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Beginners Guide to DSLR

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NOTE* all info taken from http://www.all-things-photography.com/ ..this is not my guide, but a copypaste from one of the best guides i found on the net....*




Hello there! If you are an SLR camera newbie, have just bought or are thinking of buying a Digital or film SLR then welcome to my camera newbie page. If you are new to digital or beginning 35mm photography or just photography in general, then firstly let me just apologise.


You may want to completely understand how your camera does what it does with the buttons and switches that it has. With the way Digital or film SLRs have changed over the years, there is a multitude of combinations of different settings that will allow your creative juices to flow for ever more!


If you get that bug, photography as a hobby can and may well alter the way you do things in your everyday life. It will start as a hobby, but the beauty of photography is that;


* You are never quite an expert

* There is always something new to photograph, events etc.

* There is always something new to learn

* Technology constantly changes

* You and your interests, lifestyle and situation will change


All of this means that your camera will start to become more and more a part of you and your daily doings, and you will want to record your life (and that of people and things around you) in a better and more pleasing way.


Do you know what the most amazing thing about photography is? Well for me anyway, is the fact that you can spend a whole day out taking photos, getting wet, muddy, tired and lost (sometimes for me), and then return to process your film or images and find that there is one, just one image that you have made that completely blows you away!


It doesn't matter that the rest aren't up to scratch, that one picture will be enhanced, enlarged, printed and hanging on your wall for all to see and admire, and then you go and do it all again...brilliant!


The aim of this "Digital SLR Newbie" section, is to put you at ease with your SLR or Digital SLR so that you feel in control of it and not the other way around.


Holding a Digital SLR for the first time can be quite overwhelming, but I remember also feeling so excited that I just "shot" anything and everything to start with, and wasted a lot of time and money. The beauty of digital photography is that you can shoot and shoot to your heart's content and not worry about the cost!


Many people find that with time and practice, they can start to earn money from photography, and many people ask how they can start to make a serious income or living from it. Anything is possible with enough practice.


OK, let's start with the basics:


I am assuming that you are holding or looking at buying a digital SLR or film camera body and one lens to start with. I would recommend either a 50mm standard, or a wide angle zoom such as a 24-85mm or 35-135mm lens. These give you the ability to photograph the more every day subjects which is a good place to start yes?


A typical Digital SLR would look like this...




...Let's look at each individual section of a digital SLR in more detail.


1. Lens Alignment - Each lens you use will have a similar red dot. It allows you to align, twist and click the lens in place more easily.

2. Flash Pop Up Button - Press this to activate the pop up flash. There will be similar buttons on all makes of camera. It is a kind of manual over-ride, useful for fill-in flash etc. If in full auto mode, the camera will decide whether or not to use the flash.

3. Lens Release - By pressing this in, you allow the lens to be twisted and released. Note : Try to change lenses out of dusty areas and try to have the camera switched off. The static produced when the camera is on will attract dust to the sensor.

4. Depth of Field preview - The depth of field determines how much of an image is in focus. For example, if you took a photo of someone with a mountain range in the background, and both the subject and the mountain range are in focus, you have deep or large depth of field. If the subject is in focus but the mountains are blurred, you have shallow or small depth of field. E.g. F16 gives deep depth of field and F2.8 gives shallow depth of field. This button will close the aperture to give you and idea (through the viewfinder) of what will be in focus.

5. Lens contacts - These line up with the contacts of any compatible lenses, allowing the cameras auto focus and other settings to work in time with your lens's settings.

6. Mirror - This mirror allows you to see, through the viewfinder, almost exactly what you will photograph by reflecting the image up, and into the eyepiece. It flips up the instant that you press the shutter release and returns once the picture is taken. Never touch the mirror with your fingers and use special cleaning equipment and solutions. Some mirrors can be replaced but it is costly. Any dust on the mirror will not appear in your photographs, so if in doubt, leave it alone.

7. Grip - Grip that is usually rubberised for more effective handling of the (sometimes cumbersome) digital SLR cameras.

8. Shutter Release Button - Without wanting to state the obvious, this takes the picture at whatever settings you have made. A half press will start the auto focus and exposure calculations.

9. Focus Assist Beam - Most modern Digital SLR 's have this now. It illuminates the subject in poor light to assist the auto focus. It will sometimes be used as an indicator for the self timer function (I.e. it will flash and beep during delay).

10. Pop Up Flash - Semi-professional or Prosumer DSLR 's have a built in flash which, when on full auto, will pop up and fire when required. On the manual settings, you will normally have to activate it via a button (see No. 2) for more creative photography.


So that is the front of the camera...the back looks at first glance, to be more complicated...




1. Viewfinder - This is where it all happens. With most film or Digital SLR 's, you see about 95-98% of what you shoot. In here you will see the focussing ring at the centre of the image plus most of the other information such as shutter speeds, aperture settings etc.

2. Dioptre Adjustment - Very handy if you are slightly long or short sighted. As in binoculars, you can adjust the viewfinder to match the difference in your eyes, enabling you to use the camera without your glasses or contact lenses.

3. Rubber Eyecup - This can be removed but is handy for 2 reasons. If you wear glasses, it will protect the lenses from scratching against the camera. Without glasses, it helps the viewfinder to mould around your eye and eliminate any surrounding glare.

