Wednesday, April 24

Some handy bits of informations to get you started with a DSLR camera

It was quite some time ago now that I asked if there was anything you might like me to share a little bit more about on my blog and one thing that was mentioned was photography.  I am just an amateur who has a passion for taking photographs and so below are my words and my understanding of what I have learnt during my reading and workshops which I hope make sense and are written 'technically' correct. Also it has been quite some time since I've had to write anything more than a blog post so I'm hoping my words are ordered and not too jumbled about if you know what I mean. The knowledge that I have gained about photography has been through reading many books as well as attending two courses with Nikon and one with Tim.  By attending these courses I have learnt valuable information not only about the technical side of photography but also about the emotional side too. If you are considering going to a course I would highly recommend it, having a teacher there to ask any questions you might have is invaluable but if you can't attend a course then I have written some basic information below that I hope can shed some light on the technical side of photography.

There is so much more I what to learn and need to learn about photography like how to edit like the pros, and that's just one thing, but at this point in time that will come, for now I just enjoy seeing beautiful people and things, take photos of them and practice which I think is the key to taking good photos.

The three basic components of exposure (creating a photograph)  are ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. All three of these components work in conjunction with one another, what you do to one component will affect the other two components. Here is just a basic meaning of  each of these components.

Relates to the sensitivity of the sensor in the camera.  If it is a bright sunny day then the sensor will be sensitive to the light so you will want to keep the number low like 100. If it is a cloudy day then there isn’t as much light reaching the sensor so you can increase the ISO to around 250-400 depending on how cloudy the day is.  The higher you make the ISO the more sensitive to light the sensor is. This increase in ISO can also affect the quality of your photo, a higher ISO will increase the amount of noise (grain) in your photo. It is a decision that you need to make depending on your light situation at the time, sometimes you need to compromise with one thing like the ISO so you can still get photos without too much blur. To also get crisp photos during times of low light without compromising the ISO then you will need a slow shutter speed (to let in more light to the sensor), a tripod  will also be necessary to prevent camera shake which will occur using slow shutter speeds. Alternatively you could use your flash however the end result isn't a natural looking photograph, as I mentioned before it's all about choice and compromise and what you want your photograph to look like.
*Increase ISO to increase sensitivity in low light to increase shutter speed.
*Decrease ISO to decrease sensitivity in bright light (sun) to decrease shutter speed.

Shutter Speed
Shutter speed is simply how fast the shutter opens and closes.  The faster the shutter speed the less the amount of light reaches the sensor.  On a sunny day you want your shutter speed to be fast otherwise if too much light reaches the sensor then you have the potential to get a white photo, over exposure.  A sunny day = fast shutter.  On a cloudy day or at night time you need to increase the ISO > to increase light sensitivity to the sensor > to ensure your shutter is fast enough to get a photo that is sharp and not blurry.
*Shutter speed is affected by ISO > increase ISO to increase speed > which will increase noise (grain).
*Shutter speed is affected by aperture > f/1.8  (aperture) increases shutter speed as your lens is open wide letting in more light. A large f stop f/22 (aperture) will decrease shutter speed as your lens opening is smaller letting in less light.

This is the size of the opening of the lens.  What is confusing is the lower the number f/1.8 the larger the lens opening, the larger the number f/22 the smaller the lens opening.  When you open your lens wide (f/1.8) then less of your image will be in focus, the result will be that lovely background blur effect called shallow depth of field. The closer you are to the object or person the shallower your depth of field will be. When the aperture (lens opening) is smaller f/22 more of your image will be in focus.  The higher numbers are the ones you are more likely to use when your are taking photos of landscapes, basically whenever you want everything in focus called deep depth of field.
*Aperture also affects shutter speed > large lens opening small f stop (f1.8) > increase shutter speed. The opposite applies small lens opening which is a large f stop (f/22) > decreases shutter speed.

