I had the great pleasure to photograph with my long time friend, Gail, a few days ago. Gail started taking workshops from me in the early ‘90s and despite all my teaching she remains a very good photographer.
What was interesting was comparing how things were back then, in the days of film, and how things are now, in the days of digital. Most of the conversation revolved around how Gail and I shot differently now and how we never would’ve done back then what we routinely do now. Let me explain and give some examples.
Twenty years ago I shot manual exposure, manual focus and spot metered most subjects. I rarely shot above 100 ISO and if I did I never went past ISO 200. I had a number of filters I used regularly- 2 warming, 10CC & 20CC magenta (pink), polarizer- and I always carried a flash. I had big clunky lenses that were magnificent but heavy and I carried them all on my back in an equally big, clunky photo backpack.
Now I shoot aperture priority, autofocus mostly and I use matrix (evaluative) metering. I shoot every ISO below 1600 with my standard being 640 and I change my ISO all the time depending on what I am shooting or the effect I want. I use only a polarizing filter these days and I haven’t owned a flash in three years. And I mostly use a couple of zooms that are neither clunky nor heavy that I carry in a small shoulder bag.
But why the difference? Well, it is called technology and it is something I have embraced. Let’s go through the differences and I’ll explain why I am doing things differently.
Aperture priority and matrix metering work 99% of the time for me. I would say 100% but I am sure there is one time in the last five years when I shot using spot metering but I just can’t think of it. I use autofocus now because I have so many autofocus sensors (21 or 51) to choose from there is always one where I want to focus. And now I can group the sensors to be even more accurate.
On my D300 I can shoot up to ISO 1600 without debilitating noise. That is my ISO ceiling that I won’t go past. But I will glady shoot anything less. For most of the last 5 years I have shooting handheld working on my farm book so higher ISOs allow me to shoot at a faster shutter speed and thus get sharper pictures. Even when I am on a tripod I will often shoot at ISOs of 400 or 640 if I am doing moving subjects to get faster shutter speeds. Conversely, if it is a relatively bright day and I want a slower shutter speed (to soften water in a stream say) then I will go down to ISO 100 (or Low 1.0 on my Nikon). The ability to change your ISO with every shot you take is one of the great advantages of digital photography versus the old days. Take advantage it.
I no longer use colored filters because now if I want to effect a color I do so in my computer during processing. I can vary the color temperature to effect the overall appearance of the image or I can go in and just tweak a particular color. I can do this much more precisely in the computer than I ever could do with a filter. The effect of a polarizer can’t be duplicated in my computer (at least by me) so I still use it on my camera.
I use less expensive, slower zoom lenses because, well, they are plenty good enough for what I do. Sure there are sharper Nikon lenses that are thousands of dollars more (that I would love to own) but the ones I use (12-24, 16-85, 18-200) are fine. They are good enough for me to use in calendars, books, posters, prints and presentations and get paid so by my thinking that is good enough. I could pay more for the top of the line Nikon lenses but I wouldn’t get paid more and there wouldn’t be any new markets suddenly open to me.
You see, I haven’t gotten lazy over the years, I have gotten smarter.