Well, Actually…Maybe I Don’t Know How Your Camera Works


“Can you help me with my camera?” I get that a lot, as I’m sure do most camera weenies whose geek credentials are a little too obvious.

And most of the time I’m happy to co-operate. Ideally, I get the warm, fuzzy feeling of knowing somebody is going to have legible images of a key moment in their lives. At worst, at least there’ll be one less uncontrolled on-board flash to blind me.


In some cases, though, my instinct is more along the lines of yelling out, “Hey, I got problems of my own here, buddy!”

Like trying to get a reasonably sharp image of the Northern Lights and establishing foreground from a ship moving at a steady 14 knots through the frigid Nordic night. While wearing every piece of warm clothing I own. And trying to memorize the button layout of a new camera. With gloves on.


In this case, I spent about two minutes exploring the options menu on the semi-panicked lady’s little silver P&S before figuring out a nice way to tell her it was hopeless. Little bugger didn’t even allow ISO setting. All the while semi-panicking myself about whether the astromagnetic show would last long enough for me to squeeze off a few keepers.


Afterwards, I started wondering about how other alpha geeks handle such situations, especially those with more meticulous shooting habits and/or without my enhanced Midwestern Lutheran sense of guilt and responsibility. Does respecting the medium of photography somehow obligate one to assist others in its service? Or is more honest to focus on your own work and allow/invite others to do the same?

Image credits: “Confused” by Jeffrey Kontur, “How Does This Thing Work?” by Lotus Carroll, “Northern Lights” by David Becker, “What the…???” by Jerry Bowley

  • Horst Wrabetz

    what exactly were you trying to tell us with that post?

  • Jared Monkman

    My thoughts exactly.. very confusing post

  • gerlos

    Actually, I don’t see where is the problem. No PSAM or PTvAvM on the dial? No dial at all? Don’t even try to set manual ISO. Just set “night landscape” scene, shot, and let it go.
    There’s not obvious way to change “scene”? Don’t mind.
    If the owner of the camera feels that that camera is ok for him/her, he/she will be happy with any image, as long as it can help remember that moment.

    Just don’t expect people expectations about that shot to be the same of our expectations.

    This is what I think: we are used to “craft” photos (with work and creativity), some of them “take” photos (with attention), but most of them are used to just “catch” shots just to drop an anchor in the past, to get back later. Any anchor will do.

  • nikonian

    It took me a year to figure out the I-phone camera… lol I dont even own one.

  • tsayguy

    Petapixel should consider tagging or labeling their posts: “gear” or “current events”… or “editorial”. Otherwise, readers might interpret the widely/wildly varying quality and focus of their content as a reflection of the site as a whole.

  • Adam

    He’s not trying to tell us anything – he’s trying to ask us something.

    When confronted with pressing photographic challenges of our own, do we have a responsibility to help those with lesser skill (specifically those at the bottom of the skill tree) to improve their own images? He then asks for input for how others have handled such scenarios.

  • Ralph Hightower

    July 9, 2011, I handed my camera to a stranger to photograph me against a wall of signatures. What I didn’t realize was that he didn’t know how to focus or use a camera. Fortunately, his buddy knew a little bit about film camera, how to focus, and how to advance the film.

  • Rob

    ^^What he said. Not many P&S cameras have manual controls, so you should look for the appropriate scene mode to suit the conditions around you. If the scene requires a longer exposure, tell the person to find something to prop the camera on if they don’t have a tripod (most people with p&s cameras don’t carry those around).

  • fahrertuer

    For me it always depends on the way people ask.
    People demanding help, as if I owe them, get a short “Sorry man, I’m a total noob myself and try to figure out my cam.” Usually that lil white lie is enough to silence them without hurting feelings. If that doesn’t help: Ken Rockwell to the rescue “Just set it to auto and shoot JPEGs. I’ve read on the web that all good photographers do that. So that’s what I do”

    People that seem nice and show some manners get my attention and I try to help as good as I can

  • Norshan Nusi

    Scene modes are there for a reason…

    In other end, it’s nice to test someone else camera in a while. For a change …

  • neatjunk

    It’s all about capturing the moment with the camera, whatever camera you are using. It’s not about shooting the cover for next week’s Time magazine.

  • abernardin

    I would either say something like “if you can wait just 2 minutes, I’d be happy to try to help” (allowing me to finish getting the shot I saw), or “well, I don’t know how exactly your camera works, and it might take me a few minutes to figure it out, but I can try”. This will often deter the impatient, presumptuous people who want me to press a single button to make the magic happen on their gear, plus it sets expectations and let’s me bow out gracefully if I don’t see the answer in the time I’m willing to give :-)

  • timo musgrove

    i usually say give me 2 minutes to figure out how your camera works. then try to understand the menu system, even if its an older camera most p&s $200 plus will have a manual iso. but most of the questions i am asked is about viewing photos or what is a good way to line up a shot.

  • Pedro

    You have just to press a button. Why would you try to set ISO manually?

  • Genkakuzai

    Think that might have been part of the problem ;) It’s really fairly easy to use.

  • nikonian

    So Ive learned lol…