Lesson in Photography

I’ve only had my Nikon D3100 for a few weeks now, so I thought it was about time to write-up what got me interested about photography and what I had learnt so far.

Before I made a decision to get a DSLR camera, I studied friends’ photos on Flickr, and other photo sharing sites for months. What struck me was that my friends’ photos looked stunning and had a wow factor to them. Well, a few of them are experienced photographers, so that was expected. I compared their photos to a few of mine. It turned out that my compositions were not that interesting, some overexposed, underexposed, wonky horizons, and a lot of them lacked a focal point.

I only ever had a point and click camera for most of my life and also fallen into the trap of only using “Auto” mode for such a long time that the word “Manual” scares me. Not to mention I’ve also been using zoom a lot without thinking that some of my past photos could have looked far better if I had walked nearer to the subject.

I also spent weeks reading about photography through lots of websites including the popular “Digital Photography School” which is a great site for beginners, and had a great deal of help from my experienced photographer friends too, so that was an added bonus.

Until recently, I had never heard of “Rule of Thirds”. I won’t explain it here, but you can Google it to find out more.

Note: If you really are interested in photography, I recommend looking at photos on Flickr and reading up tutorials. The internet is your friend. Other people’s photos can inspire you, and will give you ideas for locations, compositions and guidelines for exposure settings.

I practiced shooting in manual mode on my point and click camera for a while to really understand exposure settings and white balance before buying the Nikon D3100 which was recommended by a lot of friends based on my budget.

Note: If you do have a point and click camera, and are looking into getting a DSLR camera, I’d recommend switching it into manual mode, and play around with the exposure settings so you really get a good understanding how this works. Not that it will be massively different on a DSLR, but more of a case to see if it’s your cup of tea. I know friends who have bought more expensive DSLRs compared to mine for the sake of it, but have never even used many of the rich features DSLRs have to this day.

As soon as my Nikon D3100 arrived, it was time to put what I had learnt into practice. I spent the first few days learning everything about the camera and what all the buttons do, and taking snaps indoors and outdoors close to my apartment.

What have I learnt so far?

To start with, patience, and lots of practice. I didn’t think for once, that I’d be able to take great photos instantly with my DSLR. Instead, I thought of the D3100 as, giving me a lot more control when taking photos compared to my point and click camera.

Santa Monica beach was the first place I went to after work for some practice with the kit lens, 18-55mm zoom lens.

The beach presented me with lots of good opportunity, however, there were too many people at that time, but I did manage to take one shot that actually looked nice, unfortunately that was away from the beach. I was close to saying “wow”, but it’s not quite there yet. I took around 20 shots of this, each with different exposure settings, so I could go home and learn from this.

Note: Take lots of photos with different settings, after all, you can delete unwanted photos afterwards at no cost. It’s a really good way to learn what effect your settings have on your photos.

I headed to Venice Canals near Marina Del Rey on Saturday for some more practice. This is a fantastic place to start snapping because your surroundings are up close and personal. The day was grey, so didn’t get any colourful shots. I took a few shots of the same house but from different angles this time.

Note: Try different angles too. You might just capture something special.

My next purchase was a 50mm prime lens, because I’ve used one before on a friend’s DSLR and really appreciated it. It’s a fast lens and great in low light conditions, and it has a fixed focal length meaning, no zoom, so, you will have to move with your feet to get closer or further away to your subject.

I revisited the Venice Canals on a sunny day to see what the differences were between my kit lens and the 50mm prime lens. I tried to capture the same photos from the same locations I took the last time out. To my surprise the house on one of the corners just wouldn’t fit in the viewfinder, and I had realized it was impossible to capture the whole house because I had no room to move back. This is because the walkways at the Venice Canals are narrow and you have no room to move back.

Note: I’d say this was a valuable lesson in understanding your lenses. If you do plan on visiting the Venice Canals, bring a zoom lens with you. I’m sure other photographers would have done better with a 50mm lens here but since I was taking photos of buildings it proved to be a challenge.

Next purchase was a tripod and a cable release, because I’ve always been fascinated by photos taken during sunsets and at night.

Note: I have shaky hands when I take photos, so you can imagine what this would do to photos taken in low light conditions, it would be quite blurry. A tripod and a cable release will eliminate any camera shake when taking your shots.

I went back Santa Monica beach. I arrived 30 mins before sunset and scoped out a location where I’d compose the shot. After many shots of the sunset, I still haven’t got the composition that I’m happy with, but it was a start and I shall revisit this spot again.

I headed to Santa Monica pier for a few night shots. Again, composition could be better, but was quite amazed how the lights looked in the shot.

So, I’m still learning something new each day and trying to take a few photos every day if I can, but knowing the basics of photography has helped me take more interesting photos.

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