Elsie and Me

Reverse engineering photography, random thoughts and other stuff

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Messing about in manual

I was beginning to think Elsie’s manual mode might be nonfunctional, because I couldn’t get an outdoor shot that wasn’t a blank white frame. Then I cranked the shutter speed all the way to 1/2000 (far as she can go) and got these. The first one was with an f-stop of 8.0, the second with 4.0.



But when I shot the river in apterture priority mode earlier today, setting the f-stop at 8.0, Elsie chose a shutter speed of 1/1000. Go figure.


Yes, these are different riverscapes (same river though) and different focal lengths and times of day, But I got that same white screen of death at both sites/times, until I cranked up the shutter speed.

Have also been messing with the manual focus mode a little, but it’s really hard to see in bright sunlight. I need to experiment with it more in lower-light situations.


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I sprayed. I prayed. I got this.


“Spray and pray.” That’s an insulting term that some professional photographers use to describe the “fauxtographer”* method of taking a whole bunch of shots and praying that a few come out.

I don’t take offense at it because I’m not a fauxtographer (more on that below), and because the technique works for me when I’m taking action shots. When I shoot morris dancing, I use Elsie’s “sports” setting (she also has a “kids and pets” setting for the same purpose — capturing moving subjects) and continuous shooting mode.

I took dozens of shots using sports setting/continuous mode at this particular morris event. This is my favorite. It’s not a great shot, because the dancers could be in sharper focus, and there’s distracting stuff in the background, but … airborne! I just love capturing morris dancers in the air.

Elsie chose an f-stop of 4.0 and a shutter speed of 1/160 for the above. When I go to this event again this summer, I hope to have a better handle on settings and get even better airborne shots.

*Re “fauxtographer”: It’s generally used to describe folks who get their hands on that first “fancy” camera (often an entry-level consumer DSLR) and decide they’re ready to go into business, offering their services as a portrait or (the horror!) wedding photographer without knowing even the basics of technique. They tend to charge peanuts and send the wrong message to potential clients, who think, “Why should I pay Skilled Professional $3,000 to shoot my wedding/senior/baby pictures when Fanny Fauxtog can do it for $100?” Short answer: Fanny’s work sucks.

I don’t consider myself a fauxtog because I’m not in business. I’m just an amateur with a point-and-shoot who occasionally gets lucky. I do have some of my “lucky” prints available for sale in a friend’s gallery space and my company’s craft fairs, but that’s about it. I’ve sold all of two!

You can read more on the “fauxtog” phenomenon here and here.

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Happy barrels!



Could you keep smiling if you had to sit outside all winter with a big, heavy piece of wooden dock on your head? I’ve been wanting to photograph my landlord’s dock barrels since I first noticed their happy little faces.

I shot them both using Elsie’s portrait setting. The first was shot without zoom and then cropped. I used zoom for the second one and did only minimal croppage. For the first one, Elsie chose an f-stop of 2.6 and shutter speed of 1/250. For the second, she chose 4.5 and 1/60.

I like the first one better, because the detail in the second one kind of ruins the happy face effect. What do you think?

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One riverscape, two camera settings.


As always, you can click on the images for a larger view.

These two photos were both shot in my sweetie’s backyard, on a mild March day at high noon. That’s the mighty Hudson River in its kinder, gentler upstate incarnation.

The first I shot in Auto mode, the second using Elsie’s Landscape setting.

Clever girl, that Elsie. She chose the same f-stop (5.5) and the same shutter speed (1/1000) in both modes. I used full zoom for both.

I’m not crazy about either one, although that blue water sure is pretty. The trees in the background are in focus, but the river isn’t. Obviously I need to work on focal points.

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Welcome to Elsie and Me

Greetings! Allow me to introduce myself. I’m a hobby photographer with a good eye, a cheap camera and a brain that has so far proved incapable of learning the technical aspects of photography — all that business about f-stops and shutter speed and ISO and white balance — from the ground up. So I’ve decided to let Elsie teach me. Maybe she can teach other beginners a thing or two along the way.

Elsie is my Canon PowerShot A520. I bought her at a garage sale for $20 in 2009. For a little 4-megapixel point-and-shoot, she does some pretty amazing stuff. She also has a lot of specialized settings not found on other P&S cameras, including newer, more expensive Canons. “Elsie” is short for L.C.T.C. — Little Canon That Could.

I’ve been offered the loan of a DSLR and have also considered buying one, but before I do that, I want to familiarize myself with what Elsie can do.

I’ll be posting our work here — some new, some from my archives — with the EXIF data I’ve recovered, with the goal of learning why she chose those settings and why they work. Eventually I hope to internalize this info and get to the point where I can select them myself in the dreaded Manual Mode.

I welcome comments and questions from other beginners as well as feedback from experienced photographers. Please be kind.

Let’s get started, shall we? This was shot in 2010 and is called Winster. It’s morris dancers doing a processional dance. Resolution is not the best, but this was before I learned I could adjust Elsie’s image size. She chose an f-stop of 3.2 and shutter speed of 1/1000 for this. Click on the image for a larger view.