Friday, February 3, 2012

Learning Photography and Your Camera's Settings, One Step at a Time.

I've found that a lot of folks really want to learn photography as a hobby, but they just don't know where to start. This step-by-step roadmap will help you to learn how your camera and its settings work. Hopefully, you will find it fun and easy!

Learning Photography and Your Camera's Settings, One Step at a Time:

  • Start in point and shoot mode, and get used to framing subjects well without having to crop later. (Rule of thirds, golden triangle, golden spirals, etc...). Google these terms and read up on them. You'll see plenty of examples online.
  • Next, pick an ISO setting and stick with it while you shoot. In film days, you had to do this, and it changed how you composed shots quite a bit. It's still good learning. I'd recommend shooting 100 or 200 ISO outdoors under a variety of light conditions, and start to see how it affects your shots.
  • Next, keep it at that ISO and shoot in Aperture Priority mode. If you haven't already, learn what an f-stop is, what it does to depth of field, and what bokeh is. Then experiment around with your lowest f-stop setting, then f-8, and then f-11 to 16 taking some outdoor portraits of people or close objets with some space behind them and background objects. (If I am in a rush, I still shoot in aperture priority mode, usually with my f-stop cranked as low as it will go.)
  • After you've mastered that, shoot Shutter Priority Mode. NOTE: At first, your lowest hand-held shutter speed on a DSLR will probably be around 1/60 a second. If your lens or body uses image stabilization, you can probably go a bit lower still. Get used to shooting stationary objects using this shutter speed without shaking your hand at all. Try to go down to 1/30 of a second, and then even lower without moving your hand and without a tripod. Train your hands not to move the camera at all until after the shot is completely done. Next, take pictures of moving objects at 1/60, 1/90, 1/125, 1/250, 1/500, etc... Notice what it does to your aperture (f-stop) setting. Notice how it affects how your focal object looks. Try some pictures of falling or dripping water from a fountain, waterfall, or spigot at these settings. You'll see huge differences.
  • Try different ISO settings indoors, in a dark room at night, keeping the rest of your camera's settings the same. When you download the photos to your computer, notice the differences in file sizes at each ISO and noise (graniness) as the ISO increases. Learn where your camera starts showing noise that looks "bad" to you.
  • Now that you're used to the limits of your camera/lens combo and your own abilities, put them all together by shooting full manual. You'll have to get used to setting aperture, shutter, and ISO yourself. You make the calls. It will be slow at first, but you'll get faster and faster, and you'll get better at fine-tuning your shots in camera. Shooting at absolute limits in terms of ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed when you are first learning gives you total control over your camera later. You often won't shoot at absolute limits later, but then you have full freedom of knowing where the limits are and using these to create the image you want.
  • Finally, do some reading online on EV (exposure value), and how ISO, f-stop, and shutter speed work together. Read up on what a histogram is, how to read one while you are shooting, and how to use under/over exposing images in camera so that nothing clips out (washes out) when you are shooting a range of dark shadows and brightly lit objects and sky.
  • Start looking at the work of photographers that you like, and then learn what they do to make their compositions great. They usually have mastery over their settings, but great settings don't make a great photographer. Imitate the things you like, and make your own style. Don't just become an imitation of someone else.
  • Now that you have your own style, which takes a while, look at your equipment and see if it is suited for the style that you want to shoot. The style you want to shoot, along with a knowledge of how everything works together in the camera, will make it much easier in the future as you start to buy more lenses and bodies in the future. Given the choice between upgrading your lens or upgrading your body, typically go with the lens. You'll have the lenses for life, the bodies for only a few years. The lenses are what lock you into shooting Nikon or Canon or some other body in the future, so make sure you're happy with the body that you are using before you spend a bunch on glass. You are somewhat marrying yourself to that manufacturer's future, unseen cameras once you start investing in lenses.
  • Have fun. If it isn't fun, it's not worth doing!
I hope these suggestions help, and I look forward to seeing your shots over the next several months!

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