1. Read the manual
Yes, we know, you’re probably itching to get out and shoot with your new toy. If this is your first DSLR or you’ve switched to a different model or manufacturer, it is always worth having a browse through the manual. Different cameras and manufacturers have very different menu systems on their devices. There are even big differences between camera menus made by the same manufacturer for different models. You should familiarise yourself with how to access and change all the basic settings through the menu.
2. Time for a tripod
In perfect lighting conditions, shooting handheld is not an issue. However, as the light is not always perfect and you may also want to try shooting in low light conditions such as pre-dawn or at night, then you will be in need of a good tripod. This is one area where we suggest you go for a good, sturdy model.
Check out models by Velbon, Gitzo, Slik and Manfrotto, and buy the best you can afford. Eliminating camera shake is one of the core elements in getting better images. Using a tripod also slows down the picture taking process, giving you more time to consider the framing of shots you are taking.
3. It’s on the cards
A good memory card is more important than you might imagine. If you are looking at shooting multiple frames in burst mode or capturing HD video on your camera then you need a good card with a fast write speed. This means your device is not tied up while trying to write a sequence of shots to the card.
Secure Digital (SD) cards come in High Capacity and Xtra Capacity but it is their class rating you need to look out for. Class 10 cards for instance can write data at a minimum of 10MB/sec. Kingston and SanDisk are two of the major memory card suppliers, and it’s worth getting a couple of high capacity, high speed cards for your camera.
4. Learn to shoot in manual
If you’ve been used to a point and shoot or a smartphone camera, chances are that you were shooting in fully automatic mode. If you want to get more out of your camera and your images, it’s time to be brave and set the camera to manual mode. This gives you, the photographer, more control over the look of your shots, rather the camera.
It’s now a case of experimenting with the shots to see what works and what doesn’t each time you alter the aperture, ISO and shutter speed settings. You can start by using Aperture or Shutter Priority modes before stepping up to full manual control. It’s a great way to learn the basics of how aperture, shutter speed and ISO affect each other as you shoot.
5. Flash photography
Most DSLR models have a built in flash that pops up when it senses that you’re shooting in low light conditions. There will be times when it is unavoidable and you’ll need the extra illumination provided from the flash. The drawback is that because it is such a tiny light source, it creates harsh and unflattering shadows and you run the risk of the dreaded red eye effect.
You can buy small diffusers that cover the flash, such as the Fong Puffer Plus, that are designed to soften the light. You can even use a piece of white card and place it front of the flash to bounce the light up into the ceiling, the larger area of illumination creates softer shadows but does need more power as the light has to travel further.
6. Lots of lenses
A lot of DSLR bundles come with a basic kit lens. It is usually a zoom that covers the 24-105mm focal range. It is great as a starter lens but if you want to develop as a photographer, you will need to consider getting more lenses that allow you to achieve different optical and visual effects that the kit lens cannot do.
The first port of call is to pick a good prime lens. These are of fixed focal length but they come with much wider maximum apertures around f/1.4 that allow you to shoot with very shallow depth of field and let in more light to give you the chance to shoot in lower light conditions than a lens with a narrower maximum aperture. Then consider getting a good wide-angle lens. Landscape photography particularly can benefit from the chance to shoot a much greater field of view than a kit lens. A good wide-angle zoom can cover a focal range anywhere from 14mm to 28mm.
7. Raw not JPEG
Raw files are nothing to be scared of. They are the means by which you can capture as much raw image data as your camera and lens allows, with no loss of quality. JPEGs by comparison, although smaller in file size, have already been processed and compressed by the camera as it is written to your memory card. Raw files are much larger in comparison but that is the only small drawback. You will be amazed at how much image data you can squeeze out of a Raw file. You can even recover badly overexposed or underexposed images to a certain degree. You’ll just need to get hold of a good Raw editing package such as Adobe Lightroom; or you can use the software provided with the camera.
8. Getting it in focus
Aside from camera shake,nothing is more likely to kill a shot stone dead than it being out of focus. No amount of editing software can recover a shot of your subject where the point of focus has moved off it and locked on to something behind it, or in front. By using a single autofocus point on your camera (usually the centre one), you can place this AF point over your subject and holding the shutter button half way, make sure you get a confirmation light or beep. Then, still keeping your finger pressed half way on the shutter button, you can recompose the shot and press the button fully to take the photo.
This is known as ‘focus, recompose’ and is a simple but effective focusing method for stationary subjects. Just be aware that the technique will only be effective as long as you and your subject have not moved relative to each other and you are not using extremely shallow depth of field. The act of moving the camera to recompose the shot could throw the focus out.