Take the Fancy DSLR with You (almost) Everywhere [What I Learned from Shooting with Film: Part 4]

Take the Fancy DSLR with You (almost) Everywhere [What I Learned from Shooting with Film: Part 4]


In this post Rachel Devine (author of our new kids photography eBook Click) continues to share her five reasons learning photography on film cameras made her the digital photographer that she is today. Also Read Part 1 on Shooting with Burst Mode, Part 2 on Natural vs Artificial Light and Part 3 on Embracing the Grain.

Back when I really got into photography, I would carry my Nikon FM2 with me everywhere. I also had a stash of film in my backpack. That camera body had a bit of a ding in the side and some scratches, but there were no light leaks and the lens was crystal clear so it was all good. There were no camera phones to capture the moments I wanted to capture.


I still have my camera with me pretty much all the time and when I strike up a conversation with another mother at the park/zoo/school I almost always come to find out that they too have a DSLR… at home… in the closet… in a camera bag.

Most of the time they talk about how much they love photographing their kids, but they just haven’t had the time to practice with it and it is still on auto and they aren’t that happy with the shots they get anyway.

My advice is always the same:

Customize it:

It is a fancy camera and does so many different things for you. Obviously learning the basics of photography and techniques specifically related to photographing children is a must, but take the time to sit with your camera manual.

Break it up in parts and learn all the wonderful features. It can be really overwhelming and the urge to shove the camera and the manual with it back into the closet can be strong, but take it bit by bit. Learn the metering system one week and the next week figure out the focusing controls.

If you are shooting in JPEG (and I encourage beginners / parents-with-cameras to at least start there and forget about RAW for the time being) then customize the in camera picture settings so that the color, tone, contrast, saturation and sharpening settings are producing shots that are close to how you want the final image to look. It is like a mini-corner photo lab right in your own camera! If you are constantly having to scroll through menu settings to do the same action over and over again, research if your model of camera allows you to customize the actions of the actual buttons on the camera body. Many do and you will be able to set a one button click to do what you have been scrolling through the menu for before.

Live with it:

Life is the time to practice. Having the camera out and around the house not only encourages you to pick it up over the camera phone when photo ops arise, but the novelty for the kids will wear off. The more they are used to the camera, the less likely they are to make faces for it. (I do go into way more detail about my respectful way of working with kids in the eBook, Click!, but this is a start.)

Getting the camera out of the house with you and your kids is the best way to learn how to use it. Get to know how it feels in your hands. Make adjusting the buttons and controls all second nature.

Ditch that strip of camera brand advertising they call a strap and get a really great one. There are many styles of camera straps to choose from, but get one that makes carrying that thing more comfortable and you will be more apt to bring it along on your adventures. Also, invest in a really great camera bag.

There are so many new brands these days that you no longer have to look like you are heading out for a trek through the mountains when you carry your camera bag with you. Invest in a fixed focal length lens with a fast aperture to avoid needing a flash and to save space and weight. The 50mm f/1.8 is a great inexpensive one to start with.


Work with it:

Move off Auto into Aperture or Shutter Priority. Baby steps. Give yourself projects and deadlines so that you have a reason to pick up the camera almost everyday. Try taking a photo a day of your kids with your DSLR or even just aim for a few shots a week if the daily goal is too much. You can even get your older kids involved by having them create a topic list of things for you to photograph. They will be happy to be helping and learning along with you.

Finally, protect your investment, but don’t be afraid to take it out and enjoy using it for what it was designed to do!

I always want to ask people when they tell me their DSLR is at home “Why did you buy the thing if you are not going to use it?” It sure is not going to take any wonderful photos inside the camera bag in the closet no matter how fancy it is.

For more on the topic of Kids Photogrpahy – Check out Rachel’s new eBook Click! How to Take Gorgeous Photos of Your Kids.

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Some Older Comments

  • Jorge November 2, 2011 06:23 pm

    For those asking about what's a good camera strap or a DSLR, I would encourage you to try out one of the Black Rapid straps. They are not cheap, but a great investment. I've had mine for a while now and it makes all the difference.

  • RJohnston October 18, 2011 07:53 am

    Good advice.... My first camera was a Kodak Vest Pocket Folding Bellows, with 128 film. Kind of dates me, only made until 1928. :) First Nikon was an F2, back in the 50's.... used to buy film wholesale 100 rolls of BW at a time, .31 cents a 36 exposure roll ! Ran a LOT of film thru that camera, and still works. Now use a Nikon D200 make over 5000 exposures a year traveling the US in a Motor Home.

    Used to carry 35-40 lbs of equipment, at my current physical condition stick to the D200 mostly with two lenses, a few filters, and a tripod, if using my walker for help. But even that gets heavy enough so bought a Point and Shoot Fuji 14 megapixel with a good zoom. Its not the Nikon, but its much better than going out the door without any camera.

