So I decided to start photography. My aim is simple: take photos of my future travels around the world. I want to take good photos.

Well, I made the mistake of buying the gears before even learning about it. I bought a Nikon D5100 camera, and I think it's not good but maybe it's just my skills.

So here it goes my questions:

  1. Where can I learn about gear? Things like a lens, protection and cleaning stuff...
  2. Is the Nikon D5100 a good camera? The lens is "18-55mm"
  3. What are the good software for editing photos and where to learn how to use them?

Also any estimates of how much time this should take?

  • 17
    \$\begingroup\$ The D5100 is an excellent camera. Once you learn to use it's capabilities fully you will be very pleased with the results. The 18-55 mm lens is OK to start. You will probably want to graduate to a better quality (and much more expensive) lens in due course but to start with the 18-55mm is good. \$\endgroup\$ Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 10:06
  • 27
    \$\begingroup\$ "Also any estimates of how much time this should take?" The rest of your life, if you're lucky. That's not an insult -- if you're lucky enough to fall in love with the medium, you'll never stop learning. \$\endgroup\$
    – user2719
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 10:07
  • \$\begingroup\$ @StanRogers Yeah, I'm aware of that, and I'm a creative (though doing Front-End Web Development). But here I'm talking about the minimal time to grasp the basics and get your first shot. \$\endgroup\$
    – Omar Abid
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 10:19
  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ Mind blowingly good images have been done with much worse cameras. My favorite images for my own work were done with my D3100 - a step down from that camera. \$\endgroup\$
    – rfusca
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 16:17
  • \$\begingroup\$ @rfusca - Step down in numbers but I did prefer the D3100. It is much easier to work with than the D5100. \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 22:42

12 Answers 12


I suspect you are trying to treat photography the way you would approach computer programming (your stock overflow profile indicates that you are a fairly advanced contributor on that site). I myself started out my DSLR journey with the Canon 550D + 18-55mm kit lens combo (rough equivalents of their Nikon counterparts that you possess). The lens is quite common, and covers the range of most Point & Shoot cameras.

Overall, you have a fairly advanced model without any limitations on the kind of images you can take. I started out shooting in the Auto and pre-programmed modes for the first couple of months before switching to the semi automatic modes (Aperture\Shutter priority modes)

Some points to make you feel good about your camera:

  • Definitely not a starter model, and very good value for money
  • Has a swivel screen that most DSLRs lack - this makes it quite handy for shooting from awkward angles. Plus very useful when shooting video.
  • Nikon has quite a bunch of lenses, plus a very big used lens market (Nikon has stuck with its lens interface unlike Canon that upgraded in the 80s). This might however not be that valid outside of the USA and other developed markets.

Coming to your specific questions, I would recommend 3 books to get you started on your journey:

  1. Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson - Explains the basic concepts like exposure, shutter speed, aperture etc
  2. The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby - A how-to book with gear recommendations, useful to learn shortcuts (4 parts in all with the first one covering the basic recipes). Alternatively, you can get a book specific to your camera.
  3. Photographer's Eye by Michael Freeman - Not an immediate read as it is more about visualization. Photographer's Mind by the same author is along similar lines and delves into the thought process behind image making.

As for gear:

  • Flash: You might eventually want to get an external flash (with bounce capability) if you end up doing a lot of shooting indoors, and this will significantly reduce the image quality limitations imposed by high ISO requirements indoors. Nikon is supposed to have an advantage over Canon in this regard.
  • Lenses: Once you get hold of the basics, you will get to understand the limitations of the kit lens (focal length range, aperture)

For software, you can start out with free software like Picasa for photo management and basic editing, and GIMP or Paint.NET for advanced editing. Adobe Lightroom is one of the most popular paid options, and there's always Photoshop if you want to do more.

Last but not the least, check out this site for a bunch of useful questions that will help you along, and keep shooting as practice is the best form of learning.

P.S. Some questions that will be of use:

  • \$\begingroup\$ I recommend www.improvephotography.com he has many "tutorials" and tips all explained in a way that is very easy for beginners to understand. \$\endgroup\$
    – ABPhoto
    Commented Jul 11, 2012 at 20:56
  • 1
    \$\begingroup\$ Great post! The used lens market for Nikon is not as big as you suggest: The D5100 needs AF-S lenses, all old lenses are only AF. \$\endgroup\$
    – Unapiedra
    Commented Jan 22, 2013 at 15:57

One thing to keep in mind is that photography, as many other activities, depends much more on how much you like it and and to keep improving than on equipment or technique.

