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Your First DSLR – now what?!

Yikes! You’ve got your first DSLR! Now what?

My first dslr 03

One of my friends recently received a DSLR from her husband for her birthday. She was over the moon! One afternoon over coffee, she asked if I had any advice to help her get started with her new camera. I’ll share some of the top tips that I shared with her, with you too:

Nine tips to help you with your first DSLR

#1 – Get off Auto as a soon as possible and start shooting on Manual mode

Cameras these days are very clever when put on Auto. You will certainly get some lovely photos shooting on auto, but it will limit you from taking your images to the next level. Go from creating something that’s good to creating something that’s amazing! Learn how your camera works and its capabilities. Getting off Auto and shooting in Manual mode will open up a world of possibilities such as shooting in low lighting conditions or bright sunshine, shooting fast moving objects, creating a soft blurry background, the list is endless.

#2 – Understand the terms ISO, shutter speed and aperture and how to use them

Use these as your starting point for learning how to control your camera. There are some great articles on dPS to help get you started, as well as a good eBook to start you off right:

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#3 – Google is your best friend

There are lots of free tutorials, blogs and YouTube videos to help develop your skills and knowledge. Use what’s already out there and easily accessible before buying expensive books and enrolling in expensive courses. dPS was, and still is my ‘go to’ website for inspiration and learning new techniques when I was starting out. If you haven’t found it yet, they have a great ‘tips for beginners’ page too.

#4 – your camera manual is your second best friend

Do you actually read instruction manuals when you get something new or do you just put them back in the box never to see the light of day again? I must confess that I’m probably one of the world’s worst culprits for this! Some of the best advice I received when I was starting out on my photography journey, was to read my camera instruction manual cover to cover, and when I’d finished, to go back and read it all again! I remember going through my manual for the first time; it was like a series of mini light bulbs going off, followed by lots of ‘oohs’ and ‘ahhs’! If you haven’t already picked up that little white book that came in the box, put it at the top of your to ‘do list’ – you’ll be glad you did! (Note: if you bought your camera used and it didn’t come with a manual, see #3 above! You can usually find a PDF version online somewhere, just search by brand and model number of your camera.)

My first dslr 01

#5 – Take your camera EVERYWHERE

By this I mean, don’t just have it tucked away somewhere; take it out of its bag and hang it round your neck. You’re more likely to use the camera if it’s within reach, than if you have to negotiate getting it out of its bag, taking off the lens cap, turning it on etc. By the time you’ve done all that, the moment’s gone! Get yourself a UV filter to protect the front of your lens, and leave the lens cap off so you’re ready to go whenever an opportunity presents itself.

#6 – Friends make great models but then again so do apples and pears

Friends make great models to practice on, and will usually be flattered when you ask them if you can take a few photos of them. All my early portrait images are of friends; even the most reluctant ones were bribed with chocolate or a bottle of wine to model for me! While having a ‘person’ to photograph is great, don’t let it stop you from practicing portrait photography skills if you don’t have any willing subjects. Fruit also makes for an amazing model; yep you read right–fruit!

Place an apple on a table top or chair in front of a window, and shoot it from every angle. Look at the way light falls on it and what happens when you move it closer or further away from the light. Draw a face on it using a marker pen, and turn it from left to right to see how the light behaves. Once you have exhausted all the options, look at your images and compare them to see what worked well, and what didn’t work so well.

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#7- Practice, practice, practice

As the saying goes ‘practice makes perfect’! We’re lucky to be living in a digital world. We’re not limited by number of photographs we can take. We can easily upload thousands of images to our computer, or delete them all in one go with the press of a single button. Don’t be afraid to take hundreds of photos. The key is to spend time looking at your images and thinking about what you could have done differently to make them better.

#8 – Mistakes are good – don’t be scared to make them

Yes it can be frustrating when something doesn’t quite go as planned but mistakes help you learn. The more you learn, the fewer mistakes you’ll make, and the better your photography skills will become. Don’t give up because your images aren’t as good as you want them to be. Read, learn more, then go out and shoot again.

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I remember the first wedding I shot. I was second shooting for a friend; she always liked to work with a back up photographer for weddings. Her usual second shooter was on holiday and as a result she asked if I’d like to do it. I jumped at the chance! I did my homework prior to the big day and carried out a Reiki of the church and planned what lens and camera settings I’d be using. After the ceremony, I followed the bride and groom from the inside of the church to the bright sunshine outside. I kept on clicking away getting swept up in all the excitement. It wasn’t until about the 10th frame that I looked at the back of my camera and saw that all of my images were over exposed! I hadn’t adjusted my ISO when I went outside. It was too high and there was nothing I could do with those images, they were beyond repair. Luckily I was only second shooting and the main photographer had lots of her own perfectly exposed photos. It was still a steep learning curve for me though and I can assure you that I’ve never made that mistake again.

#9 – Master using the gear you have now before you upgrade

Becoming a master of the camera gear you currently own will give you an advantage for the really cool stuff you’ll purchase later. You need to know how both your camera and lens behave, and how to control them; how light affects an image; and how you can work with your environment to create the perfect shot. Once you can do this, you’ll find that when you upgrade your camera or purchase a new lens, you’ll be able to get the best out of it and use it to its full potential.

Feeling inspired? Pick up your camera, get outside and start shooting!


Daniela Beddall from Ferri Photography is a Northamptonshire photographer who specialises in working with natural light. She shoots weddings and portraits and loves all things vintage! You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter on Pinterest or drop her line – she’d love to hear from you!

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Daniela Beddall
Daniela Beddall

from Ferri Photography is a Northamptonshire photographer who specializes in working with natural light. She shoots weddings and portraits and loves all things vintage!

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