Were you lucky enough to receive a swanky new DSLR camera over the holiday season? I was, and yes I was (am) extremely excited!! Getting to know my new camera was pretty dang cool! I have upgraded from my trusty old Canon 1000D a few light years to the very lovely Canon 70D.
If you're new to digital SLR's you might be excited, but you may also be left wondering where to start. There's so much you can do with a DSLR, but it's certainly easy to get overwhelmed and simply switch the mode dial to Auto and continue using your amazing new camera as a point and shoot.
Today I want to give you 5 simple tips to help you move away from full Auto and start experimenting with the creative potential of your new camera.
1. Understand Exposure
The best place to start when it comes to taking creative control of your camera and to get you off Auto mode is to wrap your head around the "exposure triangle".
What the heck is the exposure triangle you ask? It's fairly simple and involves these 3 elements:
1. Iso - how sensitive your camera is to light 2. Aperture (Av) - how big the hole is which lets light in to capture the image 3. Shutter Speed (Tv) - how long the shutter stays open
In full auto your camera will decide on all three elements for you, taking away all creative control. The whole point of having a fancy camera is so that you can manipulate the settings to discover your creative potential.
So, here's an easy to remember metaphor of the exposure triangle to get you started.
ISO - your trusty pair of sunglasses
Think of ISO as a pair of sunglasses. If you're standing in a room with a window with shutters (aperture), and the shutters can be opened and closed for periods of time (shutter speed) then if you were wearing sunglasses (low ISO) you would be LESS sensitive to the light entering the room. However, if you took the sunglasses off (high ISO) you would be MORE sensitive to the light entering the room. Low ISO = clear images with little noise (that grainy look some images get). Some cameras can't handle high ISO very well and will show a lot of noise at higher settings.
Aperture - open the shutters narrow or wide
You're still standing in the room, and you have your sunglasses at the ready. With a low ISO (sunglasses on), you will want to open the aperture (window shutters) wide open to allow maximum light in.
Here's the tricky part though WIDE aperture = low f/stop numbers and only part of the image in focus and NARROW aperture = high f/stop numbers and lots of the image in focus. So to let in more light set your aperture at the lowest numbers, but remember that this will leave parts of your image out of focus. You can read more about that HERE.
Shutter Speed - open the shutters for short or long periods of time
OK, so the last part of the exposure triangle is Shutter Speed. This is the amount of time you leave your window shutters open. If you have your sunglasses on, and your window shutters wide open, you won't need to leave your shutters open for very long to get the correct exposure. In low light you will need to leave the shutters open for longer.
Here's how you tie that all together:
AV (Aperture Priority) gives you the most creative control without going full manual because you choose what's in focus, you choose the ISO and then let the camera decide on shutter speed.
Tv (Shutter Priority) also gives you creative control in terms of long or short exposure shots, however the camera will decide on aperture so you won't have much control over what's in focus.
2. Switch from Full Auto Mode
If you want to take creative control of your camera you need to stop using full auto. On the mode dial you will see the auto selection in the green box.
First things first - switch the mode dial to Av. Now that you have a better understanding of exposure from reading step 1, you can start experimenting creatively. I recommend starting on Av because you can see the changes immediately, and it's also a good idea to master one setting at a time!
Try this exercise:
With your camera in Av Mode, ISO on Auto, find a small immobile object you can take a photo of which includes plenty of background. A piece of fruit works great. Set your aperture at the lowest f/stop (widest point) using the Av/Tv dial shown below, focus on the object and take a photo. Got it?
Now do the same, but move the aperture dial all the way up to the highest number (narrow) aperture. Got that? Notice the difference in the background? The first photo looks nicer right?
This is depth of field (DOF) and you can read more about that HERE.
OK now go and take some more photos experimenting with various f/stops.
3. Set your file type to RAW
I can't even explain how disappointing it is to take an awesome shot, and then realize later that you were shooting in JPG. Your stuck with a small file which can't handle any post processing and which is useless for large prints. Do yourself a favour and shoot RAW. Even though the files are large, you will appreciate it when you can easily fix exposure and white balance mistakes in post processing. Also, if you have a particular shot you'd like to get enlarged and printed it won't be a problem.
You can use programs like Adobe Lightroom, Photoshop or Apple aperture for easy post processing to make your images really pop!
4. Don't be afraid of sharing your work
One of the easiest ways to improve your photography is by finding like minded people who can share ideas and offer feedback. There's literally thousands of photography groups, meetups and short courses you can do to fast track your skills. Flickr offers a great platform for sharing, and Facebook has hundreds of photography groups which offer tutorials and advice.
I like Flickr and Facebook for inspiration and getting my work seen, BUT remember your photography should be a reflection of who you are creatively. Take inspiration from others, but don't feel like you have to replicate what other people are doing.
5. Practice, practice, practice!
A huge benefit of having your fancy new Digital camera is that you can take a LOT of images at practically no cost. That's not to say that you should photograph everything you see without even thinking about it, but it is great when your starting out and you don't have to worry about running out of film!
Don’t obsess over getting the perfect shot the first time. Think of each photograph as a lesson which you can learn more from. Remember it’s ok if some of your shots don’t work out. Learn from each experience and apply what you have learnt to your next photography expedition!
I hope these tips have helped you understand you new camera a little better. If you'd like one more handy tip as a beginner read my post on the rule of thirds HERE.
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Thanks for reading!