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DPChallenge Forums >> Photography Discussion >> Photography exercises for a beginner with a dslr?
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12/26/2005 12:51:24 PM · #1
I have a friend who is a complete novice to the actual practice of photography, in any form, but is extremely eager to learn. So much so that having watched me shooting for about a month, she wants to jump in at the deep end and buy a DSLR. It'll probably be a used 10D or D60, or maybe even 20D. She doesn't want anything more "novice-friendly" (read as plastic crap), she wants to learn the hard way and understand how to use everything a real camera has to offer (she's a bit of a geek, in a good way).

She already understands aperture, shutter and film speeds, focus and exposure, composition will come with experience and lots of reading.

The point of this thread is, i was wondering if anyone can suggest some exercises for her to do to get accustomed to the actual physical use of a DSLR. Exercises that'll help her get used to things like fast and accurate manual focusing, changing camera settings without having to look away from the viewfinder, generally handling the body and lens, correct shooting posture, what sort of aperture gives what sort of depth of field, what sort of subject movement needs what sort of shutter speed to freeze - all the sorts of things that you learn intuitively with time, that you can't really be told in a book.

I know the standard response to this sort of thing is "Just go out and shoot, shoot, shoot!", and i agree with that, but there must be many things and situations people can think of to recommend shooting specifically, that help improve particular skills. So, post them here!
12/26/2005 12:55:04 PM · #2
This assignment will help with composition and the choice of lens / focal length. It's an exercise in learning to see what the lens will see.

12/26/2005 12:56:34 PM · #3
I've posted this before as it helped me. Try:

Jodie Coston's Free Online Photography Class

Jodie is a memeber here and her on-line class has exercises that go with each theory. I think your friend will like it.
12/26/2005 12:59:42 PM · #4
I dont know if they do this in the UK, but here in the states Nikon runs one day programs in major cities called "Nikon School". They have updated them with different digital subjects but are a great investment of time if you really want to understand SLR photography
12/26/2005 01:19:19 PM · #5
Go outside in your yard with a small table and 3 bottles.

1) Face your house, but from a bit of a distance. Line up the bottles with some distance between them in a line from you to the house. Practice depth of field - put the focus on the closest bottle, then the second, then third, then the house.

2) Focus on one bottle, take a shot with a small aperture, take another with a large aperture. Later, carefully study the differences.

3) Try to put emotion into the photo. Use composition/lighting etc to make the bottles look threatening or threatened, funny or sad, etc.

4) Take photos of the bottles using a flash. Observe problems that causes (e.g. reflections) Get creative to overcome these problems (e.g. diffuser, homemade reflectors aka white cardboard etc).

5) Go back during different times of the day (and night) and observe how the light changes and how that affects the photos. Try to make the most of each lighting situation and think about what it is you're doing TO make it better.

6) Take a macro of the label

7) Get someone to pick up one of the bottles and slowly move it. Try to follow it and still get it in focus. Try different focus modes on this one. Take note of which mode you used in which photo.

8) At night, put the camera on a tripod and play with long exposures. Paint the bottles with light. Wear black and have fun moving them half way through the exposure.

9) Start all over again with a different lens.

When you look at the photos on your computer, think about each one. What is good about it, what is bad. What did or didn't work. What is the difference between the good and the bad, i.e. what made or killed the shot (e.g. aperture? lighting?).

When you can do it all slowly, work on getting quicker.
Even if you know the theory, only practice will let you work faster. That of course, is often the difference between getting a shot and not getting it (or ruining it).

I do believe in the "shoot, shoot, shoot" theory, but only if you THEN spend lots of time analyzing the results to learn from them.

Have fun and good luck.
12/26/2005 01:56:56 PM · #6
It would be interesting if your friend started a Photo A Day Project as well! That way she could moniter her progress throughout the year!! Plus, if she chose a different theme or technique for each month (or even week!) then she would get practice at lots of things!!

A lot of us are just starting up photo blogs for 2006 at http://www.blogger.com

The other thing I might suggest...go run to Borders or Barnes and Noble and search their bargain racks for books on photography. I picked up a nice hardcover book that covers lots of the basics for about $6...which is much less than photography books normally cost :-)
12/26/2005 02:16:57 PM · #7
One thing that might help is to really learn all of the various camera controls and options. The cameras you mentioned all have tons of controls and optional settings, and it's nice to have a good understanding of how they all work and what they can do for (or against) you. It sucks when you have to stop and read a manual when you're out in the field.
12/26/2005 02:29:35 PM · #8
I second this posting!

