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Hands up if you are like me. You just bought a new camera. You slowly and deliberately unbox it, savouring every feeling, enjoying every moment. Obviously, you discard the manual, carelessly tossing it to some far-flung corner of the room. Instead, you jump straight in, attaching a lens, getting a feel for this beautifully sculptured marvel of metal and electronics.
You are enamoured by it, an object of desire that is now yours. And that’s a natural and good thing. It may last a few days, it may last several weeks, but at some stage, you need to form a different relationship with your camera, one where it stops being an emotional attachment and starts becoming a tool.
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When you do this, your photographic passion will ignite.
Emotional Bonds Are Hard To Break
Most of you, I am sure, trawl through the many forums dedicated to our passion for photography. Most of you will have picked up on something, tribalism. Nikon v Canon, Full Frame v APSC v M4/3, DSLR v Mirrorless and more.
Of course, this is not confined to photography, think Mac v PC, IOS v Android, and so on. If you have invested a significant amount of your hard earned cash into a product, then there is a natural tendency to defend it to the hilt. You ignore genuine issues and retaliate with well-known issues about your antagonist’s equipment.
Next time you are on one of the major forums, take a look at the professional’s boards. There is one thing you will notice immediately — much less infighting over brands. There is a good reason for this. Professionals tend not to have such emotional attachments to their equipment. They are tools designed to do a job. So how do we break that emotional attachment to our cameras?
Breaking The Bond
The key to breaking the bond is familiarity. If you feel the urge to pick up your camera and admire it, don’t. Pick it up and take it out to shoot instead. The more you do this, the more you will break those affectionate bonds and the quicker you will come to regard it as a tool.
If you have ever watched a master craftsperson at work, one of the most immediate things you will see is how they are at ease with the tools they use. The tool has become an extension of the person's body. It is used instinctively and without thought.
Of course, that craftsperson will look after their tools, keeping them in tip top condition but it’s pretty unlikely they take them home and spend time admiring them. This is what you need to aim to achieve with your cameras. Like the master craftsperson, this will only happen with practice, practice and more practice.
Your Camera, An Extension To Your Eye.
The chances are that you will not notice when your camera becomes a tool. It will happen during a shoot. You will be concentrating hard on getting a great composition, and your subconscious will be telling you-you need less depth of field. Without thought, without lowering the camera, you will open the aperture from f8 to f2.8. You will get a great shot.
Your progression will be stepped, very much like the way you learnt photography initially. You will become instinctive in each technical aspect bit by bit until eventually, you will be able to carry out all the basic technical elements of a shot without thought.
As we said earlier, for your camera to become a tool, you need to practice frequently and regularly. However, if you want to become instinctive in one particular technical aspect quickly, then you can force yourself along a little.
Perhaps you want to become intuitive with using slow shutter speed to convey motion. Every time you go out to practice, make motion blur the theme of your shoots. Shoot moving cars, at different angles, joggers running, dogs playing in the park. Look for subjects in motion at different speeds and various directions and shoot them at every opportunity. You will soon find yourself instinctively recognising how the pace and direction of a subject is related to your chosen shutter speed.
When Your Camera Is A Tool, Your Creativity Will Flow
Once you have broken your emotional attachment and turned your camera into a tool, you will find your creativity will leap. Here are some reasons why:
- Setting the camera instinctively
- Understanding the effect of changing a camera setting
- Freeing your mind from the technical to the creative.
Setting the camera instinctively leads to you shooting faster and more frequently. Rather than ponder over a shot, you will see one, raise the camera, adjust the settings and shoot. This means not only shooting more but seeing more shots. Not all of them will be winners, but the percentage of good shots will increase.
Because your camera has become a tool, you will now know how much depth of field you will get for a given focal length and aperture. You will know how quickly and accurately your camera will focus and how to switch to manual focus without ever dropping the viewfinder from your eye.
You will know that your camera is not perfect, but your deep understanding of it will allow you to work around its limitations.
Because these technical aspects are now part of the subconscious, your conscious mind is freer to concentrate on the creative aspects of the photographic process. You will have become a more creative photographer.
There are things to consider when using your camera as a tool. Like any tool, learning to use it will not happen overnight. It will take repetitive practice over a long period. If you are the type of person that likes to chop and change your camera bodies regularly, it’s going to be harder for you. One of the most critical aspects of using a camera as a tool is knowing exactly where buttons and dials lie under your fingers. Even on models from the same manufacturer, that can vary significantly.
If you are prepared to stick with one camera model and to practice frequently and regularly, you will in time, turn your camera into a powerful tool. Once you have done that once for one camera model, you will find it easier in the future to get used to other models or even brands.