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For New DSLR Users: A Slightly More Advanced Guide

post #1 of 24
Thread Starter 
This is the slightly advanced version of the excellent thread:For New DSLR Users: A Beginner's Guide . By this point, you should have read (twice!) the manual that came with your dSLR. Therefore this article will assume you know how to make an exposure with your camera. I will concentrate more on how to manipulate your exposure and composition further to capture a more creative image.
Introduction:

A bit about me:
My experience in SLRs goes back to film. I started photography as soon as I can hold one. My mother says that the first picture I've ever shot with my father's SLR was when I couldn't even talk yet (I always call BS during Thanksgiving dinner about this). I shot mainly positive reversal film slides which are unforgiving compared to negative film. My educational background is a Bachelor of Science in Physics with Masters degree in Electrical Engineering from the City College of New York. I will not bore you with equations for linear amplifier gains or photon saturation in a charged couple device or Fourier transformation and gaussian optics - all of it doesn't matter.

Most of the stuff I learned are self-taught but I did take photography for one semester. However, I was not interested in black and white photography or the process of developing them so I focused on composition. I have experience in event photography and weddings but I'm in no way a professional photographer. I only enjoy photography as a serious hobby.

Because I enjoy photography on a serious level, I have a strange habit of running exposure numbers in my head. I'll walk into a dimly lit bar and before I order my drink, I'll think, "This bar is fairly lit, incandescent lighting, probably tungsten under the bottles to give a nice glassy look. I'll probably need ISO 800 f/2.8 and 1/15 for this scene." I'll then pull out my camera, plug the settings in and see if I'm close. It's weird and almost scary when I get within 1/3rd of a stop but I'm sure some of you in this forum also think this way at some level with computers. You can probably walk into best buy, look at a computer, glance at the specs sheet and go, "That's worth about 13,000 3dmark06 points. I bet I can overclock that one to go about 15,000 easy, 20,000 under water." If you want to be serious about photography (that's why you shelled $1000 for a dSLR right?), you need to start seeing scenes with the intent of photographing them. Just don't daydream during a date, your girlfriend will ask you a question and you won't know the answer to because you're not paying attention.

A word of warning:
Don't get caught up in dSLR brands and equipment. Many people sink down this hole and never get out. You really don't need that $2000 70-200mm F/2.8L IS USM II lens you're lusting for. What you need to do is spend that $2000 on a plane ticket to Yosemite and take pictures with what you have.

Yes, better equipment will allow you to take different pictures but since this is for new dSLR users, you need to get intimate with your camera first. You need to reach transparency with your camera. Transparency meaning you shouldn't think about where buttons are, or how to view the histogram, or what the numbers mean, or why it the flash keeps popping up when you half press your shutter. It's like playing an FPS game, you need to focus on how to aim for headshots and not focus on where the W,A,S,D or left click on the mouse is. Headshots would be nailing exposure and composition and the keyboard and mouse would be the controls on your camera.

Let's get started.

Table of Contents:
Showing Movement
(Very Basic) Lighting
Maximizing Your dSLR Sensor's Potential
Emphasizing Subjects Further

All images are my own and are not permitted for reuse of anykind.
Edited by Dream Killer - 1/9/11 at 10:50pm
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post #2 of 24
Thread Starter 
Showing Movement

Method 1: Changing Shutter Speed:
Changing your shutter speed can dramatically alter the way the image looks. The Beginner's Guide thread has a good section outlining the effect of this. I will show you how to take advantage of this effect to show motion.

You should start with simply with setting your dial to shutter-priority. A good place to start is about 1/10s since it will let you get a pretty good blur.

Take a look at this shot of a ferris wheel I took inside Toys 'R' Us in Times Square, NY:
ferrisl.jpg
17mm 1/3s F/8 ISO200

I used an ultra-slow shutter here to show that the ferris wheel is in motion. The background and center of the wheel provides a nice reference for the motion of the wheel. It's great for those shots where you want to show movement as if your viewer was watching it spin. If I shot this at an equivalent of 1/25s F/2.8, it would essentially a motion-less picture and It would make for a very boring shot typical of point and shoots.

I actually rode the thing. Lets see what happens when you're moving relative to your background:
ferris2u.jpg
17mm 1/5s F/9 ISO400

Here the whole background is moving in reference to "Bob". It provides a more defined sense of movement relative to the background as if you're inside the ferris wheel sitting across "Bob" yourself.

Method 2: Panning
The other way would be panning your camera. It doesn't involve any setting in your camera, just follow a subject through your viewfinder and press the shutter. It only works if the background has detail on it as opposed to a model running across in front of a white wall. It works great on cars, trains, sports, anything that moves at a good speed.
panningslowshutter.jpg
93mm 1/60s F/8 ISO400

I went for a subtle effect here with a shutter speed of 1/60s to fix the element of his stopped rear tire while showing that he is still in motion. A little too fast and the scene would be frozen and you would feel that he just stopped. Any slower and it would introduce too much blur from the panning softening the subject and it would look like he was moving too fast.

