Get to Know Your Photo Gear


When we first learned to draw or paint, our teachers generally got us to practice with the materials first, before creating our so-called masterpieces. We would work on exercises or studies, similar to how one might practice scales on the piano. We need to think of technology in a similar way. For example, although digital cameras have become amazingly automated, it’s still important to get to know your gear. That’s what photographer, author and teacher Bryan Peterson suggests in the new edition of his book, Learning to See Creatively.

In fact, not long ago, I asked Peterson what advice he has for artists when it comes to photography gear. He said, “At my workshops, some people show up with lots of expensive equipment. But when I say to them, ‘Get out your street zoom,’ they say, ‘Um, which one is that?’ Even after I tell them that it’s a 24mm-105mm or a 18mm-200mm, they’re unsure of which lens is which. I’m not saying this to be condescending, but they need to embrace their gear enough to identify it. Look at it this way: If your camera bag is a foreign country, there’s only one way to learn to speak its language. Take each lens out, put it on your camera body, walk down the street and spend time with it. Don’t shoot. Just look through the viewfinder the entire time, working at different focal lengths. Look up, look down, go wide, go telephoto, and see the limitations of those focal lengths. It doesn’t take that long either, but it gets you thinking visually.”

By learning how to use your gear, Peterson says, you then can get really creative, and that can really expand your artistic vision. For more on Bryan Peterson, his book and his workshops, visit him at:

Want to learn more about digital-camera features? Check out my State of the Art column in the April/May 2016 issue of Professional Artist magazine, available on newsstands Feb. 25 and soon online.

Terry Sullivan is the former editor of Professional Artist magazine and the former technical editor at American Artist magazine. He currently is an editor at Consumer Reports, where he covers digital cameras, camcorders, smart phones, printers and digital imaging. He is also an artist and musician. Follow him on Twitter: @TerryCR.