4. Joystick Dial - On the Canon EOS 20D, this will allow you to move around a menu or image in display mode.

5. Exposure Lock/Zoom Button - On the Canon EOS 20D, this button serves 2 purposes. Firstly it is the Exposure Lock button. If you aim the camera at a scene and press this, it will record and keep (for a few seconds) that exact exposure whilst you re-compose and shoot. Good for if you are shooting into light and want control over the exposure. Doesn't work in the manual setting. Secondly, when using the image preview screen to look at your exposed images, using this button will zoom in on a specific area.

6. Focus Point Selector/Zoom Button - Again, on the Canon EOS 20D, this has 2 functions. Firstly, it is the Auto focus point selector. You can choose from a number of points as to which you would like to use. If you select all of them, the camera will pick the best point for individual circumstances, automatically. Secondly, when reviewing your images on the screen, this will zoom out of a specific area.

7. Write Indication Light - This will vary in its position depending on the camera you are using. When it flashes red, it is writing data from the recently exposed images, to the CF card or other media. If you open the media door whilst it is flashing, you normally lose the images, much like opening the back of a film camera before rewinding the film.

8. Jog Dial and Set button - The jog dial will scroll through images or items in a menu, and the set button will select an image or setting in the menu.

9. On/Off Button - Switches the camera power on and off. On the 20D Digital SLR, it also activates/deactivates the jog dial. I normally leave the camera on at all times. The sleep mode kicks in after a few minutes and you can turn the power on quickly and instantly by pressing the shutter button.

10. Erase Button - Again, its position will vary according to your camera, but this will erase any selected images. You are normally asked first "are you sure" as a safeguard.

11. Play Button - When the camera is switched on, this will display the last image taken on the small screen. Then you can scroll through all the others.

12. Jump Button - Used to jump 2 or 3 images or menu items at a time. I rarely use this but is good if you are in a hurry.

13. Info - By pressing this, you will bring up all the information of any image that you select and view. It will tell you the exposure settings, white balance, date/time, image size, flash details in fact everything about the photo except the name of the subject! The 20D will also highlight any part of the image that is overexposed and burnt out.

14. Menu Button - This will bring up all the internal menu functions on the screen. You scroll through them using the dial and select buttons. See your camera manual for more details of what your camera can do from here.

15. Screen - Displays menus and images that have been exposed. It will not display the image (in real time) that you are looking at like most digital compact "point and shoots".


And now the top of the digital SLR camera...we are getting there! If you are confused at this point, take a break, re-read the previous section and have a play with your camera, assuming you have one already. Then come back here to continue....




These buttons will vary from camera to camera, but the symbols are normally the same, and most Digital SLR 's have the same functions;


1. Light for LCD Display - Turns on the light to illuminate the LCD panel in low light conditions.

2. AF/WB - Auto focus/white balance setting. Pressing this brings up the choices for white balance (i.e. AUTO/daylight/sun/shadow/tungsten etc), and auto focus (i.e. One shot or Servo etc). One shot means that the camera will focus once and take the image, focussed on that point regardless of how much you or the subject moves. Servo means the cameras focussing system will automatically keep tracking and re-focussing on the subject until you press the shutter. Great for sports/action shots!

3. Drive/ISO - Drive means auto drive or frame rate. You can take a single shot or have the camera on continuous mode which means it will keep firing at 3, 5 or 8 frames per second etc., (depending on your camera), until you remove your finger or the buffer (memory) is full. ISO is the film or sensor sensitivity. 100 ISO is standard sensitivity and will produce fine grain, clear images. 1600 or 3200 ISO on the film or sensor is highly sensitive, meaning you can shoot well in low light conditions without a flash, although you lose a bit in the quality and images will appear more grainy.

4. Shutter Button - (See No. 8 on the first section).

5. Top Dial - This is also used to change/alter various settings in either menu by scrolling up or down. Normally used to change shutter speeds or aperture settings.

6. Metering/Flash Compensation - The cameras metering system is in the screen that you see through the viewfinder when lining up a shot. It will measure the light settings of the scene and set the cameras shutter/aperture accordingly or at least let you know what you need to do to expose the image correctly. You can change from full, partial or spot metering, which means the camera will expose to the whole scene, a part of the scene (normally centre weighted) or a single point (spot). The flash compensation button will allow you to fool the camera into thinking that it needs more or less light from your flashgun or speedlite in order to expose the image correctly. It also allows you more creativity as you play with the settings. If a scene appears underexposed when you have used the flashgun, try increasing the flash compensation by a couple of stops.

7. LCD Screen - This will display all the exposure, speed ISO etc., settings that you currently have set. As you adjust or alter them, it will show on this screen. It also tells you how many photos you have left to take, and the remaining battery power.

8. Hotshoe - The area where you can place an external, dedicated speedlite or flashgun. Dedicated means that it is compatible with your camera and will adjust itself as you change the camera settings or zoom on the lens.

9. Exposure control Dial - Using this dial, you can be as creative or lazy as you wish, from full auto mode (like a point and shoot) to fully manual. It will normally include easy automatic settings for various modes such as sports, close up, landscape, night and portraits and will also allow you to control the built in flash and depth of field settings. If you are unsure, and a total newcomer to film or digital SLR photography, set it to "P" or (program) mode. This is fully automatic and will help you while you learn all about the camera and what it can do. Other functions are;

* Av - Aperture Priority - Which allows you to set the aperture of the lens (i.e. F2.8 or F8) and the camera will select the correct shutter speed. This is good if you want more control over the depth of field (DOF) of your images. Remember F2.8 will have little DOF and F16 will have a lot, or much in focus.