This effect is amplified by your lens' focal length. Meaning: The background will blur more as your focal length gets higher. Thus panning will work better on some lenses like telephotos. Here I used an EF 70-200 F/4L IS lens with its image stabilizer (IS) set to Mode 2. The second mode disables IS in the axis the lens is being panned.

The general rule is, the faster your subject is moving, the faster your shutter needs to be to get an acceptable shot with this technique. You need to mix sharpness of the subject with the blurriness of the background, just experiment with what works for you.
Edited by Dream Killer - 11/10/12 at 10:40am
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post #3 of 24
Thread Starter 
Lighting

Ah, lighting. It's not something I'm qualified to discuss. Cameras are tools to capture light and everything that encompasses in taking a photograph defines 'lighting'. It's not something that can be explained in a thread or even a whole forum.

Golden Hour:
I can tell you that many photographers prefer to shoot at dusk or dawn, almost never during noon where lighting is very harsh. Take a look at the best landscapes or the best wildlife pictures anywhere, almost all of them will be shot during sunrise or sunset.

It doesn't mean you should never shoot at noon, just that dusk and dawn lighting looks more golden and warmer. In the days of daylight-balanced film, many people used warming filters to add that golden color in photos where light is usually harsh. It gives a nice dusk/dawn look to something.
coolks.jpg
Cinco de Mayo BBQ

If you look at this picture, it's very "cool" temperature wise. This was shot near noon-time and processed with a "daylight" color temperature in RAW. To add warmth and that golden hue to it, you can change color temperature in RAW to either "Cloudy" or "Shade". If you shoot JPEG, you can do this in-camera too.
warmy.jpg
Cinco de Mayo BBQ

Look at the meat on the right and the lighting in the trees and grass behind the subject. It looks a lot warmer and with a look of sunset. It's a subtle effect but can make or break a photo.

Flash:
I almost always prefer to shoot under natural light. It's not because I'm a purist, it's because I suck at flash photography. Flash is a whole 'nother dimension of photography and can take years to master on top of mastering composition. Explanation is something better left to masters in the art of flash photography. A popular one is David's blog aka "Strobist".

I do know and use the two most basic indoor tricks: ceiling bounce, and diffused direct flash. They're simple to setup and almost automatic for most flashes.

Assuming you have a decent flash unit that can swivel, ceiling bounce is easy enough to do. Just point your flash upwards in the ceiling (preferably, a white ceiling).
bounceflashceiling.jpg
Indoor flash portrait

Nothing really to it, I pointed the head of my flash at the ceiling and took the picture as if it were a regular portrait. Bouncing strait to the ceiling softens the shadows and gives an overhead light look. It looks natural enough in most rooms. I did have a bounce card taped in the back of the unit to pull some light forward for the catch light in the eyes. If I didn't have the bounce card, the eyes wouldn't have that shine that portraits are so well suited for.

Let's look at a direct flash comparison in the same event:
directflashstofen.jpg
Indoor flash portrait II

I could've shot this using bounce, however the background is an important element in this shot. I used a Sto-Fen omni bounce for this shot and let the flash do its automatic thing.

Product photograpy:
Okay, I've seen people spend a good amount of money on trying to do this. It's really simple and cheap if you know what you want.

For most of my eBay or stuff I post forsale online, I use a table up against a wall and a big white posterboard that I've been using for years. That's it. I probably spent $3 on it. I would explain how it works but it's better if I just show you pictures:

This is how it's set up:
img5128copy.jpg

Result #1: "Wing Zero" with sword
swordpose3copy.jpg

Result #2: "Wing Zero" with buster rifle
img5092copy.jpg


So as long as you have a white ceiling and a flash that does bounce, it works. The trick is the smooth transition from vertical to horizontal. It creates a very nice fill light effect from the flash bouncing back up from the poster board to fill in the shadows from the bottom and sides. Since you're using flash, you're going to be in the sweet spot of the lens at f/5.6 - f/11 so the pictures always come out looking sharp and devoid of any abberations. The results is as good as it gets and you dont have to spend a ton on building rigs and getting lamps.

The cool thing about this is it never changes. If you need a larger area, just get bigger white posterboard or get cloth and hang it from your ceiling down to the floor. Of course you'd need a bigger flash as well but it never changes in concept.

