4. Practice, Practice, Practice
I had calmed down my fears significantly, and I planned to pace myself
a little to digest the lessons slowly. I figured by limiting my first
photos to autofocus with Aperture Priority I could step out of point
and shoot mode, but not get overwhelmed.
And then off to the park we went, this time to the Japanese Gardens for
a change. I was actually excited and felt confident that I would
be able to use the camera this time. As soon as we arrived, I dove into
my bag and was ready to shoot anything that moved, or didn’t. I played
with leaves and grasses blowing in the wind. I played with layers of
algae in the water. I played with lily pads in the sunlight. I took
several shots of the same maple tree while just varying the f-stop. I made
sure to push the limits and changed the ISO.
At first, I felt like a
student again, and didn’t worry much at all about the subject or
composition. This was about me learning the camera. It was liberating
have more freedom than with film to ‘waste’ shots since it costs
nothing to throw them
away. It was important not to put too much pressure on myself to
achieve fine art straight out of the gate. I’d been taking snapshots
for years, so I had to get back into photographer mode.
And after an hour or
so the camera was sitting well in my hands, changing settings was
becoming fairly natural, and I actually composed a shot or
two. None of the pictures are probably worth saving, but I am
that I just need a few more hours behind the lens and I will take
something worthwhile. We have Freeman Patterson’s
photographic design book
exercises that will be perfect for this learning phase. If I can go on
a few photo safaris with very specific goals, it will force me to work
with the camera to achieve the shot, and learn the camera in the
process. Utata’s project page and Photoassignment.net regularly post new projects to drive
this sort of exercise. I wouldn’t necessarily have to post my pictures to be inspired by their topics.
I had let my resistance to a dSLR morph into a phobia. If you are also
in the situation of feeling like you could benefit from using a digital
SLR, but it seems too big a challenge, it’s worth giving it a try. Here
are my key tips:
- Assess why you are resisting upgrading. I had let myself
become afraid of dSLRs. Just saying it helped me see that I was blowing
the challenge all out of proportion and in fact I was ignoring how much
I already knew.
- Narrow it down to exactly what you need to learn. Each person
will have different experience, and for me it was relearning SLR basics
plus learning the camera.
If you’ve never used an SLR camera, but you have used digitals, then you can focus on learning a few SLR basics.
If you are upgrading from a film SLR, then you just need to learn some basics about the new camera.
Even if you are new to photography all together, you can find books, sites or courses designed for beginners.
- Consider the many options for learning what you don’t know. I
chose to get coaching from a friend, but there is also using a book or
reading a website in addition to enrolling in a course.
- Learn by observing an experienced user. It was really helpful to
watch my partner handle the camera and see which settings he uses most
to narrow down where to start.
- Break your lessons into small steps. I was overwhelmed by
thinking I had to learn it all at once. Separate out things like
exposure, composition and depth of field into separate lessons.
- Don’t try to be Ansel Adams on day one. I made myself take
pictures I could learn something from regardless of whether I would
ever want to look at them again. If you have to, force yourself to take
some awful photos just to stop being hung up on good shots. The good
shots will come after you’ve mastered the basics.
- Shoot, shoot and shoot some more. The lessons just don’t stick if
I haven’t applied them to a bunch of shots, so it helps to use guiding
exercises to keep myself focused.
We are about to go back to having just one dSLR
again soon, so I guess my next lesson will be learning to share nicely.
- For more exercises, you can search Flickr for photo assignment groups like onewordassignment. Some are more regularly updated than others.
- Thomas Hawk has some good tips for new dSLR users, both from himself and from other experienced users.