Life Through a New Lens: Learning DSLR Photography

I have always had a thing for photography. Taking my own photos, of course. But also just admiring the beautiful photos that others take. I have followed quite a few photographers on Instagram for years, and love to see what brilliant shot they are going to imagine up next. They don’t even have to be true “professionals” (whatever that even means), just someone with a passion for the craft. And I don’t discriminate on the subject either — food, weddings, cityscapes, shots of kids playing in the park. I can appreciate all of it. There’s just something about capturing a small moment in time and being able to literally hold onto it forever. To be able to touch a photo (or view it on your screen) that has preserved that exact moment — who you were with, what you were thinking, what you were feeling. It’s magical. And these days, with the camera technology and editing tools available, the photos and memories that we are able to capture are more incredible than ever. I’m sure there are people that long for the days of film photography (and still shoot with actual film now!), but I feel lucky to be part of a generation that has experienced both. Plus, as I teach myself some of the more sophisticated elements of DSLR photography it certainly helps to be able to shoot practice shot after shot and not worry about burning through hundreds of dollars of film.

A little background: I started college in the fall of 2000, and took a very early version of a digital camera with me. My Dad is an early adopter of electronics and technology (like father, like daughter!), so owning a cell phone, a laptop, and a digital camera as we entered the 21st century seemed totally normal to me, even though many of my classmates still wielded film cameras and called home on a landline phone. Mine was a basic point-and-shoot Canon, but I meticulously studied the menu systems, practiced taking photos in my dorm and around the campus, and learned everything I could about how this fancy new toy worked. Soon enough, everyone had at least a basic digital camera, and the age of digital photography was off and running. I upgraded to a nicer point-and-shoot camera after college, but as smartphone cameras got better and better, I found myself carrying around a “real” camera less and less. It was around that time that I also started noticing people walking around with these big, bulky, black monstrosities hanging around their necks. These, as I would soon learn, were DSLR cameras (which in case you’re wondering, stands for “digital single lens reflex” — more on that later). While these new cameras fascinated me, they also scared me. Why so big? Why so many buttons? Do they really take better photos? And they also carried a heavy price tag that always seemed just outside what I was comfortable spending. I (over) researched and debated (to death) whether to make the investment. Ultimately, while my love for beautiful photos and the art of taking them hadn’t changed, I just wasn’t sure this more complex equipment was for me. Looking back, I wish I had made the leap because I’ve taken so many incredible trips and I would have loved to have captured some of those moments on more than just my iPhone. But fast-forward to 2018, when high-end digital cameras have become infinitely more affordable, and there are options for all skill levels and budgets. I finally decided it was time.

If my ability to consistently blog is any indication of my ability to dedicate myself to anything but work and wedding planning these days, my expensive new toy might be doomed for a dusty death on the shelf in my office. But my hope is that photography will at least become a hobby. I’m a big believer in hobbies. And who knows, maybe it will become something more. I honestly don’t have any real plans or expectations for Emilia the Photographer, so we’ll see where it goes. I know not EVERYONE that reads this blog will be interested in photography, but since Tech in Real Life is in some sense my digital journal, I am going to start documenting my journey as I capture life through a new lens. Or in the case of DSLR photography, many very expensive lenses! So come along, ask questions, and please send me ANY advice you have about learning DSLR photography (shooting in manual), photo editing, and the good AND the bad adventures you’ve had with your camera. Learning together is always more fun than learning alone.

Next week I’ll talk a little bit more about what exactly I’m trying to learn, the other equipment I’ve bought, and post some additional resources that I’ve been using to start self-teaching myself how to use all of it. If you’re interested in dabbling in DSLR (or mirrorless) photography, it should save you hours of time scouring the internet for helpful articles and information!

I went back and forth on what camera to buy — and even considered buying a mirrorless camera instead of a true DSLR (again, more later!) — but in the end, I trusted a few of the bloggers and Instagrammers I follow and went with a Canon 80D DSLR Costco bundle (see some photos of the bundle below). It cost me about $1,200 and I figure if I end up not using it OR sticking with photography and wanting something different I can always gift this to my brother (you’re welcome, Ben!).

Lastly, I spent some time in Audubon Park last weekend and started to put some of the tactics I’ve been reading about into practice. You’ll find some of those photos below. No editing (yet), just the raw shots. It’s a work in progress! But as I’m finding out, there’s no substitute for just getting out there and shooting.

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