If I started photography all over again this is advice I would give myself.
To DSLR or not to DSLR?
Digital SLR: digital single lens reflex. Meaning, when you see through the optical viewfinder, “what you see is what you get.”
There are many benefits shooting with a DSLR vs a phone or compact camera.
First of all, the sensor of a DSLR is bigger than your iPhone. That means, your photos will have less noise (that ugly pixel stuff when you shoot at low light situations without a flash on your phone). DSLR has better “high-ISO” performance. That means, if you like shooting in dark situations (at night, indoors) without using a flash– shooting with a DSLR will be beneficial.
Generally, a DSLR has two types of sensors: a “crop” APS-C sensor, and a “full frame” sensor.
A “crop” sensor means that whatever lens you use, the focal length will be multiplied by (usually) a factor of 1.5x or 1.6. So using a 18mm lens on a 1.6x sensor is roughly a 28mm “full frame” equivalent lens.
A “full frame” camera is a larger sensor than the “crop sensor” DSLR. That means, when you use a 18mm lens, it will actually be a 18mm lens.
Clarification: shooting with a “full frame” sensor doesn’t necessarily mean your image quality will be superior to a “crop sensor”. There actually are many crop sensor DSLR cameras that have superior image quality to full frame DSLR cameras.
Why this obsession with full-frame then?
Many photographers want to buy a full frame camera because they think the image quality will be superior, and therefore they will make better photos.
For myself, I bought a full frame camera in the past, because I wanted to show off that I was a “serious” photographer.
Benefits of a DSLR
A full frame DSLR will allow your photos to have more “depth of field”– which makes tour photos look more three-dimensional.
Also, usually a full frame camera captures more “dynamic range”– generally meaning the skin tones of your subjects will look more pastel like and natural, and the images are usually sharper, with more texture and details.
But shooting with a full frame DSLR won’t make better photos. Only composition, emotion, and soul can do that.
What DSLR to buy?
If you’re new to photography, and want to shoot with a DSLR, just buy the cheapest (used) DSLR you can find. Try to experiment with it, before “upgrading”.
Personally, I am a fan of Canon, because that is what I started with. The used lens market is generally better than Nikon.
How to shoot with a DSLR
Honestly, shooting fully manual is overrated. I recommend just shooting in “P” (program) mode, where your camera automatically chooses the aperture (how much light enters your lens) and shutter-speed (how fast the lens “blinks” to let in light).
For ISO, just set it to ISO 800 if you shoot color, and ISO 1600 if you shoot black and white. A higher ISO allows a faster shutter speed, which means your photos are less likely to be blurry. When in doubt about ISO settings just set it to “auto ISO”. Focus more on shooting, less on technical settings.
How to make better photos on a DSLR
First tip: start with a clean background. Photograph a simple coffee cup against an all black, all white, or all wood background on your desk, table, or against a wall. By having a simple background, your subject will better pop out.
Second tip: when shooting portraits, have your subject stand in a doorway, or next to a window with natural light shining in. This is the best way to make your subjects have nice light on their face, and for the image to “pop”.
Third tip: shoot jpeg+ RAW. JPEG is the default images that your camera processes, which generally look good. And you can upload them easily and share them easily. With RAW, you need to process your photos (I use and recommend you Adobe Lightroom and free ERIC KIM PRESETS). Processing RAW images gives you full control over how the final product looks. But processing RAW photos often takes a long time, and takes away from your shooting time.
How to make better photos (in general)
Start off by photographing your friends, family, and loved ones. They will be patient with you, pose for you, and cooperate. Also, try to photograph them with hand gestures. Ask them to play with their hair, adjust their glasses, or put their hand on their chin (like they were deep in thought).
To make better photos, keep it simple.
Treat your photography like sculpture: subtract distractions and superfluous elements from your photo, rather than adding complications.
After you’re comfortable shooting family, shoot street photography— everyday photos of strangers in public.
Start off by asking permission to photograph strangers, what they call a “street portrait.” The first assignment: ask a bunch of strangers for an entire day to “make a portrait” of them. Keep asking, until you get 5 people to say “yes” and 5 people to say “no.”
Then work on capturing candid street photos without permission. Do this by smiling, and shooting as if you were photographing something behind them.
To iPhone or not to iPhone?
Ultimately, most experienced photographers I know prefer shooting with their phone than their DSLR. A DSLR is often bulky, and annoying to carry around on a daily basis.
For myself, I think DSLR’s are useful for wedding photographers or commercial photographers, but not good for hobbyist passionate photographers. Instead, I would recommend a Ricoh GR II camera — which has a “crop sensor” DSLR image sensor, in a tiny body.
Or just shoot with your iPhone or Android device and process you photos with the free VSCO app.
Finding personal meaning with your photography
Ultimately, to be a photographer isn’t about making good photos. It is about finding more purpose and meaning in our lives.
For a basic overview on photography, I recommend my free online photography boot camp course. And to also buy a copy of PHOTO JOURNAL, to reflect why you make images.
Ultimately make photos because they inspire you to appreciate the beauty in the mundane, the beauty of everyday life.
If you’re new to photography, start here:
- Free Photography Bootcamp
- The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Photography
- 100 Photography Tips for Beginners
The Fundamentals of Photography
- Why Photography?
- Everyone is a Photographer
- How to take better pictures
- How to take better selfies
- How to Paint With Light
- Why Bokeh is Overrated
Street Photography 101 »
- The Ultimate Beginner’s Guide to Street Photography
- 70 Street Photography Tips
- 15 Street Photography Techniques
Personal Photography »
Photography Entrepreneurship »
- How to Do What You Love for a Living
- Should I Follow My Passion For a Living?
- How to Create an MVP (Minimum Viable Product)
Photography Equipment »
- What is the Perfect Camera For You?
- What to Consider When Buying a Camera
- More Megapixels, More Problems
How to Take Better Photos »
- How to Take Better Photos
- How to Capture Emotion in Your Photos
- How to Create a “Curiosity Gap” in Your Photos
Composition Lessons »
- Composition Lesson #1: Triangles
- Composition Lesson #2: Figure-to-ground
- Composition Lesson #3: Diagonals
Photography Assignments »
- 40 Practical Photography Assignments
- 15 Street Photography Assignments
- 25 Photography New Year’s Resolutions
Contact Sheets »
- Street Photography Contact Sheets
- Street Photography Contact Sheets Volume II
- Debunking the “Myth of the Decisive Moment”
Editing (Image Selection) »
- Each Photo You Take is an “Attempt”
- How to Overcome Photographer’s Block
- Why Do You Need “Inspiration” to Shoot?
- Grain is Beautiful
- Are Filters “Cheating” in Photography?
- Video: Introduction to Editing, Processing, and Workflow in Lightroom