Mastering Your Camera

PIN - master-camera“The fact is that relatively few photographers ever master their medium. Instead they allow the medium to master them and go on an endless squirrel cage chase from new lens to new paper to new developer to new gadget, never staying with one piece of equipment long enough to learn its full capacities, becoming lost in a maze of technical information that is of little or no use since they don’t know what to do with it.”  

-Edward Weston, Famed photographer 1886 – 1958

While searching online for some new photography quotes, I stumbled across this one by Edward Weston.

You may be familiar with his black and white still life images of peppers and a nautilus shell, amongst many other well-known images.

This quote is a bit too long and deep to be a good Facebook meme, but it deserves consideration.

What does this quote mean for modern photographers?

Keep in mind that this was said long before digital photography came along, as Weston makes reference to “new paper to new developer,” as many of the great photographers of the day such as Weston and Ansel Adams were also masters in the dark room.

The point I’d like to make is that cameras back then were much simpler mechanical devices, not the sophisticated computers that we now hold in our hands.

Yet, there was plenty to master then, and there is even more to master now.

With today’s cameras, we can change ISO settings with one click instead of reaching for a different roll of film. We can adjust the white balance to achieve a desired effect all with our camera itself. Some cameras even allow us to capture HD video!

So my question is, how well do you know your camera?

  • Are you comfortable shooting on manual settings, where you must decide what F-stop and aperture combination to use? Or do you let the camera decide for you and just accept what you get?
  • Do you select the best white balance for the lighting situation, or do you leave it on Auto?
  • How about the metering system in your camera? Are you using spot metering that basically just evaluates  the center point of the image, or are you using the evaluative metering function to average the entire scene? And what difference does it make to your image?

It’s truly crazy, how much a modern digital camera can do and how mind boggling it can be to become familiar with all the buttons and dials, not to mention when you have to push combinations of buttons at the same time to access different features.

My challenge to you:

Grab your camera manual and focus on a certain function – maybe white balance or shooting mode, for example – and become familiar with the controls.

Take some test exposures and look closely at how the images may change. If you do this once a week, you’ll quickly get better acquainted with your cameras’ capabilities.

Study up on how each setting works. Check out this great infographic that displays what each setting does in manual mode, below. This may be a great resource to print out and take a minute to look over everyday until you are really comfortable working in manual.

manual mode camera settings

(Source unknown)

To paraphrase Edward Weston, don’t let the camera master you!

One last tip: be sure to keep your manuals (camera, speedlite, etc.) in your camera bag. If you are out on a session one day and accidentally push a button (or combination of buttons- I know I’ve done it) that throw off your settings, it helps to be able to quickly check through the manual and get your camera settings back to where you want them.

Question for you:

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below – how do you practice mastering your equipment? What area are you struggling with most?