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How to Make Sure You Use Your New Camera

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Raise your hand if this scenario sounds familiar: you get a new camera, possibly as a gift, and immediately your mind leaps with excitement at all the photographic possibilities that await. You quickly start taking photos of everything around you; houseplants, food, pets, your kids, the trees in your yard, even mundane objects like cookware, or office trinkets. You just can’t wait to get your new camera and kit lens off the shelf and shoot photos of everything.

But after a week or two the lustre wears off, and your camera starts spending more time in your closet than in your hands. You find yourself too distracted, too uninspired, or worst of all, too busy to take photos. Every now and then you pick up your camera, put it in Auto mode, and take a few interesting pictures – but sooner or later your camera, which initially held such wonderful photographic possibilities, spends most of its time tucked away, only to be pulled out on special occasions when you really need some good photos.

use-your-new-camera-butterfly

If that rings a bell it’s because almost everyone interested in photography goes through a similar phase at some point. Thankfully there’s hope! I’ve been in this same situation, as have many other people I know. So, here are some tips that will help you get your camera out more often, so you can start learning and growing as a photographer.

Take your camera with you

This may seem obvious, but it’s an important step that many new camera owners overlook. Your fancy DSLR or mirrorless camera doesn’t have to be just for special occasions, it can be for anything you want. The important thing is that you have it with you to take pictures.

Basically, if you don’t want your camera to end up collecting dust on a shelf, don’t let it sit and collect dust on a shelf. Going to work? Grab your camera. Heading to a friend’s house? Take your camera. Taking a walk? By all means, bring your camera. Of course you’re going to bring your camera to events like your kid’s baseball game or your friend’s graduation, but using it only in those circumstances often leads to camera atrophy.

use-your-new-camera-student-fountain

This shot was a complete accident. It was not planned at all, and I only got it because I had my camera with me when I was out for a walk.

The famous hockey player Wayne Gretzky once quipped, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take”, and the same holds true for photographers. The only way you’ll ever start taking more pictures, and thus growing as a photographer, is if you start taking more pictures. And you can’t do that if you don’t have your camera.

I take mine with me to work every day, and even though I have a similar daily commute and work routine, I constantly find myself looking for new shots to take, and new ideas for photography. If you are worried about breaking your camera, buy a cheap bag or a better carrying strap. If you’re a bit self-conscious of what people may think if they always see you with your camera, just tell them you’re trying to learn more, and get better as a photographer. It might seem kind of weird at first to take your camera with you wherever you go, but that will likely pass (it has for me, and for others I know) as you start to discover the joyful serendipity that’s inherent in documenting the world around you with a camera that’s leaps and bounds better than the one in your mobile phone.

Join a photography community

In the movie Office Space, the protagonist, a twenty-something chump named Peter Gibbons, tells a pair of consultants why he has so much trouble doing his job. “It’s a problem of motivation,” he casually explains, as the three of them discuss his low work performance, and what can be done about it. Photographers, especially new ones with recently-acquired gear from the holidays, often suffer from the same problem. They are highly motivated to take pictures and use their cameras, but when the rigours of their daily life set in, they lose the motivation they once had. One solution is to join a group, whether online or face to face, of fellow photographers and enthusiasts.

use-your-new-camera-construction

Photography communities have been invaluable to me as a source of knowledge and inspiration.

Being a part of a photography community offers all sorts of benefits. You can get answers to questions, get help with your camera, share your own experiences with others, go on photo walks, engage in photo critiques, and get to hang out with a lot of really fun people. If you live in a small town like I do, you may not have a group that you can join in person, but there are many online forums that offer similar experiences. DPS has an extensive set of online forums where people engage in all sorts of photography discussions, and there are hundreds more like this on the internet. Facebook is rife with thousands of photography groups that cater to interests as varied as people who like sharing photos, to those who own specific models of cameras, or live in certain locations. Reddit’s r/photography forum is a fantastic source of news, information, discussion, and education.

I could go on and on, but the point is that joining some type of photography community will not only help motivate you to take more photos and grow as a photographer, it will also help you meet a lot of new and interesting people who share a similar passion for taking pictures.

use-your-new-camera-eclipse

I don’t know anything about astrophotography, but asking about it in photography communities taught me enough to get this composite shot of a recent lunar eclipse.

Do a Weekly Photo Assignment

Many churches, businesses, and support groups use the concept of accountability partners; people with whom you develop a personal relationship in order to keep each other on the straight and narrow path. Photographers can benefit from this type of accountability as well by taking part in weekly photo assignments, essentially ensuring that you always have a reason to go out and take pictures. DPS has a weekly photography challenge, but there are lots of other weekly challenges you can find online as well.

While the goal is not to create a one-on-one relationship of support and trust, just knowing that you have an assignment to take pictures each week can go a long way towards helping you use your camera more often. In doing so, you will learn more about your equipment, but also grow as a photographer as you try new things, and get exposed to ideas for pictures you would have never otherwise considered.

use-your-new-camera-leaves-rain

Doing weekly photo assignments has forced me to look for picture opportunities where I would have never otherwise seen them.

