An example of my problem with technology

I’ve expressed my Luddite tendencies before. Wanted to post a recent experience, and invite comments.

We have a digital 35mm camera. Most of the time we just use it fully auto in point-and-shoot mode. Personally, I never got into photography. My wife is more interested in it than I.

The one occasion on which I have used the camera in other than auto is to take pictures of my planted fish tanks. A year or so ago I did a lot of experimentation with shutter speeds and such, to find the best settings for taking reasonably clear pics of my fish and tanks.

Long story short, the other day I wanted to take pics of a couple of my angels. After more than 1/2 hour of messing with the camera and reading the manual I didn’t come up with a single shot that wasn’t completely horrible. I had no idea what steps to go through to get the optimum settings that would yield decent shots.

Which seemed to me to sort of reflect my problem with so much of technology. If it is not something I use with some regularity, I have to relearn it every time.

That could be a camera problem more than a technology problem. I have two SLRs, one is a Nikon d40x that I got a year and a half ago and the other is a Nikkormat FT that my grandfather purchased in the sixties. Both of these cameras have manuals similar to what you described. They’ll tell me how to change the various settings, but not what the various settings do. It’s the photographer’s job to figure that bit out.

FWIW, if you let us know what sort of camera you have, we could probably walk you through the steps. In general, if I were shooting a fish tank, I would set my aperture as wide as I could (smallest f number), bump my ISO up to either 400 or 800 (depending on the light and how well the camera handles higher ISO; some get grainy at 800), and adjust my shutter speed from there. Provided you have your tank well lit, you should be able to get a nice, fast shutter speed. If you have an aperture priority setting on your camera, set it to that and let your camera work out the nicest shutter speed. Override as needed.

On preview: I forgot to state my original thought after reading the OP. This doesn’t sound like a technology problem to me. Camera’s are tricky if you don’t know what the settings mean and the manuals aren’t always as helpful as you would want them to be. My Nikkormat is by no means a high tech piece of equipment. It has a battery that runs the light meter, but the photo taking bits are completely mechanical. No batteries are needed to use the camera. That being said, it sounds like you would have the exact same problem with the Nikkormat as you had with your camera or you would have with my d40x.

At least with the higher tech digital cameras, you know that your photos didn’t turn out already rather than having to wait for them to be developed and you haven’t had to pay for film and processing. Score one for technology for wasting less time and money.

Are you sure you meant this? Does the camera have a 35mm (equiv) wide angle lens? 35mm usually means a film camera. So, already we have a terminology problem to go along with your technology problem.

Photographing things in good light is easy. In poor light, with high contrast and lots of surfaces to reflect things, it’s very difficult. You’re attempting one of the more difficult shots to take, and you should expect it to take a while to master if you don’t do it often.

Some of the current crop of P&S digital cameras have an Aquarium scene mode specifically for this type of shot. It’s designed to do all the things MissMossie suggested, without you needing to remember them. Cameras today really are much better then at any time in history, if it weren’t for the silly need to cram more and more pixels on the tiny sensors, but I digress.

Canon Rebel XT or something
Thanks for the offer, but I know I have records somewhere or another that told me how to do it - but it would probably take me another 1/2 hour to find them!
Technology just doesn’t stick with me - I have to relearn it every time.
So whenever possible, I find I prefer doing with out - or using at the most basic level possible.

Try setting your camera to aperture priority mode. You can do this by setting the dial on the right hand side with all of the funny little pictures and letters on it to “Av”. Once you do this, roll the dial on the right side close to the front of the camera to adjust your f-stop. When you roll that dial, you should see a number on your LCD screen change in increments of about .3. From the Rebel’s manual, it looks like this ought to be the middle number on your LCD. Roll the dial until that number is as small as it will go. At that point, your aperture is opened as wide as it will go, letting a lot of light in.

The other thing I would do is adjust your ISO, setting it on either 400 or 800. To do this, press the up arrow on the directional buttons to the right of your LCD display. That should bring up the ISO settings menu. From there, use the up and down arrows to select an ISO speed and press the “SET” button at the center of your direction arrows to set the ISO. I would play around and see which one works better for the situation. Without knowing how much light is available, I can’t give you a definite answer on which one would work better for you.

Again, I’m not convinced this is a technology thing. It seems like most multi-step processes that I don’t do often needs to be relearned each time, regardless of how much technology is involved. The first example I can think of is origami. When I was younger, I could make a fair variety of origami figures without the instructions in front of me. Right now, I could do a crane, a balloon, and a cube, but nothing else. It just isn’t something I do a whole lot any more, so my brain has decided to reallocate that space to something more useful to me currently, like taking photos. Does this mean that origami just does stick with me? I don’t think so. I think it just means I’m out of practice.

