Expert Advice – Getting Creative With Your Digital SLR Camera

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I am sure I am not the only mom guilty of owning a fancy SLR digital camera and only using it on “AUTO!”  Truth be told, I have been meaning to take a class or break out my camera’s manual for years. My husband bought me the Nikon D40 for my first Mother’s Day as I was taking literally a thousand pictures a month of my then new baby. I love it. No delay, great quality, but I have not gotten creative at all. Plus, I am a little intimidated.  That’s why I am so excited about this article.

Sandy Heit, the creative talent behind Sandy Heit Photography, and a fellow OC mommy wrote a GREAT some simple tips on how to use your digital cameras off “Auto!”  Plus, it is in language that even my mommy brain can understand – thanks Sandy!  Here is what she wrote…

Getting Creative with Your Digital SLR

“With digital SLRS becoming more popular, it seems everyone nowadays has one. With the current digital technology it’s made it much easier to take good photos in the “fully automatic” or “preprogrammed” (usually denoted by icons) modes.  However, to get really creative and take great images you need to take control of your settings.

With digital SLRs there are 3 variables you can control: 1) Aperture 2) Shutter Speed and 3) ISO.

If you are unfamiliar with these terms, I recommend getting out your camera manual to find out where these settings are located on your camera and which buttons and dials change them.

The Basics

APERTURE: The aperture is the opening that allows light through your lens. The numbers that measure the size of the opening are called f-stops.  One thing that is a bit tricky is that the larger the f-stop number (say f16 is smaller than f8), the smaller the opening (lets in LESS light).  The opposite is also true, the smaller the f-stop (f2.8 is larger than 5.6) the larger the opening (lets in MORE light).   The main thing aperture controls is depth of field.  Here is explanation of depth of field:

Shallower depth of field (lower aperture) = blurrier background – great for portraits

Larger depth of field (higher aperture) = sharper background – great for landscapes

With my portrait sessions, I almost always shoot with a very shallow depth of field.  My aperture is usually f2 – f4 for a single subject or sibling shots and I use an aperture of f4 – f5.6 for family or group shots.  This puts the focus on my subjects and makes a nice blurry background.

SHUTTER SPEED: Shutter speed is the amount of time the shutter remains open once you take your photo. When photographing moving subjects, a fast shutter speed of 1/500 or greater will freeze the motion, while a slow shutter speed like 1/30 shows movement or blur.

ISO: Whether you shoot with film or use a digital camera, your choice of ISO (or film speed) has a direct impact on the combination of apertures and shutter speeds you can use. The easiest explanation I’ve heard to better understand the effect of ISO on exposure, is to think of the ISO as a worker bee. If your camera is set for ISO 100, you have 100 worker bees; and if your camera is set for ISO 200, you have 200 worker bees. The job of these worker bees is to gather the light that comes through the lens and make an image.  The less light that is available the more worker bees you need.  Here are some general guidelines when selecting ISO.

Use ISO 100 or 200 if you are outside on a sunny day.

ISO 400 is the best all around setting. It works well outdoors (as long as not too bright) or for indoor portraits by a window or in “open shade” which offers great soft lighting for portraits.  Open shade can be found almost anywhere not in direct sunlight. Some examples are the shadows of large buildings, under big trees, or all over on overcast days.

Use 800 – 1600 on overcast days or when shooting low light indoors. The downside of using a high ISO is quite a bit of digital noise (similar to grain when using film)

I think a great starting point to putting all of this information together is to start practicing. If you’ve been stuck on one of the fully automatic modes on your camera, I highly recommend starting with baby steps and using one of the priority modes on your camera.

There is Shutter Priority (usually “S” or “Tv” on your dial) in which you set the shutter speed and the camera sets the aperture or Aperture Priority (usually “A” or “Av” on your dial) in which you set the aperture and the shutter speed.  For portraits, I prefer Aperture Priority since this is the mode where you most control the depth of field.

Easy Exercises to Get You Started!

A great exercise is to find a subject and find some open shade (shady part of your yard, covered porch). Have your subject face the light.  For your camera settings, set your camera dial to Aperture Priority, use an ISO of 400 and the lowest aperture your lens will go (typically f2.8 – 4.0) and take a picture. Next, increase your aperture by one f stop (common f-stops are: f/2.8, f/4, f/5.6, f/8, f/11, f/16, and f/22) and take another picture.  Keep doing this until you reach f/16.  Upload your images and notice the differences to your depth of field.

Another exercise is to set your aperture again to the lowest your lens will go.  If you are using a zoom lens keep your lens at a fixed focal length.  Take a close-up picture of your subject, move 5 feet back and take another picture and move another 5 feet back and take another picture.  Upload your images and notice that your distance to your subject will also affect your depth of field.

If you want to step it up a notch and try the above exercises using the Manual mode instead of Aperture Priority, simply set your dial to M for manual, use the same ISO and aperture settings and look through your viewfinder and focus on your subject.  Adjust your shutter speed until your camera’s light meter indicates a correct exposure and take the picture.  In the first exercise, you will need to change our shutter speed each time you change your aperture.

Hope this is information is useful.  The best thing about digital photography is instant gratification. What you see through your viewfinder is what you get.  You learn much faster because you are getting instant results.

If you would like to learn more about photography, I highly recommend the book Understanding Exposure by Bryan Peterson.”

Orange County Photographer Sandy Heit offers contemporary portraiture for babies, children and families. Sandy works all over Orange County and LA and will shoot at your home, the park, a beach or any place you have in mind.

{Sandy Heit Photography is a Tiny Oranges Sponsor}

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