  • Michael Grady October 7, 2011 07:46 am

    I would advise extreme caution when carrying a camera into a restroom particularly
    if children are present or are the subject, as in the example.
    When traveling with my camera, I'm always wonder what
    people may be thinking when I take the thing into what may not be
    truly public space.

  • Jim October 4, 2011 05:09 am

    ACDSEE Pro since version 3, recently upgraded to version 5

  • David McKown October 4, 2011 03:07 am

    I use several of the Nik products such as Color Efexpro and Silver Efexpro. I am going to purchase Vevasa.

  • Louise Bishop October 3, 2011 11:38 am

    I agree with everything here - I often put the camera bag in the boot of the car - just in case. And the times when I don't I often regret it. One tip...with regards to the photo in the public toilets...not the best idea in the world~!! (although a great shot I have to say)

  • JERRY STEINER October 3, 2011 08:35 am

    Another good reason to ditch the brand camera strap .... if you have an expensive DSLR, why let those who would steal your camera know your the guy with the expensive camera .....

  • Garyoa1 October 3, 2011 05:04 am

    Just do a google search for camera straps and you'll come up with a gazillion. Which one is best? Not a clue. All I know is any one is probably better and more comfortable than the factory strap. I like the optech because it has a pretty wide pad. Works for me but I've never really tried anything else.

    Here's a link to someone who prefers UPstrap. http://www.kenrockwell.com/tech/straps.htm

    Any good? Again, not a clue. That's his choice.
    You can pick them up from anywhere from under 20 bucks to nearly $100. No idea if price = comfort.

    But one word of advice. Buy one long enough. I think the average strap is like... 43"? If you're fine with that ok. But if you buy a longer one, you can always shorten it. You can't lengthen a shorter one! :)

  • kathy rankin October 3, 2011 04:20 am

    Can you send me limk on what youre using? I have a bad shoullder thank you!

  • Dave Eddy October 3, 2011 02:49 am

    How many people have you ever heard say" I wish that i had not taken my camera with me that day". How many have said"i wish I had the camera with me!". Mine is always with me it is worth the weight.

  • Rick V October 3, 2011 02:37 am

    An alternative to neck straps lies in belt attachments, getting the weight off your shoulders altogether. I have a C4-C5 issue that was aggravated by a extended use of a Black Rapid type strap. I used that to avoid the pain of an OEM neck strap. Either B-grip or Spider Holster avoids the problem and is much more comfortable.

  • Garyoa1 October 3, 2011 02:10 am

    Camera straps? I use an op/tech. Really comfortable. But I'm thinking any after market strap would be better than the freebie you get with any camera.

    As far as the DLSR's go... they aren't really cameras. Most folks don't realize it. They're really mini computers that happen to take pictures. So if you sit at your computer, you've either learned windows, mac, linux, whatever. But have you learned "camera"?


  • James Callaway October 2, 2011 08:54 am

    I just purchased a Black Rapid and it takes a lot of weight off of my neck and my 60D is always at the ready by my right hand.

  • Scottc October 1, 2011 08:32 am

    Great advice, and not just related to learning from film. I used film initially but it was a canon rebel with 200 ISO 24/7, some worked and some didn't and I never thought about why back then.

    If I didn't keep the DSLR with me when I may otherwise decide not to, I would never have captured this.


  • Sarah October 1, 2011 07:41 am

    Read this post this morning. Felt inspired enough to bring along the DSLR on a playdate. Wound up with beautiful pictures of the kiddos painting, and some truly amazing shots of the light over Mt. McKinley this morning. Actually, I'm uploading them now. I hope they reflect how beautiful the Alaska Range was today. But I wouldn't have even had a chance to take these pictures if I hadn't had my camera - thanks!

  • Bob October 1, 2011 01:04 am

    Another perfect reason to purchase a micro 4/3 camera instead of a DSLR. I have an Olympus E-P1 which is much smaller and lighter than my Canon 40D. It has a cool retro look and with a pancake lens attached fits in a coat pocket without any trouble. It works well with a wrist strap rather than hanging around my neck. It's less noticeable - puts people at ease and less obvious for thieves. The image quality is every bit as good as a DSLR except in very limited situations. It has full manual control, aperture and shutter priority, lots of scene modes (like a typical P&S) and several interesting art filters. The available lenses are small and light plus I can use very affordable legacy lenses with an inexpensive adapter - I have purchased a nice set of fast primes on Ebay for very low cost.

  • Johnny Lightspeed September 30, 2011 10:41 pm

    Carrying a fancy dslr everywhere is an open invite to tell people, "Hey, i have an expensive camera- steal me!".

    More importantly than taking your camera with you is a good, nondescript bag to hold your camera. And camera insurance in the event it gets stolen.

