By PA News Team
08 November 2012 09:00With an abundance of workshops available, we sent DSLR novice Sarah Tooze to an ‘Explore your DSLR’ workshop. Here she shares the 15 things she learned on the day…
A digital SLR can look pretty intimidating to the uninitiated. There are so many buttons and options it’s hard to know what to press and, as a result, it’s tempting to stick your camera on auto. Going Digital’s ‘Explore your DSLR’ workshop promised to put a stop to that by teaching how to access your camera’s functions and, in particular, how to use aperture-priority. It sounds like a beginner’s utopia, but is it too good to be true?
1 | The best way to hold a DSLR
The first time I picked up an SLR I made the classic mistake of cupping the top of the lens. As course tutor Rod Corston explained, the danger with this technique is that you could drop the camera. To keep the camera stable it’s best to put your left hand under the lens, which means your left elbow stays tucked in too.
2| Slow down and think before you take the picture Like many beginners I’m guilty of being snap happy – taking far too many photos in the hope that one will turn out right. A better approach is to take time to compose the right shot in the first place, according to Rod. That may mean moving around or crouching down to find the best angle, asking yourself questions (such as whether the sky or the land is more interesting in a landscape shot and what the focal point is), or looking for ways to add interest to a picture (standing beneath a tree, for example, can allow the branches to create a framing effect). Slowing down also means checking you’ve got everything in the shot before you press the button.
3| Look for a focal point A good focal point - something that draws the eye in – makes for a good picture. Interesting lines such as a curved road can work well. But, as I learned, the lines need to finish somewhere worthwhile.
4 | Think of aperture as a window
To understand the effect that altering aperture can have, Rod advised thinking of it as a window. “If you’ve got a large window lots of light will pour in,” he said. “If you’ve got a small window only a small amount of light will pour in.” The confusing aspect is that a big aperture number - like f/22 - isn’t the biggest ‘window’. A small aperture number (f/3.5) is actually the largest aperture – or the biggest window.
5 | And think of the shutter as the blind
The camera’s shutter can be thought of as a roller blind. The length of time ‘the blind’ is open is your shutter speed. “So how long was the blind open for?” Rod asked. “A 60th of a second? 500th of a second? 1,000th of a second?” If you’ve got a small window (f/22) you’ll need to leave the blind open longer to let more light in and get good exposure. Rod advised not going below a shutter speed of 1/60sec otherwise you risk camera shake and blurred pictures.
6 | A better term for depth-of-field is depth of focus
How far an image is in focus is its depth-of-field. Rod suggested an easier way of remembering it is ‘depth of focus’. Typically for landscape photography you want a large depth-of-field but for portrait shots it’s the opposite - you’re interested in the person and not the houses in the background so you want a shallow depth-of-field. A shallow depth-of-field will have a blurred background.
7 | How to lock the focusYou should always try to focus a third of the way into the picture, according to Rod. His technique for getting the right focus point is to aim the camera at something, half press the shutter button until you hear the beep, keep your finger on the button and when you move the camera and point it at something else the focus will still be locked at that distance. To try this out I photographed a line of three people, locking the focus on the first person, then the second and then the third.
Alternatively, you can adjust the camera’s focus point (usually shown as small rectangles, squares or diamonds). But you have to remember to put the focus point back to its original position. With Rod’s technique you don’t need to.
8 | How to take better portrait shots
Rod’s colleague Ann Dickson (who assists with the workshop if there are more than 10 participants) showed us the impact that light can have on a portrait shot. Facing the sun means your model will have to quint, which isn’t particularly flattering. Side on means a more flattering light, with half their face in light and half in shade. Positioning your model in the shade makes for a more balanced overall effect. For a better portrait shot also get your subject to stand sideways or look over their shoulder rather than shooting them head on. And be aware of the space around them. Shooting a person in landscape can mean you get “unwanted rubbish” at the sides. Turning the camera round and going in closer should produce a better image. “If it isn’t good enough you weren’t close enough,” Rod said.