* Tv - Shutter Priority - This is the opposite. You set the shutter speed, and the camera will select the correct aperture. Great for sports or wildlife photography where you need control of the shutter speeds. 15th or 30th/sec is slow and 500th/sec is fast. Most digital SLR cameras have a range from 30 second exposure to about 8000th of a second.

* Manual - You are in full control here. The cameras metering system will guide you but you need to set the shutter speed and aperture manually. Good for more creative control.

10. Pop up Flash - (See no. 10 in the first section)


Lastly the underside of your camera...




1. Battery compartment - This is where the re-chargeable batteries live. It is normally best to have one or two spares even though the batteries last longer and longer these days. Most new Digital SLR 's will have the ability to affix a battery grip which will give you even more power, and give the camera a bulkier feel and therefore easier to grip (if you have big hands).

2. Tripod Socket - Allows you to attach the camera to most makes of tripod. The socket is normally placed to the exact centre of where the lens is for effective balance and weight distribution.


So there you have it...... the complete guide to your DSLR... now onto how to use it...


Holding A DSLR


When holding an SLR camera for the first time...you would think it is as straight forward as any camera right? Well, if you are used to simple point and shoot cameras where your left hand is pretty much redundant, you would be wrong to think this.


Because an SLR or Digital SLR is so much bigger and bulkier, especially if you have the Canon 1 series or an added optional battery pack, there is a bit more to think about.


When set to manual, and using slower shutter speeds, the camera (and you) are more likely to sway a little due to the weight, causing normally irreparable camera shake. With an SLR combined with an added battery pack and a heavy lens such as the Canon EF 70-200L lens, your arms become pretty weak after a few hours shooting.


So learning how to hold the camera more energy efficiently will help in the long run, of course a tripod is ultimately the best, but I assume, like me, you wont want to carry one everywhere with you?




As you can see from this image, most digital SLR's are now designed perfectly to fit in the right hand (hopefully you are right handed). The thumb is positioned so as to be able to easily reach the rear dial, the exposure lock button at the top and the focus point selector next to it.


Of course each cameras layout is different but all are normally designed fit in your hands both ergonomically and practically comfortable. In this next image, you can see the top of the camera.




With the addition of a large grip down the right hand side of most cameras (you may or may not remember that early SLR's in the 80's had no such grip) your index finger is left free to operate more buttons and dials. There is obviously the shutter button and normally a dial next to it for speedy aperture or shutter speed changes.


Also on the top are other buttons that will allow you to change settings such as the white balance or the focus and metering settings. So with the right hand doing all this work, what is left for your left hand?


Well, it plays a fairly important part as in apart from operating the mode dial on the top left of the camera, it is used to "cup" and steady main bulk of the camera. When holding an SLR, the base should fit into the palm of your hand, with the bottom of the lens resting on your left thumb and forefinger allowing you to use the zoom or focussing rings.


If you don't hold it this way, and allow your left hand to "float" freely as you focus and zoom, the movement is more likely to move the camera, again causing camera shake.


You can break these rules and have a play, but generally these are the best suggestions when holding an SLR. One final thought is that when standing up and shooting, using the above tips, try resting your elbows into your body, this will give you extra support and pull the camera gently into your face to steady it more.


So to summarize holding an SLR;


* Hold the camera in both hands as stated

* Lean against something, a wall or fence, for stability

* Pull your elbows into your body

* Pull the camera gently to your face

* "Squeeze" the shutter, don't stab at it


Keeping Both Eyes Open


Keep both eyes open? This may sound a little strange, as we are taught to automatically close one eye when looking through the viewfinder. This generally helps to get a perspective of what you are looking at and keeps you focussed on the subject. However, try keeping both eyes open as an experiment and I will tell you why it could come in handy.




Let's say for example you are photographing a moving object, or something that is a bit unpredictable like animals or a sports event. If you are looking with just one eye through the viewfinder, you are limiting your field of vision and therefore more likely to miss any action.


Looking through the viewfinder whilst keeping both eyes open however, with practice, you can learn to watch and see more action. You see something out of the corner of your left eye (or the one not looking through the viewfinder) that you would normally have missed, you quickly turn the camera and SNAP, you got it! Do you see what I mean?


This technique in particularly useful when using telephoto lenses because your field of vision is severely shortened leaving you more open to miss the action. You will have to learn to use both eyes when looking through the viewfinder as when you hold the camera vertically, your "free" eye would normally be looking at the back of the camera.


Strangely enough, it can also put your subject at ease. If you are looking at them through the viewfinder and they cannot see either of your eyes, it can be quite unnerving for them. If they can see one of your eyes, then they can see that you aren't looking where you shouldn't.


Most of the time you will be a stranger to your subject and doing this will put them at ease. (One to remember when you are a famous wedding or portrait photographer)!




Follow The Subject


Follow the subject doesn't mean stalk them! What I mean is, whatever you are trying to capture, stay with it until the bitter end. If it is an animal running or a person surfing or even a bird flying, "keep on it" until it has exhausted any photo opportunities or gone out of sight.


The previous subject "Use both eyes open" is a definite help here as you want to be aware of what your subject is doing at all times. The more you see, the closer you are to getting the best shots that you can.


It is all too easy to flit and switch your vision to something that could be more interesting only to find that monkey that you were looking at pulls the cheekiest of grins when it is too late! Follow the subject and stay with it!




Try to keep your shutter finger half pressed so that the camera is constantly altering the exposure and focus as you move the camera around. I have on many occasions said to myself, much to my wife's amusement, "Oh, nothings happening here!" put the camera away and all of a sudden something like 300 Harley Davidson's roar past. By the time I get the camera back out I just manage to get the back tyre of the last bike!


