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What I’ve learned about photography since buying a DSLR

8 things I've learned about photography since buying a DSLR

When I first bought a DSLR, I thought I was pretty good at photography.

I’d been practicing with a digital camera for years. First, it was a 3 megapixel brick that we took on a family trip to Europe. Then, a lighter and slightly better quality digital camera.

Eventually, I upgraded to a DSLR and got serious about photography. I absolutely loved it – the photos I was taking were loads better than the ones I’d captured on my old shitty digital camera.

But when I look back at those photos now… to be honest, most of them are average at best.

The impact that buying a DSLR had on my photography skills was significant. Looking back and analysing what I’ve learned, there were certain lessons that stand out as an important part of developing my photography skills.

Here are 8 things I’ve learned about photography since buying a DSLR.


One World Trade Center, New York City

1. better equipment doesn’t necessarily mean better photos

Don’t get me wrong – I love my DSLR and it has been the number one contributor to improving my photography skills, but once I learned the basics of photography, I realised that these skills could be applied to photography with almost any camera.

For example, an iPhone camera in the hands of a someone who is good at photography will probably result in a better photo than a DSLR in the hands of an amateur. Photography is a skill, not just a piece of equipment.

Related post: How to take awesome photos using your smartphone

Canon DSLR 600D Camera

2. a quality lens makes a big difference

Yes, I did just say that equipment isn’t everything in photography, but it does make a big difference.

I was using the kit lenses that came with my camera for about 2 years after I bought it, which was fine – until it eventually came to the point where my photography skills had surpassed them. I felt like I could take better photos than my lenses would allow.

So I bought a 15-85mm zoom lens and a 50mm prime lens. The difference these lenses made to my photography was significant.

Related post: Choosing the perfect lens for travel photography

New York City

3. light is everything in photography

One of the most important things I’ve learned is that the time of the day or the weather conditions will make a huge difference to how my photos turn out.

If I can help it, I now avoid taking photos in the middle of the day because I know my photos will look a million times better when the sunlight is less harsh in the morning or late afternoon. I also take note of the amount of cloud cover or shadows, and how these will affect my photos.

Photography is really about working with available light and making it work to your advantage.

Blossoms

4. how to focus my photos

Before, I would point my digital camera at whatever I wanted a photo of, and then let the camera focus itself on the scene. Now, I think carefully about what I want the focus of my photo to be before taking it.

The focus of the photo will depend on what’s in it. If it’s a person, their eyes should always be in focus. If it’s an object, I might try to blur the background so that the object in focus stands out. For a landscape, I might need to have everything in focus.

One of the best discoveries I’ve made is back-button auto focus, which makes it way easier to focus on a certain object when using manual mode!

Green Monkeys, Barbados

5. always have my camera ready

I can’t count the number of times I’ve missed a photo moment and kicked myself for not having my camera ready. It’s an inevitable part of photography, but it’s something you can minimise by always having your camera accessible.

When I travel, I usually sling my camera strap over my shoulder or around my neck, which makes it easy to access at a moment’s notice. This might make me look like a dorky tourist, but it’s much easier than having to get my camera out of a bag every time I want to use it.

Have fun with photography

6. How to have fun with photography

Have you ever visited a popular tourist attraction, and noticed that everyone, and I mean everyone, is staring at it through the screen of their camera, their smartphone, or (god forbid) their iPad? Every gadget we own seems to have a camera in it, which has resulted in most people treating photography as something we have to do instead of something we want to do.

This isn’t to say that taking photos of things is bad, I just think that the point is to be creative and document the important moments in our lives, not just to Instagram the shit out of whatever monument is in front of us.

So instead of taking photos because everyone else is, I take photos because I really enjoy it. When I visit an attraction where everyone around me is taking the same old photo, I make an effort to capture it in my own unique way, and then put down my camera to enjoy the sight with my own eyes.

New York City subway

7. how to edit photos well

Photoshop has been part of my creative life ever since I was a teen. I used to mess around with the program when I came home from school, where I’d make grungy-looking art and t-shirt designs to post on deviantart (and no, I won’t show you my old account. It’s too embarrassing).

Since then, I’ve discovered what a powerful tool Photoshop can be for photography. Half of a great photo is getting the editing right. A few simple Photoshop techniques can take a photo from good to amazing.

Canon DSLR camera

8. backing up photos is essential

I usually copy my photos from my SD card to my MacBook, then every month I’ll backup those photos to an external hard drive and delete them off the SD card. When my MacBook hard drive starts filling up, I’ll move some of the older photos over to Google Drive.

By doing this, I have 2 copies at all times. I’ve heard way too many stories of people losing all their photos when something devastating happened to their hard drive or camera, and I can only imagine how upset I would be if this happened to me.


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Ashlea Wheeler

Blogger & Photographer at A Globe Well Travelled
I'm Ashlea, an excitable Australian who loves photography and exploring the world. Find out more about me.

10 Responses to “What I’ve learned about photography since buying a DSLR”

    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That’s great, Lisa! How are you enjoying having a DSLR compared to your previous camera? Are you seeing a big difference in your photos?

      Reply
  1. Monica @ Wok Like Me

    This is just what I needed! I’ve had my Rebel for about 1/2 a year. Sometimes I impress the hell out of myself with it, other times I have no idea what I’m even going for. I’ve been seeing a lot about fixed lenses, but haven’t looked into them. Certainly going to read more now!

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      I know what you mean, Monica – when I first started out with a DSLR, it often seemed like the results were somewhat accidental! But practice definitely improves this 🙂 Fixed lenses can be really great, but they are good in only a few specific situations so it is good to have a lens for general photography, too (like I do with my 15-85mm).

      Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      That seriously happens so often, even to the most experienced photographers! I’m sure you will love having a DSLR when you do get one – it’s like a dream come true for anyone who loves photography 😀

      Reply
  2. Melinda DiOrio

    Great tips! I love #1 It’s so true that an expensive camera doesn’t necessarily make someone a great photographer! I’ve upgraded over the past few years from point-in-shoot to iPhone to starter DSLR to full frame DSLR (which I wish I had purchased in the first place instead of a crop frame). Often, when people look at my photos they say “Wow! That camera is sSOgood!”. I actually find that a little insulting (but never tell them that). Yes I do own a nice camera (and I also have a 50mm lens – LOVE IT), but when I look back through my images over the years, what I see is progression in my practice. Like anything, the more you practice, the more you learn and the better you get. (Of course, a good eye helps too, and you obviously have that!) Have you ever used Lightroom? I’ve had Photoshop for years (more for my design background), but I love Lightroom for editing photos, as well as organizing them.

    Reply
    • Ashlea Wheeler

      Thanks Melinda! I would get offended at people saying that, too – the skill really is in the photographer and not the camera! Though of course a decent camera helps. It’s great that you’re able to look back through your photos and see your improvements over the years – I think that’s an important part of becoming a better photographer! I haven’t used Lightroom but I know many photographers who swear by it 🙂

      Reply

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