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)

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