About a year and a half ago I upgraded my camera and bought myself a Canon 40D. This camera has been nothing but good to me. Unfortunately, the camera has been so good to me that I never really learned how to use it properly. I put off reading the manual for way too long (as in, I still haven’t read most of it) and have just been toying with it on automatic for the most part. I’ve become fairly skilled at manipulating the images in the auto setting, metering on darker or lighter objects to trick the camera into overexposing or underexposing things to get my desired effect. This is outrageous, right? I mean, who buys a billion dollar camera just so that they can use it like a point and shoot?
Most people. But that’s not the point.
The point is that it was dumb for me to be using it that way. I understand the way SLR cameras work, and the basic principles of photography. Terms like f-stop and shutterspeed don’t confuse me; on the contrary–I know what they mean and how they work together! I learned how to take pictures on a fully manual SLR from the late 70′s. The trick about using a fully manual SLR is that you have to have some kind of a light meter. The light meter serves as your guide for attempting to gauge how accurately your settings are going to interpret the light in any given situation. There were two main reasons that I wasn’t using my camera in Manual Mode: #1.) I didn’t know how to do it. Like, physically, I didn’t know which buttons controlled which settings. A problem easily solved by, ahem, reading the manual. The second problem, #2.) was that I didn’t know where the damn light meter was on my camera. I’d been looking for it for over a year unsuccessfully. That is, until I realized that it’s all over my camera. Not only is it on the ‘control panel’ on top of the camera, it’s also easily found by, ahem, looking through the view finder. Also, my smart-cookie readers might point out here that problem #2 could have also been easily solved by READING THE FREAKING MANUAL.
Last March, I spent a week hanging out with my friend Joy at SXSW. While I was there, another friend of mine, J.Lee noticed that I was using my camera on Automatic mode. After a thorough chastising, he told me which buttons I needed to be using in order to adjust shutter speed and aperture in their respective priority modes (e.g. the 1/2 manual modes on the camera that allow you to adjust either the shutter speed or the aperture and then the camera fills in the rest of the settings in accordance to what you’ve chosen). I played with those modes some, compensating for my apparent lack of a light meter by shooting in automatic mode, seeing which settings the camera was using, then using that as a starting point for my manual efforts. Imagine how incredibly ridiculous I felt 9 months later when I finally found the light meter. Really, really, REALLY ridiculous.
The ridiculousness doesn’t stop there, though. Oh no. It gets more embarrassing.
We only went to the camera store in the first place because I had two minor items I needed to replace. First, Scout chewed up my lens cap (thankfully, not while it was on my camera), and then my card reader’s cord shorted out. I suggested that Zack and I go to a camera store that was about 20 miles away. It’s the best camera store around, I thought. Zack then suggested that perhaps we could go to this other camera store, a mere 3 miles away. It’s just like the other one, he said, but a lot closer.
And that was the beginning of the end. Well, the beginning of the end of the money that I’d been saving up to buy a couch, anyway.
The moment we stepped foot into the store I knew that the people there were going to be the kind of people who would know things about cameras. Not just your average Big Box Electronics Store Salesman who only knows what he reads on company memos–these employees are Camera People. The gentleman behind the counter asked me what I needed, found me a card reader and a lens cap, and then asked me if there was anything else I wanted to know about. I was like, “OOOH, YES.” I asked him about what kind of an investment a person would have to make if they wanted to get their flash off of their camera (to fire remotely). When I got my 40D I also purchased an external flash for it (a Canon Speedlight 430ex), but I’d been wanting to do more with lighting lately.
He taught me about PocketWizards, we looked at the Canon Speedlight 580ex II, then we talked about light stands and umbrellas. I left the store salivating.
I spent the next 3 days scouring the internet for information about PocketWizards and remote lighting systems and so much more. I called my dad and asked him what he would buy, a couch or camera equipment? (Camera Equipment.) I asked Zack his opinion. (Do whatever you want *cough*camera equipment*cough*.) I slept on it.
Then, last Wednesday, I grabbed my camera bag, loaded Zack in the car, and we drove to The Camera Store with my money burning a hole in my pocket.
After taking to the Camera Guy at length about different equipment set-up possibilities, I wound up getting a surprisingly inexpensive ‘Portable Speedlight Studio Kit’ which includes two lightstands, two umbrellas (with interchangeable white and silver reflective surfaces), two wireless receivers and one transmitter. Because he saved me so much money (buying all those things separately like I’d planned would have cost me 4X as much as I spent) with all of those items, I still had enough money to buy myself the (oh-so-fabulous) 580exII that I’d looked at the week before. To say that I’ve been happy with my purchase might be the understatement of the year.
What’s so embarrassing about all of that, you ask? Nothing. The embarrassing part happened after he’d outfitted me with all of this gear. We were standing around playing with some of the remote flash capabilities that are built into the Canon flash systems and Camera Guy reached over to show me how to access a certain menu on my camera. The 40D has 3 possible positions on its on/off switch. There’s On, Off, and then this mysterious (to people who haven’t read the book) Third Option which is denoted on the camera body by a white line. When he turned the camera on, he switched it to that White Line option. I said, “Oh, I see you’re using the White Line Option. I’ve been wondering what the difference is between that position and the “On” position.” Having already discussed at length my critical failure to read my camera’s instruction manual, he didn’t bother to lecture me on how stupid my question was. Instead he just said, “Well, that opens up all of your camera’s features. It allows you access all of the different menu options instead of just the limited ones that you can see when the camera is “On.” Light blubs in my head. I said, “Oh. So does the camera have to be on that setting before I can adjust my aperture in my Fully Manual mode? Because it’s been driving me insane that I can’t adjust that.” He said, “Yes,” then thoughtfully added that perhaps I might really consider reading that book. Like, soon.
I just wonder if after I left, he went around the store to systematically inform the rest of the employees that he’d just sold a boat-load of camera equipment to a 2-year owner of a Canon 40D who, until today, didn’t know how to turn her camera on.