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Have you ever considered becoming a photographer?
Whether you want to be an award-winning professional photographer
or a nature-snapping amateur,
or just want to take decent pictures of your family and friends and take nice snaps of your holiday memories and places you’ve seen…
All you need is your passion and a camera.
Where and How to Start
You may have heard a lot of technical jargon that you didn’t understand when you began your inquiries, and a list of what you’ll need, and so on. Here’s something to bring you wherever your journey takes you on the road. What you need is a camera, a DSLR camera in particular. Why are you asking for a DSLR camera?
First of all, DSLR cameras are used by most professional photographers. DSLR cameras have a robust frame that can withstand extreme conditions. These cameras are the most common among professionals and amateurs alike, taking crisp, clear pictures.
Finally, most DSLR cameras have the widest range of accessories and equipment available at affordable prices.
What does DSLR Mean?
DSLR stands for single-lens reflex optical. Digital is an analog alternative. We should avoid getting into the technical details of the difference between digital and analog, but what it comes down to is that there were 35 mm film cameras before digital cameras arrived. Each image you took was held on a reel of photosensitive material (a plastic strip painted on one side with light-sensitive crystals containing gelatin).
On the other side, the photographs you take on a photosensitive chip are shot with the digital camera and placed on an electronic memory card or disk. The single lens is only a primary lens through which the light passes and is reflected to the view screen in a small mirror in which you see the image.
Do you need a DSLR to be a photographer?
An fascinating image can be taken by almost any imaging capturing device, including a pinhole camera. Beginning with anything you can get your hands on, you can learn photography. Starting modestly, with a point-and-shoot or even a cell phone, is a great way to learn their strengths and weaknesses.
People who take a lot of pictures gravitate to DSLRs over time because they have less constraints. It has much more responsiveness, and in low light, it works better. Generally speaking, they are better at avoiding unnecessary motion, such as camera motion blur. More true resolution is captured and quickly focused even in low light. It supports a broader range of shooting possibilities. These capture more dynamic range, allowing you better control over the image change after you buy it. It also delivers on battery life, exceeding a thousand images. Also, beautifully designed ergonomics, they are robust and reliable.
For good photography, DSLRs are not necessary, nor will a DSLR make you a good photographer. Yet they make it easier for sure.
Learning to Use Your DSLR Camera
Many professional photographers started with a mid-range camera and produce excellent professional content.
There are inexpensive cameras and there are expensive cameras out there, and most shops and sales people are going to want to persuade you to buy the best and the newest edition on the market, but the way to go is the mid-range and less expensive options.
There are several ways to research and find useful advice on what to purchase and how to continue your journey to become a professional photographer (or just a great amateur photographer).
First of all, YouTube is there. On YouTube channels there are a lot of instructional videos. Some are good, and some are not that good, unfortunately. Many are there to impress you in getting their viewers ratings up and then there are great ones that will really show you and direct you on the way to becoming a photographer,using your DSLR camera. To find the right one for you, you just need to sift through them.
There are also several good websites, such as our blog, where you can find a wealth of information and professional guidance to show you what kind of DSLR camera and equipment you will need.
There are community college and university classes to join for a professional photography course for those of you who want to engage in more formal education— if that’s what you want to do and you have the time and money to spend.
But if you’re short on time and money and you’re working for a living or a student who wants to expand your experience and skills, many online schools focus solely on photography, such as the Photography Institute and the Photography Academy.
Then there are online colleges where, just to name a few, you can enroll free of charge like Alison online, Coursera and Edx. All depends on your personal needs and circumstances. All these schools are teaching you the basics of becoming a decent user as well as the DSRL camera functions and putting you on the way to becoming a photographer.
Maybe you’re like me, I don’t like paying for courses, this is why this site was created. You should be able to learn anything you want for free.
