Over the years, I have been asked more times than I can recall, “Which camera is best?” Or, I’ll be approached by someone who just acquired a new camera and wants to know how to use it. It’s nearly as impossible for me to teach photography in a few short minutes or in messages, as it is for me to know which camera would be best for your needs. But, I get that it’s hard when you don’t know what you don’t know. I’m going to give you all the links, keywords, and clues you need to set you on your photography journey. Or, just to help you familiarize yourself with your camera well enough to take the photos of your kids that you want.
What camera should I buy?
Without knowing your budget and your needs, I cannot answer this nearly as well as as a Google search can. From experience, though, I’ve learned that moms who are looking to take better photos of their own children, need to get something lightweight that they’re likely to throw in the diaper bag or purse when heading out. If you purchase something so fancy and bulky that you’re scared to take it on a hike, or to the pumpkin patch, it will end up not being used.
I’m usually all in for online shopping, but there is merit to holding several different cameras, feeling their weight, getting to know their buttons and switches, and asking questions. Check out a local camera or tech store and spend some literal hands-on time with a few different cameras before you buy.
OK, I found the perfect camera! Now what?
You probably won’t like this, but..read the manual! Yes, I’m serious. The internet will really come in handy for figuring out your new toy, but the first step is familiarizing yourself with the basic buttons, and the easiest way to do that? Read the manual.
Next up, play!
Take some “low pressure” photos—think landscapes and still life. Maybe not running, busy kids yet. Practice getting the results you want by snapping lots of basic things, and keep a notebook of what setting you’re using that you really like.
Once you’re feeling adventurous enough to start selecting your own settings in manual mode, which will give you more creative control, these are the three settings you’re going to want to understand:
- ISO: This means how much light you let in. The higher your ISO number, the brighter your image. All cameras and lenses have an ISO limit. Your camera may allow you to turn your ISO way up to photograph something in a dark room, but when you edit it you may see that your image is very grainy. The better quality camera and lens you have, the better low-light capabilities it has.
- Shutter speed: This refers to how long you let light in (aka: how long your shutter is open). If you want to capture fog rolling in over the river during a sunrise or a blur of rain, you will want your shutter open long enough to capture that movement. If you’re photographing moving, grinning, busy little humans? You’re going to need a FAST shutter speed—think 250th of a second or above.
- Aperture or f/stop: This is the third and final number you can adjust, and this one is my favorite. It’s there to be fun and artistic. It controls what is in focus in your image, your depth of field. A low number (this will vary depending on your lens’s capabilities) will put what you choose in focus, and everything around it will be beautifully blurred out. The more money you spend, the better quality blur you get. A smaller depth of field, a beautiful “bokeh” (when the blur makes those creamy, glowy, dots in the background). Lighting plays a big part in pretty creamy backgrounds too.
All of these number combinations might seem intimidating and like they involve too much math at first, but I promise, they’re easy and fun to experiment with. Remember, I’m not here to teach you, though—just to point you in the right direction. I made a Pin board of “cheat sheets” for beginners: Beginner Photography Charts.
Also, keep in mind that all of the above settings will have an effect on each other. If your shutter is open longer (capturing movement), you will be letting in light longer and have a lower ISO number. If your shutter speed is fast (freezing the movement of a running child), you will need a higher ISO number to compensate for the short time the shutter was recording light.
Utilizing Google, Pinterest, and YouTube have been some of my favorite resources for learning photography. But you can also find online groups to have fun, learn with a local photographer, or check out online classes at places like creativelive.com or lynda.com.
Once you have mastered control of your camera, the two things you will want to focus on are lighting and composition. (And for portrait photography, posing.)
I always thought the “rules” of composition that I read about in school were kind of silly, because shouldn’t that be up to the artist?
Lighting tricks, however, will certainly come in handy. If you’re thinking of going beyond amateur, you may want to purchase a reflector. They’re inexpensive and work wonders. You could get cozy with a flash or just learn how to work a window really well.
What about editing?
Nowadays, you can edit photos for free with simple tools or apps available on your phone. Again, I’d consult Google for this one because I’ve barely begun to try all the editing apps available. For little snaps on the go, I frequently edit my photos in social media with the available filters and settings. I use Aperture, Photoshop, and Lightroom for my professional photo edits. You can access these with a monthly subscription. It can be as fancy and complicated as you want, or you can buy a pack of presets that you like, download them, and have simple on-click editing options at your fingertips.
Here is a nifty list of free editing apps, courtesy of our friend Google: 11 Best Free Editing Online.
I hope this helps, and I wish you well on your photography journey! The biggest mistake you could make is to not pick up your camera and use it! So don’t worry about being perfect; just snap the photos you want and enjoy the journey of learning as you go.