So you just purchased a new DSLR camera.  There are a few things you need to do to get the most out of your new DSLR camera and get those great photos you made the purchase for.  Let’s dive into the top 18 things you need to do with your new DSLR camera.

1. Charge your batteries

First things first, you need to charge the camera battery.  A fully charged battery is a must to getting any pictures. If you need help figuring out how to charge your battery, refer to your getting started guide that came with your camera.  

2. Get a large memory card

A large memory card is a must for getting the most out of your camera.  If you use a memory card that is too small, you may run out of space in the middle of a shooting session.  If you have ever done this on your phone, you know how time-consuming and frustrating it can be to try and delete photos from your device in the middle of taking pictures.  I recommend at least a 64GB card but they are available up to 512GB!!

3. Get the right gear to protect your camera

Protecting your new investment is a must when it comes to DSLR cameras.  A good camera bag is essential to keeping your camera and lenses padded and out of the elements when not in use.  In addition to a bag, you will want to invest in a cleaning kit for your camera. Cleaning kits are inexpensive and could save you thousands of dollars in repairs down the road.

4. Attach your lens

A crucial part of using your DSLR camera is attaching a lens to the body.  Each camera does this in a different way but the general premise is the same.  Here is an image of a Canon DSLR showing the markings for lining up the camera body and the lens for attachment.

Lens Alignment

5. Attach a UV filter to your lens

Another key component to protecting your DSLR camera is to protect your lens.  Just like the UV rays can damage your eyes, they can damage your lens and ultimately your camera sensor.  We use sunglasses to protect our eyes from the UV rays, and we use a UV filter to protect our lens. Again this is not an expensive investment.  The key is making sure you purchase the right size to match your lens. You can see what the UV filter looks like below and how to find the ring size for your lens.  To attach the filter you just screw it onto the lens.  The lens cap will then fit over the filter if the proper size was purchased.

UV Filter

6. Set your diopter for your viewfinder

Now that we have our camera charged, protected and ready to go, let’s get shooting.  Well, the first thing we need to do is set the diopter. Are you confused yet? Take a look at the picture below.

DSLR Diopter

You might be wondering what the diopter does.  Basically, the diopter adjusts the focus of the viewfinder to work with your eyes.  So say for instance you wear glasses. Using the diopter you can make it so that you don’t need to wear glasses while shooting.  This doesn’t change the focus of the actual photos, just what you see through the viewfinder. So if it is not set correctly you may think that the camera’s focus is off.  

To set the diopter you need to do the following steps:

  1. Turn the camera on
  2. Look through the viewfinder and halfway press the shutter button
  3. Look at the numbers on the bottom of the screen in the viewfinder
  4. If those numbers are not clear and in focus, use the diopter dial to adjust until they become sharp to your eye.  

 7. Choose your file format type – jpg vs RAW

Choosing what file format your camera outputs is important for a couple of reasons.  The first has to do with the post-processing software you have. If you are just exporting your photos and then printing them or doing very basic editing in your computer’s native photo software, then you will want to choose jpg as your file format.  

On the other hand, if you use more advanced editing software, such as Lightroom or Photoshop.  You will have more editing power if you shoot in RAW. If you are a beginner level photographer, just getting started with the editing process you can also choose to shoot in both jpg and RAW.  If you go this route, make sure you refer back to number 2 above and get a large memory card for your camera, as this option does take up more memory on the card.

 8. Set your image quality

The image quality you choose is going to be based on the amount of memory you have available to you, i.e. the size of your SD card.  One thing to note, is that this only applies to jpg file formats. If you choose to shoot in RAW only, the image quality is not applicable to you.  Here are a listing of the image quality options and what size prints you can get from each.  

  •  Large – A2 or 16in x 24 in
  • Medium – A3 or 12in x 17in
  • Small 1 – A4 or 8.5in x 11in
  • Small 2 – 3.5in x 5in
  • Small 3 – 0.35MB images intended to be emailed

As you can see there are quite a few choices, and the number of choices will be dependent on whether you have a Canon or Nikon but the information is basically the same.  If you have the memory capability, it is always a good idea to set the image quality to large so you have more options for what to do with your photos.

 9. Set the time and date on your camera

The next thing you will need to set is your camera’s date and time.  This is important for cataloging your photos later and will be included in the metadata of the photo.  If the metadata on the photo is wrong, then your photo processing software will likely organize your photos improperly.  The date/time setting will be found in your menu system under the wrench icon.

