I’ve just read an interesting article in “On Landscape” magazine by Richard Childs, where he is encouraging people to get to know the controls of their camera and it reminded me of a fascinating interlude I had at Staithes festival last year. We’d been exhibiting our images in one of the cottages throughout the day, then later that evening after dark, I ventured down to the harbour to shoot some of the evening activities. I set my camera on the tripod and started taking images, after each frame I would review the histogram and adjust the exposure compensation accordingly. After a few minutes I sensed I was being watched and it turned out that indeed I was! A gentleman was standing behind me fascinated that I was able to make all these various adjustments to my camera in the dark without the use of a head torch. I explained to him that I was so familiar with my camera, I knew where the buttons were, so I didn’t need to be able to see them to operate the camera.
Thinking about this later, I realised what a big advantage this is when trying to compose an image. My mind can be fully focussed on the image making process because operating the camera requires so little conscious input. I have a work flow, developed over many years of practice which means my process of image making is repeatable.
I also realised when I thought about it further, that I’ve stuck to very similar cameras over the last 20 years, so very little has changed for me. I bought my first Nikon camera, an F801 in 1994, before finally going digital with a D70 in 2004. This has been followed by a D200, a D700 and now a D800, all of which follow a very similar layout, so I haven’t had to learn anything radically different over the years.
Admittedly, the images I was shooting that evening were only record shots, but you get the idea just how useful being fully in control of your equipment can be. It frees the mind to concentrate on the image making process, so the next time I’m on a beach an hour before dawn, I know that I can happily work in the dark knowing that operating the camera is the least of my problems.