Was Santa Claus good to you? Did you find a new dSLR under the Christmas tree this year? If so, then congratulations! You were definitely a good little boy or girl, and you got a very nice treat. You’re probably excited, but also a little bit intimidated by your new toy.
Here are ten Stop Shooting Auto! tips to get you started with your new dSLR:
- Read part of the manual. Your camera’s manual is an invaluable guide to your dSLR, and one that you will be referencing many times in the upcoming months. It has lots of great information in it about how your camera works and what all the settings do. That’s the problem– it has too much information for getting started. If you read the whole thing right now one of two things will happen. Either your head will explode, or most of the information will go in one eye and out the other. Read the beginning of the manual now, enough to get you started with the basics, then set it aside and shoot for a while. Come back to your manual later, after you’ve used the camera for a while.
- Take some pictures. Pick a theme, something not too hard, and play around. Maybe you want to take pictures of all your friends making funny faces, the tail lights of all the cars in your neighborhood, or the appliances in your kitchen. It doesn’t matter what you shoot, just do it. You probably won’t get any great masterpieces, but you’ll get some practice with your camera in a slightly structured manner.
- It’s OK to use automatic modes. Did I really just say that? Yes, yes I did. Any dSLR has thirteen betrillion different knobs and modes and menu settings and gewgaws and whatchamacallits that you’ll need to learn about. Just like reading the manual, trying to learn about all of the settings at once is going to be too overwhelming. Start off by letting the camera do most of the work for you, then gradually take over the settings as you find a need for them.
- Don’t obsess over better lenses and equipment. Right now, people are probably telling you that the kit lens (the lens that came with your camera) is garbage, and you have to get a better one immediately. If you’re a geek, you’re probably poring over reviews in magazines or websites so that you can compare specs and find your next lens. Stop it. The kit lens is a perfectly good starting point, and it will be a while before you find it limiting.
- Start making a list of small accessories that you want. OK, this is exactly the opposite of the advice I gave in #4, but it’s a different situation. There are probably a few little things that you’ll want to pick up sometime soon, so make a list as you find them. Do you need a spare battery or charger? Is the strap cutting into your neck? You’ll almost certainly want a bigger memory card at some point. You don’t need to run out and stock up on every accessory in sight, but think about the things that will be useful to you.
- Handle your camera with care, but not paranoia. Your camera is a complex, high-tech instrument, but it’s also designed to handle some degree of abuse. You don’t have to baby your camera, but exercise some common sense. Don’t bang it around. Be careful not to get dirt inside the camera. Don’t drop it into the bathtub or run over it with your Range Rover.
- Experiment. One of the best was to learn about your camera is to just play around with it. Try zooming in and out on the same scene and see how the image changes. Get down on the ground and look at things from a different angle. Try different modes to see what they do. One of the beautiful things about digital photography is that “film” is cheap, and another is that you don’t have to develop the photos before you can see them. You can try out lots of different things to see what works.
- Analyze your shots. One of the other wonderful things about digital photography is that your camera records the settings you used. Photographers used to keep notebooks for the shots they took so that they could record the exposure settings, focal length, etc. Today, you just have to look at some information, called the EXIF data, that’s hidden in each file. Here’s an example. You don’t care about all of the data, but Exposure (shutter speed), Aperture, Focal Length, and ISO Speed are all useful data. The software that you use for pulling pictures off of the camera and viewing them probably has a way for you to see this information.
- Find a photography buddy. It can be more fun to shoot with a friend or friends, and you can learn together. Flickr has groups for most cities, and many of those groups get together to share information and go shooting. You’ll get ideas from each other, and pick up interesting tips.
- Have fun! If there’s a picture you want to take, take it. Don’t worry about not doing it right or not getting a perfect shot. Play around. Climb up on the playground equipment to get a different angle. Take pictures of bright-colored things just because you like them. Break the rules. I promise that the photography police won’t arrest you for it.
What are you waiting for? Get out there and get shooting.