combination that allows me to shoot at least 1/500th of a second. On the other hand, if I want the same waterfall rendered with a creamy, cotton-candy effect, I'll shoot it at a shutter speed of at least one second or longer. With this in mind, my exposure reading may be totally different than someone else's.

Many photographers shoot with their cameras set to Program. I have nothing against this mode, as it provides speed, efficiency, accurate exposures and ease. But the problem with Program is that the camera makes all the choices. It doesn't know you want to pan the action to create a sharp subject against a blurred background. The ideal shutter speed for this may be 1/30th of a second, but the camera may make the exposure at 1/500th negating the effect of the pan. In aperture priority, simply rotate the aperture until a 1/30th of a second shutter appears. This guarantees you 1/30 of a second.

Conversely, there are times when specific apertures are more ideal than those randomly selected by the camera's computer in Program mode. For instance, for a portrait it's desirable to have the subject offset against an out of focus background. If the computer generated aperture in Program is f11, chances are the background will be rendered in sharp focus. To prevent this, rotate the aperture to ƒ/4 or your widest opening to limit the depth of field as much as possible. The overall goal is to create images the way you WANT them to appear so get with the program and get off Program!



    Good article. However … the “exposure reading”, being in fact an Exposure Value or EV, ought to be exactly the same for all meters evaluating the same scene from the same perspective in the same light (give or take some variances due to manufacturing or manufacturer). The true creativity (ie. getting the result you want) lies in how you translate that “exposure reading” into an “exposure setting” (by manipulating speed, aperture, and ISO) to achieve your desired result.

    You say, “In aperture priority, simply rotate the aperture until a 1/30th of a second shutter appears. This guarantees you 1/30 of a second.”. Wouldn’t it be more correct to say that would be the case in Shutter priority instead? If the light were to change, your shutter speed could wander to 1/15th or 1/60th. The only way to guarantee a shutter speed is in shutter priority or manual.

    I am in total agreement with “get off Program.” The way I state it in my classes is to say that if you want a particular shutter speed, go to Shutter Preferred, if you want a particular aperture, go to Aperture Preferred. In that way you are allowing the camera to make the alternate setting.

    Mark – thanks for the comment and you’re absolutely right that to Guarantee a specific shutter speed, manual or shutter priority is the way to go if the light changes. For the sake of simplicity for the article, if the photographer is in aperture priority yet the intended effect for the image requires 1/30th, simply move the aperture dial to attain the desired speed. The bottom line is to get photographers who rely on Program or Auto to the next level. I appreciate your added input – Russ.

    Mr. Burden is always very insightful and creates a great atmosphere for “thinking” while trying to capture an image. Certainly a Program Setting is a feature that Russ would possibly use –but as the article states-Russ focused on the end result –would be more likely to mentally work through various settings to get to a desired result. I believe Russ’s images reflect his thinking and desire to achieve the best result with the situation he is faced with–certainly more pleasing than a preset Program Mode.

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