If you've been extra super special good over the past year, you might have woken up on Christmas Day with a brand spanking new SLR camera under the Christmas tree.
I don't want to ruin your sparkly-new-camera buzz, but may I please just take this opportunity to remind you that your shiny new DSLR is still just a tool: Sure, it's a bloody good tool with lots of new buttons and levers and settings... It doesn't matter whether you've just graduated from a compact camera or perhaps from an older, film-based SLR camera: It's still all down to you: Your camera might be more powerful than the computers they used to put a man on the moon, but it will still only do what you tell it to. Think of it this way: switching from a 28 year old Datsun to a brand new Maserati won't make you a better driver, and trading in your battered old Olympus Trip with a shiny new megapixel monster isn't going to make you a better photographer.
What you have gained, however, is a tremendous amount of new potential. Your new tool will have a ton of new features. Buried somewhere deep behind all those new wheels and buttons is the doorway to life as a better photographer.
Here are the 5 next things you should do to become a better snapper:
1.) Start paying attention to what your camera is doing. Even if you decide to start gently and turn your camera to 'P' for Program Mode, it's a good idea to start keeping an eye on the aperture / shutter combinations your camera is choosing for you. It'll make you a better snapper, I promise!
2.) Learn how to use the histogram on your camera. The LCD display on the back of your camera is great for checking colours and composition, but don't trust it to show you what your exposures are like: Use your histogram for the scientific approach to getting your exposures right!
3.) Don't worry about wasting film or memory. Look at it this way: if 1 per cent of your photos come out as masterpieces, it becomes a game of statistics: The more pictures you take, the better chance you have at getting a great one. Take tonnes of pictures, you can always delete the rubbish ones later.
4.) Don't be tempted to buy more kit. A SLR with a kit lens is an incredibly powerful combination. Sure, there are tripods, flashes, more lenses, and other gadgets you can buy, but until you are comfortable with... I had you going for a while there, didn't I? Ignore me: Buy all the awesome accessories you can lay your hands on, photography is a hell of a lot more fun with gadgets, and it's a good way to learn as well!
5.) Shoot in raw. No, seriously. Shoot in RAW. Stop reading this article right now, switch your camera to RAW mode, and don't look back.
Enjoy your new piece of equipment, but never forget that the bottleneck in this creative process is you: your shiny new toy is going to help you, but without you, it's nothing. Show it who's boss, and get out there and snap some fantastic shots.
Good luck! And if you need some more tips, take a look below for some recommendations from our American brothers:
Fiddle with the dial
Your new camera comes with a buttload of modes. I count at least six million different "scenes" on the Canon S100 I'm currently messing around with—foilage, kids & pets, fireworks, snow, miniature, hookers in unflattering light, etc. They are fun. But if you really wanna learn to shoot, there are 4 notches on the dial you should pay attention to: P, S (Tv on Canon), A (Av on Canon) and M: Program, Shutter priority, Aperture Priority, Manual.
• Program mode is essentially an automatic mode that lets you have some control over some settings—like ISO sensitivity or whether to use flash. (Typically, in full auto, the camera locks all settings.) Start here, and play around.
• Shutter priority is semi-automatic. You pick the exposure time you want—short or long—and the camera will do the rest, like set the aperture.
• Aperture priority is also semi-automatic. And guess what? You set the aperture, which dictates how much light comes into the camera—do you want a nice, shallow depth-of-the-field, or everything in focus?—and the camera figures out the other stuff, like shutter speed.
• Manual. Well, you figure it out.
Step away from the flash
Your camera's built-in flash? Don't touch it. Ever. Okay, well, there are a few circumstances where you have little choice, like when it's blacker than the black heart of Socialist Nazi Terrorist, or in daylight when you need a little fill.
If you MUST use the built-in flash, at least follow these tips:
• Bounce or diffuse it: It'll make the light look more natural and keep things like this from happening. You can make one for cheap.
• Try slow-synchro flash: On some point-and-shoot cameras, like the S100, this is what exactly what the "night portrait" scene mode does: Uses a longer shutter speed while firing the flash, so you get the benefits of a longer exposure and flash—you can see the foreground and the background, and maybe turn out one of those hipster-y, rave-y photos with wavy lights in the background.
Photo Credit: Amazing camera
Haje Jan Kamps is a prolific photography blogger who has written a small stack of books about photography. He also developed the recently-launched Triggertrap camera trigger and has been known to travel the world a bit. If you're of the tweeting kind, try him on @Photocritic!