The first thing I did after getting my last camera body was to read the user manual. It gave me a wealth of information about how the menu was configured and how to tweak settings as per my taste.
User manuals are for losers….. right…. and so are the missed photo opportunities.
I have answered thousands of questions which many photographers ask about their camera and usually the answer is available in the camera manual. A lot information that I have provided in Camera modes (PSAM and more), Metering Modes and Flash Modes articles, is already available in the camera manuals. You’ll be pleasantly surprised after reading your camera’s user manual. Many user manuals are available on the manufacturers’ sites as free downloads. I recommend downloading it on to your phone or tablet. It does help at times, especially after returning from a small outing with the family where some setting could not be found. Lounging around on the sofa, browsing through the manual will quickly show you how to get to that setting.
After reading the manual comes the camera itself. It took me a couple of hundred photos before I could comfortably use my camera. The image of the snail above was made on a Nikon D200 body with a Nikkor 50mm lens when the camera was new. I had to struggle to get a good picture of this one and this fellow was no ‘Turbo’. (If you like the image, you can purchase it from shutterstock)
The only thing that comes to my rescue when photographing a candid moment is how well I know my camera. No amount of high fps or auto-focus modes will help you capture that fleeting decisive moment (of Henri Cartier Bresson’s fame) as knowing your camera will. I now can boast of being able to set a lot of my camera parameters in complete darkness. Setting aperture, shutter speed and ISO was a piece of cake. Next came the metering modes, exposure compensation, daylight balance, focusing mode etc. Now I have configured the buttons and created a custom menu to access some of the commonly used functions. I am no Henri Cartier Bresson but I can be as quick in using my camera as he would have been. You should be comfortable with your camera and all the controls should come naturally to you. With time, the controls move to the subconscious or how the surgeons put it, everything starts to happen at the spinal level.
Apart from learning the camera controls, knowing the camera also involves understanding basics of exposures (Basics of Exposure). Find any popular book on photography to understand this (How to learn photography?). Then get your camera out and start clicking. The more you click, the better you will understand your camera and its nuances. Experiment with all the settings that you can find on your camera, learn to play around with them and see their effects. There’s always the factory reset option in case you happen to really mess up things.
The shortest route to become good with your camera is to read the user manual and to get friendly with your camera. This is what I have been doing with all the cameras I use or have used in the past.