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· Premium Member
11,125 Posts
Discussion Starter · #1 ·
Now that the 2010 Christmas season has finished, I'm sure there are many of you out there who've just received their first DSLR. Whether you're a seasoned film pro now making the jump to the digital world or someone who just ditched that point and shoot and would like to move beyond automatic settings, this guide is for you!

About Me

I am currently an undergraduate studying Molecular and Cellular Biology at the University of California, Merced. I've participated into research on potential new cures for metastatic cancers, and my current goal is to get a PhD in molecular biology focusing on the unique genetic expression of cancerous cells and its ties to embryonic development.

In stark contrast to my incredibly nerdy biology side, I've also a love for photography. Like biology, I recently picked it up and have found that I've a genuine passion for it. My formal training is a semester of beginner's photography five years ago in high school in which I learned nothing (overly critical teachers are not healthy for passion in art) and two years of actual hands-on experience in which I learned everything I know.

My first camera was a Canon Rebel XTi that served me extremely well, and within a year I put on a good few tens of thousands of shutter actuations. I've since moved onto my current 50D which I absolutely love and have even named!

My interests are city photography (comes with the territory of growing up an hour away from San Francisco) and portrait photography, specifically capturing those hidden emotions that people like to tuck away but inevitably show at those special moments.

You can often find me trying to figure out how to frame a picture of someone, achieving the right depth of field, and most importantly watching for when that genuine flash of emotion comes out to capture on my camera.


This is a compilation of everything I found relevant when I was a beginner. Since Canon and Nikon are the two most popular brands in the DSLR market, I'll focus on these two, but the principles of photography are universal to all brands. There is no doubt that there's a ton of information out there, but what follows is everything that I think applies to you, the new DSLR user.

Table of Contents
Equipment and Recommended Upgrades
Getting to know your DSLR
Essentials of Manual Photography
Closing Words


· Premium Member
11,125 Posts
Discussion Starter · #2 ·
I'd first like to add in a quick yet important preface for this section:

The equipment does not make the photographer!

While it's true that having the right equipment does help with different kinds of photography, in the end it's the photographer himself that matters the most. Simply put, a great photographer will make great results even with the most basic of gear, and a bad photographer will make bad results even with the best of gear.

A good rule of thumb about upgrading is to stop and ask yourself, "Do I really need this?" or "Did I really outgrow my current gear?" If the answer is "no", then chances are you won't notice any improvement in your photography with an upgrade.

That said, this will address some of the most common equipment needs for beginner photographers.

Camera Body

The first thing people always ask about is the camera body. While it is an important part of photography, it's only one part of the camera system itself. When you buy into a brand, you're actually buying into the system of bodies, lenses, and accessories that brand offers.

One of the first things people look for when looking at cameras is the megapixel count. Keep in mind, the number of megapixels does not have anything to do with image quality. Megapixels is simply a measurement of an image's resolution. The higher the megapixel count, the higher resolution the image is. This means that you can blow up the picture larger or crop more before you see some pixelation.

To give you some perspective, a 6MP image means that you can blow up an image to an 8"x10" print without any pixelation. What really matters is the sensor size itself, and since all these DSLRs we will be looking at have the same sensor size, image quality differences between these bodies are minute. I will note differences where it exists, but keep in mind that no where will there be a "night and day" difference.

Out of all the brands, Canon and Nikon have the largest systems. Both command the largest lens and accessories market counting both brand-made and third party products. If you're planning to be serious about photography as a hobby and will upgrade down the road, I heavily suggest you go with Canon or Nikon. Else, if you want a good DSLR that just works and have no interest in upgrading down the road, it's worth checking out other brands. As of the time of writing this, the Sony Alpha a550 and Pentax K-x hold many awards for offering the best value for a camera body.

Beyond this, since I'm mostly familiar with Canon and Nikon, I'll focus exclusively on these brands. Keep in mind that there will be a bit of personal bias for certain features in the following paragraphs to give you an idea of what a photographer might want. I know that my tastes are definitely not indicative of all photographers, but hey, it might help.

As of the time of writing of this article, the current Canon bodies of interest to beginners are the Rebel T3/1100D, Rebel T2i/550D, Rebel T3i/600D, and 60D.

Something to note with Canon nomenclature: For Canon's entry level bodies, there are different names for different market regions. The American market goes by the Rebel xxx naming scheme, whereas the European market goes by the xxxD/xxxxD naming scheme. The Japanese also has the "Kiss xx" naming, but since they're much more uncommon, I won't be using those names.

