Have you seen Sony’s line of videos poking fun at people with DSLRs who have, literally, no clue what they are doing? It seems everywhere you go there are people packing huge cameras, lenses and flashes, with little real idea of what they are supposed to do with them. Not that long ago, I was one of them.
This summer I was given a DSLR camera for my birthday. Me, a photographic novice, who had never done much other than use a disposable camera here and there, suddenly had all of the photographic power of the universe sitting in my hands. I pictured myself shooting breathtaking images of flowers and portraits of babies that made you want to cry, until I started trying to use the thing. I realized quickly just how little I knew.
If you find yourself in this position after Christmas, here are some of the things I have learned that might make your learning curve a little shorter.
Know Your Camera Modes
One of the beautiful things about a DSLR camera is the fact that it has a dummy-proof mode. That little green box, the automatic mode, lets the camera determine the best settings based on the light. These cameras are pretty smart, so as you are learning, this mode can get you some excellent shots, but don’t be afraid to venture past it as you get more comfortable.
You also have a full-out manual mode that gives you all of the control. This is not the mode for beginners. Rather, consider shooting in aperture priority or shutter speed priority, so you can set one feature and let the camera match with the others.
Embracing the F/stop
The f/stop is where the magic happens on a DLSR. The f/stop refers to the aperture, or the opening size of the lens. The smaller the number, the larger the opening, and the more light the camera takes in.
But let me tell you a little secret. You know those deliciously blurry backgrounds in portraits? That is accomplished with a low f-stop number. That small depth of field means only a certain area in front of the lens can be in focus. Play around with f/stops and aperture priority mode to learn more about taking great portraits.
Understanding Shutter Speed
The ability to control shutter speed is another important benefit of having a fancy camera. I use fast shutter speeds, like 1/1000, to capture moving objects without blur. When you are photographing someone playing sports or even your active toddler running around the backyard, use a fast shutter speed.
These settings let in less light, so you may need to compensate with a larger f/stop or higher ISO. Shooting on shutter priority mode allows you to adjust the shutter speed, while the camera makes the other adjustments based on the light.
Make the Most of ISO
The final setting you need to know to get started is ISO. In the film world, this was the “film speed” you purchased, and the numbers basically still work the same. ISO 100 is great for high sun outdoor pictures, while ISO 800 and above are better for low light situations. However, I learned the hard way that pictures at ISO 800 or higher are quite grainy, and this is not a good setting for portraits. A good all-around setting is ISO 400.
While there is much more to learn with your camera than these four basic things, this is a good place to get started. If you already know this about your camera, you will be ahead of the game in my book. It took me the past six months to learn these basics! So grab your camera, start experimenting and learn along with me.
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