The photography tips below, when implemented and practiced, will help you improve your DSLR Photography. If you already own a DSLR Camera that is likely worth hundreds of dollars minimum or maybe even thousands, you might as well learn how to start getting better results from your investment or gift (if you were lucky). Some of the tips even have a video from YouTube that I thought may help you understand the tip better than trying to say it all with words.
The tips below are not meant to go into great detail. That would take a book. But when implemented and practiced, these photography tips will help you become a better DSLR photographer.
1. Understand Light:
Light will make your picture or ruin it. You have to know how to use it as not make it your enemy. One of the key components of making light work for you is paying attention to the direction the light is coming from. Is it behind your subject, above, or behind your subject?
You will practice making light work for you, not against you.
Like the sun coming from behind your subject, and try something new that this case will show you a beautiful silhouette with light bursting from behind your subject. The nice thing about digital photography is that without waiting like the days of film processing, you can see what you are getting.
Using a flash and a reflector are tips #12 and #13, so you’ll gain a little more knowledge about light as you continue through this post.
Tips for lighting go much further than the above basic advice. The aim of this post is to scratch the surface. You will begin to notice more light and learn how to use it for your benefit.
2. Understand ISO
ISO is essentially the International Organization of Standardization, the global governing body that standardizes sensitivity ratings (among many other things) for camera sensors. The term was transferred from film when the “film speed” and “ASA” were recognized as the ISO ranking.
Film speed is the measure of a photographic film’s sensitivity to light, determined by sensitometry and measured on various numerical scales, the most recent being the ISO system.
ISO is a measure of your camera’s sensor is sensitive to light. The term originated in film photography, where film of different sensitivities could be used depending on the shooting conditions, and it is no different in digital photography. The ISO sensitivity is represented numerically from ISO 100 (low sensitivity) up to ISO 6400 (high sensitivity) and beyond, and controls the amount of light required by the sensor to achieve a given exposure.
At ‘low’ sensitivities, more light is required to achieve a given exposure compared to high sensitivities where less light is required to achieve the same exposure.
Let’s look at two different situations to understand it better:
Low ISO numbers
When shooting outdoors, there is plenty of light available on a bright sunny day that will reach the sensor during an exposure, which ensures that the sensor does not need to be very sensitive to achieve proper exposure. You could, therefore, use a low ISO number, like ISO 100 or ISO 200. With very little grain (or noise), this will give you pictures of the highest quality.
High ISO numbers
When shooting, for example within a dark cathedral or museum, in low light conditions, there is not much light available for your camera sensor. A high ISO number, such as ISO 3200, will increase the sensor’s sensitivity, essentially multiplying the limited amount of light available to give you a properly exposed image. This multiplication effect comes with an increased noise side effect on the image that looks like a fine grain, reducing the overall image quality. The noise in the darker / shadow regions will be most pronounced.
You want the ISO to be kept as low as possible, the lower the ISO, the lower the noise and the better the image quality. Pick ISO200 on a sunny day outside and see how it works. Possibly pick an ISO between 400-800 if it clouds over. Find an ISO of around 1600 or higher if you travel indoors (these are rough starting points).
Most digital SLRs now have an ‘auto-ISO’ function, where the camera sets the ISO depending upon the amount of light in which you are shooting, keeping it as low as possible. Auto-ISO is a very useful tool when starting out with your camera, as it is allows you to define an upper limit i.e. where the images become too noisy such as ISO1600 or 3200, forget about it until situations where you specifically want to override the automatic setting, for example if taking landscape images using a tripod, you can afford to use the lowest ISO possible.
3. Compose the Shot:
In order to create great images, the composition is important. Even though you can easily crop an image in the digital age to change the composition after the fact. But, at the time you remove the shutter, this is not the same as being really mindful of your image composition through the camera lens. If you don’t have something in the frame that might help with the composition, you won’t be able to do cropping work for you as if it were already part of the image. It’s true that in Photoshop you can add or remove things with digital. I’m talking about being really mindful of what you see through the camera’s lens and framing the shot purposefully.
