So you want to be a hot-shot brilliant DSLR photographer?
Update 16-Jan-2014: See the related gallery “The Shootout Between a DSLR and a Point-N-Shoot”.
There are very few things in Life that are as humiliating and demoralizing as when a guy with an expensive, massive, mean- looking DSLR takes pictures beside his spouse who is snapping away on a tiny point-n-shoot camera and then friends go “wow!” looking at the spouse’s snapshots and saying “uh ah, not bad” at the guy’s should-have-been-awesome photos. What is wrong with this picture!? … pun intended. If that sounds familiar to you and you can relate to it, or better still- if you do NOT wish to be that guy, read on.
First attempt with DSLR in AE mode.
No-one is watching, set the DSLR to full auto.
Spouse’s compact point-n-shoot camera.
Same scene taken with iPhone 5, just for the heck of it.
From the above, it is easy to see that except for the first photo, the rest are actually quite acceptable “keepers”.
What went wrong?
If you attend a photography class with a live instructor to guide and hold your hands, so to speak, this scenerio may not apply to you; lucky you! For the gung-ho, teach-yourselves (almost everybody else), this one’s for you. Remember, this is strictly for the NEW newbie. If you’re already ahead of the class here, just shut-up and post your comment at the end of the article.
1. Forget about everything that you’ve read elsewhere or what other “lessons” you’ve been taught about the creative modes of your DSLR.
The absolute first thing you’ve got to focus on is how to get a really “tack-sharp” image. That’s pro-speak for a super sharp in-focus image.
You can try everything that the books or instructor tell you, but you will lose heart and interest if your photos turn out any less sharp than someone’s simple auto camera.
2. The secret to a beginner’s DSLR camera getting a sharp image is Shutter Speed. Some experts will tell you something like shoot at your len’s sharpest aperture. Right, but what’s that and why? Think about it: the reason your picture is blurry is usually because of shaky, unsteady hands. The second most likely reason is because the subject is not perfectly still ( the kid/pet is simply behaving as a kid/pet or the breeze simply will not pause for you or life is just being unkind to you ) . So you see, as long as you have a sufficiently fast shutter speed, much faster than your hands can shake, much faster than the kid/pet can move, much faster than the flower can flutter in the breeze, you’re already 95% home. OK, I made that up. I don’t know the percentage but I certainly know that you are more likely to get a decently sharp image than not.
3. Yes, there are probably myriad other reasons why a picture is not sharp, but I dare say the above 2 reasons account for 98% of all new-newbies’ bane. Yes, I made up that percentage, too, just so you can get the picture, get it? And don’t tell me the problem is “out-of-focus” because I’m assuming you’re humble enough to engage your camera’s auto-focus. You just have to check that the auto-focus is indeed focussing on your subject of interest. My Tamron wide-range (18-270mm) lens is notorious for its misbehaving auto-focus at critical times. Yet, I can’t bear to part with it. Sigh! But that is another story.
4. And, oh, the book/expert tells you to use a tripod to eliminate that shake and vibration. But I’m addressing the 99% of new-newbies who have just unwrapped/unboxed his brand new super duper DSLR and who can’t wait to create the highly anticipated brilliant photos he sees from his books/magazines. Who uses a tripod in the first 100 days of trying out his DSLR for the first time? C’mon!
5. Here are the guidelines for Shutter Speed priority or Time Value (Tv) on the dial of a Canon DSLR.
- A good rule-of-thumb is that the minimum shutter speed, secs., = 1/focal length (mm) of the lens used. For example, if you are using a 50mm lens, then the minimum shutter speed is 1/50 sec. In practice, a new newbie is well-advised to use 1/125 sec for a hand-held shot. And as your focal length gets longer, the vibration risk gets higher with the increased magnification. So while the guideline prescribes min. 1/200 sec for a 200mm lens, say, push the shutter speed as high as your aperture will adjust to maintain correct exposure. If you find that you need a higher speed than your aperture will allow, you may need to adjust for a higher ISO setting to get that speed.
- Save in RAW, if possible, so that your less-than-perfectly exposed picture has a chance to be saved. On the other hand, if you used too slow a speed and your picture is blurry due to shakes, it’s game over.
- In Tv mode for Canon (S-mode for Nikon), set the shutter speed faster than the rule-of-thumb prescription and check the exposure to see if the aperture can handle the selected speed for a given ISO. If not, then dial downwards the speed until the aperture value stops flashing. If that is not possible without going below the rule-of-thumb value, stop! Increase the ISO and try again to get the fastest possible speed.
- Remember, we are talking about a new newbie just wanting a tack-sharp photo and it’s not about stop-motion, panning, special effect or whatever. Just a tack-sharp photo that you won’t be embarrased to show off, side-by-side with your spouse’s P-N-S photo. So just start with the fastest possible shutter speed. Aperture Priority (Av) and everything else can wait.
- If you still get rubbish blurry shots, then maybe take a step back and dial in “Full Auto” on your DSLR. Look, no-one needs to know. It’s your own private classroom, after all. After each shot ( quite nice shot, isn’t it?), check the photo information to see all the data and learn. Use your DSLR in Full Auto as your private tutor. You can’t fail.
- And I just have to add this parting shot: take as many shots as you possibly can. Memory storage is cheap now, not like expensive films in the past. You could even set your camera to take continuous shots. I read somewhere that even the Pros do it. It’s not a matter of “kia-su”. It gives you the increased odds of getting a keeper. The rest you can just delete before you show off your terrific photo to everyone, right?
There you have it. Your first 100-days of embarrassment-free, confidence-boosting DSLR photography adventure begin.
You ought to be able to do better (with your fancy DSLR) than this shot taken with my iPhone 5, while a steady breeze is gently rocking the flower.
On the issue of gender. This article refers to a male DSLR-hotshot-wannabe simply because I’m male and I’m writing largely of my personal experience. No disrespect is meant to any female reader.