What I’ve learned while rassling my new camera

The other day I told someone in complete honesty that I love holding my new camera almost as much as I love the pictures that I get with it.  I love the weight of it, the way my fingers curl around the body of it, the ‘snick’ as I rotate a different lens onto the camera body, and yes, I still lovelovelove that wonderful solid click as I take a picture.

The results that come from my lovely camera vary, however.  My handsome hubby blames it on my refusal to use the camera’s auto settings.  I  suspect he’s tired of hearing me wail when I realize that I’ve flubbed yet another set of pictures.  I, however, am determined to master this thing.  In my mind, I won’t have it mastered until I can figure out my own light settings and control my depth of field and really be able to tweak the settings on the camera to make a picture turn out the way I want it to.

I’m FAR from that goal, frustratingly so.  However I am certain that I have a better understanding of the camera than when I first bought it a couple months ago.   So I thought I’d share some of the biggest discoveries that have made my pictures better just a little more often.


I did a lot of reading about the ‘exposure triangle’ of photography:  ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.  Some of the best explanations came from MeraKoh’s video, Beyond the Green Box,  and the wonderful Digital Photography School website.  It took a lot of reading, playing around, and practicing — I’ve taken literally thousands of pictures since I got the camera a couple months ago — but I’ve finally got a pretty good handle on how to increase or decrease the amount of light in a shot that is over or underexposed.


When I bought the camera, I was frustrated because it was set to show the histogram of each picture right next to the picture.  I didn’t know the purpose of the squiggly little graph, and I was aggravated that it took up space in the viewing frame.  I wanted to see bigger pictures, not squiggly lines.  As I used the camera, however, I came up against the limitations of that viewing screen. All too often, a picture that looked great out the camera turned out the be wildly over or under exposed on the computer.   I reluctantly googled histograms, and found some great explanatory articles.  To my relief, I learned that histograms aren’t all that hard to read.  Now I find them to be hugely valuable in evaluating my light settings, especially outdoors where it is darned hard to even SEE the pictures on the viewing screen.

3. AF-ON

OK, I am almost embarrassed to admit to this, but I didn’t learn til a week ago that it is possible to use autofocus when I have my dSLR camera on full manual settings.  I really thought that ‘manual’ meant I had to do everything myself.  So before last week, I’d get my settings right, and then hurriedly try to get the camera focused by hand before my subjects wandered off.  Frustrating, esp when you’re shooting little kids.  Then I got clued in to the AF-ON button.  Touch it right before you take a picture, and it will focus on whatever’s in your focus area.  Easy peasy.  I can’t believe how much easier that makes picture-taking.


The other day I took some biking pictures that turned out fun in a lot of ways.   But the pale cast of most of the pictures left me a bit disappointed.  I wanted vivid colors, but the overcast light that day dulled the colors down.  I picked the brains of a knowledgeable friend of ours, and learned about a dimension of photography I had missed.  Turns out there’s something called the Kelvin scale that grades the warmth or coolness of various types of light. Playing with your camera’s white balance allows you to inject more warmth into pictures on dull grey days.  That’s what I should have done to jazz up those bike pictures the other day.

Thanks to Israel from Avalanche Photography for cluing me into most of this!

And just for fun, here’s some of the best of what I took recently.


  1. Beautiful pictures Mary! I need to study up more too, once I have a new (or fixed) camera!

  2. Wow. Those are amazing pictures! I should learn more so I can take cool pics….but I haven’t yet felt that urgency, so I’m guessing that it won’t happen anytime soon. You’ll have to come take good ones for me 🙂

  3. Wow! That’s a lot to learn about photography! And your pictures are beautiful. I would think that the darker faces might need a tad more light, though? To make out those beautiful features?

  4. Wonderful! And thank you for the tips. I have to admit that I have been using the auto settings on my camera but want to learn about manual. I also have to add to my excuses that one of my kids did some thoughtless kid thing which resulted in my favorite lens breaking, so now I am stuck with my 55-200 lens until I have money to replace my 18 – 55 one.

    Anyway, great tips, I will have to sit down and learn more about camera. In my spare time, that is ^^


  5. Great shots – keep up the good work!

  6. Great pics! And thanks for the links. I have been rassling my camera just like you since I bought it a few months back. I too am determined to learn more manual settings. Gonna hop on over and read your links. Keep the tips/links coming!

