Your First Lesson

I’ve been teaching quite a few individual students who got new DSLRs or point-and-shoot cameras and wanted a couple of lessons before heading off on vacation.

So here’s a quick checklist for everyone who can’t make it to Oakville for a personal session.

  1. Read your manual. Painful as some are to read, it will help you to understand your camera.
  2. Figure out how to reset your camera. This returns your camera to factory specifications so if you accidentally screw something up this will fix it.
  3. When you reset a Nikon, the JPG quality reverts to “normal”. Go into the menu and set your JPG quality to “fine”. You’ll get better images on fine.
  4. Learn how to download your photos from your camera to your computer using a USB cable or memory card reader.
  5. Once you’ve got your images on your computer make a back-up copy to an external hard drive or burn a DVD of your images.
  6. Shoot JPGs until you understand why and how to shoot RAW files.
  7. Process your JPG images in IPhoto on the Mac or Picasa (free) on PCs.
  8. If you want to shoot RAW files (which allow you to make many more adjustments to the image as compared to JPGs where the camera makes all the decisions buy Adobe Photoshop Elements or Lightroom to do your RAW editing.
  9. Learn how to format your memory cards (buy a couple of 8 or 16 gig cards) in your camera so you can use them over and over again. Before formatting make certain your saved images are safe in your computer and saved in at least two separate locations.
  10. Shoot lots and lots of images. It’s how you’ll quickly become a much better photographer.
Okay. Now you’re ready for part two. Here’s what I teach my new students:
  1. Until you get familiar with your camera shoot in automatic mode. The camera will make all the decisions for you including whether or not to use the flash.
  2. Once you’ve been getting good images on automatic, start shooting in P or program mode, Camera again makes all the decisions but now you control the flash.
  3. If you’re shooting a lot of indoor shots buy the flash the manufacturer sells. If there’s a choice, buy the bigger flash. (Take a course on how to use your flash. Especially learn how to bounce the flash off of ceilings and walls. You’ll get radically better indoor shots. People will marvel.)
  4. Next purchase is buy a fast lens like a 50mm f/1.8 which for Nikon and Canon sell for around $150, These “faster” lenses allow in more light so can capture really nice available light indoor shots.
  5. Start practicing shooting in A or aperture mode where you control the opening of the lens and the camera compensates by changing the shutter speed so you can get images that are sharp on the subject and blur the background. Wedding photographers use A mode a lot.
  6. If you’re shooting sports learn how to shoot in S or TV mode (Canon cameras) to set the shutter speed while the camera compensates by setting the aperture.
  7. Learn how to set your ISO to specific speeds rather than allowing the camera to decide what ISO to use. Slow ISO speeds (100 – 200) make for great outdoor shots in daylight. Higher ISO speeds (800 – 1600) will allow you to shoot in dim light but can create excessively noisy (think grainy in film lingo) images. 
  8. Now learn how to use M or manual mode. Here you use your light meter to determine the shutter speed and aperture for total artistic control.
  9. Buy a tripod* to stabilize the camera. Use it for landscapes and night-time photography. Also buy a remote shutter release to fire the camera.
  10. If you’re really enjoying the hobby, go join a local camera club (some are better than others) and attend the meetings and go on the shooting workshops.
* There are two ways to buys tripods: the expensive way and the really expensive way. The expensive way is you go out and buy a $1000 tripod with a $500 pro-quality ball head. The really expensive way is to go out and buy a $75 tripod. In two years you’ll go out and buy an $800 carbon-fibre trips with a $200 head to take on vacation. Eventually you’ll lust for the $1500 model (price has gone up) with the $500 head and you add it to your collection of tripods. I have three tripods and I’m working my way up to the $1500 purchase.
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