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Mastering your new camera is fun to do when you have a plan. Whether you are upgrading or have just gotten your hands on your very first pro DSLR, there are few things as exciting as getting a brand-spankin’ new camera!

Look at you and your fancy new camera, girl! It’s time to rip your sleeves off and start rocking that thing! (Or is that just me? Anyone else an 80’s kid?) Either way, I’m so excited for you!

Holding that pristine new camera body in your hands kinda feels like Christmas. There are so many images just waiting to be made, stories to be told, lessons to be learned. Just thinking about the creative adventures you’ll have together is enough to make you wanna bust that thing out of the box and get started! (Which is actually a really great idea!) But in order to make the most of it, to really get the maximum you can out of your investment, there are a few things to keep in mind. Take a moment now to set yourself up for success with my four best tips for rocking your new camera. You in? Let’s get started!

1. Read the manual.

Ok, I know I know! Don’t hate me! It’s not a super sexy topic for sure, but what is sexy about reading your camera manual is understanding what your camera is capable of. A friend who came to my very first OB Workshop could not understand why all of her photos had a blue tinge to the colour. It turns out that her white balance was on the tungsten function. Years of having to colour correct her photos could have been avoided if she’d read her manual when she first got her camera. She accidentally bumped it into tungsten one day and didn’t know why all of her photos were suddenly blueish. She thought there was something wrong with her camera.

Some of the functions, you’ll never ever use, but if you read the manual you’ll have a great idea of what your camera is capable of. Then one day, when you need that function, it’ll be in the back of your mind. You can then refer back to your manual.

Hot tip: it’s a little too boring to read cover to cover so I used to leave my manual next to the toilet so I could skim a section a couple of times a day. 
Hot tip number two: if you want to skip to the most important bits here are the sections I would focus on first. 
  • Aperture priority mode
  • Shutter priority mode
  • Manual mode
  • ISO
  • Metering
  • White Balance
  • Focus modes
  • Image Quality

2. Choose one thing at a time.

If you’re new to photography, there is nothing quite so confusing as trying to handle all of the camera functions at once. The back of that thing easily resembles the cockpit of a plane to even the most seasoned photographers. So don’t feel bad if one look at it makes you want to slam it in AUTO and hope for the best! Remember, once you set your camera up the first time, you will probably only use around five to ten buttons frequently. And you definitely won’t use those five to ten every time you get your camera out. You will get your head around it faster than you think and you’ll be punching those dials faster than the rowdy boys in Fight Club did.

The best advice I can offer in regard to understanding all of your functions is to concentrate on one thing at one time. Say you want to get your head around White Balance. Get out there and make the exact same shot using all the different white balance settings and see what results you get. Change no other settings around while you’re doing this. Just the white balance settings. And see what changes occur to your photos.

The amazing hamburger analogy

If you throw too many things into the mix at once, it’s like eating a hamburger that’s too big. There’s too much stuff in there and you can’t get your teeth around it. The cheese, the onion, tomatoes, cucumber, beetroot, lettuce, a nice big juicy hamburger patty. Maybe an egg cause you like those too oh, and don’t forget the sauce! Sounds yum huh? But when you go to put your lips around the bun it’s just too big. The middle comes out landing with a slap all over your favourite t-shirt. Why? Because you tried to jam too much in at once. I know it’s tempting to try to put it all in there but to really understand what a tomato tastes like, for example, you’ve gotta eat it on its own first. Digest it. Make sense? Great! Let’s wipe our chin and tuck into number three.

3. Don’t be scared to shoot, shoot, shoot, (and delete.)

If your new camera is going to become your photography bestie you’re gonna have to go on some adventures together. Up long and winding paths, into unknown territory. And if you’re doing it right, into the familiar childhood town of Mistakesville. If you make it there you know you’re doing it right. Don’t worry, I’m here to hold your hand. For your fingers to begin intuitively reaching for the right buttons on your new camera you need to play with it a lot. And the more you play with it the more mistakes you’re gonna make. Mistakes mean you’re learning. Keep going, you’re doing great.

While you’re working on your ‘one thing’, try being mindful about what you’re doing. By doing so, you don’t waste your time (both at the time of the shoot and again when you’ve uploaded your images for review). And definitely do not be scared to delete images that you don’t love.

I know if you’re practising on your kids it can be hard to delete those images. But the deeper into this photography thing you get, the more ‘keeper’ images you’re going to have. You run the risk of having so many photos one day that it will become a daunting task to go through them again. My tip is you just won’t bother. Take it from me and rip that band-aid off now, save yourself a bucket of time down the track, and a bunch of space on your hard-drive. Keep only the very best images and move on! Are ya with me sister?

I’ve saved my most important tip for last.

4. Find the right girl crew for YOU!

There is so much photography education around these days, you really do have a wide choice of places to learn from. You-Tube anyone? In fact, there are so many choices around that it can kinda get overwhelming. Like that restaurant menu with 123 things on the menu. Ah yeah, I’ll just have a coffee to go thanks. But when you plant yourself in the right environment with the right person/community to guide you, you will grow crazy quickly.

Let me tell you a quick story. I bought a punnet of sage plants from the hardware the other day. There was four in the packet. I don’t need four. We are on tank water and I just need one well-loved shrub to provide me with some leaves for cooking. But I have never grown sage before so I thought I’d do an experiment. I planted the sage in four different spots and watered them equally for two weeks. The first plant got dusted up by Twinkle Star our chicken. Bad spot! The next two were either too shady or too rocky because while the plants are still living, they’re not growing much. Alive? Yes. Growing? No.

The final plant must be in the perfect spot. The spot is free-draining, sandy soil and sunny and the sage has more than quadrupled its size in less than two weeks. If it had a face, I’m pretty sure it would be smiling at me. It just looks happy.

The thing is, if you find the right girl crew to support you, you will be exactly like my happy sage plant. In the right conditions to flourish. If you accidentally find yourself in a not-so-great spot, then no matter how much you put into it, it’s gonna feel like a hard slog. Every photography educator or website has its own methodology behind the teaching, a way of looking at the world and the problem-solving aspect of photography that guides how they do what they do and how they interact with their community.

Find someone special and reach out to them.

If you find that special someone/community that aligns with your worldview and makes images similar to the ones you would like to make, reach out to them. There are literally hundreds of ways to capture a single scene and if something about their images and personality speaks to you, they’re probably a good fit. It’s when you begin picking little bits from here and little bits from there that you can easily begin feeling confused. Then you feel bad. Then you put your camera back in the box. I know your time is precious, so take just a little bit of time up front to find an educator/community you click with and go the journey with them. You’ll be so glad you did.

So there you have it friends, my four best tips to getting you started with your new camera! You’re about to set off on a wild and fulfilling adventure and you have all you need in your backpack to get off to a great start. If you haven’t joined us yet, hop on over to the OB Workshop Success Squad FB Group and join our amazing girl crew. Some amazing things are happening there. We are adventurers too.

See you in the sun!
Kath