Ethics question: program modes = cheating?

Discussion in 'Digital Photography' started by epicwelshman, May 27, 2007.

  1. epicwelshman macrumors 6502a


    Apr 6, 2006
    Nassau, Bahamas
    I was on the Nikonians forum this morning, and there was a post from guy about my age (early 20's) regarding the program modes on dSLR's. He said that despite his knowledge of photography, having used everything from fully manual film, to digital P&S to a D40 he often uses the programmed modes on the camera, but always feels guilty when he does.

    I admit that my camera is primarily set to aperture priority as I rarely need to change shutter speed, but sometimes I get lazy and use the portrait or landscape settings. I always feel guilty when I do this, like I'm suddenly not worthy of a dSLR. I also worry because one day I intend to upgrade to a D200 (or equivalent) which has no programmed settings, and if I'm not comfortable with manual then I'll have a steep learning curve ahead of me.

    I was just wondering, out of curiosity, how do others feel about this? Are programmed modes cheating, and is the dreaded green "auto" setting totally off limits to "real" photographers?
  2. devilot Moderator emeritus


    May 1, 2005
    I'm not all that big into photography myself, but I've taken 1.5 classes and I'm interested in it as well as other forms of art.

    I think that any "real" artist uses whichever tools and resources s/he can. Period. If those resources happen to be others' works, then you give due credit. But process-wise, to me-- it's a tool, use it as you see fit.

    That's how I see it.
  3. SuperCompu2 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 23, 2006
    As long as you produce good work, I dont see how it is cheating.

    Being able to produce work without the AUTO setting just adds more satisfaction to a good shot, knowing you put more work and skill into the picture.
  4. devilot Moderator emeritus


    May 1, 2005
    I disagree.

    If, if the exact same shot could have been created with programmed settings, than that extra work and "skill" just translates to me as inefficiency. That time and energy could have been spent working on other projects or shots.

    But I do think having and knowing the skill to use all the different controls effectively is crucial.
  5. epicwelshman thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 6, 2006
    Nassau, Bahamas
    I agree that knowing the controls is crucial, and I know that a good eye is the most important skill one can have as a photographer. However, I must agree that getting the same shot with manual settings, for myself at least, does make the shot better in my eyes; Im proud of the fact that in a way I worked for the shot, rather than pointing the camera at a scene and letting the camera figure out the setting. Sure, it's inefficient, but I think it's worth it. This is a pretty dodgy analogy, but it's like restoring a classic car. It's more efficient to send it to a garage and pay to have it expertly restored, but it's more fun to do it yourself. In the end you come out with the same car, but putting time and effort into it, no matter how inefficient that may be, certainly makes one proud of their handiwork.
  6. balofagus macrumors regular

    Jan 11, 2006
    Ontario, Canada
    This is how my art teacher put it to me when I go from my plan for a painting to the canvas. I draw at full size everything I plan to put into the painting on news print then cover the back of the sheet with graphite or charcoal and transfer. She told me I've already done it once, why do it again? I think this translates into Photography by saying, "Ya, go ahead and learn how to control shutter speed, aperture etc etc. to understand how to get good exposures but if the portrait mode is going to save you a heck of a lot of time, USE IT!"

    My 0.02
  7. BigPrince macrumors 68020

    Dec 27, 2006
    I think the understanding is crucial.

    In Calculus the Calculator can do all the calculus for you but what good is if you don't understand it?
  8. epicwelshman thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 6, 2006
    Nassau, Bahamas
    That's a much better analogy than I had!
  9. Doylem macrumors 68040


    Dec 30, 2006
    Wherever I hang my hat...
    Programs aren't 'magic'. There are still only two exposure controls: the size of the lens aperture and how long it's open to let light in (with digital, you could add the ISO setting too, since you can change it with every shot if you need to). It's creative to learn about light and exposure by shooting on 'manual'. You'll be grounding yourself in useful skills, instead of letting your camera make decisions for you. You'll develop your eye for a photo, and be able to fine-tune exposure to get exactly the effect you want. A couple of years down the line, this may make you into a much better photographer. Just my two-pennorth...
  10. kainjow Moderator emeritus


    Jun 15, 2000
    I see it as like a software program that creates a graph from a set of data. You could graph the data manually with paper and pencil, but it's faster to plug the data into Excel and click a button.

    People like photographs. They don't care the process of how it was made, they just want the dang photograph! :p

    My €0.02
  11. Westside guy macrumors 603

    Westside guy

    Oct 15, 2003
    The soggy side of the Pacific NW
    I don't use the pre-program modes (sports, night portrait, etc.). It's rare that I shoot fully manual, though - and it's not really clear to me that everyone here that's saying "manual" isn't really referring to aperture-priority or shutter-priority, which are my two most commonly used modes. I do use program mode a fair bit at events.

    The only time I shoot in fully manual mode is when I know my camera won't get it right - long exposures come to mind. Oh, and also I shoot flash manually much of the time simply because 1/30 sec, f/5.6 seems to work really well. :D

    Oh, I use autofocus also. :p
  12. Shaduu macrumors 6502a


    Jan 31, 2007
    When I used to shoot film I'd use program modes all the time, or just leave the camera on auto as I knew I only had 24 or 36 shots to get it right. Now that I shoot digital, I tend to go fully manual or use aperture priority, purely because of the flexibility digital offers.

    For example, I was shooting a protest today with four 1GB CF cards knowing full well I'd take in excess of 500 shots. The ability to play around with different shutter speeds and apertures and not worry about how many exposures had left is extremely convenient.

