WORKOUT SESSION: PRIORITEASE

January 29, 2017  •  Leave a Comment

KO Backgrounds- pattern28KO Backgrounds- pattern28Inside view of an antique combination lock of bank Mandiri in Jakarta, Indonesia With any endeavor, what steps do you take to get started? Figuring out what comes first - chicken, egg, or wok isn't always easy. 

Pants first, then shoes.

We've been revisiting back-to-basics themes for the past couple assignments. This one follows the same stream back up the canyon to the headwaters of creativity. Priorities matter, or so they say. Let's just see about that by twirling a certain dial on our cameras.

The one on top with the green thingy and a bunch of letters. More on that in a minute. But first a few words about priorities.

We prioritize with photography every day. There's the obvious first things first stuff like charged batteries, extra memory cards, and oh $%*&$% I forgot the tripod again. Priorities in the wrong order usually result in less than desirable consequences. We may want to make good photographs but if we set ISO too high, we get noise. Shutter speed too low, we get blur. Aperture too wide, Aunt Sally's elevated nose is out of focus.

Dear Aunt Sally is hard enough to please as it is, so nose focus is critical.

Although our cameras don't have an Aunt Sally mode, if we prioritize we may get lucky enough for her to not write us out of her will.

Ok, grab your camera and look at the mode dial on top (its usual location). You'll see AUTO in green, some letters, and maybe some hieroglyphics that make about as much sense as the etchings on the inside of the great pyramid. What mode is your dial set to now?

For this assignment, you can ignore everything on the dial except the following letters:

S (or Tv), A (or Av), and M.

Ignore the P - it's just AUTO on an ego trip. Let's say it stands for Politician (to make it easier to avoid).

That leaves us with SAM. SAM's first priority is to get us off AUTO almost permanently. If you've never shot with SAM before, she's about to become your best friend. And if you haven't shot in AUTO for years, jump in and help the new Sammies. SAM I am!

S (or Tv) is shutter priority mode. You set the shutter speed and the camera will figure out aperture for you, as well as ISO when needed. If you set a slower shutter speed in S mode, aperture will automatically stop down by an equal and opposite amount so that you get the same exposure.

A (or Av) is aperture priority mode. Same deal as before, except this time you set your desired aperture and the camera does the rest of the heavy lifting. Opening up aperture will automatically select a faster shutter speed to match exposure.

Both S and A are highly useful priority modes in changing light. If shutter speed is critical to your situation (a track meet, for example), dial up S and set a fast shutter speed to stop all motion. If aperture is more important (you want shallow depth of field), A mode is a great go-to.

[TIP: If your camera's ISO is set to auto, turn if OFF. Yes, there are good reasons for ISO AUTO, but treat them as exceptions and only turn it on when absolutely necessary.]

But wait... there's one more priority mode - M for Manual.

"Now wait a minute" I can hear some of you yelling in the back row - "M is not a priority mode!" And I'll shout back "It most certainly is" while dodging the tomatoes and bottles. I don't wear this poncho and catcher's mask for nothing.

M is a priority mode and here's why - M mode makes YOU the priority. M stands for MASTER, you see. It puts all exposure choices right back where they belong - under your own creative control instead of letting the machine guess at what it thinks is right. Which it often isn't, by the way. If it was right all the time, there would be no need for an Exposure Compensation button. One major downside of depending on S and A modes too much is that you'll be twiddling that EC button/dial all the time. Extra credit if you can figure out why.

M is the best priority mode of all. In M mode, you have to figure out shutter speed, aperture, and ISO independently with no help from the camera's AI. Changing one will have no effect on another. You look at the light meter, figure out whether you want to zero it out, shoot brighter at +1 (hey, snow is white again!) or go -1 to match the dark and moody nightly news. And you have to know, on the fly, which makes more sense to adjust - shutter speed, aperture, or ISO.

M mode has a downside too - it's harder. At first. You often have to tease the magic out of a meter reading to nail that perfect exposure. The meter is lazy, and will try to tell you everything is 18% gray and boring. You'll have to fight for the extremes where the exciting stuff lives. Don't like the meter's zero-centered exposure? Push or pull your settings until shadows lift or midtones fade to black. You rule your photographic world. Prioritease.

So... the assignment in a nutshell is this:

Shoot in each of the 3 priority modes, on purpose, for a specific reason. With each photo you post, state which priority mode you used and why. Stories are always welcome; share what you learn.

IDEAS FOR PRIORITEASE:

  • In A mode, shoot the same subject using every available aperture. What changes?
  • In S mode, shoot the same subject using every available shutter speed. What changes?
  • Each mode employs the double/half rule. What happens when you change a setting by 3 stops?
  • Bracket 3 exposures, with each one stop apart. How do they differ?
  • Change focusing modes (evaluative/matrix - center weight - spot) - do they affect your exposure meter readings?
  • What is high key? Low key? Try each on the same subject (it helps if the subject is very well lit).
  • Come up with a visual story, plan it out step by step, then shoot it.

PRIORITEASE will run for two weeks, from Jan 30 through Feb 12. Happy shooting!

NOTES:

  • If you'd like to share in these workouts with other people (always a great idea), you're invited to join my Facebook Photo Assignment group where you can post images and comments, learn from others, and help other budding photographers learn our amazing craft. 
  • If you're interested in bettering your Photoshop and Lightroom skills, I have an aptly named second Facebook group called Circle of Confusion. You're invited to join it, as well, but you'll need to be a Photo Assignment member first. Join both and you're good to go.
  • Need some hands-on training? I teach several classes during the year through Sawtooth Photo Pros. Current class schedule is available here: SPP-CLASSES

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