Getting To Know Your Camera

And so it begins.

After creating the blog, mailing my tutor and poking around the OCA’s website, today I opened my coursework and actually made a start. I enjoyed the brief introductory text, particularly the  quote from Galen Rowell regarding method versus equipment. Having recently started using the X100 after so many years of digital SLRs, it made sense. I am certainly thinking more about the method and composition than I did with my last compact, several years ago. Of course, that may be due to the Fuji being 5 times the price.

I was also happy to read the statement that ‘these skills of seeing and imagination are the main subject of this course’. Definitely areas of my photography that I wish to improve as I work through it.

Before we can get stuck in to the coursework proper, there are a couple of projects for us. I’d calibrated the monitor on my Mac a couple of weeks ago and so didn’t repeat this, although I did follow the recommendation to set the machine’s background (when viewing pictures) to mid-grey.

Next up was the instruction to take out our camera, dig out the manual and read it. Cover to cover. Having waited so long to get started with the course, I can’t say that I was especially keen to be spending Sunday afternoon reading the 238 pages, but that’s what I did. The Canon 5D mark II is an incredible camera. It has taken many of the greatest photos I’ve ever seen and as such, reading 238 pages doesn’t seem too bad if it will make the master of such a machine. I skipped the video and printing sections though.

I’ve used the camera for the last year or so and the fingers of my right hand form a claw that matches the profile of the battery grip perfectly, so much have I used it. This meant that while I don’t think I learned anything new from re-reading the manual, it did lead me to experiment with the custom white balance settings – something I’d never done. I now have an 18% grey card on its way from Ebay.


I experimented by photographing the pages of my Moleskine notebook. The pages of these books are yellowed, but will fool the Canon’s auto-white balance settings if the page fills the frame. But by taking a picture of a page of my coursenotes printed on crisp A4, and using that as the ‘white point’, the camera produced a much better rendition of those yellow pages – although in this unscientific test, it is maybe a little too yellow.


Maybe this explains the occasionally ‘cold’ results I get from this camera – it is a look that I like but not always entirely accurate to the scene I’m shooting.

I also dwelt on the CA – Creative Auto setting. I usually hurry past this and the full auto modes and into (generally) Av – Aperture Priority mode. CA allows you to give the camera some guidance on what you’re trying to achieve and it does the rest. I tried it for a few shots and it did everything I expected. Am I a settings snob? I’ve always figured these setting were for beginners, but if the results are right, who’s to say I shouldn’t let the camera do some of the thinking? (Probably a surprising discovery on a photography degree course!).

Reading the manual is a useful exercise, especially as I embark on this course, but I don’t expect it to be a one-off. When we get to creative lighting for example, I’ll have the manual out again as I’ve only ever really relied upon E-TTL settings.

Right, time to take some photographs…

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