Author Topic: Learn How To Take Photographs Like A Pro!  (Read 14342 times)

Offline Mark Austin

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Learn How To Take Photographs Like A Pro!
« on: January 17, 2011, 03:10:40 PM »
Learn How To Take Photographs Like A Pro

Are you looking at buying a new digital camera and don't know what kind of camera is right for you? It can be a tough choice, but it really comes down to three factors:

- What do you want to do with it?
- How much are you willing to learn about your camera?
- How much are you willing to spend on a camera?

A DSLR (Digital Single Lens Reflex) is not ideal for those trying to capture memories of those special moments. DSLR's are too heavy and bulky for that. You won't want to be dragging the camera with you everywhere you go. You would be carrying that thing strapped around your neck when someone says, "That's an awfully big camera you have there." Your response would be, "I just want to be sure I'm ready when that moment comes." That's not what a DSLR is for. You want something compact that you don't even realize you have it until you actually need it.

If you are wanting to create some incredible portraits then you are looking for a DSLR. A DSLR is a tool that can do so many things that a point & shoot just can't match.

What Are The Benefits Of A DSLR?

Image quality

There are many things that make the image quality better than a point & shoot camera. So many that it's possible I may miss some points.  For starters, the size of the image sensor is much larger in the DSLR. This is going to allow for more pixels, but more importantly, larger pixels. The actual quality being recorded on the sensor is much better.

The sensor size also impacts the camera's depth of field. A well done close up portrait taken with a DSLR will show a blurred background. You want the background to be out of focus on a portrait. If you look at pictures taken with a point & shoot you will rarely find pictures with the background out of focus. If you want everything in focus, you can accomplish that with the right settings on a DSLR. But you just won't get that on a point & shoot.


The DSLR gives you the option to change your lenses for many reasons. For one shot you may need to do a close up with a 200mm lens, and the next shot you want a family portrait that needs about 24mm. That's easy to do with a DSLR. With a point & shoot you're stuck with what they gave you. The lenses for DSLR's are usually going to be better in image quality as well. There are some cheap lenses that may not be great, but you always have the option to get a better lens.

Speed. Have you ever noticed when taking a picture with a point & shoot camera that it doesn't take the picture right when you push the button? I have had this happen to me many times. I push the button at the perfect moment only to have the shutter snap a second later.....after the moment is gone. With a DSLR you push the shutter release, and Bam! Picture taken. There's no lag. At least not that you would notice.

Manual control

When you learn to control your camera manually you open yourself up to an incredible new world of photography. You don't get the great photographs in manual mode. A point & shoot can sometimes offer you settings, but it doesn't have nearly the impact it would have on a DSLR.

Figure Out What You Want The Camera For

The logical first step in searching for your perfect camera is to figure out why you want a new camera. What are you going to do with it? Are you looking for a camera that you can put in your pocket or purse to carry around to catch that unexpected moment? Or are you possibly thinking about learning the art of photography, and maybe even becoming a professional photographer? These two examples are on both ends of the spectrum, and each circumstance calls for a completely different camera.

If we continue with the above example, the person that wants to carry around a camera just in case they need it will not want a DSLR, or digital single lens reflex camera. The DSLR camera is a highly functional, and expensive, camera that is designed to produce high quality images for the person that knows how to operate it properly. For this, the functionality is overkill for your needs, and the camera would be way too big to conveniently carry around with you.

Conversely for the aspiring professional, an inexpensive point and shoot camera would not be able to capture the subject with the quality that is necessary. There are so many things that a DSLR can do that the point & shoot couldn't come close to....even for a high end point & shoot camera.

Maybe you find yourself somewhere in between these two examples. In that case you need to decide which side your needs are closest to.

- Which is more important quality or convenience?
- If you purchased a DSLR do you know how to properly operate it beyond the automatic mode that the point & shoot offers?
- Do you have the time to learn how to operate a DSLR?
- Do you want to create high quality pictures, or will you simply be taking snapshots?

Once you have these questions answered you should have a pretty good idea of the direction you need to go in. But there are still more factors to consider.

Determine If You Need A Camera With Video Capabilities

This wasn't an issue even a couple of years ago, but today there are a lot of cameras on the market with video capability. Even some professional DSLR cameras have video built in.  You may end up purchasing a camera with video, but it won't affect the functionality of the camera as far as taking pictures is concerned.

