If you read article one in this series, you are already up to speed on what the premise is here. If not, then the next paragraph will bring you up to speed. Better yet, if you are so inclined, the first article can be found here.
In this mini-series, “The Discipline Of Photography,” we offer ten (10) articles on mindsets and practices that we think offer the best chance for success when it comes time to press the shutter release. Ten (10) pearls of wisdom, if you will, that were hard-won through years of field experience, or that we have gleaned from our discussions with other photographic professionals. Hopefully, our knowledge and willingness to share can move you along to your photography goals just a little bit quicker than we reached ours.
Ten (10) Disciplines
And once again, here are our Ten (10) Disciplines and our very tongue in cheek explanation of each one. If you have these all committed to memory, click HERE to skip to the new stuff. They may appear a bit glib, but there is some thought behind each of them:
Discipline 01: Prepare For Failure (Article Link)
Prepare for failure, be sure you have everything you need when you need it.
Discipline 02: Intimate Knowledge (You’re Here Right Now!)
Got your attention now don’t we, don’t miss this one.
Discipline 03: Tread Lightly
We all have our limits; it’s not necessary to test them.
Discipline 04: Making Time
Spend your time wisely and invest the time necessary.
Discipline 05: Track Your Game
Great hunters don’t take the first shot they see; they take the well-calculated shot.
Discipline 06: Breathe In, Breathe Out
Clear your mind.
Discipline 07: Increase The Odds
Those who play Craps know that more is better.
Discipline 08: Move Or Die
Getting old can be done gracefully, but it requires alternates points of view.
Discipline 09: Take It Or Make It
Capture or create, in a lot of situations it is up to you.
Discipline 10: Powerbroker
Don’t underestimate your influence in making the deal.
So there you have it, a recap of our ten (10) disciplines of photography. Without further ado, let’s get into discipline number two (02).
Discipline 02: Intimate Knowledge
Okay, so in all reality Discipline 02 is not all that sexy, so we came up with the clever title above to attract your attention. Don’t let our bipolar title versus introduction throw you off here, this is still important stuff.
We are going to say this once, “You really need to understand how your camera works.” We also stretch the truth sometimes, so we are going to say it again, “You really need to understand how your camera works.” And here’s the really cool thing, your camera came with a manual, included in the cost. I do not want to pull a John Lennon here and make any comparison between Jesus and your camera, but this little book should be your secondary bible for a while. I would not go around quoting camera manual verses to your friends, but a little camera manual knowledge can go a long way.
Read The Manual
Seriously when we get a new camera body, we explore the manual, looking for new features, things that have changed and all around trying to get a sense of what this expensive new brick can do for us. You should make it your mission to squeeze out every bit of knowledge from that little book and in turn, seek out every feature in your new camera.
Listen, we get it, this is not scintillating reading material. It can be rather dry and technical in nature. At the same time, it goes into great detail describing all of the buttons, knobs, displays, and features that your camera has to offer, so it can’t be all bad.
One way of approaching this is to break the manual into small bite-size pieces, working your way from front to back. It’s probably most beneficial to figure out what all those little buttons, dials, and knobs are for, before diving further into the manual. From there, the manual is usually divided into topical sections. Take a look at exposure modes, then maybe move onto focusing systems, dive into how the camera’s metering system works, and then start working on all those advanced features.
As you come across new features, or at the very least a different way of doing something than what you are used to, spend some time practicing that feature. It’s not unusual for written instructions to not translate directly into hands-on experience. More often than not, trying something out is much better than merely reading about it.
One last thought here, before we move on, keep the manual with you. Sooner or later, you are going to be out in the field and need some sliver of precious information that’s tucked away in that little book. Wonderful thing about the digital age, almost all manuals are downloadable as PDF files now. We keep lots of camera manuals on our smartphones these days.
Don’t Play When You Practice
There is this drum instructor, Jeff Robert, who by the way is a bomb drummer, who said once “don’t play when you practice and don’t practice when you play.” When queried about this statement, he answered: “when you are practicing make it about practice, do the same rudiments over and over until they are automatic and from memory.” He also added, “when you are out playing a gig, you know something you are getting paid for, that’s not a good time to try something you are not comfortable with, could end badly.” Hmm, makes sense and a little insight from which we could all benefit.