Now, if I am out and about with the purpose of taking pictures, the camera is always in my hand and constantly switched on. With practice, you become more aware of your surroundings and feel ready to pounce when the action strikes. Here are some examples of how and why to follow the subject.




One evening, we were walking along our local beach when 6 or 7 quad bikes burst on to the scene. This particular one went out of sight behind some reeds but I kept my camera in the general area nonetheless. A few seconds later, he flew out of the reeds over a sand dune and on to the beach below. I even managed to get a hint of Gibraltar in the background.




On this day, there were about 10 or so surfers on a well known surf spot in Mojacar, southern Spain. It would have been all to easy to jump from one to the other but by following my own advice and staying with each surfer until he had finished his run, I walked away with a lot more decent shots than if I hadn't.




Even at the end of a surfers run, you can get some great candid shots as they "exit" their boards in sometimes spectacular fashion.


Hopefully this will give you inspiration and motivate you to really study your subject and walk away with a lot more "keepers"




When composing your subject and yourself, there are many thoughts, opinions and rules to think about, although I have never been one to follow the rules. What is important is how you want to portray the composition of the photograph, however, depending on what you are looking to achieve, we can narrow it down to just 2 choices;


* Are you taking the picture for your own pleasure?

* Or are you looking to attract clients, get published or win competitions?


Just for me!


Ok, if it is just you that you have to please it is a lot simpler, you know what you like and you can simply go out and do your best to get it, and enjoy the learning curve on the way! What you will find however, is that as you progress and learn, you will try new things, see things differently and start to mould your very own techniques, composition and style of photography.


This is the point where you kind of "accelerate" your passion as you become hungry for new ideas and techniques. I suggest that you read a lot (use birthdays and Christmas as an excuse to build your library of decent reference books); I remember soaking up every bit of information that I could as a young lad getting started. I still do now!


When you look at a subject or go out to spend the day photographing, try and stick to a theme otherwise you will be constantly flitting from one subject to another and coming up with not very much. If you say to yourself "Right, people day today!" and concentrate on the composition of people in everyday scenes, going about their everyday ways, you will find that you concentrate a lot more on the task in hand! Remember to ask permission when photographing people close up and respect their privacy when necessary.


When you do have a theme, think about how you want to portray it. Think of different angles of view, maybe from a rooftop or shooting up an escalator. Think in maybe an abstract composition way and try to think ahead about how you can "play" with a shot later in Photoshop.


"It may not look that good now, but when I play with the curves and add a filter or two..."


One of the main "rules" of composition is the rule of thirds.


If you look at the grid that is overlaid on this image, you can see that it splits the picture into 9 segments. The basics of this rule suggest that you compose your subject so that approximately 1/3rd is covered by your subject and the other 2/3rd's is background. Or to put it another way, ensure that your main point of interest is at one of the intersections of the lines.




I will cover this more in "Break the Rules" but for now, think of it as a guideline. Remember, rules can be broken.


Whatever the subject, always remember that you want it to stand out from the rest of the scene. To do this, you can either "Blow out" the background by choosing a large aperture of say F2.8 if you have it (F4 will do a similar job), or when photographing people or something with a cluttered background, get on the floor and look up. That way you just have the sky as a backdrop and the main point of interest steals the show like in this image of Wendy on the beach. You "know" it is a beach because of the bikini and beach ball, but you don't need to see the beach!


Don't just look at your subject, look behind and around them to make sure nothing is distracting or allowing the eye to wander. Smaller items like rubbish or cranes can be removed with the help of Photoshop, but getting it right first time saves work later on.


Take your time if you can, and change your position to suit the composition and lighting.


I want to make money or win something


Now this is a different ball game altogether. You now have to start to think of other people and how they will and want to see your images.


When thinking about entering competitions I always find it difficult as rejection can hurt. You may think your picture deserves 1st prize, and certain other panels of judges may think the same had you entered it into their competition, but the panel of judges for this competition may think differently. It all depends on their composition taste, knowledge and background.


It is a difficult area to break into as each set of judges are different, they look for different standards and criteria, some being harsher than others. The only way around this is to study which photographs win each particular category of competition for each panel, and then try to use this knowledge, along with your own style, and get the prize.


Basically enter as many competitions as you can using the same photographs. That way you start to learn what each individual panel looks for with regard to composition, style, techniques and effort. I don't normally enter them any more, but this year I have a small wager with my brother to see who can win the most for the SWPP in the UK.


The SWPP (Society of Wedding and Portrait Photographers) and BPPA (British Professional Photographers Associates) in England were kind enough to give me the photographer of the month award for January 2005 for 3 of my entries. This one was for the commercial section. It depicts a family thinking of buying an off-plan property in Spain. The blue sky "says" Spain, there is a hint of a building site, and the plans that they are holding show the "off-plan" stage.




I took the photo whilst lying on a very dusty floor as to eliminate any background clutter. I asked them to "imagine" that they were holding the plans and then added the real plans later using Photoshop.


When photographing for clients, commercials or competitions, you really have to listen to what they want and try to produce the goods. Think about how the image will look and how the onlooker will see it. What story does it tell? Does it say what the client wants it to say? Is it unique in its approach? Does it stand out from the rest?


I guess for me, I have narrowed my niche or style down to bright, bold, punchy and colourful images that really stand out. It bodes well for the commercial "scene" too. Other photographers like the calmer, pastel coloured and minimalist approach, purely black and white or heavily "digitized" images. Everyone is different and you will find that, in time, you will develop your own style too.


