Rule 3: RTFM

You're being watched.
You're being watched.

For the handful of you unfamiliar with the acronym, RTFM means, “Read The F’ing Manual.” Tech support people use the term pretty often, especially when they get a call (“How do I turn this thing on?”) that could be solved within seconds had the caller bothered to even skim the documentation that came with the product. It doesn’t matter what kind of camera you have, what your level of experience is, or how you plan to use it, RTFM.

Some cameras are relatively self-explanatory, but others, like bridge cameras and SLRs,offer a plethora of buttons, controls, and menu options that are anything but self-explanatory. Some things you can teach yourself through trial and error. Sometimes, though, whether because of your own limitations (and I don’t just mean the limits of your knowledge; patience and time, also, are finite) or those of your gear, it’s best to know how to make use of the settings. Taking the time before you start putting a camera to heavy use means less time spent in the field fiddling with settings (and cussin’) trying to figure out how to make something happen.

There’s another good reason to RTFM: Sometimes it’ll help you to push at the limits of a camera’s capabilities (especially if, like a camera phone, those capabilities were pretty limited to start with); other times, they’ll give you a suitable workaround for the times you’ve gone past them. I’d venture to say that I don’t use most of my automaic compact’s scene modes, but some of them (macro mode, for instance) I use very frequently, and a few of the others (like the Sport mode, which on my Kodak boosts ISO and tries for the fastest shutter speed practical for the lighting conditions) have proved invaluable at the times I’ve needed them.

And let’s say you’ve got a system camera. While there’s nothing wrong with shooting in Automatic (and God knows I’ll get flamed for saying that), the point to having a camera with all those controls isn’t so you can compare notes with other camera owners about how much you spent. It’s to give you creative options and opportunites you would not otherwise have had. Navigating that maze of buttons and menu options can sometimes be daunting for even a seasoned user; if you’re still a greenhorn, there’s a pretty significant temptation to just say the hell with it and pick a scene mode. Don’t. RTFM.

In another post, we’ll be covering how and when to put your Auto and Scene modes to best use. For now, though, regardless of whether you plan on working your way up to full Manual, or you’d rather just put it on full Auto, know your camera. Know its limitations, its capabilities, and how best to use both. Like learning anything else in photography, it can be as brief as you’d like, or something you revisit and refine for a lifetime. Done correctly, though, it’s not only the camera that’s put to better use, it’s your talent.

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