Improving my skills with a DSLR camera.
November 2, 2009 8:50 PM   Subscribe

I recently purchased a Nikon D5000 DSLR, and while I'd like to think that I have a bit of a photographer's eye, I really haven't used anything beyond a point-and-shoot for the last few years. Any advice or resources that people have (beyond reading the manual) to improve my skills would be awesome.

In a high school photography class (5 years ago) I learned how to develop film, frame a shot, the mechanics of it, that sort of thing. Since then I've barely used anything beyond a simple point-and-shoot. While I know a bit about what I'm doing, I really could use a refresher on F-stops and the like. Next semester I'll try and take a class, but until then...

- Any photography-related websites/books/magazines/etc that inspire you.
- Somewhere I can read or watch videos about the basics, like aperture, histograms, framing a great shot, that sort of thing.
- Other places that have more advanced stuff once I'm bored with the basics, and want to try something new.
- A forum or similar where I can get tips on how to improve my photos (e.g. "Hey this is what I photographed, what can I do better?")
- What are your favorite things to photograph, why?
- Your advice...?
- Something else I'm missing.

While I'd prefer not to spend any more money than I already have on the camera to learn how to use it, I'm open to all suggestions.

I've seen this post, and it's great. It's 4 years old though, so maybe MetaFilter has some new stuff?

posted by Political Funny Man to Media & Arts (14 answers total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
Cambridge in Colour's tutorials are excellent.

Dpreview has good discussion forums.
posted by the duck by the oboe at 8:57 PM on November 2, 2009

I was in your shoes about 6 months ago. The best advice I was given was to join a local photography club. The club I am a part of has a theme for every month and we all bring in a photo or two for a critique. I am finding it great because the themes give me a focus for the month and the critiques give me lots of feedback on my work and lots of learning from other peoples works. I highly recommend it because it's fun, cheap and better than anything else I have tried in learning more about photography.
posted by sadtomato at 9:04 PM on November 2, 2009

I can recommend DGrin. It's free and a very active community. I'm there under the same user name. DPreview also has an active forum and I've participated there on occasion, although I find it a bit more of a technical and product site than a photography site. There are several other sites that are great, but they will often specialise in a particular style; landscapes, street, studio, etc. What interests you?

But the one thing thats going to really help is taking pictures. Lot's and lots of pictures.
posted by michswiss at 9:36 PM on November 2, 2009

Flickr Groups. Find one with a topic/subject that interests you, or find a local group to meet up with in person.
posted by bhayes82 at 10:12 PM on November 2, 2009

DSLRs encourage you to take hundreds of photographs, keeping only the ones that you happen to like. You need to develop your ability to judge what would make a good photograph, not just select ones that happen to be satisfactory. Here's an exercise that will help develop your skills.

Go for a walk with your SLR and take lots of pictures while restricting yourself to a single focal length, perhaps even a single ISO. This restriction forces you to concentrate on the things you can change - shutter speed and framing. Try to take only one picture from any one position. When you get home take a look at your photos. Think about what you like about each one. Consider how they would be improved by cropping. Get feedback from a friend if possible. Then when you've identified your best photos, go back and shoot them again - with a different focal length. Now compare your new photographs with the original. See what works and what doesn't. This will help develop your ability to choose a focal length that complements the subject - most people just use a zoom to frame the photo, but you want to understand the way different focal lengths emphasise or minimise different features of the photo.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:41 PM on November 2, 2009

Shoot all the time. Carry your camera everywhere. And as Henri said, “Your first 10000 photographs are your worst."
posted by YoBananaBoy at 11:23 PM on November 2, 2009

I cut my teeth on this classic, which you may have already read. 2nding what Joe in Australia said, too, though, the best thing about DSLR is the ability to screw around as much as you want. And his advice is great for intuitively understanding depth of field.
posted by zvs at 11:41 PM on November 2, 2009

Previously: this and this.
posted by jedrek at 11:48 PM on November 2, 2009

I find using the auto mode to see what aperture and exposure times the camera wants me to use, then setting the manual mode and figuring out how to quickly set those. Then playing around with them to see what happens. For me, this has opened my eyes to some of the extra capabilities SLR opened up for me.

Mind you, I'm no pro and still learning myself.
posted by Admira at 3:04 AM on November 3, 2009

I answered a similar question here, which you may find useful.
posted by pjern at 7:40 AM on November 3, 2009

I really like this book as a handy, almost pocket-sized photo reference.
posted by OilPull at 8:49 AM on November 3, 2009

Check out Strobist for great tutorials on lighting-- I also second getting active on Flickr. There are numerous groups on there and are often social gatherings where you can get together in meat space and talk shop.

Remember, the best camera you have is the one you take with you. So get out there and shoot!
posted by wandergeek at 11:01 AM on November 3, 2009

Response by poster: Awesome responses so far! Thank you all, and keep it up!
posted by Political Funny Man at 11:44 AM on November 3, 2009

I found these two books by Bryan Peterson to be very helpful when I was starting out:

Understanding Exposure is very helpful for understanding the interactions between the different settings that affect your photographs (aperture, shutter speed, focal length, ISO, etc.)

Learning to See Creatively is less technical discusses a lot of techniques related to developing your photographic eye.
posted by crosbyh at 10:22 PM on November 3, 2009

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