The first step in becoming a better photographer is learning that for all the bells and whistles, your camera is stupid.
This isn’t about brand loyalty. This isn’t about gimmicks. This isn’t going to be a curmudgeonly rant about how film is just better and “back in my day” because while I’ve been using a camera since I was in first grade, I only really started digging in to photography when digital cameras became affordable and I could futz around with settings and dig deep. I dabble in film, I work in digital.
But your camera and the computer that runs it, is stupid. And most of the time, that’s perfectly fine. That’s more than enough.
And then you’ll find yourself reaching for that shot that’s just beyond the camera’s understanding and you’ll be left staring at the resulting image with impotent frustration. Really? Now? The moment that really mattered? Why I oughtta….
That, I think, is when you start to learn. The camera is great, it’s got all the best settings, but you need to do more to get the best shot.
For me, it was shooting a burlesque show in a dark club with a long catwalk. I was still letting the camera do the bulk of the thinking so most of the pictures were fine except for one bit where a pale blonde performer took to the catwalk wearing nothing but white feather fans. Those pictures were so badly exposed that no amount of bashing it in Lightroom could redeem them. I posted some, they weren’t awful but I was frustrated.
The problem? The camera was metering for the entire image and figured (incorrectly) that I was as interested in the shadowy crowd in the background as the leggy blonde on the stage. The lesson? Find out how to meter on the fly or at least fiddle with the aperture when I recognized that the camera would be stupid and I wanted something different. Hell of a learning curve, took a lot of time, but by the end of my tenure, I was handling everything except for the focus as I shot the shows.
This is what throws people. This is what scares some folk off. I know, I once saw a friend hit this roadblock. He had a new camera, he wanted to take a picture of a neon sign but it kept being fuzzy or inconsistently sharp. He muttered about how he had to figure out the aperture or a tripod or something and… bah.
First lesson: your camera is stupid.