on landscape The online magazine for landscape photographers

The Art of Practice

Seeing beyond the camera

Richard Childs

Richard Childs

Richard trained as an Orchestral Percussionist in the 1980's but his true love has always been the outdoors and particularly mountain environments. Throwing in his drumsticks to become a full-time photographer in 2004 he continues to work with a large format camera alongside digital equipment and exhibits his work in solo and group exhibitions as well as at his own gallery in the Ironbridge Gorge. Links to Website and Facebook

Since leading my first photo workshops back in 2007, I have found that there are always one or two clients on each tour who are struggling to find and take successful images. The barrier to this creative freedom more often than not has been the camera itself which is hardly surprising given the amount of features packed into even a budget model these days. With multi-layered menus and so many features at our fingertips it can be easy to forget what a simple act photography can and should be.

I recently came to the realisation that what a highly experienced photographer does is very similar to that of an equally experienced musician. That is to be so totally in control of their instrument that it becomes an extension of them, much more than just a tool that they use to make a sound or an image. That's why there are so many different recorded interpretations of say a Beethoven Piano Concerto, a Prokofiev Violin Concerto, a Puccini opera, etc. Every soloist will bring their own, unique technical prowess AND personality to the performance to create a unique interpretation.


This article is open to paid and unpaid subscribers so requires at least a free subscription to access. Please take a look at the subscribe page for more information.
  • Andrew Herbert

    Great article Richard , and you’re spot on about getting to know your equipment , I constantly forget how to make certain changes to settings and where things are in the menu which is very frustrating and leads lots of expletives and missed opportunities , I am going to try very hard to find the time to practice so that this doesn’t happen in future , thanks for the nudge in the right direction.

    • Thanks Andrew, if you got the tilt shift adapter that is one thing i’ve had to work with to really get used to as mine is quite clunky and particularly difficult to get to move at first

  • Thomas Rink

    Complexity – I faced exactly this problem went I started wth digital photography (Nikon D90 with two zoom lenses). Using the factory settings, I had inconsistent exposure, the camera focussing all over the place but not where I wanted. The manual was no help – pages over pages of techno-babble which I wasn’t interested in at all – I wanted to take pictures.
    Then I remembered my film days (manual exposure Olympus OM1n with Zuiko primes), and how easy it all was with just focus, aperture and shutter speed to consider. This lead me to a different approach, which is to narrow down choices to only those variables I needed. For the given camera, this meant to use manual exposure, center weighted metering, single autofocus point, preferably the one in the center using AF-On. I was surprised what a powerful device the camera became, I could operate it now almost as in the old days.
    The remaining problem were the zooms. Today’s zooms are incredibly complex beasts, making it hard to learn
    their strengths and weaknesses. I always felt they were inherently
    unreliable, especially in conjunction with autofocus. So the decision was to get rid of them. I purchased a second-hand D800 and three manual focus Nikkors to go with it (35mm f/2.8 PC AiS, 50mm f/1.8 Ai, 85mm f/2 AiS). The big advantage of those ancient primes is their simple optical construction and reliable distance scale with hard infinity stop. The 35mm I mostly zone-focus, for more demanding compositions and the longer lenses I use live view focussing or simply the internal focus confirmation dot.
    My impression is that my work improved a lot. From a technical point of view, there are hardly any focus misses any more. Since I take about 90% of my pictures with the 35mm, perspective is very consistent. I also mostly get the framing right on the first attempt now, since I got used to “see” like the 35mm does. The kit could probably be simplified further by leaving the 85mm at home.
    My conclusion: Simplify, simplify, simplify! Find out what matters for your work and ignore the rest. Forget about 192 PDAF points, AF-S, AF-C with 3D tracking, BSI sensors and Expeed processors, it’s mostly marketing BS geared at making you buy new cameras. It doesn’t have to do with photography.

    Best, Thomas

  • Herb

    Right on!- The beauty of digital is to be able to see what you just did, something or LF days were sorely missing. One can never know too much.

    • Thanks Herb, and to know your camera well really helps you to get the image right first time as we tend to do using Large Format and a spot meter.

  • Spot on.. I have to agree with you 110%…. Camera cuddles some call them… practicing in the lounge room, setting up, taking down… Practicing by taking photographs…. don’t stop… Great article… thanks

On Landscape is part of Landscape Media Limited , a company registered in England and Wales . Registered Number: 07120795. Registered Office: 1, Clarke Hall Farm, Aberford Road, WF1 4AL