The quality of a photo is much more related to what (and when) something is being registered than how it is being recorded. It's the photographer way of seeing the world that counts.

And "seeing what and when" is something that not everyone knows intuitively but many can learn by doing or studying.

My point is that now that you have a camera you are ready to go. Of course the more you study and practice, the better you will be. And surely there are cameras with more fidelity than others (imagine an old phone camera versus a modern and expensive camera).

But once you reach some level of fidelity (which most if not all cameras in the market already did), what will make a "good" photo depends much more on who took it (and who will see it) and what was intended, even if non consciously.

As Stan Rogers mentioned, you will keep improving as long as you keep open to learn. If you really are interested in photography, you will learn to identify what is a photo that you like and which ones you don't.

Focus on the differences between them. Try to learn from what worked on one and what didn't work on the others. Try to find what took you to take some photograph and how you would like it to look like.

That don't depends on the camera, but on your view of the subject (and the world around it). At first you may not know what subjects attract you more but as soon as you start paying attention to the results, it will be easier to know what makes you happy or not.

Since you are considering using the camera for travel, experiment with the scales for example.

You can start by seeing the whole scene around you and trying to capture its mood and presence. Notice the sky, the landscape (nature or not), the geography, the architecture, the streets etc. Learn how changing your orientation or the zoom on your lens impact how much can be seen at once and how different things appear on the picture.

Or you can start by seeing what happens closer to you. Notice the room you are, the people around you, what is happening and what is about to happen. You can be at a festival and try to capture the energy of the dancers, or you can be walking down the street and try to capture how people react to a barking dog. Learn how to separate the action you want to register from the background (by moving yourself or changing your zoom) and learn to anticipate what is about to happen, so you can be ready to register it when it happens.

Another option would be to start seeing what is really close to you. Notice the books on the stand, the textures on the rug, the way light reflects on glasses, your own reflection on a store window etc. Learn how to focus on an specific part of the subject and how to understand what attracted you to it. Learn how to use light to enhance or subdue parts of the scene in order to change the viewer perception of it.

As you see, there's a whole world of experiments and learning ahead of you. The examples above are just that, examples by someone. Don't take them as guidelines, but just as a way to see how diversified can be photography and notice how little mention of the camera capabilities were made.


Everything should be done in steps and you stop when you are either satisfied or no longer interested. Some can learn for years of even decades I suppose but I have not been around photography that long!

Many people just starting on their are unhappy with their photography. In order the importants the problems lie with:

  1. The photographer
  2. The lens(es)
  3. The camera(s)

Photography is an art and requires creativity but also technique in order to realize your vision and understand limitations. This is the first thing you must learn about. You can start with good books - many of them available for free at the local library - such as Readers' Digest Photography Manual, National Geographic Photography Field Guide, Photographer's Eye, etc. It is not a problem these books are older because the fundamentals are the same as before.

Once you learn from a few books you should really enroll yourself in a workshop. The ones I teach (in Montreal, Canada) go for 4 weeks and are a mix of lectures about the fundamentals, studio and outdoor practice. A bit of everything and mostly chances to systematically practice.

A lot of people show up to my classes with their gear already and learn part of the way that some other gear would have been better. That is because the right gear depends on your needs, the type of subjects you shoot and other considerations.

Your Nikkor 18-55mm is what is called a kit lens and is the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality and versatility. After learning more you really should replace it with one which suits your own requirements.

The Nikon D5100 is a entry-level DSLR but that mostly means it is slower to operate than high-end models. Image quality is very good and you can shoot anything well with that camera. Of course, higher-end models have plenty of benefits but it is unlikely to realize them until you get quite proficient.

Photo processing software is the last thing you should be concerned about. You should concentrate on making the best images first. You may decide after that you do not need to process your images or you will get some really good images to process. What I mean is that better captured images make better processed images!

EDIT: To answer the newly worded title of your question, yes. Not because the D5100 isn't good (it is, all modern DSLRs are) but because you bought something without knowing what you need. It is possible you will discover the D5100 is perfect for you as it is possible you will discover there is something which suits your needs better. You also did not put any thought on your lens, arguably a much more serious error photographically speaking.