If you think you want your camera to have video capability you need to think about how important the quality is to you. If you buy an inexpensive point & shoot camera you will probably have poor results with the video. Would it make more sense to invest in a higher quality video camera rather than a camera with video capability?

Something else to take note of is that many dedicated digital video cameras also have the built in feature of taking still pictures. If video turns out to be the most important feature then you should get a video camera with a still photograph feature.  Some still cameras come packaged with very good high definition video abilities. There are reviews that compare the video abilities of the Canon 5D Mark II with professional video equipment worth a half million dollars! That's some good video!

Consider What Features You Require In A Camera

Comparing features between cameras can be very tricky. The problem is there can be so many features on so many different cameras. It's nearly impossible to take two cameras from different manufacturers and try to compare features side by side. Even if they have the same features, they aren't usually built the same way and the numbers may not be completely equivalent to each other.

The most overrated feature in a digital camera is the resolution, or number of megapixels. Megapixels were a very important consideration back around the turn of the century. Back then when we had 1 or 2 megapixel cameras it was a big deal to get an extra megapixel.  Most people never print anything larger than an 8x10 sized print. A 5 megapixel camera could easily create a high quality 8x10. If done properly it could even print a good 11x14. But today's market is flooded with affordable cameras over 10 megapixels. This is more than you will ever need.

One advantage to having a lot of megapixels is the ability to crop. Let's say that you zoom in as much as your lens will let you, but the subject you are trying to capture is too small for your needs. You can always crop in, or cut away the unnecessary parts of the picture. You can crop in tighter when you have a high resolution image.  So you really shouldn't concern yourself too much with resolution. The quality of those pixels is much more important than the number of pixels.

A very valuable feature that some cameras offer is image stabilization (IS). Different companies may call them by different names, but they all do the same thing. They give you sharper pictures by factoring in the movement of the camera caused by your unsteady hands.

I'm not aware of any DSLR's that have image stabilization built into the body, but there are lenses that have high quality IS built in. So if you get a DSLR only concern yourself with this when shopping for lenses.  For point & shoot cameras you should also consider it's zoom range. The higher the number, usually expressed as something like 4X, the more magnification you will achieve, or the closer something will look.

Look In Your Wallet To See How Much Money You Can Spend

Here's the big question: How much "spendable" money do you have? If you have unlimited funds then congratulations. But for the rest of us mortals this can be the most important question. We need to stay within our budget.....even though we don't want to.

Sure it would be great to have a new $6,000 Canon 1Ds Mark III, but do I really need it?  It may be nice to have that 400mm professional telephoto lens, but do we really need it? Don't allow yourself to be trapped by the desirable features you may not necessarily need. Why buy a 20 megapixel camera when 10 megapixels would do just fine?

Look at your budget and determine what you can get out of a camera for that amount. Don't allow yourself to be tempted by that camera one or two steps up if you don't really need it. You can get great pictures out of the one in your price range. Also be sure to search around to find the best deal for the camera you decide on. You will find a wide range of prices for the same cameras either locally or online.

Some good places to buy digital cameras online are:


When you are working through your budget don't forget the accessories because there will always be something else you can add to your camera system.

Think About The Accessories The Camera You Choose Will Need

It's inevitable that you are going to need some of the extras that are available for your camera. You may not always need them right away, but you will probably want an add on somewhere down the line.

Lenses -
If you purchase a DSLR one of the big advantages is the ability to change the lens. Most DSLR's come with a lower level lens in the kit. But you will find that there are many higher quality lenses available for your camera.

Flash -
Most point & shoot cameras and some DSLR's come with a built in flash. But all DSLR's and a few point and shoot cameras have what is called a "hot shoe" on top of the camera that allows you to attach a removable flash. This is usually a much better option than the flash built into a camera.

Case -
Your point & shoot may come with a case, or you may decide that you want to buy one that better fits your needs. If you buy a DSLR you will probably want a camera bag to fit your lenses and accessories in.

Memory -
Your camera will probably come with a small memory card, but if you want to be able to take a lot of pictures without the hassle of uploading to your computer more than necessary you should consider upgrading to a larger memory card.

