In my visits to different online travel sites, a week doesn't go by, without seeing this topic come up. The internet and all the places you can post photography have made business boom for the camera manufacturers, especially since, right under the photo the Make and Model of the Camera, Lens and Tripod used are often posted. It's free advertising for the camera stores; they love it. What most folks fail to realize, when they see a picture that just knocks them off their feet, is the story behind the shot. The camera is just a tool (like a paintbrush) and the photographer is the artist. A top of the line camera, professional DSLR will not take professional photos for you. You have to master the camera first. So, if you already have a camera, there are a few items you may want to master, or at least be aware of, before you hand over your hard-earned dollars to the camera shop.
1. Exposure: There are 3 things (Think Triangle) that affect the exposure of the photograph: Shutter Speed, Aperture and ISO. You have to master them. Take a camera class, read a book, even read your camera manual, because if you're not intimately familiar with how they all relate to each other, you are not ready to move up in the photographic world with a brand new DSLR.
2. Depth of Field (DOF): Aperture settings, the lens you're using and the distance you are from your subject have a direct impact on how your photo turns out. Background and foreground in sharp focus or background blurred and the subject sharp. Make sure you've mastered this before you buy a camera where you have to make decisions on which lens to use with it.
3. Camera Settings: Take your camera off the AUTO MODE setting and use Manual, or if it doesn't allow that, use Aperture or Shutter Priority and shoot at different settings, changing ISO's, Shutter speed and Aperture from the highest to lowest ranges. Know the camera's capabilities and limitations.
4. Read the EXIF Data: What's that? The information your camera's computer stored on how you made the shot. If your camera software program doesn't display it automatically, RIGHT CLICK on the photo and hit Properties when the photo is opened in a folder. The date, time, aperture, shutter speed, ISO, focal length, even whether you used manual or auto focus should appear. Study and this information for every shot you take. I do, and I've learned more from this data than any instructor, photography class, book or video could ever teach me. I look at every shot I make and ask myself how I could have done it better. Eventually, your photography will get better from your self critiques. You'll remember!
5. Having thoroughly schooled yourself and mastered steps 1-4 above, you may decide, it's high time you get yourself a DSLR; you're ready to step up to a more professional model than what you already have. Congratulations and welcome to my world! Only you can do the research on Models and Lenses and decide what's best for your style of photography and your size bank account. I can't help you there.
My final words of caution: When you get to the camera store, "BEFORE BUYING A DSLR", talk to the salesclerk and tell him you don't want the lens that comes with the camera. You want the lens you decided you need; not the kit lens that comes in the box with a brand new camera. Tell the clerk he can keep that piece of junk and give you a deal on a real lens. Kit lenses are OK, for people just buying cameras for Auto Mode, snap shooting or to give away as gifts but, they are NOT professional lenses.
Confused? Repeat steps 1-5 above until it all becomes clear or you really won't be happy with a DSLR.
Until next time, Happy Shooting!
A wildlife photographer living in Okinawa, Japan, Mike has been published in Apogee Photo Magazine, Boots N all, Brave New Traveler, Go Nomad, Matador Abroad and Trips, The Nihon Sun, Travel Thru History, The Okinawan , Wend Magazine and Photo Guide Japan. He has recently joined the ranks of travel writers, capturing Nature, Festivals, Castles and Cultural shots of the Ryukyu Islands to share with the world.