“The camera is not the same as a person” may seem like an obvious statement, yet a common mistake many photographers make is that they want the camera to act like they do in terms of seeing the world. It is very important to understand that the camera does not see the world, and consequently, a scene the same way that you do. The camera is restricted by technological limitations that your eyes and brain do not have.
This is especially important with exposure in natural light photography. Photographers see a subject and take the picture with the expectation that the “right” camera exposure settings will give a good picture. When the photo does not cooperate and results are poor, they think that they just did not adjust the camera right. In fact, in many situations, it is impossible to get a good picture. The scene is simply beyond the capabilities of the camera, even though you can see it perfectly.
This is most common in extreme lighting conditions. Your eyes can handle a huge range of detail from dark to bright in situations such as a scene where the light goes from brightest sun to dark, dark shade. The camera simply cannot handle such conditions and no exposure will be “right.”
While HDR (High Dynamic Range in which multiple exposures are shot and then combined in the digital darkroom) can be helpful sometimes in such a situation, often it is important to recognize when a good photograph is not possible and then you move on to something that is.
NOTE: Rob Sheppard is an Outdoor Photographer magazine columnist who teaches many online photography courses, including Guaranteed Better Photography and The Magic of F-stops: Choosing the Right Aperture.In addition, BetterPhoto.com's photography school offers many online photo classes on natural light photography, flash photography, and exposure.