Some Things You Can’t Automate


by Brian Watkins

These days it seems like everything is becoming automated. Automated teller machines, automated checkout lines in grocery stores, auto photo settings on point-and-shoot cameras.

In a lot of ways this is useful for everyone. Some transactions are simple enough that human interaction is unnecessary. But when it comes to snapping photos, the ease of the “auto” setting becomes something of a crutch. Sure, it’s convenient to quickly pull out a camera (or smartphone), point it at your subject, and get the shot. Especially if you’re trying to get a shot of something in action and have to be quick about it.

But the trouble with software doing all the thinking for the shot is that the user doesn’t have to consider lighting, angles, etc. Let the software handle it. But software has its limitations.

As we’ve talked about before many times in our NyghtVision magazine, getting a stunning shot is as much about the environment around you as it is about the technical settings of the camera. And that auto setting only handles the camera. (We won’t even get into the differences in lens and sensors in these types of cameras.)

If your camera is facing the wrong way for the light source, if there are reflections, if the contrast between light and dark spots is too great, you won’t get the level of detail you need. At a glance, these are the types of things that make the difference between an acceptable shot and a great one.

This relates to our recent post about commercial photography; when you’re trying to showcase the spirit of a newly developed space there’s a lot more involved than a quick walk-through snapping shots with a smartphone. We don’t mean that in an ugly way, but that is indeed what quite often happens, and it’s a real missed opportunity.

The lack of technical know-how auto mode encourages bleeds into taking the environment into account. In a way, it both makes photography more and less accessible. More in the sense that it’s easier for an untrained person to get a decent shot. But leaving the tweaking entirely to a computer means that user will never have to consider the subtleties of the shot.

It’s tough to grow as an artist this way. You may notice your shots don’t evoke the sense of wonder or emotion you’d hoped and not know why. “But it looked so great to me when I was there,” you may say. The camera sees the world differently, and our eyes correct for a lot of things that even auto mode does not.