Do You Know How to Use Your Gear?

I found out the hard way that I don’t know how to use my gear!

I love to be out and about taking pictures while hiking or visiting nice city spots. I know my gear. At least, I thought I knew my gear well enough until I started a photo project about a year ago.

At that time, I’d had my trusty Canon 5D Mark III for almost two years and I had worked with both a Canon 5D Mark II and a 7D for several more years. Upon the arrival of my 5D3, I looked through the manual mostly interested by new functionality. I barely glanced over the current functionality. I know my gear, right?

So… back in December of 2013, I started a new project entitled The Colors of Montreal.  On a regular basis, before sunrise, I shot the same panorama of Montreal under different weather conditions. My goal was to get the same panorama on all possible colors over the course of a year.

What seemed to me an easy task, aside from getting up early, proved to be quite a challenge. I found that my lovely Canon 5D III was a stranger to me. Sitting on the couch with plenty of light and the manual at my side, things were rather easy. But standing in the cold of night, wearing gloves, with a headlamp strapped to my forehead? Not so easy.

To top it off, light changes very quickly before sunrise. On my first few outings, all of my pictures ended up in the trash. I learned the hard way that my gear involved so much more than simply pressing the shutter.

Know your photography gear

Light changes so quickly just before sunrise!

Here are a few things that I learned:

  • Breathing with the third leg of my tripod sitting on a wooden floor inches from my own feet is enough to create a great deal of blur when exposing for 30 seconds;
  • City lights are so bright that the slightest movement (like the shutter actuation) is enough to create blur on a cityscape at a 30 second exposure;
  • I don’t have time to fiddle with settings when I take a panorama before sunrise. The time needed for a five-picture panorama of 30 seconds each with the self-timer engaged is a challenge when light changes so fast;
  • I lost just over two hours and a great picture when, trusting contrast detection, the focusing failed on a single picture of a panorama and I packed up and went home without reviewing each frame;
  • Changing my initial settings out in the cold with in the wind hitting my face is much more difficult than when sitting in the car.
Breathing with my feet inches away from the tripod leg.

Breathing with my feet inches away from the tripod leg creates blur.

I could go on and on…

After a few bad experiences, I decided that I needed to tackle my lack of expertise. I was determined to learn my gear and train my muscle memory by doing the following exercise:

  1. I wrote down common tasks on the back of two dozen business cards.
  2. I stood in the middle of a dark room wearing gloves with my headlamp as single light source.
  3. I shuffled the cards, picked one, and completed the task on the card.
  4. I used a timer to note the length of time it took me to properly change the settings.
  5. I repeated the exercise until my time was the best it could be.
Reasonably sharp picture result of knowing my gear.

Reasonably sharp picture result of knowing my gear.

Things changed for me very quickly. What previously took 20 minutes without much success could now be done in five minutes (from power off to power on) while hitting my mark every time. I learned a lot through that process. However I was never able to recreate the second picture above; this was a unique moment that I failed to satisfactorily record.

Even if you do not start a project like this anytime soon, you could start practicing now. What do you think?  I can assure you that, on your next photography trip you’ll get better pictures!

Did you have any similar experiences? Tell us about these…

About Author Denis Grenier

I really love being outdoor hiking and taking pictures. I care about our planet and would like my picture to help influence others to take care of it. My passion in photography is showing its beauty to the largest audience possible.

Landscape

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7 replies
  1. Denis Grenier
    Denis Grenier says:

    Hello Aayush,
    Sorry, did not saw the notice about your reply.
    Your tripod, the Benro T600EX is a basic tripod that I would not recommend. However you have it and you should use it to the maximum of its capabilities. You can minimize sway by doing the following:
    • Do not extend the columnar tube upward;
    • Extend a single out of the two leg extension;
    • Ensure that feet of the tripod are on firm ground;
    • Wrap the camera strap around the base of the tripod head after setup, use an elastic band to maintain it close to the head;
    • Carry a sandbag with you (2 pounds or about) and place the sandbag across the leg braces.
    Should you consider buying a new tripod, I would strongly recommend that you look at the Induro CLT103 or CLT104 with the BHD1 or BHM1S Ballhead. With your current setup, this would be great and should you upgrade to a fullframe and Profesionnal lens it will still be a good choice.
    This represent between 475$ to 505$. An investment that you will use for years to come. I had a similar tripod a few years back. I bought two additional tripods before landing on the Induro one. Keep your tripod or be prepare for something like the one recommended.
    I own a CLT204 with a BHD2 ball head. When it is windy and I am standing in open wind, I hook up my camera bag (15 pounds) to the center column to prevent sway.

    Reply
  2. Aayush
    Aayush says:

    Thanks a lot Sir for sharing your experience. Same is happening with me as well. I am beginner & tried taking some night shots, but almost every picture of mine was a bit blurred. I was using a tripod at 30 second exposure (tried even at 15 & 20 second) and also timer but was not successful. Can you please let me know my mistake and how can I overcome?

    Reply
    • Denis Grenier
      Denis Grenier says:

      Thanks for asking Aayush.

      Let’s check some potential issues that might prevent getting sharp picture:
      • Are you using the timer or a remote to actuate the shutter?
      • Is it windy, and if it is do you have additional weight on the end of your tripod center column?
      • Is the ground stable under your tripod feet?
      • Are you using lock-up mirror?

      I found out that my camera strap in the wind had adverse impact on the stability of the whole rig. If your camera weighs in 2 pounds and your tripod is rated for 4 pounds, you might have additional issues as well with stability. Setting up lock up mirror and removing it is a tedious task. On my camera I start Live View first and then use the 10 seconds timer. That way the mirror is locked up automatically reducing camera shake.

      Try these and tell us about it ok? I’d like to know!

      Reply
      • Aayush
        Aayush says:

        Thanks Denis.

        I was out of town therefore could not reply you earlier.

        I used 2 sec. & even 10 sec. timer to actuate the shutter.
        I was on terrace of a 8 stories building, therefore, it was a bit windy but not too much. May be that was enough for camera shake.
        Ground was absolutely stable as it was a concrete floor.
        I did not used mirror lock, another probable reason for camera shake.

        Moreover as you said, camera strap has adverse effect on camera stability. I am using Canon 550D with kit lens 18- 55 mm on Benro T600 EX tripod. Please let me know if I need to upgrade on this.

      • Aayush
        Aayush says:

        Hi Denis,
        I used 2 sec. & even 10 sec. timer to actuate the shutter.
        I was on terrace of a 8 stories building, therefore, it was a bit windy but not too much. May be that was enough for camera shake.
        Ground was absolutely stable as it was a concrete floor.
        I did not used mirror lock, another probable reason for camera shake.

        Moreover as you said, camera strap has adverse effect on camera stability. I am using Canon 550D with kit lens 18- 55 mm on Benro T600 EX tripod. Please let me know if I need to upgrade on this.

      • Denis Grenier
        Denis Grenier says:

        One sure way to find out if your blurred shot is cause by camera shake is to look at very small (or distant) light source that should be a single point. If they look blurred but with not movement, the lens is probably not sharp enough for the sensor. If a supposedly round light source look like an oval or a small line, you know this is camera shake.

        Your equipment is fine. The kit lens is not that sharp though.

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