The Rebel T3/1100D is the newest entry-level offering. It's an upgrade from the previous Canon Rebel XS/1000D. It boasts a 12 MP sensor and is coupled with Live View and Video mode. Improvements to the T3 over the previous XS include a 9-point AF system (the XS only has 7 AF points) with a cross-type center sensor, 720p video, a larger rear LCD with higher pixel count, and an improved metering system. The metering system is said to be the one from the 7D itself. It comes bundled with the 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens, which has no optical differences from the previous IS kit lens, and only has a rework of the body to make it cheaper to manufacture. The T3 also has a new Intelligent Auto mode that allows you to choose the scene for the image, as well as helps walk you through some of the more technical aspects of photography. In my opinion, this is a great tool for the beginner. In all, this is an extremely powerful and capable entry-level DSLR that is comparable to the Rebel T1i.

The Rebel T2i/550D is Canon's previous model in the consumer category. This camera is a step above the other Rebels if you can afford it. It has better video capabilities, offering 30FPS @ 1080p and manual exposure settings in video (The T3 can only shoot video in automatic settings at 720p). The T2i also has the metering system adapted from the professional grade Canon 7D, and has an 18.1MP sensor. As the T2i shares the same sensor as the 7D and 60D, it also has the 7D's low noise, high ISO performance and high resolution as well. It may be a year older than these other cameras but still is a very strong DSLR, sharing the same sensor as the newer T3i/60D and the more expensive 7D and offering excellent IQ for the money.

The Rebel T3i/600D is Canon's latest consumer model. It shares the same basic body as the other Rebels, and comes bundled with the T2i's sensor. This means it shares the same 18MP image resolution and high ISO noise performance as the T2i. Where it differs from the T2i however is the T3i comes with the swivel screen seen on the 60D. The screen itself is sturdy as is the hinge that uses it, and is useful for those who take videos with their DSLRs or do macro or over-the-head photography where line-of-sight into the viewfinder is not always possible. It's also the first Canon DSLR to have a digital zoom in video mode, capable of cropping from 3x to 10x. It's also the only Canon Rebel to come with an integrated wireless flash controller for use with Canon's Speedlights in an off-shoe setup. Like the T3, the T3i comes bundled with the new 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS II lens and comes with the Intelligent Auto mode.

The 60D is Canon's only current "semi-pro" offering. Right off the bat, this term is used more for marketing than anything, and doesn't have much bearing when it comes to image quality itself. That said, the 60D has a much different body compared to the Rebels. While all the Rebels have very similar bodies, the 60D has a much larger body with a more solid shell, partial weather sealing, and a back thumb dial that functions as a second control used exclusively for aperture control in manual mode. Like the 60D, it also offers video at 30 FPS @ 1080p and borrows its metering and AF from the 7D. In fact, image-wise the 60D performs almost exactly like the T2i. Exclusive to the 60D is the articulating/swivel back LCD screen, which can be used in Live View for those shots where shooting from eye level isn't possible, such as above-the-head shots or close-to-the-ground shots. If you find the LCD screen to be something you need, or if you don't like the ergonomics of the Rebel series and want something bigger, look here.

At the time of writing this article, the current Nikon offerings are the D3000, D3100, and D7000.

The D3000 is Nikon's entry-level body. Unlike all the other DSLRs here, it features a CCD sensor instead of a CMOS sensor. Unfortunately, this means that the D3000 has worse high ISO performance compared to all these other cameras. The D3000 also lacks an in-body autofocus motor, so the camera cannot autofocus with any AF series lens. It can only autofocus with AF-S lenses. However, the image quality on the D3000 is still spectacular, and is still capable of some great images. What I do find good about the D3000 is its "Guide Mode", something most of these other cameras lack. While it's not something an experienced photographer would use, I find it's a great tool for beginners who want to ease into manual settings. Rather than throw numbers at you, the Guide Mode has a pictoral representation of aperture, with a picture of a lens opening becoming bigger or smaller as you move the dial. This could help the beginner photographer a lot with understanding instinctively the basic concepts of photography, and is a friendly guide into Manual mode. If you want a simple DSLR to take great photos and don't have any old lenses, consider the D3000.

