Learning How to Use a Fancy Pants Camera

I have a fancy pants camera. You know, one of those cameras that make you look cool even if you have no idea what to do with it. If it weren't for that automatic function, it would be collecting dust next to the impossible to read manual it came with. Yup, that manual that is written in freakin' hieroglyphics. I can't even....

Well, one of my New Year's Resolutions this year is to learn to use my fancy pants camera and instead of trying to read my manual for the bajillionth time, I enlisted the help of one of my most talented friends. Trust me, Kristine is a legit photographer. She is the one who generously gifted Joaquin's newborn photos. Thank you, Kristine for guest posting! My fancy pants camera and I are so grateful!
Without further ado...

Learning how to shoot and use your DSLR can be quite overwhelming with all the buttons, functions and codes! When I first started, I read books and took community classes to get a small grasp on all the functions. To this day, I still can’t claim that I know Every. Single. Function. But I do know enough to produce images that are reflective of my style. Additionally, with years of practice, playing in Manual mode has pretty much become second nature to me.  And you can get there as well! If you practice, practice, practice! J
For starters, let’s begin with some basic AUTO settings.
Gasp! Yes! Although I shoot in Manual mode, some functions are set on Auto for me to save time. One of those functions is the White Balance.  Soooooometimes I’ll go in and change it depending on the light source in the room (especially when it comes to artificial light and tungsten vs. florescent), but typically I just leave it alone and on Auto.  Also because I’m photographing kids and I’m shooting fast, I typically have my lens set on auto focus rather than manual focus as well.
Now for some buttons/functions and how I think through my settings…
And please… do bear with me! This stuff can be pretty boring!
First up… I set my ISO!
ISO: This refers to how sensitive the image sensor is to light in the area you are shooting in. The higher the ISO, the easier it is to take pictures in low-light conditions. On that same note however, the higher the ISO, the more “noise” – or dots– you will create. Your picture will end up looking grainy, rather than sharp. Therefore, I normally stay within the 100-400 range. Sometimes the grainy-ness is fine… again, all up to your preference. To me, it almost looks like a charcoal sketch sometimes. Check out the picture below and see if you can notice the subtle differences.
Next up, Aperture!
Aperture, (aka F-Stop): If I’m not shooting in Manual Mode, then I’m shooting in Aperture Mode. In a nutshell, the lower the aperture number, the larger the lens opening-- thus allowing MORE light in (think of it as having your eyes dilated and being blinded by all the light coming in). This is what is people mean when they say that they “photograph with the aperture wide open” – make sense? Generally I stay within the f/1.4 to f/2.8 range when shooting, thus keeping my subject in sharp focus and creating a nice little background blur (bokeh).  A nice rule of thumb that someone once told me is to base your f/stop off the number of subjects in your shot. This will help keep all your subjects sharp. So for two people: f/2.5 to f/ 2.8, for 3 people: f/3, for 4 people: f/4, for 5+ people: f/5.
In the picture below, notice the differences. With f/1.2, the image on the left is focusing on the taller vase more. Once I increased my f stop to 3.2, it started to pull in details from the smaller vase.
Lastly… I set my shutter speed to my desired exposure!
Shutter Speed: Shutter speed is the measurement of time expressed in seconds and determines how long the shutter will stay open during a single photograph. Basically, it controls how long light will be exposed to the camera’s sensor and will determine if your photo is properly exposed, underexposed or overexposed. A neat little camera trick that can be done by slowing down shutter speed will result in giving your photograph the sense of motion (or what is also known as camera blur).
Now, because I prefer to set my Aperture first, I adjust my shutter speed to the appropriate exposure.
In the example below, you see that the image on the left had a longer shutter speed to catch the movement, versus the image on the right, which had a faster shutter speed to essentially, stop time.
The Light Meter and Exposure: First off, what and where is the light meter? Your internal light meter will be displayed as a backlit LCD indicator at the bottom of the viewfinder. The general goal is to get the indicator as close as possible to the zero ("0"), as this indicates a proper exposure.  The further left  (or negative) your indicator floats, the darker your image will be. Conversely, the further right (or positive), the brighter your image will be.
Now, when it comes to exposure, this is where I break the rules of basic exposure principles by going over a ½ to 1 stop over to the right (positive)on the light meter. The overexposure blows out my highlights, and creates a softer, more airy feel, which has become a personal preference of mine. There is a fine balance however, because if you overexpose too much, you tend to lose the fine details. Also, I expose for shadows, primarily when they fall on the face. This way, I am able to bring out the details of my subject’s face and their expressions. See the image below, (an older picture, with my older logo ;-) )
In the image below, you see that I’ve overexposed by 1 stop over on the light meter which blew out the highlights in the sky. Again.. all preference. I could’ve unexposed the image and it would’ve been her shadow silhouette against the beach.
Let there be LIGHT!
A common theme you should have noticed throughout these definitions is the theme of light. For me, I like to keep it simple with natural light and I’ll search for four main types: skylight, outdoor shade, window light, and backlight. All of these are warm, soft sources of light and I avoid harsh direct light whenever possible. In fact, my favorite type of light is the afternoon golden hour two hours before sunset.
Now this is just a tip of iceberg when it comes to fully understanding your camera. I would have to say however, that for any beginner into the camera-photography world, this is probably a good place to start. First, develop a solid foundation by understanding your key functions. Then get out there and practice, practice, practice! Eventually, you’ll find the right mix and right approach to setting and shooting a camera. Happy Shooting!

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for having me as a guest blogger :-) We should practice over lunch ;-)


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