Five Things I Learned With My First SLR

Purchasing my first digital SLR was an incredible time for me. I had seen the many beautiful photos that were possible with interchangeable lenses, auto-bracketing, and manipulating your manual settings…and couldn’t wait to get started. However…in my new camera haze I easily overlooked some key points that would help ensure the longevity of my gear.

slr

Photo by 55Laney69, on Flickr

Below are the five most important things I learned along the way that I wish I had known from Day One.

1. Working in Manual Mode

The biggest reason why I upgraded to an SLR was for greater control over my manual settings. However, one needs to know exactly what those settings do first in order to control them. Before you can really open up all of the possibilities with your camera, you need to know the basics – aperture, shutter speed, ISO – and more importantly, how they all work together (read: your exposure triangle).

If you’re not 100% confident that you know how these three manual settings work in harmony, please check out my simplified explanation that has helped quite a few new photographers wrap their minds around how an image is made – Photography 101 Series.

2. Proper Care

When I got my new Canon 30D (which was the camera to get in 2008), I thought nothing of cleaning my lens with my t-shirt. Turns out, it’s not such a good idea. When caring for your new camera, even the most simplest care techniques can potentially cause damage. It’s best to learn how to properly care for your camera right from the beginning, so Google your specific question before you try something new – photography forums are especially valuable, and photo.net has a great series on proper camera cleaning techniques right here (make sure to read the comments section for some fantastic info).

3. Insure Your New Gear

If you have homeowners or renters insurance for your personal property, your brand new camera may not automatically be covered depending on your policy terms. Typically, you’ll need to list your gear separately and pay an additional (but nominal) monthly fee. Talk to your insurance provider and ask them what you need to do to protect your expensive – and delicate – new purchase from theft and accidents.

4. Push Your Limitations

Your SLR is different than your cell phone or point and shoot, so treat it as such. Take advantage of your new gear and push the limits of what you can do with it. Eventually you’ll need to obtain additional gear depending on what you want to achieve ( i.e. a tripod and remote shutter for long exposures), but make sure you reach the limits of the gear you have first before jumping into a new purchase. And as long as you’re discovering a new function or technique from each shoot, you’ll be well on your way to becoming the photographer you want to be.

5. Make Friends With Your Flash

Built-in flash has a way of producing flat, uninteresting lighting…something your SLR can help you move away from. If you have a hotshoe (and most SLRs do), you can start working with off-camera flash – here is where the real fun begins with creating your own lighting. While I don’t use strobes for my landscapes, I love seeing what kind of outstanding images photographers come up with using their flashguns…and not just portrait photographers either.

portraitPhoto by Astragony, on Flickr

For more info on how to get started with flash photography, try Strobist for their madly popular 101 series on lighting.

And of course, have fun. The road to getting where you want to be with your photography starts with you shooting as much as you can and gaining knowledge along the way.

This list is definitely not an exclusive one…so feel free to share what you think were the most important bits of info you wish you knew from the get-go in the comment section below.

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  1. Kiersten

    Hey, I stumbled onto this blog and it’s really helpful, so I thought it couldn’t hurt to ask a question.

    I am about to get my first DSLR, after saving and researching forever I decided I really like the Canon Rebel T3i. But, on Amazon there are two choices as far as which lens you would like to be in the kit.

    You can get the 18 to 55 mm, or the 18-135 mm (for 200 dollars more). I have researched a lot, but some things someone just cannot know with out having experienced it before.

    I mostly just do friends senior pictures, family portraits, and someone asked me to do engagement photos… Do you have any suggestions on which lense I should start with? Is getting the extra zoom worth the extra 200 dollars?

    Any input would be awesome!
    Thanks, Kiersten

  2. Nate Kay

    Hey Kiersten – I think either one would be great starting lenses for your SLR. Personally, I think the 18-55 mm can accomplish what you’re looking to do right now. Then you can put that $200 you’re saving towards a more expensive zoom lens (or any other lens) that will really improve other areas of your photography. By the time you are comfortable with your T3i, you’ll have saved enough to buy another lens. Many will agree that spending good money on a great lens is the way to go. Hope this helps!

  3. Deen

    Hi Kiersten, I have a D5100 with a 18-55 and 55-300, since I m a newbee too I m beginning to realise I need a case to take both (right now I use my backpack lol) the lenses and at times I never use the 55-300mm or at least so far I never had the reason to use it seriously. However, 18-55 had always been useful. Having said that at times when I have the 55-300 I really have to go back to get the exact picture and when I don’t have the space to go and time to change to 18-55 you can imagine the mood.
    In other words it all depends on how much you are going to use each lense. However 18-55 would be used most of the time…
    Cheers,
    Deen

  4. Northwest Arkansas Wedding Photographer

    I was lucky enough to not make any of these mistakes except number 5. But man, I wish I learned how to use flash from the get go. There were so many times when I just bumped up the ISO when it was too dark. And I really wish I just used a flash because those photos are so grainy. And I still love some of my old work. I just don’t display it because of the embarrassing grain.

  5. Tracey

    Hi – You post is really helpful and i was after some advice too. I an a new-by and on an even tighter budget than above. A few cameras have been recommended as a good starting point: Are any of these any good Lumix DMC,Olympus E-420 SE , Pentax K-X.

    Like I stated I am just starting out, (I touched briefly on photography at college) so need to get to grips with things again – therefore I need to start basic and work up.

    Any suggestions would be great. Thank you Tracey

  6. Ana

    Hi Tracey: Hey, I am on a tight budget also; one income family–however, I did save a few dollars over the year and purchased a Pentax Kr. It takes wonderful pictures and is versatile and easy to use — I think this is a great starter camera. I have had a Minolta SLR for the past 25 years that I purchased when my sister had her first baby. I think the Pentax Kr is much easier to use. You will find yourself very happy, incidentally the price should be dropping a little this year, since it has been out for a while. I also read some great reviews from professionals on this camera that drove my decision. I paid $889 for the camera and two lenses.

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