The Most Important Photography Book in Your Possession

The Most Important Photography Book in Your Possession

The arrival of a new camera at my doorstep yesterday and the coming holiday weekend brought to mind an easy but often overlooked lesson from long, long, ago. Here is a short story to highlight what I learned.

It’s a wonder we all survived, really. Four people crammed into the less than accommodating dimensions of a silver 1985 Dodge Omni on a hot summer day. The day seemingly made hotter by the length.  

While technically, a day can’t actually be longer than 24 hours, this trip surely had been. Making our way from Nashville to Los Angeles with an inordinate amount of luggage strapped precariously to the roof of the car, and whatever else deemed too small to justify the cost of shipping stuffed inside with us adding to the heat. My family had decided to relocate to the West Coast. An amazing journey would be ahead. But, at the moment, all I could think about what how it could be so darn hot.

A secondary question stayed on my mind throughout the trip. Just where in the heck were we? Not in a cute but annoying “are we there yet?” sort of way that could be laughed off as adolescent impatience. But, really, where the heck were we? Is this even a road?

My father, like me, is stubborn. And aside from the time his insistence on making it just a little further before stopping to sleep led all four of us to wake up in the middle of an unplanned trip down a hillside separating us from the opposite lane of oncoming highway traffic, the second most adamant stance he would take is that under absolutely no circumstances, despite my mother’s insistence from behind the veil of an unfolded possibly upside down roadmap, were we ever to stop and ask for directions.

Miraculously, we did manage to traverse the country in one piece. And I grew up into a my own man, equally unwilling to ask for directions who may or may not quite often make the mistake of ignoring obvious help in a misguided attempt to prove I was born knowing it all.

This notion may have also drifted a bit into my new camera purchases in the past. Once I rip open the packaging and lay out all the relevant pieces in front of me, inevitably losing one or two in the process, I generally am last to take out that one final piece that I never seem to find a use for. I believe it’s called an “owner’s manual.”

Well, as it turns out, there’s a lot of really good information in there and it’s inclusion among the straps, clips, and other dongles in the box is more than just an excuse for the massacre of trees. Turns out cameras have come a long way since I first learned about the exposure triangle. They are now infinitely customizable, infinitely powerful, and can do things that you never thought possible before. That is, it can do those things if you know it can do those things. Otherwise, it’s like driving from Nashville to Los Angeles by way of Michigan simply because you wouldn’t ask for directions and never knew the 40 freeway existed.

So, I’ll be spending my holiday weekend digging through a 5x7 shaped novella with exciting chapter headings like “The Shooting Menus” and “Attaching The Strap.” Perhaps, it won’t be the most thrilling 4th of July. Perhaps my masculine ego may be a bit bruised at subjecting myself to actual accrued knowledge. And perhaps it won’t be quite as adventurous as my usual “wow, I wonder what this button does” approach. But, I dare say, it will be far more efficient.

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I have a PDF file of the owner's manual for each camera I own downloaded to my cell phone. You can't imagine how many times it has come in handy.

Adriano Brigante's picture

Same here, just in case. Thanks to!

Guy Incognito's picture

Another thumbs up for butkus.

John Cliff's picture

ha my b-in-law used to say....if all else fails, read the instructions

Mark Sawyer's picture

Get with the times and watch the Instruction DVD from your couch while stuffing yourself with ice cream, in-between Netflix binges. It's the America Way!

Heratch Ekmekjian's picture

This is funny, and timely. Yesterday at a 4th of July BBQ I met a woman who had a Ricoh GRIII camera. We compared notes on her camera vs my Sony RX100III...both of us admitting we hadn't read the user's manual. For what it's worth, she's a structural engineer and I'm a photographer (and typical man with an aversion to instructions).

Graham Glover's picture

In addition to the official owner manual for the Canon 5DMkIV (print and pdf), I also have the AF Setting Guidebook for the 1DX MkII as recommended by Canon (pdf), a shorter 148 page guide. I'm a mathematician. I use these regularly and use my MkIV in ways others aren't aware are even possible.

Patrick Smith's picture

I've never once read an owners manual in my life, I don't believe but maybe once from Ikea before I stopped shopping there. I've been a professional photojournalist shooting Nikon for 20 years and know everything there is know about their system and camera's. I have never needed to open that book that stays in the box, because I either already know the answer or its extremely easy to figure out in the menu system. Don't even get me started on lens owner manuals, I mean of you need those you should probably start a new hobby or profession. Obviously I'm not speaking to new comers or "beginners." Those of you starting out should read those manuals every time. When I was staring out I asked a lot of questions from people in the community and a few pros that I knew who were like mentors to me.