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Teach Yourself Digital Photography in 10 Easy Steps

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: Tricia Goss•updated: 5/19/2011

Want to learn digital photography but don't have the time or money for a class? Teach yourself the basics and get started creating amazing photos. Start here with these 10 easy tips.

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    Digital photography is not just an art form; it is a technical craft. If you are looking to teach yourself digital photography, following a few key principles is going to be almost universally successful, especially since the way that all DSLR cameras work is comparable. Here are 10 distinct steps to help you teach yourself digital photography.

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    Buy a DSLR

    The most important step for learning photography is selecting the right DSLR camera. There are many professional DSLRs on the market, many of which are becoming known for shooting HD video such as the Canon EOS 5D Mark II and the Lumix GH1. Find a middle ground DSLR that is known for simply taking quality pictures and giving you adequate control. Try to not exceed $1000-1200 for your first camera. When you want to teach yourself digital photography you will want to start out with a popular camera format, so try to keep it to either Nikon or Canon since these are the most common DSLR cameras.

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    Test Shutter Speed

    Shutter speed refers to the speed that the shutter opens and closes, letting light in to expose an image. People can tell you about fast or slow shutter speeds and what they will do, but this is not as good as actually seeing the difference. Go out into a consistent lighting location, such as an overcast day, and take photos of similar things with different shutter speeds. Get the photos printed and you will see how slow shutter speeds handle motion and how fast shutter speeds handle light.

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    Test ISO

    In the same way that you test the shutter speed, you should test the ISO. The ISO determines how strongly the DSLR camera's sensor will pick up light, but you have to negotiate this sensitivity with the amount of image noise that it will come in the image. Again, you need to take several photos in similar situations at similar objects to see the difference between these settings.

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    Low Light

    In general, available light indoors or at night is never going to be satisfactory. People tend to want to replicate the sight of an image in low light that they can see with their naked eye, but this is not usually the case. Try going through several different low light situations and take photos not assisted by the flash so that you can begin to get a sense of how the camera deals with light and portrays images.

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    Digital Storage

    Digital photography is really about generating digital files that are then run through a computer workflow. You need to sync and upload your photos from your camera or memory card to your computer and then put them through the rest of your workflow. Look at how to transfer your files using these digital storage methods when trying to teach yourself digital photography, especially if you are new to working with portable storage methods such as memory cards. This is central to the photo editing process today.

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    Photo Editing

    For digital photography, the photo editing period is almost standard. For almost all DSLR photographers, running digital photo files through a program such as Adobe Photoshop is an integral part of the photography process. If you are going to teach yourself digital photography, look to these software applications to help you produce professional quality pictures.

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    Lenses

    Changing lenses is a fundamental part of DSLR photography, as well as one of the most expensive additions to your camera. Instead of purchasing a full package of lenses, try borrowing or renting different lenses to see how the differences in depth of field will affect the images. This may be one of the most difficult parts of learning photography, especially since pulling focus takes a very fine eye.

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    Stability

    Camera stability really refers to the position in which you place the camera in relation to the subject. For general stability, the camera tripod is the way to go. Learn the basics of motion with a tripod when trying to teach yourself digital photography. More than this, figure out when you want to use a tripod, when to go handheld and when to use a different peripheral, such as a monopod. Slower shutter speeds will require a tripod to avoid motion blur and complex constructed images will need you to have the tripod in a set location. On the other hand, fast shutter speeds will allow for no motion blur no matter what and the handheld option will give you much more versatility.

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    Abstract Photography

    Much of photography is based around capturing moments in attractive yet realistic ways. Abstract photography, on the other hand, is about the creation of images with a camera that are original and not necessarily a reference to a real object. Instead, you can use dark colors, focus on lines and vectors, forgo focus and generally do what you want to get an abstract image. At the same time, this will allow you to teach yourself digital photography in that it will open up the possibilities of what you can do with a DSLR camera.

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    White Balance

    White balance refers to how you establish the nature of "true white" in your camera, allowing it to determine how to interpret all these colors. Usually your DSLR camera will have both manual white balance and white balance presets that you can use, and these presets will then reflect different color temperatures or situations. Just as with the shutter speed and ISO, figure out how to set the white balance and then take photos in the same scenario with different settings.

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    References

    Source: Author's own experience.