Captured MOMents: I got an SLR for Christmas … what next?

It’s my hope that you got your wish for Christmas, and Santa brought you the new, shiny digital SLR you had on your list. I am sure that as soon as you opened that box, you looped on your camera strap, fiddled to get the lens on, and turned the dial to “Auto”  (or the little green box) so you could start shooting pictures immediately of your kids unwrapping THEIR gifts and capturing their great big chocolate-covered smiles after Christmas dinner.

Once you held that camera in your hand and saw ALL of the buttons and dials, were you immediately overwhelmed? No worries. That’s to be expected.

When I got my first digital SLR in 2004, it was coincidentally the year that we got SNOW on Christmas Day. My husband had given me the camera the night before, and I couldn’t wait to whip it open to start taking pictures immediately of all of that beautiful snow! Of course, I didn’t think twice, put it automatic, and pretty much kept it that way for probably 2 years before I REALLY started to understand how to use it properly. At first, I had no idea of what to do with this camera and tried a handful of times to shoot pictures in Manual mode. But I was often too impatient or got discouraged easily when I didn’t capture the image I had hoped for.

One day, a photographer friend told me about an online resource and recommended a book to me. It was then that I started taking it all seriously. I read that book cover to cover and sat with the manual then practiced taking manual shots. I discovered that my images were improving daily when I finally understood what aperture, shutter speed and ISO really meant.

I am hoping you can learn from my experience and not waste two years taking “ok” pictures in the auto mode when you  can easily take a few moments to learn the basic fundamentals of photography and take some pretty awesome pictures instead.  Here are a few tips to getting you well on your way to understanding your new dSLR and getting the most out of it.

Read the manual  

Trust me, I know. Reading the manual to a camera is about as exciting as getting a root canal. But it is necessary. I think if I would have just sat down for an hour after getting the camera to flip through it to learn the basics operation of the camera, I could have probably starting taking some decent photos instead of mediocre ones. Also, keep the manual handy, especially when you start exploring exposure.

Utilize Online Learning Tutorials 

Both Canon & Nikon offer digital learning tutorials and options. Canon’s Online Program breaks down how the camera works, the different modes that the camera offers, and advanced options on using your camera in easy to understand terms. Nikon also offers a similar option on their site called Digitutor that offers step by step tutorials that can guide you through using your camera and understanding the dial, buttons and options available to your specific model. Pinterest is also a great resource for searching for online photography tutorials.

Get a Good Book on Fundamentals 

I mentioned that a friend recommended a good book to get started on teaching me the fundamentals of photography. Out of all of the photography books, I found Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is the best in terms of explaining the 3 components of exposure and how to compose a great photograph. This book is great for explaining aperture, ISO, and shutter speed, and how they come together to create an exposure. He also gives examples of different photos for different situations, as well as advice on composition for dynamic images. Nearly ever photographer I have ever met has referred to this book as a great learning tool for a beginner. Paired with your manual, it can be a great start to capturing some awesome pictures!

Take a Class

If you want hands-on experience with an experienced photographer ready to answer your questions, you may want to consider taking a class. There are many options for photography classes throughout the metro area. Our Guest Blogger Erin Rachel Wilson of Erin Rachel Photography offers one day workshops throughout the year. Local photography shop Lakeside Camera offers classes with inexpensive tuition; you can check their websites for class schedule information. Also, UNO and Delgado often will offer a photography class or two through their Continuing Education programs at the start of both the fall and spring semesters for a nominal fee. The New Orleans Fine Arts Academy offers photography classes as well. Also, some local parish school systems offer Community Education classes every fall and spring that often include photography classes as well for a small fee.


Practice. Practice. Practice. 

Like I mentioned before, I shot on auto for 2 years before I really starting embracing taking photographs in manual mode. Once I sat down with the book and manual, I took oodles of pictures and eventually started taking some nicely exposed images. It took lots of practice for me to feel comfortable with my camera and the images I produced. When it comes to photography, there is always something new to learn and practice will help to hone your skills and make each image even better than the last.

Did you get an dSLR for Christmas? Do you have questions about your new camera?  Want to know what aperture is? Curious about ISO?  Please ask your photography questions here so that I (or one of our photography sponsors) can answer in a future post!


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