I'm a bit obsessed with photography. Although I am a reading tutor by profession, (and I love it), last year I did some newborn photo shoots and would like to make room in my life for some more professional photography. But the day I got my first DSLR was a scary one.
I can assure you, if I was able to learn these concepts, you can too. (I'm not exactly known as a "technical" person!) It's not as scary or difficult as it sounds. Not at all.
Today, my tips are about Modes and ISO. This post contains affiliate links from companies I use and highly recommend.
I recommend moving away completely from full automatic as soon as you feel comfortable, but if you are not wanting to veer too much from automatic just yet, at least switch from full automatic to Program mode (P-mode, which is still an automatic mode, don't worry.) Program mode will give you more versatility, while still choosing proper exposure settings automatically. For instance, it will allow you to choose the focus setting so that the focus will be exactly where you want it, whereas full automatic often just focuses on the closest thing. THAT is a big deal. NOTE, though, I am not saying you must switch to manual focus. No matter which mode you are in, you can still use autofocus. I do occasionally use manual focus, but not typically.
Aperture Priority mode (abbreviated A on Nikon, AV on Canon) is a good mode for portraits and for other subjects that stay still. With aperture priority mode, you set the aperture, and the camera automatically sets the shutter speed. A wide aperture (small f-stop number) will give you a more shallow depth of field. That just means that less of the picture will be in focus, and you can get the subject (the part you focus on) to "pop" out from the background. (If your camera has a Portrait mode, that basically does the same thing.) A narrow aperture (bigger f-stop number) allows you to get more of the scene in focus. Aperture Priority mode works best for subjects that stay still! For children, I tend to use Shutter Priority instead.
Shutter Priority mode (abbreviated S on Nikon, TV on Canon) is a great mode to use when taking pics of children and other moving subjects. With Shutter Priority, you can freeze motion (fast shutter speed) or blur it (slow shutter speed.) You set the shutter speed, while the camera automatically sets the aperture. For moving subjects, if you set your shutter speed to 1/200th of a second, or even 1/500th of a second if kids are moving quickly, you will be able to eliminate a lot of the potentially blurry shots. (Or, if your camera has a Sports Mode, that works too.)
Manual mode (abbreviated M) will give you the most control over your camera. Don't be afraid to learn it! It's actually very simple. I tend to get the best exposures when I use manual. With full manual mode, you set the aperture, shutter speed, and ISO yourself, and keep an eye on the exposure meter (seen through the viewfinder) to determine if your photo is exposed correctly. There are many great videos online and instructions on Pinterest that demonstrate manual mode. (Again, I am talking about manual MODE here--not manual FOCUS. I almost always use autofocus, unless I'm doing macro photography.
Don't feel pressure, though, to learn different modes until you are ready. Some of my favorite photos ever were shot on Program Mode.
Generally, the lower the ISO, the less "grain" in the shot, so I generally shoot around 200 ISO outside, or 100 ISO if it's really sunny. On a cloudy day, I'll use 400 ISO. Inside, without the flash, I can go up to, or even over 3200 ISO, with my Nikon D5100 and D7000, and still get good images, even in pretty low light. When you use a flash, you don't need higher ISOs. (I use an external flash and bounce it. I'll talk more about that in a future post.) Update: Here's the post about bounce flash.
Cameras these days really vary in their ISO abilities. My Nikon D200 (an older, "semi-pro" DSLR which I love), for example, is very "noisy" (grainy) if I go much over 800 ISO, while my newer Nikon D5100 (a basic DSLR, great for bloggers, now discontinued with a successor available), gets clean shots at even 3200 ISO. I also use a Nikon D7000, which has more features than the D5100, but if you aren't needing a professional camera body, the D5100 will give you quite the same image quality for much less money. (The two cameras have the same sensor.) Many of the pictures on my blog were shot with the D5100. The newer version is the Nikon D5300, with more megapixels and features. I purchased my D5100 for a great price at Adorama, a wonderful online source. They have both new and used equipment, and I highly recommend them.
The best way to learn is to pick up the camera and shoot, because, honestly, you could read about this stuff all day, but practicing it (as with all skills), is the quickest way to learn. For great tutorials and helpful Q & A, my favorite place is ClickinMoms. My photography dramatically improved after I joined.
This past year I got out and played tourist in my own city. I do tend to complain about my city sometimes--the distance from any ocean, the humidity in the summer, the cold in the winter, etc., etc. BUT, St. Louis has an incredible zoo, art museum, botanical garden, ballpark (go Cardinals!), restaurants, theaters, children's museums, and many, many other fun places to explore and photograph. Here are a few shots from around our city this past year. (And it never hurts to have a daughter who is a fellow photographer and loves to edit photos!)
Thank you for spending time here today. I hope these tips will motivate and encourage you to try new modes with your DSLR.
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