 10. Set your Author and Copyright information

The final thing you will want to do in your menu system before you start shooting is set your Author and/or Copyright information.  There are a couple of reasons you will want to do this. First, let’s say you misplaced your camera or your camera was stolen. Having the Author information set on your camera will help someone locate you, and hopefully return your camera.  The second reason to update the Author and Copyright information is to keep your photos from being stolen online. If you find your image being used by someone else, the metadata can be inspected for the Author and Copyright information, and it can, therefore, be proven to be your image.  This step only takes a few minutes to complete so make sure you do it.

 11. Familiarize yourself with the shooting modes of your camera

Understanding the shooting modes of your DSLR is key to getting the photos that you want.  There are around 9 auto modes of your DSLR camera (this is dependent on whether you have a Canon or a Nikon), and 3 manual modes.  The auto modes are very similar to the options you will have on a point and shoot camera or a phone camera. These are the modes you will want to avoid as they won’t produce the quality of pictures you intended when you purchased your DSLR.  The manual modes, Av (A), Tv (S), and M are what you want to be operating in. Of course, you will need to learn how to use those modes, so proceed to number 12 for that information. If you want a better understanding of all the modes on your camera, you can check out the articles below.

 12. Learn the basics of DSLR Photography

This is extremely important for any new DSLR camera owner.  Without a basic understanding of DSLR photography, you won’t be able to get the photos that you want.  You can check out the article DSLR Photography for Beginners – The Definitive Guide to learn all you need about the basics.  If you want an easier to digest version of that article with video instruction and step by step examples you can check out my Beginner Photography Course.  

 13. Peruse your camera manual

Reading your camera manual is a must to be able to understand all the buttons and options your camera has available.  The camera manual is extremely dry reading so don’t sit down right before bed to read it. It is also a good idea to keep your camera manual in your camera bag so that you always have it with you in case a question arises.

 14. Learn how to download your pictures

The next extremely important thing to know is how to get your photos off of your camera.  You didn’t purchase this fancy camera to be looking at the pictures on its small LCD screen.  Newer cameras come wi-fi enabled and allow you to download the photos wirelessly. All cameras come with a cable that goes to the USB port on your computer to allow for downloading the photos.  Reference your camera manual to figure out which option you have and what will be easiest for you.

 15. Figure out an organizational structure for your photos and a workflow

This is important to figure out from the get-go so you don’t waste valuable hard drive space and so you don’t lose your photos.  If you don’t figure this out, you will probably end up with multiple copies of photos in different places or not be able to remember where you downloaded them.  

If you are using a photo software like Photos on a Mac it will automatically categorize the photos for you.  If you are downloading directly to your hard drive and not automatically into software you will want a filing system.  A good rule to start with is to file the photos by date first. Here is an example of a folder set-up for personal photos:  2019 -> June -> Event name. If the photos were just everyday photos you could use 2019 -> April -> Everyday.

Having a filing system up front will save you a lot of time in the future.  

 16. Set-up a back-up system for your photos

Equally important to a filing system is a back-up system.  You will be crying hysterically if one day your computer shuts down to never wake again and all your photos are gone.  There are two options for backing up your photos. You can use an online service like iCloud or Carbonite. The good thing about this option is that even if your house is hit by a natural disaster you will be able to get your photos back, while not relying on any hard drives.  The second option is to use external hard drives to back up your photos. This is a great option, but in the event of an emergency, you will need to have possession of those hard drives to recover your photos.  As an aside, some photo services are free to use, such as Shutterfly, as a back-up.  These services are great to get you printing and using your photos in projects as well.

 17. Decide on the editing software you will use

This will depend on what level of photographer you would like to be.  If you are taking photos of your family and friends for personal use, you will likely just use the photo software that came with your camera or computer.  The computer’s native photo software will include basic touch up editing and cropping for your photos.

If you plan to become a portrait or travel photographer in the future, you will want to invest in some more heavy duty photo editing software.  Lightroom is the editing software that most photographers use. If you would like to take it another step further you can go with Photoshop.  This software is more a combination of editing and designing software. Both Lightroom and Photoshop have a bit of a learning curve, but you can find a bunch of tutorials and classes online to help with the process.

 18. Practice

The last thing you need to know is that DSLR photography takes practice.  Whether you are just starting out or are a seasoned photographer, picking up the camera on a daily basis will improve your skills and allow you to be creative with your shooting.  Joining a local photography club or participating in a 52-week project is a good way to stay engaged.  I run a 52-week photography challenge project over on my Facebook page.  I would love if you joined me!

So there you have it.  If you have any other items that I have forgotten on the list, leave me a note in the comments!

Beginner DSLR Photography Course

Download 4 of the 10 DSLR Cheat Sheets included in beginner photography course to make taking great photos easy!

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