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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Photography 101 {So you have a DSLR. Now what?}

I've noticed that DSLRs are the new yoyo in soccer-mom land.   Everyone seems to be getting one.  If you are anything like me, you excitedly opened the box, put on the kit lens that it came with, noticed a myriad of unfamiliar buttons all over the thing, briefly glanced at the manual that was way thicker than you thought it would be, and although it appeared to be in English, it didn't actually seem to be in a language that you could understand. So the majority of my efforts were in figuring out where the auto button was!  I went ahead and snapped a few pics anyway.  The flash automatically popped up.  The focus was off.  The kiddos were blurry!  And the images were nothing like I had hoped.
So now what?

I grew up in the midst of many photographers.  There and wonderful photographs of my childhood that convey so many emotions.  
I got my first big-girl camera in college.  And I had fun with it.  But it gathered dust after I entered the work force. 
Many years passed.  
Many many years passed.  
Decades in fact.
And then something happened that happens to many women.  Two very special somethings!  Two babies came into our family, and I want to preserve every amazing moment!  I got my first DSLR in 2009.   I had so much fun with that camera, and it re-ignited a love of photography in me.   Well not at first.  There was some learnin' to be done.  But even the practicing was fun!  I really don't have any special skill or talent.  On the contrary, I am constantly humbled by how I have so much to learn.  But I do know that I adore taking photographs.  And if I can do this, anybody can.

Maybe you are like me.  You might have learned that using your big-girl camera didn't come as naturally as you hoped.  So if you have a dslr that gathering a bit of dust and not capturing the images you had hoped for, here is a list of the that will help you get to those photos you've been hoping for.  After all, you've probably got the most adorable model already!  Without becoming an advertisement for anything in particular  here are the general choices I see available these days.  If you'd like specific recommendations or direction for any of these, let me know, and I'd be more than happy to point you in the right direction.

Recommendation #1
The first thing is to figure out how to learn how to take photos beyond the auto modes.  Because honestly, if you wanted a camera that you only used in auto you'd be better off with a point-n-shoot.  So to take better photos, you're going to have to learn about all those scary buttons.  So here are some possibilities to learn how to use your camera.
Local instruction - I'm seeing a lot of classes specifically for DSLRs in Groupon and Living Social these days.  You can get a lot out of a quick in-person 1-2 day class.  Also check out your community college or community center and see if anything is available through them.  Do you know a girlfriend that takes photos with a DSLR in manual?  Offer to pay her for her time and teach you how to use your camera.  
Books - Unlike me, if you have the time to sit down and read, and you have the discipline to follow through, then go for it!  The first one I recommend that you start with is you're camera's owner's manual.  Ya, pretty dry boring reading, *yawn* but it really will help.
Online tutorials - These are usually free, although there are some out there for purchase.  They can be easily found on many photographer's blogs.  Bouncing around tutorials is a great way to learn many photography techniques, but they lack direction and personal instruction that beginners may need.    But it can't hurt to go through the free ones, especially if you're looking to learn something specific.  After all, it's probably be free!
Internet classes - Many professional photographers are now offering online group classes.  Again, look on photographer's blogs and web sites.  These classes seem to be everywhere I look. Prices are usually between $100-200.   Don't settle for on online download and an email address to ask questions.  You want interaction.  To get the most for your money, I recommend looking for the following in a class-
Low class size.  (No more than 40-ish participants)
Assignments/homework but nothing too regimented.  (This will ensure that you apply what you are learning.)
Interaction (even online) with the instructor and possibly other students.  
Photo evaluation of your photos from the instructor. 
Internet mentoring/coaching -  This type of instruction is usually one-on-one with just you and the instructor and instruction is tailored to your exact needs.  You usually learn and progress more quickly this way, but you lose the interaction with other students.  Look for an instructor whose style is one that you like, and for someone who you can easily build a rapport with.

Recommendation #2
The second thing I recommend to get better photos with your DSLR, is to consider your lens.  The lens you got with your camera is a good one, but it's probably not going to get you the images that you have in you want. And your lens is actually more important than the camera.  To start with, I recommend that you get a 50mm lens.  It's affordable, (entry level around $100,) forgiving, helps you take photos in low light, and will likely help you take the photographs that are in your head.  Have you ever seen a photo with a pretty blurry background? a 50mm lens will do that!  The more you learn about photography, the faster you'll figure out what lens(es) you'll want to add, so don't spend too much right away.  Just start out with the 50mm.

Recommendation #3
And last, a little secret.  Most every single photo that you see from your favorite photographers has been edited after the photo was taken.  Yep.  All of them.  So another thing you might want to think about is editing software.  There are many choices out there, but I like to keep things simple, so let me narrow it down for you.  Most all professionals and serious hobbyists use Photoshop or Lightroom.  Many use both.  Entry level prices are equivalent in price, ($100 give or take.  Be sure to consider the student discount if you have a student in your home!) and pretty much do the same thing when it comes to doing a clean edit of a photo.  And then, yes, you're going to have to learn how to use that too.  There are far more resources out there for Photoshop, but if I could only have one, my personal preference would be Lightroom because I find it faster and easier to use, especially for beginners.

Okay, so there the top 3 things that I recommend to learning to use your DSLR. It will have a learning curve. But there are so many resources available.  Like I mentioned before, if you would like some specific direction  for any of these, just let me know and I'd be happy to recommend some specific sources.

Happy snappin'!

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