Sunday, January 22, 2012

Read Your Manual (more than once...)

Probably the least part of the fun of getting a new toy is reading the manual.  Manuals are not exciting, entertaining, or dramatic, yet they hold the secrets of getting the most out of your gear.

Reading your camera's manual, and in particular RE-READING the manual is one of the best things you can help to grow your skills.  I know.  It's so tempting to put your camera on automatic, get great shots, never look back...  But what do you do when you're not getting the results you want?  Blame your equipment?  Thnk maybe you didn't spend enough?  It's an easy temptation to think this way--I did.

Imagine the humbling experience when I got my lens back from the Nikon Service Center and they said nothing was wrong with it.  Embarrassing really.  I was not getting the sharpness I wanted and figured I was just going to have to buy one of those $2000 lenses.  As an alternative to that, while Nikon had my lens, I decided to re-read my manual--especially the part about different focus modes and focus point settings.  Really, there's more than one set-up?  Ever wonder why your camera has these different settings--it's for a reason!  I got a crash course on one of the most important parts of my camera's operations--focusing.

I used the manual to help fill in a knowledge gap that I had, and it was this gap that explained why I was getting less than satisfactory (sharpness) results when shooting wildlife.  Reading manuals isn't glamorous, and it doesn't work too good if you try doing it cover-to-cover.  I found it works best when you're targeting a specific area of understanding.  In my case, I now know the different focus modes, and how each one is different from the other, and when each one would be most appropriate.  No, not an expert in this area, but WAY smarter than I was. 

Much like polishing a rock is a repetitive process with finer and finer grit, developing your photography skills is a repetitive process where you get more and more detailed knowledge about a subject.  Learning that you have aperture priority and shutter priority in addition to program/auto mode is a big jump.  Learning when to use one over the other is a smaller jump, a refinement if you will.  Different focus modes, etc... you get the idea.

Hopefully you're at least read or skimmed your manual.  I'm encouraging you now to pick it back up, read a chapter, put it down and absorb the incremental learning.  You'll be glad you did.  Feel free to contact me if you have any questions, at  and while you're at it, you might want to check out my latest images at

(Metadata 1/60 sec at f/8.0, ISO 450 shot at 300m with a 70-300mm lens)

Friday, January 6, 2012

Experimenting Frees You Up...To Experiment!

I have obsessed on and off over the last year about the sharpness (or lack thereof) of my 70-300mm lens.  It wasn't so much that I was dissatified with my images, it's that recently I've been admiring the images of another photographer friend whose images are tack sharp.

So over the last couple of weeks, I've been conducting a number of tests, shooting by myself, and asking friends to send me specific shot sample with their gear.  In a real sense, I've been conducting experiments.  I've been shooting with vibration reduction on an off, with super-fast shutter speeds, and slower shutter speeds that support a small aperture.  I don't have any other objective than to learn.  To learn about my equipment, and to learn more about the techniques to get the most of out it.

As part of my experimentation, I went on a photoshoot to a local city park with a friend who had a lens similar to one I wanted to test.  We spent a couple hours walking around, changing lenses, and just shooting at anything interesting.  Since I was more focused on the experimentation around technique and equipment, my creative side was freed up from the pressures of trying to get that great "money shot".  Consequently, I got quite a number of interesting images.

My experimentation is not complete yet, but I wanted to encourage you to start your own experiments.  Grab your camera, grab your gear, and go to work on something.  Explore a concept, a feature, a technique, to just play around and hope for that happy accident.  Sometimes the most fun learning is that which comes from teaching yourself.

Feel free to contact me at or check out my website gallery at

(metadata 1/90 sec at f/11 and ISO 200, focal length 105mm)