When Dave and I first bought a DSLR in early summer of 2009, I was completely overwhelmed. We purchased the Rebel XTi. It had so many buttons and functions, I had no clue where to even START learning about it. I survived on automatic mode for a good year.
Over time, through practice and a LOT of reading, I am slowly but surely learning how to use the darn thing. In the beginning, it was total hit or miss as to whether or not my pictures would come out good. Over the last year, since Krewson has been born, I've learned a lot and really improved my skills. I don't always take the time to edit my shots in a way that makes them professional-looking (because, yes, it does take a lot of work), but when I do try, I'd say 7 times out of 10 it works. Which is oh-so-exciting. :)
This winter I finally felt that I knew what I was doing enough to venture out and buy some additional lenses. I ordered a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens (for portraits) and 70-300mm telephoto lens (for outside, primarily for Dave's frisbee tournaments). Each new lens is requiring me to learn a whole new set of skills. I also recently got Adobe Photoshop for my computer, which has required an immense amount of learning but has enabled me to do so much more with my pictures. All of it is so exciting, but definitely time-consuming and challenging!!
For all my friends who are interested in improving their photography, I thought I'd share the steps I took and the resources I used along the way.
Step 1. Get a DSLR. There are some really great point-and-shoot cameras out there, but if you want to be able to have full control of your shots, a DSLR is the way to go. Dave found mine on Craigslist, practically new, at a great price. If you don't even know where to start looking, check out a guide here: http://www.digital-slr-guide.com/how-to-pick-a-digital-slr-camera.html.
Step 2. Learn the basics of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. This was the biggest hurdle for me, and the reason I pretty much only used automatic mode for the first year of owning the camera. Unfortunately, I don't have any particular article or book or blog post that led to a certain "aha!" moment for me. All I can suggest is to Google "aperture", "ISO", and "shutter speed", read read read, and then practice practice practice. You could start with this blog post: http://www.photoble.com/photography-tips-tricks/a-beginners-guide-to-exposure-shutter-speed-aperture-iso. Keep in mind that you're going to take a lot of horrible shots. A lot. When you get frustrated, switch back to automatic mode for a while and take a breather. Also, if you're with a friend who understands how to use DSLR manual settings, ask for advice. Some of my greatest learning moments have been when someone else has explained to me what settings they would have used in a particular situation.
Step 3. Learn to do some basic edits of your pictures. I recommend using Picasa for starts. It's free, it's fairly simple and intuitive, and it can even handle pictures in raw format. (More on raw format later.)
Step 4. Read the following online article: http://www.digital-slr-guide.com/best-digital-slr-lens.html and decide on what future lenses you might like. Seriously, this article was AWESOME. Go through it, step by step. You will learn SO MUCH about your camera.
Step 5. Order some lenses you would like and practice using them. (And make sure to look for deals!) As I mentioned previously, I ordered a 50mm f/1.8 prime lens for portraits and 70-300mm telephoto lens for long-distance shots. A ton of my pictures of Krew are taken with the 50mm f/1.8 prime lens. And I'm oh-so-excited to use my telephoto lens to take pictures of Dave playing frisbee this summer. My next lens will probably be a standard focal length lens with a wider maximum aperture.
Step 6. Take editing your pictures up a notch. I now have Adobe Photoshop. I've also heard good things about Adobe Lightroom and Adobe Elements. Photoshop has enabled me to do soooooooooo much with my pictures. It is absolutely amazing. So if you are really devoted to having great pictures, I'd suggest investing in one of these products. You can check them out here: http://tryit.adobe.com/us/photoshopfamily/.
Step 6. Learn to use your new editing software. There are oodles and boodles and snoodles of free tutorials, blog posts, and videos out there that will teach you how to do endless things with your photo editing software. Just do some searching on the internet. I promise you'll find something. There's also the option of having someone teach you. I purchased a one-on-one mentoring session with Mandy at A Sorta Fairytale and that's what really got me started using Photoshop. Check her out if you're interested. :)
Step 7. If your editing software works on pictures in raw format, start shooting in raw. Editing a raw image with the appropriate software enables you to make much cleaner picture edits than you would be able to do if the picture were in jpeg format. You can do more reading on this topic, but basically raw format contains a LOT more information about the picture you took, so your edits are more precise and will look more real. It oftentimes allow you to darken an overexposed picture or brighten an underexposed picture to the point that you can't even tell the picture was over- or underexposed. It's pretty neat.
*** Update: Since writing this post, I have changed my stances on JPEG vs RAW. You can read about my decision here: http://www.just1step.com/2011/09/jpeg-vs-raw.html. ***
Step 8. Keep reading and keep practicing. I am a regular reader of many photography blogs. You can check them out on my "Photography Blogs" blogroll over there ----> in my side column. I also look at others' pictures quite frequently to learn ways to frame a shot and also new ways to edit my pictures. I've actually reached the point where I will look at an occasional professional picture and think, "That's not what I would have done with that picture." Which is exciting to me, because it means that I'm learning and developing my own style.
I haven't had a chance to check it out yet, but I'd highly recommend the 31 DAYS TO A BETTER PHOTO SERIES over at My 3 Boybarians. I really love this website, and it appears that this series will cover in more detail almost everything I've mentioned above. In fact, I think that's the next place I'm going to head for more photography reading. Because, trust me...there's always something else to learn.
*** Update: Since writing this post, I went through and read the entire 31 days of the series. I HIGHLY recommend it! ***
Happy photo taking!!