You have a DSLR...Now what?

In 2013 I was gifted my DSLR for my birthday. It was shiny, new and CONFUSING. I was intimidated by all the bells and whistles and didn't find myself reaching for it as often as I should have. Fast forward nine months when I received Adobe Lightroom for Christmas and I realized it was time to learn.

I want to start this by saying I am still learning my camera (please let's hope that never stops) but these are just some tips that I feel have helped me along the way. Two years after receiving my camera I finally had the courage to embark on my own photography business so I hope if anything, I can pass along a little "you can do this" attitude.

First - take that camera out of AUTO! Sure your DSLR is an upgrade from a point and shoot. It naturally will take better photos. But I promise you that while your camera is smart, you are smarter. I tried to shoot in manual so many times and the pictures would be 100% black. I seriously had no idea what I was doing. So I bought myself a book and began watching YouTube videos on how to master it. These guys are some of my favorites.

There are three fundamental things you need to know to understand picture taking. I am going to give a super brief non technical explanation on all three - there are plenty of better more savvy explanations out there. Google your heart out.

Aperture / ISO / Shutter Speed 

Aperture is how open or closed your lens is. The smaller your aperture (also referred to as f stop), the larger the opening of the lens. Thus allowing more light into your photo and creating that blurred background we all love. The smaller the f-stop the more in focus your subject is and the more out of focus your background. Works well for portrait photography. The larger the f-stop the more in focus things will be, think group photos and landscapes.

50mm lens 1.8 1/250 1600
low light required me to crank the ISO
ISO

ISO is the sensor for light on your camera. The lower the ISO number (100, 200) the less sensitive it is to light. The higher the ISO number the more sensitive it is to light. So in a total simplified explanation think of it like this. When you are outside taking photos on a sunny day your ISO should stay relatively low. There is an abundance of natural light so you don't need to make your camera more sensitive to it. As you begin to lose daylight or head indoors you need to increase the ISO. The higher your ISO the more digital noise you add to your photos - basically they start to look grainy. General rule of thumb is try and keep your ISO low as possible.

50mm lens 1.8 1/125 800
(indoor photo with window as light source)

Shutter Speed

This is how long your shutter stays open to allow in light. A slower shutter speed (1/60) will allow in more light than say (1/125). However you have to keep in mind your subject. If your shooting something that is not moving like food you can probably go as slow as 1/60 (in my opinion anything under 1/60 you should use a tripod to avoid camera shake - and to make it more confusing different rules apply to different lenses.) For anything moving you need to use a faster shutter speed. Faster shutter speed equates to less light so you need to adjust your aperture or ISO to balance for this. 

The trick to all of this is that aperture, ISO and shutter speed all work together. In order to understand how they work together it's imperative to understand how they work separately. 

I also bought this book when I first got my camera and it helped to understand when to increase one value over the other, more importantly it told the why.

Another important aspect is white balance. A lot of cameras shoot in AWB (auto white balance) which I feel in general gets it pretty close. However it's guessing and why guess when you know since you're taking the photo. Familiarize yourself with how to get it right from the beginning to cut down on editing post production. Here is an example of bad white balance - please don't pay attention to any other details the photo was in my "I don't know what I am doing" stage.



See how the image on the left is way too cool (kelvin wise)? On your camera you can select your white balance (or completely customize it) but it has icons to give you a suggestion. Sunny, shady, tungsten (indoors), flash etc. Play around with it and you will get the hang of it. This is also relatively easy to fix in editing software. There are great tips and tricks HERE.

My biggest piece of advice is to practice, practice, practice. Every time I pick up my camera I learn a little more about it. I would suggest upgrading your kit lens to a "nifty fifty" which is a small investment to make on a lens. Most lenses will cost you hundreds but this is a good one to get if you only ever buy one. Nikon version here

Some other things I have learned along the way:

Discover your style and remain consistent.

Keep reading/watching/learning on ways to improve your photography - don't let it intimidate you!

Find other people whose photos you love and learn from them, I reach out to people for advice and questions all the time. Don't be shy, more often than not people are happy to help.

Most importantly HAVE FUN (gosh I am such a mom) but seriously, it's fun so have fun with it!

If you have a question I am happy to (try) and answer it!

Happy picture shooting!








19 comments

  1. Shooting in manual really is the first step in getting great pictures. My problem right now is all the low light in experiencing. We are inside more and the days are so short. I want to photograph more but it's so frustrating!

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    1. I just got a speedlight to help with indoor photos. Still toying around with it but having fun too. I bought a diffuser for the end of it as well. Sometimes those grainy photos indoors are some of my favorites!

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  2. pinning this! i really need to work on my camera skills and put down the iphone. xo jillian - cornflake dreams

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    1. It's so hard because babies are doing cute things all the time! But learn now and I promise you won't regret it!

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  3. Thank you for this! I just got a super fancy point and shoot and was practicing on manual mode this weekend and it was a disaster, ha! Now that I actually understand what this stuff means, I can't wait to mess around with it again!

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    1. Yay! You will be so much happier once that baby girl comes if you're using the DSLR. When it comes to printing iPhone photos the quality is unmatched!

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  4. Tell me your secrets on getting such clear shots of P with your Nifty Fifty. I shamefully put mine away after I got frustrated at my wiggly subject. My shutter speeds couldn't keep up and everything was always blurry.

    I did learn that it's better to pick your 1 source of focus rather than letting auto-focus find 3 points, but she still moved too quick for me.

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    1. So there are a couple of things I do. I should say also for every in focus shot I probably have like 5 blurry ones. Just snap away. I just am getting in tune with back button focusing. Basically I don't focus with my shutter button. I use a totally separate button on the back. This helps me lock focus and then I cam just snap away. I also shoot those in something called AI SERVO. It's still a learning curve for me but if you google it you can find some great tutorials.

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  5. Thank you! I just emailed this to my husband because we were talking about it this weekend! I practiced a little bit with mine and I feel like I'm getting better but this is so helpful!

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  6. Gah! I need to get my camera in to manual mode. But... Truth? I'm scared shitless... Every. single. time. I attempt to do so my pictures are terrible. Perhaps if I just sat down and watched a few tutorials things would turn out a little better.
    Awesome post!

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    1. Don't you worry, that was me too! I promise the more you pick it up the more you realize things each time. YouTube has taught me so much stuff. I try and watch one video before I go to bed each night.

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  7. Love this post! I'm like you--got my first DSLR in 2012 and have been learning and practicing ever since! I do understand the basics, though I wish sometimes I had someone to go shoot with and be able to talk through things together! I've also self-taught myself everything I know about Lightroom and I can edit photos to my liking, but I'm sure there's a lot I don't know! I would love a Lightroom tutorial blog post!!

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  8. My digital camera has pretty good manual settings but I always ignore them because I don't know what does what! It's definitely overwhelming.

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  9. I have yet to purchase a DSLR but have started using an app for my iPhone to ahoot in manual and already gives me better quality photos which completely blows my mind! Im looking into getting a Canon, do you still recommend the Nikon lense (do they interchange like that?) Thanks Laura!

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  10. Great post!! I'm thinking of reviving the "Photography for Moms" series on my blog and would love for you to guest post! (if you want, of course) :) Love your photos and love that you've found a passion for photography!

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  11. My boyfriend brought me a camera for christmas and I am trying to get my head round it. This has been a massive help! Thank you for this post :)
    Yaz

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  12. I'm way behind on blogging slash I have a mushy brain so I don't recall reading about your new business! How exciting! I've always wanted to do photography yet all of this confusing stuff you talk about is just so confusing to me! But your right, I can do it! Someday! ;) Great post, I'm pinning for later!

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