Maybe Matilda: Enroll me in Photo 101!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Enroll me in Photo 101!

I'm going to take you back--way back--to before this little nugget was born:

In fact, in the point I'm taking you to, he really was a little nugget . . . I believe I was just a few weeks pregnant with a baby the size of, like, a pinto bean when I decided that I needed to have great photos of the soon-to-be nugget as he grew up. 

So I treated myself to this little nugget:

Oooooh, welcome to the family, First Child!

And I thought to myself as I got out my wallet, "9 months is a really long time! I'll learn this camera inside and out, and by the time he's born, I'll practically be a professional photographer!" And then my hormone-riddled mind would swim with images of the perfect blue-eyed baby boy (check!), his life perfectly documented in crisp, artistic, frame-worthy photos.

ERRRRNT! Wrong! Flash forward 18 months and although I have the pretty baby, I still have no idea how to do much of anything with this camera. A year and a half I've owned it, and it still lives on Auto mode. It kind of makes me depressed to think that I bought this amazing camera that is living out its existence with me instead of someone who will give it the chance to shine.

So while I occasionally get lucky on Auto and end up with a picture like this:
I end up taking duds like this one far more often:
 And I'm brought back to reality: my fancy camera did not magically transform me into an artsy photographer. But every time I start to try and learn, I get overwhelmed and give up--aperture? Shutter speed? F-stop? No, you stop.

I really do want to learn how to use this camera to its full potential, and I'd love your help and suggestions. For those of you who take gorgeous photos (you know who you are--I've seen your blogs!), how did you get there? What helped you to learn? (And please don't say reading the manual. That thing might as well be written in Chinese.) Anyone else out there want to try and learn how to use their fancy camera, too?

I'm hoping that by writing about it here, I'll feel committed to actually stick with it this time around and really learn something instead of giving up in despair and switching back to Auto. So feel free to offer your suggestions, point me in the right direction, and occasionally harass me to make sure I follow through. Mild, friendly harassment only, please.


  1. yeah, i need the fancy shmancy camera AND some tips! i have been thinking about spending the money for a good one this time.

  2. I've been reading some cool blogs to learn the specifics. There is a guest poster on and her posts have helped me tons. Then I just play with my camera. I take my kids outside, stick it on Manual, and start changing things. I've learned a lot, but I still have 10x more to learn. Can't wait to follow this post & see what everyone says :)

  3. I am right there with you. I have only been out of auto for a couple of months...and it is a slow process. One thing that helped me is to put the camera on aperture mode....(you can adjust the aperture but everything else is auto) and use the exposure button (it probably has a very technical name) on the top of the camera. Mine is a Nikon too.

    The exposure button is a rectangle with a + and - in it. Push that. On your little screen (top of a Nikon) you will either see a + number or a - number (or 0). If you take a test picture and you need more light....bump up the positive number by turning the back dial while pushing that exposure button. If the test picture is overexposed push the button and turn the back dial to a 0 or a negative number.

    Sorry I wrote a novel. But once I figured that pictures have been way better.

    One more thing. Play around with your focus area. (Circle and blinking dots when you look through the camera.) Use the circle with the arrows on the back of the camera to move that area of focus.

    I am guessing that in the last picture you blinking dot (or rectangle) was not on your cutie....but on the chest.

    Hope this helps. I still totally feel like a beginner myself. But I am getting there....

  4. Girl I am right there with you!!! I still don't know squat!!! I have soooo much to learn... BUT some advice I will give don't be afraid to put it on manual and change settings. It's like my Dad told me the other day digital is WONDERFUL because it doesn't cost you the film - you can see and adjust as you go rather than waiting until you develop it :) NEXT take notes! When you find a number combo (as I like to call the ISO, Aperture etc) you like for something WRITE IT DOWN I didn't and well now I forgot haha so I have to start from the beginning each time. Believe me if you look at my blog and the pictures you will think this girl doesn't know what she is talking about but I thought I would try!

    PS sorry this turned into a book - should have emailed you I guess!

    PPS thanks for visiting my blog the other day and I hope you come back again ;)

  5. What!? Only mild, friendly harassment? You're not going soft on me now, are you? Really, though, as confusing as they can seem at first, the most important things to really understand are aperture, shutterspeed, and ISO and how adjusting them will affect the end result. I'll work up a really simple explanation and send it over to you. I don't want to take up too much room in your comments section. :)

  6. First of all I'm jealous you have an awesome camera, I don't even own a camera right now I've had about 3 digital cameras in the past and they all break on me! So my hubby is scared to buy me a fancy one like yours! lol
    I've been using my handy dandy Iphone to take all of the pics on my blog! It sucks! but that's all I got and the Iphone is a survivor! It's been dropped way too many times and it has even taken a swim in the toilet!
    anywho I would love to own a camera like yours!!

