DSLR, or Digital Single Lens Reflex, is a type of photography in which the digital camera directs light from lens to viewfinder using mirrors. Many people choose DSLR because point-and-shoots can have a slow autofocus process, which means delays and missed moments, especially when it comes to motion pictures, like fast-moving kids. By the time your point-and-shoot is ready, those active kids have moved on to something else. DSLRs eliminate this problem with fast autofocus and shutter release. When you snap the picture, the camera is ready.
Another benefit of using a DSLR is the lenses, which can be used to add effects or depth to photos. A telephoto lens can get you a great shot of something happening farther away, such as a child on a soccer field, without it looking so small and far away in the photo. And these are just a few of the ways DSLR gets you great pictures. In spite of the benefits, however, learning to use your first DSLR camera can be intimidating. Besides learning the many camera controls, there are also some different strategies for shooting that you should familiarize yourself with for the best results. Udemy offers great courses on this such as Become a Better Photographer. To get you started, here are some go-to tips for DSLR beginners.
Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority Modes
Using Aperture Priority and Shutter Priority modes is a great way to work up to shooting in full manual mode. Manual mode may be a little daunting when you first start, but you can learn to master it by enrolling in a course such as Digital Photography: Shooting in Manual. In the meantime, you can ease into it by using these semi-manual or semi-auto modes. You may discover with time that you prefer one over the other; many photographers do have a favorite.
Aperture determines how much light gets into the camera and refers to the size of the lens opening. Aperture Priority mode, which may be indicated with an ‘A’ or ‘Av’ on the camera, lets you control the aperture while the camera controls the shutter speed automatically. This usually results in a properly exposed picture.
Shutter speed refers to how long the camera shutter stays open when you take a picture. When it is open, light hits the camera’s sensor; this is also called exposure time. What Shutter Priority mode does is allow you to control your shutter speed manually as your camera controls the aperture size automatically – basically the opposite of Aperture Priority. Shutter Priority is probably indicated on your camera with an ‘S’ or ‘Tv’.)
Experiment with these modes to find ways to create certain effects in your photos. For example, you can clearly focus on your subject while the background remains blurred and dreamy; this is called a shallow depth of field (DOF). You can achieve this by setting your aperture to a bigger size. Portraits, still life, and food photos all work well with a shallow DOF. Setting your aperture to a smaller size will yield a deeper DOF, meaning that both the subject or foreground and the background are both in focus, perfect for landscapes.
Shutter Priority mode can help you capture motion in a particular way. A faster shutter speed can “freeze” a fast-moving subject, while a slower shutter speed would let the motion show in the photo through a blurred image.
Your tripod is one place where you won’t want to cut corners. Your hands may be just fine for some shots, but there is no match for a good tripod’s stability. Tripods are especially great for nighttime long exposures, fireworks photos, and certain special effects. You can also use your camera’s timer along with the tripod to completely eliminate any shaking, even by your finger pressing the button to take the photo. A cheap tripod won’t last long; this is one area where you get what you pay for, so look for quality.
One of the first things you should get to know on your new camera is its autofocus capabilities. Look through the camera’s lens and you will see a range of focus points. The most sensitive focus point – the one in the center – is the one you should point directly at your subject. To lock the focus, you can push the shutter button halfway down. Then, if you want to, you can recompose the shot, as the subject does not necessarily need to be right in the center of the photo. Then, take the picture. Even when your subject is off-center, this method will get you a clearer shot than if you use an off-center point to line up with your subject.
“One Shot’ and ‘Continuous’ and the two basic autofocus modes. Put simply, One Shot mode should be used for a still subject, while Continuous mode is a better choice for a moving subject, since it will continually focus as your subject moves.
Your camera will control exposure automatically, but sometimes situations arise where you need to be able to control it yourself. For example, in bright daylight, you camera may darken the photo, resulting in an underexposed subject. This is when Metering mode comes into play. Here you can select the best option for exposure manually.