For now I say just practice, practice and practice and read a bit too. At the end of the day, the only way to find your own style is to get out there and shoot away.


See The Light And Use It


Ok, you don't have to convert to any kind of faith (except your own) to take a good picture. What I mean is to always be aware of what the light is doing and how it will affect your shot.


Different lighting techniques, even whilst photographing the same subject, can dramatically alter the image and the way in which people perceive it. Creating harsh shadows for instance can add "moodiness" to a photograph.


See the Light - Daylight/Sunlight


Watch what happens to a scene as the day moves on. The best times of day for landscape, architecture or outdoor portraits is always either early morning or early evening. The rising or setting sun creates such a warmth that I believe no filter can match it!


Set your sights on leaving the house early so that you can be where you want to be at either of these times. Have your camera set up in the position that you want as this light does not last long and you will have just minutes to get the right shot. If you are shooting digitally, take a bunch!


If you are shooting in the midday sun, try a skylight or warm filter such as 81 or 85. This will help keep the nasty rays at bay and add a more natural light to your photos. If you are lucky enough to have blue skies and bright sun, put a decent Polarizing Filter on your lens. These can make a scene look truly fantastic if used correctly.




One common rule you may hear when it comes to lighting is do not shoot into the sun, forget that! You can get some fantastic shots by aiming directly at the sun, but just beware you don't hurt your eyes, and the myth that it can harm your sensor on your digital camera is just that...a myth. However, the best angle for most outdoor shots is with the sun directly behind you.


Try to keep your "human" subjects out of direct sunlight if you don't want just about every nook, cranny and wrinkle appearing in their facial portrait. Turn their back to the sun and either take a "spot" meter reading from just their face, step back and shoot, or take a normal reading and add fill in flash to get the correct exposure.


To get a spot reading, aim your camera at the subjects face and fill the frame with it, half press the shutter to get a reading, press the "exposure lock" button if you have one (on the 20D it is top right on the back of the camera, like an asterisk * ). Then move back to re-frame and don't dilly dally, the reading will go after 5 or so seconds, re-compose and shoot.


The focussing shouldn't be affected as it will refocus as you re-frame and press the shutter button, although the background will appear overexposed. If it is out of focus, try "zooming in" on the face instead of moving or switch your cameras metering to "spot" or "centre-weighted " if available.


See the Light - Flash or Speedlite


When using a flashgun or speedlite, there is a tendency to always just slap it on the camera and fire away. This inevitably causes harsh shadows to the left or right of your subject making it obvious that flash was used. A quick and simple way around this is to bounce the flash from a reflective surface and back onto your subject. By doing this, you get a more even illumination with no harsh shadows. Go to my bounced flash section to read up on this in more detail.


Also, even though it may look strange, and feel strange at first, use your flash outside in daylight. This will eliminate any shadows and is great for fill in flash on bright, sunny days. Use it anywhere that there are deep shadows or areas of particularly bad lighting. I always try to have a flash unit with me wherever I go.


Different Lenses


As your hobby grows, you will yourself adding different lenses to your lens collection. Once you have 5 or 6, take a selection with you wherever you go and remember that you have them and know what they can do.


* Super wide angle (Fisheye) (10mm, 15mm)

* Wide angle (18mm, 24mm, 28mm, 35mm)

* Standard (50mm)

* Telephoto (85mm, 100mm, 135mm, 200mm, 300mm etc.)

* Zoom (16-35mm, 28-135mm, 70-200mm, 75-300mm, 100-400mm)

* Macro (50mm macro, 100mm macro, 135mm macro)


Test each lens that you buy methodically, learn about its aperture settings, zoom focal lengths and limitations. Learn which lens is good for what, such as close ups (macro) or sports and wildlife. Then when you come across a situation that demands a certain lens, you will know what to do and which one to use. Of course, if you are fortunate enough to own a powerful, long range and expensive zoom like the Canon EF 28-300L; you just "twist and go", you don't need a vast set of different lenses!


When living in Spain, I was asked to climb a local, but large mountain called "La Concha", overlooking Marbella on the Costa del Sol. It has been rarely climbed by any photographer and I was asked for some shots by some of the local businesses. Of course, my camera rucksack contains 2 bodies, 8 different lenses (one of which is VERY heavy), a speedlite, filters, spare batteries and accessories. All in all it weighs about 10KG! Needless to say, it was a tough climb but worth it!




It is all too easy to become lazy and not get the shot because "It will take too long to change lenses". Take your time and if you can, try and pre-empt what lens you will need and change the lens before you arrive or need to start shooting. Again, when you go out, if you have a specific "Theme" in mind, you will know which lenses to take and which one you will need the most.


As a beginner, or newbie, I would suggest that your first lens should be a "Walk-around" lens. Basically one that has a reasonable zoom, good quality and that covers focal lengths needed by everyday situations. One such lens that I always used to carry was the Canon EF 28-135 IS USM. The focal length is perfect and is a trusty, sturdy lens that produces nice sharp images.


One last, important note I think I have mentioned somewhere before, is take care when changing lenses. Keep out of windy and/or dusty environments and try to change the lens inside a bag. Dust on your mirror isn't so bad, but when it hits your sensor it can be a pain to remove it.




It is always a good idea to have a selection of photographic filters in your camera bag, be it a polarizer, a grad or gradual filter, orange, red or just a skylight/UV filter.


