Hobby and part time shooters often struggle with a major, but easily remedied, limitation. They don’t know their gear. This is a severe limitation, keeping the photographer from knowing what to do or if they can even make their camera do it. The only cure for this ill is a full practical knowledge of the features on your camera and how to access them. This is another one of those times when reading your manual becomes extremely beneficial. The internet also is a very handy tool. When you find a term that you don’t understand, Google it (or Yahoo, or Bing or whatever searches your web). The single biggest practice that will help you learn your camera is to use it consistently and use it experimentally. If you only pick up your camera once every 3 or 4 months you will never become familiar and comfortable with the buttons, settings and features on your camera. Use your camera regularly so you will be intimate with all its dials and menus. To learn, you also have to experiment with something new. If you shoot every day, but never get out of auto mode and never tweak a setting you will not learn the controls of your camera. You need to play with the controls. This means you don’t just know what exposure compensation is and does, but how to change it quickly on the fly. This kind of knowledge only comes as you experiment with the camera.
One of the early realizations I had of the limitations of point and shoot cameras was when I discovered I had to “trick” my camera into taking the shot I wanted. There were many times when selecting the “appropriate scene” for what I was shooting left my pictures bland or downright terrible. The other side of knowing your gear is knowing how it reacts and how it “thinks.” To get the pictures you want, you need to know the limitations, tendencies and quirks of your camera. Once again, this only comes by using your camera. Shooting infrequently and never getting out of auto will give you almost no profitable experience in your camera’s workings. Shooting, using the camera’s features, allows you to see how your camera reacts in different situations. That knowledge will enable you to outguess your camera so that you will take the picture you want.
The final element of knowing your gear is to know your camera’s limitations. Chase Jarvis is a world renowned photographer who has become known most recently for the incredible pictures taken with his iPhone. Obviously, the iPhone is far from a high quality camera. In the technical sense, it’s photographic abilities are less than most mid range point and shoots. Yet, with a mediocre at best camera, this man was able to take some great pictures. He accomplished that feat by knowing precisely what the camera could and could not do. He didn’t waste his time trying to make the iPhone do something it couldn’t. He worked within its abilities and did incredible work. To take great pictures, you do not need a great camera. To take great pictures you need to know what your camera can and cannot do. The better you know your camera, the better your pictures will become.