Last week, I got into a heated debate on PetaPixel’s website on an article about the little symbol that looks like a Greek letter ϕ on your camera. The symbol is nothing but to indicate to you where the focal plane (aka sensor) is inside the camera. My original comment was, “If you just found this out now, you didn’t RTFM”. The responses and reactions I received were quite, uhm, interesting, within the next few days. Some people were calling me name, some said I was just trolling, some flat out said my pictures “blow major ass”, I quote.
While I’m in no way defending the fact that my work does indeed blow major ass, I’m a strong believer that one should really know how to operate the camera before starting to shoot with it. Now, I’m not saying that knowing everything about the technical aspects of your equipment will make you a better photographer, but it does eliminate all the possible user errors while you’re focusing on the art itself. In fact, I know my camera so well that when I take a bad photo, I only have myself to blame, not the equipment.
Just like any other areas of art and professions, you really need to know how to use the tools you have to do what you do. A painter will need to know what brushes to use, and how to mix colors before painting. A programmer will need to know the language before he/she starts coding. A racer will need to know how to use the clutch before he/she starts racing. Likewise, a photographer will need to know how to use the camera before shooting. Frankly, this is where the manual comes in handy. If you have read your manual at least once, you must know what the ϕ symbol means. It’s in every manual. You might have forgotten about it, but it’s in there, and you must’ve seen it before. Unless, of course, you didn’t RTFM.
I don’t want to fixate on just the focal plane indicator alone. I know what the symbol means, and I know exactly where my focal plane is, but I have never had the need to use that information. With that said, I can’t stress how useful your manuals are when it comes to photography equipment. Hell, I can tell you that I have read my manuals at least more than once. I want to make sure I know my gear inside out, so that I don’t end up fumble around while I’m on the field.
If you have shot film in the past, or still are, you know very well there’s no such thing as “A for awesome” mode, nor “P for professional” mode. You need to know everything about your camera, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, lighting, color temperature, etc… There’s really not a whole lot of room for errors when you’re out shooting.
If you don’t want to get to know your camera(s) and the technical aspects of it all, you may as well be shooting with your smartphone using Instagram. It’s got all the great tools you need to create artsy looking photos at your finger tips without reading any manual, as there isn’t one. There, I said it.
If you agree with me, now is the time you revisit the camera box and RTFM.