You never know when you will come across a situation where you could use a little help in either controlling the light or protecting the front element of your lens.


There are basically 2 "styles" of filter you can have. The normal screw onto the front of your lens type, of which there are many makes some of which are normally more expensive, or the great range from Cokin whereby you have one adaptor attached to the front of your lens and you can replace each square filter as and when required, quickly and easily.


You will need an adaptor ring to go onto your lens, the filter mount slides onto that and clicks into place, and then the square filter slides into that.




I have outlined some of the basic filters below explaining what they do and why you may need them. As there are many, many types of filter on the market, I have kept the list to a minimum of possible daily use filters.


Photographic Filters - No Filter


If you have no filter on your lens then you will get, as best as your camera can record it, the light as the human eye sees it. You also have no protection from the elements such as rain or drizzle, dust or any other airborne particles or fingerprints.


Photographic Filters - Skylight or UV Filter


As you can see from the illustration above, the skylight or UV filter does little to enhance the image, although it can produce warmth in the greenery or colours on the building. What it is actually doing is preventing ultra violet light from hitting the sensor to protect it much in the way your sunglasses do. Most people carry one as a protection for the lens from the elements without affecting the image too much.


You will need different sized filters depending on the thread size on your lens. Obviously, if you have a large range of lenses this can be quite expensive especially if you go for the higher quality filters which I suggest you do. I have just one for each of my more expensive lenses and only use them when I need to.


Photographic Filters - Polarizing Filter


Whilst this is one of my favourite filters, I try and use it sparingly as they can really saturate bright colours. What they will do is eliminate glare and reflections on shiny surfaces such as the sea or a car windscreen. There are 2 types, linear or circular. Linear is really for film but I would suggest circular whatever your medium as adjustments are easier to make.


You attach it to your lens and then, whilst looking through the viewfinder, turn the filter to see it work. If you are photographing the sea for instance, as your turn the filter it is quite amazing to see.


As you can see here, the sea will become transparent and the sky darker because not only are you eliminating the glare from the surface of the sea, but also from the minute particles of water in the air!


Also if you are photographing someone through a window, but have too many reflections, a polarizer will normally lose all the reflections allowing you to see your subject as clear as day (although you may have to move around a bit for the best effect).


This is one filter that I would spend more on as a poor quality polarizer will make your images look poor. I use B + W filters, a bit more expensive but when you spend good money on a lens and you want to add more glass, it has to be good.


They are not always successful as you can see in the example above, no matter how much I twisted and turned the filter, I could only darken half the sky. This was due to the fact that I used the filter on a very wide angle lens. It does't always improve the image so like I say, I use it sparingly.


Photographic Filters - Grey Grad (or Gray Gradual) Filter


In the situation above with the polarizer where only half the sky was darkened, an excellent alternative is the neutral density or grey gradual filter. These come in differing strengths of gradation and do a great job.


They look something like this and Cokin do a great range from "A" for Amateur to "P" for Professionals (Bigger filters for bigger lenses).




What a grey grad will do is to just darken the upper, lower, left or right portion of your photograph, depending on which way you have the filter in its holder.


Picture the scene:


You have a beautiful view looking down a big green valley in the spring. The blossom is blooming you have just had rain and everything is as clear and fresh as a daisy. The sky is bright with a few clouds and you want to capture the moment. However, the meter in your camera can't decide whether to account for the sky or the land. So you either end up with an overexposed and blown out sky with well exposed land, or a perfectly exposed sky and underexposed land.


What do you do? Yes! Put a grey grad filter on. What this will do is darken just the sky enough for the cameras metering to get a more overall correct exposure meaning both the sky and the land will be well exposed. It can make a terrific difference to a picture.


You can see in the image above, the difference between the "no filter" and "grey grad" shot. The grey grad has darkened the sky but kept the building at exactly the same exposure, cool!


As you progress and learn, you will find all sorts of other photographic filters to experiment with but for now, I hope this has given you some ideas to start with.


ISO Settings


What are ISO camera settings and what does ISO mean? ISO stands for International Standards Organisation and it refers to the industry norm for sensitivity of emulsion based film, with 100 ISO being not so sensitive (and the standard ISO used by most people) to 1600 ISO which is extremely sensitive to light.


In the beginning for me anyway, I tended to use just 100 or 400 ISO film (or ASA as it was then) as I didn't really know any better. I used 100 ISO for normal, everyday use and kept the 400 for either indoors, black and white or colour "grainy" shots. 400 ISO was useful for indoor shots where flash couldn't be used, such as some shows, as with the extra sensitivity, I could still get some decent shots.


The major headache with film photography was that if you wanted to change the ISO settings, you had to change the film itself! Not good if you were in a hurry. There was a way to "push" the film by underexposing it to get faster shutter speeds, and sorting out the mess in the darkroom later, but you still had to "push" the entire film.


The beauty of digital, and I have found myself changing ISO settings so much more often now, is that you can alter the ISO for each individual shot. This means, should you come across a situation where you are in low light and cannot use flash, you can just up the ISO settings to 800, 1600 or even 3200 making the sensor a lot more sensitive to light, and fire away knowing the images will come out ok.


For example, in February we took my son to the Zoo in Spain for the first time. All the shots taken outside were at ISO 100 as the midday sun in Spain is very bright. Then we entered the reptile house and the light died with the only illumination coming from the reptile's enclosure, and I had no flash unit.