Notice that I said weekly and not daily, and there’s a reason for this. Photography burnout is a very real problem especially for new photographers, and doing a daily challenge or assignment can be fun at first, but often gets more than a bit overwhelming. I know several people who have actually stopped taking photos because of a daily challenge. They felt like they were failures because they could not meet the requirements of taking pictures every single day, and that in turn led them to stop taking pictures altogether.

Monthly challenges are nice, and will not usually overwhelm you, but they are (in my opinion) a bit too infrequent to be sufficiently challenging or motivating. Weekly photo assignments seem to hit the sweet spot, and can be a fantastic way to help ensure you get a lot more use out of your camera.

use-your-new-camera-spider-grasshopper

If you do a weekly assignment for a while and don’t feel as though it offers enough of a challenge, then by all means start doing daily photo projects. Alternatively, if you find that you can’t meet the demands of a weekly photo, then go down to one a month. The point of these is to hold yourself accountable for using your camera more often, to improve your skills over time, and a weekly assignment is a fantastic place to start.

Never let the value of your photos be determined by others

This final rule is more of a word of caution to new photographers – do not fall into the trap that likes or shares on social media equates to quality images. Use your camera to take photos that are interesting for you, not for others. Find ways of expressing yourself, capturing emotions, telling a story, or presenting a scene through photography, not with the purpose of getting likes on Instagram or Facebook, but simply because it’s something you personally enjoy.

The problem with chasing after likes and shares is that there’s simply never enough. Initially you might be thrilled to have a dozen, but soon you’ll want more. After a little while you’ll be thrilled to have 100 likes, but then you might wonder why your friend got 200 on a picture that you think is clearly subpar. One of your photos gets shared a hundred times, or you post an image that gets lots of shares, but another one is virtually ignored. Or a beautiful shot you took gets no retweets, while a selfie you took with your iPhone gets retweeted dozens of times. Or an image you spent hours trying to capture gets no comments at all.

If your enjoyment of photography can only be quantified by social media metrics, you’ll probably never be satisfied.

use-your-new-camera-squirrel

This is one of my favorite animal pictures I’ve taken. I know it’s not perfect and the squirrel blends in a bit too much with the leaves, but I like it and that’s what gives it value to me.

The problem with these scenarios is they all rely on external validation of your work, and if it fails to materialize, then it can lead to feelings of worthlessness on your part. Taking pictures should be fun, interesting, experimental, captivating, and enjoyable for you. If you like your photos, then it doesn’t matter if you don’t get hearts, thumbs-up, plus-ones, or shares online. Of course you can, and should, seek opinions and advice from others so you can learn to grow your skill, and improve as a photographer. But, don’t let the worth or value of your images be determined by the numbers below them on social media. That’s a trap into which many budding photographers have fallen, and while it can be fun to see one of your images get a lot of attention, the truth is that attention is so fleeting that people will move on to something else within a few hours.

Summary

If you just got a new camera, congratulations! If you have one that’s been sitting around waiting to be used, go pick it up! I’m excited for you, and I am thrilled for the journey that awaits. If you have been in these situations before, what are some of your favorite tips and tricks that have helped you use your camera more over the years? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

Read more from our Tips & Tutorials category

Simon Ringsmuth is an educational technology specialist at Oklahoma State University and enjoys sharing his enthusiasm for photography on his website and podcast at Weekly Fifty. He also posts regularly to Instagram where you can follow him at sringsmuth.

  • Terry Bell

    Usage is an issue everywhere on the internet. Just in the last article from DPS I spotted the line: “Taking a walk? By all means, bring (take) your camera. Of course you’re going to bring (take)
    your camera to events like your kid’s baseball game or your friend’s graduation.” The author should have used ‘take’ in each instance above. Just as you can’t change tense in a writing, you can’t confuse ‘bring’ and/or ‘take’. Thanks.

  • JvW

    Just as some people can and do confuse they’re, there and their, you can change tense in writing and you can use bring and take interchangeably. Thanks.

  • Walt

    JvW explains it very well. Sometimes it’s better to keep your mouth shut.

  • Terry Bell

    Just as sometimes it’s better to mind your own business.

  • Terry Bell

    You can’t ‘take’ something if its already there. If you had it in your hand and were going somewhere you would ‘take’ it with you. If a friend knew you had it in your hand they would ask you to ‘bring’ it with you.

  • Walt

    And by minding your own business you mean not showing disrespect of someone else’s post when you obviously don’t have a clue what you are talking about? You show your own ignorance by making posts like this.

  • Terry Bell

    Goodbye and good luck.

  • Daniel Loudenback

    Great ways to stay motivated and keep snapping! Thanks for sharing your advice.

