The Journey Into Art: Stages Along The Way #1 - Know Your Camera

August 21, 2019
Sedona evening sunset

Know your camera

I know this is really boring, but if you can't master your camera, you can't make good photographs. Michelangelo had to master his paints and brushes before creating his paintings and frescoes. So think of yourself as Michelangelo learning his brushes and paints. You will never create your own Sistene Chapel without starting at the beginning.

I thought I knew everything about the camera, but really didn't. So I created a lot of crappy pictures that did not show what I wanted. I was forever frustrated when looking at them after a shoot.

If you were like me at first, you didn't know what you wanted to capture except for everything.

That's fine. But how do you want to capture everything?

1. What do you want in the frame? Where is the center of interest? Where do you place that in the frame? Is there a center of interest?

2. What element(s) do you want in focus? Just one thing or everything? Do you want the flower at your feet and the mountains 50 miles away both in focus? or just the flower at your feet? or just the mountains 50 miles away?

3. Are you trying to capture something still or moving with the wind or moving really fast?

4. How much light do you have and how sensitive is your camera to that amount of light?

These are all questions that can be answered by using the various settings on the camera. Most cameras have more settings that will ever be needed, but you still have to know where to find the ones you want. Just shooting in Program mode will rarely, if ever, convey your artistic intent.

For me I had to figure out that the most important thing was what I wanted in focus. After that everything else seemed to fall into place. So I almost universally shoot in Aperture mode, as I want to decide what is in focus and not have the camera choose based on the lighting circumstances. I also set my lens to Manual focus mode (usually a switch on the side of the lens.) My hands and fingers know where to go to set the aperture and focus I care about without looking.

It is another way that I interject into my work something of me and not leave the decision of how to capture the image to Fuji, Canon, Nikon, etc. etc. Then my work has the beginning of a work of art. I decided what was to be shown, not the camera.

Secondly I want the camera to capture as much information about the light in the scene as possible. This means I need the correct exposure, so my fingers know where to change the ISO settings if needed. A camera that shows a real-time histogram in the viewfinder is invaluable for this determination.

There is a lot more to having your camera become an extension of your creative vision, and for me it truly took years of getting used to my camera and understanding what the scene needed and how to get all the settings right to capture the best image. There is unfortunately no shortcut to developing the skill to have your camera be a thoughtless extension of your vision. So like your bottle of shampoo says, "shoot, analyze, repeat..." Or something like that... over and over and over...

All stages of progress involve overlap. While you are working on mastering the "finger memory" of your camera, you are also working on composition and lighting and color. All will come together with attention to what you are doing.

This is a brief start about focusing on the instrument of our work. It takes time and practice, while doing everything else. Eventually you will get to the place of not thinking about your camera, but about how you can bring the scene to life in your own way. That is the goal of working with your camera, just like Michelangelo and his brushes and paints.

You will know when that moment of mastery happens. No one will need to tell you.

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