Your fancy schmancy camera comes with some great, easy to use settings already added. With a quick spin of a dial, you can pick portrait, landscape, action shots- it is pretty handy for people who don’t yet know how to completely control their cameras.
While these settings are great for quick shots, you have probably noticed you aren’t getting those fabulous “blurry background” shots you see on lots of craft blogs. Never fear, because your camera has a semi-manual mode you can use that will help you take command of all of your shots, and it isn’t very complicated to learn.
Have your camera’s owners manual handy while we go through these. Different cameras and models have different controls. The tips I am giving you will be universal for any DSLR, but I am not going to go into specifically what to press to change your ISO, for example, since your camera might very well be different than mine- so I will instead explain just why you need to change it, and what to change it to.
Grab your camera, your manual, and set out some basic props on a table. Grab a diet coke, and let’s get to work!
Before we begin, I want to go over a few basic fundamentals about photography. To compose a shot, you need to consider Shutter Speed, Film Speed (ISO), and Aperture. I am not going to cover shutter speed today, since we will be using Aperture Priority mode- where you pick your ISO and Aperture (F-stop), and the camera will adjust your shutter speed for you. I’m not ignoring it, but for people just venturing into semi-manual camera modes, it is one less thing to worry about.
- Think of ISO as film speed – how much or how little light is required to properly expose an image on film or a silicon sensor. ISOs typically run from a low of 50 ( very slow – requires lots of light) to 1600 or 3200 ( very fast – requires a lot less light) An ISO of 200 requires one half the light for exposure that an ISO of 100 requires. An ISO of 400 needs 1/4th the light that ISO 100 requires for a proper exposed image.
- An aperture is how large an opening there is in the lens. The larger the opening, the more light can enter a camera. The convention for describing apertures is f stops and they run from f1.4 – f2 – f2.8 – f4 – f5.6 – f8 – f11 – f16 etc. Each f stop is one half the size ( lens frontal area ) of the one below it. f2, for example, lets in twice as much light as f2.8. Don’t get too hung up on this- just know that if your picture is dark, or blurry, you want a lower number. Low number= more light.
- Aperture also determines background clarity. The lower the number, the less background will be in focus. Higher numbers mean more of the background is in focus. This is the trick food/craft bloggers use often- they often shoot with the lowest f-stop number possible to get ultra blurred backgrounds. This gives shots an artsy feel, and lets your subject stand out.
Ok, now that we have the basics down, let’s get to practicing. The best way to get this down is to just take a ton of pictures and try out different speeds and apertures. First, find your control dial on top of your camera. Switch it to a/v mode (canon) or A mode (nikon).
Set out a basic scene with a few items. Turn your ISO to 200, and set the F-stop to the lowest number you possibly can (these will be different for different lenses). Take a picture on each F stop setting and note how the shutter click gets slower, and your photo becomes darker, and may get more out of focus (only go up to where your pictures get fuzzy- it will just get fuzzier and slower from there). You’ll also notice how items in the background of your scene will become more and more in focus as your numbers go up.
Now, turn the ISO to 800 and do the same thing. Notice how on the larger numbers, your photos aren’t as dark, or blurry? That is because higher ISO numbers mean faster film speed. Why wouldn’t you just always chose the fastest speed, or highest ISO number? Unfortunately the downside to a high ISO is that it comes with a lot of digital “noise”. While your photo will be brighter and in focus, it will look very grainy. If you are capturing a priceless moment, like a family trip, go ahead and bump up that ISO to get your shot. If your picture is going to be prominently featured on your blog, you’re making money off of it, or any other situation where you need the best possible picture, you need to keep ISO at 200 or lower, and either adjust lighting or adjust your lens opening (f-stop) so there is more light coming into the picture.
This picture below has a higher aperture of 4.0. See how the mugs are clearly in focus? (To make the fireplace in focus as well, an aperture of 6.-8. would likely help).
This picture, while composed from a slightly different angle, has a much lower f-stop of 2.2. See how the mugs, which are right behind the plate, are blurry? They would be even more out of focus at a 1.8 stop.
Since both of these pictures were taken outside on a sunny day, I didn’t have to worry about ISO and had it set to 100- the lowest my camera would allow. Often, when I take pictures, I will take the same picture over and over, but with different f-stops. This gives me a huge selection to browse through when editing!
The great thing about digital cameras is that you can delete and start over really easily- so set aside a good hour or two at least to just sit and take pictures using different f-stops. Take the same photo over and over, but with different f-stops each time, and make note of changes to your lighting, background, and the overall sharpness/focus. Take some of small objects, take some outdoors, some of faces, some of landscapes- really the best tip I can give is to take as many pictures as you can while trying different apertures. Once you get the hang of it, you will be able to quickly determine a remedy for poor exposure (lower the f-stop, or up the ISO), high exposure (lower ISO, large f-stop number), or other issues. You’ll have much more control of how your photos will look- and you’ll never turn back!
Good luck, and happy shooting!
Please link up any posts with photography you’d like to show off using these tips! I can’t wait to see what you’ve got!
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I add new photo tips on Mondays- please let me know if you’d like a specific topic covered!