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A Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography H. Lovelyn Bettison

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A Beginner's Guideto

DSLR Photography

H. Lovelyn


So you've finally gotten the DSLR camera you've been hoping for and you feel like a whole new world of photography has opened up for you. I remember when I finally moved up from my compact point and shoot to a DSLR. It was exciting and daunting all at the same time. I bought my camera used from a friend. Even though I'd used an SLR when shooting with film, I was still a bit intimidated by my DSLR. There were so many more knobs and buttons. I wasn't sure what they all did. Before I get into the nitty gritty about using a DSLR camera, my first advice I have for you is to read your manual. I know it's boring as heck and you really don't want to, but to truly know your camera and what it can do you'll need to read the manual. I tried to learn my camera without reading the manual at first and let me tell you, that was a bad idea. When I finally did get around to looking through the manualmonths laterI found out that my camera could do a bunch of things that I had no idea about. If for some reason you don't have your camera manual, you can find the manuals for most cameras online. I'll say it one more and I won't mention it again.



Before you get started you need to understand the language of digital photography. Getting familiar with these words will go a long way when you're learning the ropes from books, websites, and other photographers. Aperture: The opening inside the lens that controls the amount of light that gets into the camera. This is expressed in f-stops. The lower the f-stop the larger the aperture. The higher the f-stop the smaller the aperture. Aperture settings can be used to control the depth of field in your shot. A small aperture (large f-stop number) will give a greater depth of field, meaning that more objects in your picture will be in focus. While a large aperture (small f-stop number) will create a shallow depth of field. This will cause the background of your shot to be out of focus while the subject is in focus. Histogram: A great tool you can use to monitor the exposure on a picture. It appears as a graph

that shows you the light and dark areas in a picture so you can get a truer idea of exposure of the picture than you can get by looking at the photo preview on your camera. ISO: The camera's image sensor's sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO number the more the sensitive the sensor to light. JPEG: A method used by digital cameras to store images. It stands for Joint Photographic Experts Group. This is the group that came up with the technique. JPEG is a method for compressing the image and is commonly used for images on the web or that are sent through email. The compression used does distract from some of the images quality. RAW: A method used by digital cameras to store original files. These files are not compressed or processed in any way. Many photographers like taking pictures using these larger files because they get a truer image that they can manipulate later. LCD: (Liquid Crystal Display) It's the screen on the back of your camera that you can see the images on. Megapixel: Equal to one million pixels. It help determine the quality of the picture your camera takes. Most people think the more megapixels the better the image quality. This isn't always true though because image quality is also determined by the size of the sensor. If a camera can take pictures with a lot of megapixels, but the sensor is too small to handle them, you won't get good image quality. Memory Card: This term is used to refer to a device used to store information. They are used in digital cameras to store photo files. Noise: A degradation of the image. This can result naturally from the build-up of electric signals or can occur from having a very fast shutter speed. Usually the higher the ISO you use to take a picture the more noise will also be seen in the picture. Noise gives the image a grainy look. Pixel: The smallest part of the picture. When you look at a computer screen the image is made up of many different dots all put together. Those individual dots are pixels. White Balance: A setting in your camera used to make up for the different colored casts certain types of light can give to an image. Okay, you've got that now right. If you don't quite understand some of these terms, don't worry. I will explain them in more detail later on in the book.

Automatic Camera Setting

When you're not familiar with your camera using automatic settings can really save you. When I first got my DSLR I didn't know how to work it at all and found myself struggling. At the time I just used the automatic settings because I needed to get more comfortable with the camera. Automatic mode allows you to take good pictures while you're still reading the manual and learning the ins and outs of your camera's settings. There are plenty of automatic settings on most cameras for you to experiment with. There are usually settings for sports/action, landscape, portrait, evening, and close-ups. Portrait - Use this setting when photographing people for perfect skin tones Action - Use this setting to stop action without blurriness Landscape - Use this setting pictures of scenery Close-up - Use setting to make small objects fill the frame

Other modes on your camera will give you partial control of the setting. These modes are great when you are ready to control some aspects of the picture, but still let your camera take care of the rest to make sure the picture is still good. For example aperture priority mode lets you control the size of the aperture you're shooting in.

