Whether you're getting a new camera for Christmas or are stuck in a rut with your existing rig, why not make taking better photos your New Year's (high) resolution?
We spoke to David K. Hauver, a product buyer and tester at Samy's Camera, which has six full-service California stores and a robust website, Samys.com. The brick and mortar stores offer photography classes and workshops for some pointers.
"For the beginner, start out in the automatic modes and just get in the habit of taking it around and ... finding interesting things to photograph," said Hauver. "The curiosity about the other settings will naturally come as you get the 'photography bug,' as they call it."
While a DSLR (digital single-lens reflex) camera will produce encouragingly high-quality images and a welcome sense of accomplishment even in automatic mode, gradually exploring its manual settings will, over time, naturally spawn a more creative and personalized approach.
"In most of these cameras you're able to set it to kind of a half-automatic setting, whether it be setting the aperture or the shutter speed automatically," said Hauver. "By experimenting with that you can really sort of come up with what happens .
"As you explore photography more, you'll see things that other people have done and then you'll get curious as to how they've made that photo effect happen."
The immediate results offered by digital cameras' in-built screens -- and their ever-present "delete" buttons -- are invaluable to a budding photographer's learning curve.
"These days I think people are learning much quicker and getting creative with photography much quicker than they have in the past, because it's instant," said Hauver. "The nice thing about digital these days is that you can explore and not really waste anything."
But for camera owners who want to start off on the right path or hone their skills to higher levels, Samy's Photo School offers a broad spectrum of engaging photography classes, even for absolute beginners.
"There's definitely classes that are almost an 'unboxing'-type class, where you can really get to know your digital camera - and you don't need to be a photographer or really know much about photography to get into these classes," Hauver explained.
"So we do have those classes that are literally going button-by-button through the settings ... and then they talk a little bit about the lenses, to know what to use and when."
For more experienced photographers, Samy's offers classes and workshops on everything from portraiture and lighting to underwater photography and DSLR video. There are also quarterly travel, excursion and photo walks to locations such as historic Downtown L.A., San Marino's Huntington Library Gardens, and Malibu wine country.
Samy's Photo School special events have included, earlier this month, a morning photo walk with UCLA professor and ornithologist Hartmut Walter at Malibu Lagoon to capture arresting images of birds. Next April, famed landscape photographer Jeff Mitchum will guide guests on a four-day, ultra-exclusive Samy's workshop in California's stunning Yosemite Valley.
As well as courses on the actual taking of photographs, Samy's Photo School (which includes locations in Los Angeles, Culver City, Pasadena and Santa Ana) also offers instruction on how to process and enhance existing pictures on your computer, including getting the best from Adobe image software, digital printing, and technical courses such as green screen techniques and color management.
"We really don't seem to have much of a limit ," said Hauver. "We've always got amazing guest speakers. We've got classes that can really get you to a professional level on a lot of the photography topics that you might be interested in."
-Paul Rogers for Samy's Camera