I can’t figure out how to turn off the flash on the digital camera I have right now.

What kind of camera is it?

Been a long time since I made my living with a camera, and when I did, “digital” meant a watch with a number display, but no hands moving around a clock face.

That said, some basics:

Apeture: also caled “f-stop”. This is the size of the opening in the shutter, and controls both the amount of light hitting the film (or whatever digital cameras use instead of film–memory space?) and the “Depth of Field”–ie, how much area will be in sharp focus. Small number = big opening, but little depth. Big Number = small opening but lots of depth.

Shutter speed: how fast the shutter opens and closes each time you trigger the camera. Put another way, this is the amount of time light will hit the image recording media, be it film or memory. For shooting a fishtank, you don’t really need a fast shutter speed–the tank ain’t moving, and you don’t need to stop action. Numbers are a fraction of a second–ie, 500 is 1/500 second.

ISO–did not exist, or if it did, the term wasn’t widely used “back in the day”. We called the same concept “ASA”. This is a “grade” of film or other media that indicates how sensitive it is to light. High number indicates “faster” film–ie, the film is more sensitive to light.

Old photog’s rule of thumb–F8 @ 500 with 400 ASA(iso) is good for shooting human action (say running as in a sporting event) on a bright sunny day. F11 @ 250 would produce similar results (smaller opening but longer time) in terms of amount of light reaching the media.

For shooting a fish tank, I would avoid using a flash at all costs. Flashes reflect off shiny surfaces…like glass, or mirrors. You don’t need huge depth of field here…I doubt the tank is gonna be over 3 feet “deep” (meaning front to back from the camera) and 6 feet wide. F5.6, maybe even F4 is likely plenty of depth of field. Already said the shutter speed doesn’t need to be a big number–that tank ain’t going anywhere. If you’re hand holding the camera, you’re prolly good using shutter speeds as low as 125. Get much slower than that, and you either need real steady hands or a tripod to avoid blurring the image.

Sooo…how much light we got to work with here? Normal indoor room lighting? Darkened room, but interior tank lighting? Darkened room with no interior lighting? All that stuff matters. If you have some way of posting a shot you’ve already taken, maybe you could get suggestions on how to improve the image quality…

Yeah, if it’s a small point and shoot, there should be a little icon that looks like a lightning bolt somewhere on one of the buttons. Most cameras I’ve come across, you hit that button when the camera is in shooting mode to cycle through the flash options. The no flash icon you should see on the screen of the camera when the flash is turned off is the lightning bolt crossed out in a circle usually.

You can take flash photos of fish tanks of museum displays by pressing the lens against the glass.

Well, yeah, you can, but that’s gonna mean you need to use a really wide angle lens to show much of the tank. I was thinking his goal is to show the whole tank as it would be seen by someone in the room with it.

My camera actually has a fish tank (well, aquarium) mode lol. Until I figured out the manual settings, I found this mode most useful for shooting pictures in low light without flash, without causing blur. There’s also underwater, fireworks, beach, snow, foliage, indoor, kids&pets, night, and portrait modes. I wish it had an aquarium like mode that did flashless low light pictures, but without the color changes, and I wish it had a mode for long exposures at night for taking pictures of stars.(canon powershot sd200is)

Thanks - I think that AV setting does sound familiar. Like I said, I got a lot of help with this before from an Aquarium Photography forum. Generally you shoot tanks in a darkened room with no flash. Slower speed for plants, quicker for fish. IBut for whatever reason I did not have my notes handy, and I was not able to figure out/remember how to do it just from the camera and manual.

I don’t do origami, and am having a hard time thinking of many other “multi-step processes” I do. Cooking involves many steps, but it isn’t as tho I forget how to cook if I don’t for a while.

What I think makes my difficulty somewhat unique to technology is that with a piece of technology each and every step tends to be unique to that appliance. The manner in which you program one VCR is (to me) completely different from using the camera. And don’t get me started on computer applications. You can’t even kind of try to bumble along and do a “good enough” job if you don’t know which button to push to get started!

While there may be different ways to manipulate the controls of a camera, you’re still changing the exact same settings (aperture, shutter speed, ISO). The same rules apply to any camera and if you learn them once they’ll apply forever. How they are manipulated doesn’t really matter.

I’m sure you’ve cooked on different stoves (gas, electric, convection) and you didn’t have much difficulty adapting to the different controls. I would imagine that’s because the concepts are already familiar to you.