Right behind the question of ‘what kind of camera do you use?’, we’re frequently approached with the question ‘I just got a new DSLR camera – can you show me how to use it?‘. Undoubtedly, many of you received a new camera for Christmas and are now wondering how in the world you will ever learn to use it! Digital cameras now days, with all their features, accessories, and lenses, not to mention their daunting instructional manual, certainly take time and careful study to master. Hopefully, this post and others over the next few weeks will provide what you need to get started.
It should go without saying that owning a good camera does not equal great pictures. Good photography is a skill which requires a great amount of learning and practice – something that we learned quite painfully after purchasing our first DSLR. Good pictures have more to do with lighting and technique than anything else. And it takes time and effort to master these things!
So – to start taking better pictures today, here are a few tips if you are new to digital photography (using a DSLR):
1. Learn the exposure triangle
This is the key to getting a decent exposure. The exposure triangle consists of ISO – measure of light sensitivity, Shutter Speed – amount of time the shutter is open, and Aperture – the size of the lens opening. An excellent place to start here is the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson. We highly recommend this book – within a half hour of reading you will be ready to shoot in manual mode.
2. Practice shooting in manual or semi-manual mode
Just to be honest: you’ll rarely get decent or unique shots shooting in programmed mode. Begin by learning to shoot in Shutter Speed Priority mode and Aperture Priority mode. Shutter Speed Priority means that you will manually set the shutter speed, and the camera will automatically set everything else. Likewise, with Aperture Priority, you will manually set the Aperture and the camera will set everything else. Note that the shutter speed determines how much light is exposed to the image sensor, and whether movement within the frame is frozen or blurred. And aperture determines how much light is exposed to the image sensor, the area of focal point, and the amount of blur or ‘bokeh’ that appears in the portions of the frame that are out of focus. (In the above photo, a very low aperture, f/1.4 in this case, created an aesthetic blur in the background, while a high aperture would’ve made the background clear). Eventually, with practice of these semi-manual modes and knowledge of the exposure triangle, you’ll be ready to shoot in full manual mode.
3. Turn off auto-ISO
There’s a lot to know about ISO, but as a beginner, just know that high ISO will result in more ‘grain’ in the picture, while low ISO will lead to sharper, clearer pictures with more clarity. So although high ISO allows you to shoot in much lower light, low ISO will give you better picture quality. If given the option, you camera is going to choose some crazy, illogical ISO the majority of the time, so learn about it and control it manually – even if you are not shooting in a manual mode as described above. Our advice is to shoot in the lowest possible ISO given the available light, and only raising the ISO as a last option to changing the shutter speed and aperture.
4. Disable the pop-up flash
Please, never, ever use the pop up flash on your camera – unless you’re using it as a trigger for other off-camera flashes, or you’re trying to mimic your driver’s license photo. One notable photography expert has called this flash ‘the ugly-maker’, rightfully so. Our advice is to invest in a shoe-mounted or off-camera flash before anything else (heck – even before buying a decent camera bag!). If you’re really pressed for money (and shoe-mounted flashes are indeed very expensive), then purchase some sort of diffuser to place over the pop-up flash, and start saving for the real thing.
Good luck with your new camera!