You can set the f-stop and the camera will adjust the other settings for the picture. Another example is shutter priority mode. This allows you to control the speed the shutter opens and the camera controls the rest. I'll explain more about aperture and shutter speed later on. Once you know your camera pretty well you'll be ready to start using manual settings but there may be times when you want to set your camera to automatic even then. Many photographers prefer using the partially manual priority modes to using their camera set at fully manual. These modes are fast and easy to use. You'll find that some situations will require you to use the fully manual mode though to get the results you're looking for.

Understanding Autofocus

You probably use the autofocus (AF) mode all the time, but did you know that your camera has multiple focus modes that perform different functions? There are three focal modes on most DSLR cameras: manual focus, one shot, and continuous. Knowing which type of focus to use will help you get pictures that are sharp and clear. We'll discuss manual focus some other time. I want to concentrate on the two autofocus (AF) modes, but first let's look at how AF works.

How Does It Work?Your digital camera's AF mode is controlled by an array of senors that measure contrast to figure out if the image is in focus. The areas where there is the most contrast are considered the areas with the sharpest focus. While the sensors are measuring contrast they are also measuring distance to help the camera focus. These determinations are all made in fractions of a second. Once the camera makes these decisions tiny motors in the lens adjust to put the subject in focus. Sometimes the camera has difficulty determining what to focus on. A cluster of objects in the shot, motion, or lack of contrast in the photo will cause your camera to start to continuously hunt for a focal point. That's why it's good that there are different focal options on your camera. Let's look at the AF modes you can use.

One-ShotOne-shot or single-shot mode locks your camera in focus on a single object in view. The sensors won't allow the camera to take a picture until the focus is found. This is the only AF option that most compact cameras have. It is usually one of several options on a DSLR camera. When you use this mode you should put your subject in the middle of your viewfinder and allow the camera to focus on it. Once that is done push the shutter button halfway down to lock in the focus. Now you can recompose your picture to have your subject anywhere you want in the frame. This autofocus mode is great for taking pictures of still objects.

ContinuousContinuous mode allows your camera to refocus continuously while you take pictures. The camera does this by trying to predict the movement of the object and focusing according to that prediction. This AF mode is most useful when taking pictures of moving subjects because if you use the oneshot mode for these subjects by the time you take the picture the subject will have moved and will be out of focus.

Third Mode/AutofocusSome cameras actually have a third autofocus mode. This mode allows the camera to choose whether to use one-shot or continuous AF modes. As with other auto-modes on your camera, if you use this mode you run the risk of your camera making the wrong decision and ending up with a badly focused picture. Once you feel more comfortable with your camera. Start using the manual focus mode too. When you use manual you must focus the camera by adjust he ring on the lens.

What is ISO?

What is ISO and why should you care? If you want to improve your photography, understanding basic digital photography terms like ISO is vital. In film photography, ISO refers to film speed. Film comes in speeds like 100, 200, 400, and 1600. Each film speed is used in different lighting situations. The lowest numbers are used in brighter lighting and the higher numbers in dim lighting. In digital photography, ISO is used to refer to the sensitivity of the camera sensor to light. You can set the ISO in your camera menu. Each camera is different so you'll have to read your manual to find out how to set it. When not set manually your camera will determine which ISO to use on its own. The settings will appear in numbers like film speed numbers. ISO settings affect the shutter speed and aperture you'll need to take a high quality picture. If your camera sensor is very sensitive to light because it's set at a high ISO you'll require less light to enter the camera to get a properly exposed picture. This means that you'll be able to have the shutter open for less time. That is important because the longer your shutter is open the more motion blur you'll get in your picture. You'll also be able to set the camera at a narrower aperture (higher f-stop number) which will increase the depth of field in your picture. There is a problem with using high ISO settings though. The higher the ISO you use the more noise will appear in your pictures. Noise is a grainy distortion that can occur in pictures. The lower the ISO setting the clearer your picture is. Ideally, you should set your ISO to as low as you can in each lighting situation.

