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Meet the Nikon School experts - Ricci Chera
Training Specialist

Ricci Chera is the first to admit that his photographic journey is slightly different from most people’s.

Growing up, he had no particular interest in imaging, but “fell into” it through a part-time job while at university. After graduating, it felt natural to move into a full-time position, and he’s been in the photography world ever since. Now in his sixth year as our Training Specialist, he explains why helping people develop their photography skills and make the most of their Nikon gear is his dream job, why his kitbag is now almost 100% mirrorless, and which lens is next in his sights.

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How did you become a Nikon School trainer?

Mine is a bit of a different story from everybody else’s. I wasn’t interested in photography as a teenager but fell into it while studying at university. It started out as a part-time job which became full-time, and I’ve been in the industry ever since. It was something that just clicked for me. Although I’m dyslexic, I have a real head for remembering photography stuff, and I love the creativity of being behind the lens. My degree in environmental science comes in useful from a landscape point of view, too.

I’ve been a trainer now for 12 years, eight of those with Nikon. I started as a regional trainer, then six years ago became Nikon School’s Training Specialist. I teach most of the courses, as well as coming up with ideas for new ones. I’m also the technical go-to guy – if there’s a question no one else can answer, I’ll usually know what that answer is. Whether I’m spending the day helping people right at the start of their photography career or teaching something new to a professional who’s been shooting for years, it’s my dream job. I get to meet people and talk about cameras all day, use all the latest kit and get out to fantastic locations – well, not at the moment during lockdown, but soon…

Because they’ve been around for some much longer, people are often familiar with DSLRs but don’t necessarily appreciate all the Z-series’ features, so we take them on a deep dive into the whole system, from the new AF settings to the increased menu options. If they finish the course feeling as comfortable with their Z kit as they are with their DSLRs, we’ve done our job. We also offer in-depth courses on the D500 and the D850. No matter what system they’ve got, most people are only using around 20% of its capabilities. By showing them how to use all their camera’s features, we can help them get so much more out of their photography.

Has your kitbag always been digital?

I’ve never shot on film, because by the time I joined the photography world, digital was already fully fledged. My first Nikons were the D7000 and D750, and I then spent a long time using the D500 and the D850, but now I’m entirely Z series. When Nikon announced it, I knew I’d be moving to mirrorless as soon as it came out, not least for the electronic viewfinder and smaller, lighter design than a comparable DSLR kit – that’s important when you’re carrying your gear around all day on location – but, the really big draw for me is the new Z-mount lenses. Their optical performance is second to none and sharpness is unbelievable, both wide open and stopped down.

What are your go-to Nikon cameras and lenses?

I use the Z 7II for all my landscapes and wildlife work, and the Z 6II for video and sometimes for low light shooting. I never leave home without my 50mm f/1.8 S and 14-24mm f/2.8 S. The 50mm is so easy to use, so compact and lightweight, and it’s hard to find a lens that sharp – it outperforms everything – but my favourite for landscapes has to be the Z-mount 14-24mm f/2.8 S. It’s significantly lighter and smaller than the F-mount version, and it doesn’t have that protruding front element, so you can use it with filters. It’s absolute proof that superb lenses can still be redesigned and improved.

I’m also fully committed to carrying the F-mount 500mm f/5.6 PF ED VR everywhere for wildlife, along with the FTZ adapter. Even when I’m shooting landscapes, there are so many great opportunities for birds and wildlife that I’d hate to miss out on. That said, I am eagerly waiting for the Z-mount long lenses to be released. For specific jobs, including portraiture or travel, I also add the Z-series 24-70mm f/2.8 S and the 85mm f/1.8 S.

As a trainer, do you find people have similar photography problems to solve?

Yes! For landscape, it’s generally about what is the best kit – whether that’s lenses, tripods or filters – or how to improve composition. People often struggle with landscape composition because they’ve got so much going on in the frame that they don’t know where to start. It’s all about pointing them in the right direction and helping them to develop their eye for what makes a strong image.

With wildlife, we get lots of queries about choosing longer focal length lenses and how to shoot specific species. It’s definitely harder to get the shot with wildlife than with landscapes, so you need to improve your chances by finding out as much about the animal, its habits and behaviours as you can. There are no shortcuts to making that time investment if you want to get really great wildlife shots.

What have been your main challenges throughout lockdown?

On a personal level, the toughest thing this year has been not getting out and about shooting outdoors. For my YouTube and Instagram content, I’ve mostly had to switch to indoor work, but luckily I’ve got a couple of trees with feeders, so I’ve been able to capture quite a wide range of birds, including woodpeckers, great tits and blue tits.

Our biggest work challenge has been adapting to online training and to how people learn in the virtual environment, and I think we’ve done it fantastically well. The number of bookings we’re taking seems to back that up! But I’m now really looking forward to returning to outdoor workshops in the autumn, particularly Snowdonia National Park, which is probably my favourite UK location as it’s one of the most accessible places for getting a huge range of truly amazing images. We’re also running landscape courses in Northumberland and the Lake District, and winter wildlife in the Cairngorms in February 2022, including red squirrels, deer and mountain hares.

Do you have any advice for photographers thinking about making the switch to all things Z?

You’ll pick up mirrorless much faster than you think. Quite a lot of things are still the same, including the menu structure and button icons, although the body layout is slightly different. The FTZ adapter works fantastically well, too. People sometimes think it’s going to be like using a third-party adapter. It’s really not. Nikon makes all its own lenses, all the systems and the adapter, so there are no compatibility issues. Everything is designed to work together seamlessly, so using the F-mount lens on a Z-series camera is the same experience as using it on your DSLR. And in one respect it’s even better. A lot of F-mount primes don’t have vibration reduction, but using them on a Z-mount body with inbuilt stabilisation gives them that capability, enabling you to handhold at much slower speeds. It’s just one of the many advantages the Z system brings you.