    In closing, no, program modes aren't cheating, they're there if you need them. I believe any photographer should have strong roots in knowing how to use a camera properly through fully manual, shutter or aperture priority but feel free to use program modes if you think it'll help. If you need a quick shot, or are just feeling lazy there's no problem with using portrait mode.

    At the end of the day, it's your photography and it's your shot. Creativity is about doing what you want in your own way, regardless of anyone else's opinion.
  13. failsafe1 macrumors 6502a


    Jul 21, 2003
    I simply want a great photograph as my end result. Usually I get better photos when I don't rely on the camera simply because the camera can't really know what I am looking for. My goal is too shoot enough to not think about the technical process. I was happy to give up darkroom work for digital. I know photographers who car more about the technical process and still get nice photos. So what works for you? Does the auto camera setting help you not worry about things you don't understand yet so you can concentrate on the content? Or do you not get the photos you want because the auto settings prevent you from realizing your vision? Keep shooting anyway that works for you but never relay on the camera. Learn why things work like they do and if you need a mode use it. Or if you learn that a mode really gives you what you want use it and go shoot tons of photos.
  14. JeffTL macrumors 6502a

    Dec 18, 2003
    I always stick to the PSAM modes, even though my D50 has scene modes as well; I don't like that they turn off exposure compensation, which I like to have available as needed. With my Nikon 70-300 G lens, I usually like to use aperture priority mode to reduce (usually eliminate, in fact) LCA at the long end.

    But there is no cheating in art unless you are misrepresenting your work as something other than what it is -- such as if you passed it off as an Ansel. Nothing dishonest about a program mode unless you go around saying you did it with full manual.

    Photography is about color, texture, and composition, not whether or not you know more about how big a hole is and how long it should be open than the engineers in Japan who designed your camera. It doesn't really matter how you get to your desired exposure, as long as you get there before the light gets crappy or your subject runs away.
  15. epicwelshman thread starter macrumors 6502a


    Apr 6, 2006
    Nassau, Bahamas
    It's interesting to see the differing views on the matter, though it is nice to see so many people being more concerned with the finished product rather than what you did to get there.
  16. jayb2000 macrumors 6502a


    Apr 18, 2003
    RI -> CA -> ME
    Its not cheating, but if you don't know the process behind it, you will not be able to improve.

    So, I would suggest using manual settings until you are very comfortable with your camera and lenses and how they work together to handle different exposures, lighting, etc.

    P is like training wheels, it lets you ride, but if you don't get past that, you won't be able to do much else.
  17. timnosenzo macrumors 6502a


    Jun 21, 2004
    ct, us
    I don't think using the basic modes makes you any less of a photographer. I think the most important part is understanding how the meter reads the light in the scene, and how how the auto focus system works. Those are your 2 biggest elements in regards to how the photo will look (aside from composition, which is totally your responsibility!). If you can get satisfactory results from using an automatic mode, thats great! Although I personally feel that once you know how the camera works, AV & TV are the most automatic modes you'll ever need.

    I think its frustrating when people go out and drop $1000 on a new DLSR, set the mode on the green square and expect to get great shots just because its an expensive camera, even though they have no idea how it works.
  18. RedTomato macrumors 68040


    Mar 4, 2005
    .. London ..
    Learn how the program modes work, and exactly what they do to the camera settings, (i.e. to the point that you are able to manually set up the camera to get the same results as the program settings) then you can use them with confidence in future without feeling guilty.

    They then become a shortcut to setting it up yourself, or as a jumping board for further tweaking.

    I'm still at the 'learning' stage myself :)

    BTW, do you know the exact details of how the image is captured on the CMOS, including details of electron levels and packet quanta, and the circuit-level postprocessing applied to it before saving to memory?

    Could you replicate it given a pile of transistors and resisters and a coding environment? No? Is that cheating?
  19. -hh macrumors 68020


    Jul 17, 2001
    NJ Highlands, Earth
    The program modes are merely a tool to make your more efficient.

    My suggestion for the guy on the Nikonians forum would be to ask him if he were to be shooting in fully manual mode, if he would consider the use of a lightmeter to also be 'cheating'...

    Afterall, a lightmeter is just a tool too, to help you minimize trial-&-error by using a closer starting point to the just right combination of exposure settings.

    There's a green setting on my dial? Oh was there when it was a film body too :D

  20. pigbat macrumors regular

    Jan 18, 2005
    I think it's good to understand how it all works but I have no issue with using auto modes if the finished product is what I'm after. I tend to think about it like transportation. I know how to drive a car and I could certainly drive from LA to NY if I had the time. If I don't have the time I can probably fly for pretty much the same price.
  21. trudd macrumors regular


    May 27, 2004
    The name of the game is control.

    I always shoot manual when using an SLR. I shoot Canon - 30D, 5D, and 1DMKII.

    I'm not a control freak, but I need control when it comes to photographs. Then again, I have a photojournalistic approach to photographs - a world where the action only happens once and, if your exposure is off, the moment is gone forever.

    Why risk it? Learn the technology, learn the technique, learn how photographs work. When it comes to preserving a moment, one can never be too careful.

    ...if I'm using my SD1000 P&S, though, I have no other choice but to use auto! Then again I would never rely on the SD1000 to pay my bills...
  22. Father Jack macrumors 68020

    Father Jack

    Jan 1, 2007
    Shutter speeds and apertures are not just about getting the correct exposure.
    Shutter speeds are used to control subject movement and apertures control depth of field.
    IMO it is worth learning how to control these important factors. Using program modes removes this control.


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