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DSLR photography tips for beginners

Mary Fetzer is a freelance writer and marketing consultant with a marketing degree from Penn State University and 15 years of international business experience. Mary specializes in writing about parenting, children, pregnancy, college, h...

Shoot like a pro

If you’re a mom who’s ready to move on from your point-and-shoot camera, then a DSLR camera may be just right for you.

Woman with DSLR camera

A DSLR (Digital Single-Lens Reflex) camera uses a mirror to direct light from the camera's lens to its viewfinder. But it's not only what happens inside the camera that matters, it's what you do as the photographer that creates truly memorable photos.

Expert tip: Read the manual. It may be boring and tedious, but it helps in the long run. Play around with your camera. And remember, you can't go wrong with the auto setting until you figure out your newest addition. --Christie Clancy, clancy214photography

Read Moms Guide to DSLR cameras >>

Understanding your DSLR camera

"I owned my DSLR camera for a year before I understood the aperture, shutter speed, exposure, ISO and white balance and how they worked together," says professional photographer Kimberly Gauthier of Kimberly Gauthier Photography .

  • Aperture -- how wide open the lens is. "The wider the opening," explains Gauthier, "the more light you'll get."
  • Shutter speed -- how quickly the camera closes. The higher the shutter speed, the faster it closes. "I shoot at lower shutter speeds when I don't have great light," say Gauthier.
  • ISO -- the camera's light sensitivity. "I think of the ISO as lightning bugs in my camera," says Gauthier. "At 200 [shooting in daylight, for example] I only need a couple of lightning bugs, but at 1,600 [indoors during the evenings], I need a lot.
  • Exposure -- whether you have too little, too much or just enough light. Gauthier explains that the exposure compensation scale you see in your camera's viewfinder indicates your lighting exposure levels so you should adjust your aperture, shutter speeds and ISO accordingly.
  • White balance -- removes colors casts for truer whites. "Take loads of pictures to check out what your camera does," suggests Gauthier. "If you get your white balance wrong, you can correct with your editing software."

Once she had all of the technical terms figured out, it took just one day for Gauthier to master manual shooting. "There were five steps that I followed for each shot," she explains. "I practiced them all day until [manual shooting] became second nature and my photos were good."

Quiz: Which camera is best for you? >>

Gauthier's 5 Steps to great photos

Identify what you want to shoot

A bright shot of Jaffrey the cat sunbathing, for example.

Compose your shot

Aim the camera and determine centering. Choose landscape or portrait. Check out the background and foreground.

Expert tip: Have fun and get your kids to move around, not just sit... sometimes the best shots are the candid ones where laughter takes over and their little personalities shine through. --Michelle Ciarlo-Hayes, MKCPhotography.com

Adjust your DSLR camera settings

"Shoot every day," says Dustin Bryson of ShootLove.com, "and don't be afraid to push buttons, turn knobs and remove lenses."

Expert tip: Start by playing with the half-automatic/half-manual settings. The AV mode, for example, lets you control the aperture while the camera selects your shutter speed. The TV setting is vice-versa. –Elizabeth Sypa, Sypa Photography on Facebook

Take your picture

Click!

Review...

Check out your photos and note the adjustments you need to make next time.

Expert tip: Back up! The resolution on today's DSLR cameras is so good you can always zoom in and crop in post. But you can't add the top of someone's head or foot if you accidentally cut that off. --Bryson

Watch: How to backup digital photos

There was one advantage to storing photos in a shoebox: you didn't have to worry about a computer crash wiping them out!

More for Mom on taking great photos

8 Stylish camera bags for women
Moms guide to photoshopping pictures
Super mom's guide to the rule of thirds

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