There are two great ways to get better at composition.
First, study other photographer’s work to begin understanding what some of the best photographers are up to.
Second, practice, practice, practice.
I know that doesn’t sound like a lot but these two things will make a difference.
4. Understand Depth of Field:
The depth of field in its simplified form is linked to how much in or out of sight is in the background. For example, it is influenced by your lens setting such as f/4 vs. f/22. You’ve already seen a lot of images out of focus with the backdrop that causes the picture to be more pop. I’m just going to encourage you to watch the video below instead of typing a lot of words here. Within the first 90 seconds or less of the video, he shows a quick example.
5. You need to understand the exposure triangle:
It is important to note that the ‘exposure triangle’ comprises aperture, shutter speed and ISO. We both monitor either the amount of light entering the camera (aperture, shutter speed) or the amount of light needed for a given exposure by the camera (ISO).
Therefore, they are all connected, and understanding their relationship is crucial to being able to take control of your camera. The other two will impact a change in one of the settings. For example, consider ISO400, f/8.0, 1/10th second theoretical exposure.
If you wanted to reduce the depth of field and chose to use a f/4.0 aperture, you would increase the aperture size by two entire f / stops, which would increase the amount of light entering the sensor by a factor of 4 (i.e. by a factor of 2, twice). Therefore, you could do the following to balance the exposure:
- Reduce the shutter speed by a factor of 4, i.e. to 1/40th second.
- Reduce the ISO by a factor of 4, i.e. to ISO100
- A combination of the above, shutter speed by a factor of 2 (to 1/20th second) AND reduce the ISO bv a factor of 2 (to ISO200).
6. Use Manual Mode:
The longer you keep shooting in auto mode and let the camera do all the thinking, the longer it will be before you become a real photographer.
It helps to get a clear first understanding of the exposure triangle that will not only aid with manual mode but also with field depth, recognizing light, saturation and ISO.
What are the different symbols in the camera knob?
For shooting modes, the best place to start is…
The shooting modes are located on a dial labeled with ‘auto, Av, Tv, P, M’ and perhaps more. Choosing a shooting mode will decide how the camera performs when you select the button, e.g. by choosing ‘auto,’ the camera will determine the exposure, including the aperture and shutter speed. The other modes, ‘Av, Tv, P, M’, are there to give you control:
Don’t worry if your mode dial looks a little different; different manufacturers use different abbreviations for the shooting modes. The letters ‘ A, S, P, M’ (instead of Av, Tv, P, M) may be in your mode dial, but they all work in the same way. Below, I have given each abbreviation for the given mode.
Aperture Priority (Av or A)
As a ‘semi-automatic’ shooting mode, aperture priority can be seen. When this is chosen, you set the aperture as the photographer and the camera selects the shutter speed automatically. So what is an opening and when do you want it to be controlled?
The aperture is the opening size in the lens that enables light to pass through whenever the shutter is opened–the larger the aperture, the more light passes through it.
The aperture is measured in ‘f-stops’ and is displayed usually using an ‘f-number’, e.g. f/2.0, f/2.8, f/4.0, f/5.6, f/8.0 etc, which is a ratio of focal length over the diameter of the opening. So, a larger aperture (a wider opening) has a smaller f-number (e.g. f/2.0) and smaller aperture (a narrower opening) has a larger f-number (e.g. f/22).
Reducing the aperture by one whole f-stop, e.g. f/2.0 to f2/8 or f/5.6 to f/8.0, halves the amount of light entering the camera.
Aperture is one of the most important aspects of photography as it directly affects the depth of field, i.e. the volume of a focused shot. By using a small aperture (large f-number) large depth of field will mean that a large distance within the scene is in focus, such as the foreground to the landscape below.
