tips for dslr beginners

12 Tips for DSLR Beginners

Mandy Photography Tips 24 Comments

You’ve got your DSLR – what next?

Below are 12 Tips for DSLR Beginners that I would give, and have given to beginners, so these should get you started:

1. Don’t get out of auto mode – only if you want to

Everyone says ‘get out of auto mode’, and they’re right! To use the full potential of a DSLR then you do need to use Manual (M), Aperture Priority (AV) and Shutter Priority (TV) modes.


When you’re ready, you don’t have to do it straight away.

If you’re moving from a Point and Shoot, and you want to use the auto modes because they’re familiar, or you just don’t want to feel useless. Then go ahead and shoot in auto, program, landscape, portrait, sport or macro modes etc… You can always try out the manual modes alongside the auto ones if you like?

The image at the top of this post was taken by me on a Point and Shoot in auto mode?

Not bad? I like it!

Instead, look at and use the rules of composition when shooting, change your perspective of the shot and look at what’s the focal point of your image – first, then moving out of auto mode will come more naturally.

2. Shoot, Shoot, Shoot and then Shoot some more….

This is my New Years resolution this year. The more you shoot the more comfortable you get with your camera and all its buttons.

You learn what you like to shoot and find more ways of shooting it, which means you’re learning composition.

You learn what inspires you, and what type of photography you want to shoot more of.

And with digital film the sky’s the limit because it’s so cheap to shoot, so there’s plenty of room to explore and try new things.

If it goes wrong it really doesn’t matter…

3. Have fun!

Enjoy your camera, enjoy your photography.

Photography is an expensive hobby. And you’ve spent a lot of money on buying a DSLR – so enjoy it!

Get use out of it, shoot when you want to and take images of what inspires you or catches your eye. Look at what you’ve taken, and take more of what you like.

Or challenge yourself and try something new. Or you could practice what you don’t like to take and see what happens?

Then you’ll know more about what you want to learn and get better at next…

4. You’re not going to be Ansel Adams over night?

Sorry to burst the bubble but a DSLR is not a magic wand that can spit out absolutely amazing photographs every time.

The camera is just your tool (whichever camera it may be) to take and record images, you’re the one in control, you create the image, you’re the photographer.

And it’s ok if not every shot is a masterpiece because photography is a journey.

You wont get there straight away and there are no shortcuts or teleporters to photography brilliance.

You’ll take a lot of shots you don’t like (I know I have).

It’s a journey that you should enjoy, it’s not a race. And you’ll learn a lot along the way (about more things than photography). It’s an amazing medium and you’ll get a lot out of it if you’re anything like me.

You see things in a unique way and that makes you and your photography special.

5. Learn how your camera works

learn how your camera works

learn how your camera works

Don’t panic, a little knowledge goes a long way…

I know my eyes glaze over when people start talking physics and prisms etc… and reading a camera manual can be tedious.

But if you have a little understanding of how your camera works, and what functions are available to you. Like how it deals with light e.g. shutter, aperture and ISO. Then a lot more shooting opportunities become available to you.And you are able to shoot in low light, night and sport photography situations with confidence.

Not to mention easing the tension when your camera doesn’t understand exactly what it is you want it to do! Then you can take a photo of a window that you’re happy with, instead of putting your camera through the window!!!

Knowing how the camera sees light and how it records light will make you a better photographer.

6. Shoot in RAW

Do what now?

RAW is a type of camera file format like a jpeg. But it’s not compressed and holds a lot more information about the light that your camera has captured. This does make the file size a lot larger than a jpeg so watch the image count on your memory card.

You can change your settings to shoot in RAW in the quality menu in your camera.

Then you can adjust the way that light is handled yourself (the camera does this automatically with jpegs) using your RAW processing software. You generally get some free with your camera which is a good place to start, or you can use a software package like Photoshop, Aperture or Lightroom to do it.

You have a lot more editing options when you shoot in RAW like being able to adjust white balance, contrast, exposure etc… which gives you more creativity as a photographer. And if you save the original RAW file then you can go back in the future and still play around with it.

You’re limited with what you can do with a jpeg in post processing. And I wish I had started shooting in RAW earlier, so I could try out some new techniques with some of my older images. So learn from my mistakes!

Hang tight we’ll be looking at this in more depth soon – update: check it out here.

7. Post Processing is not the work of the Devil!

Some photographers hate it and some love it.

For me personally, I think post processing is an extension of and compliments what we do with a camera, and is part of the creative process of a photographer.

Remember a human eye is a lot more complex than a camera no matter how good they are, they haven’t caught up yet… so you never get exactly what you see in real life.

