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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:
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.
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.
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.