Beginner photography tips for Chicago parents

For Christmas, my wife gave me a new camera. Not just any ordinary camera, but a nice mid-range DSLR. I had been telling her how much I enjoy taking pictures, and ever since Instagram came around, editing them was even more intriguing. So now I have a Nikon D5300, a couple of lenses and Adobe Photoshop Lightroom. Great to have to capture all the fun moments of your children growing!

I must start out by saying that I am not a professional. I’ve only been playing with photography for a few months. I subscribe to just about every photography magazine out there and have a few books now as well. When I am interested in something, I dive in headfirst.

Here are a few things I have learned so far, and why you or anyone can take great pictures, too.

1) You can take great pictures with your normal point-and-shoot camera. You don’t need to spend big money on a high-end camera. A quick search online for how to use the manual settings will lead you to endless amounts of information. However, I think DSLR’s are becoming more popular and aren’t as expensive as I had always assumed. You can buy a Canon T3i or a Nikon D3100, which are great starter cameras, for a few hundred dollars. If you don’t plan on using them for anything other than everyday photos, they are plenty good.

2) You need a tripod. There are cheap ones that do the trick, but I have already broken two of them. Get a “ball-head” style. They are a little more expensive, but a better tripod. A tripod ensures that your pictures will be a crisp as possible, because holding a camera can produce blurry photos.

3) Buy a camera kit. Most places offer packages which not only include the camera itself, but also a lens or two and maybe even a few accessories. My wife shopped around and ended up finding a deal that gave me the camera body, two lenses, a case, tripod, flash, cleaning kit, some filters and a remote, for a little more than the cost of the two lenses alone. There are always deals on camera kits. Check Best Buy, or if you use a smartphone or tablet, check out the app, Saviry. There are always camera kit deals on there.

4) Getting great pictures takes a lot of trial and error. I probably still take 10 pictures of everything, while switching settings and positions between every shot. It might seem crazy but there is always one or two that come out how I want them to. And I also learn more and more each time about why a certain setting worked and why the others didn’t. Practice makes perfect.

5) Photography is a great side hobby. I work full-time and have a five-month old so there’s not much time for anything. But I have the best test model ever. You can never have enough pictures of your children. My daughter is often the focus of a photo shoot. I don’t think she minds as long as she has something to chew on.

6) You can make a lot of money doing portraits. My wife and I searched for maternity photographers and ended up paying around $200 for a disc of photos. We met at a location, shot a few photos for about an hour, paid and tipped, then received the photos a few days later after some editing. So with the editing and copying to a disc, which is probably about an hour worth of work, on top of the hour on location, that’s $100 an hour of profit. This is a pretty fair price from what I have seen. Wedding photos can cost in the thousands. It’s more work for the photographer, but worthwhile.

7) You don’t need to go to school to learn how to use a professional camera. Sure it helps, but there are fantastic books available. Magazines, online articles and even the camera’s user manual, all improve your skills tremendously. I read an article online about how to freeze dripping water with your camera, and in an hour had shots that look like I would have needed a lot more time than that.

8) My favorite thing to do is grab a few things around the house and make them into a picture. Angles and lighting make a big difference in how an image can turn out. It can also make or break a great photo. If you have a creative mind, photography is something that you will excel at. It is an art.

9) As a blogger, it helps to know how to take decent pictures. This is something that I didn’t do much when I first started. Phone cameras are getting better every day, but they still can’t match the quality of a solid camera. Unfortunately, most people don’t carry cameras around at all times. Sometimes you have to make due with what you have on hand, which is why it’s beneficial to have a cell phone with a capable camera built in.

10) Take pictures of anything that you can. Play with the flash settings. I have taken some great photos, but ruined them because my flash wasn’t right. Also, buying a backdrop set is a great investment if you want to do portraits. A background in a photo turns an ordinary shot into a professional one. I personally like outdoor portraits. A great place in the Chicago suburbs to get some good shots is in Wheaton at Cantigny Park. The scenery is beautiful and they keep it very clean and family friendly. Many photographers do their work there. Downtown Chicago also has a million different locations that would work well.

11) I prefer Adobe Photoshop Lightroom 5 for my post-processing work. Half of the fun is editing the photos afterwards. You can apply all kinds of different filters and adjust just about anything in editing software. If your picture didn’t turn out perfect in the camera, don’t worry. Chances are that you will still be able to salvage a good photo with Lightroom. You can alter colors, contrast, sizes, sharpening, blurring, you name it, you can do it. But try to learn the camera first. Once you are comfortable with taking pictures, then worry about learning how to use editing software. Many photographers never touch editing software.

These are just a few tips that I thought might be helpful to anyone thinking about getting more serious into photography. Like I said, I am no pro, but I am learning something new every day. It would be too hard to explain in detail how to use a camera in one blog post. That’s why there are hundreds of books on the topic. Once you get the hang of it, you will be wanting to take pictures of everything in sight. If I left anything important out, please feel free to comment and add to my list! Also, if you have any questions, I would be more than happy to help.

*All images are copyright of Kevin Whitehead*

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