Learning a New Camera: Study, Practice and Mistakes

Learning is a great thing. I have wanted to learn the art of taking photographs of people after spending the last several years primarily as a fine art/landscape photographer. I guess 2014 is my year!

We learn from study, we learn from practice and then there are those times that we learn from mistakes. 

I can honestly say I have learned from all three areas in the last month in regard to photography.  After receiving my new camera for Christmas, I spent quite a bit of time studying how it is different from my other one.  It takes time to learn what all is buried in the menu, how to get it set the way I want, which buttons do what, etc. But until there is practice, those things can be for naught. I know from past that it can take a while to get a really good feel for how to operate a new camera. Even the same brands move buttons and change where and how things operate from camera to camera. Once I had a general feel, it was time to practice. 

My first real attempt at using it was a morning in downtown Fort Worth, shooting the annual Stock Show Parade. It was a great experience as I had to shoot in bright sun with shadows and with moving people and objects that weren’t willing to stop and pose for me. I received a good amount of practice that day with many, many photos taken as you can tell by visiting this gallery.

Here a few of those images:

Then last week, I had a couple of other opportunities to get in more practice. I was invited to assist another photographer-friend at Joe T Garcia’s in Fort Worth. She was doing a shoot for the Lena Pope Home and asked me if I would like to tag along. Well, it would for certain give me another opportunity to practice and get better acquainted with my camera, so I joined her. It, too, was a bright sunshiny day (again with shadows) and this time we were shooting a beautiful model in a gorgeous vivid-colored dress. She danced and twirled as we photographed her. Bright sun, shadows galore and a moving person. Yes, I was for sure getting much needed practice. The beautiful Katy of Ballet Folkorico Azteca can be seen here:


The very next day, a surprise was waiting for me – oh, and for someone else. You see I have known about a surprise proposal for a few weeks and it was planned to happen later in February. I was asked to photograph it while hiding nearby. (I’m seeing a trend here…people, people, people.) I knew I had plenty of time to get even more familiar with my camera in addition to a much needed study on posing, as we were planning to do a mini-engagement shoot afterwards. Well, the mother of bride and I were planning it, anyway.

Then it happened! The proposal was being moved up. Immediately! My well thought-out ideas of how to shoot it in the midday sun were being pushed away to an evening proposal. Could I do it? I had no choice, I wouldn’t miss it. I had to wing it. I’m quite sure photographers who primarily shoot portraits are accustomed to winging it, but I was unprepared. What’s a girl to do when another girl is about to be asked for marriage? Grab the gear and go. Just do it!

So I did it! And once again, I was forced to learn a good bit. The sun was quickly falling and thankfully the actual proposal was done before sunset, however our mini-shoot (which I was completely unprepared for) was happening as the sun set and beyond.

Here is where learning from mistakes come into play. 

First, I was not mentally prepared for posing, and so as I look back through the many photos, I am constantly saying, “I should have done this, I should have had them do that.” I made a mistake by procrastinating in studying up on that area. Lesson learned.

Another mistake was relying on my back screen to check images instead of my histogram. I am very accustomed to briefly checking the image on my screen to make certain it is exposed properly. And usually that works. I use my camera’s light meter to get a good idea, snap a shot and then check to confirm. Once that is done, I know how I need to adjust for the remaining captures. And that is exactly what I did – and they looked beautiful on my LCD screen.

Only problem is…the day before when shooting in the middle of the afternoon in bright sunlight, I couldn’t see my images on the screen so I raised the brightness (all the way) up to the brightest it would go. And guess what? I forgot. I did not change it back.

Not only that, I now remember thinking, after taking my test shots, “Hmmm, wonder why my light meter is having me shoot a little under based on how the images look? Perhaps it has to do with this particular (new) camera and shooting at dusk.” (DUH!)

Sure enough when I returned home several of my images were underexposed. The saving grace is due to the fact that it was at least under, and not over exposed as well as the fact that I shoot in RAW so I was able to bring up the exposure in processing of those particular images. Thank God!

As I said, I’ve learned a great deal the last month and I’m certain there is more to come.

Learning from study (not enough), from practice (not enough) and from mistakes (enough already!)


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