I've done this trick on something as small as a coin I was taking photos for a friend for eBay, to something as large as a sports coupe inside a garage for a classified ad. For the coin, I just used an 8.5" x 11" plain white paper on my table. For the car, It was inside a garage with white painted walls. I just filled in the right angles of the place with taped poster board (I needed a lot, cost me $100 bucks at Staples) and hauled in 750w lights with barndoors firing on the ceiling.
Edited by Dream Killer - 11/10/12 at 10:42am
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post #4 of 24
Thread Starter 
Maximizing Your dSLR Sensor's Potential
Cameras are tools that capture light. At the heart of any dSLR is a light-sensitive sensor. Most widely used are either a CMOS or CCD with a Bayer color pattern. Without going into any technical detail or boring scientific stuff that's irrelevant, they all do the same thing. They measure brightness and give it a value on each pixel or how "white" something is - essentially black and white. The color is derived from the Bayer pattern. Sensors work better in brighter light than darker ones. This should be obvious because more light reflects off lighter surfaces.

In your dSLR is a light meter. It's expressed in number of stops and looks something like a number line.
This is how it looks like on my camera:
lightmeterinaction.png

There's a few things you must know about that little gadget. By all accounts, it's very dumb. Yes there are fancier meters out there that take into account color and have zones that cross-references it in a library to determine the best "zero", however it's essentially looking for gray all the time. This means that if it sees a lot of black, it will try to over-expose to turn it into gray and if it sees a lot of white, it will under-expose to turn it gray. This works OK for most scenes, but it will struggle in white, dark or high contrast areas.

Back to the meter: It's basically a number line. The numbers are amount of stops from zero with zero being "gray". Each division is 1/3rd of a stop. We'll deal with the two meter modes that are easiest to predict results from, center-weighted and spot metering. Evaluative or Matrix metering differs from camera to camera so it's hard to write a guide for. It's best to use your dSLR's manual for reference.

Center-Weighted metering measures the brightness of the whole frame with higher priority in the middle. Spot-Metering measures a very small area in the middle of the frame for exposure without regard to the rest of the frame.

It's sort of counter-intuitive. You need more exposure in bright areas, and you need less in darker areas. This is called exposure compensation and I will define it in stops. -1ev would be one stop less than zero on the meter, and 1ev is one more stop than zero.

Very Bright Scenes:
Like I said, very bright scenes need more exposure. Take a look at this shot:
cara1n.jpg
0ev

Obviously its darker than what it is. What happened is the camera wants the white color to be gray. I took this from the correct shot with the correct exposure and digitally compensated it back down to zero. Lets see what happens when I added +0.7ev to the scene.
cara7.jpg
+0.7ev

This would be the correct exposure. Whites are white with very good detail.

A note: The color is different from the first picture, it's been processed from RAW while the first picture was strait RAW with a digital compensation of -0.7ev.

Challenging scenes:
A digital sensor (or film) has a limited dynamic range. As of right now, nothing can capture the full range of pure black and pure white all in one shot (non-HDR image). When you're confronted with scenes with very high dynamic range, you have to choose which one you want to expose for.

With scenes with very high dynamic range, there's five things you can do:
1: Fill the foreground with flash and balance for the snow.
2: Use a graduated neutral density filter (ND).
3: Make an HDR image with exposure bracketing.
4: Choose where you want to expose right.
5: Go home and weep
choosingexposurepartial.jpg
Under a canopy during a snow storm

Here I didn't have a powerful flash on hand to fill the foreground, an ND filter won't work because I wanted to use the branches for framing, HDR would take too long to set up, and I'm stuck because the snow was falling hard. I chose to expose for his face because it would make a more better image in this case.

Exposing this scene required spot metering on my friends face in fully manual mode. You can expose for zero here.

My camera actually captured enough data in the bright areas to get the details in the snow. Here's the same picture with a digital compensation of -1ev.
choosingexposure.jpg
Exposed for the snow

His face is too dark so the image loses its significance and your eyes are drawn to the side walk too much. I actually have enough information to go and make this into a fake HDR picture but we'll do take a look at that at later date.

Exposing to the Right (ETTR)
Digital sensors have most of their sensitivity on the upper range of the brightness levels - meaning they capture more detail in highlights than shadows. This is why many RAW users "Expose to the Right". Right meaning right of the histogram. Whatever camera you use, a histogram looks like this:
normalhistogram.jpg

The vertical lines you see are divisions in stops of light. An 8-bit JPEG have a bout 5 stops of dynamic range. When you expose to the right, what you want to do is move the graph as far right as possible without the graph touching the right edge. In that particular graph, If shot something that looked that, it would be right where I want it.

You can achieve this by intentionally compensating exposure a bit higher. It takes some experience but generally you need about +1ev to about +1.33ev. It's better to use the RGB histogram rather than the general luminance one to see if you're clipping a channel.

