learning to use a digital SLR

Discussion in 'Photography / Video' started by Grant Richie, Dec 27, 2010.

  1. I am sure there are many of you out there who know how to use an SLR camera effectively. I bought my first not much over a month ago and have been getting an education ever since. For those of you that have learned it on your own, what has been the best book for teaching you how to take more control of your camera?

    I bought the magic lantern guide for my camera but I found it did me little good as a novice. It tells you what all the buttons do, but I had no idea when I should use those buttons. I purchased another guide book last week called Snapshots to Great Shots and have found it to be really good for a rookie like myself and they seem to have a book on most camera models. Let me know what books have helped you learn the most.
  2. Not sure what your experience is with photography. For me being fairly new to it I got more out of books dealing with composition than anything else. I later started reading more on exposure and understanding light. I have been playing around with digital photography for a couple of years now and it seems I always return to the basics of composition to improve. Digital Photo Design: How to Compose Winning Pictures by Paul Comon is one I refer to often.
  3. Kerry has the right of it. Forget the "learning digital photography" idea for now and instead learn the "basics of PHOTOGRAPHY". Photography is simply high-tech painting with light. Learn how to read, manipulate and use light while 'arranging' your scene appropriately in the frame (i.e. composition).

    Books are okay starting points, but the best way to learn is to do: Shoot a TON of pictures. With digital, that's easy and affordable (in the early 90s I was shooting about 300-400 rolls of 36-exposure slide film each summer - that's 10,000 to 14,000 pictures -- in order to get a 150-200 suitable for basic publishing/stock use, and maybe 40-50 suitable for high-end publishing (high-gloss color 'art' magazines).

    As a new shooter, you should get out every day and take pictures, even if its just 30 minutes in your backyard or around the neighborhood. Here a few good exercises and tips:

    Find an easy accessible subject of some interest you can get to at different times of the day -- something in your yard or neighborhood is ideal. Set your dSLR to Program (P) mode, and then shoot that subject (say a bird bath) at sunrise. Then again an hour later, and again every hour up to and immediately after sunset. Look at the differences in light in the resulting photos. Figuring out how sunlight changes in photos throughout the day is a huge task for outdoor photographers, but one with huge benefits. After all, as we pursue our sports we are out there when the action is good, not necessarily when the light is at its best. Learn to use available light in the best ways possible and you'll be miles ahead of other shooters.

    Next, find a subject with some vibrant color, and many fine details. If you have one, put your camera on a tripod, and then start shooting that subject. Start in P mode, then start playing. Adjust the aperture, adjust the shutter speed, adjust the ISO settings. YOu might want to keep notes in a notebook, though the metadata files on the photos will tell you what the basic settings were for each shot.

    If you want to do much tweaking of the images, shoot in RAW mode -- you'll be able to tweak color, exposure, etc. more readily than if you shoot in jpeg mode.

    Get a photo archiving and basic editing app, such as Adobe Lightroom or Apple Aperture (Mac only). With Aperture I seldom enter Photoshop anymore since i can tweak my setting effectively in aperture if I need to pull a little detail out of shadows or enhance mid-day colors a touch.

    Another difficult, but highly valuable skill to develop. Ruthless editing. Be willing and ABLE to throw away bad and mediocre shots. Shoot tons, but self edit in processing. That's key.

    Hope that helps. Get out and shoot, shoot, shoot.......

  4. Find a photography forum that seems to have a good community and ask questions there just as you'd ask fishing questions here (though to be fair WFF does have some dedicated photographers as well who are happy to help).
  5. If you want to learn about outdoor/landscape photography there is no better books then those by Galen Rowell. Through his writings you can begin to learn about the mysterious properties of light, composition, technique, and vision.

    As far as learning how to operate the camera, i would focus on

    expouser (learn the zone system)
    what ISO is and the benefits and drawbacks of different ISO's
    aperture and how it relates to hyperfocal distance
    how shutter speed can make or break a picture

    After that put your camera on a tripod and go out and shoot pictures.

    Using the digital SLR isnt the hard part. post proccessing can be as hard as you make it. I dont use alot of post on images anymore, I adjust the curves, sharpen, sometimes great a mask for the sky. A good photoshop book read cover to cover and doing the techniques as you go can give you all the tools you need, but some people learn it better from a teacher. There should be night classes for Photoshop at local colleges.
  6. Oh, and I don't recommend taking 1000000 pictures just because you can. Pretend you are using a 4x5 and take a minute to set up each shot with intent. look around the frame for distractions in the composition, look through the camera from a couple different angels, use the cameras light meter (user manual should explain all its features well). Then, when everything is correct take 3-4 shots with slightly different expouser.