No problem, I just whacked the ISO to 1600 and fired away. This shot was taken hand-held at 30th of a second with a heavy 70-200mm lens at F3.5 (although it has IS or "image stabilisation"). I cleaned it up a little using Neat Image, but not much was needed. Once we were outside again, back to 100 ISO...it has "revolutionised" the way I for one, take photographs now.




If you get in a situation where you have the aperture fully open and the shutter speed selected is too slow to hand hold such as 30th or 15th/sec, use the higher ISO settings, they are like a Godsend in digital photography, especially if you don't carry a flashgun.


The opposite is true here as well. Where high ISO's give grainier, lesser quality images, a low ISO such as 100 or 50 will produce the finest quality, grain free images that your camera is capable of. This is worth remembering if you are doing important work with your digital SLR. The Kodak Pro series of digital cameras go as low as ISO 6!!! Imagine the quality there!


With film, anything above ISO 400 would produce grainy and textured images and the techniques in the 80's and 90's for reducing grain were few and far between. However, with the new breed of digital cameras such as the almost "grain free" Canon EOS 20D, 30D, 40D and amazing Canon EOS 5D, the "noise" as it is also known, is barely noticeable in some images.


Even if a bit of grain or noise does appear, there are programs such as Neat image available that will all but remove any signs of grain...amazing!


If you own a digital SLR, play with these ISO settings to see how it can improve your photography. Purposely leave your flash at home and turn the ISO settings right up to see how it functions. Heavy grain in some images such as buildings or landscapes can really add great, moody effects to your shots.


Depth Of Field


I have always found this a strange term, why not simply call it Depth of Focus? Anyway, it matters not, what does matter is how it affects your photography and how you can use it to your benefit.


Personally, I normally set my camera to Av or "aperture priority" 95% of the time for more control over the sharpness. For the kind of work I do, the depth of field is more important to me than shutter speed. Although, if I need a fast shutter speed, I can just quickly and easily whack the aperture right open. giving me the fastest speed.


So how does depth of field work?


It's all to do with how much light enters your camera and the type of lens that you use. Basically, there are 3 factors that determine the depth of field in your images;


* Focal length of the lens


To put it simply, the shorter the focal length, the greater the DOF (or more of the image will be sharp). I.e., 16mm = More in focus, 400mm = less in focus. When I do a lot of interior work with an ultra wide angle, I generally use f8 or f11 as I know this will suffice for the image quality I need with this lens.


* Distance between camera and subject


If you photograph your subject sitting on a wall about 20-30 meters away or more, and using a wide angle or standard lens, you can almost guarantee that a lot of your image will be in focus whatever the aperture (within reason). However, bring the subject closer to say 2 meters, and the camera will focus on the subject but will more than likely throw the background into blurred oblivion.


* Aperture setting


The aperture setting has the largest factor in determining the depth of field of your images. Just remember that f4, 3.5 or 2.8 (or bigger) will have shallow or little DOF whereas F8, 11, 16 or smaller, will have greater DOF. This is particularly true if you are doing close up work, a large aperture close up will have very little in focus.


To illustrate these points, have a look at these 2 pictures. I was testing the Sigma 105mm Macro Lens and wanted to check the sharpness at close quarters. The shot on the left was taken by dropping a small amount of milk into a larger container.


The camera was on a tripod and I used 2 studio lights closely positioned, and pre-focussed on the point where I would drop the milk.




Because I was using a telephoto lens and working extremely close, plus the fact that the lights were bright and also close, I needed a very small aperture. In this case, all the way closed at F36! It has to be said that even with this small aperture, parts of the background were blurred. I am told this is due to "diffraction" of the light when you stop down too much, so f16 is normally enough for good, sharp pictures. Also note that a telephoto combined with macro leaves little room for error as the depth of field is at its smallest.


I was pleased with the result but I must point something out to digital camera users at this point.


The smaller the aperture you use (especially this small), the more "specs" of dust will appear on your images. This image was literally covered in them before I cleaned it up. It is a good way of testing your sensor for dust, but don't be too put off by this, it is quite normal and is easily fixed using a good editor and cloning/healing brush. If you are unsure of what you are doing please do not try and clean the sensor yourself, you may damage it and they cost a bit! Go to a reputable dealer/cleaner and get it done.


Otherwise, there are many safe ways of cleaning the sensor yourself...just do a Google search for "camera sensor cleaning" for more information.


For the second shot, the leaf was brought inside, rain water and all, and set up in a similar way. This time, however, I used natural low lighting which meant that with an aperture of F29, I needed 30 seconds to make the correct exposure. Remember that when you open or close the aperture, you or the camera has to adjust the shutter speed to compensate. If you close the aperture right down for good depth of field, check the shutter speed as it may become slow and non-hand holdable.


Lastly, this image shows the other extreme. I used a Canon EF 50mm standard lens to get this shot of Max. You can see that the background is completely out of focus with virtually no depth of field. In fact the depth of field is so shallow that even though his head is only slightly turned, one eye is in focus and the other isn't! (You can see a larger and clearer version of this image by clicking on it).




This is because this particular lens has a maximum F-stop of just 1.4 and this was taken at that aperture. I like this effect and use it a lot for portraits. It draws your eye to theirs with no other distractions.


So when you are out and about next, instead of setting the camera to auto, experiment with depth of field and get a bit creative. Used in the right context a large or very shallow DOF can be very effective.


Shutter Speeds


By taking your camera off auto and playing with its shooting speeds, you can have a lot of fun and get some great results to boot!


There are some times when you need fast speeds such as with sports or action photography, but there are other times that you can slow things down a little and get some very nice results indeed.


