So you just made the jump, you decided that your smartphone (as good as they may be nowadays) is just not cutting it anymore and you got yourself a nice dslr to begin your photographic journey.
You set out to a nice location and you start shooting left and right with your DSLR only to realise that your pictures look worse than the pictures you took with your phone.
What’s going on? you spend hundreds if not thousands on a professional camera only to end up with crappy results that your 400 dollar phone can surpass easily.
Now before you go back to the store to return this horrible camera hear me out. Imagine you have 2 cars one is automatic and the other is standard (or one of those fancy ones that has both modes and you can change the gears on the steering wheel).
For most users, the automatic car will suffice but if you want to really push it to the limits you need the standard one, it will allow you to push the engine past its normal limit and decide when to change gears, have more controls etc. but if you don’t know how to use those things properly, you would be better off using the automatic. Same applies here.
Your camera needs to be operated properly to really shine so here I will outline a few things that I believe are necessary to operate your DSLR as its meant to be.
Say goodbye to Auto mode
Honestly you don’t need a DSLR if you are going to go about shooting auto. You want power and with great power comes great responsibility! so ditch the training wheels, you’re in the big leagues now.
Instead you should familiarise yourself with 3 modes in particular, M, A and S depending on the camera.
M stands for manual, and it means that basically everything is decided by you (good for landscapes and studio photography)
A is for aperture priority which means that you set an aperture which will remain fixed and everything else shifts around this setting (Very useful for portraits in particular but we will get more into that later in the blog series)
S stands for shutter speed priority, same as above but now shutter speed remains a constant and everything else shifts around it (good for sports or fast moving subjects)
What does all that even mean?
Elementary Watson, there are 2 main settings which define your pictures Aperture and Shutter speed. There are many more but let’s stick to these 2 for now.
Aperture basically means how much a lens opens and closes every time you take a picture. the smaller the number eg. f1.8 means it opens really wide and f16 would mean that it opens very little.
This has 2 main effects.
Firstly the wider it opens, the more light it lets through and therefore your shot is brighter. Secondly and more importantly this affects Depth of Field. In the pictures above you can see the difference very clearly, the picture of the girl was open with a very open lens (F1.8 to be precise) and the effect is that of her being in focus and the background becoming nice and smooth. The other picture shows a man standing in a monastery with the mountain in the back, to make sure everything was in focus I used a very small aperture (f24) this gave me a very deep depth of field.
This is why A mode is important, if you are shooting a model on the street the light may change but you want that blurry background effect, you would set it in A mode, choose the largest aperture and make the camera think for you how fast it needs to shoot to make sure everything is properly exposed without messing with your aperture.
S mode controls Shutter Speed which is how fast the lens “blinks” every time you take a picture. A faster blink means less light coming in and a slower blink means more light in but more importantly, a fast blink lets you freeze action.
Because a camera can blink in thousands of a second, it can capture movement that would look blurry at slower speeds so it is fantastic for capturing sports where there is a lot of movement, the downside is that it usually needs a lot of light to work properly, otherwise images look dark . S mode makes sure you get enough light by manipulating other settings while leaving shutter speed as you set it.
Manual mode lets you control both of these settings yourself but you should refrain from doing so until you get a hang of it. Also you need to remember these are the basics, once you understand them well you can begin breaking these rules to suit your creative style, but first you must understand them before you can break them.
Phew! that’s a lot to take in, but these are probably the most important things you need to know to begin your photographic journey.
I will be posting more blog posts soon on how to improve your photography so if you liked this rather wordy article (I promise I’ll be more concise on next entries) you can subscribe to my mailing list and find out exactly when I do!