Exposing to the right of the histogram maximizes light gathered from the shadows. By all standards, if you shoot JPEG, it will be over exposed. However, if you shoot RAW, this allows you to dial down the exposure during processing to achieve a cleaner image with juicy details in the shadows. This is because cameras capture light and not capture darkness.
etrf.jpg
A landscape scene with +0.7ev

Now this is an over exposed scene. Strait from RAW with the edges cropped to form a square format. Let's see how it looks when it's compensated down to -1ev in RAW.
etrfixed.jpg
A landscape scene after being digitally underexposed.

Now it looks much closer to what its supposed to be. Pay attention to the shadows in the tree line. Very clean and noiseless. If I shot this at a normal exposure as if I was shooting JPEG, the shadows in the tree line would be almost black.

In fact, cinematographers shoot everything in bright lights and add shadows later for the same reason. You can always add shadows from bright scenes but never from dark scenes.
Edited by Dream Killer - 11/10/12 at 10:43am
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post #5 of 24
Thread Starter 
Emphasizing Subjects Further

At the other guide, you learned negative space and rule of thirds. Those are basic methods to make the subject more interesting. But what if you want the subject to really dominate the scene? I got two nice tricks.

Emphasize Scale:
Since a picture is essentially viewed never at life-size, scale can add a good reference on how large or small something is. If you shoot very large things, everyday stuff that the mind can relate to works best. Cars, people, coins, even an actual ruler can show scale and give the viewer a good idea of the size of your subject.

You need to think about two subjects when you want to emphasize scale. If your main subject is large, your smaller secondary subject must me something a person can easily relate to. If the main subject is small, the secondary subject would be ideally something larger that's easy to relate to. But back to large things:
bridgeu.jpg
Throggs Neck, NY

My main subject is the bridge and the second subject with reference to scale is the tiny fisherman. Without that fisherman, this picture wouldn't be the same and the bridge just won't be that impressive. This is also shot with the ETTR trick ('natch) and it's the reason why it's so clean.

Frame within a frame:
A frame within the picture is a cool way of emphasizing something. It's kind of like a picture within a picture, there's many ways to do this and it would be impossible to list them all. You can try stuff like actual picture frames, windows, mirrors.. the list goes on. You can also use a point and shoot camera and it's something I use quite often.
framewithin.jpg
Wedding Scene

The camera with the couple within it automatically commands your attention. The point and shoot becomes the immediate area of focus.
Edited by Dream Killer - 11/10/12 at 10:44am
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post #6 of 24
Looks great, I will be applying alot of the tips in here.
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post #7 of 24
This is a great guide, I just bought myself a Sony a230 and am still learning how to use it, this will help! Someone also gave me a Canon Rebel G.. sadly its broken.. I was looking forward to using it too..
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post #8 of 24
+Rep for you. Great guide! Now I have more to learn biggrin.gif

I recently discovered ETTR myself (I think a month or so ago) and it really does work wonders in PP. My friends are confused as to why I like it when my images are a stop overexposed, but the finished product always speaks for itself!

Also, lols at your "$2000 plane ticket to Yosemite" statement. I go to school literally two hours away from there!

EDIT: Also, is it okay if I link to your guide in mine?

Quote:
Originally Posted by raidmaxGuy;11956238 
This is a great guide, I just bought myself a Sony a230 and am still learning how to use it, this will help! Someone also gave me a Canon Rebel G.. sadly its broken.. I was looking forward to using it too..

Call up Canon and see if you can trade it in for a refurbed at a discounted price under their loyalty program smile.gif
Edited by r31ncarnat3d - 1/9/11 at 9:19pm
post #9 of 24
I don't own a dSLR or have ever used one but this guide looks sweet!

rep+ man
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post #10 of 24
Thread Starter 
Quote:
Originally Posted by r31ncarnat3d;11956253 
+Rep for you. Great guide! Now I have more to learn biggrin.gif

I recently discovered ETTR myself (I think a month or so ago) and it really does work wonders in PP. My friends are confused as to why I like it when my images are a stop overexposed, but the finished product always speaks for itself!

Also, lols at your "$2000 plane ticket to Yosemite" statement. I go to school literally two hours away from there!

EDIT: Also, is it okay if I link to your guide in mine?

Call up Canon and see if you can trade it in for a refurbed at a discounted price under their loyalty program smile.gif

ETTR works WONDERS because the images come out so clean and noiseless. Even if I'm at ISO800 shooting a landscape during early sunset, there's almost no noise in the shadows. It makes my 5DMkii friends scratch thier heads when I show the results from my little Rebel XTi with that trick.

The plane ticket thing actually did happen about 6 years ago. I invited my friend to go to Yosemite during spring break to go shoot pictures and he said, "I really want that 70-200, I think I'll pass on it." What happened was I came home from spring break with great landscapes and he stayed home playing with his zoom ring on his new lens doing test shots of bokeh at blooming flowers in his backyard.

And Yes please link this, it's meant to be a supplement to your guide.
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Green Lantern
(18 items)
 
 
The Router 3.0
(14 items)
 
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