As you realise your smartphone takes very mediocre pictures, any aspiring photographer longs to get their hands on a great digital single lens reflex (DSLR) camera. The wide range on offer proves an arduous challenge, many brands with a huge array of features and technical jargon you don’t fully understand make sifting through the options rather difficult. Today we will cover what you need to know to fully understand DSLR camera’s as a beginner, to make purchasing your first one a breeze. If you would like more details, Tom Ang’s buying guide offers over 2.5 hours of training on camera specifications that will have you feeling like an expert in no time.
The first step is always determine what you need. Amateur photographers often get sucked into buying really expensive cameras that are far beyond what they need to take great photos. Before you even think about walking into a camera store, decide on the types of photography you will most likely be doing, the conditions you will be photographing in and whether or not you will be learning the art of photography or simply setting it to auto and pointing to shoot. Find a camera that suits your needs, with great features within your budget. Once you get it home, you need to learn to use it.
Find a subject, it could be anything from your girlfriend, a potted plant, to your dog or some beautiful scenery out your window. If you’re stuck for ideas check out photography for a rainy weekend, more than enough ideas and projects to keep you busy over a quiet weekend at home. Set all the functions to auto, including the ISO and turn on your auto-focus. Manual focus is typically for low light conditions, or situations where the auto-focus gets confused to the subject.
ISO speed is the first setting to experiment with. ISO is the measure of your camera’s sensitivity to light, lower numbers are less sensitive and higher numbers are more sensitive. Take a picture of your subject at the lowest ISO speed (usually 50), and again at the highest (can be over 1600). The photo taken with slower ISO speed will have used a slower shutter speed, and less random discoloured pixels than the higher speed. The rule of thumb is to use the minimum ISO speed that allows adequate shutter speed and an adequately small aperture to capture all of the important details within the depth of field.
The second experiment is your camera’s aperture. It is simply an opening on the front of your camera that allows more or less light into the sensor. Typically it will be a dial on the lens with a series of numbers ranging from 1.4 to 22 on most lenses. Size is referred to as a ratio of focal length to aperture size, like (f/5.6). Consequently, a smaller aperture (letting less light in) will have a higher number. Take two pictures, with both a small and a large aperture. The background of the subject is less sharp with a larger aperture than it is with the smaller one. If you want to blur the background of an image, use a large aperture. This is called the depth of field.
Setting your camera on full manual mode, we are going to play with the shutter speed. Different for each camera, you may need to consult your user guide for the exact steps to do this. Shutter speeds are numbers in a sequence that roughly doubles each time, for example 1 second, ½, ¼, etc. Take two pictures at two very different shutter speeds. You will notice that the picture with the faster shutter speed will be darker. The slower shutter speed may show some motion blur if you were holding the camera in your hand, for night photography using a remote control and a tripod can eliminate this camera shake.
These three components make us the three pillars of DSLR photography. In terms of light, remember that you have three different settings with which to control your new DSLR camera. Adjusting your aperture, ISO speed or shutter speed can all compensate for low light conditions, but all of them will have an effect on your image. Take the time to memorise each effect, and think about them each time you take a photograph until it becomes second nature. Chasing the light is a great course offering insight into how light affects photography, for those interested in follow the steps to learn how to capture colour, light and shadow and take fantastic pictures.
If you have them, experiment with different lenses. Fixed lenses of different sizes have different focal lengths, while zoom lenses have a variable focal length. This is simply the distance in millimetres between your lens elements (the glass) and your cameras sensor. Standard 50mm lenses are about equivalent to human sight, while wide angle lenses like a 28 mm can let you fit a lot of a scene into your pictures. Telephoto lenses can bring subjects very close to you, 80 mm or longer is fantastic for wildlife photography.
Polarizing filters are very useful when photographing in bright sunlight, it reduces reflected sunlight and can make skies a very dark blue. Your flash has several uses, DSLR’s have an inbuilt flash but also the fittings for an external flash with greater flexibility and higher maximum power. In sunlight you can use a flash to soften shadows, or in dim light to brighten a scene. Bouncing a flash off the ceiling will softly light a large area for warm photography.
Now you understand the basics of DSLR photography, the only thing left to do is practise. Take endless photos of random objects in your house or convince a friend to be a subject for a day while you master the art of the portrait. Using only simple gear you can take amazing portrait photos, a quick course will have you shooting up there with the pro’s. Play with each setting and if you are apprehensive at first dont worry, its very easy to put your camera back in auto-mode and still take great photos. Once you are ready to go “full manual,” Jerad Hill will guide you to learn every trick in his repertoire for taking really amazing photos with you fully in control. You’ve just got home with your new DSLR camera, make the most of it and start your photography career today.