You’ve opened the box to that bright and shiny new DSLR camera that you got for Christmas, now what do you do?
If this is your first DSLR then you’ve probably upgraded from a point and shoot camera or even a cellphone. First of all you should read the manual. I know, I know, I’m one to talk. I tend not to read the instructions when I get a new camera but then again I’ve been in the business for about 30 years and I tend to know my way around a camera.
The first thing I usually do with a new camera is to find out where the things I use the most are. But I never throw the manual out. If there are features that I only use occasionally it’s good to have the booklet to read up on those things.
Start with the basics. Learn how to turn the camera on (don’t laugh, it’s easier said than done on some models). Find out where the battery goes and how to charge it up. Learn how to insert and extract the memory card. Read up on how to use the camera’s monitor. If your model has a built-in flash learn how to activate it. Learn how to use some of the camera’s basic functions (shutter speeds, aperture and focusing). Most cameras have several different exposure modes: Aperture priority (you set the aperture of the lens while the camera sets the shutter speed), shutter priority (just the opposite of the previous setting), programmed mode (the camera sets both shutter and aperture) and manual (you do all the work). Read through the owners’ manual for all these things and more. There might be some features such as shooting multiple exposures or in black and white that you might find interesting but most likely you won’t need to know how to use right away. If you want you can bookmark those pages for some future reference.
After all that the most important thing is to go out and actually use the camera. You can read all the instructions and know how to use the camera in theory but using it in the field is another matter. You don’t want to spend time fiddling with the camera while a sunset fades away or the subject of a portrait grows impatient. If your son or daughter goes up for a layup on the basketball court don’t be figuring out how to focus the camera or else you’ll miss the shot.
I remember when I first started in photography. I loved it but at first the learning process seemed slow. Then I got on the college newspaper’s staff. Now shooting on more regular basis, my skills improved steadily. Then I got a job at a weekly paper in Sacramento and I was shooting even more and my abilities grew even quicker. When I got a job at The Record and got to shoot, edit, and process on a daily basis my skills grew exponentially.
It would be great you could do nothing but take pictures all day, but with work and family daily life can get in the way. But to learn how to use that fancy new camera you should uses it as much and as often as you can. Go out on a weekend or evening and play with the camera. Shoot a lot and then shoot some more. In the old days that meant burning through a lot money in film and developing, but in the digital age you can just delete the ones you don’t like. Or better yet save the ones you don’t like. Download them to your computer and study them. Determine why you don’t like the picture and what went wrong with it. Then try to figure out a way to improve your technique the next time. Were you too far away or maybe too close? Maybe a different angle, one from above or below, will help. You can also take a class or even just ask someone who’s more experienced for some advice. Most pros or serious amateurs are more than happy to give some tips.
Most of all don’t be discouraged if your photos aren’t turning out the way you like. Keep on trying and don’t give up. Along with trying to figure out what didn’t work, try to remember what went right with the pictures that you do like. Learning how to use your camera is like learning how to use anything else: the more you use it the better you’ll get at it.