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by Bart Arondson

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I have been wanting this camera for a while. And mostly to just take pictures of my children. I have no clue how to use it, even though I have read the booklet. I mostly use it in Auto mode, and still my pictures, no matter the lighting or time, come out horrible and worse than my older point and shoot camera.

Any advice for a totally new photographer?

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In what way horrible? Blurry, dark, poor colors? With or without flash? –  MikeW Apr 4 '11 at 22:15
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This is too general unfortunately. Try posting a picture you don't like, what you don't like about it, and ask how to not do that. Right now we don't have a clue if your problem is lighting, basic exposure, composition, unrealistic expectations, limitations of the lens/camera for your intended subject, etc... –  rfusca Apr 4 '11 at 22:18
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Welcome to the site! –  Evan Krall Apr 5 '11 at 2:02
    
I don't think this is completely unanswerable. The question is: how to get over being intimidated by a daunting field of art, technology, and skill. There's reasonable, objective answers to that. –  mattdm Apr 5 '11 at 3:01
    
See also: photo.stackexchange.com/questions/4625/… –  mattdm Apr 5 '11 at 3:06

8 Answers 8

  1. Treat your equipment with respect. Keep it clean, protect it from dust and sand and greasey fingers, and learn to clean the lenses. I know too many absolute beginners who have greasey marks on their lens or who get sand in stuff because they don't carry it in a proper case.

  2. Experiment a lot. Don't learn solely by reading, but also take a lot of photos. Hundreds and hundreds. Fill entire memory cards when you go away. Use a decent photo organising software (I recommend Google Picasa to newbies) which lets you organise tons of photos amd lets you view the Exif data to see what settings you used when you took them. Remember to back up too, but that's another story.

  3. Don't just try manual mode because you think you should. Get to know your auto mode and its limitations first - you'll know it's the right time to switch to manual mode when you understand why auto mode isn't doing what you want. Until then, there's no shame in using auto mode for the time being and concentrating on other things, like actually taking photos.

  4. If you read, don't just read instructional books, but also pick up photo magazines. Depending on what photos you might like to take, pick up National Geographic, or Vogue, some bird watching magazine, or a sports magazine.

  5. Have patience.

  6. Learn (the hard way) to create awesome photos on the equipment you have rather than buying new equipment thinking it will improve your photos. It's true that there are certain types of photography for which you need special equipment. However, buying more expensive equipment will not help your end result if you are struggling to master it on the cheap equipment.

  7. Remember that family and friends and nice people on the internet will praise your photos whether they're good or bad, bless them, so don't rely on them for critique. You need to develop your own eye for what is good and what is bad. Having this 'eye' - your own concept of what makes a good photo and desire to improve - is what distinguishes you from casual snapshotters that just point the camera and shoot.

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+1 for "you'll know it's the right time to switch to manual mode when you understand why auto mode isn't doing what you want." –  Sean Apr 5 '11 at 23:21

Experiment. Persist. I think producing horrible photos is a necessary part of learning - so I wouldn't worry. Mastery of any worthwhile skill takes time.

If you'd prefer not to post photos of your children here, take photos of your cat instead and post them here, explain exactly what you don't like about them, I'm sure people here will be happy to help you improve.

cat

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Nice cat, good photo –  labnut Apr 6 '11 at 11:01
    
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LOL. Cats (and dogs) are the most successful species on earth. Why? Because they are the only species that have successfully trained another species to care for them. –  labnut Apr 6 '11 at 12:01
    
I like the pussy! –  Andrei Rinea Oct 26 '11 at 19:59

I always tell new camera owners to first - read the manual with the camera right in front of you so you can experiment . . . then, forget everything you've read and begin playing. I will say, I do most of my shooting on Aperture Priority mode . . .

If you're a book reader, then you can't go wrong with Scott Kelby's Digital Photography books . . . I've given them as gifts to new photographers and they've all turned into wonderful shooters.

-pmk

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I've just got my first DSLR not so long ago and it is downright intimidating with all those controls and all those numbers - but its really not difficult at all after you learn a few basic terms and techniques.

But the first question is what you want to do with your camera?

Option 1: I just want to take OK pictures of the family.

In this case using the auto mode is fine - but you still have to take care of focusing.

The most basic technique is "focus and recompose" - you aim your camera at whatever you want to photograph, press the shutter button half way and hold it there, wait for the camera to focus, move your camera to get the composition you want and only then press the shutter button all the way to take the picture.

Also, you have to make sure the camera is focusing on your subject and not some random detail in the background, there's usually a blinking red dot in the viewfinder or a small frame in the "live view" to show you where the focus is.

You can just ignore all the camera's features and settings and get OK pictures - but the pictures generally won't be better then what you get from a good point-and-shoot.

