You got a DSLR for Christmas. Now what do I buy?

Nikon 3000New Shooter: Hey photo guru, I just got a new XBR-43 Mega Ulta Canikon DSLR for Christmas. My first few test shots don’t quite look the same as the ones I see in magazines and online so, what else do I need to buy?

Photo Guru: Nothing.

New Shooter: Uh. Come again?

Photo Guru: Nothing.

New Shooter: Well, it is obvious that you don’t work for a camera store…

Photo Guru: Gear is good, vision is better.

New Shooter: Yea, ok, whatever. So did I get the wrong camera? Your pictures look much better. You must have a better camera.

Photo Guru: Have you looked on flickr or contest by lines to see what camera was used to shoot the photos you like?

New Shooter: No, but I am pretty sure they have awesome cameras.

Photo Guru: They do. Canon Powershots, Canon Digital Rebels, and iPhones. (flickr camera stats)

New Shooter: What? I am sure my camera cost more than those camera’s did!

Photo Guru: Gear is good, vision is better.

New Shooter: That’s the second time you said that, and it still doesn’t make any sense.

Photo Guru: Your camera’s a tool you use to take pictures. You still need to know how to use your tools. That said, even the best carpenter with the best tools can’t build an amazing chair if they have no vision of what they want that chair to look like.

New Shooter: My camera is a tool? I thought I just point and shoot?

Photo Guru: You can. If you are happy with those pictures, then be happy with those pictures, but there must be some reason you thought you wanted a DSLR. If it was just because you thought that you would get better pictures, then learn to make better pictures with a point and shoot camera.

New Shooter: But don’t you need a certain level of camera to take great pictures?

Photo Guru: Check out thebestcamera.com. Those pictures were all taken with an iPhone. Lots of these pictures are really great. But notice, there are no pictures of high speed sports action in low light with the athletes perfectly sharp. If that’s what you are looking for, you will need a certain level of equipment that the iPhone can’t handle. But there is an endless amount of creative possibilities that you can try with what ever equipment you have.

New Shooter: Well, what can I do with my camera?

Photo Guru: Learn what you have. That goes to the heart of why I said “Buy nothing.” You need to shoot, shoot, and shoot some more with the gear you have. You need to learn what happens at small and large apertures, fast and slow shutter speeds, high and low ISO’s. You need to shoot in bright light and low light. You need to learn what all the buttons on your camera do. You need to know what types of images you get from the lens that came with your camera at 18mm and 55mm, or what ever extremes your kit lens does.

New Shooter: I thought this “tool” as you call it was a little smarter than you make it out to be. You seem to be suggesting that I have a lot of learning and work to do to take pictures with this camera.

Photo Guru: That depends. Again, what I said earlier, if you have happy with the pictures you take in auto mode, you are done. Be happy. If instead you look at those pictures and say, “There’s something not quite how I want it…” then you have some work to do.

New Shooter: Ok, I am getting kind of overwhelmed by all these buttons and terms. I can’t learn everything at once.

Photo Guru: You don’t have to. Just take pictures. Then read the manual. Every weekend pick a new feature to explore. It will come. Before long you know a lot of stuff.

New Shooter: Ok, I will go work with the tools I have, but where does this vision thing come in?

Photo Guru: That is much harder, and I recommend you don’t worry to much about it at first. You need to have your tools down pretty well before you can envision an image in your mind and then try to get it in the camera. It takes even more shooting to be able to impart a vision into an image that you want someone else looking at your pictures to see. If you want to explore vision more, check out the pixelatedimage blog by David duChemin. He has some great ebooks he sells, and a great book on vision: Within the Frame. I stole his phrase “Gear is good, Vision is better” too.

New Shooter: Ok, if vision is getting ahead of myself a bit, is there something other than a camera manual I can read?

Photo Guru: You can check out this book page on my blog. It lists the books I have read and reviewed, and the ones I have on my list to read.

New Shooter: Alright. I’ll check those out. I try to read that manual too. Ok, see you later… I have to go shoot!

Photo Guru: That’s the spirit. Good luck, and have fun!

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