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)