Building a Foundation – f/8 insights | Tips, Tricks & Techniques

Let’s begin with being clear about what we’re up to. As one of my favorite bloggers, writers, photographers, and publishers, Brooks Jensen, often says, “It’s not about the camera, it’s about the photography.” That being noted, every “tip” I present will be designed to help us achieve our common goal of better photography.

We can’t achieve this goal without some form of camera whether that be a pin-hole shoebox camera, an antique 8” x 10” large format camera ala Ansel Adams, a simple point-and-shoot, a contemporary DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) camera or a sophisticated mirrorless digital camera. Indeed compiling a list of the options for the tools we might use in our photography would be encyclopedic. And, if we had all these tools in our living rooms we would be only a tad closer to creating meaningful photography.

It doesn’t matter what camera you own, a camera manual is an important tool you want to become familiar with.

So where do we begin? May I suggest beginning by building a solid foundation? And, may I further suggest that a critical element of the foundation is understanding our tool(s) of choice. For certain, there are many other aspects of photography that we need to understand ranging from the basics of lighting to the intricacies of composition and the effects of color. But, we have to begin somewhere in building our foundation so I’m choosing to select the one item every photographer and wannabe photographer has (or should quickly obtain) and that’s the manual for a camera of choice.

Today’s cameras are sophisticated (read complicated) tools. Few people, even the so-called more advanced photographers, use much more than a small percentage of their camera’s capabilities. Most, I’d contend, don’t even know about many of their camera’s capabilities. We spend hundreds or thousands of dollars on cameras and related accessories, take it out of all those boxes, often don’t even give the “Quick Start Guide,” more than a passing glance before heading out to play photography roulette.

Loose manual pages are often evidence of an experienced photographer.

In today’s Google world, if all you received with your camera was some form of “Quick Guide” it will be worth your time and effort to Google “Owners Manual (enter the name and model of your camera)”. You may even want to spend a couple bucks to purchase a third-party manual for your camera.

Unfortunately, whether you download a pdf of the manufacturer’s manual or let go of a few dollars to purchase a  more detailed (and likely better written) users guide to your expensive new tool, it will do you no good . . . unless you actually spend some time to discover what’s between the covers. Yup. That means you have to read it. Ideally, cover to cover, though few of us ever will.

So, at the very least read the opening pages that will get you started. May I suggest taking time to read the Table of Contents, maybe even spend some time looking through the Index in the back of the book. Both the Table of Contents and the Index will identify what’s in your manual and may suggest some capabilities you never expected. At the very least when your first question pops up (and it will) this will give you a fighting chance at recognizing that the answer may be in your manual.

A simple sealable plastic bag will protect your manual.

Next, pull out a resealable style plastic bag and put the manual in it because your manual will be of little value sitting on a shelf at home. Throw it in your camera bag and take it with you every time you go out to play at this photography game. Believe me, your camera is going to stump you. Often, even the simplest things that you could do easily with your old camera will be a challenge to find for the first time with a new one . . . until you discover where in the manual the manufacturer has “hidden” this particular capability.

You will not only begin to know what’s in the manual, but you will gain an understanding of your camera’s capabilities and, you’ll be building a strong foundation for all your photography

PS: Anyone who sees your camera’s owner’s manual will recognize right away whether you have used it or just carry it for the extra weight that your physical fitness guru suggested you need for exercise. Of course, if it looks new, it could just be new. But, more importantly, if it’s dog-eared, with some pages falling out, you’ve probably learned a lot from it and it’s helping you create incredible photography.

Tom’s tip:  Read, study, and carry your camera’s manual.

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(I should note another important point: You can rest assured that neither I or anyone affiliated with me or Tom Dwyer Photography will ever sell or otherwise communicate your e-mail address, name, etc. to anyone without your express permission.)