Santa Fe New Mexico Family and Children Photographer – David Moore» Blog Archive » 7 things I learned about DSLR photography this year

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This is the photography blog for photographer and writer David Moore. He's based in Santa Fe, New Mexico but speaks with a funny accent.


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    December 26th, 2007

    7 things I learned about DSLR photography this year

    Your time will comeIt’s Christmas Day (the roast’s in the oven, Finn’s asleep and I’ve got a couple of minutes before our friends arrive). As I sit here next to my shiny new Canon 24-105mm f/4L lens – Santa was very good to me this year – I’m thinking of all the digital SLR cameras that people found under the Christmas tree today.

    This time last year I didn’t have a digital SLR, and I’d just started using my film SLR again. Now I’ve had an article and photos published in national and local publications, sold prints as wedding presents and spent a huge amount of time shooting and learning.

    So if you’re wondering where to start with your new camera, here are a few pointers from someone who’s on the same journey as you, just a little further along.

    1) Don’t leave your camera at home

    The best camera is the one you have with you. Some of my favourite shots (like the cafe number shown above) have come from unlikely places – I don’t have the time to schedule extended periods to go off and shoot (although I’d love to), so I take what I can get.

    This way you’ll shoot more, and you’ll never have to say, ‘Damn, I wish I had my camera with me’.

    2) Switch the camera off the auto-everything setting

    If you’ve got a DSLR, it’s capable of great things, but the only way you’ll get it to create the image you have in your head is if you take control. That way, for example, you get to determine how narrow or broad a depth of focus you want, or how fast a shutter speed you need (for freezing a fast-moving subject).

    Tree ringsSome shots (like the stylised christmas tree lights shown here) just wouldn’t be possible if I hadn’t told the camera to underexpose the image (as it saw it). And even when the camera will get a half-decent photo without you, paying attention to the settings it chooses will help you understand what’s going on.

    I tend to shoot in Aperture Priority mode most of the time (‘Av’ on Canon cameras), so I get to control the aperture and the camera takes care of the shutter speed. But I keep an eye on the speed it’s using to see if I need to (or have room to) adjust the aperture some more (or jack up ISO if it’s dark).

    3) Fill the frame

    Especially if you’re taking pictures of people, there’s a tendency to leave lots of room around the subject. Put the top of the head at the top of the frame, zoom in (or walk in) to concentrate on what you want to highlight.

    When you look at something in person, your mind often removes all the surrounding clutter automatically, but when you photograph it, often that’s all you see.

    4) Watch you backgrounds

    This is related to the previous point – check to see what’s behind your subject. Ideally this should be clear and even in tone. Lamposts growing out of someone’s head obviously doesn’t look good, but even a busy (or very contrasty) background can draw a viewer’s eye away from what they should be looking at.

    5) Prime lenses are great

    Even though zooms are the standard kit lens (and I just got a high-end zoom for Christmas), there’s a lot to be said for prime lenses – i.e. one with a fixed focal length. For the same price as a consumer zoom, you can get a much sharper lens, and one that’s much faster – meaning, it works much better in low light conditions and gives you a very narrow depth of field (perfect for blurring the background for portraits).

    They’re also smaller and lighter, meaning they’re unobtrusive at parties and easy to carry around. And finally, because you can’t just zoom a little to tidy up your composition, they make you think more about what you’re shooting.

    6) Share your work

    In the old days, you could be serious about your photography, but very few people would ever see your work. You’d get the prints back, maybe print some more for friends, and maybe hang a favoured few on your wall. Most of your shots didn’t get the attention they might warrant.

    Now with Flickr, Zoomr, blogging tools and photoblog sites, there’s an audience for your work online. An audience that will offer praise, suggestions and more know-how than you’ll ever need. And by spending time looking at other people’s work, you’ll get some inspiration and ideas.

    7) Enjoy it

    You can spend a long time reading camera reviews, learning Photoshop tricks, fussing over monitor calibration and generally doing photo-related things that aren’t taking pictures. And a lot of it is diverting, but the best thing about photography is doing it.

    If a few days have gone by and I realise there’s nothing new on my card, I get antsy. And the best cure for that is to fire of some shots. So take your new camera and start building up that shutter count.


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