Thursday, January 24, 2013

When enough is more than enough

There are times when we need to just step back and re-assess what we are trying to achieve.  We often get bogged down in a 'rut' of sorts, and fall back on using the same tools and methods to address every problem, where a change in approach may result in an equally acceptable (or even superior) outcome for less effort.

I had one of these moments the other evening.  It was my niece's birthday and so we were all at her house to sing Happy Birthday and eat cake, and of course, I was there with camera to take photos of her blowing out the candles and so on... Most times now, I can balance the flash with ambient light by using a longish exposure so that the candle flame still shows, but that wasn't my problem...

Our new grandson Will was there, as was an Auntie that hadn't met him yet, so of course, she wanted to have cuddles with him.  When she saw me with the camera out ready to take 'cake' pictures, she said "take one of me with Will...".  Now being only 3 weeks old, I wanted to avoid using the flash, but light in the room was dim, and provided by very directional downlights.

If I had time to consider and set up the picture, I would have moved her around the room to find the best ambient light, and probably used some extra lighting and reflectors to get rid of the harsh shadows from the downlights.  But this was supposed to be an impromptu 'quickie' - that turned into an embarrassing nightmare.

After just turning the flash off (but with shutter speed of 1/30 already locked in ready for the candles on the cake), shot 1 produced a very underexposed image at f/5.6 - the max aperture of the kit lens I was using.  For shot 2 I tried in P mode, and got an exposure that was 1/2 second and impossible to handhold.  For shot 3 I tried increasing the ISO to 800 which is about as far as I can push it in low light on my D3000 without getting annoying noise.  The shutter speed came down but not really enough, and I still had really harsh shadows from the downlights on Aunties face.

After three failed attempts (and time spent chimping and changing settings each time) the 'moment' was pretty much gone.  It was turning into a situation that I needed more time to assess and solve, but Auntie was getting bored, I was getting frustrated, and my niece wanted to eat her birthday cake...  Will was fast asleep and couldn't have cared less, but I had to do something quick to retrieve the situation.

After a moment's panicked thought, I reached in my pocket, and whipped out my iPhone.  A couple of finger swipes and 5 seconds later, I had a relatively good picture that looked fine on the phone's screen, and was really all she wanted in the first place.  She didn't want poster sized glossy prints made, or even to display the picture on her 5 foot wide HDTV screen - she just wanted something for the 3.5" mobile backlit photo album from Apple, that everyone seems to carry these days - me included (he admits reluctantly).  In these situations, a mobile phone camera with all it's built in point and shoot logic, may be all you need.

Today's lesson learned?  You don't always need perfection - sometimes 'OK' is good enough.  The Pareto Principle (more commonly known as the 80/20 rule) says something like this - you can achieve 80% of an outcome with 20% effort, but then it takes the other 80% effort to get that final 20% of the outcome.  Sometimes - the 80% is all you really need in the first place.  So don't knock yourself out striving for perfection in every photo - admirable though that goal is, your sanity will surely suffer!

Until next time
Happy iSnappin'


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