9 | Don’t panic if you can’t select a previous aperture setting
If you find you can only get f/5.6 whereas previously you could get f/3.5 it isn’t the disaster you think it is. All you need to do is zoom your lens back to 18mm (assuming you have a standard 18-55mm lens). Rod explained that it’s down to cost - it’s cheaper to make a lens with a variable aperture.
10 | Three ISO numbers to remember
“When you leave your house in the morning have the ISO set to 200 – it’s a good all-round working number,” Rod said. “If the day gets bright and sunny drop it down to ISO 100. If it gets dull go up to ISO 400.” He explained that this is because as the ISO number goes up and down the shutter speed goes up and down with it. The problem is, if you go too high – say ISO 800 – you’ll start to get grainy pictures. “Photography is about compromise,” Rod said. “To get something you’ve got to give something away. If you want faster shutter speeds you’re going to get grittier images.”
11 | How to alter exposure
If you think the picture you’ve taken is too light (overexposed) or too dark (underexposed) you can use the exposure compensation setting to over-ride the default shutter speed. To learn how it works Rod got us to take three pictures: one without compensation, one with a +1 setting, and one with a -1 setting. This technique is handy when you’re photographing snowy scenes as the snow can turn out looking grey. Altering the exposure compensation should bring it back to white. Rod showed that if a picture turns out too dark it’s possible to brighten it up in Photoshop but you might not be able to rescue a photo that’s too light.
12 | When to use white balance
The white balance setting can be used to cater for different light conditions. For example, if you’re taking a photo inside, the lights might give off a yellow glow. Switch the Auto White Balance (AWB) setting to Tungsten (Incandescent) and it will put a blue filter into the camera, which kills the yellow glow. But don’t forget to switch back to AWB when you take a picture outside or you’ll end up with blue tinted photos.
13 | It’s not cheating to remove things from a photograph
Rod showed us how to remove graffiti from a picture, using Photoshop. “People get worried and say ‘is this not cheating?’” Rod said. “But all we’re doing on the computer is what photographers have always done in the dark room.” He pointed out that an artist painting a cottage might choose not to paint the yellow lines on the road in front of the cottage and removing things from a photograph is the same concept.
14 | Why you need to format a memory card
Ever wondered why despite deleting loads of images you still don’t have sufficient space on your memory card? It’s because they’ve been moved to the recycle bin and not permanently deleted. Rod advised formatting your memory card instead of just deleting pictures. And in case you wondered, you can retrieve the pictures from the recycle bin if you take your camera to a camera shop.
15| Get the shots other people can’t be bothered to
The best time to take pictures is early in the morning or late in the day, as you’ll get a nice, soft light. But if you go for the sunset shot on the beach you’ll probably be rubbing elbows with 100 other photographers, according to Rod. Get up early in the morning, however, and you might have the place to yourself. “If you want to sell pictures they’ve got to be different,” Rod said. “You’ve got to be willing to go out in the rain or stand in the snow until the light is just right or climb up high and shoot down on a lake rather than sitting in the car looking out the window. You’re trying to get the pictures that other people can’t be bothered to do or won’t get out of bed in time to do.”
Verdict – four stars
If you’re prepared to learn fast a workshop is a great way to get to grips with your DSLR. A college course offers a slower pace but Rod (who has seen both sides of the coin having taught at colleges before joining Going Digital five years ago) argues that the ‘Do it today’ mentality of the workshop can be better. “The college course is usually spread out over 10 weeks and each week you come back you’ve forgotten everything,” he said.
Rod is also prepared to offer ongoing support (students from five years ago still get in touch for camera advice). However, not all workshops may offer this and some may be classroom-based only so check the content carefully.
‘Explore your DSLR’ included a classroom presentation with practical exercises, time out in the field and a review of everyone’s photos taken on the day. The only criticism from other attendees I spoke to was that more time could have been spent out in the field and perhaps less time reviewing.
One attendee who had owned an SLR for four years and “played around with it” didn’t feel challenged enough (although they thought the workshop was five out of five for a beginner), highlighting that it is also worth taking time to find a workshop at your level.
Photography workshops – what will you learn? | Photo Answers