What I’ve learned while rassling my new camera

The other day I told someone in complete honesty that I love holding my new camera almost as much as I love the pictures that I get with it.  I love the weight of it, the way my fingers curl around the body of it, the ‘snick’ as I rotate a different lens onto the camera body, and yes, I still lovelovelove that wonderful solid click as I take a picture.

The results that come from my lovely camera vary, however.  My handsome hubby blames it on my refusal to use the camera’s auto settings.  I  suspect he’s tired of hearing me wail when I realize that I’ve flubbed yet another set of pictures.  I, however, am determined to master this thing.  In my mind, I won’t have it mastered until I can figure out my own light settings and control my depth of field and really be able to tweak the settings on the camera to make a picture turn out the way I want it to.

I’m FAR from that goal, frustratingly so.  However I am certain that I have a better understanding of the camera than when I first bought it a couple months ago.   So I thought I’d share some of the biggest discoveries that have made my pictures better just a little more often.

1. EXPOSURE TRIANGLE

I did a lot of reading about the ‘exposure triangle’ of photography:  ISO, shutter speed, and aperture.  Some of the best explanations came from MeraKoh’s video, Beyond the Green Box,  and the wonderful Digital Photography School website.  It took a lot of reading, playing around, and practicing — I’ve taken literally thousands of pictures since I got the camera a couple months ago — but I’ve finally got a pretty good handle on how to increase or decrease the amount of light in a shot that is over or underexposed.

2. HISTOGRAM

When I bought the camera, I was frustrated because it was set to show the histogram of each picture right next to the picture.  I didn’t know the purpose of the squiggly little graph, and I was aggravated that it took up space in the viewing frame.  I wanted to see bigger pictures, not squiggly lines.  As I used the camera, however, I came up against the limitations of that viewing screen. All too often, a picture that looked great out the camera turned out the be wildly over or under exposed on the computer.   I reluctantly googled histograms, and found some great explanatory articles.  To my relief, I learned that histograms aren’t all that hard to read.  Now I find them to be hugely valuable in evaluating my light settings, especially outdoors where it is darned hard to even SEE the pictures on the viewing screen.

3. AF-ON

OK, I am almost embarrassed to admit to this, but I didn’t learn til a week ago that it is possible to use autofocus when I have my dSLR camera on full manual settings.  I really thought that ‘manual’ meant I had to do everything myself.  So before last week, I’d get my settings right, and then hurriedly try to get the camera focused by hand before my subjects wandered off.  Frustrating, esp when you’re shooting little kids.  Then I got clued in to the AF-ON button.  Touch it right before you take a picture, and it will focus on whatever’s in your focus area.  Easy peasy.  I can’t believe how much easier that makes picture-taking.

4. KELVIN SCALE

The other day I took some biking pictures that turned out fun in a lot of ways.   But the pale cast of most of the pictures left me a bit disappointed.  I wanted vivid colors, but the overcast light that day dulled the colors down.  I picked the brains of a knowledgeable friend of ours, and learned about a dimension of photography I had missed.  Turns out there’s something called the Kelvin scale that grades the warmth or coolness of various types of light. Playing with your camera’s white balance allows you to inject more warmth into pictures on dull grey days.  That’s what I should have done to jazz up those bike pictures the other day.

Thanks to Israel from Avalanche Photography for cluing me into most of this!

And just for fun, here’s some of the best of what I took recently.

How many pictures?

This weekend while we were camping, I had my computer but no internet. Theoretically I could have gotten a lot of writing done during the evening hours. The reality? I spent hours sorting through the pictures on my computer. 7762, to be exact. From only 2007 and 2008. (Bad pictures have been culled and previous years are backed up on CD’s.)

That got me curious. How many pictures do you have on your hard drive at the moment? One easy way to count is to right-click on your ‘my pictures’ file. Click on properties and it will list how many pictures you currently have saved in that file. I’d love to hear your numbers!

Oh, and the above picture is of my baby playing dress-up with pop beads. I can hardly believe she’s turning 4 in November. When I started this blog she wasn’t even 2….nostalgic sigh….

In which I wax rhapsodic about my camera

I shared my Canon calamity with you the other day. Allie mentioned in comments that Canon has a customer loyalty program that might give me an upgrade for a hundred bucks or so. I called the number today and sure enough, there are several upgrade options, including this Canon Powershot (8 megapixels, 10x zoom) for $125. Sweet, huh?

While doing some reading about the specs, I got to wondering about the specs on my broken camera. And then I dug out the notes I took at the photography session taught by the awesome MeRa Koh. If you like taking pictures, be sure to check out her recap of her BlogHer lecture. Even if all you do is sigh over the gorgeous photos, it’s worth it, I promise.

I spent much of the lecture wishing I had a camera that would allow me to tweak all the things she was explaining: things like shutter speed and ISO. As far as I knew, my camera was pretty much just an automatic, with some extra presets for closeups, etc. Well, this evening when I was reading up on cameras, I was inspired to take a closer look at my own.

Turns out the only thing broken on the camera is the flash. Also turns out it possesses manual settings that will allow me to tweak the shutter speed, ISO, AND the aperture. [[slapping head]] How silly am I? Here’s one instance where my aversion to reading the directions really made me miss out.

People. This camera, even without the flash, is way better than I thought it was. Certainly it is not an SLR. And, yes, it’s a little inconvenient that I’ll have to pull out my smaller camera when I want to take a flash picture. But I never really like the harsh light my flash throws on people anyway. And now that I can adjust my shutter speed….well, it opens up a whole new world.

Check out this picture of Eldest at the computer. She’s next to a tall window, but the picture was taken just before sunset and there were no lights on yet in the house. Plus I shot this at a shutter speed of 1/320, which is fairly standard for an outdoor photo on a bright day. Not much of a picture is it? And that’s even AFTER I lightened it a couple clicks with my photo editor. No way around it, this shot needed a lot more light.

So I set my shutter speed much, much slower- moved it all the way to 1/10 of a second– and took the picture again. Isn’t the difference incredible? That shutter speed allowed the natural light enough time to pour into the camera, letting her face be illuminated by a lovely light. She says her expression is not the best, but I think she looks wonderful. And I am just tickled to realize that even while broken, my camera is full of possibility. In fact, this lack of a flash might help me get really good at making the most of the natural light.

Of course, in really low light taking pictures of my kids who wiggle more, I’ll have to think of some ways to keep them still so they won’t blur every shot. Maybe coffee cans and cement?