Shutter Priority (Tv or S)
Like aperture priority, this is another ‘semi-automatic’ shooting mode, though in this case, you set the shutter speed as the photographer and the camera takes care of the aperture. The shutter speed, measured in seconds (or fractions of a second more frequently), it means the amount of time the shutter remains open when taking a photo. The longer the shutter remains open, the more light passes to reach the sensor.
If you wanted to capture a fast moving subject like sports, action or wildlife, for example, you should pick a short shutter speed:
If you wanted to blur a moving picture, you would use a long shutter speed, such as water rushing over a waterfall (slower shutter speeds would allow you to place the camera on a tripod to ensure that the camera remains stable while the shutter is open):
Program mode is essentially a halfway house between aperture/shutter priority semi-automatic modes and full manual power. In program mode, you are able to set either the aperture or shutter speed, and the camera will maintain the correct exposure by adjusting the other one accordingly, i.e. as you change the aperture, the shutter speed will automatically change, and vice versa. This gives you additional freedom that using either aperture priority or shutter priority can not give without switching between shooting modes.
Manual mode is exactly what it sounds like, you are given full control over the determination of exposure, setting your own aperture and shutter speed. There will be an exposure indicator either inside the viewfinder or on the screen that will tell you how the image will be exposed under / over, but you will be left to adjust the shutter speed and open yourself to ensure that the correct exposure is achieved.
Aperture priority and shutter priority modes provide two very simple ways to begin to understand how the different setting affects your images and are a perfect starting point for learning how to use your camera more creatively.
7. Master Metering
Throughout the discussion I said the camera is measuring the exposure depending on the amount of light available, but what is it actually doing?
The camera always tries to calculate an ‘average’ exposure when taking a photo using any form of automatic exposure calculation (e.g. aperture priority mode, shutter priority mode, auto-ISO etc.). It will asses the entire scene, both light, and dark areas, and determine the exposure so that all the tones in the whole image are gray to an average of 18 percent–called the ‘middle’ gray.
This is known as metering, which is why if you point your camera to a bright white picture, like after it snowed, and take a photograph, the resulting image will always appear darker than you or I can see. Likewise, if you point your camera to a really dark setting, like a low-light room, and take a photograph, the resulting image will always be brighter than you or I can see.
The camera also averages the shot, resulting in the picture appearing to be correctly exposed most of the time. However, to influence the way the exposure is metered, you can control which areas of the scene are being evaluated by the camera.
Generally, there are three metering modes that you can choose from:
The camera must measure the tones from corner to corner in the entire picture form, exposing the scene to 18 percent gray from that evaluation.
The camera measures the exposure reading in the middle of the viewfinder for the area that can total up to about 80% of the scene, excluding the image’s extreme corners.
The camera will use a very small scene area, typically a small circle in the center of the viewfinder, which is about 5% of the viewfinder area. It will make the assessment of dark / light tones in this area and, from that assessment, expose the entire scene to 18% gray.
Either average or center-weighted metering is a good starting point when starting with your camera. These will provide a fairly consistent measure of the required exposure and, if you pick one mode and stick to it, you will quickly begin to understand when a scene is exposed (i.e. too dark) or over-exposed (i.e. light) relative to how you see it with your own eyes.
But what can you do if a scene is under/overexposed? That is where exposure compensation comes in.
8. Exposure Compensation
This is one of the most useful functions to know how to use, usually found on a tiny +/-button near the shutter. It allows you to either increase or decrease the default reading of the camera’s meter to account for a scene’s actual brightness.
For example, if a scene mostly includes bright tones and is made too dark, a bright white snow scene (usually reduced by the default metering method to 18 percent gray), you can apply positive exposure adjustment to let the camera know that the scene ought to be lighter than middle gray.
Conversely, if a scene contains primarily dark tones and is being rendered too light, for example, a dark night scene (that will typically be increased to 18% grey by the default metering system), you can apply negative exposure compensation to let the camera know that the scene should be darker than middle grey.
9. Learn About Focussing
Regardless of what shooting mode you’re using or what ISO you’re describing, the chances are there will be a subject of your image that you want to have in focus. Then the picture won’t be what you expected.