Use low ISO settings like 100 in bright lighting situations. When you must take pictures in dimly lit situations use higher ISO settings. One thing I really like about digital photography is that you can change your ISO settings between pictures. When using film you have to use up the entire roll of film before you can change your ISO by changing film. I hope that helped you understand the concept of ISO a bit better. As with everything don't just take my word for it. Try it out for yourself.

What is Aperture?

Aperture refers to the size of the opening in your lens. Like your pupil, your lens can open and close to let more or less light in. If it's open wide it lets in more light. If it's closed to a small diameter it lets in less light. Aperture is measured by what's referred to as f-stops or f-numbers. They are written like this: f/22, f/5.6, f/3.5, etc. The larger the f-stop the smaller the aperture or opening in the lens. For example, if set at f/22 the opening in your lens is smaller than if it were set at f/4. That may seem a bit confusing now. I know I found it to be confusing at first, but once you get used to it you'll have no problem remembering. Obviously, the opening in your lens determines how much light gets in through your lens to your sensor. If the opening is large a lot of light gets in and if it is small little light gets in. In low light situations it's advantageous to set your camera at a low f-stop. In brighter situations you can have it set at a higher f-stop. Besides the amount of light that gets into your camera there is another aspect to discuss when we talk about aperture. The wider open your lens is or the smaller your f-stop, the smaller your depth of field will be in your picture. This means that objects farther away in the photo will be out of focus. You can notice this most readily in macro photography, but it is also quite useful for giving the viewer a focal point in portraits and still life photography The smaller your lens is closed or the larger the f-stop number, the wider your depth of field. This means that even

objects in the distance will be in focus. This is useful when taking interior pictures like you would in real estate photography or landscapes. large f-stop = large depth of field small f-stop = small depth of field

Here are some pictures I just took to demonstrate this point.

This Photo was taken at f/36

This one was taken at f/13.

Notice that the leaves in the background are a bit out of focus

This picture was taken at f/5.6. Notice that the leaves in the background are even more out of focus than the photo above. Different brands of cameras use different symbols for the aperture settings. Normally, the adjustment of the aperture is on the top of the camera. It's denoted as a an A, M, A/S/M, Tv, or Av. The only way to truly understand aperture is to experiment. So take your camera out of auto mode, put it in aperture priority mode and start experimenting. When you get an image you like share with us in our share photos section.

White Balance SettingsWhite balance settings are used to compensate for various types of lighting conditions you photograph in. Your brain naturally compensates for the various casts of colors certain types of light give off, but cameras don't. Let's look at the different white balance modes and how they affect an image. Here is a simple landscape picture I took in all the white balance modes.

From left to right these pictures were taken in these settings. 1. daylight 2. shade

3. cloudy 4. fluorescent 5. tungsten Now that we see a visual example let's look at the settings more closely. Daylight: This mode is usually displayed on your menu as a picture of the sun. It is an unfiltered setting. This is the standard setting used for outdoor shots. Shade: Usually displayed on your menu as a sun partially obstructed by clouds, a house, or a tree. This mode reduces strong blue tints in your photos. It also makes for vivid sunset and sunrise photos. Cloudy: This mode is usually displayed on your menu as a picture of clouds. This setting reduces the intensity of blue tints in the picture, but it isn't as strong as the shade setting. If you use this mode on days that aren't cloudy, it can make the image look brighter. Tungsten (Incandescent): Shown as a picture of an ordinary light bulb. This setting adds more blue to the image to offset the strong orange color associated with tungsten light. Fluorescent: Shown as a fluorescent tube on your menu. Fluorescent light gives off a greenish tint. This setting adds blue and magenta to the picture to offset the green. Custom: This is the mode that you can set yourself. Depending on the type of camera you have, you'll have to do your custom setting differently. Read your camera's manual to find out how to do it for your camera. This is usually the most accurate of the white balance modes. Auto: When set on the auto setting your camera evaluates the lighting and uses the setting it determines is best. This setting is convenient because it requires no though from you, but it doesn't always give you the best results. Setting your camera on auto is the easy solution. I'm sure it's used by most people, but our goal is to have absolute control over the look of our pictures. Letting your camera choose the settings gives your camera the control not you. What if your camera makes an inappropriate choice? That's why I think it's worth it to learn your setting options and then try them out.