  • Thank you Daniel! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

  • Ravindra Kathale

    Thanks for your tips. What, in addition, I do is (almost) gatecrash into any public gathering or meeting. I keep a very serious face and move confidently. With these props(!) and the camera in my hand, no one stops me. I take photographs of the speaker, others on the dais, the public and individuals in the crowd. Helps me sharpen my craft, develop new contacts, get some good images etc. etc. and most important, dust doesn’t collect on the box. Good. I was very happy to read your post. Thanks again.

  • That’s an interesting idea, Ravindra. I suppose as long as it’s a public event and you are not disrupting anything, there’s no harm in showing up and taking pictures. I might give this a try myself…

  • Michael

    Simon, great article! Unfortunately, I have some problems to take my camera everywhere I go. You see, I and all my friends are seniors and they don’t want to be photographed. All the ladies are in their sixties and they don’t like to see themselves with wrinkles especially on my high quality crystal clear detailed images. So I usually post-processed their photos with the negative values of clarity and with the Soften skin settings in LR adjustment brush tool. After that, they look about 15 years younger but they still are not happy as they say it looks good but unrealistic. You just can’t satisfy older women so they rather don’t want to be photographed at all. Another problem that could be minor or life-threatening is you have to be aware of the area where you are walking with your very expensive DSLR. I have a friend who was brutally mugged because these thugs really wanted his DSLR. He spent 2 weeks in a hospital and he was in critical condition. I usually take my Canon 6D with the kit lens to all family celebrations and parties especially to my grandkid’s events. But I’ve read somewhere that it was very good practice to operate your shutter at least every 2 weeks or even once a month to prolong your DSLR life span.

  • Is there another place you could go to shoot photos that would be more conducive to actually getting good shots? I’m amazed at how many photo opportunities I find just by going on a walk around my block or visiting a park with my kids. I rarely take photos of people unless I know them personally or if they’re clients for a paid job, mostly because I’m not sure if they even want their pictures taken in the first place. Good call about being aware of your physical location too! I would gladly give up my DSLR if I was going to get mugged, but hopefully I could just avoid those situations in the first place. I hope your friend is OK and has recovered from that!

  • Fredie Wins

    It’s an American thing, Terry. The bring and take thing has bothered me since I heard them being used incorrectly upon my arrival in America many, many years ago. I even thought about writing a children’s book on separating the use of bring and take, giving directions about when to use each of the words….hmm, perhaps a book with illustrations may still be appropriate for the school system. Teachers use the words incorrectly as well, so what is a student to know?

  • Terry Bell

    Thanks Fredie, nice to have your support. English is the language of business around the world and when it’s used properly it can be a beautiful thing. I suppose if one had the time and inclination to fix the situation, the place to start would be the classroom; for teachers.

  • Terry Bell

    American English is not English. It’s American. The U.S. has changed the spelling of many English words to simplify the language. Areas of the U.S. have also changed the pronunciation of English words to the point where they are a different word altogether. (i.e. route is root not rowt; semi is semee not semeye; roof is roof not ruff).

  • JvW

    Was it Churchill or Shaw who said “The United States and Great Britain are two countries separated by a common language”? Common language, Terry.

    Digital Photography School attracts readers and writers from all over the world, so you can expect many forms of spelling, idiom etc. None is the “only” correct form. I would even venture to say that if there were only one correct form it would be Indian, because there are more than a billion Indians.

    Your examples above are differences in prononunciation while the spelling of the words remains the same. They are the same words. Americans are not so exceptional that their majority language (I’m told that Spanish is a large minority language there) is not English. Regional dialects are just that: dialects, not languages, even if they are spoken in a third of a continent.

    If you have nothing intelligent to say on the subject of the post, correcting the contributor’s English to one form of the language is of course the thing to do. But when you do that, you should make very sure that you’re right.

  • Ibnul Alam

    Yes, I am agree with you. I love to take wild photos thats why I’ve brought a dslr and a telephoto lens. But my parents say to me that what it will worth or need ? Well, physically there may be no need or worth. But in my mind I love nature and enjoy nature photography, when I hold my camera for to shoot some bird or something I feel a peace in my mind and when I got something well whatever other says I enjoy to see it again and remember those moment, that’s worth it. Some of my friend tell me that being a photographer is not that easy. Well may be but I don’t think so. And I am not concern about it. But if someone try to be a photographer then he should do just whatever he likes to shoot every day and I’m sure that one day he will be a good photographer on that site, Because we are man and man learn from there mistake. So if some of your friend say that your photograph is not very good and you get bad felling and leave your photography or just do whatever your friend say then you will do the mistake that has nothing to learn from it.

  • Maria R

    I recently got back to taking pics again with my dslr. I take a lot of pics with my iPhone6 but of course it’s not the same results with the dslr. After reading a bunch of posts on DPS and others, I managed to ween myself off of Auto mode hehe. Learning thr features of a dslr makes you take more creative pics. I also joined the 365project.org and have been posting a pic each day 🙂

  • clap, clap, clap … well said JvW or should it be well written.

  • Maria R

    Weekly assignment is a good idea and also bringing your camera daily. I’m gonna try it this week and see what happens. Thanks for the tips

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