So now you bought your brand new flashy SLR camera, a couple of nice prime lenses and a pocket full of film. You are ready to start taking better pictures. The very first thing you will want to do is


Chances are your new camera has many, many more buttons,dials and gadgets than your point and shoot camera did. You'd do well to know what they do before heading out.

Great! You now know all about aperture and shutter priority. You know about the automatic modes built in to your camera such as portrait mode, landscape mode and macro. You know about spot metering. You even know how to set the quartz clock on your camera! This is fun. You know how to operate your new camera, so now you can run out and take some pictures. Well, not quite. Turn off the damn date and time feature! Nothing is more distracting than a dayglow orange printout in the bottom corner of a print. It serously ruins the shot IMHO .

You head out to burn a roll of film. Nice flower! Set the camera to macro and Click! Did you see that car? Click! Awe look at little Johnny sitting there in the sun. How cute! It's nice and sunny, this should turn out nice. Click! Many clicks later the darn roll is finished. You bring it in for developing. To Wal-Mart. (It's very cheap and 1 hour to boot!)

Upon inspecting the prints you realise that you've turned Johnny's cute little face into a sundial. Next time you'll remember to pay attention to available light, it's strength and direction. Or use a flash to get rid of the nasty shadows. Yes, a flash will often help in outdoor, sunny shots. Shit there's a shadow covering half the flower! Hmmm, looks vaguely like the shape of a camera lense. You'll want to pay attention to the shadows you cast when taking macro shots next time.

Weeks pass, and you feel that you still could be taking even better pictures. What to do?

  1. Read, Read, Read: There are many online resources to help improve your technique.
  2. Look at other peoples' pictures: See what you like about them, and how you could apply that knowledge to your photography.
  3. Have other people look at your pictures: Not just mom and dad. Try and get honest, constructive critisism, from people who's pictures you admire. Mom and dad just love little Johnny; he's cute, he's in the picture and that's all they're looking at. There is often more to a picture than the main subject.

Other things to consider

Use a tripod: Many seemingly out of focus shots are caused by the photographer moving while exposing the shot, and even by some of the mechanics in the camera itself. A tripod eliminates the human element.

Quality Film: Buy names you know, like Kodak or Fuji. Try Quick-e-Mart film at your own risk.

Yes, shoot slides! You now have to worry about proper exposure with your new SLR. What you see on a slide is what you shot. You'll be able to examin the exposures to see if you got it right, Unlike with negatives and prints, where exposure is often compensated for during printing. Overexposed is overexposed, compensated for or not.Once you know your exposures are fine, use negatives. Besides, slide is cheaper in the long run to shoot as there is no printing.(I know this contradicts what was said above. It's a matter of personal opinion.)

Carry a notepad: Again, you are learning proper exposure now that you got an SLR. Write down the settings you used while taking pictures so you know why the picture didn't turn out right (or why it did) when you get it back.

Don't throw away the point and shoot yet: The very first step in getting any picture, good or bad, is being there. Keep the point and shoot and carry it wherever you go. Your $1,000 camera with the 600mm f4.5 image stabilizing ultra telephoto lense won't get that picture of Bambi grazing by the side of the road if it's at home. Something is better than nothing.

Consider using professional shops for all of your processing needs. Sure, the processing is practically completely automatic. It does however require human maintenance and intervention. I much prefer knowing that a professional handled my negatives from Christmas. It's still one hour processing, and just slightly more expensive. It beats the alternative of having Chuck from sporting goods at Wal-Mart scratch or get fingerprints on them. Besides, using terms like E-6 or C-41 with poor Chuck might confuse him into thinking you're taking a shot at his Battleship. You'd be surprised how often otherwise good exposures can be ruined by poor processing, old chemicals or damaged negatives at a generic one hour place. It's not always the photographer who ruined the shot. Sure, you can shop while you wait for your picutres at Wal-Mart, but are your memories worth the dollar you saved?