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3 Tips for Getting More Than "Happy Accidents" In-Camera

“Your first 10,000 photographs are your worst.” ― Henri Cartier-Bresson 

It doesn’t seem like it’s been that long since I had a love-hate relationship with my camera.  Some images came out exactly how I hoped and envisioned while others seemed lack luster, boring, and even a hot mess.  I thought new gear was the answer but finally realized it was simply a case of user error.  In short, I didn’t understand how to get more than the occasional happy accident when I used my camera.

If this is something you struggle with, here are three tips to help you move past the “happy accident” stage and become consistent in creating the types of images you love.

1.  Learn the Exposure Triangle

Until you understand and can apply the concepts of aperture, shutter speed, and ISO, your images will most likely remain in the snapshot category.  It’s not enough to define each term, you have to be able to implement and integrate each facet of the exposure triangle into your brain, hands and camera all at the same time.  Think of it like learning to drive.  It wasn’t enough to be able to write down the rules of driving unless you could then use those rules while operating a car.  Using a DSLR is much the same way and once you unlock the mystery of f/stop, shutter speed, and ISO you will be amazed at the change in your images.

2.  Practice. 

Like so many other things in life, you will not master a new technique unless you practice, practice, and practice some more.  The only way you will ever master the Big 3 is to practice on a regular basis.  Look for opportunities to use various settings so you can see the results and understand how each part of the triangle works together.  The more frequently you shoot in manual mode or one of the priority modes (aperture or shutter), you’ll begin to develop an instinct so that it becomes second nature.  There will be failures where you scratch your head and wonder what went wrong, but if you keep at it, your settings will move from being a hit or miss into something you determine every time you turn your camera on.  It is so empowering to walk into a room with poor lighting and know you can set your camera and make it work.  A photo project, such as a 365, is one way to ensure you practice your settings on a regular basis.  Make it fun and it won’t feel like work!

3. It’s All About the Glass. 

While most entry level DSLRs come with a lens, they are starter “kit” lens and will only take you so far into your photographic journey.  Spend some time and research the lens market and then invest in a good piece of glass.  Yes, lens can be very spendy but if you do your homework and choose wisely, you will notice an immediate improvement in your images because better lens are sharper and faster than the stock lens that came with your body.  They also usually have more aperture which gives you a means to achieve more variations with your Depth of Field.  My first “big girl” lens purchase was a utility zoom lens for crop sensor bodies and it has been worth its weight in gold!  Also, investigate buying used or refurbished lens.  I have purchased a used lens from my local camera shop and it has served me well.  Again, do your homework and figure out what will work for your budget and replace that kit lens.

It takes time and effort to master photography but if you can learn and apply the exposure triangle, practice the concepts until they are second nature and invest in an affordable lens, your photography skills will develop faster than you realize.  Remember, have fun and don’t be afraid to try new things!  Photography is a journey, not a destination.


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