  • Jean-Pierre September 30, 2011 09:50 pm

    I use a wrist strap most of the time, but I do have a smaller setup (t3i or spotmatic m42 lenses via adapter; or kit lens for t3i). The stock strap really is not uncomfortable, but I usually wrap it around my hand too.

  • Claudia September 30, 2011 09:47 pm

    This was a perfect motivator to get my camera (which is, indeed inside of it's camera bag) out from....where else?? The closet!! When I first got my fancy DSLR ;-) I took it everywhere and, while my kids are grown and my photography isn't about shooting their moments anymore, there are dozens of "moments" that I witness each day that I regret not having my camera with me! Today, it's going to, once again be my companion! Thank you!

  • Prashant September 30, 2011 07:35 pm

    "Live It With". That's the most important part from my point of view. This should be habit that where ever you go the camera goes with you.

  • Edwin September 30, 2011 03:45 pm


    I use the Black Rapid RS4 Strap. Its expensive (for a strap) but its awesome and takes all the strain off my neck.

  • Alan Schantz September 30, 2011 01:48 pm

    Check out the Luma Loop on line. I researched and bought one. One of the best accessories I have. I use it with my 5d Mark II.

  • Larry Lourcey September 30, 2011 01:10 pm

    Love the "washing hands" shot. Fabulous image!

  • Halley | Poster Prints September 30, 2011 12:20 pm

    One advice that I got from a photographer is that, no matter what camera you're using whether that's a digital camera or a dslr, always bring it with you. And don't be afraid to take shots, practice makes perfect.

  • Erik Kerstenbeck September 30, 2011 12:11 pm


    I used to own a Nikon FM2 as well - I loved that thing and would haul it around everywhere! I now use a Nikon D7000 and have just begun to scratch the surface of what it can do - give it another year! Recently lugged the thing all throughout Central Ontario in Canada looking for the perfect Autumn shot!


  • Ike Gill September 30, 2011 11:19 am

    I dove right into the DSLR game after playing for a few years with point-n-shoot cameras with a Nikon D3s. I bought a Spyder for it and carry it around the house most days after I get home from work. I can absolutely attest to the fact that kids will get used to the camera (as will most adults too). My two girls (nearly 4 & just turned 1) used to either A) make faces B) demand to see every photo immediately C) try to touch the camera D) run towards me every time I "got down on their level" .
    I can tell when they don't want photos and I try to respect it; by and large they treat the camera as they do my eyeglasses. Meaning it took repeated conversations at first but now the camera, like my glasses, is just part of me. I'd also add that finding friends who are interested in photography, or making new friends, is a great way to help hone your skills too.

  • scott Taylor September 30, 2011 11:13 am

    I researched camera straps for a couple months and decided on the Crumpler "Industry Discrace" strap. Never thought twice since. It's a fantastically comfortable strap.

    I'm toting a Nikon D60 with either my 18-200mm or 10-20mm wide angle and it's comfy as can be.


  • Sarah September 30, 2011 10:34 am

    I don't have a DSLR but I am always annoyed with people who have the big expensive camera and never seem to use it. I have my superzoom point & shoot almost everywhere with me. You never know when the perfect photo opportunity will crop up.

  • oscar dejesus September 30, 2011 10:24 am

    Awsome article, with awsome tips. I dont have kids and this article was still very helpfull

  • Kelvin September 30, 2011 10:05 am

    What would be the best camera strap to be using instead of the "default" ones that usually come along with the DSLRs?

    Would be interesting learn what others are using here..

  • María Paula September 30, 2011 09:35 am

    I agree that this is one of the best ways to learn and take gorgeous pictures, because you never know when you'll see something extremly beautiful or something just worth taking a picture of. But sometimes i find it difficult to take the camera out with me all the time. Firstly, because sometimes my dad doesn't allow me to (even though i try to sneak it off), secondly because sometimes, my bag gets too heavy for me to carry it for long periods of time and finally, because where i live, taking the camera with you means exposure, not only is the camera way too expensive, but it also means i (or whoever) could get harmed.
    In anyway, i still try to take it with me as often as i can, and lately i've been getting some pretty cool pictures :)
    Thanks for the advice Rachel!

  • Jessica September 30, 2011 09:22 am

    I started doing this a few months ago and love it. People are always surprised when I take it out of my purse, but then appreciate the great pics afterwards!

  • Jean-Pierre September 30, 2011 08:36 am

    Please keep these articles coming. These are the first that are consistently insightful and not such clichés. I have seen good info on here before, I wouldn't be here if there weren't, but it is how you describe things in a way that motivates me to make photos for myself. Thanks again!

  • Ed B. September 30, 2011 07:18 am

    Another one... she was my best model... she is older now and little more in tune with what I am doing. Its not so easy anymore.