I Got My First DSLR! ...Now what?! | Part Three: Understanding Gear

I'm very excited to continue this series on digital photography basics! I often have people contact me with questions after receiving their first DSLR camera and I hope this series will provide you what some helpful information to get you started on your photography journey! I received my first DSLR about six years ago and I felt pretty lost and overwhelmed in the beginning. There's so much to learn! But if you work hard and practice, I know you'll make progress and will be happy with the beautiful images you get as a result! I think photography is a skill that is so important to learn because it gives you the ability to capture important memories in a beautiful and artistic way! 

1. Part One: Getting Started
2. Part Two: Understanding Exposure
3. Part Three: Understanding Gear

I Got My First DSLR! Now What?! Part Three: Understanding Gear

My hope in this post is to help you understand the basics about photography gear and what you need to know as you begin learning about digital photography. I am by no means an expert about all the gear that is out there, I simply want to share with you some of my favorites and some things I've learned along the way! I am a Canon user and so I will be focusing on Canon products (even though there's other great brands out there!).

I plan to do a more detailed post soon on all of the gear that I use for other professional photographers. However, I will go ahead and share the main gear that I use: Canon 5D Mark III, Canon 50mm 1.2L, Sigma Art 35mm 1.4, Canon 85mm 1.8, Canon 70-200 2.8L, Canon 50mm 2.5 Macro (I'm saving up for the 100L Macro), and the Canon 600EX Speedlite.

Zoom Lenses Vs. Prime Lenses
One of the first things you need to understand is the difference between zoom lenses and prime lenses. Zoom lenses offer a range of focal lengths allowing you to zoom in and out. Prime lens have a fixed focal length and the only way to "zoom" is to physically move your body. Every photographer has different preferences and a different style, but I almost solely use prime lenses. The reason I prefer prime lenses is primarily because they produce sharper pictures and they perform better in low light settings (because you can drop your aperture down as low as 1.2 depending on the lens). However, there are benefits to zoom lenses and one of the biggest is the versatility they offer you. Zoom lenses can be better for beginners because of the versatility and flexibility and because it's easier to compose a picture since you don't necessarily need to move your body to get the shot you want. Most starter DSLR's come with a zoom lens (usually an 18-55mm).

The First Lens I recommend Purchasing: The "Nifty Fifty"
Outside of your kit zoom lens, the first lens I always recommend purchasing is whats called the "Nifty Fifty" or the Canon 50mm 1.8. The 50mm 1.8 is Canon's least expensive lens and I think it's one of the best! It's very sharp and creates great bokeh (bokeh is the blur produced in the background of pictures). The 50mm is also versatile and can be used as a portrait lens but it can also be used in a lot of other situations. I remember when I first got the 50mm and I was AMAZED at how much better the quality was than my 18-55mm kit lens.

A Great Portrait Lens: The 85mm 1.8
Another great lens that I highly recommend (and still use to this day!) if you plan to take a lot of portraits of your children, family and friends, etc. is the Canon 85mm 1.8.The 85 produces amazingly sharp pictures, gives you great bokeh, and it gives you a beautiful, creamy background because the long focal length compresses the image. The 85 can be a little tricky to use because you can't fit much in the frame and it's only good for photographing small groups or one person. It's much less versatile than the 50mm which is why I don't recommend it being the first lens you purchase, but it is an excellent lens if you want to add to your collection!

The image to the right was taken with my 85mm. See what I mean about the creaminess?!!

The image to the right was taken with my 85mm. See what I mean about the creaminess?!!

Good Options for a Beginner DSLR
There's a lot of great options out there for beginners and this list is by no means exhaustive! The first DSLR I purchased was a Canon Rebel XS which isn't even being made anymore. Canon Rebels are great options and one that I recommend is the Canon Rebel T5.or the Canon Rebel T5i. The second camera I purchased was the Canon 60D and I still recommend the 60D to beginners if you have more money to spend.

If you found this post helpful, please share it with friends! Also, please leave comments below with questions or other posts you'd like to see and check back in two weeks for my next post in this series on: "Understanding Post-Processing."

*Please note: There are affiliate links throughout this post and I make a small commission off anything you decide to purchase through my links. However, all thoughts and opinions are my own.

I Got My First DSLR! ...Now What?! | Part One: Getting Started

I'm very excited to start a new series on digital photography basics! I often have people contact me with questions after receiving their first DSLR camera and I hope this series will provide you what some helpful information to get you started on your photography journey! I received my first DSLR about six years ago and I felt pretty lost and overwhelmed in the beginning. There's so much to learn! But if you work hard and practice, I know you'll make progress and will be happy with the beautiful images you get as a result! I think photography is a skill that is so important to learn because it gives you the ability to capture important memories in a beautiful and artistic way!

I Just Got My First DSLR! ...Now What?!

1. Read Your Manual
I know, I know, you don't want to hear that you have to read your manual. But I promise you that it will help you and teach you SO much! It's so important that you understand your camera and your manual can teach you a lot! Read your manual and then practice some of the concepts you learn. Don't get frustrated when you don't understand everything the manual is saying, you won't in the beginning! Then after you've had some practice, go back and read through the manual again. You may be surprised that you understand a lot more than you did the first time!

Canon 5D Mark III Manual

2. Find Good Resources
There's a lot of great free or inexpensive resources out there to help you learn how to use your DSLR camera! One of my favorite resources is Digital Photography School. I've learned so much from reading their blog! Another great resource is Creative Live. Creative Live offers free education on photography and a variety of other topics if you watch classes as they are being broadcasted. If you really want to watch a class and have missed the broadcast, you can always buy the class. Also check out YouTube. There's a lot of helpful videos on specific camera techniques and other photography tips. One book that has helped me a lot and is great for beginners is Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. I recommend this book to anyone starting out!

3. Practice, practice, practice!
Take your camera with you everywhere you go! Practice taking pictures in different situations and in different lighting. Learn what to do if you're taking a picture of a flower or a picture of a child running. Know how to change your settings if you're shooting outside at noon, or at sunset, or in a dimly lit room. Having the skills to know how to adapt to various situations only comes from education and practice! Plus if you're anything like me, you learn a lot better by doing something and not just learning about it. If you're interested in getting better at photographing people, ask friends and family if they'll be models for you as you practice your skills. I did that a lot in the beginning!

Cute Puppy | NC Family Photographer

4. Take a Class
Consider finding a class local to your area or online. There's a lot of great beginner classes out there! Shameless plug: I'm thinking about offering a beginner DSLR class in the future so stay tuned for more details on that as well!

Next week I'll be covering exposure. I think understanding exposure and shooting in "manual" mode is one of the most important skills you need to develop. It took me a few years before I learned to shoot in "manual" and I wish I pushed myself to learn right after getting my camera instead of relying on auto settings! Check back in two weeks for the next post in this series!

Did you find this post helpful? Do you have questions or feedback? Please leave a comment below and share this post with a friend!