How To Use Your New Camera | Tips from a San Antonio Wedding Photographer

OMG I FINALLY GOT A CAMERA! NOW WHAT?!

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First of all, YAY! There are very few photographers, photo enthusiasts, hobbiests, etc. that don't get excited about new gear. You are completely justified in your excitement. Okay, but, uh, now what? I know there's a manual, but I hate reading those. Also, completely justified! Hard truth time: unless you're a complete tech-obsessed know-every-single-detail-when-a-new-camera-is-released kind of person, which I'm totally not, that manual is actually worth spending some time reading. You will discover so many handy items in those menus. Don't worry if you don't understand 90% of what they're talking about now, as you get more familiar with your camera, the basics of photography, and the laws of light you can return to this to re-discover new things.

So. You've broken out your new camera, battery is charged and a fresh new memory card is inside it. Now what? There are so many buttons and dials, and that manual did talk about them all but 90% of what they do means nothing to you. Yet.

Before you start shooting, we need to cover a few basics. 

  1. What the heck is Exposure
  2. What setting on the Mode Dial should you be using

What Is Exposure

Exposure is the "brightness" or "darkness" of the image. Sometimes you try to take a photo and everything is wayyyy to bright, or washed out. That is what we call an over-exposed image. An under-exposed image where everything is too dark. A correctly exposed image is where the subject is properly exposed, not too dark or too light.

Under exposed image

Under exposed image

Correctly exposed image

Correctly exposed image

Over exposed image

Over exposed image

Okay, so what? What does that have to do with using my new camera?

The three things in your camera that will impact the exposure, or brightness / darkness, of the photo are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO. Briefly - what are each of these?

  • Aperture is the size of the opening in your lens - how wide open or tightly closed it is, aka: how much light it is letting into your camera.
  • Shutter Speed is the length of time light is being let into your camera
  • ISO (you may have heard the term "film speed") is the sensitivity of your camera to the light that is being let in.

Check out this blog post for in-depth coverage of exposure.


The Mode Dial

Graphic: TheCustomizeWindows.com

Graphic: TheCustomizeWindows.com

So, after you get it turned on, let's start with dial that is likely sitting on the top of your camera - the mode dial. It will look similar to this. We're just worried about four of these options for now. M, Av (or A), Tv (or S), and P.

  • M, or Manual, is where you are setting the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, and determining if flash is necessary. The camera isn't making any decisions for you. Down the road you'll be using this mode.
  • Av / A, or Aperture Priority, is where you pick the aperture you want to use, and the camera is determining what shutter speed is needed to create a properly exposed image.
  • Tv / S, or Shutter Priority, is where you pick the shutter speed you want to use, and the camera is determining what aperture is needed to create a properly exposed image.
  • P, or Program, is where the camera is making all the decisions. It's choosing the shutter speed and the aperture.

In Av, Tv, and P mode you typically still are in control of the ISO, and some cameras have an Auto-ISO setting you can use in any mode, even M mode.


Okay, don't panic, I know that's a lot of new information and you don't need to have it memorized, you just need to have a very basic grasp. In additional blog posts we'll be going in depth on exposure and how / when to use the different modes, but for now let's get shooting! 

Grab your camera, start with P mode so you can get used to your camera, (don't forget a memory card) and get your butt out there! Start making photographs!


What To Photograph

Now for the hard part, what to photograph?! Here is a list to get you started off. If you post the photos on Instagram or Facebook, tag me - @thepkphotographs ! I'd love to see what you create! (Stuck on the basics? I offer 1 on 1 photography classes for beginners in the San Antonio area, just shoot me an e-mail and we'll set it up!)

  • One portrait shoot of a friend or family member
    • What is their mood like? How can you capture that? How can you show their personality?
    • TIP: Take at least one of each: a head shot, a 3/4 body image, and a full body image.
  • One landscape shoot at your favorite local hide-a-way
    • Think outside the box. How can you best portray this scene and what it means to you?
    • TIP: Try new angles, shoot laying down on the ground, sitting, or from an elevated vantage point. Capture the up-close details in that area, as well as images showing the entire area.
  • One still-life shoot of your favorite stuff
    • What story can you tell in your photograph?
    • TIP: Get close to the product, and get on that product's "eye level". Think about your background and any other props you might include.

Need something a little more challenging to accomplish?

  • Capture a silhouette
    • The trick to capturing a silhouette is having your background be brighter than your subject, and then setting the exposure so your background is properly exposed and your foreground is under exposed.
  • Capture motion with panning
    • Use a slow shutter speed as your subject moves by on a stationary background, and move your camera with your subject so it's always aiming at them and they are "frozen".
  • Capture a unique self-portrait
    • Use a tripod and self timer, or ask a friend to push the button once you've decided on the composure. 
    • Don't just stand and smile, go for something completely unique! Check out these self portraits for inspiration.

More Posts for New Photographers!