May sound funny to you, but constant practice with your camera makes sense. Back in the film days, we did this without film in the camera. Hey, those frames cost money! Nowadays, we can practice all we want and when we finish, format the memory card and practice again. The cost is non-existent, and the benefits are immeasurable. Switching exposure mode, changing aperture, changing shutter speed, altering ISO, dialing in exposure compensation, should all be fluid motions, without thought or hesitation. There is a more extensive list than what we have mentioned here, so bottom line, learn how to operate all the controls on your camera without thinking.
Let’s take this a step further, not only should you be able to operate all the controls seamlessly, but you should be able to do this without removing your eye from the viewfinder. Camera manufacturers have invested huge sums of money in studying ergonomics and ensuring that the user can operate their model of camera quickly and effortlessly. In fact, cameras that have not met up to the “markets” expectation of “ease of use,” have disappeared from the shelves pretty quickly.
Once you understand the functions that your camera has to offer, see how many of those functions you can operate through the viewfinder alone. The payoff, for this investment in time, will be in more shots taken and fewer shots missed. Sports and wildlife photographers especially, get this equation altogether.
Don’t Practice When You Play
So this may not necessarily be a part of the “Intimate Knowledge” discipline, but it is the other side of Jeff Robert’s mantra, so we are going to include it out of a sense of providing the complete picture (pun fully intended). Musicians get the notion of “not practicing while playing” entirely, for no musician wants to be on stage when the wheels fall off. Imagine being in the middle of a performance and hitting the wrong notes. Imagine too, not being able to deliver the images for which your clients are paying you. Bad for your resume’.
Seriously make sure that you know your camera well enough to take that next assignment, or accept that next retainer fee. You’ll be glad that you did. Nothing worse than having to tell your client that you failed to get the images they were expecting. Okay, wait there is something worse, getting sued because you failed, badly.
Familiarity Breeds Familiarity
I bet you thought that title was going to end with the word “contempt.” But contempt only happens for your camera when it lets you down. However, more often than not your camera doesn’t let you down, you actually let it down. Wonderful news here, it doesn’t hold a grudge and will let you try over and over again.
We hear this all the time, “I need a better camera.” Do you really? We are not so sure about that. Let’s face it we have seen people with amazing cameras turn out amazingly bad images. On the other hand, we have observed folks with some of the most basic gear in the world, turn out stunning artwork. This really does fall all on your shoulders. It is up to you to understand exposure theory and be able to make your camera demonstrate that understanding.
Technical mastery with a digital camera is a real thing, and it is wholely observable. Even a blind squirrel gets a nut once in a while, but when you see a photographer turn out one piece after another, that grabs your attention, you know you are looking at the work of someone who spent time learning all the pieces of his or her craft. Want that kind of results, be that kind of person.
One trick ponies are precisely that, good for one trick. The photographic world is changing around you all the time, whether you are paying attention or not. Every time we develop some sense of confidence about what we know, someone shows us something new and better, and of course, we are scratching our heads once again.
Part of the fun of photography is that there is an endless variety of techniques and tools to be applied to capturing compelling images. Once you feel like you have one approach down, try another, you won’t be disappointed. The subtle nuances in light control alone could have you recorded images in so many different ways, that you would never run out of versions to shoot.
And here’s the best part, the more techniques you know, the more genres you can shoot, the larger the number of complicated shooting situations you can handle. If you are a professional photographer, you probably already get this equation, but knowledge equals money.
Okay, you probably feel like enough is enough, got it, we are now preaching to the choir, you are a convert. Likely want to finish with this article so you can go read your manual and practice with your camera. We hope we have provided enough salient points that the message is clear.
Brought To You Buy
This article was brought to you by Soft Lite Studios and workshop guides Tim Neumann and Lorie McQuirt. As producers of photography workshops and educational content, we are passionate about all things related to fine art imaging. Specializing in location planning, photographic technique, and post-production insights, we love to share this information with our workshop clients and friends. See you out there!