  7. I read the photography tutorials at and I also got a few photography books out at the library about composition and fundamentals. Most of what I learned though - came from Ree and Rachel at the respective blogs. :)

  8. I found these two sites really helpful when learning how to use my camera. They each have lots of great tutorials!

  9. I would love a camera like yours but I am not allowing myself one until I learn to work all the additional features on the one I currently have. It is hard to find the time and let your mind absorb all there is to learn on these fancy little gadgets.

    Hope you find some time to figure it out. Maybe an online class would be helpful.


  10. Gosh I just love you!! You crack me up. I also would love to learn the in's and out's of my camera but I'm just so darn lazy. Good luck!

  11. i hope you get some great feedback. i will be checking back to learn along with you!! <3

  12. Hahah! Again, you made me laugh at loud(lolz) no, YOU stop! hahah, gee whiz. Okay I don't have a fancy fancy camera like YOU have, but I do have a pretty good point and shoot(the Nikon CoolPix p100). They will differ a bit, but give this a shot! see how those puppies turn out :)

    Set your camera to M(Manual) mode.
    Next, set your white balance to whatever atmosphere you are in(ex: mine has daylight, cloudy, auto, etc) choose what environment you are in at the moment)
    Next, set your iso to the correct setting(or auto for the time being until you get that down) Iso refers to the light sensitivity to your cameras image sensor:

    When choosing the ISO setting I generally ask myself the following four questions:
    Light – Is the subject well lit?
    Grain – Do I want a grainy shot or one without noise?
    Tripod – Am I using a tripod?
    Moving Subject – Is my subject moving or stationary?
    If there is plenty of light, I want little grain, I’m using a tripod and my subject is stationary I will generally use a pretty low ISO rating.
    However if it’s dark, I purposely want grain, I don’t have a tripod and/or my subject is moving I might consider increasing the ISO as it will enable me to shoot with a faster shutter speed and still expose the shot well.

    NEXT, get your subject in place, and shoot! Try it out! F-Stop, f it. I have really no help, I just play until I find out it works ok, otherwise I'm clueless :)
    Don't hate me but I signed you up (hahah! shoot me now!) for a tips from a photography site that I also visit and get tips from, it's helped me a TON TON TON!!!

    Good luck, can't wait to see amazing in focus shots of Forrest!

  13. p.s. the iso and white balance shtuff can all be found on the menu button!

  14. My husband and I bought ourselves our Nikon this Christmas as a little gift to ourselves. We were 3 months pregnant and knew we had to have something to document this amazing journey we were about to take together. We are definitely still learning, but one book that my hubs has found VERY useful is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. Its an easy read with amazing pics to compare and contrast. Again, we are still learning...but this book has definitely made a difference in our quality of pictures. Hopefully it will come in handy when we welcome our baby girl into this world NEXT WEEK! :)

  15. Have you seen the 12 weeks to better photography links? They were free printables. I printed them off a year ago or so, and then never got to doing it. So, I'm still pretty much in auto. I would really like to go through it all when I'm done with classes in August. (Hopefully)

  16. Sadly, I too think that if I had a better camera, I could take better pics. More than half of mine are worthless. Can't complain though, we could still have 35mm and hope an pray we got a great shot.

  17. I am not a pro by any means, but I have a better understanding of all the settings thanks to a book called "Understanding Exposure." It is such a great book - he explains things in layman's terms, has tons of example pics, and has exercises for you to do to understand why you would change settings. It is a book totally about understanding what ISO, shutter speed, and aperture are. It is not camera specific, so it won't tell you where the buttons are to change settings, but Youtube is great for that. I recommend the book to everyone - I should get paid commission - ha:)

  18. We've had our fancy camera for a couple of years and I still don't know how to use it. I've learned a few things though... how? Since my husband was the one who wanted it, he got to study the manual and read photography tip blogs online. And then... when I wanted to do something... like how to make the photo a little brighter, make the background blur a little, how to set the timer, etc... I ask him how it's done and he'd show me and explain a little what those words and numbers on the screen mean. So... bust out that manual and give it to hubby :)

  19. I have a Canon G12 (which has some awesome features too) But sadly, I've yet to take advantage of most of them....yet. I have come up with some cool pics just playing around with the settings. I usually do this with landscapes 1st. Take a pic...change the settings...take another pic to see what it did, etc.

    She's awesome and she sells a little tutorial for a seminar she holds every now and then. She took our family pictures and did a fantastic job.

  21. Woohooo I can't wait for you to teach me/I mean learn together how to use fancy cameras---I too am feeling bad that it has been "stuck" in these so-very-camera-illiterate hands! Time to do some research!

  22. My mother just bought this camera herself and is learning how to use it. My brother in law is a photographer/artist. He has a blog
    sometimes he does tutorials...

  23. I am right there with you. I need help with my camera, in a really bad way. Good luck, if you get any tips, please pass them along!

  24. I took a class to learn how to understand the "triangle" but it is still over my head as are most of the tutorials I read. I need one on one teaching. I do sometimes shoot in manual but I have no clue what I am doing. Most of the time I shoot in A mode, again no clue but with enough natural light you can fake it.

