I remember in 2005 when I picked up my secondhand Canon 350D Kit from mail package, which was quite an amazing toy compared with my prior long-lens digi-camera Nikon 8800. Although my first lens was 18-55mm 3.5-5.6 II, the kit’s “speed”, both of the lens’ focusing and CCD’s ISO, really astonished me. With 350D I experienced my 6-month internship in China News Service. At that time I sold my cheap 18-55mm at 400 RMB to a product photographer working at Maliandao, Beijing, then I bought a secondhand 20-35mm 3.5-4.5, another 28-135mm 3.5-5.6 IS, also secondhand, and even a 550EX flashlight set, secondhand as well. Working in CNS, I borrowed a 70-200mm 2.8 from the department that I believed was the best lens I could ever use in my life.
It’s quite an amazing phenomenon that lots of my new schoolmates have bought or are planning to buy a DSLR or at least an advanced digital camera. I have been expecting this ever since my resignation as a photojournalist. Since I don’t have any digital cameras anymore, I might be able to borrow some if required.
Also, I have been questioned much on these relevant issues. The most common two are: Which one should I buy? and How are my pictures? It’s easy to answer the first one. Buy the most expensive camera or lens you can afford, the more expensive, the better. However, the second one is hard since it’s quite blur. You may want me to say something like: Good or There is something you can improve. But the truth is that would be a quite objective judgment, and sometimes I could not tell you the details since there are always too many spots of deficiency in a novice’s picture.
That’s why I would like to present you with some of the basic disciplines for the new owner of a camera. Instead of spreading out the technological skills, these disciplines are focusing on the way of Thinking when you cover your eyes with viewfinder.
1. Sometimes I would be presented with some pictures someone have just taken hours or days ago, and asked about my feeling. That can be quite dazing since I have no idea about your INTENTION. So the first and also the paramount discipline is to tell your self Why You Are Shooting Around. “I just wanna take some pictures around my residence.” is not good enough. You can always figure it out if you can detail your thoughts. For example, I wanna test my camera’s capability of shooting moving target / night landscape / portrait / under counterlight, or I would like to know if I can manipulate this camera without looking athe buttons and wheels, or I want have some photos of the campus and blog them on my homepage, or I’m trying to take some photos for school or college newspaper, or I just need to capture my own beauty with the self-timer. These are common ideas you may have if you still have feeling of freshness upon your camera. Pick one or two ideas and you can shoot to realize your intention instead of “I just wanna shoot!”. As well it will be easier if you wanna someone to comment on your works and give you suggestions if he/she knows what you wanna to express.
2. It is someone’s common sense to throw the manual of newly bought product away and figure it out all by himself. In contrast, I recommend you to read your camera’s manual again and again until you understand every terminology word by word. Quite different from manuals of other electric equipment, camera’s manual, especially those produced by Japanese, are really specific and helpful. It’s no only trying to instruct you the manipulation of the machine, but also to guide you to take good pictures. When I just got my Nikon D3, I spend 4 Hours to read the manual ONCE, and I referred to it time to time for the following months until I understand every option within. That was after my experience with tens of models both film and digital, of Nikon, Canon, Pentax, Leica and Contax, and with 120 and 135 size. So it is very vital to read your camera’s manual, and almost every basic rule of making wonderful pictures is printed within.
3. No one wanna be a novice forever, some of you may even take photography as your career like ex-me. So how to blossom in a proper way? I can’t tell the path but I do know the fatal first step for any beginners: Please practice your basic skills as much as possible. I don’t mean you should not trying to learn from the master’s works, or that you can’t take yourself higher to a professional photojournalism or art/commercial photography level, but doing the basic homework is crucial as writing and walking. The most common and lowest level deficiency is “technical offence”. Without qualified skills, it is impossible for anyone to create really good pictures. Therefore, try to produce a Qualified picture first instead of a Good picture. The camera is a machine; learn to use it before you take your first formal picture.
4. The least but not least is a piece of advice for your investment on photography equipment. It won’t take long for you to realize that you are “Limited” by your “poor” properties. No steady support for night landscape shooting, for instance, will lead you to an impulse to buy a tripod immediately. Yet I can assure you that 99% of the coming time the tripod will sleep behind the door corner. So, you will need better body, better lens, better flashlight set, better tripod and monopod, or even better shutter release, but remember one very central fact: You have NOT pushed your existing camera to its EXTREME. Recall what I said before, even 350D could be used in most of the professional work conditions. Don’t buy stuffs you seldom need.
I wish my experience can help you overcome some puzzles with your newly-bought camera. Any questions are welcome and I would like to pour to the bottom to assist you before my knowledge goes out dated.