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New Photographers…Your First Assignment

I wish I had come across a blog post like this when I was a new photographer. I knew what I wanted my images to look like, yet I had no idea how to accomplish it. This is probably one of the most frustrating points of photography, but once you learn how to tell your camera what to do (instead of letting it tell you what it should do) your artwork will drastically change!

Ok. Here are some practical first steps.

1 – Buy a DSLR without the kit lens. Yes, DO NOT buy the kit lens. We used our kit lens for the first 3-4 photo-shoots before we realized it’s not even worth half of what you pay for it. If you’re just wanting to experiment with a DSLR, canon makes their Rebel models very affordable. We started with the 50d and upgraded to the 5d mark ii.

2 – Buy the 50mm 1.8. You can get this on from B&H for about $129.00 Way cheaper the junky kit lens and a million times better. You can eventually upgrade to the 50mm 1.4 or 1.2 but the 1.8 is an amazing bargain!

3 – Practice practice practice! But how you ask?

4 – Set your camera on “M” mode (on the little dial on the top left of your camera) – this stands for manual. This allows you to control EXACTLY what your picture will look like. It’s really scary at first to shoot in manual but you can do it! Promise.

5 – Go outside on a sunny day around sunset. You may need to look in your owner’s guide from Canon to figure out which buttons to use to change certain settings, but the 3 settings we use to change the “exposure” (brightness/darkness/contrast/ect) of our image are: (1) Aperture (2) ISO (3) Shutter-speed.

6 – Set your ISO to 100 – Generally speaking, the lower the ISO the better. How high you can put your ISO is different on every camera. Professional cameras allow you to raise your ISO higher without becoming grainy.

7 – Set your aperture to 1.8 – this may be a little scary at first, but this is called “shooting wide open.” Shooting wide open simply means you are setting your aperture as low as it will go for that particular lens. The LOWER the number (aka f/stop) for your aperture, the more OPEN your aperture is. This allows for that pretty blurred background (aka “bokeh”) in each photo. You don’t have to do that in photoshop, it’s in your camera/lens!!!

8 – Now the only thing you have to control is the shutter-speed! But first, let’s position your subject. It’s almost sunset and you want your subject to be BETWEEN you and the sun. Make sense? This is called backlit. The sun is behind the subject and you as the photographer are shooting directly toward the sun at your subject.

9 – Now depending on how bright the sun is, you will need to adjust your shutter-speed. Your ISO and aperture are set and DON’T move them. Generally speaking we never put our shutter-speed below 1/125 (unless it’s a super dark inside ceremony). Keep adjusting your shutter-speed until the image you see on your display screen looks good. I could tell how to look at the “histogram” but we don’t technically do that. Eventually you’re subject will look right when you find the correct shutter-speed and then your exposure is PERFECT! Well, at least it is perfect for you ;)

10 – Go inside, edit the pictures, but them on your blog or FB and tell people about how you practiced, and then do it again the next day. And the next…and the next. Eventually you will feel comfortable enough to start changing your aperture around (2.2 is a great setting 2.8 is good 3.5-5.6 is useful for larger family shots) but if you can learn to shoot wide open, you can shoot with almost any other setting too.

We hope that helps if you are just starting photography and didn’t know where to start. If you have more questions send us an email anytime at or drop a comment on this post.

Here is a pic of the 3 different 50mm lenses Canon offers. As you progress you can upgrade your camera and your lenses but hopefully this post gives you an easy place to start. (The 50mm 1.8 is on the left…followed by the 1.4 in the middle and the 1.2 on the right). Remember, the 1.8 refers to the aperture, so the lenses on the right are able to shoot more wide open than the 1.8. Hopefully this post wasn’t too technically but easily understood.




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Tiffany Schnarr-Kuenzi

Thanks for posting that! I have wanted to learn how to take better pictures of the kids – I will have print this and try it!

Kristin Schmucker

I hope it helps Tiffany! If you have any questions feel free to ask! Your kids are so precious!


Thank you!! I’ve been spending hrs reading peoples blogs and yours is amazing!


Thank you for the post! Our point and shoot camera often gives blurry pictures when the subject is in motion (when flash is not used). By using a DSLR, without the flash, will it provide better & less blurry pictures? And is there a special lens that is good for shooting “sports”? Or will the 50mm 1.8 be just fine?

Dominique Paolini

Thanks for posting this. I’ll start practicing!

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