This subject is one of those in photography that everybody just assumes is true but many don’t put it into practice with enough rigor. Getting familiar with your camera and lenses, along with your tripod and other accessories, is key to capturing your best shots. This is tops on my mind right now since I just bought a new camera.
If you are a novice, or even beyond novice, photographer, I have to say right here that there is only one author that I’ve read who really dives into this subject with some detail. That is longtime photography teacher Brian Peterson. His Understanding Photography Field Guide should be required reading. He does not go deeply into the idea of getting familiar with your camera, since beyond saying you should do it, there’s not much to mention that is not brand dependent. But he does detail great ways to get familiar with your lenses. So go read that book and I won’t go into lenses much here.
Nobody would argue that learning how to use a new piece of electronics is important, whether computer or phone or camera. But I’m going to argue here that most people tend to do the minimum amount of learning when it comes to their camera. They read the manual (maybe) and then begin using the camera. They don’t go back to the manual, trying to figure out the best way to set it up. But this is the best way to make sure you are doing things in the most efficient way. It’s important to do this early on so you don’t get locked in too much to a less-efficient way of doing things.
Once you go through this somewhat clunky period of feeling out your camera with help from the manual, then you should just shoot shoot shoot. This is the only way to get to the point where everything is second nature, where you never have to look at your camera to do anything. Your eyes belong on the scene before you, not on your camera (except for reviewing the image on the LCD when necessary).
By the way, regarding the plethora of books that come out on each new model of camera: I don’t see them as very useful. They are basically extended user’s manuals, which you get for free with the camera. Much of what you’ll learn is what that photographer does with that camera. So long as you don’t let that influence you too much, there isn’t much harm in reading one. I prefer reading the user’s manual and developing my own system.
When you get to the second-nature stage of using your camera, lenses and tripod, you can do things very quickly. This allows you to take advantage of quick-changing light. You can switch subjects quickly. You can get that wide-angle shot PLUS the zoomed in composition. When photographing people, you can capture quickly changing expressions and body postures, allowing much more natural looking pictures.
Don’t get me wrong. You’ll still miss plenty of shots. You will get set up and trip the shutter a few seconds after the golden light fades, you’ll be ready to photograph an animal just as it passes behind some brush, etc, etc. I’m actually talking about minimizing the missed shots, not adding opportunities. For that you’ll need to simply get out in front of interesting subjects and shoot more often.
My previous camera (one that is in the shop right now) is a Canon 5D Mark II. I just bought a new 5D Mark III, and so there is a lot of overlap. All the shots here were captured with my new camera. I’m very familiar with my Mark II, so how different could the Mark III be? Unfortunately it’s not a completely seamless transition. That’s because it’s difficult to get used to those things that have changed.
One example on my new camera is the different button used to magnify images on the LCD screen. This is a feature I use all the time, in composing and focusing images using LiveView, and in reviewing images on the LCD for good focus. The magnify button on the 5D III is in a different place than it is on the 5D II. Doesn’t sound like such a big deal, but when your fingers are very used to going to a certain place, it requires retraining to make the change.
New camera models will often have wholly redesigned features. Autofocus is one example on the Canon 5D III. Inherited from the 7D and 1D model series, there is a brand new autofocus system to learn. Compared to the 5D II, it is quite complex, with many different possible settings. Something new to learn for sure. Expanded capabilities will just remain unused if you don’t learn how to use them.
Thus far I have only shot a few pictures with my new camera, so I’m sorry for not having a lot of images in this post. I will post more new pictures as I take them. In fact, I’m going out right after finishing this post! Now I’d like you to really examine how familiar you are with your camera gear. Could using it be more intuitive for you? If so, get out there and shoot! Perhaps go back and read that manual one more time. And by the way have fun! Thanks for reading!