The D3100 is a new offering from Nikon and is, in my opinion, one of the best bang-for-buck cameras there is. Unlike the D3000, the D3100 has a CMOS sensor, which means much better high ISO performance. Unfortunately, like the D3000, the D3100 lacks an in-body autofocus motor so it cannot autofocus with AF lenses and can only autofocus with AF-S lenses. The D3100 also comes equipped with Live View and video at 24FPS @ 1080p. The D3100 also accepts the newer SDXC cards, which will come in handy if you plan to take a lot of videos. Needless to say, the D3100 has great image quality. If you want a Nikon camera with good high ISO performance, or a cheap Nikon camera with video, then the D3100 is worth considering.

The D5100 is Nikon's newest DSLR. It sits in between the D3100 and D7000 in terms of pricing and performance. It features the same 16.2MP sensor as the more-expensive D7000. This means you will get the exact same picture quality, including resolution and high-ISO performance, as the D7000. The D5100 also features a swivel screen, redesigned from the old D5000 and now looks more like the screens on Canon's DSLRs. The D5100 also comes with a movie mode, featuring 1080p @ 30FPS max video recording. Like the D3100, the D5100 also lacks an in-body autofocus motor and can only autofocus with Nikon's AF-S lenses. The D5100 also features the same 11-point AF system seen in the D3100 and accepts SD/SDHC/SDXC memory cards. If you're looking for a D7000-quality sensor in a cheaper and/or smaller package, the D5100 is a great camera to consider.

The D7000 is Nikon's current semi-pro offering. It features a larger body than the D3000/D3100 with a magnesium-alloy shell, partial weather sealing, and two scroll wheels versus one, allowing for dedicated control of aperture and shutter speed. The D7000 can do 1080p video @ 24FPS, features Live View, and has a 16.2MP sensor. It is also the only camera in this list to feature dual memory card slots, and also has support for SDXC cards, as well as an integrated GPS unit for GPS tagging of your photos. Unlike the other Nikon bodies, the D7000 has an in-body autofocus motor so it can autofocus with Nikon's AF lenses as well as its AF-S lenses. If you want a larger body, second dedicated control, or have old Nikon glass you'd like to use, you should consider the D7000.

Nikon or Canon?
Between these two, I'd say that both brands have very strong offerings. The best way to choose is to look at the list and find a camera with features that you'd need/want the most. If you can't find a single camera that suits your needs, or if you simply can't decide, the second best thing to do is go to your local electronics store and hold the cameras yourself. The Rebels, 60D, D3xxx, and D7000 all have different ergonomics. Since everyone has different ergonomic tastes, the best way to decide what camera you find the most comfortable is to hold it yourself, and if the features list fails you, simply choose the camera that feels the most comfortable to you.

For more information on DSLR bodies and systems, feel free to read sti_boy's A Guide to DSLR Systems


In photography, the lenses are the biggest contributor to image quality as far as equipment goes. Having an older body with a great lens will give you much better pictures than the newest body with a bad lens. Lenses also offer the photographer versatility with his/her photography, which is one of the biggest strengths of the DSLR system over that of a point and shoot. Below are the most frequently-asked, frequently-needed upgrades by beginner photographers.

Telephoto Zooms
To start, let's define the two. Telephoto means a lens that has a very long focal point (i.e. is able to see far away), whereas zoom means that the focal length is variable (i.e. you can change the focal length of the lens). This means that while a lens like the 17-40mm is a zoom lens (since you can change the focal point), it isn't a telephoto lens since it can't get in close to a subject far away.

For photographers wanting a bit more reach, the best choices for Canon and Nikon are the Canon EF-S 55-250mm f/4-5.6 IS and Nikon AF-S 55-200mm f/4-5.6 VR. Both are relatively cheap lenses yet offer great image quality, and the IS/VR compensates for camera shake which is very noticable at long focal ranges.

Prime Lenses
Primes are lenses with a fixed focal point. Because of their simpler nature, they are usually cheaper to produce, are capable of larger apertures, and offer superior image quality for the price. Primes are well-suited for low light and narrow depth of field because of their large apertures.

For Canon, a very popular prime lens is the Canon EF 50mm f/1.8, nicknamed the "Nifty-Fifty". For Nikon, a good lens to use would be the Nikon AF-S 35mm f/1.8. The reason I recommend the Nikon 35mm over the cheaper 50mm is because the 50mm is an AF lens, meaning it won't be able to autofocus on the D3000 and D3100. Nikon has also recently come out with the Nikon AF-S 50mm f/1.8G. Keep in mind this is different from the AF 50mm f/1.8 from Nikon. The newer AF-S lens will autofocus on Nikon's entry level bodies; the older AF lens won't. Regardless, all these lenses will give you great low light performance, great image quality, yet won't break the bank.

