Photography tips – How long does it take?

I have received that question a few times and know it is asked pretty often.  After getting a DSLR, how long does it take to be able to confidently use it?

My basic answer is, “How much time have you got?”

This was my extensive learning curve on my camera:

  • Purchased my Nikon D50 camera mid-June 2006, and spent some time using the automatic programs.
  • Started using it in manual mode in September 2006 with just the kit lens (18-55mm).
  • Winter 2006 realized the limitations of the kit lens and purchased the 50mm f/1.8 lens.
  • Winter 2006 set up a studio in my basement, that I eventually took down.  It helped me learn lighting a bit, though.
  • I used PSE for editing pictures until December 2006, when I got CS2.
  • I did my first not-my-kids photoshoot in February 2007.  A great learning experience and I actually had some nice shots for them.
  • I learned a lot during 2007.  I practiced A LOT in many different lighting situations.  If people wanted me to do photoshoots I took them up on it.  The results weren’t always perfect, but it did broaden my understanding on what it takes to be a professional in this field.
  • I got CS3 in the summer 2007.
  • Acquired a few new lenses in 2007 (35mm AND 85mm).
  • Acquired a hot-shoe mounted flash in the Fall 2007 (SB 600).

The key to learning your camera is PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Then you need to practice some more.  You also need to know how aperture, shutterspeed and ISO work together and separately.  These are key items to learn in having complete control over your camera.  There are many good books on the subject out there, too.

I really prefer to shoot in natural light, but in the wintertime around here the flash is a good tool to have in your arsenal.  There’s no way I could have shot a wedding reception if I didn’t have the flash.  Even then, it was pretty dark.

There is always something to learn in this hobby/profession/obsession of photography.  My next step is learning to shoot in RAW.  I will have a future post on it when I get a chance to try it out.  Currently I only shoot in jpg.

At this point, I would really like to get a new camera (a D300).  I feel like I have reached my camera’s limitations, but it is hard for me to justify spending a few fistfulls of cash on that right now.  If I do start having more photoshoots, I need to have a camera with more megapixels, though.  My little D50 only has 6.1mp, and that limits the printing size of the pictures.

Anyways, that’s my bit of advice on shooting with a DSLR.  It doesn’t happen overnight where you start shooting pictures like a professional photographer, even if you have the same camera.  It takes a lot of practice and knowledge on what makes a picture perfect.  What I once saw as a fabulous picture, I now see the various flaws.  Once you’ve nailed the exposure, then you can start looking at the white balance, skin tones, noise, focus, composition, leading lines, etc., etc.

There’s always something to learn…

August 2006 (automatic mode – note the flashy eyes)


January 2007 (manual mode – natural light)


January 2008 (manual mode – natural light)


12 Replies to “Photography tips – How long does it take?”

  1. My journey has been very similar minus the studio. And I don’t have a flash yet. I opted for the 50 and 85 mm 1.8 lenses this year instead of the flash. I feel the same as you about my camera’s limitations. I feel I’ve reached them quickly. I think I’d like to try the Canon 40D next. I’ve got 170 towards it saved and think I need about 400 more plus selling my camera I have now. The XTi. I’m desiring more ISO settings so that I’m not grainy in the higher ones. A good friend of mine just got a Nikon and I LOVE the shutter sound. So much richer than the Canon.
    Oh before I write a book….
    You’ll love RAW.

  2. Just found your blog and love all the photography tips. I just got a Nikon D80 and love it but still need to learn a lot. Your photos are great and I will be visiting often.

  3. i got my d80 for xmas 2006 and i still feel like i’m learning something everytime i take pictures. i agree that there’s always something else to work on. right now, i’m having trouble with white balance in my outdoor photos; i’m doing free photo shoots for people at church and i’m working on consistency. covet the d300, too :).

  4. Always something to learn. Just when you think you got a grasp on something, theres always something else and yours skills all intertwine. I am currently saving up for a DSLR. I am still using my old 4 mp Sony DSC85 (so your 6mp isnt that bad :)). Its like 5+ years old. Thers nothing like taking that perfect picture though. I get such a good feeling when I have taken a shot and love it. Always seeing flaws though, as you said. Love your tips. Everybody can benefit from learning from one another. Love the last pic of your daughter. Thats my fav. Oh and that D300… you said, talk about a grip of money!

  5. I still RARELY use full manual mode. Mostly Aperture Priority. I only switch to manual for lightning shots, long exposures, or if I’m totally bored and fiddling around. And I often leave it in P mode–auto without the flash. If the kids are running from shade to sun to water to inside a barn, I can’t keep up with the changing light and the camera compensates quite well in P mode.

    And I’ve never shot RAW. It’s too intimidating.

  6. It’s great to hear about your learning curve and see how you’ve progressed. I got my first digital camera (Kodak PAS) December of 2005, and (finally!) upgraded to my D80 in December 2007. I’ve used manul mode almost exclusively from the beginning. I still have so much to learn about metering, white balance, RAW, flash….we really never are done learning, are we?!

  7. You’ve learned so fast! Amazing. I love RAW mode, it is amazing to be able to work with a photo so much without ruining the quality of the image. With my Canon G9 P&S, it is crucial for a lot of shots for me b/c I can’t do everything I want to do without a true dslr (I call my G9 my fake DSLR)…hoping to remedy that soon and get a D80 or Canon 40D….the D300 is amazing too, but oh so much money!

  8. Hi Stacy! Thanks for the timeline. It’s always nice to see some history. I started out with the D50 too (in 2005) and finally upgraded to the D300 earlier this year. It’s such a great camera! I bought it more for the fantastic AF system (51 AF points!! YAY!) and my focussing has much improved. No more focus-recompose-shooting.

    I can’t believe you don’t shoot in RAW b/c your images are fantastic. I can tell you really know your technicals. I shoot RAW so I can ‘fix’ up my images. Try it, you’ll love it!

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