Why Using Your Gear Should Always Be the Easiest Part of Every Shoot

I’m often amazed by how many photographers don’t really know all that much about the technical aspects of operating their gear. While I’m not expecting everyone to go out and study how the mechanics of a lens works, I think it is utterly paramount when you are on a shoot that the actual act of operating your equipment to achieve a professional-quality image should be trivially easy so that you can focus on the more important aspects.

Knowing How to Use Your Gear Solves Problems

Photography is often largely about problem solving. Our cameras are tools of tremendous versatility but are all dogged by brutal limitations. The balance of these two extremes is how photographers capture great images.

If you don’t instinctively know every aspect of your gear, your ability to overcome those limitations can either be very slow or impossible. You never know what feature may be your savior, so make sure that you know as much about how to operate your camera as possible so that you are fully armed to do battle with complex situations.

Knowing How to Use Your Gear Eliminates Distraction

Humans only have a finite amount of focus that we can allocate to active tasks. As you become more proficient at repeating a task, the amount of focus required to do it diminishes. For a budding photographer, balancing exposure, achieving focus, or avoiding blur is something that will gorge on their available reserves of focus.

When investing the majority of your attention on operating the equipment, you inevitably must sacrifice the attention you are placing on creative imagination, interaction with a subject, and awareness of the scene. Invest the time to transform your knowledge of using your camera from being something you need to focus heavily on to something trivial that you barely need to think about during a shoot.

Knowing How to Use Your Gear Ensures Quality

If you aren’t intimately acquainted with every aspect of your gear, how can you expect to coax the highest quality out of it? Deepening the knowledge of your gear to the point it becomes instinct allows you to overcome situations that might adversely affect the quality of your service with no more than a fleeting thought as you quickly adapt to whatever situation arises.


This post may seem like I am somewhat stating the obvious but I can’t believe how often I encounter photographers who are actually selling their services while struggling with the basics of photography. These photographers often have an amazing eye and can create great images when the situation is right, but struggle to make a viable image if a single setting is wrong or they need to step outside their comfort zone.

Invest the time in learning how to use your camera so that the technical aspect of operating your equipment is so trivial that you don’t even really need to actively think about it during a shoot.

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Roger Botting's picture

I see this all of the time. Not just professional photographers but photographers at all levels who not not seem to know the absolute basics.
And I will include the absolute beginners who consistently photograph their ears with the Pocket Instamatics (yes, when I worked retail I had a couple of them) along with pro photographers who can't change lens without difficulties, let alone set up lighting.

Alice Avenne's picture

It's always fun to trick them into humiliation by asking them basic technical questions they should know the answers to only to have them give the wrong one.

Justin Haugen's picture

I still find new ways to utilize my tools that I wasn't fully tapped into before. At any given time, there is something about your camera you haven't explored and are failing to utilize that could be helping your workflow. Right now I have back button focus and the entire AI Servo feature set on my 5Dmk3 that I haven't even messed with outside the standard setting.

Jennifer Kelley's picture

Too true. The biggest mistake I ever made was showing up to a shoot with somewhat new gear, and a ton of it. I've known the basics for years but got too distracted with fooling around with my stuff. Just like any other medium, the camera should be an extension of ourselves.

Having just bought a new camera and going on vacation tomorrow, I've committed myself to bringing only a single body and lens.

Prefers Film's picture

Before my last big trip, I bought a new camera body, and used it every day. There are a ton of settings to learn on something like a Canon EOS 7D that can make the craft of photography that much easier.

Ironically, this kept me from playing with the EOS 1N I recently bought. It is a much simpler tool.

J D's picture

I see a lot of it almost every day I am out shooting. So many people buy or get a camera and all of a sudden they are photographers charging money. I have been in the park taking photos and seen so called photographers using their phones to Google how to change settings on their new cameras and when she couldn't figure it out, she just finished the shoot with her phone.

Bill Peppas's picture

I agree.
Knowing your gear's limitations and controls inside out is key to capturing awesome photos.
It allows you to become one with your model/environment instead of looking at your camera every now and then searching for an option or a button.

Doc Pixel's picture

Getting my snark on... sorry... but are you trying to get us to believe that you "know your gear" and purposely shot that last BW photo of the girl sitting on the floor?

Or are you entering into my personal pet-peeve space, and don't know your computer software well enough to pull out a bit more of those shadows to give form and added interest to the girl, while maintaining your subdued blacks and just decided to crush them instead?

Photography: it's all about the end product AKA the photo. However you get there, whether through experience, knowledge or plain luck, it still is the Grand Arbiter of talent behind the tech.

Ryan Cooper's picture

Preference is subjective. I very intentionally crushed the blacks. The shot was meant to feel "gloomy" and "muted". I wanted the blacks to almost feel like they black holes of nothingness. The shot looks exactly how I intended it to. Whether you like it or not is entirely your own prerogative though. ;)

The entire shoot was done with that creative direction in mind: http://ryancooperphoto.com/#!/blog_post/the-gathering-gloom

All the best! ;)

Doc Pixel's picture

OK. Yes I would have processed differently, but if that is YOUR vision which you stated very well... all the more power to ya. ;)