Here are some of the camera modes that you may see on the top of your camera.
M – Manual Mode
A – Aperture Priority
S – Shutter Priority
P – Program Mode
AUTO – Automatic
Flash sign crossed out – Automatic without flash

These days I have been using manual more often. I do find it a little bit more fiddly, it isn't as quick for me as I need to work out which shutter speed to use, moving dials this way and that, but I also enjoy having the control of all the functions.  When I did my first course we were taught to use aperture priority mode where you can choose the ISO and the aperture and the camera will choose the rest.  It was a much faster way of taking photos, it also gave me a better understanding of how each function worked it may also be a good stepping stone towards using manual if that's what your goal may be.

I know I am a visual person and so I have included some links to some excellent cheat sheets that summarise the information above in a simple handout.
* is helpful for knowing what shutter speed you may need for a particular situation.
* has lots of cheat sheets that explain exposure, aperture, depth of field, shutter speed, ISO, camera modes and white balance.
* this cheat sheet is excellent for getting an understanding of the relationship between focal length and shutter speed.  It also explains the minimum shutter speed needed for the focal length (lens) you are using.
* provides you with a great cheat sheet that gives you an example subject, shutter speed, aperture and ISO setting for night photography scenes such as fireworks.
* an exposure cheat sheet that explains ISO in relation to number and light.

I hope that these little bits of information are helpful, that maybe it has helped you to understand your camera and how it works a little bit more.  And if all else fails and the above is too confusing there is always google or auto or feel free to ask any questions you may have in the comments.  The most important things are to capture that special moment and have fun.


  1. Catherine hi. You know, I wish I had found a little simple guide like this when I was learning to take photos, a couple of years ago. Because even thought I 've always had a photographic sensibility and perspective the technical side of taking photos has always been quite complicated for me...I'm not much into technology in general.
    This post of yours is so precious, thanks so much for sharing and I'm sure it will be useful for many.
    I'm curious: which camera do you use? Do you usually go manual?

    1. Thank you so much Veronica for your comment I am so glad that you feel that this post might be helpful to others. I too am not very technical but it's so important to have a little bit of background information even if it's not something you're really into. I am using manual mode all the time these days to take photographs although sometimes I will switch to aperture as it is quicker and I quite like using that mode too. Recently I just upgraded my camera to a full frame and am now using a Nikon D800, still getting used the change from a crop sensor to a full frame but really enjoying getting to know my new camera:)

    2. I do agree with you: inspiration, sensibility, good perspective are so important in photography but all of this has to be combined with a good technical background. I'm still working hard on this and I'll keep your tips on my memo book where I make notes about photography.
      You have now a great camera and as you've started going manual I'm sure you'll do great things. (and already are doing: look at your recent pics!)

  2. These are great tips Catherine! I've been very brave and haven't taken my camera off manual yet (it's been on manual since I did Tim's Hobart course in October last year). And since getting my new laptop, I haven't had Photoshop to fall back on either! It's made me really force myself to get it right first go (having said that, my new edition of Photoshop has just downloaded - so here's hoping I don't give up my new good habit!)

    And that photograph is sensational - so beautiful :)

    1. Hi Naomi, I've just seen your blog blog and i love your pics too: I hope I 'll be able to go manual soon: I tend to switch to aperture because I love this mode but I know I should try something different. Hope I will be brave as you and catherine are already....

  3. This is a very helpful blog post. I recently purchased a new DSLR (Nikon D600) and have MUCH to learn. So far it's point and shoot with a little fiddling of the aperture settings. I haven't been game enough to try full manual mode yet....little steps. I love my camera though and I'm pretty happy with the photos I'm getting using the scene selection function. You have shed light on a few things I didn't quite understand. Thanks Catherine.

  4. I've been using manual setting since the auto focus on my favourite lens decided not to work. Still a work in progress. You do macro shots so well Catherine.

  5. Great tips. A shiny new DSLR is on top of my wishlist right now. I can't wait to get one.
    Just found you via Christina Lowry Designs' shoutout via facebook, can't wait to read more of your posts :)

  6. This is a brilliant post Catherine! Thank you for keeping it simple, I am booked in to do The Nursery next month here in Perth and have not even taken my camera of automatic yet..I might get a little practice in before the big day.


  7. These tips are all so well explained Catherine... I will definitely be referring back to this post and thanks for sharing those links too. I am always in awe of your stunning photos xx


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