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.


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 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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