And at the end of the day the digital darkroom (post processing software) is a modern extension of the original darkroom. And even has some of the darkroom techniques (or digital versions of) like dodge and burn and unsharp mask included.

It’s just photography tools evolving – just like cameras do.

So getting a good grasp of what you can do with your images, and how you can do it with post processing software will put another string on your photography bow!

8. Share your photos

Don’t let your images sit on your hard drive and gather digital dust.

Get your photographs out there and share them with your family, friends or the world!

Flickr is a great place to start, and it’s free for the first 200 images. Ther’re great communities and groups that you can join on Flickr, and tons of other photographers to talk to and images to look at.

Here’s my flickr page to check out.

There are loads of great photo sharing sites out there besides Flickr. You can try these suggestions if you like, or Pinterest is a new social image sharing site that’s worth a look?

9. Check your gear before you go out…

I tell the kids this all the time on the way out to school: have you got your lunch, have you got your PE kit or where’s your bookbag.

If only I listened to my own advice!

You don’t want to be like me, and realise once you’ve got where you’re going that you have forgotten to charge your battery or the spare memory cards are still on the top in the kitchen. It only happened once – ok maybe twice, but it’s a real pain when it happens!

Always check your gear before you go out. Have you got the spare lens that you want to use and the memory cards, battery, filters, oh and don’t forget the tripod?

It may be handy to write a checklist – I love lists!

10. Look for inspiration…

Look for inspiration all around you. You’ll notice that this becomes easier the more you shoot. Or look on Flickr, Digital Photography School forum, Pinterest or a favourite magazine perhaps?

Follow the pros and see what they do, try to emulate what they’ve taken to see how the image works. I’ve done this myself and it’s a great way to learn new things. How do the camera settings affect how the image looks?

Hold on a minute (just for the sake of clarity): now I didn’t say go out there and copy and tell people it was your idea, I said emulate –

Try re-taking an image or idea that you’ve seen and learn from it. But then use what you’ve just learnt in your own images and ideas. Put your stamp, twist, personality and passion into an image, and then say hey look what I did!

11. Buy more gear?

purple flower

example of depth of field/bokeh

It’s half the fun of being a gadget geek…… I mean photographer.

One of the first bits of gear I bought when I started shooting with a DSLR was a 50mm f/1.8 Lens. Absolutely fantastic, it’s the best thing I’ve ever bought, a great little lens and cheap to boot!

Great for trying out a prime lens (aka zooming with your feet) and depth of field/bokeh as it goes down to f1.8.

I’m on a budget so my gear list expands with time and birthdays!

So when it does I like to make the right choice, think about what I need/want and do a spot of window shopping first.

12. Read the Photographer blog!

You know I had to…

If any of the above has caught your attention, then I’ll be going into it in more depth here soon.

The best thing to do is to sign up for free email updates below and click join now, then you won’t miss anything…


Comments 24

  1. Nice post! I like the focus on composition and not worrying about getting out of Auto Mode. I find a lot of people trying to go straight to Manual without knowing the fundamentals.

  2. Post

    Thanks, if you’ve got an understanding of composition that will only help when you move into manual modes. And I think make it more natural rather than jumping into manual because you think you have to?

  3. With my gift of a Nikon D7000′ I found it the most natural thing to get snap happy and learn how to get the picture in auto mode. I thought there was nothing I could do wrong, the camera did all the work for me. I see now that is what you talk about as composition. I played with it for over a year just learning that. I find out after starting classes that I have an eye for things like leading lines, and focal points. That was a nice way to start the classes but I soon learned how much I didn’t know. Going to manual was much more difficult than I anticipated, but it has been fun learning. I suppose another year of practicing is in the works.

    1. Post

      I think as a photographer I’m always learning – and I love that!

      Let’s face it composition’s a real Art form and there’s always something new to try (and learn).

      So whether it’s following the rules of composition or whether it’s breaking them, it’s always rewarding and fun…

      Glad you’re enjoying it!

  4. Tip #2, shoot shoot shoot is great advice! The others certainly come into play however diving right in and firing away helps you dial in on your interests/style while giving you “on the job” training so to speak. Great list, thanks for sharing!

  5. Post
  6. Thanks so much for this great article Mandy ! I just purchased a Canon T3i and I’m very excited. We are moving to Europe, for the second time, and cannot wait to start capturing all the wonderful things I see with more than just a “purse camera”.
    I have been feeling a bit overwhelmed with all there is to learn about using a DSLR, I’m a newbie, but your article helped to put my mind at ease a bit. I look forward to reading more !