What is Shutter Speed?

Think of the shutter as a gate that lets light into your camera. When the gate is open light can enter the camera hitting the sensor to create an image. When the gate is closed no light gets in. The shutter speed is a measurement of how long that gate (the shutter) stays open. Shutter speed is measured in seconds ranging from 1 or more seconds to 1/3000 of a second or less. Use a slow shutter speed to take a picture in a low light situation or cause a motion blur effect. Use a faster shutter speed in bright situations or to freeze action. Some cameras, like my Sony a700, show shutter speed in fractions, but most show the shutter speed in whole numbers. These whole numbers represent a fraction. For example, if your camera reading says the shutter speed is 30, it really means that it is 1/30 of a second. Slower shutter speeds will contain quotation marks. For example 2" is 2 seconds. There is another shutter speed that you may want to use sometimes. This speed is called bulb and it allows you to leave the shutter open as long as you want. When using bulb you should use a tripod to avoid camera shake and a remote shutter release. Press the shutter release to open

the shutter. Then press it again when you want to close the shutter. When photographing people, unless you want to have some motion blur effect in your picture, you shouldn't use a shutter speed any slower than 1/60 of a second. Having the shutter open for a longer space of time will increase the probability of some blur appearing in your photo. If you are taking pictures at a shutter speed slower then 1/60 of a second you should use a tripod to avoid getting blurry images. If you're taking pictures at a sports event try setting your shutter speed fast to a setting around 1/500 of a second to freeze motion. Using shutter priority mode will allow you to adjust your shutter speed then your camera will make the other adjustments necessary for the picture.

What is a Histogram?

A histogram is a great tool you can use to monitor the exposure on a picture. When you first saw a histogram it was probably a mystery to you. Don't worry it was to me too, but once you understand it, it will serve you well. Most digital cameras have the ability to display a histogram on the LCD screen, but most people using those cameras know nothing about the value of histograms. A histogram is a kind of graph that displays the exposure levels in a picture. The brightness levels are shown on the horizontal axis of the graph. The left side represents the darkest pixels and the the right the brightest. The space in the middle of the horizontal axis represents midtones. The vertical axis represents the number of pixels. The farthest left side of the graph shows the number of pixels that have been recorded as black and the farthest right side shows the number of pixels that have been recorded as white.

Look at the gradient at the bottom of the histogram I just drew to get a better idea of what I mean. Notice that the left side is black while the right side is white.

I know it doesn't exist, but let's just say that you had a 1 pixel camera and you took a picture in a dark room. The picture would be completely dark. The camera would only record one black pixel and on your histogram it would look like this.

Conversely, if you took a very bright overexposed picture with your 1 pixel camera the histogram would look like this.

Since you don't have a one pixel camera your histogram isn't really going to look anything like the pictures on the last page. Here's an example of what the histogram looks like on the back of my camera.