DSLRs come with a range of autofocus modes, however, for simplicity, the two that are most important to understand are AF-S and AF-C
AF-S – autofocus-single.
This is best used when taking photos of stationary subjects such as portraits of people, landscapes, houses, etc. The focus will be purchased and locked at that point as long as you hold down the button. You need to release the button, recompose and then re-press half-press if you want to change focus.
AF-C – autofocus-continuous.
This is best used when taking action photos or moving subjects like sports and wildlife. Focus will be gained and locked on to a given subject when you half-press the shutter. The focus will adjust with it when that subject moves, refocusing all the time until the photograph is taken.
(These modes should not be confused with the AF / MF switches on the lens, where AF stands for autofocus and MF stands for manual focus. If you want to manually focus the lens, this switch is a workaround. If you want to use the above-mentioned autofocus modes, make sure that the lens is set to AF).
Both of these concentration modes are focused on what is referred to as focus points. You should see a variety of squares/dots overlaid across the screen as you look through the viewfinder. You will see one of these squares highlighted in red when half-pressing the shutter. That’s the active focus point, and it’s the place the camera focuses on within the frame. A viewfinder with 9 focus points is shown below:
New DSLRs can come with more than 50 focus points, and the temptation is to leave it to fully automatic focus point selection, assuming the camera can select the right focus point. However, you only know what you want to focus on, and there is no better way to ensure that the right topic is in focus than by using one focus point and putting that focus point above the topic.
When you choose a single focus point, just by using one of the dials ‘ directional buttons, you should be able to change which point is active fairly easily. When you pick a focus point for your desired subject, you can make sure the camera is centered where you want it to be. You will soon get into the habit of changing the focus point after a small amount of practice without taking the camera off your eye.
Initially set a single focus point for your camera (your camera manual will tell you how to do this). This way, you will be able to choose what you are focussing on, ensuring that the subject you want to capture is in focus. Once you are familiar with the basic focussing modes and focus point selection, you can then explore the more advanced modes that your camera may offer.
10. Understand File Size and Types
You will have the option to change the size of the images recorded by your camera and in which file type. To make sure you make the most of the megapixels you’ve just invested in, you want to set the file size to the largest possible (whether it’s’ large’ or’ fine’ or’ super fine’).
You will also have the option to choose whether to register the images as the file form’ raw’ or’ jpeg.’
A raw file is uncompressed and thus contains a lot of image data that allows for a lot of flexibility during post-processing (i.e. on your computer) but also comes with additional complications such as the need to’ process’ each file using dedicated editing software and a larger file size.
A jpeg is a type of compressed file that is processed automatically by the camera. They’re going to be’ print ready’ right out of the frame, and they’re much smaller files, so you can fit more pictures per memory card.
The use of jpeg is the most straightforward when you start with your camera. It will help you to achieve the best results when learning the basics or your camera before complicating matters with raw file post-processing.
11. Learn about White balance
When shooting in jpeg, as mentioned above, you will need to make sure that before taking a picture you set your white balance. The white balance of your images can have a significant impact on the color tone. You may have found that your images sometimes have a blueish hue to them, while in others it looks really brown. This is the white balance, and while on your computer you can make some changes to the picture, it’s much easier to get it right.
Different light sources (such as the sun, light bulbs, fluorescent strips, etc.) emit light from different wavelengths, and hence colors, which can be represented as color temperature. Light from a candle, or from the sun during sunrise/sunset, is very warm, with lots of red/orange wavelengths; whereas light from a fluorescent strip is much cooler, with lots of blue wavelengths.
The colored light is reflected off objects, but our brain is smart enough to recognize this and mitigate the effect immediately, which ensures that we still see a white surface as a white surface. Your camera is not that smart, however, and will record the orange or blue tones that give your photos the color cast unless otherwise specified.
