So you received a shiny new dslr for Christmas or you bought one for yourself. What now? Turn it on, begin shooting away only to find yourself not so thrilled with the results with your investment? No! Read on and become better acquainted with your new toy! Here are my 10 tips for the new dslr camera owner.
1. Read the manual.
By reading the manual you will familiarize yourself with all the basic functions of your new camera. You'll also learn where all the buttons are and what they do. Knowing your camera and it's functions can really get you out of a pickle. Even the so called "starter" or entry level dslr can sometimes be a bit daunting. This is especially true if you plan on shooting in anything other than auto or program mode. If all else fails get a "dummies" style how to book. Chances are there is one specifically for your camera. These are often written in plain English and are easier to understand than your camera's manual.
2. Learn the basics.
Even the most inexpensive dslr is capable of giving you great results. So whats the missing magical pixie dust? Knowledge! By learning the fundamental basics of photography such as aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and composition along with comprehending how these aspects affect a photograph you will take the necessary steps to go from taking snapshots to taking great photographs that tell a story and or capture memories.
3. Get the camera off auto and program mode.
Until you understand the basics described in point number 2 the auto modes are fine. Have some fun with your dslr. Just remember that by leaving your camera in auto or program mode you have the equivalent to a big expensive point and shoot camera. By using a semi automatic mode such as aperture priority you are far more likely to have the images look the you the way you envision them and not be bound by the camera's idea how the photograph should look.
4. Only use the on camera flash if it's a last resort.
On camera flash is unflattering at best. Today's dslr cameras are quite good at shooting in lower light situations. By boosting your iso and using a good tripod you'll find that little pop up flash on top of your dslr isn't as necessary as you may think.
5. Buy an inexpensive 50 mm prime lens.
Don't know what a 50 mm prime is? A trip to your local camera store will enlighten you.
Disclaimer: When I say your local camera store I mean just that. A big box store may give you the best price but if you don't know what you are buying then you are better off talking to someone who sells camera equipment for a living. 9 times out of 10 it isn't a big box store employee. Not to mention if you ask the specialty store they will likely come close or match the big box store's price.
Now back to the 50 mm prime. This lens is generally inexpensive (under $200.00 if you get the f 1.8 from your camera manufacturer). The reason it doesn't zoom is because it only has one focal length. What this allows is for you to take a picture in a darker setting where your kit lens may otherwise fail due to the same dark conditions. Because of it's wide aperture it can let in a great deal more of the available light. Also mastering one fixed focal length will take away the temptation of using a zoom setting as a crutch.
6. Shoot everything and shoot often.
Get out and practice! Have fun and experiment. It only costs you bits on your memory card. Don't be afraid to make mistakes. One of the best things about digital is immediate feedback. You can see what works and what doesn't right away just by looking at the back of the display on your camera and unlike developing film digital is free of charge if you are only going to view the images on a computer screen and post to the internet.
7. Shoot in "RAW"
Chances are your dslr offers you the chance save images in either a RAW or JPEG format. JPEG images are "cooked" in the camera and adjustments using post processing software are not as effective as adjustments are made to a RAW image. Changes to saturation, contrast, white balance and other settings are far more forgiving when using a RAW file. This will also allow you far more latitude to correct mistakes or just make changes as you see fit.
So even if you didn't completely nail the image you were after in camera you can improve things after the fact programs such as it Apple's iPhoto which comes with your Mac or if you're on a PC try Picasa. This is a free program that makes it easy to organize an adjuster images regardless of whether they're shot in raw or JPEG.
8. Make some big prints!
Unfortunately our picture files pile up on our hard drives. So why not set some of them free? A print of your photograph is a treat but a large print is an even better treat! There is nothing more satisfying then holding a picture that you cherish in your hands and if it's a big one why not frame it and hang it on your wall? Even the cheapest dslr is capable of producing a print file that can be at least 20 x 30 inches and possibly even bigger!
Share your new found treasures with others. Use free photo sharing sites like Flickr or Facebook and let the world see your wonderful vision instead of locking your pictures down on your computer's hard drive for only you to see. The feedback you receive (good or bad) will also help you grow as a photographer.
10. Join your local photo club.
By joining your local photo club you'll not only get invaluable advice on photography but you'll also meet like minded people who share in your passion for photography. Another good resource is the Internet. It's loaded with how to videos and websites dedicated to photography. Also check out photography podcasts. A quick Google search will give you many solid options.
The main point of this blog post is to encourage you to enjoy your new camera and hopefully get some valuable pointers along the way. Hopefully I have put you on the right track. Now get out there and have some fun!
If you like this blog post please feel free to "like" me on Facebook or follow me on twitter. Next week I'll have a post prepared of some of my favorite images I took from 2011 and maybe a few thoughts why they were my favorites.