  • 3
    \$\begingroup\$ I don't think it's quite right to say that a kit lens is the bottom of the barrel in terms of quality and versatility, not in a world where lenses like this exist. Kit zooms are not very fast, but they do give a versatile wide-to-short-portrait zoom range, and relatively decent image quality for the price when stopped down. \$\endgroup\$
    – mattdm
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 13:47
  • \$\begingroup\$ Haha... That one is not even in barrel ;) The kit lens, particularly Nikon's of which I had almost a dozen samples, is probably the lowest quality lens Nikon still makes, and that is OK considering its price! More money will usually buy you more quality and you can spend more money on any lens in Nikon's lineup! \$\endgroup\$
    – Itai
    Commented Jun 23, 2012 at 13:50

So 3 answers so far and each one of them is great and pointing you to many directions, different resources and books. Anyway, the answer to your questions is perhaps this whole website! You are asking about How to learn Photography and use my camera? So each answer in this website is an answer to your question.

Where can I learn about gear? Things like a lens, protection and cleaning stuff...

To learn about Camera and Photography, try to look at the questions with Camera and Camera Basics tags as a start. Use Lens and Kit Lens tags to learn about lenses (also as a start). Look for Cleaning, Protection, and Equipment Protection tags to learn how to properly clean and protect your gear.

Is the Nikon D5100 a good camera? The lens is "18-55mm"

Based on DPReview for D5100, in my opinion I believe it's a good camera for entry level photographer. It has all the features that a new photographer needs to learn. About the kit lens, people report that kit lens (18-55mm in Canon and Nikon) isn't that good. But you have to taste what's bad first to know what is good afterwards. If you didn't see the poorly sharp photos produced by kit lens you wouldn't feel the quality and great sharpness produced by a high quality lens. So it's good to start with a kit lens (in my opinion) and play with it for a while.

What are the good software for editing photos and where to learn how to use them?

Although this is a subjective question, but it seems like people agree that Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Photoshop Lightroom, GIMP, Aperture and by far the most common photo editing software (I hope that someone correct me if I'm mistaken). All these programs aren't free except for GIMP, so don't just listen to someone who says "Oh my god I love Photoshop it's the best software on earth" cause it's his personal taste. You can download a free trial copy and play with it and see if you like it or not. For me I use Lightroom, Photoshop and GIMP and I don't actually find much difference among them (that's if you are just going to edit photos in a non-complex way like adding masks for example). I've never used Aperture cause I'm a PC and Ubuntu user. You can also watch youtube videos about any software and see how people are dealing with it.

If you want to learn about photography then you must know it's a very long process and not an easy one, you have to be patient and have the passion to learn more. There are dozens of websites, blogs, and books you can read to learn more.

Also any estimates of how much time this should take?

That depends on how frequently you are going to spend time on learning. And also it's based on your personal learning process. In my opinion, the most important thing in the process of learning photography is this: Shoot then Analyse then Shoot then Analyse and then Shoot then Analyse. It won't help you to read 10 books about photography without applying what you've read so far, you know that cause it's the same in computer programming.


Bit late to this thread but I thought I'd put my 2pennies worth in.

I've just bought the D5100. It takes fantastic pictures. In Auto you can treat it as a near point and shoot. Nikon do a 18-300 lens, so for snaps on your travels it will be fine.

If you turn it off auto, the excitment and creativity start. It isn't perfect but for the price I don't think it can be beat. Built in HDR is slightly disappointing, as is the need to block the eye piece on long exposures. having an lcd panel would have been nice but you knew it didn't have one when you bought one. Low light noise is excellent. In camera processing is ok (altthough I prefer PS).

Good luck


Yes, its a good camera, great to learn on. Sure, there are better more expensive cameras, but yours is a good choice. You did not make a mistake.

Can I warn you about gear lust? All of the magazines and most of the websites are sponsored by camera and accessory vendors and they want you to think that what you have is inadequate and you must buy a newer, better, camera, lens, tripod, strobe, etc. each week in order to fix this problem. Its not a real problem, it exists only to increase sales.

Don't even think of buying a different camera body or any lenses until you have taken a bunch of photos. Fight gear lust. The kit lens is fine for learning.

I highly recommend The Strobist blog when you are ready to learn about strobes/flashes/lighting. http://strobist.blogspot.com/

There are nearly as many choices in software for post processing as there are for cameras and lenses. Don't let it overwhelm you. I like Adobe Lightroom, its about $100 on sale. It does everything I want to do with my photos, such as crop and rotate, adjust lighting, fix blemishes, etc. I don't want or need a super powerful, all-purpose too such as Photoshop. Lightroom runs on both Windows and Macs.