Option 2: I want to learn about photography and make great pictures

In that care you got to the right place :-)

Basically there are 3 factors that control the picture (Aperture size, Shutter speed and sensor sensitivity) just read about the "exposure triangle" to understand how they relate.

Then take your camera out of auto mode and start to experiment.

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They relate not like a triangle, is how. :) photo.stackexchange.com/questions/6598/… –  mattdm May 26 '11 at 17:24
    
@mattdm - I'm impressed with your answer about the "triangle" - but it's unlikely you'll be able to change this terminology (but I do like the exposure tricycle) –  Nir May 28 '11 at 21:04
    
Yes, it's definitely a little bit of tilting at windmills. :) –  mattdm May 28 '11 at 21:07

Check out www.kenrockwell.com. He has a lot of information on "How-to" that should help users get started. He may have a manual (a detailed one) for your camera as well.

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Ken Rockwell does have some useful information, but he also has a lot of crazy misinformation as well. He basically writes an entertainment site, and puts down whatever pops into his head. Beware. (This isn't slander or anything; he says so on the "about this site" page.) –  mattdm Apr 5 '11 at 11:36
    
That said, I like Ken Rockwell's site. I wouldn't say it's full of crazy misinformation, more like outlandish statements that aren't always backed up with all his reasoning, but which he earnestly believes nonetheless. It's just one guy and what his views on photography. –  thomasrutter Apr 6 '11 at 0:05
    
Agreed, there is quite a bit of outlandish stuff - But for a beginner who is finding it difficult to understand his camera manual; I thought this was probably the only site that would help with a more detailed manual. Is there another site that provides a better beginner user guide to a camera? –  Sujith Nair Apr 6 '11 at 4:27
    
I for one gave you an upvote anyway, cos I like his site. I think a lot of people miss the humor in his statements. He's a huge fan of using exaggeration. When he says you should throw away your $1500 lens because some $120 lens can do better, those types of things should not necessarily be taken literally. Obviously he wouldn't throw away that lens. Behind the exaggeration he always has a point somewhere. For instance, maybe the $1500 lens is decent, but just not worth paying that much more for in his opinion, so he made some fun of how he'd throw it out for a much cheaper one. –  thomasrutter Apr 8 '11 at 2:49

Start by learning the basics of the basics:

Both of these might shed some light on why you are not satisfied with your photos.

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The second article you linked to is a bit misleading - higher shutter speed doesn't necessarily mean more sharpness; it simply means less motion blur. To compensate for a higher shutter speed, though, you'll need a wider aperture and/or a higher ISO; both of these can lead to decreased sharpness. Lenses have a "sweet spot" aperture which gives the sharpest images; it's generally stopped down a bit from wide open. High ISO leads to more noise, and noise reduction destroys details. –  Evan Krall Apr 5 '11 at 5:17
    
@Evan Krall: You're right (+1), I just think that understanding something this simple (maybe not at first glance, but these are the basics) should be the amongst first steps for understanding photography. The first article should help understand camera settings, and the other should help understand the consequence of modifying of each setting... –  Miljenko Barbir Apr 5 '11 at 9:17
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Plus, "triangle". Ugh. :) –  mattdm Apr 5 '11 at 19:54

Not sure what you mean by horrible, but guessing your pictures are dark, lack color or are blurry?

The point and shoot cameras typically have a wide angle lens where everything will be in focus. If you are using the D3000 with a zoom at normal or telephoto lengths you may have to take more care to hold the camera steady and squeeze the shutter release to allow the camera to focus and to avoid camera shake.

As far as the image colors, the point and shoots usually produce "punchy" images. You can set the Picture Controls in your camera to the Vivid setting, you may find that closer to the point and shoot.

If the images are too light or too dark, then there could be a number of causes.

I'd suggest in addition to the instruction manual you pick up a book on digital SLRs in general and read that, or something like the Magic Lantern guide for your camera. These will give you a better understanding than the instruction manual which covers the buttons and knobs but doesn't give you the big picture.

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Learn the basics of photography:

  • Read an introduction book. Reader's Digest Photography Manual is a classic and usually available in public libraries.
  • Take an intro to photography class. Local stores either teach it or should point you in the right direction (I teach one for DSLR users here in Montreal, it takes 4 weeks evenings to complete).

Reading the manual only helps when you know what those things mean. Once you complete one of the above, you can read it and it will make much more sense.

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Just to emphasise what Itai said, start borrowing books from your local library. You'll find something that looks useful for sure. Libraries have several bonuses - unlike bookstores, nobody complains if you stand there reading and there's no problem with exchanges if you don't like it. ;-) –  Mike Apr 4 '11 at 23:59
    
Just a few topics to be sure to read up on: shutter speed, aperture, camera shake, how to hold and focus camera. –  Mike Apr 5 '11 at 0:04

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