Underwater housing -
Underwater pictures are cool! They aren't cheap, but you can find underwater housing for many cameras. This will give you the ability to take pictures of things and people underwater. It's not a critical accessory, but it's good to know it's available.

Tripod -
Sometimes it's necessary to put your camera on a tripod. A tripod can help you create a sharper image by reducing camera shake. You can also use your camera's automatic timer feature so that you can set the camera and then run over to get in the picture.

Debate The Pros And Cons Between A DSLR And A Point And Shoot Camera

This debate pretty much boils down to quality vs. convenience and price. If your budget is less than $500 then you pretty much need to stay in the point and shoot category. The first question you need to ask yourself here is do you know how to operate an SLR camera without being in full auto mode or are you willing to learn? If you operate one of these cameras in automatic all of the time then you are just wasting your money.

DSLR's are designed to take advantage of aperture and shutter speed settings to create the best image for the circumstance. If you are going to stay in automatic you could probably get the same quality out of a good point & shoot camera.

If you want high quality pictures and you're willing to learn how to operate a DSLR then there's nothing like it. You will enjoy the camera, and you'll take some incredible pictures. But if you aren't interested in learning and exploring creativity you will be happy by saving your money and buying a point & shoot camera.

Always Look For Optical Zoom!

This tip is for those buying a point & shoot camera since all DSLR cameras are going to have optical zoom lenses available. Point and shoot cameras often offer two types of zoom: Optical and Digital.

Optical zooming is done with the use of the lens elements to determine the magnification factor. Digital zooming is done through computer tricks inside of the camera. What it does is it takes the existing image and throws away some of the outer part of the image. Then it presents you with the center of the picture at a lower resolution, fewer megapixels.

This trick can be easily done by you with the software that comes with the camera, and you can do a better job of it. It's not a problem to buy a camera with digital zoom. If your camera has digital zoom don't turn it on. But when considering which camera to buy and zoom is important to you always look for the optical zoom specifications.

Search The Internet For Camera Reviews

Google is your friend ... don't be afraid to use it. You can find a lot of professional camera reviews as well as reviews done by amateurs. A couple of good review sources are:

There may also be customer reviews from store websites like, and We've talked about physical specifications, but there are also factors where numbers don't tell the whole story. For example, a camera may have a lot of megapixels, but what does that matter if they are low quality megapixels?

Cameras process their images differently. So much more important than megapixels is image quality and color. You can't determine these things by looking at a specifications sheet. You need someone that has personal experience with the camera to inform you. This is what you need the reviews for. A camera manufacturer can create an incredible sounding camera on paper, but if it doesn't focus well and gives you poor color why would you want it?

Be sure to get the opinion of others before you make the purchase.

Using Your Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR)Camera

Ok, so you decided to go with a new Digital Single Lens Reflex (DSLR) camera ... and since it cost a good bit more than your old point and shoot camera it should take better pictures, right?

If you are like most people you will find that just because you have a new camera with all the bells and whistles you won't be taking pictures that are all that much better...that is unless you know how to use it right.  When you learn how to take your camera out of 'P' mode and make the camera work for you, everyone will be able to notice a vast improvement in the quality of your pictures.

Different Brands Of DSLR's

There are many brands of DSLR cameras.  The most popular are Canon and Nikon.  There are other brands as well, but these two are the most common.  I happen to use a Canon.  If you haven't chosen a DSLR yet it is important to consider what you will be purchasing.

One of the main considerations is the choice of lenses.  You can't put a Canon lens on a Nikon camera.  If you are just starting out the chances are your camera will come with a lens.  But one of the major benefits of using a SLR is being able to change the lens to fit different conditions. If you choose either Canon or Nikon you will likely be happy with your choice. 

Exposure Modes

The exposure mode is set by the dial on top of your camera.  The main modes to understand are:

P - Program Mode

This is the mode that most amateurs use, but it's the mode you should almost never use.  It may be OK to use when you are in a rush, but you shouldn't expect great results in this mode.

Tv - Shutter Priority

The Tv can be confusing as it stands for Time Value, but most people call it Shutter Priority.  In this mode you set the desired shutter speed, and the camera will automatically give you the needed aperture (we'll discuss aperture later). For Nikon cameras this will be the "S" setting.

Av - Aperture Priority

The Av stands for aperture value.  In this mode you set the desired aperture, and the camera automatically adjusts the shutter speed to give you the proper exposure.  For Nikon cameras this will be the "A" setting.