Some folks are very happy with much cheaper software, or even free software such as Picassa. All of the major packages have 30 day trial versions, so the recommendation is simple: first, take a bunch of photos, and then download and try some packages you think you might like. You may hate things that I like, and vice versa


I think the D5100 is a great starter camera and one that you will be able to grow with. It will take as good of pictures as the vision of the person behind the lens. While this will easily allow you to "point and shoot" with the auto setting, there are still plenty of manual/advanced settings for you to tackle, bit-by-bit. My suggest is to just go out and start taking pictures.

For software - I tell everybody that is interested in photography to invest in Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Definitely worth the investment and you will not be disappointed. It, like your camera, will become a better tool the more you use it and become familiar with all you can do with it.

  1. You can get ample tutorials on Youtube.
  2. I am a novice but my recent research says D5100 is a very good entry level DSLR.
  3. You can install Picasa/GIMP/Paint.net/Irfanview/Faststone Image or alternatively can edit images online on Adobe Express/Pixlr etc.

Hope this helps :)


I read all of the answers you got here. and most of them say: its a good entry level DSLR camera, great for the money, and similar stuff.

My first one was a D40, 6MP camera, and it was great. I was using the 18-55 for a while, and then I bought 18-200 because I hate changing lenses. Then I started reading blogs, articles, watch videos, books, pdfs, whatever I could get my hands on. Also I joined a local website for photography that had voting implemented, and people would comment on my photos. That was very helpful.

I bought the D5100 because I wanted to do some astrophotography(better ISO performance), to shoot video of my baby daughter, and I was on a tight budget.

So, if you ask me, it is a serious camera, it has manual mode, and 16MP, which is more than enough for doing photography. The next thing to buy for me would be a FF camera.



You can start by describing what makes you feel "it is not that good"? Then experienced users can explain how to overcome those issues.

The drawbacks I know of (my brother has D5100) (most are subjective):

  • Very dark viewfinder (you'd have to upgrade to a prosumer version like D90 to get a better one).
  • Very small body (I find even a Canon 5D pro camera to be too small for my hands without a battery grip). You can get a battery grip if the size is bothering you.
  • You can't use legendary vintage lenses, save for Nikon's own vintage lenses, but then again you don't have an AF motor in body.
  • I personally don't like Nikon's lens designs.

If you only have a kit lens, you will want to upgrade to a better one. Check out a prime 50mm 1.8. It will give you much better IQ and allow you to play around with smooth bokeh, and it is not that expensive. Not being a zoom it will force you to move around to get the best shots.


I don't think you made a mistake.

The D5100 is not a bad camera body at all, and it offers all the basic tools you need to develop your skills. The best thing to do at this point is to get another lens—either a telephoto zoom like the 55-300mm or a fast prime like the 50mm f/1.8G—and work on photographic technique. There are lots of tutorials online and in print. I would personally recommend Ben Long's Complete Digital Photography; online, Cambridge in Colour has some of the best tutorials available, though some of them may be a bit too technical for you.


The other answers have said it all. However, I am adding my 1 cent. As a fellow (software geek) I'll try to add something from a geek perspective.

As far as my study on D5100, it's one of few best camera in this price. It's enough for even mid-tier professionals, let alone for beginners.

Besides all the learning tips in other answers, I will add that you should read the camera manual thoroughly. Without that you may never be able to utilize your purchase to its full potential. You should master your gadget like your own body. To punch a bad guy, do you have to think and plan how and what hand you should use? Master your device just like that.

I wonder how many people spend thousands of dollars on gear for which they don't even have the patience to read the FREE manual. How they even passionate enough to take great shot ?

Now, push through the basics and deep understanding of composition, color, and lighting. Hello, I am NOT talking about lighting gear.

And practice (at least try) just after learning something new. Practice with a same subject in hundred combinations of composition, angle, lighting, exposure, white-balance, etc. From each shot, you will be learning.

Beware, you will also in need reading a lot even to be a decent photographer.

I am amazed that nobody mentioned about a reliable monitor. To edit or understand your properly, you will need a wide monitor (at least 20") that re-produce true colors. If you edit/review your photo in a low-quality monitor, your effort is definitely gonna be messed up.

Bon voyage ...


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