Welcome to the wonderful world of the DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex). In this article, I intend to give my top 5 (+) tips for getting the most from your DSLR.
1 – Choose your focus (depth of field)
Depth of field is the range of distance (within the subject) that is sharp. The aperture (f-stop) of a lens controls the depth of field. Larger apertures and closer distances produce a shallower depth of field. The f-stop is specified by a fraction such f/4 and f/16. The larger the number the smaller the fraction – for example an f/16 is a smaller aperture opening then a f/4.
Here’s an example in pictures. Notice the backgrounds in these photos. The background on the left is more blurry compared to background on the right. This is a result of the smaller f-stop on the right which results in a greater distance being in focus.
Here is another photo taken with the f-stop fairly wide open (f/8) to keep the field of focus narrow so the flower is shown against a blurred out green background which is actually the grass in the distance.
Another way to use the aperture is to use a smaller f-stop to increase the depth of field. This is useful when you want things at different distances to be in focus. Here’s a photo which I took with an f-stop of f/20 because I wanted all of the flowers in focus:
2 – Minimize distractions with lenses
Objects, people, or animals which are not the point of focus of the photo are distractions which should be eliminated or minimized whenever possible. If you notice these things before you take the picture, you have the opportunity to move or otherwise change your shooting position to minimize the distractions. This is obvious.
What may not be obvious is how using a different lens can reduce distractions as well. This is especially true for telephoto lens because they narrow the scene which means that both foreground and background distractions can be effectively removed or changed.
For example, compare the backgrounds in the following two photos:
The left photo was taken with a 250 mm lens which only allowed me to get the nearby street as the background. However, by using a 500 mm lens for the right photo, I was able to get the distant patch of grass as a background. Notice that the perspective of the flower changed slightly because I had to be farther away in order for the 500 mm lens to focus.
3 – Use Shutter Priority for those on the move
These days, I mostly shoot birds and other animals. Since the subjects rarely listen when I say “hold it”, I shoot shutter priority to ensure that I use a fast enough shutter speed to get a non-blurry bird.
For example, here’s a picture of a hummingbird I shot at 1/640 sec. with a 500 mm telephoto lens:
Since this was shot at f/6.3, notice the effect on the focus of the flowers. This type of out of focus is okay in my mind since I really only wanted the bird in focus and the wings stopped.
In contrast to a fast shutter speed, there are times when a slow shutter speed is useful. If you have ever wondered about photos where flowing water look silky, it’s just a matter of using a slow shutter speed. Most often, this is done with the camera secured to a tripod or other fixed support. Notice the differences in the following two waterfall pictures:
4 – Use a higher ISO when necessary
ISO indicates how sensitive a camera is to the amount of light available. The higher you set the ISO, the easier it is to capture images in low-light. There’s just one catch. Using a high ISO usually means you’re going to sacrifice some quality.
However, there are times when a higher ISO is necessary just to capture the image. For example, a fast shutter speed of 1/1000 sec was used to shoot the following photo where the bat shattered on contact with the ball:
Since this was a night game under the lights, I had to use an ISO of 3200 in order to shoot fast enough to capture the action. While there is some image degradation because of the higher ISO, I was able to get the picture. Thus, don’t be afraid to use a higher ISO when it makes sense.
5 – Always shoot RAW
Many high-end cameras have the ability to shoot in RAW mode. This mode does not compress the images at all and leaves them completely unprocessed. As far as I know, all DSLR cameras give you a choice of shooting JPG, RAW, and both. Shooting JPG seems like a natural thing to do because it is a standard which is used everywhere from printing to the web (Shutterfly). Plus JPG files take up a lot less room.
So, why would anyone say use RAW? The main reason is that a RAW file functions similar to a film negative. That is, you can create multiple JPGs from it, each with different parameters for effect. Additionally, once you crop a JPG file, that’s it. You cannot get the original back unless you have saved a copy of the original.
5 – Don’t be intimidated. Just take photos!!
The most important thing is to start using your camera, so I encourage you to just pick it up and take pictures – tips or no tips. When you’re ready to discover more possibilities with your DSLR, my suggestions will be here waiting for you. Enjoy!