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.