Getting off Auto


I want to take photos.  I am so weary and mortified by the silly representations of things and life I have posted on the internet.  I have gotten by with some close up trickery, but I don’t know what the heck I’m doing.  I took the plunge last summer and bought a true DSLR with a couple of lenses.  Having not had lenses before, I read research and then bought what I thought would be great for me:  an 85mm macro lens and a wide-angle zoom, something I have wanted for years for taking shots of my carpets and room interiors.  It turns out that I have lenses for two extremes now:  super close and super wide.  My son says it’s like I am trying to dig a hole and I have a teaspoon and a backhoe.  Surely, my next camera purchase will be a mid-range telephoto lens.

But lenses aren’t my biggest challenge.  Using the settings on my camera is.  I had an introduction to settings last fall through a technology class I was taking and now, some colleagues at school have formed a little club.  We meet once a month, bringing a photo to share along a certain theme or technique.  The first meeting in January, I brought a photo I had taken in Vienna in November.  It was nice and showed a good use of the “proportion of thirds”.  But at the end of the meeting, a fellow photographer tossed down the gauntlet, “Let’s always post our camera setting when we show our photos.”  I was outed.  I was still just shooting my new fancy camera on Auto.

Second meeting, the theme was “love”.  I figured out how to adjust my shutter speed and aperture and I did spend a couple of hours one Sunday afternoon photographing a still life of Tunisian food products I had gleaned from the countryside and the markets that weekend:  things I love.  I tried every aperture setting and a few different shutter speeds and in the end, I just had a picture of some food sitting on my kitchen counter.  I complained to my son, “I did all of this adjusting and I still didn’t get an amazing photo.”

He challenged, “Well, what were you trying to use the settings to do?”

I didn’t exactly know, and there was the problem.  It was getting late and I needed to email my photo to the organizer so she could make a slide show for the next day.  I said, “I just won’t go to the meeting.  I’ll wait until I know what I’m doing and can take a better photo.”

Again, my son, who has been a vocal performance major for the past three years said, “Yep, that’s what singers think, too.  They think they will just continue working on their own in a practice room and only come out when they are good enough.  It’s intimidating to go in front of your peers when you know you’re not very good, but you grow a lot by showing what you can do and also by studying their work.”

So I went to the meeting and I cringed when my photo came up, but I made a new vow to work at this.  It’s not just going to come easily to me, but I want the skill.  I am mortified, at the moment, because I can clearly see the difference between what I want and what I take, but hopefully, that vision will help take me toward a better photo.

This made me think about teaching children.  Sometimes I get frustrated with kids who won’t put aside trying to cover up their reading and writing deficiencies.  It looks obvious to me that a learner must just jump in and start practicing the skills at whatever level he or she is at.  That is the way to make progress.  But kids don’t automatically know that or believe you when you tell them that.  And as I relived this week, it is embarrassing to put your deficiencies out in front of peers.  It is good to have re-experienced this.  I hope I can keep that empathy with my struggling learners.

I am going to post photos here, frequently.  And I am going to post my settings as an act of accountability, until I find it so pretentious that I can’t do it anymore.  (All of these pictures were at a shutter speed of about 200 and aperture of 2.5-2.8).

I have been brining this week and when I think of brining, I picture a 20 lb. turkey in a 5-gallon bucket set out in a cold garage a few days before Thanksgiving.  It was a small revelation to me that I could brine a smaller cut of meat, such as a lamb shoulder, in a pot that can nicely fit in my refrigerator.  It took nothing to mix some salt and sugar with water, plop in my piece of meat, and leave it for a couple of days.

Simple Brine

1/4 cup sugar, 3/4 cup kosher or course sea salt to 10 cups water



This is the second of the fantastical broccoli found at the market this week.  Now and then, we get this purple-tinged variety and I try to find a use worthy of its beauty.


Here is how I used both the brined lamb shoulder and the broccoli.  Bon Appetit did an article, in the February issue,  on the Saltimporten Canteen in Malmo, Sweden.  The intent of this sliding-metal-door-fronted restaurant is to bring up the simple qualities of excellent ingredients, without much culinary trickery.  That is something I need reminding of in both food and photographs.  I would love to enjoy this Lamb and Broccoli Stew on a cold Saturday, sitting outdoors at long wooden tables with fun people.

2 thoughts on “Getting off Auto

  1. turn off the flash? auto settings always have the flash go off, but if you avoid the flash, you will get a warmer, shadow free picture. fill flash is OK for portraits (especially in dappled light) but try to no flash setting. your eye is good. you needn’t fret in the least! most of the battle is dealing with composing…the other is focusing and keeping the horizon lines straight in landscapes!

  2. I love the courage of a friend in Kathmandu, about my age, who said her New Year’s Resolution, was to say ‘yes’ to everything (within reason…I know she won’t drive drunk or jump out of a plane without a parachute). She WILL get up and dance when asked to get the party going, she bungee jumped with a friend, she took a new job. Seeing her, and reading this, make we want to live with more courage and intent. And with far less concern about my imagined humiliations.

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