For the purposes of this tutorial we're only looking at the top histogram which is the one that measures the exposure. Now you may be thinking that this is all well and good but what practical purpose does it serve in my photography? Let me tell you. The useful thing about a histogram is that it can tell you when your picture is over or underexposed even if you can't tell by just looking at the image on the LCD screen. It can also tell you if your image is clipped. That means that there are lots of pixels in the image that are at an exposure level the camera cannot read. If most of the pixels are pushed against the left edge of the graph with a steep drop off that means that the picture is too dark and you're losing a lot of detail in the picture. You'll have a ton of black in the picture in this case. If there is a steep drop off with much of the graph pushed to the right the picture is too bright. Instead of recording detail your camera has just recorded them as white. In both of these instances you should adjust your exposure to get more detail into your picture. Many cameras have an exposure warning. The areas of the image that aren't properly exposed

will be highlighted on the screen when you view the image with the histogram letting you know that you should adjust the exposure. You can see the area in the clouds that are shaded black in this image. That means those areas are overexposed.

Refer to your histogram often when you take pictures so you get used to it. With practice you'll be able to get more information about the exposure levels in your pictures than you will be able to from simply looking at the image on the LCD.

Basic CompositionNow that you understand how to work your camera a bit better let's look at some basic rules of composition that you can use to take great pictures.

The Rule of ThirdsThe rule of thirds is one of the most basic concepts of photographic composition. If you take any beginner's photography class this rule will be explained eventually. It is quite simple and once you understand it, you'll find yourself doing it without even thinking. The idea is to break your photo up into thirds both from top to bottom and across. It's like drawing a tic tac toe game on a scene before you take the photo. Imagine this grid on your photographs breaking them up into nine equal boxes, like this.

Placing the subject of your photo in the cross sections of the lines on this grid gives the picture more visual tension. You can chose to place your subject at any of the four cross sections depending on the look you want to give the photo.

Here are a few general photographic composition rules that has to do with The Rule of Thirds that you can try. Line your horizon up with the top or bottom line. Never have it running through the center of the picture. Vertical and horizontal lines in your pictures should be off center. Placing objects so they generally fall where the imaginary lines in the picture cross will help you improve your photographic composition. Eventually this will come naturally. You won't even have to consciously imagine the grid in your mind. Like I always say don't be too bound by rules. Don't get so caught up in this rule that you lose some of your creativity. Break the rules if you have to.

The Golden Hour

Have you ever found yourself taking a picture outside in the middle of the afternoon and thinking the light just wasn't quite right? How do photographers get the beautiful light in their pictures that seems to make everything glow? Most photographers will tell you that it's all about when you take the picture. There's a time of the day referred to as the Golden Hour. This is the time when the sun is in the right place in the sky to make a beautiful picture. I experienced the Golden Hour just the other day. I went out for a walk with my husband at sunset. We walked by some flowersflowers that we'd passed a million times beforebut that day the sun was at just the right point in the sky to make those flowers seen to radiate light. Unfortunately, I didn't have my camera. Isn't that always the way it goes? The hours just before sunset and just after sunrise will provide you with light for great pictures. Everyone has their own personal favorite. I love to take pictures around sunset. I used to have a roommate who would wake up at the crack of dawn and go out with her camera to take pictures. She liked the way the mist would sometimes rise from the ground in the mornings.


Keep it simple. This is a basic photography tip that many people don't follow. So let me say it again, keep it simple. Your photos don't have to be complex to be interesting. Even the simplest images can tell a story.

Find Your Focus

Chose one thing to frame and make that the focus of your picture. That thing doesn't have to be in the middle of the frame. As a matter of fact, it's better if it isn't. Find a focus in a crowd. Keep it visually interesting. Bright colors and different textures work well to ad visual interest.

Thanks for reading A Beginner's Guide to DSLR Photography. If you liked the book please share it with others. Check out my website for more tips. Follow me on Facebook or Twitter to stay in touch. And, if you have any great photos that you'd really love to share, don't hesitate to post them on the site here. I love seeing the pictures Digital Photography Advisor readers take. If you haven't already, please sign up for my newsletter to get more photography tips in your inbox. I promise that I won't spam you or share your email with anyone. Keep coming back to the site for more digital photography tips. Cheers, Lovelyn