M - Manual

This is the mode of professionals!  When you understand how aperture and priority work together it becomes easy to use Manual mode.  In this mode you set the aperture and shutter speed.  But when you know what to look for your camera will tell you the right settings.


The definition of aperture is a hole or an opening through which light travels.  When we discus aperture settings we're talking about the size of that opening or how much light it is allowing to hit your image sensor.

Common aperture settings (sometimes called f-stops)  are 1.4, 2.0, 2.8, 4.0, 5.6, 8.0, 11, 16 and 22.  You can see that every other number is doubled in value.  Each of these movements is a complete stop.  We will cover this more when we discus exposure.  But it is good to understand that from 4.0 to 5.6 is 1/2 stop.  From 4.0 to 8.0 is one stop.

As you can see in the picture, the smaller the f-stop number the larger the opening...meaning more light can come in.  The higher the number, less light is allowed on to your image sensor.  It can seem confusing since the smaller number is actually the larger aperture.

Aperture size is one of the major advantages in owning a DSLR.  Point and shoot cameras are usually small and cheap.  They almost always have very small apertures.  Professionals love the ability to choose their aperture size.  There are times when large is best, and there are times when small is best.  The point is knowing when you need each one, and we will discuss this later.

One factor that determines the cost of a lens is its maximum aperture.  A cheap lens may have a maximum aperture of 5.6.  A professional lens may have a maximum aperture of 2.8 or even 1.4.  You can expect to pay big bucks for a quality 2.8 lens.  But for a professional it's worth it.

Shutter Speed

The shutter speed is measured in seconds, or fraction of a second.  The shutter speed works in conjunction with the aperture in order to get the proper exposure.

There are times when you are shooting something in action like someone running, and you want to stop motion.  For this you would need a faster shutter speed.  Maybe 1/2000.  There are other times where you want a slower exposure.  Taking a picture of a waterfall is a good example.  Taking the exposure over time will cause the water to flow while the shutter is open giving you a nice, smooth image of the water showing motion. In this picture of a creek I was able to capture the flowing nature of the water by setting my shutter speed to 1/8 of a second.

Most of the time you will be more concerned about aperture, and you adjust your shutter speed to match the aperture for proper exposure.  But there are times where the shutter speed is most important. The thing to remember with exposure is that the longer the shutter speed the more light your sensor gets.  With a shorter speed you will get the less light.

When we are dealing with fractions of a second, the larger the second number the faster the shutter opens and closes.  For example, 1/100 is 10 times slower than 1/1000.  A setting of 1/2000 is somewhat fast, and 1/60 is fairly slow. I captured this picture at a football game shooting at 1/4000 of a second.

 That is an extremely fast shutter speed.  Notice how he is stopped in mid air without any motion blurring?  If you want to stop action and have a sharp picture of your subject then focus on using a fast shutter speed.


Now that you know about shutter speed and aperture we need to learn how they work together. A photograph is properly exposed by having the right amount of light hit your image sensor.  If too much light hits your sensor your picture will look too bright and be over-exposed.  If you don't get enough light your picture will look dark and under-exposed.  Proper exposure is critical to the quality of your image.

In years past it was necessary to purchase extra equipment to measure the light falling on whatever you wanted to photograph.  Lucky for you, all DSLR's come fully equipped with an exposure meter.  If you learn to use it right you will get a properly exposed picture every time.

Your camera will tell you the settings you need for aperture and shutter speed.  If you take that setting and speed up the shutter speed you will get an under-exposed photograph since less light is getting in.  If you have a slower shutter speed you will get an over-exposed picture.  If you close down the aperture (higher f-stop number like 22) your aperture will be smaller, letting in less light and you'll get an under-exposed picture.  If you open up the aperture (lower f-stop number like 4.0) you will let in more light with a larger opening, and you will get an over-exposed picture.

Using Exposure Modes

As I mentioned earlier most amateurs us the P mode.  This lets the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed.  That makes it easy, but it also gives you the least interesting photos.  You might as well be using a cheap point & shoot camera.

Somewhat more advanced and useful are the Av (A) and Tv (S) modes.  In Av (A) mode, you are telling the camera what aperture you are going to use.  Let's say it's 2.8.  Your camera's light meter will determine what shutter speed it needs to properly expose.  As the amount of available light on your subject changes so will the shutter speed to compensate.  But your aperture will stay wherever you set it.  The same can be said about Tv (S).  The difference is you set the shutter speed while the camera automatically adjusts the aperture setting.

There are some professionals that will use Av (A) and Tv (S) modes.  There is a simple reason why I don't use these modes.  Consistency.  Your camera will check and change the exposure for each picture you take.  Sometimes if your sensor is reading a slightly brighter or darker object in the frame your exposure can change from image to image.  I prefer to set it once for a set of pictures of the same scene.  This way the exposure is the same for all of them.  If consistency within a set of pictures isn't critical for you or you are constantly changing scenes then Av/Tv (A/S) modes may work fine for you.

Proper Exposure In Manual Mode

Now it's time to start thinking like a pro!  The first thing to do is turn that dial to M, and leave it there. The first step in setting the right exposure is deciding if aperture or shutter speed is most important to you for this shot.  When you decide what either of those should be you will set that.  Then look in your viewfinder to finish your exposure.

There should be a circle or box in the middle of your frame when you look into your viewfinder.  This is the area the camera uses to determine your exposure.  What you do is point that circle at the subject you want your camera to expose on.  I'm a portrait photographer, so I like to expose off of the person's skin.  I will put the circle on my subject's face and press the shutter button half way down.  This will give me an exposure reading below the picture I'm looking at.

Let's say I set my aperture at 4.0.  Your shutter speed is probably too fast or too slow.  There's a chart below your image in the viewfinder that will point to where your exposure is with your current settings.  My camera goes from 2 stops under-exposed to 2 stops over-exposed.  The zero in the middle indicates a perfect exposure.

What you do at this point is keep your camera pointed at your subject so that what you want to expose on has the center over it.  My aperture is already set so now I want to adjust my shutter speed until the indicator on the exposure graph below the picture is under the 0 mark.  Now your exposure is set, and it won't change until you change it.

Not all cameras have their exposure meter calibrated perfectly.  You may notice a trend in your camera's metering.  For example, you may find that your camera overexposes by about a half stop.  If that's the case you can simply target -0.5 on the chart to compensate.  But this will take some trial and error as well as time to figure out for your specific camera.  Some cameras have features that will allow you to set this compensation into your settings, but that is beyond the scope of this book.  Read your owner's manual to discover your options.


ISO is another factor in proper exposure.  In the film days you would buy film with different sensitivities, and these sensitivities were rated on the ISO standard.  The most basic and common ISO setting is 100.  But if a photographer needed to shoot in low light and/or high speed conditions he might use 1,000 ISO film.

A higher ISO setting is basically providing a higher sensitive to light....even magnifying the light.  It's basically artificially raising the light level of your subject.  If you have your aperture wide open but your shutter speed would be too slow for your shot all you need to do is raise your ISO.

There is a drawback.  As you increase your ISO you will notice that there is noise in your picture.  Remember in the old TV's when you turned it to a channel where there wasn't a station?  That screen was full of noise.  Digital image noise is similar.  You will get more and more noise as your ISO settings increase.  Often times there are ISO settings on your camera where the noise is just too high to make a clean photo.

On my Canon I find that ISO 800 is very usable, but I do notice some noise.  I will sometimes use ISO 1000 in a tough situation.  ISO 400 can show very little noticeable noise.  As technology improves the higher ISO's become more and more useful.  You will need to run tests with your camera to determine your comfort level with high ISO settings.

Most of the time my camera is set to 100 or 200, and I adjust as needed in lower light conditions.

Depth Of Field

The most important use of aperture to me is depth of field.  Depth of field is the range from your camera that will be in focus.  If your subject is 5 feet away from the camera and something 7 feet away is out of focus then you have a shallow depth of field.  This means that your background (and foreground if there is anything in the foreground) will be blurry, or out of focus.  When you are doing portraits it is great to have the background out of focus.  The person is your subject of interest, not the background.  The color of the background is helpful, but not when it's in sharp focus.

If the lens I'm using for outdoor portraits has a maximum aperture of 2.8 then I'm going to have my camera set at 2.8.  This will give me the smallest depth of field possible for my equipment, and that's great for portraits.

If I'm shooting a landscape then that's a different story.  I will want everything in the picture to be in focus.  For this I would want a closed down aperture like f16 or f22.  This will make it so that things will be in pretty good focus from a few feet in front of you to miles away.

I took this photograph in Sedona, Arizona.  My aperture was f16, and my shutter speed was 1/20 of a second.  Notice the incredible depth of field I have in this photo.  The stones at the edge of the creek are in focus as is the rock formation a few miles away.  Notice also the blurring water I got from the slow shutter speed.  This wouldn't look as good if I had stopped the motion of the water. (You may notice that the trees are somewhat blurred, but that is due to the wind.  I only had one day in Sedona, and I had to take what I was given.)

Your lens focal length also plays a part in depth of field.  The focal length is determined by the distance from the image sensor to the focal point of the lens measured in the millimeters.  For example, you may have a 50mm prime lens or a 24-70 zoom lens.  Lenses below 50mm are considered wide angle while any lens larger than 50mm is considered telephoto.  Larger focal lengths make things look closer than they are.  Wide angle lenses can make things look farther away than reality.

If you are using a wide angle lens at 24mm you should get a lot of depth of field.  This combined with a small aperture will give you great landscape shots.

Consider the following two portraits.  Which one do you like better?

I zoomed in tight and used a wide open aperture on the right.  Notice how you can still make out details of the background on the left?  The background on the right gives us color and texture, but it isn't as distracting.  The right portrait is much better, and it draws all of your attention to her face rather than the background.

If you are using a lens at 200mm you will get smaller depth of field.  This combined with a wide open aperture will give you shallow depth of field and make for a great portrait!

Image Sharpness

There are several factors that can impact the sharpness of your photos.  If your image isn't sharp at the point you focused on it won't be a good picture.  Who wants to look at a blurry picture (at least where it isn't supposed to be blurry)?

The first thing that impacts your image sharpness is the shutter speed.  If you have a slow shutter speed there's more time for your camera to move around a little while the shutter is open.  This will cause your picture to be blurry.

The next thing to consider is your focal length.  If you are shooting with a focal length of 200mm you will need some help keeping your picture sharp.  As a rule, it's a good idea to try to have your shutter speed at least the equivalent of your focal length, if not faster, when you are hand holding your DSLR.  If you are shooting at 200mm your shutter speed should be at least 1/200.  If you are shooting at 75mm you should be at least 1/75 on shutter speed.  But for a sharp picture faster is always better.  The faster your shutter speed is the sharper your image will be.

A  tripod can make a huge difference if it's practical.  It's not always convenient to drag around a tripod, but it will give you sharp pictures.  If you want to bump even that a notch more in sharpness you could buy a cable release for your camera.  There is a port in your camera where you can plug it into.  Then your shutter button is at the end of this cable.  You won't even disturb the camera by pressing the shutter button.

There is also an option for a mirror lock.  When you look through your viewfinder you are actually looking through a set of mirrors.  When you push the shutter release the first thing that happens is the first mirror lifts up and out of the way so that the light can get through to your sensor.  This can cause a little vibration called mirror slap.  It can be overkill sometimes to lock the mirror in the up position, but it will give you the ultimate in sharpness when you need it.  Just read your owner's manual on how to set it up and use it.

When you hand hold your DSLR it is important to hold it firmly.  I hold the side of the camera with my right hand with my index finger on the shutter button.  My left hand is supporting the bottom of the lens which allows me to easily change the focal length on zoom lenses.  I prefer to then bring my elbows in close to my body.  This gives me a little extra stability as my hands won't want to move as much.  If you happen to have something to lean on or against that can be very helpful in stabilizing you and the camera as well.

Some lenses come with a feature called Image Stabilization (IS).  If you have the option to buy IS then do it!  These lenses have gyroscopes built into them.  They can sense the camera shaking, and they automatically adjust the lens to compensate for your movement.  IS lenses can give you 2-4 extra stops in speed, allowing you to use slower shutter speeds if necessary.

Sensor Size and Crop Factor

This isn't critical information to know, but it is good to have an understanding of it.  The 35mm cameras are based on the size of the film used in the cameras.  This fact is included in determining the focal length of the lenses.  So a 100mm lens is designed for a 35mm camera.

Today's DSLR's usually don't have 35mm sensors.  They are usually smaller.  Canon does have a couple of cameras that have "full frame" (35mm) sensors, but they aren't cheap.  The least expensive one sells for around $2,500 right now.  Most DSLR's have smaller sensors with a crop factor of 1.5 (Nikon) or 1.6 (Canon).  That means that if you have a 100mm Canon lens on a Rebel with a 1.6 crop factor, you will get the equivalent magnification of a 160mm lens.  Just take your focal length and multiply by 1.6 (or 1.5).

Having a seemingly longer focal length isn't necessarily great.  If you were to take an image from a full frame camera you could crop it down in size to get the equivalent picture.  With a full frame camera you get more picture to work with.  I use a full frame camera, and I wouldn't want to use anything else.

This crop factor can impact your depth of field.  When filling the frame in both the full frame and 1.6 crop factor camera you will get less depth of field (more out of focus blur) with the full frame camera.  This makes much better portraits.

White Balance

The color of light varies with different light sources.  Have you ever taken a picture indoors and get an image with a brownish orange cast to it?  That is because the color of the tungsten lights lighting the room is that color, and your camera didn't adjust properly.  Fluorescent lighting and light from the blue sky tend to be bluish.  When clouds cover up the blue sky it changes the color again.  If your subject is laying in the grass you will tend to get a green tone added.  Our eyes easily compensate for this, but our cameras need a little help.

There are probably different settings on your camera to set the white balance.  You can often use the auto white balance and be OK.  For some cameras it may not work as well.  You can also set it to your specific need like daylight, tungsten, shade, cloudy, etc.

If you shoot JPEG's you really need to get the white balance right in the camera.  But you can be a bit more flexible by shooting RAW.


Having your DSLR in a mode to create jpeg's is the easiest, but not always the best.  You really need to make sure your exposure and white balance are close to perfect.  Because if you need to make adjustments it will start to damage the image quality.  The farther off your exposure or white balance are the more damage it will do to the image.

Shooting RAW is like shooting with film in a way.  You have an exposure that can be easily manipulated and optimized without damaging the image.  It's a little like a digital negative.

To shoot RAW takes a little more knowledge in knowing how to run the software and manipulate your image.  DSLR's normally come packaged with software to manipulate RAW files, but most professionals don't use this software.  The most common RAW conversion software is Adobe Lightroom, Adobe Camera Raw (built into Photoshop) and Capture One by Phase One.  The software isn't cheap, but it will provide you with the best results.

In RAW converting software there are multiple improvements you can make that the camera would normally try to make on jpeg's.  The difference is that you can see the improvements being made while the camera is just guessing.

You can adjust things like exposure, white balance, saturation, sharpness and much more.  You can easily recover images that have been over or under exposed by about 2 stops without noticing it was ever a problem.  You can also get the right white balance to get the perfect colors in your image.

There are different schools of thought on RAW vs. JPEG, even among professional photographers.  I personally shoot RAW, and I like the workflow.  But there are plenty of photographers that swear by JPEG.  It all comes down to personal preference.  If you are happy with the JPEG's you are creating then maybe you should stick with it.  If you feel like you want more from your images then give RAW a shot.  The important thing for now is to know what it does and that it's available to you.

You made the right decision in purchasing your DSLR.  Just don't waste the potential in your camera by using it like you would any old point and shoot camera. Practice.  That's how you are going to get better.  You have a major advantage over someone trying to learn even 15 years ago.  Every time they pushed the shutter button they were spending money.  They were spending money on the film, and they were spending money on the processing.  Now pressing the button costs you nothing.  Plus you get instant feedback in the back of the camera on its LCD!  If you don't like the picture you can make instant changes.

“Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that,
but the really great makes you feel that you, too, can become great.”
~ Mark Twain

Offline padre

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Re: Learn How To Take Photographs Like A Pro!
« Reply #1 on: July 15, 2011, 07:48:35 AM »
Thanks for that in-depth coverage of how to capture great photos (love that shot in Arizona).

I found a great dSLR camera buying guide on Amazon . . . . . . (my Amazon aff. link)

It is called PIX Digital Camera Buying Guide.  If you are first time buyer, or looking to upgrade, this little gem will cut the confusion to help you get what you need.

It was so helpful it rated a review on my PixMakeMoney site.

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