Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Why You Need To Know Your Camera

Clouds At Night - Bear Lake, Idaho
I set out last weekend to capture the stars above Bear Lake, which sits on the border of Utah and Idaho. It's a two hour (mostly) scenic drive from my house to the lake.

Bear Lake is quite clear. From higher elevation vistas, the lake has a turquoise-blue color thanks to limestone deposits. From the lake shore you can't see the turquoise, but you can see through the water to the lake bed.

My hope was to set my camera (a Fujifilm X-E1) on a tripod at night and photograph the stars above the lake. I arrived during daylight, but after exploring for a good spot (and after dinner), by the time I found where I wanted to shoot from, it was already dark.

I placed the camera on the tripod and adjusted the camera settings. This wasn't my first time doing this type of photography with this camera, so I knew already how to set it all up. Or so I thought.

I soon discovered that I was having an issue with focus. I was trying to manually focus to infinity, but something wasn't working right. I tried all sorts of things to get it to work, but kept getting out-of-focus images.

Grabbing my cell phone out of my pocket I did a Google search for what might be causing my issues. Nothing. No one else apparently ever had this issue. I was beginning to think that the camera somehow broke and I was going to have to send it in for (expensive) repairs.
Full Moon Over Bear Lake - Bear Lake, Idaho
The full moon was going to rise soon, and so I didn't have much time to figure out the problem. I gave auto-focus a try, and to my surprise (it was dark and the camera uses contrast detection) it locked focus on the distant mountains and I was able to capture Clouds At Night. One exposure out of about two dozen attempts was in focus.

It wasn't until the next day that I figured out what the problem was. A switch got bumped and was set to auto-focus continuously, and I didn't realize it. It was a simple mistake that I should have been able to diagnose in the field.

I've only owned this camera for a couple of months. Nonetheless, I thought I was pretty familiar with it, but  obviously I wasn't familiar enough. It didn't help that I was trying to figure out the problem in the dark and under time constraints. I almost wasn't able to create the photograph that I set out to capture. I was lucky to get it.

There's a clear lesson to learn here: be very familiar with your gear. Know your camera inside and out. Don't allow simple mistakes (like accidentally bumping a switch) to mess up your photographic opportunities.

I need to spend just a little more time understanding what every switch, button and menu option does. It's good to know exactly what does what, even if I don't think I'll ever use certain options, because one day I might have some weird little issue and perhaps that one switch, button or menu option is what I need to adjust to fix it. In fact, that's what happened to me at Bear Lake, only I didn't know how to fix it.

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