Making Pictures With Professional Photographer John Enman

Some photographers believe in magic and Program Mode

I sometimes wonder what it is about digital cameras that make new photographers believe in magic?

A photographer brought his new digital camera to me with the question, why are the labs making better pictures then he can with his new home printer? “The manufacturers’ advertising said it would make “beautiful photographs”.

“Was there a problem with how his camera connected to his computer? Could it be that his computer’s programs were out of date? Or was it because the printer wasn’t as good as the manufacturer advertised?”

When I questioned him, his reply was that unlike the photo lab he was taking his memory card to, he hadn’t calibrated his monitor, done any post production sharpening on his images, or profiled his printer to the paper type he was using.

I guess he thought his new printer should “know” what he wanted the prints to look like.

Like magic.

A photographer that I met last summer at a rodeo admired the lens I was using and said, “I think I need to get a better lens”.

He said he couldn’t focus very fast and sometimes when he pushed the shutter it was a long time before the camera took a picture. He was certain that it must be a lens problem.

When I looked at his lens I could see that it was a newer motorized AF lens and vibration reducing, while mine was over ten years old with none of those modern features. I also saw that he was using his camera on its Program Mode.

Like the photographer unhappy with his home printing, he must have thought his equipment should magically know how he wanted his photograph to be.

I have written about camera Modes before and they are the first things I discuss when I teach basic classes.

I like Shutter Priority mode when photographing fast moving subjects like horse racing. I might select a fast 1/500th of a second shutter speed that is capable of stopping fast movement and leave the aperture selection to the camera.

For scenics I usually choose Aperture Priority where I select the aperture and leave the shutter speeed to the camera because I want to control depth of field; a wider aperture means less depth of focus and a small aperture gives me more.

When photographing people, as at a wedding or a portrait session, I use Manual Mode. I also prefer Manual if lighting conditions are very bright or when the light is fading. Manual gives me complete control over both the shutter and the aperture and allows me to select the quality of light.

Program Mode? I might use that at parties or, Hmm..Nope that’s all; just parties when I am lazy and might use my camera’s popup flash. But gosh, certainly not for anything serious.

I wouldn’t use it for sports or scenics, and I would never use a mode as unpredictable as Program for weddings.

The camera’s Program Mode seems to be mostly chosen by new photographers. And it’s those that seem to complain and start blaming equipment malfunction, instead of themselves when their pictures aren’t as they imagined.

I don’t think camera brands, or computer operating systems matter much as long as they are used properly. However, “magic” shouldn’t be part of the equation. Purchasing what some experts says “is the best” will only be successful if education on how it works comes next. Photographers need to take some time and learn how their cameras, computers and printers work, then do some reading on how successful photographers set their systems up, use them, and lastly, make some time and take a class.

When I talk to serious photographers they do just that, they read, they discuss, they attend workshops. Those photographers that want the best they can do are always second-guessing their equipment, relying first on knowledge gained from study and second on their cameras and computers and rarely use Program Mode.

And yet it is not unusual when I ask photographers if they read their camera manuals, or any books on the kind of photography they like to do, or if they have ever taken a class, far too many say, “no”. Many just rely on the settings their cameras were at when they pulled them out of the box. And I expect that is because they believe in magic.

These are my thoughts for this week. Contact me at or Stop by Enman’s Camera at 423 Tranquille Road in Kamloops. I sell an interesting selection of used photographic equipment. Don’t hesitate to call me at 250-371-3069.

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