A funny thing about last Sunday's coffee post: although it drew comments from lots of committed and dedicated coffee enthusiasts who are deeply into their morning brew, actually it wasn't meant to be that type of post. Actually it was meant for people who aren't coffee fanatics. It was meant to be basic advice for people who are casual about coffee, but who just wish their morning cup tasted a bit better. (That was the situation in which I found myself when I "got into" coffee in the first place.) That is, it was meant to describe the simplest, most cost-effective way to get the most improvement most easily.
What follows is similar advice with regard to improving your photography. Similarly, this is not directed at those of you who are professionals or experts, or who get to use your cameras all day, or who are naturally gifted with complex technology of all sorts—you, I'm sure, could teach me a thing or two. (The real problem with enthusiast sites is that they're composed of experts talking to each other rather than to typical and average real people.) Rather, this is basic advice for casual beginners or intermittent intermediate photographers...that is, most of the people out there, and probably a majority of those who actually read this site.
(Although probably not many among the regular commenters.)
It's this: Learn your camera, and practice with it.
It's the most effective, quickest, easiest way for the most people to improve their photography. Or at least their enjoyment of their photography.
This is why it's best to pick one camera and stick with it...because that makes it more likely that you'll really get to grips with it and master its ins and outs...and eventually get comfortable with it. Your camera should be an old shoe. Assuming you're not an expert or a pro or particularly gifted with technology, it's better to know one camera intimately, even if that camera isn't perfect, than it is to have many cameras that, taken selectively and altogether, can handle any situation.
So first, you need to learn your camera. This can be done with the manual, or with a book about your camera, or by reading Internet reviews and feature lists and working through the menus and concepts.
...And this is work. Make no mistake. It's hard. It's hard for me, and I'm supposed to do it for a living. The less you know about the basics of photography, the harder it's going to be, too.
Secondly, practice with your camera. What does this mean? First, work out your holding technique. Figure out how to stand when you shoot and how to hold the camera for horizontals and verticals and when using the viewing screen. Where do your hands go? Where are your elbows? You should do this the same way every time. If you get the camera out for five minutes a day to practice with it, which you can do in your office or at home, this is the first thing to run through—all your holds. Gradually these become second nature.
Five minutes a day is fine. If you do it most every day.
Note that I'm not going to tell you how to hold your camera, or link to a site that does that. It's your camera, and you know yourself...so you work it out. Try different things. See what you think is most stable, most comfortable. See where your hands need to go in order to reach the most often used controls on your particular camera.
The purpose of manuals/books is to familiarize you with all the things your camera can do, all the options. Note that you do not need to know all of these and you don't need to master everything. Rather, as you go through, you'll decide which functions you'll use and which ones you're going to ignore. (I ignore lots of functions on cameras these days. I know they're there, but they're not part of my repertoire.)
Then, during your five-minute practice sessions, give yourself various tasks and simply run through them. Set ƒ/8. Change to auto-bracketing and back. Change from autofocus to manual focus and back. Set a specific ISO then change back to auto ISO. Pick a subject in your living room, raise your camera, focus and set it, and take a picture with a vertical hold.
Lamps in the living room are helpful. How do you meter with a lamp in the center of a frame, vs. at the corner of the frame? Do it. Shoot it. What works best?
Like that. Be sure to keep your fingers away from the honeycombed electric-eye window. :-)
The things you practice could be different depending on your specific camera. For instance, on my newish X-T1 I use both high-speed continuous and autobracketing fairly regularly; I never use either on menu-driven or IBIS cameras. So now I practice how to get to those settings.
It's easy, but that brings up another good point: practice even things you already know how to do. Just do it. The repetition is what helps.
Eventually, you'll develop a mental list of your go-to controls and you'll become familiar with the physical motions you need to go through to actually set them on your camera.
What you're aiming for is comfort and facility—familiarity—with your camera.
If you practice, then every time you get to shoot reinforces your practice, as well as your practicing paying off with greater fluidity and fluency when doing real shooting.
No need to be a nut about practicing. Five minutes does it. It's the regular, consistent repetition that does the trick. And note that five minutes a day five times a week is much better than 25 minutes once a week.
That's all. Learning your camera and practicing with it is the easiest, simplest, most effective thing you can do to improve your photography. It's basic, yes, but it's also important—and the less you use your camera, the more important it is.
This advice is for the rest of us. (Yes, "us"—I practice with my camera too.)
Make it a habit!
Original contents copyright 2015 by Michael C. Johnston and/or the bylined author. All Rights Reserved. Links in this post may be to our affiliates; sales through affiliate links may benefit this site.
(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Jim Bullard (partial comment): "That's good advice for anyone, Mike. Back in the days when I was teaching classes of beginning photography, the first assignment I gave my students was to sit down with their camera and its manual and learn what every button, knob and dial did. I told them they might not, perhaps even probably wouldn't, use all the available controls for the sort of photography they wanted to do, but they should be not using them because they chose not to rather than because they didn't know what the control did. That was in film days and the 'features' on cameras were significantly less extensive than they are today but I believe the advice still applies."
Jerry: "It seems that this advice would be extremely useful for a variety of activities including writing, drawing and fly fishing. Great thoughts."
Tadeo (partial comment): "This reminded me of...a wonderful quote from Bruce Lee: 'I do not fear a man who has practised a hundred kicks, but I fear the man who has practised one kick a thousand times.'"
Derek responds to Tadeo: "I believe the quote from Bruce Lee is, 'I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who has practiced one kick 10,000 times.' Same general idea, but amplified quite a bit. To underscore this a bit further, standard training sets in Jeet Kun Do (the system Bruce Lee developed, and Dan Inosanto significantly extended) are 1,000 repetitions of a technique. These leave you...tired, and generally sore. :-) They also take quite a while!"
c.d.embrey: "This applies to everything, not just photography. Sorta like driving on a slick road, If you have to think about it you'll crash. Things need to be second nature, if you are going to be successful at anything."
Pak-Ming Wan: "The moment the penny dropped for me on this subject was when I watched videos of pros using my camera. Watching their fluidity and effortless action I thought, 'Gee, I need to work on that.'"