Haven't been up on my soapbox in a while…
I have taught photography to over a thousand of students, among them many really good photographers who often weren't aware why they were great, but I have also been surprised at times as some of the more professional appearing ones weren't even able to do basic things like setting up custom white balance for a specific light situation.
There is a part of me that loves to see all the nifty photo gadgets that brilliant people come up with, but I've also been watching the developmentof the camera landscape with a concerned eye.
There are a lot of automated sub-systems in our cameras. Focus, exposure and white balance are the important ones among quite a few.
But the smarter these systems seem to get, the more decisions they take away from the photographer, the more the photographers lose the ability to make the right decisions.
I've seen this over and over again this year during the workshops.
It's not the photographers' fault of course. The philosophy of the camera manufacturers is quite understandable: take as many of the complicated photography stuff as possible and make the decision (and set the setting) for the photographer. This way many of the less technically inclined people out there can pick up a camera and quickly get results, which will make them happy, and as a result they will buy more cameras.
The big issue with this approach is that even though the automatic systems get it right most of the time, the camera will never be able to know the photographer's intention. How can the camera know that I'm not at all interested in exposing for the face, but instead I want to show a silhouette? How should the camera know that I actually want this shot to be bluish cool and unfriendly instead of giving it a caribbean sunset white balance? And how should the camera be able to anticipate that I deliberately want to blow out the sky in this picture?
The philosophy of me as the photography trainer is substantially different from that of the manufacturer: if you want to tell a story (and let's face it, a good story is usually what makes a good photograph), you need to make the tools that help you tell that story do the right things. The tool in this case is your camera. And making it do the right thing means to know how to make it expose, focus and white balance in exactly the way you want.
And that's a skill set that more and more photographers have either lost, or they never had the incentive to learn.
Relying on the automatisms of the camera and getting it right 80% of the time might be good enough for many photographers.
I want those remaining 20% to be under my control too.