Don’t Miss the Memories: Tips for Purchasing and Using a DSLR to Capture Childhood

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Like many new moms, I wanted a better camera to get better pictures of my kids, who were changing far too rapidly. I found the process of buying my first DSLR to be a little overwhelming since I didn't know where to start or what to look for.

Several years later, I've become fully adept at using my DSLR and have helped many friends make a new DSLR purchase.

Here are my tips to help you, too!

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Set a Budget

DSLRs are not cheap. Some run well into the thousands of dollars. Even if you can afford it, you probably don't need all the bells and whistles available, so set a budget and look at cameras within your price range.

Your budget is related to my next tip …

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Learn to Shoot on Manual Mode

Set aside some of your budget to learn how to use your camera. If you don't, you will see only a marginal improvement in your photos. As one friend said to me after purchasing her first DSLR and using it on automatic, “It turns out my camera wasn't the problem.”

There are several online classes available, and many camera shops offer beginning classes at a very reasonable rate. There are even classes geared just to moms! Clickin' Moms is a very popular site that offers classes from introductory to advanced. If a class just isn't possible, you can learn how to use your camera at Mom*Tog's Unmanual through written instructions and videos.

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Hold a Camera

It is worth your while to go to a camera store and hold in your hands the camera you are considering. Ask yourself if the camera feels right when you hold it — if you can easily reach the controls and if it is a good weight for how you will use your camera.

For example, I once had my heart set on a certain camera, but when I actually held it, I realized it would be too heavy for me to carry around the park and other places I go with my kids. I made the decision to sacrifice some features for a camera I knew I would use more often because it was more portable. If you mostly plan on taking portraits at home, the weight of the camera might not be so important. 

{ MORE: First Visit to the Dentist Soon? Check Out These Tips to Make it a Success! }

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Skip the Kit

Most DSLRs are sold with a basic zoom lens that is often referred to as the “kit lens.” The kit lens is usually fairly low quality, so it's not such a deal.

Instead, I recommend buying the camera body separately from a lens. Although it's not a zoom, a 35 mm or 50 mm lens is a good lens to start with. In fact, although I own multiple lenses, my 35 mm lens rarely leaves my camera because it is light, sharp, and wide enough to catch my kids and their surroundings.

Similarly, all-inclusive packages that include a bag, memory cards, a tripod, etc. are usually not the great deals they seem to be at first since you may not need everything that is included, or you may find that you want to upgrade your equipment soon after purchase.

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Ways to Save

Although many camera options are updated every year or two, the upgrades are usually marginal. I think that if a camera was great one year, it will be great the next year as well. So, looking for last year's model is a good way to get a great camera for less.

Cameras and lenses can also be bought used or refurbished for significant savings. Because this is a major purchase, I recommend skipping Craigslist and going to a reputable dealer that can certify the camera's condition.

I've purchased several pieces of gear this way through B&H Photo. Adorama also has very good reputation. Both offer limited warranties on used or refurbished cameras and lenses.

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Choose a Brand

Nikon and Canon are the two big names in DSLRs, so there is more information out there regarding how to use them.

For example, some online articles only discuss how to find settings using Nikon or Canon. However, there are also other reputable DSLR makers, including Sony and Pentax.

If you have a friend willing to help you get started, you may want to consider the same brand as him/her. Settings do vary between brands, and it will be easier for your friend to help if you are using the same type of camera, even if it is a different model.

Most lenses are interchangeable within models of a particular brand, so once you choose a camera brand, you are likely to be a “lifer.”

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Image via Jamie Davis Smith

Move Beyond the Basic Portrait

When most moms get their first camera, they tend to focus on taking beautiful portraits of their kids.

To move beyond the basic portrait, consider an affordable breakout session from Clickin' Moms to help you learn how to take your images to the next level. Or you could try Jamie Rubeis' Photography's course: Portraits That Pop. It uses a guide and videos to help you consider nearly every aspect of a good portrait, from light to color to capturing emotion, and it even has tips on dealing with things that may be imperfect.

If your vision includes cute pictures of your kids using props and costumes, like lemonade stands and fairy wings, try Sally Kate Photography's Wonder and Whimsy.

{ MORE: How to Take Your Own Newborn Photos }

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Don’t Miss the Memories: Tips for Purchasing and Using a DSLR to Capture Childhood

Jamie is a Beltway Insider who loves channeling her pre-motherhood love of traveling into spending time exploring all D.C. has to offer with her brood of two girls and two boys ages 9, 7,5, and a baby. She is a reformed lawyer turned full-time kid wrangler who enjoys photographing her everyday chaos and anything salted caramel. Since life is never dull, she loves writing about the issues and events going on in her life at any given time, including caring for a daughter with special needs and th ... More

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