So you got an SLR? Now what?

Photographer working

How many of you got new camera for Christmas?

I know of a few friends who did. In fact a few people actually wrote me pre-Christmas with camera questions. I’m always flattered when people ask me those btw. :)

A few years ago a friend of mine helped me put together a little course to teach locals about their camera’s. It taught people the basics of shooting with an SLR (manual) style camera… and through our class we not only “taught” people this but showed them hands on. It was a lot of fun to teach and I actually hope we can do it again… but the last year or so things have been so busy with home schooling the boys… job changes… life in general… that I just haven’t had the time to organize that again and teach another class.

_CMS0319So! I thought it be fun to do a quick blog post teaching some basics… that will either confuse you or my hope, help you.

So lets start with covering some basics.

1. Just because you get a good camera, does not mean you are now a professional photographer. Give credit when due :) – professional photographers work long and hard to get their businesses established… it not only takes a bucket load of money to buy up gear but also countless hours and practice to get there. I started my business in 2007 after purchasing my first SLR camera, a Canon Rebel… and while I thought I was all high and mighty then, I truly don’t feel I was a “professional” until about 2010. While I stayed very busy my first few years as a “photographer” – I didn’t feel like I found my nitch or who I was until closer to 2010. In fact the last few years I really feel I have come more into my own, even more so. I think that is just something as photographers grow and experience, they only get better. So I hope :)

2. Not all lenses are created equally. Most of your cameras you got for Christmas will come with what they call a KIT LENS. This isn’t necessarily a “bad” lens… it however is not a professional lens. If you thought camera bodies were expensive, wait until you begin looking at lenses.

3. Go ahead an invest in an editing software. My favorite is Lightroom 4 for Mac. Great great great program. Another great starter out program to use would be Photoshop Elements 9 and up. Check ebay, you can find it so cheap… its a great program and has lots of great features that even I as a professional still use some times.

4. Using the GREEN AUTO box at the top is the enemy :) – learn to hateavoid it.. I have not used the “auto” setting on my camera since 2007 when I started my business. If you intend to start a photography business, you have got to learn how to control your light and use your camera… relying on an auto setting is just not going to cut it. If you are a busy mom with lots of crazy kiddos, go ahead and leave it on auto ;-) – but let me encourage you, even the mom with 4 boys like myself, has time to shoot in manual ;-) – even with the fastest of kids. All it takes is a little practice and I promise, its worth it.


Here come’s the confusing part….

The Exposure Triangle:

Below is a simple diagram that will hopefully help explain how all this “Manual” stuff works.

– Light enters your camera and lens in 3 ways:

– Aperture
– Shutter Speed


Lets start with what the Aperture is:

– The best way to think about it…. is to think about your eye. The pupil of the eye, opens and closes depending on how much light is in the room, right? If it is really bright out our eye pupil gets smaller. If it is darker out, it opens up and gets wide. The same goes with a lens. If you are in a darker room, your lens has got to be WIDE OPEN, in order to let in “more light.”

Here’s a photo to help you visualize better….


This is where having a “better” lens comes into play. Remember that KIT lens I mentioned above? Most KIT lenses aperture will only allow you to shoot at maybe a 4.5 Aperture or higher. Its so confusing btw… because the LARGER the number (higher), the SMALLER your aperture.

Being able to adjust the aperture will affect your shutter speed as well. It also will affect your depth of field.

I’m confusing myself as I type this out. Feel my pain as I fail try to sum this up in a written post. It be so much easier to just show everyone hands on :) – Can you tell I am more of a hands on type of person? I should have just video’d this. Wait, I hate videos… Youtube “how to shoot manual” if this is completely confusing you at the moment haha, or continue on as I process more for you.

So the KIT Lense… If your goal is to get that “dreamy” look to your photos, I suggest you look into a simple prime lens.

A great one to start with is the Canon (or nikon) 50mm 1.8 – Amazon has this for about $100 bucks. THIS IS CHEAP for a prime lens. However, bit of warning. This lens feels cheap and looks cheap. Some people call it the “fantastic plastic” – It is nothing fancy to hold in your hand but it gives a beautiful photograph. Also if you do buy that lens, be careful you don’t hit it on anything. Its easily broken. I’ve broken 2 :-\ – if you would like a heavier duty lens with the same focal length, invest in a 50mm 1.4 instead. Its a much better quality and will last you much longer. I have had mine for about 5 years now and it doesn’t skip a beat. Its a great lens. I probably use that lens 85% of the time when I do portraits.

