These days, buying a DSLR is easy, but learning to use one well is something else entirely. As always, it's not the equipment that matters but the skills you have when wielding it. Today we're going to delve into the world of digital photography and show you five simple, but powerful tips to shoot smarter, faster and better with your camera. Leave your automatic modes at the door — we're about to teach you some real photographic skills.
1. The Rule of Thirds
portraits are two common scenarios where the subject is centered; in those examples, the intention is to draw the viewer to one, central focal point, and provide as much detail as possible. Practice shooting a variety of subjects, but remember: try to learn the rules before you decide to break them.
2. Turn Off Your Flash
There's nothing wrong with using flash to light your photos, but only if it's a good flash. The majority of on-camera flashes are harsh, have poor range, and have few settings to adjust. The result is an unnatural photo that looks like your subject is beneath a spotlight. It's not flattering, especially to people. It may seem counterproductive, but the best way to light your images is, for the most part, without any flash at all.
The sun is the most powerful light you will ever use. It's there for the majority of the day, and entirely free, so it makes sense to use it to its full potential. When possible, try and shoot somewhere with an abundance of natural light. Always ensure light is shining at your subject, and not behind them. You don't need direct sun either, and even a room indoors with a wide-open window will provide enough natural light for a well-lit photo.
However, your flash might disagree. Many cameras have a habit of firing flashes in situations that really don't require them. Your job is to stop that from ever happening. But if you do insist on firing your built-in flash, only do so as a last resort. Or buy a nice, external model. The only time you will ever need it is in poorly lit areas, or late into the night. The trick is realizing where its needed, and where it's not.
3. Off The Beaten Path: Shooting ManualOne of the scariest things you will ever do with your digital camera is leave automatic mode behind. We've been ruined by the ability to take reasonable looking pictures very, very easily -- so much so that we've forgotten how all those other functions actually work. Believe it or not, but there was a time, not very long ago, where using a camera or SLR actually required some basic photographic knowledge. These days, taking a picture is easy. But taking a good picture means you'll want to get familiar with these three terms.
Left: f/4.5 Right: f/1.8 Aperture — No, not the Apple software, but the manner in which light enters your camera. Built into lenses are diaphragms that control how much or little light is allowed in. As the diameter of the diaphragm changes, so does the aperture stop, or f-stop of the lens. A smaller f-stop allows more light in (a wider aperture), whereas a larger f-stop allows less (a narrower aperture).
Learning how to change your aperture can have a few advantages. A smaller f-stop allows for an increased depth of field, making it easier to isolate only specific objects in a photo. Combining a really wide aperture with a fast shutter speed makes it easier to capture fast-moving objects in darker scenarios. This is especially handy at concerts, for reasons we'll get to later. Your camera's Aperture-Priority setting is as great way to try these concepts out: set your f-stop as you see fit, and let the camera take care of the rest.
Shutter-speed: 1/4 sec Shutter-speed — This is the length of time that your camera's shutter stays open, allowing light to hit the sensor. For how long is entirely up to you, and can range anywhere from 1/500th of a second to a full thirty minutes. For example, faster speeds enable you to freeze the action as it unfolds; the faster the shutter-speed, the more detail you can capture. However, faster speeds also mean less light. When used in conjunction with a fast, or wide-aperture lens, its easy to capture exceptional pictures of fast-moving subjects, like athletes, or a live band in a dark and dingy club.
Slower shutter-speeds, however, result in motion blur. The longer the shutter remains open, the more motion in a subject the camera will capture. This can be useful for creative effects, like capturing waterfalls, or other rapid movements. At it's most extreme, the shutter can be kept open for minutes, even hours, like in the time-lapse photo on the right.
ISO — In older, film-based cameras, ISO referred to the light sensitivity of film. Different films would offer different sensitivities to light, which would change the way a photo was taken. Lower ISO would mean a better quality image, but a longer exposure. Higher ISOs would introduce more film grain, but allow for faster photos to be taken. Today, the same idea holds true for DSLRs; however, instead of film sensitivity, the sensitivity of the image sensor is affected.
4. Dust Beware: Keeping Your Camera Clean
5. Autofocus Points For Fun and Profit
Canon EOS 1D Mark IV support as many as 45 autofocus points. Each point represents an area of your viewfinder that can be selected for focus. Unlike regular autofocus, using AF points allows you to select exactly on what part of your image upon which you'd like to focus — all on the fly. For moving, or off-center subjects, this can prove particularly invaluable. In the stove example, using plain autofocus will attempt to bring the grill into focus, as it fills the majority of the frame. However, with AF points, I can tell the camera to focus on the burner instead. Making AF points a part of your shooting routine can make it easier to capture those tough images, and makes focusing decisions up to you, not the camera.
These tips aren't groundbreaking, but they're tried and tested strategies that will make your photos a whole lot better. With that in mind, it's time to shake those bad habits and grab your DSLR — a little bit of practice is all it takes to turn a good picture into something great.