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by Phil Ball

Q. Often when I see a scene that I think is worthy of a photo, the results from either my phone or camera are disappointing. What's wrong?

A. There is nothing wrong with you but you are a victim of what I call camera failure. Our cameras often do not see the same as we do. The pictures we see with our eyes have been run through our brain which can work as well as a computer at enhancing images. Many a time, I've seen a scene in bright sunshine where I can see detail in both shadows and highlights but my good quality camera can only show detail in one or the other but not both without some software trickery. So there is what is called a limited tonal range and not recognizing this can easily lead to disappointment.

Also, the camera focuses on one flat plane in front of it. Everything that is not in that plane will be out of focus whereas if we look at the subject, we think we can see everything in focus. In addition, we have two eyes and can see in 3D but our camera only has one eye (lens) and so sees everything as a flat, two-dimensional image. These things sound like severe limitations but experienced photographers work with them and still produce fine photos. So can you.

On the other hand, the camera is better than the eye in seeing better in low light. Night skies show more stars than you actually saw while standing there and long exposures of brightly lit objects like the Yavapai County Courthouse during the Christmas holiday nights show more detail than could be seen by eye. When brighter light allows faster exposures, the camera can freeze motion which lets us see something that happens too fast for our eye to see.

The limited focus mentioned above can actually be an advantage when we take sharply-focused photos of a subject with the background out of focus and therefore unobtrusive. So be aware of these differences and you'll get much better photos.

Published: Courier 3/3/13 - Page 3C