The New Manual DSLR Project

Hi, and welcome to my blog. The Manual DSLR Project was started March 30, 2010 with the intent of devoting one year to learning how to use my Nikon D300 in manual mode. I invited you to join me as I took this journey. You celebrated with me as my fingers began to remember which wheel adjusts the shutter speed and which controls the aperture settings. I was brutally honest in sharing my mistakes.

A year passed quickly...and I achieved my goal of demystifying the manual operation of my camera.

While the Manual DSLR Project was intended to be bound by time (one year), I am eager to keep the conversation going. So look for additional posts on anything related to photography. And interact. Let me know if you are reading the blog and find it useful.

All the best...

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Forming Habits & Thinking Before You Click

Sixty-eight days into this project and time to reflect on what I've learned so far. The first thing I've learned, I suppose, is that operating a camera in manual mode is NOT as mysterious or as difficult as I had led myself to believe before I started this project. Wow! You shoot in manual mode!!! It really seemed that elusive to me.

It is really not as difficult as I had imagined, though it does require a couple of things--both of which are reflected in the title of this post: forming habits and thinking before you click. Let's look at each individually.

Forming habits - How do we form habits (good or bad)? We practice. Good habits are formed while practicing good techniques. Bad habits, as you might guess, are formed while practicing bad techniques.  A former music teacher taught me that "Practice does not make perfect; perfect practice makes perfect".

Another old adage is true: "The more I practice the better I get." Photography is something that is best learned by doing. If you have been doing this all your life and have all the principles down then it is likely that you can pick up the camera after six months of not taking any photos and nail the exposure. However, if you are like me--just learning--then you need to be shooting every day or two to develop that technique that will make you consistently good. That seems to be the greatest value of this project. It makes me remember to practice and to practice well. Another value of this project is to make me think before I click.

Thinking Before You Click - This one is also important. I have learned that I am a better photographer when I think before I start activating the shutter release button. What do I think about?
  1. Is the camera ready? Check the ISO, white balance, and other settings to assure that I don't shoot an outdoor shot in full sun using the same settings used when I shot that indoor party last week. Think about the settings. 
  2. Think about composition. I was listening to a podcast last week (forgive me as I do not remember which one) when I heard this great piece of advice: As you start to take a shot, as yourself, "What is my subject?". "Just over there" is not a satisfactory answer. For instance, my subject for the photo above was the barn and the background was the mountains. (ISO 200, F8, 1/640) Sometimes, the subject is very prominent while the background is less obvious. A macro or portrait is an example of when you might see a clear subject with the background being less important. Here is a shot of my son, Lane, in the foreground with a blurred stream in the background. (ISO 160, F8, 1/15, ND2 filter) The goal here was a tack sharp subject (Lane) and a nice background that is somewhat out of focus. Since I want the viewer to focus on Lane, I purposefully put the stream slightly out of focus.
  3. Think about what you are going to do with the photo. In the film days, we would take 24-36 shots of what we hoped would be good and would send off the film to have 4 x 6 prints made. Only then would be know if we got a great shot. Today, we know very quickly if we have a winner, but sometimes we don't do anything with them. I know people who actually leave all their photos on the memory card in their camera. What a waste! Photos are meant to be enjoyed, and it's hard to enjoy them while they are sitting on a memory card in the camera. So when you take that shot, you might imagine what you'll do with the print. For instance, I would love to have the Little River shot shown on an earlier posting printed on aluminum. (Still trying to decide which vendor). I have taken some shots that I knew would make a good note card or greeting card. By having an idea of the use of the photo, it becomes easier to know how to compose the shot. 
Well, that's all for this post. I'm off to New York City on Friday, so expect to see some NYC shots soon. Maybe I'll get another chance to post before I leave Thursday night. Until then...MK

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