As the color temperature of different light sources is well established, there are a variety of settings built into your camera that help counteract the different colors of light in different situations — cooling the warm light and warming the cold light— all to try to accurately capture the colors of the scene.
The’ smart’ function (auto WB or AWB) can try to predict the color of the light by detecting and countering the prevailing color of the scene, but it may not automatically make the right choice, leaving you with inaccurate colors. Before you take your picture, it is therefore best to set the color balance and make sure
(note: The image above was a raw file that gave me a lot of white balance correction latitude. Jpeg files are not as prone to white balance corrections, which ensures that the white balance must be adjusted before the picture is taken.):
Use on clear sunny days. Clear sunshine, as close to neutral light as we normally get on a clear day
To be used on a rainy day when shooting. Adds warm tones to images of daylight.
To be used when shooting in the shade, as shaded areas usually produce cooler, bluer images, it is therefore important must warm up.
Used to shoot the yellow tones indoors, under incandescent light bulbs, or under street lights.
Compensates when shooting indoors for the green/blue tones of fluorescent light strips.
A cool blue glow will be applied to the picture by the light, so used to add warmth.
Stop auto white balance and manually change the white balance. Generally speaking, you’ll be able to look up at the sky and see what kind of day it’s like, and easily determine the color balance required. When you switch inside, simply check the lighting under which you shoot and pick the correct white balance again. Setting it up when you pull your camera out of the bag will soon become second nature.
12. Use a TTL Flash:
It’s amazing how many people own a DSLR camera and rely on the little flash pop-up. The missing piece in the camera kit of many DSLR owners is also known as a speedlite, an external hot shoe mounted TTL light. TTL is short for “Through The Lens.” In other words, the camera and flash interact well with each other in order to provide adequate flash lighting.
It is true that the top line flashes brand name of Nikon and Canon may be $500 +. If that’s a little out of your control, one of the best off-brands I know about is the Yongnuo YN-565EX that’s under a $100 on Amazon as of this article. You might look into the METZ brand if you want something a little more costly and more of a popular brand name.
There are 3 key things to keep in mind when using a hot shoe mounted flash.
1) Be sure to have backup batteries – Most units work off of 4 AA batteries.
2) Bounce the flash with something like a small ROGUE Flashbender currently around $35 on Amazon.
3) Use the flash outside to fill in shadows and get better results overall potentially outside.
13 Use a 5-in-1 Reflector:
A 5-in-1 reflector can be sold on Amazon for less than $20. Even one as big as the one in the following video.
That’s something to show with a video than writing, so I’m going to leave you to the video. It’s just a 5-minute video about a great light control tool.
14. Use a Prime Lens:
Most of the lenses that come with today’s camera kits are zoom lenses that make logical sense because they provide a wider range of focal points such as wide angle to get closer, without the photographer having to move around much. Normally, however, 35mm cameras came with a 50mm lens in the film days. This is a prime lens. A prime lens is actually a lens that is not a zoom lens and has a focal length. Some other primes are 28mm, 35mm, 85mm, 100mm and 135 mm lenses, but the list goes on.
Why do I need a prime lens?
That’s a great question. One of the main reasons for this is the opening of the lens. For example, for just over $100, Canon makes a 50 mm f/1.8 prime lens. At the widest range, the standard kit lens is about f/3.5 and sometimes f/4 or f/4.5. This means that in the lower light, the prime lens will be stronger. If you haven’t seen the depth of field video in tip #4 above, this may help you to better understand some of this f / stop geek.
What all this boils down to is that it’s your decision. Whether you’re going to be a professional photographer or just a self-satisfying photographer, go out and find a decent DSLR camera and point your way out. Such cameras are the perfect way for a novice to know all the trade tricks and see what works and what doesn’t. Yeah, you’re going to take some horrible pictures along the way, but that’s part of learning; no one’s going to start as a master. By turning your camera on, you start to know how to practice photography with a DSLR camera.