The default setting on DSLRs is Evaluative Metering mode, which will work fine for most settings. But you can choose another option, such as Partial Metering mode or Spot Metering mode, to brighten your subject as needed.
There are times when your camera’s automatic functions will do the job just fine, but there are other times when you need to override these settings and choose the right exposure for your photo. This is especially true when your scene contains either mostly back or mostly white tones. Snowscapes are an example of this. These are already naturally bright, especially in the sun, and the camera will darken the scene. Use the sliding scale feature to increase the exposure manually.
For a scene with mostly black tones, the opposite will be true. You may need to manually decrease exposure for the true black tones to appear in the photo. Move one to two full stops whether you are increasing or decreasing the exposure. Play with this feature a lot to get familiar with what it can do.
White Balance settings can be used to achieve a photo that has a more natural look. Often, certain light sources that create color casts in photos simply do not look very natural. With a DSLR camera, you can use the White Balance setting to counteract this. Auto, Daylight, Cloudy, Shade, Fluorescent, and Flash are some of the White Balance settings you can choose from. Experiment with different settings in different lighting situations, and you are sure to discover some interesting effects.
Learning how to have more control over your ISO settings is a good idea. The higher the ISO number, the more light-sensitive the camera is, and the faster the shutter speed. Choose a high ISO speed for low light and a lower ISO speed for bright light. There are some general rules of thumb to follow with regards to ISO:
- An ISO of 100 is typically just right for bright sunlight
- 200-400 is a good choice for overcast daylight, shade, or well-lit indoor scenes
- 800 may be suitable for indoors with no flash or low light outdoors
Low light situations with no flash, whether indoors or outdoors, often require an ISO speed of at least 1600. But a high ISO can make your photos appear grainy, so stick with lower speeds when possible. In low light situations, setting the ISO low and using a tripod can help you get a clear hot. Or, use a high ISO and embrace the creative look of the grain. One way to do this is to convert grainy low-light photos to black and white in Photoshop for a unique look.
Photo-editing programs, such as Photoshop, can help you add special effects and generally get the most from your photographs. There are times when you will want to shoot intuitively, not taking a lot of time to fuss with camera settings. A photo-editing program allows you to tweak or correct these photos later or add in special effects if you’d like. Udemy offers great courses in learning how to use many of these programs, such as Photoshop for Photographers.
Switch up the perspective from which you take pictures. Try getting down low, eye level, shooting from above, pointing the camera up, looking behind you, or getting up close. Trying something you normally wouldn’t can lead to some of the most interesting photos.
Take Lots of Pictures!
Fill that memory card all the way up. Take lots and lots of shots, and some of them will surely end up being special. If you wind up with a handful of shots you love and discard the rest, it’s been a successful day.
Of course, getting great photos is about more than just understanding how your camera works. Photography is also an art form, and like any art form, it requires some know-how to get the look and feel you want in your shots. Start by identifying what you want to shoot. When you know what you want to photograph – your kids, for example – then it’s time to compose your shot. Aim the camera to determine how you want to center the shot; decide between landscape and portrait layout. Check the background and the foreground. Remember that candid photos can be more interesting than posed shots, so in this case, you could get the kids moving around, playing a game, or something else active. These shots will almost certainly show more of their personalities than if you ask them to sit still and smile for the camera.
Don’t be afraid to adjust your DSLR settings! This is where the tips above can be put into practice. Push buttons, remove lenses, turn knobs, and see what happens. Try Av or Tv mode to start with, and go from there. When you’re ready, take your picture – and then keep taking pictures. You can edit them later if you want, throw out the ones you don’t like, and enjoy building a collection of expert-looking, beautiful, and fun photos.
You can learn more about DSLR photography by taking an Udemy course such as Easy DSLR Digital Photography Course for Beginners. Once you are familiar with the basics, check out EasyDSLR Digital Photography Course: Advanced.