  25. as much as i'd love to spout off incredibly helpful tips on how to use a fancy camera, i can't. i don't have one. and sadly, i probably never will. but i did want to tell you that this is my first trip over (hello) and that i think you're funny. and smart for pointing out that having a nice camera doesn't equal instant photographer. i honestly have nothing against your pictures and i'm sure they are very artsy and beautiful (i promise i'll look after this post)but i too would LOVE to learn about how to take good pictures/use a camera. it seems like it would be a useful skill. i use my point and shoot and then use picnik for all of mine. but it is ALWAYS missing that certain something, you know, beauty or whatever.

  26. I think I'm a little late answering, sorry. I agree with all of the links given already, they are the perfect places to start if you want to try your camera out in manual mode, that's where I started. I have some more advanced links when your ready for them too, but for now these ones are perfect. ;) One of the most important things is seeing light, which people always talk about but don't ever really explain. Something else that isn't explained well is why you pick a certain aperture and the importance of picking the right one. When I first started out I figured as long as I got the picture exposed correctly it was right... but that isn't. ;) I would love to do some guest posts for you if you ever need them!

  27. P.S. I don't think you're pictures are as bad as you say they are. I've actually been quite impressed with them. :)

  28. Ok I am getting my Masters in Photography and yet my photos on my blog tend to be lame... I'll blame being lazy! Anyways I teach an intro to photo class to oh so lovely college kids and trust me wrapping your head around the relationship between shutter speed and aperture! Even trying to teach it can get me twisted up!

    First off taking pics of kids... especially young ones is a quick thing. They may only laugh for a moment, take their first step once ect. so you don't always have time to move stuff or do manual focus! With capturing quick moments auto focus is your friend! Seriously!

    Shutter = speed of capture. So try to not go below 80 (which is an 80th of a second) unless you use a tripod! If you go below 80 without a tripod you will get camera shake! I usually tend to shoot at 125!

    Aperture = Depth of field (which is how much is in focus - 1 inch, 2 feet or 100feet). So with the photo of your kid out of focus but the trunk in focus you could have used a larger aperture like 11.

    However shutter and aperture work together! For your own good!
    Shutter - the faster(1/500) the shutter speed the less light and the object is frozen in time (such as a rain drop), the slower(1/80) the shutter speed the more light you get and the more you will see the subject move (such as the car lights at night)

    Aperture - The bigger the number is (22) the smaller the hole is that the light is coming through thus less light but the higher the number the more is in focus. The smaller the number (5.6) the larger the hole is that the light is coming through so you get more light (brighter image) but you have very little in focus!

    So basically once you grasp those basics you can flip back and forth between shutter and aperture to get the correct exposure while keeping in mind if depth of field or shutter speed are appropriate for your shot!

    I know that is probably WAY to much and also too similar to the maual but it is my attempt to help!

    I should probably do some posts about this though!

    Kaitlin @ The Goodey Knot

  29. Hahaha! I am in the SAME boat as sorry not a whole lot of help...but my super (NON) expert advice is to try to shoot in manual whenever you can and turn your flash off. That's what I have gathered through all my research ha! Good luck!

    Delighted Momma

  30. Was catching up on you and saw this post so I'm late in posting.

    I actually did read my manual twice. I think it really helps you grasp YOUR camera. I had my camera at hand and touched and played with every button and feature it talked about. Some I've never used again and some I use constantly. I know it sounds lame, but that is a simple starting place (alone without distraction of course -- good luck with that!)

    Then...take a LOT of pictures. I don't know if there is a such thing as "perfect" because everyone has a different style. Find what YOU like and what YOU can do and embrace that. It doesn't have to look like everyone else. I DO realize that right now you'd like to just have your baby in focus and it's "baby steps" for now but you will quickly grow in this!

    I've taken classes, studied methods, read blogs, gone to workshops and the where I learned the most? Taking LOTS and LOTS and LOTS of pictures and using my inspiration as a guide.

    You mention that "buying a good camera doesn't instantly make you a photographer" and that is so true. People think often that buying the camera = great photos. But that camera doesn't come with instinctive composition or photoshop ;) Once you learn your camera -- then its time for photoshop to tweak them just right....or perhaps you already have it?

    Anyway, another novel here and wishes for good luck! I DID take the photos at my brothers wedding and have my own business. I am self taught and still learning but have a passion for it! ENJOY playing and shooting your darling boy!!!!

  31. You can trick yourself into learning about an SLR by playing with this:
    Let me know how it worked out for you, Sweet Pea!

  32. I found the camera simulator that Mindy mentioned helpful in learning what everything does (as in, "Oh! That's why my shots are washed out!"). However, I usually just use my Canon point and shoot. Mainly because it fits in my pocket, which makes it easier to drag from place to place when my hands are full of supplies and projects. Then I run all of my photos through Picnic. It's cheap, quick and easy.


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