Back to School!

Learning is not attained by chance, it must be sought for with ardor and diligence. — Abigail Adams

Armed with my newly purchased Nikon 5500 DSLR, I made my way home that day very gingerly.  I didn’t allow anyone too close to me on the subway and carefully made my way through doors lest the bag with my (well-packaged) newly purchased camera was jostled.

Not even five months later, my zoom lens fell from my unzipped camera bag, bounced off the car door and hit the pavement (doh!) I just picked it up, blew on it (don’t ask me why) and moved on. I’d gone from being petrified of dust, drops and scratches to an easy familiarity, comfort and knowledge that some things just might actually bounce.

And for that, I credit: learning how to use it!

In this post, I want to share what I did, as a beginner, to start to learn to use my camera properly. Everyone will take a different path, with different interests, learning styles and needs but this approach (seems to have) worked for me. And the process is nowhere near complete!

I started with an introductory course at Henry’s on Nikon cameras. While not specific to any one model of Nikon, the features and settings are common enough across Nikon models, and unique enough from other models (e.g. Canon) to warrant a focused course.  The four-hour session was very informative with a great instructor. We covered set-up, settings, features of the various cameras and some shooting techniques on the auto and preset settings.

Next up, I wanted a lengthier course with a more in-depth focus on the mechanics of using your camera. I asked around, read reviews and settled on Photo 101 at GTA Photography GTA Photography  This 8-hour course is offered as a bootcamp (Saturday and Sunday one weekend) or one evening a week over three weeks with a Saturday field trip in and around the studio on Queen Street West. The field trip is a great way to learn to shoot real things! I opted for the weekly course option to be able to digest (read practice) the lessons from the class before.

Again, our instructor was amazing and the focus is on using the manual setting.  Manual means you control all of the three key elements of any photo apertureISOshutter speed. Not sure what those mean? Neither did I. The links are a great description.

Over those four classes, we covered different lighting situations, exposure, appropriate shutter speeds for various activities (kids, pets, speed skaters), depth of field and when you might want to use a shallow (portraits) or big depth (landscapes) and what kind of problems you could run into (camera shake, grainy pictures etc.)

The highlight of the course was the field trip. It was my first intro in making the ordinary extraordinary.

The field trip on Queen St stared in graffiti alley. I looked at everything along Queen Street on my way home with new eyes and perspective. Awkwardness at stopping in the middle of a busy sidewalk soon dissipated as I got more focused on what I was seeing around me. From architecture to billboards, signs and displays, it was incredible.


My course repertoire now also includes a specialty workshop on travel photography, again at GTA Photography.  I was embarking on a three week trip to Chile, Antarctica and Argentina and wanted to know as much as I could before heading off to document this once in a lifetime trip. This three hour course was excellent with a focus on more than shooting pictures – how to pack, what shots to plan for, what equipment to bring.

During my epic trip, I took 4,000 photos. Yes, 4,000. Back I went to GTA Photography to learn how to organize and edit my photos with Lightroom.  Lightroom is easier to use than Photoshop but with more than enough features for my needs. Check back for another post on my editing progress.

So yes – learning is ongoing and an excellent investment.  But so was the camera purchase. Those moments of seeing the art all around us was worth it. Onto Photo 201 …


  1. Ongoing learning offers not only the knowledge of the material but a connection with people with a similar interest.
  2. Knowledge is power – over your device and photo subjects.
  3. Look for art in the most random places – alleys, sidewalks and facades.


Opinions on stores and products in this post are the writer’s own. No endorsements or testimonials were sought by the organizations mentioned above.


One thought on “Back to School!

  1. Pingback: I wish I had my … | Tan's View

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