003 Getting The Most Out of Your DSLR
I have a little story to share with you, one that I remembered when thinking how to go about writing this post. Over a year ago, me and my beautiful friend Lydia were at a blogger event and we both had our “posh cameras” out snapping away. Lydia asked me to take a photo of her, and watched me as I was fiddling about with some settings – one of which was simply moving the Focus Point. Lydia was absolutely baffled as to what I was doing and up until that point she had never discovered, never mind use, the back button focus / manual focus button. I was gobsmacked as Lydia has always taken amazing photos – and if you haven’t seen her blog recently, you will see that they are just phenomenal now. How on earth had she gotten by without knowing how to use her camera properly?
Like Lydia back then, I am sure there are many of you who do not use your camera, I am talking DSLR specific here, properly. Regardless of whether you shoot Canon or Nikon, or whatever other brand, there are some real key basics that you can learn to instantly improve your photography.
Now, I am not a trained photographer
nor have I studied the subject, so for those of you who enjoy fancy techno language, I suggest you leave now. Those of you who appreciate the posh lingo and jargon being broken down into easy to understand sentences then stick around. I ain’t ever going to use the correct words to describe my camera – I just know how to use it properly. If that does not make sense, continue reading to find out more. Prepare for an essay.
As I use a Canon 700D this is the camera I will be talking about in this post, but the majority of these tips and features apply to most DSLR models.
How many of you shoot in Auto Mode? Learn how to shoot in AV (Aperture Priority) and Manual mode.
When I very first picked up a posh camera it was so tempting to shoot in Auto and let the camera just decide what my images should look like. Eventually, I realised I wanted total control of my images and then began to learn how to shoot in Manual Mode. After that I would then switch between Manual and Aperture Priority. What is the difference? Manual mode you control everything, AV, it controls the Aperture – basically makes the background more milky/blurry. It focuses on what is in the forefront of the shot.
Depending on what lighting I have to work with will decide what mode I shoot in. If it is a really bright, sunny day – usually the hardest light to work with – then I will always shoot in Manual mode. If I have a cloudy day with a bit of sunlight, then I will shoot in AV mode.
The best way to get to know your camera is stop shooting in Auto. Even if your photos are not coming out right, keep fiddling with the settings until you get there. No matter how long it takes, you will get there.
What is ISO / F-Stop / Shutter speed?
These chaps all work together to create your image. I will go over these in more detail when it comes to Lighting, but will cover them now quickly as they obviously are an important part of this post. Without understanding what these are, you will never get your head around shooting in Manual mode.
ISO. Not going to lie, I have completely forgotten what this stands for, and it is something to do with image sensitivity. To be honest, like I said at the beginning of the post I am not too bothered about knowing exactly what it does – as long as I know how to use it when shooting. On your camera ISO is the number that goes from Auto – 100 – all the way up to 3200. I never really put my ISO past 800 as images become “grainy” after this. ISO just changes the digital sensitivity of the image – pixels become brighter or darker. Okay this is getting techy even for me. Basically, when I push the ISO up it makes the photo brighter – in low light just remember even if the photo looks bright, the quality will not always be the best, e.g grainy.
Shutter speed. This chap controls how much light is let into your camera. A slow shutter speed, more light. A fast shutter speed, less light. Tip: When shooting on a slow shutter speed use a tripod so that your image does not blur or lose focus.
Back to ISO… Again without going into too much detail. If you have a bright, sunny day then you will only need to use ISO 100. If you have hardly any light, then bump up the ISO.
F-Stop. This is the only one I struggle to put into words as I just know how to use it. I will try and explain it as simply as possible. Without getting too technical, F-Stop is your Aperture. So imagine a circle, the f-stop controls how much light goes through the circle. The smaller the circle, less light.
Depending on what lens you have for your camera, this will determine how low your F-Stop can go. I personally try and shoot at the lowest F-Stop possible, as it gives a nicer depth of field. However, if you want more of the background in and less depth to your images then bump up the F-Stop. This also comes in handy when you have a super, bright day as you will find you need to push up the F-stop even if you have lowered the ISO and Shutter Speed to prevent it from being over exposed. I don’t want to get into this too much as it will all be covered in Lighting.
The key here is to remember these 3 work in harmony together. You will learn the best by shooting in manually and purposely getting it wrong. So go and make a load of mistakes just like I did, and when you magically get THE SHOT, make a note of the settings and note the lighting and it all will fall into place in time.
Auto Focus Point Selection. Move The Focus Point.
Don’t just shoot and point, and certainly do not rely on the Auto Focus to focus on the area that you want to make the most of. You have the ability to control the focus point yourself, by pressing the AF Selection button, circled above, and using the main dial to toggle where you want the focus point to go. You can use this tool both in Live View and through the View Finder. I use this every time I shoot. Another thing, you don’t always need to use Auto Focus, you can switch the camera into Manual Focus and physically twist the lens into focusing how you want it to. As always, play around with it and get to know your camera inside out, and this way you will get to know your style too.
Not all cameras have the Live View option, and I know a lot of them do not necessarily have the option of a touch screen like my camera. Live View is something I use to help me quickly set up a shot, for instance it allows me to practice getting the crop right and check the lighting before I switch back to the normal view finder. Live View is also handy when filming YouTube videos as you can flip the screen around and see what you look like whilst filming. With this particular model, you can touch the screen in Live View to change the camera settings but this is not something I do often. I may adjust the exposure slightly but that is about it.
Shoot in RAW.
When you go into the Menu of your camera, you will be able to choose what you wish the photos to be saved as. I had been shooting them as large jpeg files, but you can also save the files as RAW images. A RAW image is much better to work and edit from. I won’t go into too much detail with this as I will cover this when I discuss editing in detail in a later post.
Something I will cover very lightly, but again this will be discussed in further detail in Lighting. The white balance of an image can change everything. If you are shooting in natural light, usually the white balance tends to be more natural and reflects the true colour of what your object is. However, if you are shooting in cloudy conditions you may find the white balance, if not controlled, is more blue / cool. I tend to keep my camera on Auto White Balance and any further changes I do in Photoshop afterwards.
All I can really say is have a good read through of the Manual, even if you think it will bore you to tears. At least read through the basics and get to know what each button on your camera does. And just practice, practice, practice. Try to get out of the habit of shooting in the same conditions, on the same settings – even if it feels safe. Push yourself out of your comfort zones and test your posh cameras out in more difficult weather, and trial out different settings for new and exciting effects. Whatever happens, photography should be fun.
I hope this post helped a few of you and if you have any questions, please do not hesitate to ask me. Just in case you missed the first two parts of my series, check them out here: