How to get the most out of your DSLR

get the most out of your DSLR

I’ve been blogging for nearly five years and when I started, there were many things I was clueless about. Photography was one of them.

I actually owned a DSLR way before I started blogging- I just didn’t know how to use it. We called it “the big camera” and we’d bring it with us when going on vacation. Surprise, surprise, we only used in auto mode.

When starting this blog, I knew that photography was going to play a huge part. I knew exactly how I wanted my images to look, I just didn’t know how to get there. I can’t tell you how frustrated I felt when I wasn’t getting the results I wanted. I thought that shooting in “auto” would solve all my problems. Well, it didn’t.

If you own a DSLR, chances are you spent a nice chunk of your hard earned money on it, so it only makes sense that you’d want to make the best of it- shooting in auto definitely isn’t that.

First step to getting the most out of your DSLR? Understanding how it works.

UNDERSTAND YOUR CAMERA

The only way to get the kind of images you want out of your camera, is to understand how it works. The key to this, is the exposure triangle.

Photography is all about about light and aperture, ISO and shutter speed are all part of what’s called an exposure triangle. Your aperture controls the amount of light that travels through the lens into the film plane and it’s indicated by the f-number. The aspect of an f-stop can be a bit confusing, because as the f-stop decreases, the opening increases. For instance, an f-stop of f/1.8 will open the lens a lot wider than an f-stop of f/5.6. In other words, f/1.8 will let in a lot more light than f/5.6; the smaller the f-stop, the wider the opening, the brighter the image and the shallower depth of field.

ISO setting is your camera’s sensitivity to light. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive it is. ISO really comes in handy when taking pictures in conditions where your light source is limited. You can turn your ISO up, creating a brighter image, however, anything pretty much around ISO 1000 will create digital noise and cause your images to look grainy (this will also depend on other settings as well as your camera itself).

Last, but not least, shutter speed controls the duration of the exposure, in other words, it controls the speed, at which the curtain opens and closes. More specifically, it refers to how long the light is permitted to enter your camera. Being able to tweak all three (aperture, ISO and shutter speed) so that they work together, will create a nice, harmonious exposure and will allow you to take great photos. Exposure triangle is really the heart of photography; it will (amongst few other factors) control how bright or dark, clear or blurry your images are. If you really want to take your photography to a next level and really get the absolute best out of your DSLR, I highly encourage you to read up on it, maybe get familiar with your camera’s manual.

get the most out of your DSLR

For that shallow depth of field, try a 50mm lens. 

GO MANUAL

Don’t be afraid to play with manual settings (if it gets too confusing, you can always restore the settings and go back to using Auto mode) take lots of pictures, experiment, see what works and what doesn’t.

Shooting in manual mode can be intimidating at first, but it gives you complete control over things like your exposure and white balance.  The Digital Photography Book by Scott Kelby is a great read if you’re just getting into DSLR photography. He makes learning about photography very easy and even a novice will feel comfortable reading this book. His books are nothing like boring and dull manuals; guy has a great sense of humor and makes learning fun. Still, getting familiar with your manual isn’t a bad idea.

LEARN YOUR CONTROLS

Once you understand the relationship between aperture, ISO and shutter speed, you will feel more comfortable with using the manual mode. Now, to master it, you’ll have to practice; this basically involves playing around with different settings and seeing how it affects your images. The easiest way to do it is to learn where your controls are, without having to look down at your camera, while you adjust them. This will save you a ton of time and make learning and getting comfortable with using manual mode a lot easier.  With continued practice, it’ll become second nature. Think of it as typing; as you type, do you look at the screen, or are your eyes focused on your keyboard? You want to be able to tweak your settings, without having to put your camera down.

SHOOT IN RAW

You’ve probably heard time and time again that you should shoot in a raw format. Why? Because shooting in raw allows you to get the highest level of quality of your images. Raw image is a file that hasn’t been processed by your camera, therefore it needs to be processed using a software like Photoshop.

You can think of a raw file as a digital negative- it is not “ready” straight out of the camera. JPEG files, on the other hand, are files that your camera will process and compress. When you shoot in raw, you’re able to do that processing yourself. Because the data in raw files is unprocessed, you have a lot more freedom when editing your images which allows you to make a ton of changes, without ruining the image. You can dramatically adjust or correct overexposed or underexposed images, without reducing or losing the quality. You can do the same with white balance and color adjusting. One of the best things about shooting in raw, is non-destructive editing; you can easily reset your adjustments, go back and make more changes- all without losing any quality.

EDIT

In-camera, my images look nothing like they do once I upload them up on my blog. To avoid compromising image quality, you shouldn’t strive for “perfect” images, straight out of the camera. For instance, if you’re working with limited light, your first instinct would be to bring up the ISO, lower the aperture and/or shutter speed- you do, however, you have to keep the quality of an image in mind. High ISO can produce noisy images, while low shutter speed can affect how sharp your image will look (especially if you hand-hold your DSLR). So, it’s better to end up with images that are a bit dark but have good quality, and process them in software such as Photoshop. This, again, is why shooting in raw is so important- it gives you the freedom to preserve that quality.

BATTERY GRIP

A battery grip not only comes in handy when you batch-shoot your blog photos (for obvious reasons) but it also gives you a better grip of the camera. It also makes the camera a bit heavier, so if you’re like me and you hand-hold your camera a lot while shooting, it makes it a bit more stable as well. That, in turn, will provide sharper images (of course you can still use a tripod with the battery grip as well).

How to get the most out of your DSLR

SHOOT OFTEN AND SHOOT A LOT

The best way to learn is to practice often. Play around with the manual mode, read up your camera manual, play with light, see which time of day gives you the best conditions. If you have trouble understanding the exposure triangle, try re-adjusting different settings and see how it affects your images. Try an inexpensive, prime lens like this one or this one that will allow you to play around with shallow depth of field and get a better understanding of how your camera works when changing the settings.

If you’re a blogger, chances are you reach for your camera all the time- really getting to know it will not only help you get better images but it’ll also save you a lot of time and frustration.

If you’re new to DSLR photography and don’t know where to start, check out this post

Want to start your own WordPress blog, see my complete step-by-step guide right here

  • I was the same. My husband owned a DSLR and I had to put a lot of effort into learning it. Countless tutorials and a workshop later I am finally getting a grip on the settings…

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

    • My husband had a very fancy camera, but even he wasn’t sure how to use it haha ;) It definitely took a lot of effort to understand all the settings, but it’s so worth it!

  • Oh yeah, the no 1 way to get a perfect photo is take at least a good 100 versions of it ;)

  • Great post! I haven’t quite advanced to fully manual, but I finally made it past auto now. I’ve mostly been shooting in Av so I can still adjust a few things but don’t have to worry about everything. I need to take the leap to fully manual at some point!

    – Claudia
    http://www.justalittleblush.com/

  • Maria

    I felt like I was being described in the first two paragraphs. I should definitely invest more time in getting to know my camera. Great post!
    -Maria
    She Blushes

  • I recently got a bridging camera and am happy with the increase in picture quality but I don’t think I have any of these settings or I don’t know if I do haha. I’d love to get a bit of background blur and have googled it but haven’t quite got the skills! I’ll have to have more of a play!

    Danielle’s Beauty Blog

    • The easiest way for that shallow depth of field is with a fixed lens like the 50mm lens. The lens basically does all the work for you! :)

  • This is such a fab little guide hun – i’ve really been having fun learning all about photography, concepts, etc! x

    http://www.stylepetal.co.uk

  • These are amazing tips, this is definitely something I want to work on xx

    Zoe Mountford x

  • Great post, love all of your tips. I recently got the 50mm lens for my early birthday present and I am so in love already, it’s amazing! I need to start shooting RAW it sounds like, I don’t do that already.

    Alice | alicemaysnell

  • Kiri Yanchenko

    I think you should always shoot in RAW when you can – that captures the most information – especially if you are shooting food in a restaurant.
    That way you can edit your photos in photoshop and capture details that would be lost otherwise.
    Kiri
    Set to Glow
    http://www.settoglow.com.au

  • Loveee these tips! You take such amazing photos :)

    Enclothed Cognition

  • The Sunday Mode

    Brilliant advice as always, I always remember the photography post where you recommended light reflectors as well and my god, once I bought one I felt like my whole lighting/photography situation improved so much! F-stops are a little tough to grasp at the beginning but I think as you said, the more you shoot the better you get and the more you start to actually understand what everything does.

    Julia // The Sunday Mode

  • What a helpful little post!! I’m keeping this bookmarked as a reminder if I’m stuck with photography :)

    Fatima x http://www.fatimawrites.co.uk

  • Such a wonderful and helpful post Paula! I bought my DSLR just 2 months ago but still i am learning and learning. My photos are quite dark and i really need to improve them. I am gonna check the book you suggested also. Have a great day! Helene // Beautiful Is My Attire

  • This is quite helpful! Kind of makes me want to play around with my camera and lens a bit more. Thanks for sharing your tips Paula xx

    Naya // http://www.partyparrotblog.com