Originally posted by jbsmithana:

I've posted this before as it helped me. Try:

Jodie Coston's Free Online Photography Class

Jodie is a memeber here and her on-line class has exercises that go with each theory. I think your friend will like it.
12/26/2005 02:44:54 PM · #9
To learn your lenses, get some object, say the bottle from Karin's excercise, and use your widest setting on your widest lens to fit the bottle into the frame. Move up the lens length in chunks of ten or twenty keeping the bottle the same size relative to the frame. the last shot in the sequence will be with your longest reach, you will be a long way from the bottle, but it will fill the frame the same way as the first shot.

Doing this excercise will bring home alot of the reasons why certain focal lengths are favored for certain results, and give you an idea of how you equipment works.

Another skill is to find your settings by hand alone, so you write down a bunch of settings on a piece of paper and try to get to them using touch alone. 400iso, apature priority, f5.6.Then 100iso, manual setting, f8, 1/60, flash enabled.Ect.ect... any setting as long as you teach your hands to know where to go without using your eyes to help them. Next step is to learn your camerabag and lens selection in the same way. Not that you need to be able to prep blind, but if you can things go faster, and you can keep your head up looking for the next shot while you are changing settings.
12/26/2005 02:59:52 PM · #10
Thanks everyone, especially Beetle, all very helpful ideas! I'll get her to do the bottles thing for sure, and i'll point her to those links as well. As for books, i have tons of good books i can lend her, i just need practical ideas (just like the ones mentioned already) for challenging ways to let her practice what she's learnt in theory. Keep them coming folks :D
12/28/2005 09:50:44 PM · #11
12/28/2005 11:33:26 PM · #12
Doing the challenges here at dpc make you shoot in ways you may not normally.
12/29/2005 12:00:07 AM · #13
when i started photography my first camera was fully manual and it did not even had light metering, i had to use my judgement to shoot the pictures, i used it three months and that was great, i learnt a lot, after that i shot mostly with film mamiyas and results were good.
what i want to say is ask her to shoot in fully manual mode without any help from camera and ask her to use her judgement, this thing is really worth the effort.
12/29/2005 12:04:03 AM · #14
Make sure she gets a 50mm prime.

Nothing better for learning compositional techniques than having to move around a subject rather than being a flat footed zoomer.

12/29/2005 03:30:16 AM · #15
;) I don't know about your friend Riot, but these suggestions will help me!
12/29/2005 03:33:09 AM · #16
I personally would start with 10 reps of Dumbell curls, followed by 1500m on the rowing machine....
12/29/2005 04:37:06 AM · #17
Consider the D70 - it's a full DSLR but very user friendly in menus. I'll bite that the 20D has some advantages but the D70 is far simpler on menus and "in viewfinder" controls.

Read, Read, Read. I purchased Mastering DSLR and it is a good overview of photography and DSLR's including getting max use out of advanced features. Predominantly focused on D70 and 20D.

I've put out a request for a photographer's reading list on other forums. May be a good thread here 1. Basics 2. Intermediate 3. Advanced 4. Specific areas (landscape, studio, etc.)
12/30/2005 06:58:54 AM · #18
Try this Exercise for Beginners
I know it is dealing film slr but it has good exercise
12/30/2005 09:27:16 AM · #19
Tell her to do the following:

a) shoot for texture (see how the varying textures are captured and what settings get the best textures)

b) shoot DOF, small/large aperature and what affect it has on the same composition

c) shoot lighting, and see how the same object at different times of day or in different lighting appears (C) may be the most important but it is also the most challenging IMHO.
12/30/2005 10:15:00 AM · #20
bumpity bump
12/30/2005 11:57:41 AM · #21
Read a good book... Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson is the best one I have read this year and The A-Z of Creative Photography by Lee Frost is the second best book.
12/30/2005 12:25:03 PM · #22
I thought the title read "photography excuses for a beginner with a dslr". :S
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