All of us crusty old club members natter on around here, but every now and then I think I should write more posts for beginner and intermediate photographers (after all, being a beginner is a great advantage in photography—you have fresh ideas, and you haven't yet learned a) all the things you're supposed to not be able to do, or b) how to play the same tricks over and over. But all that's another post).
So here's my answer to the question "How do you learn to love a camera?" The answer is: Get to grips with it.
There are two main ways you do that. One is by learning it. That means understanding all the controls and settings, and practicing camera-handling. The other is by using it for real work: meaning, spending a lot of time taking a lot of pictures in situations where the camera is not the important thing, the pictures are the important thing.
It's become harder and harder to learn all of a camera's settings. When I was young, I didn't allow other people to use or even touch my camera because I was afraid somebody would twiddle the ASA (ISO) dial and I wouldn't realize it until I'd wasted some film—and missed some pictures. One of the things I liked about the Leica (I used the M6 and the M4) was that there was such a limited number of camera controls. You always knew where you stood with it. Not so these days, of course. Ctein's just gotten a new digital camera, one I know too, and for the past several days we've been having an animated private email exchange about how to set it up; there are many, many muliples of six controls on the thing. I think it's fair to say that we both have a ways to go yet.
Still, you've got to do it. A camera you can't control is one that will frustrate you, and a camera that frustrates you is one you won't love.
Camera handling is a specific set of skills that everyone needs to work on. Work out the way you personally hold the camera and work the controls. You should always hold it the same way in similar situations; your hands should be able to immediately find the controls you need most often. That takes work. I'm a big fan of "dry practice" every single day, because I believe that presenting your mind with problems helps your mind assimilate skills. Studies have proved that when learning languages, one hour a day seven days a week is far more effective than seven hours a day once a week. It's the same with camera handling: ten minutes a night in your living room is more valuable than an hour of practice on a Sunday. In these days when exposures cost nothing, just setting yourself the task of taking a certain number of exposures every day works too, but it only counts if you're doing it mindfully and working to set your camera-handling habits.
The best way to learn to love a camera is to use it for something important to you, and that usually means a project. No thoughts on what the project should be (again, that's a different post), but think flexibly. Mark Power, one of my teachers, made this crucial observation years ago, and I still think he's bang on: he said that he learned to ignore students griping and bellyaching, because they only gripe and bellyache when they're not engaged in their work. So his advice whenever anyone was complaining was to encourage them to work harder.
So, to sum up:
- To learn to love a camera, get to grips with it.
- The way to do that is to learn it and use it.
Here are a couple of additional tips for getting a camera to love, but these are low-level tips, far below the above two points explained above.
—Try to use only one, or one model (a main camera and a backup). When you have a go-to camera that you use for everything or most things, it becomes a "friend." I realize that a lot of people like to own multiple cameras and amuse themselves by switching around from one to another, and that's fine, but it's by definition dilettantish, and will prevent you from "bonding" with any one trusty tool.
—Try to start out with what you really want and really like. This often means sacrificing when it comes to expense, and spending more than is easy. But it can mean the opposite, too—I've known guys (er, and I am one) who own big fancy hyper-researched rigs yet who, when pressed, will admit that they most love using a more modest but more comfortable camera, or an older fave, rather than their big rigs.
—Accept workarounds. No camera has every little thing you yourself would choose to include or exclude. Every camera has its foibles and shortfalls. Don't moan about this—just learn to work with what you have. Hell, workarounds can even be fun, and were a point of pride with photographers as venerated as Edward Weston and Alfred Stieglitz, both of whom used old cameras that required some accomodation to use. If Stieglitz could use a camera with saggy bellows that had to be held up during exposure with a loop of string, you can learn to deal with a button in the wrong place or the lack of a feature you liked on your previous camera.
—Ignore what other people think of your camera, or think of you for using it. It's not a contest. This is easy to forget online, in the "social" world of comparing toys. But you can do great work with a "good enough" camera.
Note: Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site. More...
Original contents copyright 2012 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved.
Featured [partial] Comment by Carlo Santin: "I think a lot of people dump a camera before they are truly familiar with it."
Featured Comment by Craig Arnold: "It rather depends on which of two related hobbies/interests/activities one is engaged in at the time: 1. Photography as art, which is all about the images. Your advice pertains mostly to this hobby. And here in fact almost any camera will do, as becomes obvious when one looks at the cameras used by the great historical and modern photographers. 2. Cameras as gadgets; this is about collecting, measuring, analysing, etc. The fact that they can be used to make photographs is an almost irrelevant side effect, as becomes obvious when one looks at the galleries of most camera experts. There's nothing wrong with enjoying both activities of course, and it's easy to become expert in #2, whilst being devilishly hard to be anything more than average at #1."
Featured Comment by Mahn England: "I now have a Sony RX-100 in addition to my DSLR. I have until now been monolingual speaking only Canonese. I have had to learn another tongue. My brain can't cope with this. I now find that I speak a sort of pigeon point and shoot with a DSLR accent. I hope it settles down so that I can start taking photos again."