  7. Post

    Congratulations, that’s a nice camera!

    That’s why I write beginner tips because it can be overwhelming when you first get a DSLR. I’m glad to hear It’s helped and hope you get more out of this site…. if you need anything in particular then just shout (my contact info is on the about page).

    I know you’ll have fun shooting in Europe – wish I was there too!

  8. Nice article Mandy! You are very much correct on tip #1, I’ve been pressured to get out of auto mode since I started using DSLR…although, I do try out the creative modes of my camera and usually, ending up using the auto mode most of the times. I keep shots taken with creative modes so I could study them and undertand so become better (I hope?). Little by little, I am trying to upgrae my gears since it is very expensive…and you’re right, have to enjoy this hobby otherwise, everything will be a waste and if I may add, we have to loved taking pictures in order to enjoy them…which what I am doing…hehehe, thanks so much for sharing your photography knowledge and please keep it coming and have more patience with us beginners.

  9. Dear Mandy,
    The tips given by you are fantastic and are very useful to a beginner
    I just bought a DSLR for myself a Nikon D3100,and I hope I have done the correct thing after using a Sony 5MP for about 5 years.I shall approach to you for anything specific.Thanks

  10. Hi Mandy

    What insperation. Which was the best tip. I don’t know. They are all informative. I just received by post the Canon 600D and love it. Wished for more but as you “Budget restraints” You have another fan reading your emails etc. You have an easy style which makes it easy for us older generation to understand.

    Many thanks


  11. Wow, Thank you for a great article, very informative. feel like I’ve just joined a fantastic family of friends. After many a long search I’ve just got a Eos Rebel T2i, my choice was made simple since this camera came with a complete package of Three lenses and a flash as well as a 32gb sd card. It will do perfectly to get familiar with DSLR, for now. I will be taking your advice and getting ot there to “shoot, shoot, shoot”

    Many Thanks

  12. I think you may have sent this to me because when I subscribed you asked what I wanted to learn…If so, thanks for reading and sending this along….great blog.

  13. I use manual mode 99% of the time and it’s a lot of trial and error. And the shots where it’s a once in a life time then I have no hesitation moving back in auto mode. As I’d rather get the shot than miss it completely because my settings are way off. There are times when I carry a second camera, an older one which I leave in auto mode. I do this to compare the same photos. Some of my best photos have been in auto mode, and there are no regrets. I only carry the second camera on a planned day out.

  14. Mandy! THANK YOU for this blog! I’m a total new kid on the block with my new DSLR. I feel like a complete dork at the moment … can’t seem to get a single shot I like and with all these options on this camera, it’s overwhelming.

    This post struck the chord I needed: I must make the choice to slow down and enjoy the process of learning. I have all the time in the world to play with my new toy and figure this thing out. With the help of your blog, I’ll get there.

    Thank you for keeping the topic simple. It’s exactly what I need right now. :o)

  15. Wow that was unusual. I just wrote an very long comment but after I clicked submit my comment didn’t appear.
    Grrrr… well I’m not writing all that over again.
    Anyways, just wanted to say superb blog!

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  17. Just upgraded from Sony RX100 (for which I still find unknown features after one year) to a A58. My first DSLR. I am stubborn and want to do everything through trial and error like not settling for the Auto shoot. With the New Year I promised myself to listen and to take advantage of all the features. Your sentence about sticking with the Auto caught my attention and it makes a lot of sense.
    Thank you for not using technical slang but writing in a language I can understand.
    Looking forward to more of your “common sense”.

  18. I am so thankful for your info. I have been into photography since age 12 and now that I am retired I have a lot more time to pursue my hobby! Just went to Folly Beach, SC for the holiday and had a lot of wonderful opportunities to shoot in Auto as well as manual!

    I have a Nikon D7100 that I have had since June and just really started using it as I am always ready to grab the D5100 since I am more familiar with it. The nifty fifty is my next challenge. I just have to put it on the camera and use it.

    If someone that reads this post is in need of a Pentak or Minolta lens please feel free to email me and we can discuss a plan. I got them through an auction, but they do not fit the cameras I own. Would be glad to discuss the specifics of the lenses and if they fit your needs I am only seeking to get postage for mailing the lenses to the lower 48 states. I hope I have not overstepped my bounds by seeing if someone could use these lenses. I am definitely a shutterbug enthusiast! An honest person willing to pass on a blessing to someone that is equally enthusiastic, but on a strict budget!!

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  20. Thanks for this information, I am only 16 years old and I definitely want to be a professional photographer but I am still learning and I am still learning how my camera works.

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