10 Photography Tips To Get the Most Out Of Your Big Camera (DSLR Or Mirrorless)

Person sitting on rocks by the sea.

A couple of weeks ago, I asked my audience on Instagram what they would most like help with, and someone asked for “help to get the most out of my proper camera”. As it happens, I had a lot of tips, so I decided to create a blog AND a photo challenge with 30 prompts to go with it.

When I was running my in-person beginners’ photography workshops, I got to see what was stopping my students from using their DSLRs, and I hope these tips will help you get the most out of your big/proper/DSLR/mirrorless camera.

#1 Take the camera out of the bag

This first tip might sound obvious but is probably the most important one. The reason we use our phones so much is because they are accessible to us very quickly. When you see a moment you would like to capture but the camera is hidden away in a corner, you will not be using it / get familiar with it. If you have small children, you will have to find a spot that isn’t too accessible.

Child laughing on cushioned surface indoors.

#2 Keep the battery charged

… and the charger somewhere easy to access. Similar to tip #1, this might seem obvious, but it’s also one of the main reasons people don’t use their DSLRs.

#3 Practice downloading photos

Unloading images from your “proper” camera onto your laptop may seem daunting. If you practice downloading and organising your images onto your computer and have a system that works for you, it will be something you are more excited about = “I can’t wait to see what the photos look like.”

Note: The “after” part of taking photos (organising, printing) can be quite time-consuming, which is why I cover this in my “Make Time, Stand Still, Not Your Kids” photography course.

Child laughing outdoors in garden.

#4 Ditch the fear, embrace the mistakes

Fear often stops us from using our “big” cameras. Fear of dropping it. Fear of not knowing how to use it properly. Fear of taking bad photos. Fear of doing something wrong. I understand all of the above. But fear can stop us from TRYING. And making mistakes is how we learn, so go and use your camera and make lots of it! Don’t be afraid, it’s “only” a camera :)

#5 Take photos at home / in your garden

Don’t wait for special events or special trips to use your DSLR. First of all, it might be too stressful to try and use the ‘big’ camera on those days AND if you only pick it up once a month, you will forget how to use it and make the whole thing even more stressful. Safety is also an issue when photographing children outside of the home. We do have to be a parent first, and it’s much easier to photograph children when we are in a safe space.

In “Make Time Stand Still, Not Your Kids”, I have an entire module called “Getting Better at Capturing Moments as a Parent” and a video called “Missing moments & hats” where I talk about the “Parent’s hat and photographer’s hat”

Boy enjoying ice cream outdoors in summer

#6 It’s ok to use your DSLR on Auto

You don’t need to learn Manual Mode straight away (or ever!) to get the most out of your camera. Start using your camera on Auto Mode (or the “Children” mode, or the Aperture Priority Mode – Av/A). The quality of the photographs taken on a good camera on Auto will usually be higher than phone photos (although the quality of some phone cameras now is amazing).

It’s not to say that the photos will all work out, but you don’t need to read the camera manual from cover to cover to start using it.

#7 Don’t wait too long to download your photos

Don’t wait until your card is full to load the photos onto your computer and see what you think of them.

  • There are people who are happy with the photos/quality. They keep the best, delete the rest (or move to a separate folder), and keep using their DSLR to get good quality, printable photos. If that’s you, jump ahead to #10.
  • Then, there are people who are NOT happy with the results. Some of the photos are ok, but a lot of them didn’t turn out the way they hoped and they want more of the good photos. They want to understand WHY some of them didn’t work out. They feel their phone is more reliable and will likely stop using their DSLRs. If that’s you, #8 and #9 are for you.
Children playing football in suburban street.

#8 Make note of what is “not working” when you look at your photos.

From experience, there are a couple of things that can look “wrong” in our big camera photos – especially when we are used to taking photos on a phone:

  • The photos are blurry (movement)
  • Part of the photos aren’t in focus (depth-of-field)
  • The subject isn’t in focus (focus)
  • The photos are too bright/dark (exposure)
  • The colours aren’t “right”
  • Maybe you are hoping to improve the composition/angles
  • Or want to get better at photographing children (on the move or not)

#9 Get to know your camera

This is where you will need to put a bit of work to get to know your camera and/or learn about photography in general. It doesn’t have to be a super intensive course.

Here are your options:

  • Youtube is great. Search for your camera model and words like “focus” or “tips”, and you will have someone showing you what to do on your specific camera.
  • You can check the camera manual (paper or online), they have a lot in them!
  • You can ask a friend to show you what they know.
  • You can take an online course (Like my beginners’ Exposure Triangle Course or Make Time Stand Still, Not Your Kids)
  • You can do an in-person course or workshop (I may run mine again in the future)
Toddler in denim playing a red piano.

#10 Give yourself a challenge or project to keep practicing.

Practice is the best way to get better at something, photography included. It doesn’t have to be related to your children. Take photos of flowers, trees, or dogs (not easy)!

Every time you encounter a difficulty, and find a way to overcome it, you will improve your photos. If you stop using your camera (even for a couple of months), you will likely have to start over (especially when it comes to technical elements such as ISO, Aperture, Shutter Speed, Metering, Focus, etc.)

A course is a great way to have the motivation/accountability to pick up the camera, but you can also start a Project 365 (one photo / day) or Project 52 (one photo / week) or shorter challenges such as my “Evoking Memories Photo Challenge”.

Child feeding seagulls in Dublin - Cover for a 30 Day Photo Challenge

Why not try my 30-Day Photo Challenge? A ‘no pressure’ photo challenge to make you stop and take different kinds of photos.


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