Before moving onto what is next.

I will list out what gear I am using…

Camera body: Canon 5D Mark III – Before anyone clicks over to that and see’s the price tag. Let me start off by saying I didn’t start with this camera :) – My first camera was around $500.00 – a Canon Rebel.. I then upgraded not long after to a Canon 30D (used on ebay for $500) – I then upgraded from that to a Canon 5D Classic. I used my 5D classic up until I got my Mark III. Going from the 5D (that I also got used), to the Mark III was a huge jump for me… but needed to be done. I paid cash for it and got it direct from canon as a refurb. I love it and have had no issues with it the last 2 years. I highly recommend it. Its amazing.

Lenses: 50mm 1.4 Canon, 28mm 1.8 Canon and 85mm 1.8 Canon. I use those 3 lenses and that is it. When I photograph wedding’s I do try to borrow or rent the Canon 70-200 2.8 L Lens. Its an amazing lens and I love it. I just cant justify buying it right now since I shoot primarily small events and portraits. You can view all those lenses over here.

Camera Bag: This sorta thing does not matter really. Find a bag you like and go with it. There are tons out there. Currently I am using an Epiphanie Bag and a homemade Tracy Joy Bag (she no longer makes them but its similar to a shoot sac). Another great site for fashionable camera bags at a good price would be Jo Totes. Beautiful bags!

External Flash: I use a Canon 580EX II Speedlite. Ive had it for years and paid about $350.00 – ugh. Told you, camera gear is no joke. That flash sells for over $700.00 now… not sure why though. There are other cheaper alternatives out there, but I do love my speedlite. Its fast and gets the job done.

Whatever gear you go with, I strong encourage paying cash and saving for what you want. Do not go in debt to buy a camera….



– ISO is the noise or grain in your image. Adjusting this will give you the ability to shoot in lower light settings, when teamed with a WIDER Aperture. (remember wider aperture means smaller number…)

– So lets say you are in a very dark room…. and you have your LENS set to a 1.8 Aperture. Yet, you still cannot seem to get a proper exposure because it is so dark. At this point you would UP your ISO.

– The thing to remember, esp if you are shooting with a Canon Rebel or more starter level SLR, is that the higher the ISO gets, the more grain you will have in your image. Grain isn’t always a bad thing, it can look very vintage and “photo appropriate” depending on what you are taking an image of… but with portraits you do like your image to be as detailed and crisp as possible… so a good rule of thumb on a basic SLR camera, don’t set your ISO any higher than 800.

– If you are shooting outdoors on a sunny day, your ISO can stay around a 100.
– Indoors with good window light 500.
– In a dark bar, 1600 or higher.

That is, IF you are shooting wide open (at a 1.8 aperture). Your ISO will change depending on the aperture and shutter speed you intend to use. I know… confusing :)

That brings us to…

Shutter Speed:

Both the ISO and the Aperture combined will affect your shutter. Or I guess you could say each of these 3 things affect each other.

The shutter speed is how fast your cameras lens opens and closes…. So if we think “eye ball” again – it is the “eye lid blinking.” :)

Click your shutter down and you will hear it open and close very fast. You can control how fast and how slow this part of your lens operates when shooting in manual. It gives you the ability to create a FREEZE (which is what most people want) or a blurred effect.

Whenever I shoot portraits I try to never allow my shutter speed to get below a 100. I have a pretty steady hand, so if you tend to be a bit shaky, let your “rule” be to never shoot under a shutter of 125. You also need to take into consideration what you are shooting. If your kid is running around like a hyper chipmunk, then you should probably make sure your shutter is no less than 150-200. If not higher.

Once your shutter gets below a 100, it will open and close slowly… so if you were to shake or the subject you are photographing move, the image would be blurry.

So how does this come into play with your Aperture and ISO.

Here’s a scenario:

Let’s say you are at your kids birthday party…. and its indoors… You start to set your camera and you set your Aperture to 1.8, because it is indoors and you realize you will need your lens as wide open as it can be, since there is not much light… You then set your ISO to 500. When you look into your camera to set your “shutter speed” however, you realize your shutter is around a 60…. way to slow. This is where your ISO comes into play. You would bump that ISO up until that 60 shutter, is at least a 125. Just remember. The Higher that ISO, the more grain.

