photo q & a: new camera — now what?

Today I'm introducing a new series called Photo Q & A, which I've created in order to answer some of the frequently asked questions that end up in my inbox, and hopefully help out more people in the process.

A few years ago, I wrote about simple things that had made a big difference for me in my how to be a better photographer post. You can check that out to learn how tips like doing a 365 project, finding mentors and defining what inspires you will transform your work.

I'd like to start this series by addressing a question that I often get after the holidays:

"I just got a new camera... now what?"

If you were lucky enough to receive a new camera as a gift, or scored one during a great holiday sale, that's awesome! Congratulations and welcome to a whole new world of photographic possibilities. As exciting as the acquisition of a new camera (especially a dSLR) can be, it can also be a bit intimidating. You're now the proud owner of a powerful piece of equipment, but aren't sure how all its bells and whistles work.

Let's start with the basics today and I'll share more tips in the next post:

1. Read the manual. Seriously, I know the technical writing within is as dry as a winter day, but it's really important that you crack open your new camera's manual and read it cover to cover. Familiarize yourself with every button and wheel on your camera and its purpose. Take note of anything confusing or any unfamiliar terms along the way and look them up as you go along. Understanding your camera's features will make you a powerful photographer.

2. Take a class. If you finish reading your manual and are still a bit overwhelmed, or if (like me) you learn better from a person than a book, taking a class would be really helpful. Your best option would be to see if photographers in your area are offering workshops. There's nothing better than getting in-person lessons and the opportunity to ask questions and get feedback. Another fantastic option is to check out CreativeLIVE, a company I've deeply loved since its launch. You can watch their courses for free when they're airing live, or purchase them to stream/download after their air date. I've bought about eight of their courses and watched countless others and they have powerfully affected my work. Browse their photo & video section for the full selection, or check out one of their intro courses on Digital Photography Fundamentals (this one is live today, January 23!), Basics of Lenses or even one of their camera-specific courses such as this Canon Rebel T4i/T5i class.

3. Take advantage of free resources. There is so much information available that it's tough to know where to start, but if you can find a few helpful resources that communicate in a way that makes sense to you, you'd be amazed at how much you'll learn in a short period of time. Start by visiting Digital Photography School and subscribing to their newsletter. Once a week, you'll receive a "Photography Tips for your Weekend" email and it will be awesome. I still read this every single week and click on any post that's of interest. Also, browse their site and search for anything in particular you'd like to learn. Photography Concentrate is another fantastic resource. Subscribe to their newsletter too. Just today they shared a great post about road trip photography which I loved. They also sell simple and effective tutorials which you'd find really helpful.

4. Start looking for inspiration. Now, while you're an eager sponge, is a wonderful time to look for some photographers who do work that makes you wonder, "how on earth do they take such heart-stoppingly beautiful images?" Learning whom you admire teaches you a lot about your style, about your potential, and about your vision that will one day take shape once you've mastered the basic skills of photographic self-expression.

5. Just start. Take out your camera and just try taking photos of everyday life. Things you think are interesting or beautiful. Practice every day and try out the new techniques you're learning thanks to steps 1-4.

We'll pick up next time by talking about basic equipment and lens selection. If you have any questions in the meantime, just leave a comment!