Photography Lessons For My Mom: Learn How to Use Your Camera

Last week was my son’s birthday, and I spoke to my mom about coming up for the day. She lives about an hour south of me in Sarasota, FL and she said that she’d come up for dinner. Well, recently she’s been getting more in to photography, and she mentioned that she’s had some questions about her Sony A7ii and that she wanted to better learn how to use the camera. So I told her she should come up earlier in the day for two reasons: First, My son is driving now, and she should try to get on the road while he’s still in school – much safer that way! 😉

But really, the main reason was so we could sit down and look through the camera, and talk about some of the settings she’s having issues with.

Everything went as planned. We spent about an hour just going through some of the important settings I thought she’d need on a regular basis. I taught her the camera, the same way I’d teach someone Photoshop. Just as I’d never teach someone just starting out in Photoshop about Curves or Calculations, I’d never tell my mom to worry about rear-curtain flash sync, or focus-peaking. Rather, I just spent that time showing her the basic things I thought she’d need to get out there and shoot.

Learn How to Use Your Camera

But here’s the catch, and this was my advice for her. She mentioned that it’d be hard to remember all of those settings, and that every time she goes out and shoots, she forgets them and where they’re at. My advice was this…

“Mom…You bought a professional piece of camera equipment. You purposely didn’t buy a simple point-and-shoot, and you want something with more creative control than your iPhone. But you can’t expect to master that complicated piece of equipment by going out and shooting once or twice a month.”

As we talked, I let her know there were two ways she could get better at moving around in the menus, and knowing her camera:

  1. Get out and shoot more. It’s a really simple time-tested formula that works every single time you try it: Practice = Improvement. It’s easy… the more you shoot, the more you’ll start to remember and understand those settings.
  2. However… shooting more really isn’t an option for her because she’s busy. So, I offered another tip that I share with a lot of workshops I teach. Sit down with your camera every day for 2-3 weeks (for 10 minutes), and go through the menus and settings that you use a lot. I promise you, that at the end of those two weeks, you’ll feel so comfortable with your camera that you won’t think twice about changing settings the next time you go shoot.

Another Way to Learn the Camera

And don’t just go through the menus haphazardly. But find the settings that you use a lot. For example, if the “Raw / JPEG” setting on her Sony A7ii is under the Camera Settings (camera icon) > #1 > Quality, then try to memorize it and guess before you ever get to the menu. That way, when you’re shooting and things are moving quickly, and you want to quickly change something in that menu, you’ll instantly know right where to go.

Folks, this happens to all of us. I switched to Sony about a year ago from shooting Nikon. I’d shot Nikon for so many years that I knew it like the back of my hand. But the Sony was new to me. For the first few months, whenever I’d go shoot somewhere, I’d grab my camera ahead of time and go through the menus to make sure I knew how to change what I needed to change. If I was flying somewhere, I’d grab my camera from the overhead bin, and sit there fiddling around with it for a while.

But one thing is for sure. You can’t expect to get better at it if you’re only taking the camera out every few weeks when you have time to shoot.

So… to my mom, and all of you photography lovers out there who don’t do this for a living (and subsequently don’t get to shoot several times a week), my advice to you is simple. Spend a few minutes every day, and go through some of the common settings on your camera and memorize where they are. You’ll probably even come across settings that you don’t know what they do, and that’s a great chance to “google it” and maybe learn a few more things about the camera, so you’ll feel more comfortable next time you go shooting.

Thanks for stopping by. And thanks mom, for giving me new blog content 🙂 Have a good one!



Chris Scoggins

Matt, thanks for the tip! I have the same thing as your mom. I work retarded hours and have a difficult time getting out to practice so this is perfect. I do want to comment on something to support this. Admittedly, I committed a photographer sin. Last weekend I was playing with my camera in my apartment and because it was night, I jacked up the ISO so it could expose in the dimly lit room. The next day I went out to a park and shot some of my best work. But guess what….I didn’t reset the ISO. So I have lovely pictures FULLY blown out. So, had I been more familiar with my tool, I probably would have caught this. Also, for all those following the advice above, make sure you reset any changes you make on the camera setting 🙂 Hope I saved someone elses shoot 🙂 LOL!

Matt K

Well Chris – if it’s any consolation, I think photographers that know their camera well, and have been shooting for years still do this every once in a while. I know it still happens to me from time to time, so I wouldn’t sweat it too much. One thing I usually do is always shoot on Aperture Priority. That way, even if I cranked up the ISO, the next day my (in different conditions), my camera would have compensated for the high ISO and reduced exposure – so the shots wouldn’t be overexposed, but rather just noisy. Maybe not perfect, but some noise won’t hurt.

