In my last post I introduced the notion that being a competent photographer is analogous to a 3-legged stool. In this post we’ll dive deeper into the first leg of that stool – technical competency.
In this context, “technical competency” means knowing how and when to use the features on a specific camera to achieve the desired look in an image. This means knowing not only the technical specifications (maximum shutter speed, number of frames per second, etc.) but also knowing how to change options on the fly based on shooting conditions.
A great place to start is by reading through a camera’s manual. It’s surprising what you can learn from a well-written set of instructions! When I first got my Nikon D300 (as well as my D610), I took a deep dive into the manuals – marking them up with Post-It Notes and highlighter for sections that were relevant to me. I walked through all the important options before I was “out in the field” to shoot. This is essential to being comfortable with a camera when the moment strikes. Photographers who don’t know how to quickly operate and change their equipment run the risk of missing a perfect shot. There are some options I use all the time on my camera, and these were the most important ones for me to know how to quickly set or change. This list may vary based on a photographer’s style and subject, but this is a good list to start with:
- Exposure bracketing/exposure compensation
- Single or multi-shot options
- Shutter speed
- Metering mode
If you don’t know what some of these are – great! Pull out your manual and look them up! Once you think you’ve got them figured out and can set them easily, try this test – put your eye to the viewfinder of your camera and try changing the settings without looking at the buttons or dials on the front or back of your camera. Sometimes this isn’t possible (for example, if your camera uses a touch-sensitive LCD) but on most DSLRs you can still do this. I found that once I learned this skill, I missed far fewer shots because I was fumbling for the right option.
As a quick side note – technical competency also extends past your camera. You need to know how to quickly set up your tripod, or how to use a remote shutter release, or an off-camera flash, or…well, really any piece of equipment you use in your photography.
Experiment, play around, and test everything thoroughly before you go out for a shooting session. Technical competency will make you be happier with the results, and you’ll spend more time concentrating on getting the image you want.