Again, for more information on DSLR bodies and systems, feel free to read sti_boy's A Guide to DSLR Systems

· Premium Member
11,125 Posts
Discussion Starter · #3 ·
So looking at the big black box in your hands, you probably see a good number of buttons and dials. Luckily for our purposes, there's only a few we care about!

First off, let's start with some photographic basics: aperture, shutter speed, and ISO.

Within the lens are blades that, depending on the camera's settings, can close or open up to create a smaller or larger opening for light to pass through. This opening is what we call aperture.

Aperture is measured with a series of numbers called f-stops. f-stops are measured by the formula: f-stop = (focal length)/(diameter of opening).

What this means to you is a bit counter-intuitive: a smaller f-stop number (f/1.4, f/2) means that the aperture is larger than the aperture of a larger f-stop number (f/5.6, f/8). Basically, the smaller the number, the larger the aperture) The significance of this will be discussed in Essentials of Manual Photography.

Shutter Speed
Every time you take a picture, you hear a "whir" coming from your DSLR. This sound comes from the shutter moving up to expose the image sensor to light, allowing your camera to take a picture. As you've probably guessed, the shutter speed is how long the shutter stays up and keeps the image sensor exposed.

Shutter speed is measured by the amount of time it stays up, exposing the sensor. For practical purposes, it's usually measured in fractions of a second (1/60, 1/100, etc).

For some sorts of photography though such as astrophotography, people want longer shutter speeds. This is when shutter speeds reach into the seconds. Rather than notate shutter speeds in seconds with a single number, usually cameras notate it with a quotation mark next to the number. Therefore, 5" = 5 seconds, 10" = 10 seconds, etc. Also, once you reach the seconds, fractions of a second are now represented as decimals, with the number to the right of the quotation mark being the decimal, i.e. 2"5 = 2.5 seconds, 1"6 = 1.6 seconds.

Finally, there's one last setting common on all DSLRs: Bulb. Bulb, sometimes notated as "B", means the shutter will stay up as long as the shutter release button is held down. Therefore, if you keep your finger pressed on the shutter release for a minute, the shutter stays up for a minute.

As with aperture, the significance of shutter speed will be covered with Essentials of Manual Photography.

How to use manual settings on your DSLR

Learning about aperture and shutter speeds is great, but how do you actually use these settings? Before you do anything, you first have to make sure your camera is set to allow you to change aperture and shutter speed. In automatic settings, such manipulation of options is disabled.

On the left is the dial for the Nikon D3100; on the right is the dial for the Canon Rebel T2i. As you can see, the two are very similar. What we're going to be interested in will be the Manual, Aperture Priority, and Shutter Priority. This corresponds to M, A, S on Nikon and M, Av, Tv on Canon.

Manual (M)

Manual, as the name implies, is for truly manual photography. You're given complete control over both shutter speed and aperture.

Aperture, as you recall, is how large the opening in the lens is. Shutter speed is how long the shutter stays open. When combined with ISO, these three create what's called the Exposure Triangle.

Within each DSLR's viewfinder is a lightmeter that measures the amount of light at your subject.

The metering (more on this later) lets you know how dark or light your image is, and you can adjust your settings to compensate. With manual photography, your goal is to juggle ISO, aperture, and shutter speed to create a photograph that's well exposed and has the photographic effects you desire. With both Nikon and Canon, a properly exposed picture will be when the exposure meter reaches or is close to the middle (at 0 on Nikon, at the triangle on Canon).

Changing shutter speed and aperture on manual settings will differ based on your DSLR:
Entry level Nikon
On your entry level Nikon (D3000, D3100, D5000, etc), you can:
Change shutter speed by moving the dial.
Change aperture by holding down the (+/-) button and moving the dial.

Semi-pro/pro Nikon
On your semi-pro Nikon(D90, D7000, D300), you can:
Change shutter speed by moving the rear command dial.
Change aperture by moving the front command dial.

Entry Level Canon
On your entry level Canon (Rebel series, xxxD, xxxxD), you can:
Change shutter speed by moving the dial.
Change aperture by holding down the (Av) button and moving the dial.

