5 years ago I bought my little Fujifilm camera for under $100. Its lens is small and its capabilities limited, but it is waterproof and portable. When I got that camera I was so excited that I ran out to play with it immediately. I took pictures of early March ladybugs, of driveway gravel, of old rose hips from past seasons—anything that caught my eye.
Through experimentation, I learned how to trick the autofocus and autoexposure into doing exactly what I wanted by first focusing on my hand before taking a photo. I learned what range the little camera performed best at—when the subject is 3”-5” away. Through 5 years of exuberant play with my cheap equipment, and tens of thousands of photos, I became one with my tool.
A camera is an instrument that captures visual music. Learning to use a camera is the same as learning to play guitar or piano—you haven’t really got it until your body can do it without you.
After five fun years, I bought a new camera. It’s a canon, with a great black eye to suck in the light of the world. It’s capable of so much more, but not yet—not in my inexperienced hands. So I’m starting the process all over again, to play with the tool until I know it so well that my fingers find the buttons on their own, and I’ll intuitively know what images the camera can capture beautifully and what isn’t worth trying for. The learning will begin when I put down the manual and venture out into the world with my trusty camera sidekick.
If there’s something you love to do and you allow yourself to play with it, you will become a master. The time will pass unnoticed. And the process of discovery will go on forever. For me and my camera, there are as many experiments as there are images in the world, and then some.