I have some exciting projects in the works focused on photography education so I’m kicking off a series of blog posts focused on different aspects of photography from a technical, business, and marketing standpoint! I’m so excited to be sharing some of the things I’ve learned through building my own photography business. I’ve been doing photography professionally for about 2 years now and I’ve learned so much through this experience!
Today I’m focusing on some of the very basics of photography. This is for anyone who is new to photography with a DSLR camera! I hope these basic technical tips help you understand your camera more and learn to create photos that you love. I think that this is for anyone – even if you don’t plan to take picture professionally! It’s so nice to be able to use a camera just for your own personal use. Before I created my business, I used to take pictures at events, for friends, and while traveling. When you know how to use it properly – a DSLR camera will create pictures that are beautiful and so much more high quality than your iPhone can get!
If you don’t have a camera yet and are wanting to get a good starter camera for personal use, I recommend the Nikon D3400. This is the camera I started with! It’s small, lightweight, and can take great quality photos. If you’re looking for someone more professional level, I recommend the Nikon D750 which is what I use now!
When you get started with your camera, there are a few technical basics to be aware of. Most people shoot in auto mode when starting out in photography. Basically what this means is that the camera choosing the settings for you and you just have to point and shoot. The problem is, that the camera does not know exactly how you want your photos to look like! You can take over some control and make your photos look how YOU want them to look like by shooting in manual mode. It will be difficult at first because there are many settings that you will have to consider. But, it will be so worth it because you will learn so much faster and your pictures will start looking how you want them to.
The camera settings that you will have to adjust when shooting in manual mode are aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.
Aperture is, in my opinion, the most important setting on your camera! Aperture is how much light you are letting into your camera lens. Aperture affects not only how bright your photo is because of this light, but also how much of the photo is in focus. High apertures (f/5.6 and up) are great for photos where you want a lot of the picture in focus – for example, landscape photography. Low apertures (f/1.2-f/3.5) are great for portraits where you want the background to be blurry and the photo to have a creamier look. The blurry background that portrait photographers like myself love is called bokeh.
For my senior portraits and couples portraits I usually shoot with my aperture around f/1.8 to f/2.8. I don’t like to go below f/1.8 unless I am super confident because the lower you make your aperture, the harder it is to nail the focus. If you are new to photography, I recommend shooting your portraits around f/2.8 until you are confident with getting your focus perfect.
However, when I’m taking family formals or landscape photos, I keep my aperture high so that I can get more of the photos in focus. Usually for family photos I keep my pictures at around f/3.5. One thing to remember with family photos is that your aperture is focusing on one plan of focus (wherever you put your focus point) which is usually on the bride and groom. So if anyone is standing so that they are more in front or more behind the bride and groom, they will be slightly out of focus. So make sure that everyone is standing on the same “line” when taking these photos. It is particularly important to make sure that no one is standing more forward than your focus point because they will be completely out of focus. I find this really important when there are photos with dogs sitting by the subject or with children!
Shutter speed is another important camera setting to master. Shutter speed is how long the camera shutter is open when you are taking a photo. Low shutter speeds mean that this shutter is open for a longer time and thus more light is let in. High shutter speeds mean that this shutter moves very quickly and less light is let in. The most important rule to keep in mind with shutter speed is that having a shutter speed too low will put you at risk for camera shake while taking photos and your pictures will be out of focus. As a simple rule, you want your shutter speed to be double your camera lens length. So for example, if you are shooting with a 50mm lens, you want your shutter speed to be at least 1/100th. I usually keep my shutter speed at least at 1/200th. When it is very bright outside, you may find your shutter speed needs to be very high to prevent your photos from being overexposed. Sometimes it will be at 1/2000th for this reason.
I think that shutter speed is one of the easier settings because it has such basic rules. I know that it needs to be at least 1/200th and that I will increase it when it is bright outside until my photo is properly exposed.
On your camera, you have the option to manually set your ISO or to have the camera set the ISO for you. It is so important to take it off of the auto-ISO setting because this is such an important setting to have control over! It is also not a difficult setting to understand and get the hang of. ISO is a measure of your camera’s sensitivity to light, and it also has a huge impact on the grain in your photo. If you shoot at a low ISO (100-250) your photos will be darker and have less grain (so the photos will be very sharp). As you increase your ISO (1000-2500) your photos will be brighter but have more grain.
I like to keep my ISO as low as possible. When I’m shooting on a sunny day, I’ll keep my ISO around 100-200. Sometimes when it gets closer to sunset, I have to increase this a bit more so my photos are still bright but usually never more than ISO 500. However, when I’m shooting a wedding in a dark church and I can’t use flash, I will sometimes have to increase my ISO to 2000+ in order to have bright images and deal with the grain that comes with it.
How I Set my Camera
When I start a session or a wedding day, I’ll start with my camera at an ISO of 100. I’ll adjust the other 2 settings as much as I can and then come back to my ISO and increase it if necessary. I start adjustments with my aperture and usually will put this around f/2.5 to start. Then I’ll move to my shutter speed. If it’s sunny, I’ll increase it pretty high until the exposure looks right. If it’s dark I will make it as low as possible (1/200th) before adjusting my ISO. If my shutter speed is at 1/200th and the image is still dark, it is at this point that I will move and change my ISO up. I repeat this process throughout the day in various lighting situations until the images look how I want them to in camera!
This will take a lot of practice to understand what settings you like the best and how to make the images look like your style. But eventually you will know exactly what you need to set you camera to so that your images look great! It will also become a much faster process as your get more comfortable with it. It usually only takes me a few seconds to get my camera set up in a particular lighting situation since I’ve done it for so long now!
I hope you enjoyed this introduction blog to my photography education series! This was a basic overview of some of the camera settings that you should master if you are starting out in photography. If you have any questions about what I covered feel free to send me an email – firstname.lastname@example.org – or message me on Instagram!
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