Congratulations, and welcome to the club! You’ve saved the money and invested in a lifetime and commitment of better picture taking by buying your first DSLR. My guess is that you got tired of looking at your boring, out of focus, never-exposed-correctly photos that your old camera was giving you. Now before I give you the false hope that all of your photo nightmares are now behind you, let me assure you that they probably aren’t. In fact, some of them are just beginning. Depending on the level of photography you want to get to, whether it’s just taking better pictures of your kids, or making it in the professional world, there is a LOT to learn about this new piece of equipment you now own. It’s going to get confusing and frustrating at times. You will want to give up and convince yourself that you will never be a good photographer. These feelings are normal, and extremely common. I’m here to tell you that if you stick with it, you WILL get the results you’ve been wanting. It takes a little bit of patience and a lot of practice. Ok, maybe a lot of patience sometimes. I’ve compiled a brief list of things will can jump start your new life of colorful, interesting, well-composed photographs:
1. Take out your manual.
Get to know your camera! You should learn how to make your way around all those menus and options. Find out what those strange icons like the running man, flower, mountains, etc. all mean. Read about M, P, AV, TV, and figure out the differences in each. There are so many things to learn! Aperture, shutter speed, ISO, white balance, etc. etc. etc. If your manual is too wordy/boring for you, go to the bookstore and find a book written specifically for your camera(they have TONS!) and follow along with the colored pictures that are included.
2. Experiment with what you learn.
Have your camera by your side when reading/learning about it. When you find out what TV means, go outside and practice on moving cars. Go to a darker room and try out different ISO’s. Take the same picture with a different white balance every time. When you actually try things out yourself instead of just reading about them, you will catch on 100x quicker.
3. Take advantage of the World Wide Web.
So many people are successful self-taught photographers because there are countless resources available to them on the internet. I would suggest participating in forums where you submit your photos and get feedback on how to improve them. People out there may be brutally honest, but don’t take it personal. They are only trying to help you get better. Flickr is great – and you can join different groups depending on the type of photography you are in to. There are online tutorials for digital photography like you wouldn’t believe! So many people out there are willing to share everything they know to help people like you reach the level of photography you desire.
4. Find a program for your editing needs.
I put this step 4th on purpose. You need to learn how to use your camera BEFORE you start going crazy with the editing. You should work up to the point where you don’t DEPEND on your post processing to get a properly exposed image. There are some free programs that are great for organizing and simple touch ups. Google’s Picasa is very easy to use and has a good amount of features. Another one that is more similar to Photoshop, but is free, is GIMP. If you have the money, go ahead and invest in Photoshop. It is completely overwhelming, but once you get the hang of it, you will be welcomed in to a world of limitless photo manipulation opportunities.
5. Practice, practice, practice, practice.