  7. Mary, I glanced at your title and thought that it read What I’ve learned while RAISING my new camera… somehow I thought that would fit you well!

  8. It took me nine months to find the white balance settings on my camera, so you’re doing better than I did! lol

  9. Those are fantastically beautiful pictures, Mary! I have vowed that, should I be so blessed as to get a new camera, I will devote myself to studying the manual and REALLY figuring out all the settings.

    That said, I must confess that I do not like the recent glut of sideways pictures I am seeing everywhere. It may be trendy, but it makes me seasick. Once in a while is fine, but mostly? I think straight on or *slightly* tilted (and only to capture some aspect of the subject that can’t be captured otherwise) is far more classy.

  10. WOW those are great shots!!!! STUNNING! I clicked over from WP~that book sounds AMAZING and is on my wish list~WOOHOOO! ~smile~ (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  11. WOW those are great shots!!!! STUNNING! I clicked over from WP~that book sounds AMAZING and is on my wish list~WOOHOOO! ~smile~ (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  12. WOW those are great shots!!!! STUNNING! I clicked over from WP~that book sounds AMAZING and is on my wish list~WOOHOOO! ~smile~ (((((HUGS))))) sandi

  13. I think you are doing great for the short time you have been using your camera. I have had my Canon Rebel for about a year and two months now and have been transitioning my use of it. First I stayed on auto mode until I got comfortable with it. Then I learned about focal points, etc. Now I shoot mainly in P mode even though I get the other modes including the manual mode. I am still chasing kids and don’t want to lose my shots while I fix things. Although to help with that problem, I shoot exclusivly in RAW (with the JPG counterpart at the same time) so that I can make changes as necessary on the computer (like the lighting thing you talked about, I learned quickly that adding some black in and vibrance can fix most issues with lighting and even some defog actions to brighten things). If you have Photoshop Elements or Photoshop this lady has great actions that she has saved and shares that have been SUPER fun to play with on the computer: http://coffeeteaphotography.blogspot.com/. Yeah, I know what you mean though on just holding it…I love my camera and I am so thankful it worked out for me to get one last year….best gifts ever for me. The Lord is sooo amazing to show us that photography is such a great gift and one that can be shared….thank you for sharing with us your process and your wonderful children! You are wonderful!

  14. Amazing pics! Thanks for sharing. My husband is the photographer in our family and I love to post his pics on my blog…until he starts his own. Sweet blessings to you and your beautiful family! – Amy in OR

  15. charlie says:

    Hi Mary! Thanks for this post. I have been experimenting for a while with my DSLR and have found Strobist to be an awesome lighting blog for tips and tricks http://strobist.blogspot.com/
    I love your photo on the beach! I also refuse to use the auto function on the camera and every time I try it, am disappointed. So stick with it and I will too 🙂

  16. charlie says:

    One more comment to say, HUGE Thank You for the histogram information!! Really informative. I feel 10 times smarter now.

  17. Just found your blog – I am on a camera hunt – see my blog post – any recommendations for a good AND affordable piece?

  18. Someday,maybe in the year 2029, I do really want to learn this stuff, too!! (As it is tonight, as I’m writing a long, detailed letter to our Superintendent in a complex matter likely headed for ugly, emotional litigation, all while fighting the foggy weirdness of last week’s post-op drugs?? My head will explode if I insert one more detail!) Ok, my point in commenting, hmm? Lovely pictures, Mary! What fun that you’re enjoying learning something so useful, with such beautiful results. Every single time I see a picture of your Amanda and Ben, btw, I am struck by how much they resemble the ones you’ve shown of newlywed You and Your Hubby. Amazing.

  19. Your pictures are great…I have got to take the time to learn how to do more with mine…you could say I am ‘technically challenged’!

  20. I shoot Nikon, so I don’t really know my way around a Canon, but I’m sure the following is possible: if you set your white balance to the “cloudy sky” setting and then boost the saturation, you’ll get much richer colors right out of the camera without any post-processing. Also, I’ve found that using a flash (not the built-in one) bounced off the ceiling with the camera set to slow flash sync produces wonderful indoor results. That’s what I did here:

  21. Elizabeth says:

    The best book I have found (with ton of illustrative examples) is called Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. I cannot recommend this book enough. He is so thorough with his explanations and it gives some great tips for different types of shots. Worth buying if you cant find it in the library.
    link to amazon: