Learning the DSLR – Part #1

Learning the DSLR – Part #1

New to the DSLR? Learn to use it – Part #1

How to know your new Digital Camera: Learning the important “stuff”

So, you are getting a DSLR, aka Digital Camera, for Christmas and now you find yourself confused with the manual?  Some find the manual to be an “okay” place to begin learning and then go from there with practice. From a technical perspective, that can work.

If you are not that person that reads a manual and walks away fully knowing how to use your camera, don’t worry, you are with the majority. Therefore, for starts, I am putting some “how to” blog posts up to help and this is the first.  Many of my references will be with images that reflect the use of the Canon EOS system.

The place this one will start is with shooting modes.  The shooting modes, on most DSLRs, can be located on a dial labelled with ‘Auto, Av, Tv, P, M’ and maybe more.  The “Av” or “A” stands for “Aperture Priority” – “Tv” or “S” are for “Shutter Priority”  “Auto” is the Automatic and “M” is for ‘Manual.”  However, before delving into these, it is important that one has some understanding of the three major factors that are effected when these options are used.

Three factors:

The three factors covered here, where are also referenced and explained in more detail on a previous post entitled “The Triangle of Exposure,” are the Aperture, the Shutter Speed, and the ISO.

The ISO:

For starts, the ISO is the sensitivity of your camera’s sensor to light.  In the triangle, notice that the higher the number, the darker the shade. This is because in a dark location, the higher number is needed (as the arrow indicates towards brightness). If you ever shot with film you may compare this to the ASA – later termed ISO of 200, 400 etc.  The higher this number is, the better it can see images in low-light settings.  When applying “Aperture Priority” or “Shutter Priority” or “Auto” the camera will then automatically (in all cases) adjust the ISO to give the proper photo.  When using “Manual” (which will be covered later) – the ISO is one of the settings you as the photographer decide on.



The Aperture:

The aperture is technically the setting of how widely open your lens is, or isn’t – just as in the triangle provided.  Notices the wide-open image is 1.4.  Getting used to seeing these numbers will come over time, depending on the frequency of using your camera.

Instead of a sensitivity to light, this sets the amount of light that comes to your sensor in one shot.  Lenses vary on what your options are.  A good lens, yet inexpensive, is the 50mm f/1.8 – the f/1.8 refers to how widely open the lens can be. f/1.8 is fully opened and not only allows a lot of light in, but it also provides with a shallow depth of field (often referred to as DoF). The portrait below is an example of a wide aperture – take note that the background is heavily blurred / out of focus-just as in the image showing the mountain blurred and then more in-focus with the lens images showing how widely open or how little light is allowed in.

The photo above was taken around sunset time and the ISO was 300, Aperture was f/2.0 – and the shutter was 1/200

Various situations call for different settings.  For instance, just because you are in a low light environment does not mean you want a wide aperture at all times.  The photo below is an example of this.  It was taken on a bridge in San Antonio and I wanted the lights to “twinkle” if you will.  In order to get this effect, I have to set my aperture as low as possible. A “low” aperture means a “high” number, such as 18, 22, 32 etc.  The photo below was f/22 with a very slow shutter speed on a tripod. Since people move, their motions was picked up by the slow shutter speed and shows in the photo.

These numbers are the same, or close thereto on all cameras.  The ISO, Aperture, and Shutter speeds are of a general, broadly applied system that all cameras refer to.  Some may vary, but not much.

The Shutter Speed:

The shutter speed is technically the setting that indicates how fast or slow light comes into your camera giving you what you need.  This is why one of the options is “Shutter Priority” – meaning you set the shutter speed based on what you want or need and the other settings (ISO and Aperture) will adjust in order to give you the photo with proper exposure.

Shutter speeds are indicated by time, so 200, is 1/200th of a second. DSLRs will allow you to select full seconds and some up to a minute or more.

High shutter speeds (i.e. 1/2000th etc.) are used in sports and similar settings, such as photographing a jet flying over.  This “freezes” the image in actions, be it a player catching a football or a jet in an airshow.  A sports photographer, if using an automated mode, would select “S” or “Tv” – which is Shutter Priority – so that they have control over the shutter speed being used in a setting where they are capturing sportsman in action.

Take this bit of information, play with the different semi-automated options and check out what is produced.  This will help you get a feel for how these functions work. Keep an eye out for the next tutorial – Part #2