Probably the most used setting for an SLR used outside are 125th/sec at F8. This is the average reading for a normal day at ISO 100. The speed of 125th is ok for most subjects but for faster moving objects you will have a certain amount of blur. F8 will ensure that whatever you focus on will be sharp enough.


Here is a quick list of shutter speeds starting from slowest upwards, what they can be used for and the probable result:


* 30 seconds or more - Great for night shots where you want the illumination of the city lights to glow brightly, or to get the effect of milky smooth water from a waterfall at dusk or dawn. If you keep the shutter open for a couple of hours and directed at the night sky, you should end up seeing star trails on your image as the Earth rotates.

* 1 second - If you are at a wedding reception or a dance and want a spooky but nice effect, try this. Have your flashgun charged and switched on to auto, set your cameras shutter speed to 1 second and aperture to approximately f.8. Take some shots whilst moving the camera about and the effect of the flash will "freeze" your subject, but the long shutter speed will give some amazing background effects from the lights.

* 15th/30th/sec - If you have image stabilisation on your lens, this is about the absolute limit that you can hand hold a shot. But using a tripod, this speed will give you a small aperture creating large depth of field and is good for dusky or dawn landscapes. These speeds are also good for panning shots of moving objects such as cars. Panning creates a feeling of speed with motion blur as the background blurs while the subject stays in focus.

* 60th-250th/sec - Anything in this range is good for everyday general photography. In normal light, these speeds should give sufficient depth of field from the aperture setting for most subjects, whilst allowing you to hand hold your camera without causing camera shake.

* 1000th-8000th/sec - These speeds, if your camera has them, will freeze most objects in their tracks. You can get really experimental here and keep your eyes open for fast subjects that you can practice on! You will need either bright sunshine, a high ISO (400/800/1600), or fast lens (f2.8/1.4) to be able to shoot at these speeds whilst exposing correctly.


I have given some examples below, of shots with shutter speeds ranging from 6 seconds to 4000th/sec. Don't be afraid to really experiment as if you are "digital" it won't cost you a penny extra!


Slow Shutter..



Fast Shutter..



Black And White


A strange request I know, to "see things in black and white", but if you try this technique, you may end up with a lot more photos in your keeper file!


Have you ever been out and about wandering through villages or fields, cities or towns and you can't seem to find anything worth photographing ... just "One of those days"! You will get them and it can be quite frustrating. You have made the effort to get your gear together, drive to a favourite spot but just can't get the creative juices flowing!


As an experiment, the next time you are out on a mission, try to see things as they would appear in a black and white photograph. Black and white photography tends to add mood to a photo and by removing all traces of colour; the onlooker's eye is more attracted to your subject.


In this example, I was driving home after doing some kite surfing beach shots in Southern Spain and I came across this old Moorish derelict bridge. It is right on the Southern tip of Spain but you can see the Atlas mountain range in the background so it made a "historical" shot if nothing else.


However, I was disappointed by the "murkiness" of the water and didn't want to spend hours in Photoshop adding blue water. So I converted it into black and white to get rid of all the colour, and BINGO, I loved it.


The composition was good using the rule of thirds, the lack of colour leads my eye more to the old bridge with a strip of white beach behind, and the Atlas Mountains behind that. Even the old log in the foreground stands out more.




Another example was during a photo shoot of a clients daughter (who is looking to break into the modelling world). I took one shot where the look, composition and just about everything was perfect, EXCEPT THE LIGHTS DIDN'T FIRE!!!


All I could do was convert it to black and white and it actually became one of my all time favourite portraits, a real "classic" look to it. Out of over 100 proofs, the parents liked this one the most and had an A1 canvas print made up which now adorns the main wall in their living room, testimony enough for me that "seeing in black and white" can sometimes pay dividends!




So remember, if you are having a "down day", switch your brain into black and white mode and see what you can come up with!




An essential piece of kit and a part of learning about photography is to know when to use a tripod. There will be times when hand holding the camera simply won't do.


Many professionals, especially wedding photographers, leave the camera permanently attached to a tripod, and a good one too, as with weddings it is always better to be safe than sorry. With sports photographers a tripod or monopod is necessary just to take the weight of those huge 500/600mm lenses during a game.


What is the standard "rule" for when to use a tripod? Try this simple tip. If the shutter speed is slower than the focal length of the lens, use a tripod! For instance;


* 50mm lens needs 60th/sec or faster

* 200mm lens needs 200th/sec or faster

* 500mm lens needs 500th/sec or faster


Why? The more you magnify the subject with telephoto lenses, the more you magnify any movements which will inevitably give you "camera shake". Also, if you plan to enlarge the photo many times, you need to use a tripod to get the clearest image possible. For small prints it is less noticeable therefore not so necessary.


To start off with, I suggest spending no more than £50-£100 (or less) on a reasonable tripod and upgrade as and when is necessary. A cheap, light but reliable and sturdy tripod will give you the support you need, when you need it for most situations you may come across. (You can always weigh it down by hanging a bag in the middle of it for extra support)!


Take night photography for example. It would be impossible to get any half decent, well lit night-time shots without having to use a tripod. The shots below were taken with shutter speeds of a few seconds, as part of

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hey man thats awesome! my mums been bugging me to teach her how to use my slr, so im just gonna show her this now haha cheers


No worries.. Hope it helps :)

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thanks for the links. some very interesting and useful stuff in here. hope to get better in the near future.

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Just keep practicing and enjoy it. Rest will follow easily :)

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