Photography Things I’ve Learned

I would love to take a photography course at the nearby art school someday. In fact, last spring Groupon ran a deal for said art school that I am kicking myself for not taking advantage of. Until another Groupon deal is run though, I settle for being “self-taught” when it comes to using my Nikon DSLR. I’ve now had my precious Nikon for 10 months and feel like I’ve come a long way already. I’m often asked by friends who have just jumped into the DSLR world how I figured stuff out, and I don’t think I’ve shared that stuff here before, so here goes…

What I Have:

Nikon D3000

18-55mm lens (came with the camera)

35mm lens (I bought that one in the spring)


When I got my camera, the very first thing I did was read the manual that came with it. Yup, I’m a dork. Sadly, there were a lot of words in that manual that I didn’t understand. A fellow Nikon friend sent me the link to a nifty little site Nikon has called the Digitutor. The site is full of little videos and interactive screens that tell you about the various features, buttons and knobs on your camera.

I took several nap times to sit at the computer with my camera, just going through the Digitutor stuff. I messed with settings, took pictures of water bottles, chairs and a vase of flowers and tinkered with various effects.

While the Digitutor site was helpful, I was still confused. What on earth is Apreture and how do I know what shutter speed to use? That’s where The Pioneer Woman came in. I’d heard of her site, but never really visited until someone on a message board posted a link. I finally went and was delighted to see she had a whole photography section. Included in her photography section is tons of info for those just getting started in the DSLR world! She answers questions like “what the heck is apreture“, the differences in lighting and so much more.

I again spent several nap times camped out at the kitchen table with the laptop (this time open to The Pioneer Woman’s photography page) and my camera. Suddenly I felt like I was “getting it”. I felt confident shooting in Manual mode! While my pictures weren’t always perfect (or even close), I felt like I was seeing big improvements. I was confident in selecting the f-stop and shutter speed and making sure I had adequate light source. I figured out how to dial back my flash so that it wasn’t as harsh. (For the record, I hate using my flash and avoid it all costs, but sometimes it is necessary if I want a picture of what’s going on.) I knew how to play with the ISO and that too high of an ISO on my camera will give me grainy pictures.

Another website I love is the I Heart Faces site. Sure, their weekly photo challenges are fun but the articles that are posted through out the week are helpful, as is the free online community! I wish I had a few extra hundred bucks so I could drive to Dallas for their one day workshop in November!


I figured out quickly that I liked shots taken in the “Vivid” color mode best, and a good photographer friend of mine told me that’s her preference as well.

As mentioned above, I almost always shoot in “Manual”. The only time I stray is if I’m handing the camera over to someone else to snap a quick picture (I set it to “auto” for them) or if the boys are running in and out of shadows a lot (then I set it to apreture priority).

ISO is usually at 200, but I’ll go as high as 800 if needed. Any higher than that and the pictures are just too grainy for my taste.

Recently I discovered the fun of changing the White Balance settings! Up until about a month ago the White Balance was just left on “auto”. I wasn’t really sure what changing it would do and figured the camera would know better than me. Then I started to play with it. Oooh boy! I’m hooked!

I wish I had some examples of what a shot looks like on “auto” and what it looks like when I select it myself. I’ll try to remember to do that at some point. For now, I can tell you this…

When I change the WB to “shade” and the boys are in the shade, the colors seem more true-to-life. I liked the pictures well enough on auto, but now I love them! I feel like I don’t need to do as much work in photoshop now.

When I set it to “direct sunlight” the colors just fly!

And when you forget to check your White Balance the next time you pick up your camera, funny things can happen…

Whoops! Tyler and Jackson are looking a little blue!

See all I’ve learned just by playing around with the camera and visiting some websites? Don’t be intimidated by your DSLR and leave it on “auto” – stretch yourself!

Don’t have a DSLR yet, but want one? Today The Pioneer Woman is giving away a Canon DSLR. Usually she gives away Nikon’s, but she wanted to give some props to Canon too. Who knows, maybe you’ll be the lucky person she picks out of the 20,000+ entries!

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