Not Quite a Complete Beginner

Not Quite a Complete Beginner

Written 13 years ago by Lee

This is a guest post from TheBlueRose who also blogs about her photography journey at her own website, Lens Addiction.

I bought my first DSLR in July this year – a Canon 40D and the 17-85mm IS lens, and promptly wondered “how do I make this thing go?”. I could have shot on Auto but what would the point have been. I got a DSLR because I wanted to learn how to use my camera properly to take better photos than I had been taking on my P&S.

But it had all these knobs, and buttons and settings and I didn’t understand what they were for, and why I needed them. So I did what I normally do in this kind of situation, and dived headfirst into as much research as I could find. Also (and this is important) I got the camera out and USED it.

Where did I go and get all this information from?

  • online forums
  • magazines
  • joined a photography club
  • lots of books
  • blogs
  • talking to other photographers and asking questions
  • attended a composition class

What option did I find most useful? For me I find books a really helpful resource, although not all books are created equal, so going online and asking people to recommend books gave me a common ground to start from.

Mostly I have tried to ‘see’ like a photographer. Early on in my experimentation I posted a photo I was really proud of in one of the forums, and had it critiqued quite strongly. A lot of what the other people pointed out was wrong, I felt was personal preference such as the crooked horizon (it was taken on a sloping river bank), sharpness (I’m not a fan of oversharpening), fill the frame with the subject vs show the subject in its habitat.

This made me realize that composition was a critical point with photography so I spent some time researching it and put up a couple of posts on my blog about it. It was an interesting experience and gave me a lot to think about relating to my skill in actually composing a picture. Often it’s a matter of point and click for a fast moving or fleeting event, but sometimes there is time to put some thought into it.

I found this some of the most useful research I did – making me think about the background (was it a distraction), foreground (was it present, messy, in the way?), where the eye travels, what directions it follows, how the light is, its direction. Below is a picture I really like which was the result of half an hour taking photos of these daffodils while deliberately thinking about those things. I’m really pleased with how this came out. One of the key pieces of advice I got in one of the Forum discussions about composition was “get down to ground level for things that are on the ground” and that’s what I did here.


Then there are the mechanics of making your camera achieve certain things – like blurred backgrounds, or sharpness all the way through the image, or impression of motion, or a still subject with motion blur. All this stuff I am still very much learning, mostly by experimentation.

Probably the most valuable thing I did was http://ourtadalafil.com/ take my camera out and do things with it I had never tried before, to go completely outside of my comfort zone. Not long after I got the initial camera I splurged on getting the 70-200 F4 IS L lens – it was a luxury purchase (I had to raid my Holiday Savings Account to pay for it) but the 40D with that lens on it has opened up a whole new world. And I have made a point of going out and trying new things that I hadn’t tried before (or had but not successfully)

  • birds in general and one successful attempt at BIF (Bird in Flight)
  • horses in motion
  • belly dancer – with and without flash
  • swing dancing – low light with no flash
  • landscapes
  • people
  • architecture

So here are some examples of my first major experiment – I swing dance and there was a weekend long event happening and I wanted to try and take low light action shots without a flash. So I borrowed a 50mm F1.8 prime lens and dove in head first, with NO IDEA really what I was doing. As far as the lighting went, it was awful, there were spotlights, and the colour of the light was dreadful, and I didn’t understand that having the lens so wide open meant my DOF was really shallow – so much so it was only sharp for the width of one person – I figured out it was an issue quickly, but not till some more online forum discussions did that penny drop for me a week later.

Dance 1

Dance 2

Dance 3

I attended a Composition Class, which was useful as it added to the research I had already done but more importantly made us go out and think about it and shoot, and then assessed the images afterwards. I happened to be sitting next to a pool where these birds started having very enthusiastic baths, and the 70-200 F4 IS L went to work.

Duck 1

Duck 2

I also spent an afternoon at an Arabian Horse stud farm sale, shooting the horses as they paraded in the arena. I had never tried to shoot horses moving at speed before and this was a real challenge (and I got impressive sunburn – a bottle of sunscreen is now in my backpack!) This was my second major experiment.

Horse 1

Horse 2

Every time I take my camera out I learn something new. I’m hoping that as I learn, the quality of my images will improve but most of all I try and have fun with my gear and end up with images that I know I have worked hard to achieve and that I am happy to have taken.

About the Author

Known elsewhere on the Web as TheBlueRose, I am endeavouring to learn to improve my photography skills and my cunning plan involves blogging about it and maybe helping other DLSR newbies out there (if by nothing else, learning from my mistakes)

I live in New Zealand, in the South Island. I work in IT, and enjoy reading SF and Fantasy books, and I am a member of the local SCA group where my persona is a 14th C merchants daughter. My favourite photographic subjects are my two Birman cats, and you can find all my photos on my Flickr page.

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Ramon Thompson  12 years ago

Great post! It reminds me of when I got my first DSLR…a Canon Rebel Xti. I wasn’t as brave as you were to post images online for others to critique; I was my own worst critic, and kept observing what made other’s images great and tried to apply those things whenever I made images. I, too, have found composition to be one of the most important things!

Chris Tay  12 years ago

I’m inspired by your blog to start one of my own, maybe…. Owned a CANON 50D since August, been snapping away but not posting much online. Hopefully, I get the courage some day.

Keep up your posting!

arjun  12 years ago

nice blog :)

KDH9966  12 years ago

I just got a DSLR at Christmas and your blog inspired me…thanks!!!

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