Chris Scoggins

Thanks Matt! I prefer to shoot in AP mode anyway so that’s really helpful 🙂

PS – Your earlier blog inspired me to move over to the Sony A7RII so as long as Santa and I are on the same page I should have it by the end of the year 🙂

Ml, Chris

Jonas Hellsén

Really funny! You know you’re actually talking about my mom! 🙂 She has just bought a Fuji with loads of settings and stuff. Then she bought an iPad to sync her camera wirelessly. She absolutely hates manuals, and gets really angry when things doesn’t work in the way she think it should work. Guess who she’s calling then…me. Not with questions, with orders. -“Hi Jonas, you have to come and help me! Now! Nothing works”. As if it was my fault. Just because I work as a photographer. Maybe it’s just the way things are. And of course we help. It’s our mom’s. 🙂

Johnny B

LOL Jonas, That is exactly why I put Team Viewer on my Mom’s computer.

Now when I get that phone….. Johnny, what ya doing…..I need your help……hang on Mom…..oh I see you are on my computer now….. I can’t figure this out can you help me out….. gotta love Team Viewer.



+1 for Teamviewer JohnnyB – parental computer support is impossible without it.


Every few months I re-read my camera manual front-to-back. You’d be amazed at what little tidbits you can pick up just by doing that. These modern DSRL/mirrorless cameras are so powerful and packed with so many capabilities that it takes a lot of repetition and re-reading to pick them all up.

lee steiner

thanks , great advise. i am planning to move up to the new Pentax k1 from an oooold k20d, that i have had forever and know it pretty good , will be studying the manual and playing with it as much as possible, thanks.


I experienced this same learning curve when I switched from Nikon to the Sony A6300 (the day it was released.) I also forget to check my settings when I start a new photography shoot so I have assigned what I want to be my default settings to one of the custom settings available on my camera. I think most cameras have an option like this. After the shoot, my routine includes immediately putting in a fresh battery and charging the one I just used and hitting my custom button to reset to my preferred default settings.

If I could have one wish for all camera manufacturers, it would be to have the camera automatically know when it’s on a tripod and turn on/off the vibration reduction or steady shot or whatever they call it as needed. This is the one thing I can’t seem to remember no matter how hard I try!

Robert Barr

I have the same problem. I rarely remember to turn off vibration reduction on my Nikon D7100 when I have it on a tripod.

But, at the same time, I still don’t understand why having it on is bad if using a tripod. I understand it is not necessary, but what harm does it do?


That’s interesting. I had no idea. I like to shoot birds and the best way is with the camera on a tripod though I don’t do it often enough. I would never think to turn off image stabilization.

Robert Barr

Thank you Matt for your comment and that informative link. I see the issue. I need to do a better job of remembering to turn IS off when using a tripod!

One other thing I need to do is to see if my D7100 has body IS turned on (if it is even a feature) when I am using a lens with IS turned on. Apparently it is recommended that both not be on at the same time.


Thank you Matt,I just love your subject du jour! I guess I am on the “Mother” side of things due to my age and even if I dont have children,the humour of it all is not lost on me. I have a Sony A77 that I love to use with my Sony macro 100mm 2.8 lens. For Christmas I received a Sony A7ii and 2 new lenses. The buttons are placed differently on the camera and when I enlarge for a “perfect focus” alas I am never sure if it will be sharp. All in a learning curve? I hope so…

Judy Bergmann

I enjoyed this post as I’m on the mom side. My daughter is a professional photograher and now lives 24 hours “down the road”. I’ve been known to be out somewhere making pictures while on the phone with her asking for help. I use a Canon 60D, always shoot in RAW, on manual, and sometimes on Aperture Priority. I like the idea of playing with my camera for short periods of time every day and recently joined a photographers meetup group which is proving to be a good resource for learning new things about my camera.

Gene Wolski

Good advice, Matt. I am 78 y.o. Several months ago I bought a Canon 5D MKIII. Quite a leap from my Rebel T1i. Took me several months of reading the instruction book, and another tome I purchased about the MK III. Only by sitting down and going thru the menus and shooting innumerable pics inside the house and running outside to shoot the trees( of which I have many) birds, and anything else I could find around the farm did I become familiar with the camera that it has become second nature. I know how your mom feels. I do not have a resource in my family such as you, so it is great to follow your teachings. Been following you since I joined SK’ s org. About 6 yrs ago. Keep up the good work. Thanks


Brilliant tips Matt, even for the experienced! As we change our cameras sometimes we relate back to the settings of the older one (my experience :-S ) ending in a frustrated camera shoot.

Hope your Mum managed to take some nice photos of her grandsons birthday too.
Thanks again Matt!

Rick Diffley


Excellent tips! I recently moved from a Nikon D300 to the Sony a7RII, which arrived last week. I new there would be a new learning curve. So, for the past few months I’ve been reading over articles & viewing tutorials about the Sony. In addition, I purchased: “Sony a7 Series – From Snapshots to Great Shots” by Brian Smith. Honestly, my preparation saved me a great deal of time and getting me out the door shooting. Each day, I focus on 1-2 different menu functions. The biggest challenge is reeducating where my fingers go for certain buttons without removing my eye from the EVF (-:


Matt, besides the great blog posts, I really want to thank you for sharing your knowledge with us. You are a GREAT instructor, one of the best out there. Just thank you for what you do!


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