So lets talk real quick about EXPOSURE, which has to do with the setting of your shutter speed:


With all this stuff combined. Your Aperture. Your ISO. Your Shutter Speed… you ultimately are in charge of your photographs exposure.

You could shoot your image to be BRIGHTER, or you could shoot a darker image, with more shadows, more contrast, etc..etc…

When you look inside your camera, or on top in some cases… here is what you will see:


The left number is your ISO – the Middle number is your SHUTTER and the f8 (far right) number is your Aperture. Also called an F-Stop.

The line thing with a bunch of numbers below it, that is your exposure meter.

It is pretty self explanatory…. When you adjust your exposure, the little DOT (line) that you are able to move with your exposure wheel on your camera, is your exposure. This small wheel btw is typically located at the top front of your camera. Some times depending on your camera it may be at the back…

So if you move that little line down where the numbers become negatives, that means your exposure is “underexposed” – the center is “supposedly a perfect exposure” – and then the plus side is “over exposing”.

The thing with exposure is that depending on the situation, you may not always want a PERFECT exposure.

When you shoot into a sunset, your exposure will not be “spot on” same goes if you are creating a silhouette like this….


It really is just something you learn over time, the more you shoot the more you will understand what situations call for. A good rule of thumb though is to start with the middle and work around that :) – to see what works.

There is more you can read up on in the realm of exposure.

Such as HISTOGRAMS… but for me when you start out, there’s no reason to really get into all that… in fact I never look at my histogram’s any more. Google “Explanation of Histograms” and you can enjoy the confusing discussion about that if you want :)

So IF you read ALL THE ABOVE, you are either super confused. Kinda sorta got it… stoked… or not sure what to think.
Hopefully some of it made sense :)

There are SO MANY amazing videos on youtube though that can help walk you through all of this.

If you DO NOT know how to ADJUST these settings – read your manual! I read mine like 5 times when I got my first camera :) – OR check out videos explaining how to change settings on whatever model camera you have. I was going to explain that in this post too… but the way I adjust my Mark III would not be the same as you would adjust your camera… they are all a little different…

Shooting manual for me was something I thankfully learned when I was a teenager. I took a very basic photography class in high school… where we used real film cameras… so at a young age I became familiar with how to use all the settings I mentioned above… I think learning it young without a doubt helped me retain it faster as an adult.

It was something I literally had to FORCE myself to do though, regardless.

Esp. when it came to photographing my kids playing.

I would get frustrated when I couldn’t capture the moment because my aperture was set wrong or my exposure was way to dark or to bright. It was so worth forcing myself to stick with it.

While I am far from the “best” photographer out there. I “oohh and ahhh” over many photographer’s to this day. I compare myself often and don’t feel I measure up. I think we are always our worst critic. I however have gained confidence in this business because of amazing clients who value me and encouragement from other photographers.

I am thankful a friend back in 07′ encouraged me to start my business…. a friend who btw was a stranger I met before boarding a plane back when we lived in Ohio :) – who if she is reading knows exactly who she is ;-) – a friend who told me one day “you take really good photos… I think you’d be great at it.” That simple encouragement from her gave me that push to go for it…. and having young kids who I dreaded putting in front of a white backdrop in the mall at the Picture People or Sears Studio… was enough for me.

I love what I do.
… and I especially love encouraging those who read my blog to learn how to take better pictures. Even if they have no intention of ever being a professional (trust me, its not for everyone)… I can however encourage and teach you all to use what you got to its full potential.

So put that camera to “M” (manual) next time and have some fun adjusting all the above settings :)

I promise. You’ll be glad you did.

—- If you enjoyed this post do share it on facebook or pin it. I would love to get my blog out there more… I love meeting new readers, so share away. You all make my blog special and I’m thankful for those who share it.

—- Feel free to check out my photography at – My work is also featured all over – the above title image came from a recent shoot for Boba. I look forward to sharing some of those photos soon ;-)

—- Comment too if you get a sec, letting me know if you like this type of post :) – or fill out this survey. Im trying to gauge what you all enjoy reading and the more I hear from you, the better I can make my blog. Thanks again everyone!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *