Too much information

Throughout my career as a woodworker, I have had an alternate identity, kind of like Bruce Wayne and Batman.

OK, not really. I never went out at night and fought crime. But I did and still do a lot of photography. I never really considered myself a photographer but it has always been a part of my work. I was one of those who welcomed with open arms the age of digital photography. I hated the darkroom and was perfectly happy to abandon it well before digital cameras reached ten megapixels.

The problem is that these new cameras are more like computers than cameras. There are so many options, settings, menus, dials, buttons and switches that sometimes I feel like my head is going to explode! Even the “set it and forget it” setting displays at least a dozen odd looking icons in the viewfinder. I find it a bit disconcerting to be looking at all those little graphics with absolutely no idea of their significance. It’s literally taken me years to figure out most of the functions on my present camera which, by this time, has become totally out of date. I shudder at the thought of upgrading because I have no doubt that the newer models will make this one look simple.

And please, don’t suggest that I read the manual. That caused far more confusion than just fumbling around with the controls and spending time visiting online forums where you can almost always get your question answered, either by someone who has already been down the same path or by some snooty know it all who makes you feel like a dummy for asking.

That’s OK with me. Just tell me what that button is for!



  • Chris Wong says:


    I have a Nikon D3000 DSLR and it has a button marked with a question mark that, when pressed, explains what the function selected does. For example, it will explain the various focus modes, ISO value, white balance, etc. It doesn’t actually tell you what the buttons on the camera do, but it does explain the on-screen options. I was pleasantly surprised at that.


  • Chuck Riccardo says:

    The best advice that you will get is what Chris wrote to you. There is, however, one other way to learn the functions of a new camera, and that is to buy an aftermarket book written by a camera enthusiast – Lantern books come to mind. I am reading one now as I await my Nikon D800e.

  • I was deep into photography in my younger days, owned a Speed Graphic, and was pleased with what I could do in the darkrooom. Then I spent fifty years raising a family and building a career. At that point I purchased a $40 digital point and shoot camera which I love. It has a telescoping lens, an option to view my results right away, and USB connection to my printer. It’s a dream come true. It will fit in my shirt pocket and determines exposure and focus automatically. My kids and friends have these big heavy $800 machines with a ton of buttons designed to confuse the operator. And their pictures aren’t any better than mine, mostly because I learned about composition and lighting using black and white film where it was really important.

  • David:

    I too heralded the end of film and darkrooms! My wife is a professional photographer and I was often dragged into darkroom duty.

    I just read your post aloud to her and asked for her thoughts and here is what she said. “All cameras today are capable of so much more than the average person will ever need much less ever use just like cell phones. So learn to use the controls and features you need to do the work you are doing. For example understand how to change the ISO, shutter speed, and aperatures then shoot pictures! See what works and what doesn’t. Shooting furniture in a studio setting allows a fairly standard approcah and camera settings as opposed to outdoors where light and sugject change constantly.” As a wildlife photographer for over 30 years she is the first to say that she does not know how to use each and every option on her many cameras, but she knows exactly how to use the features she needs. A recent trip west had her photographing mountain lions for a magazine and as she puts it; “you’ve got 4 seconds at most so don’t sweat all the little stuff unless you enjoy it!”

    So go shoot pictures and enjoy it, after all there is no smelly darkroom waiting for you when you get home!


  • Chuck Riccardo says:

    I wish we had as much consensus of opinion in woodworking in this column as we do in photography. My first career was also photography – even shot a bit of fashion in NYC. Clint, you wife is right on!

  • eric scott says:

    Hire a PRO. You expect people to hire you for PRO woodworking correct? then why do you think you shouldn’t hire a pro photographer. Kind of like having your cake and getting to eat it too.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comments are moderated and generally will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive. For more information, please see our Terms of Use.