    That will make you a better photographer in the long run then shooting 100 frames and deleting 99.

    Also, always shoot in RAW mode, unless there is a specific reason not to.
  7. Thanks for all the tips. I have added the books to my reading list.

    I haven't had any problem taking lots of pictures in the past, but it was always with a point and shoot camera. The camera specific guide book I am reading now does a good job of how to use the different functions of my camera and what effect they will have on my photos. There is a lot of learning to be done for sure. For the last month I have been taking pictures in point and shoot mode and am now just beginning to use the camera in other modes.
  8. Here is a link to a great article about exposure... make sure you understand the exposure triangle concept and then go and take photo's... work on composition ect, but most importantly when you are beginning make sure you understand this triangle because it is the basis for everything you will do.


    Have fun! DSLR's are a blast

    Oh and one other thing... shot RAW and use processing software like lightroom
  9. Learn how to frame the shot. I can't believe how many people fill the frame with feet and sky when what you really want to fill the frame with is the people (waist up generally) and the fish, not all of the surrounding river.

  10. Getting the most out of a camera is kind of like getting the most out of your Spey rod. You can read a ton of books, but there is no sustitute for time on the river, or looking through the view finder. Years ago, before digital, my wife decided to take a photo class at the local junior college. She got a lot out of that class, and became a pretty good photographer. If you can spare a few hours once a week, a class like that will not only teach you the basics and get you pointed in the right direction. It will be much more valuable than reading a book.
  11. Lots of good advice here. I'll add this. When you are looking thru the viewfinder, ask yourself why. Why are you pushing the button. Does it tell a story, convey an emotion, or capture light in a special way? If not, keep walking until you find something that does.
  12. I don't necessarily agree that you should only shoot in RAW. If you do, then you are the one who has to work the images in post processing. Of course, this gives you more control over the final image outcome, but it will just inundate you with more stuff to learn at the beginning.

    If you shoot jpg's, then the camera will process them for you, which I think might be better when you are just trying to learn the basics of photography. Later on after you've gotten comfortable with your new camera, you could move on to RAW if you wanted to. Or you can shoot in both. I very rarely shoot in RAW.
  13. Add to the above the basic rule of composure; the rule of 1/3 and you will be well on your way.
  14. I'll throw in another perspective. I'd been using a 35mm SLR in one form or another for about thirty years when my wife gave me a Canon DSLR. In spite of the fact that I feel I'm a decent enough amateur photographer, the myriad "bells and whistles" really intimidated me. I finally purchased a DVD entitled "Canon 40D Made Easy" by Elite Video. It's set up so you can handle the camera while you watch the video, of course, and this has greatly helped me to make my way around the camera itself. There are two DVDs to the set and while the first addresses the bells and whistles, the second is supposed to get into exploration of the techniques and principles of photography. I'm a visual learner, and this DVD has already paid for itself, as far as I'm concerned.

    Only one chapter was less than worthwhile - a discussion about adding lenses.

    Anyway, after two years of being a DSLR weenie, I'm pumped about getting some real value out of a really great camera.

    Good luck on your journey.
  15. First, buy the book "Understanding Exposure" by Bryan Peterson: http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-3rd-Photographs-Camera/dp/0817439390

    Second, the one piece of information I wish someone would have given me is to understand that, when a lens is a 4-5.6 f stop, it does not mean that you can get an aperture of f4 at all focal lengths. Man that frustrated me to know end. When I learned that after several off and on attempts at SLR photography over the years it was like a light switch was flipped. It's amazing what others assume that you know.

    Just so I don't leave any beginners hanging, an f4-5.6 lens has maximum apertures of 4-5.6. A 70-300 f4-5.6 lens will have a maximum aperture of f4 at 70mm and a maximum aperture of 5.6 at 300mm (in between 70 & 300 the maximum aperture will be a graduated amount between f4 & f5.6 throughout the range). At all focal lengths you can have a smaller aperture (higher number); but, you can't get a larger aperture (smaller number). This is also why you won't be able to understand why you can't get the same depth of field or bokeh as those with more experience. They/we are using faster lenses, ie, lenses with a larger aperture (smaller number f/2.8, f/1.8, f/1.4, etc.).

    That one paragraph I just typed (I hope I typed it clearly) would have saved me years of frustration and would have been worth a lot to me to know many moons ago.

    I hope this helps. If not, go look at Jake H.'s third response in the "saw this on craigslist" thread in the classifieds.

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