Learning digital photography

A few weeks ago I asked for pointers to help get up to speed on digital photography. Now that I have a “real” camera (with each day, I find yet another incredible feature of Nikon D40 6.1MP Digital SLR Camera Kit with 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6G ED II AF-S DX Zoom-Nikkor Lensmy D50; if you’re in the market for a digital SLR, you could do much, much worse), I’m really eager to learn how to take photographs instead of snapshots. It’s been so long since I’ve had to think about things like f/stops, ISO settings, shutter speeds, etc., that I found myself starting from scratch.

In addition to the camera, I got a great DVD: Introduction to the Nikon D50 Digital SLR. It’s both a terrific intro to the camera – which, it should be said, isn’t that difficult to learn once you get past the overwhelming notion of multiple dials, lots of buttons, and a dozen or more decisions you can make with each shot – and a good primer on basic photograph techniques. But it was Ernie who recommended The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby, and wow, am I glad I listened. The book is as close to perfect as you’ll find: it’s not a treatise on photography; as Kelby explains, it’s as if you and he are out on a photo shoot, and you want to know how to do something. He won’t go into a long dissertation on depth of field, he’ll tell you to get low to the ground, set the f/stop at 2.8 and zoom in on the flower so that everything behind the flower is blurry, while the flower is “tack sharp”. Or he’ll tell you to get 6-8 feet away from the person, set the f/stop at 11, and go for an uncomplicated background out of direct sunlight to get a great portrait. And he’ll beat you within an inch of your life if you don’t buy a tripod. (OK, not quite that severe. But he makes it clear that if you dump a ton of dough on a camera and don’t get a decent tripod, you’re wasting your time and your money.)

What elevates the book from a good tutorial to an essential companion (thankfully, it fits quite nicely in my Tamrac Adventure Messenger 4 DSLR Camera Bag!) is that Kelby’s writing is crisp, he’s hilarious (I actually laughed out loud several times over the weekend), and his advice is superb. I can’t think of another “how to” book that made me as excited to jump in with both feet as Kelby’s book did.

One recommendation from Scott that I followed last night: downloading and installing Adobe Photoshop Elements 5.0 (trial download should be available here). Nikon ships a decent photo organizing/editing suite called Picture Project with its cameras, but I found the editing capabilities limited. After just a couple hours banging around Photoshop Elements, I found it to be a very capable editor with an elegant interface and some sophisticated tools well beyond my current abilities. The major missing feature (and I’m hardly alone in identifying this): no Flickr integration. Given that PE supports tagging, geo-location markup, sets, and pretty much the same features that Flickr supports, getting the two to talk to each other ought to be a no-brainer.