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I recently bought my new DSLR camera Nikon D3400 and I had so much things to learn before using it, that I thought my pictures will never be good and that it is better to use mobile phone or compact camera. Then I read manual and watched few tutorials. After that, things had more sense. My pictures improved and I learned how to properly use it. I will share my process of learning how to use it with you. Hope that it will be easier for you, then it was for me.

 1.        Read the manual

Nikon D3400

My Nikon D3400 camera. Taken with iPhone 7.

First thing that will bother you when you see your new camera are different buttons and their meaning. You will see that your pictures are changing depending on pressing them. This is why you have to read manual to know how to properly adjust the buttons. There are also a lot of settings and options that you need to adjust according to the light, picture type and format. Possibilities are unlimited when you learn how to use it and when you adjust it by yourself.



2.        Learn about photography composition

The main thing is to place the object of focus in the right part of the frame. Pictures are always more beautiful if the object of focus is not in the center. That’s why there is rule of thirds that present two lines horizontally and two lines vertically. Object of composition should be in the interception of this lines. There is also the rule of leading lines that suggest if you have some kind of leading line to the object of composition, it will make picture more beautiful. For example if you take picture of mountains and there is the leading road or river from you to the mountains, picture will be a lot nicer.

3.        Learn about light

Learn about the function of your camera. You will se that it works same as the old cameras from 20 years ago. Everything has to do with light, because camera is the device that captures light and saves it. So, that means that the light is key element. Never shoot directly to light, always put the sun behind you. That way your pictures will look a lot better and you won’t lose details in the picture if you expose it wrong.

4.        Put your DSLR camera into Manual Mode

When you shoot in Auto Mode, you don’t use all the potentials that your DSLR camera has. I would have courage to say that your DSLR camera becomes just a compact camera when you shoot in auto mode. This is the main reason to put it in manual mode and learn about 3 main elements that you need to set up when you shoot in manual mode. Have courage, try it and you will see the full potential of your camera.

5.        Learn about three main elements (ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture)

Three main elements of every DSLR camera are ISO, Shutter speed and Aperture. ISO is the level of sensitivity of your camera to available light. When you set ISO to higher value, your camera becomes less sensitive to light and you can shoot in dark. But, there is also a bigger „noise“ and grains on pictures that comes with higher ISO setting. So, the best way is to set your ISO to the lowest possible value that you can in given situation.

iso, aperture, shutter speed

3 key elements of photography

Shutter Speed is the time of your camera sensor is exposed to light. Its value usually is from few seconds to 1/4000 of a second.  The faster your shutter speed is, less light goes to your camera sensor, but your pictures become sharper if there is a movement. If your shutter speed is slower, you can get blurry image if your object is moving. Slower shutter speed is used when your camera is on a tripod and when your object are waterfalls, river, city light, etc. Faster shutter speed is used when you want to catch the movement and you want your moving object to be sharp.

Aperture is a hole or amount of  opening of your lens which lets the light into your camera. On standard lenses it usually goes from f/1.2 to f/22. The more light you let to your camera, the less are the values for ISO and shutter speed. It also depends on how you want to choose depth of field. If you choose smaller aperture number or bigger lens opening, your depth of field will be low and everything far from camera will be blurry. If you choose higher aperture number or smaller lens opening you will get large depth of field and objects that are far from you will be sharp.

This three values are most important setting when you shoot in manual mode or in partial manual mode. If you change one of them, you need to set the other two proportionally so your pictures could look like you want them. Otherwise, you will have grainy, out of focus or blurry images. When they are set right, you picture will be properly exposed and this means that the light will be just as you see it with your eyes. If they are set wrong, you could have everything on he picture in the dark and this is called underexposed picture or everything so light, which is overexposed picture.

6.        Shoot in RAW format

When shooting in RAW format file, you can use the most of your image, because you can process it to look like you want it. When you shoot in JPEG, your camera processes the picture automatically and this is not the best option. RAW files are basic of what your camera captures, without any kind of improvements, so you can make the most of it and improve the picture with colors, contrasts, sharpening and other, as you wish. Use the postprocessing software and you will see that possibilities are unlimited.

7.        Learn how to post process the image

When you post process the image as you wish, you will see that pictures are looking much better than the ones from your camera directly. Use the software like Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom to edit your images on your computer. You can even edit them on your mobile phone with apps like Snapseed, VSCO or Lightroom Mobile.

8.        Get adequate equipment

Nikkor lens 18-55 mm

Nikkor lens 18-55 mm

When you learn how to use most of your camera and most of the image it’s time to improve your camera. What you need first is protection bag for your camera and tripod. Tripod is great to picture landscape and portraits in the situations when you have time, so you can capture sharper images, because it prevents you from shaking the camera with your hands. The main advantage of DSLR camera are lenses that you can change according to occasion. This is why you need at least 2 or 3 lenses for your camera to make a most of it. There is also a flash unit for shooting in dark, remote control, replacement battery when you are on the longer trip and don’t have charger as well as few of the SD cards so you have enough memory.



9.        Take your camera with you and practice

Main thing that you should do is take the camera with you and shoot everything you see. Digital memory is free, so you can delete what you don’t like and rewrite it with new images or save them and watch you progress. You should get used to carrying camera with you and take pictures so it becomes your habit. Practice as much as you can and improvement will be visible.

10.      Be creative

When you take pictures do not copy others and take them from the same spot. Change the spot. Change the point of view. Try to shoot it above the object, under the object or from the sides. Get closer to the object or go far away and you will see changes. Try with different styles like landscape, portrait, candid or macro photography to find what suits you the best. Get inspiration from famous photographers, but at the end be yourself and your work will be awesome. Look for my photos on Instagram, feel free to comment or give me your advice so we could learn together and be better.

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