If the first thought running through your mind is - why is a beginner giving tips? I completely understand. It was that very thought that has kept me from writing this post for so long. I finally decided to put my tips out there because I hear these statements a lot:
- I've had my DSLR for years and I've never taken a single picture in manual mode.
- I want to buy a nice camera, but I'm afraid I'll never learn how to use it.
- Whenever I google tips, I find sites with lots of info, but when they start talking about iso, aperture and shutter speed it's totally Greek to me.
As you may know I got my first big girl camera for Christmas this past year. My New Year's resolution was to do a 365 photo project and use my camera every day. For the first time ever, I've stuck to a resolution, and I'm so glad I did. I forced myself from day one to shoot in manual mode only. While I'm still a beginner, I have learned a few things over this past year and I think for anyone who is just starting out these tips might help.
1. Don't be afraid of the M.
Manual mode is your friend. Having a DSLR and never shooting in manual mode is like having wall to wall carpet in your living room when there are hardwood floors underneath! It's straight up crazy town! Your camera can do SO much and you CAN shoot in manual mode. If I can do it - there's no doubt that anyone can.
2. Make Greek speak to you.
When I first started out I was intimidated by my camera settings. Things like iso, aperture and shutter speed were difficult to understand and manipulate. I read my camera manual and still didn't really understand. So I did what I've always done whenever learning new things, I broke the terms down in ways that made sense to me. I basically ask myself 3 questions.
ISO - Is the Sun On? That's what I ask myself when I'm adjusting the iso because ISO has to do with light. Very basically the lower the number the less sensitive your camera is to light. When the sun is on full blast I don't need a high iso, but when the sun isn't around I probably need to turn the iso up. Think of it like a lamp or a light switch - turn it down when there is good lighting already present, turn it up with low lighting. Lower iso's also produce clearer pictures. This is one of the big reasons bloggers shoot rooms during the day when natural light is at its best.
In darker situations with a higher iso, your picture will look brighter (than in real life) but will be grainier (less clear).
However, you can combat the darkness/graininess issue with a tripod - which we'll get to below.
Aperture - is a fancy word huh? Fancy starts with F, and aperture is measured in F stops, and all you really need to ask yourself is what do you want in Focus? Aperture has to do with the size of the opening in the lens. Very basically, the lower the F stop the more in focus one element of a picture will be. This is where you get those pretty pictures with blurry backgrounds.
Higher f stops are for when you want more of your picture to be in focus. So think small f, fuzzier background, big f, more in focus background.
Shutter speed - How fast do I want to snap this picture? Shutter speed is basically the amount of time that the shutter is open. It's a fraction and the higher the denominator the faster the speed - 1/100 is slower than 1/200. A slow shutter speed allows more light to enter the lens and vice versa. So slower shutter speeds are great in low light settings because in the absence of good lighting you want to let as much light in as possible. Faster shutter speeds are great with optimal light and for capturing movement.
I think of it like this - do I want to go in slow motion so that I can slowly take as much light in as possible - or do I want to snap it fast because I already have enough light?
I have a lot to learn as far as shutter speed goes. It's something I don't always get just right.
I probably should have dialed up the ss here - these horses were moving super fast.
In low light settings a slow shutter speed will allow more light in, but with super slow speeds you need to stabilize your camera - which leads me to the next point.
3. Go ahead and get a tripod.
Even if you aren't a blogger and you're only planning to use your camera for personal use, you will want a tripod. They aren't terribly expensive, and they really come in handy. For one thing, in low light settings (when the sun isn't on) you don't have to raise your iso (which is like turning on the light) if you have a tripod! You can get clear, light filled pics with a low iso in a dark situation if you have a tripod. Why? Because you can slow your shutter speed waaaaaaaay down allowing as much light in as possible without any camera shakiness! And since low iso =clear pics and slow ss = lots of light you get the best of both worlds in a low light situation.
My master bedroom is difficult to shoot because the wall color is so dark, and there are only two small windows in the room. With a tripod,
|iso 200, f 8.0, 2.0s|
I could lower the iso and slow the shutter speed way down to capture it the way I see it everyday - because obviously it looks this clean all the time.
A tripod also lets you- the usual picture taker -get in front of the camera. On Halloween night we wanted a picture of all of us together (in these costumes who wouldn't?!), but by the time we had gotten dressed it was almost sun down on an already grey day. Using the tripod, I was able to get in the picture, and slow the ss to let as much light in right before the sun went down.
4. Use the timer.The only way for me to get in the above photo was to set the timer on the camera, but that's not the only time that setting the timer is a good thing. In fact, anytime I use my tripod to shoot rooms or projects I always set the timer to 2 seconds. Why? This lets me take my hand off the camera, allowing the camera to be as still as possible when the shutter closes, which is what you want especially when you're shooting with a slow shutter speed. KariAnne talks about this tripod/timer tip here, and her photographs are awesome so you should definitely listen to her.
5. Reward yourself with a 50mm lens.
All of the above photos were taken with the lens my camera came with. Back in the summer I bought a 50 mm lens and oh my word - it rocks my world! Once you get comfy with your camera settings, reward yourself. It will give you an incentive to learn if you know there's a reward waiting for you. And it's not a super expensive one, but it's definitely a treat.
6. Follow the good picture takers.
I find that I learn more from bloggers that take great pictures, but don't necessarily blog about photography. There are tons of photog blogs out there, but for me the most helpful things I've learned about photography have come from fellow diy design bloggers who also happen to take killer photos. So if you're following a blog and you love the photographs, do a search on their site to see if they've ever written anything on the subject. Two of my favorites are Kate at Centsational Girl and Katie from Bower Power.
If you learn better by taking classes check out Shoot FLY Shoot. The video classes given by Kevin Palmer (The Lettered Cottage) and Josh Moates are very affordable. I attended their photography session at the Haven conference this past summer and it was pretty amazing, so I'd say the classes are awesome.
7. Just start playing.
It's not meant to be rocket science - at least I don't think it is. Don't let it intimidate you. Switch the dial to manual today and don't look back. I promise you'll see the world in a new way - you'll figure it out - you won't break your camera - you'll have fun.
Some of my favorite images from this past year are the ones that aren't "perfect" not that any of my images actually are, but you know what I mean.
Did you learn anything new this year? Do you have any photog tips - please share in the comments section!