Semi-pro/pro Canon
On your semi-pro (xxD, xD), you can:
Change shutter speed by moving the dial
Change aperture by moving the On/Off switch to the line _/ and moving the rear thumb wheel.

Aperture Priority (A, Av)

With aperture priority, the photographer (you) is able to set the desired aperture, and the shutter speed is chosen automatically for you. The camera will always choose a shutter speed that it feels gives the image the proper amount of exposure to compensate for the chosen aperture. Most photographers (like myself) prefer to shoot in this mode most of the time.

Since the camera selects a shutter speed automatically for you, all you need to do is change the aperture yourself. To do this on your DSLR:
Change Aperture by moving the rear dial (semi-pro bodies) or the dial (entry-level bodies).

Change Aperture by moving the dial.

Shutter Priority (S, Tv)

Shutter priority is the setting on your DSLR where you select your shutter speed and the camera selects the necessary aperture for you. This is mostly useful with sports, as motion blur (or lack thereof) is more important than the depth of field from aperture. As with Aperture Priority, the camera tries to select a setting that gives the image what it feels is the proper exposure.

To do this on your DSLR:
Change Aperture by moving the rear dial (semi-pro bodies) or the dial (entry-level bodies).

Change Aperture by moving the dial.

Selecting an Autofocus Point

Within your viewfinder, you've noticed that there are black dots overlayed onto the viewfinder, and whenever you take a picture, one or more of these light up.

These points are called autofocus points. What these are are specific points that your camera uses to autofocus on. Normally people leave this on automatic. The issue with automatic AF point selection is that the camera will then choose to autofocus on what's easiest for it to AF on, which might not necessarily be what you'd want.

To overcome this problem, the best thing for you to do is select an autofocus point.

On your Nikon and Canon DSLR, you're able to select between any of the points shown. The advantage of this is that so long as you overlay your selected point over your subject, your camera will always try to focus on your subject and nothing else.


One of the first things people hear in photography is the "RAW" image format. When I started, I noticed that all the "pros" shot in RAW and no one in JPEG. I also noticed a lot of misconceptions about the two, and hopefully this will serve to clear things up for you!

First off, there is no "RAW" format. What people mean when they refer to RAW is the format that your camera uses to record the raw image data itself. Every camera manufacturer has its own RAW format, and there really isn't a universal format. All RAW formats will not automatically be recognized by a PC and needs special software to view (more on this later), but can be converted into the universal JPEG format.

Contrary to popular belief, RAW does not have better image quality. When you shoot in image in RAW and in JPEG, the RAW image will not automatically look better.

What actually happens is that since RAW is the raw image data, it has the potential to be a better picture than JPEG. In film terms, JPEG is the final print whereas RAW is the film negative itself. While the film negative won't automatically result in a better picture, it's much easier to edit the film negative and printing process, therefore the film negative itself has the potential to be a better picture.

It's also worth noting that the camera's own "picture profiles" will not be applied to RAW images. These settings are usually done in in-body processing into JPEG, and therefore will not affect a RAW image.

Converting from RAW to JPEG isn't that hard either. The stock software bundled with DSLRs is especially useful and easy to use. Unless you're willing to spend hundreds on a professional software suite, the bundled software will be more than enough for you to use. Often, all you really need to do is click an "Export" button for your RAW files to be converted into JPEG.

JPEG, as explained above, is the finished image product. Unlike RAW, it's automatically recognized by any PC.

Unlike RAW, JPEG is much harder to do more complex edits on. While it's still possible to mess around with brightness, contrast, hue, and saturation, more complex post-processing will take longer on JPEG. Additionally, any picture profiles selected in the camera will automatically be applied in the camera and cannot be undone into its "normal" state easily.

On the other hand, since JPEG is much more universal than the RAW formats, it can instantly be viewed on any PC without the need for conversion.

For photographers who plan on doing even minor post-processing, I'd definitely select RAW.

For photographers who don't plan on post-processing, I'd still choose RAW. While this may seem surprising, it's not a good feeling to eventually learn how to post-process images well down the road and be unable to go back to your old images and edit them the way you want. The process of converting from RAW to JPEG is extremely simple and can be accomplished well even with your bundled software, but there's no way to turn JPEG into RAW again.

· Premium Member
11,125 Posts
Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Now that you've learned about how to use your camera, what can you do to make your pictures better?

As you've probably guessed, aperture and shutter speed do much more than just make the picture properly exposed. What follows is a list of essential techniques in photography that, when properly used, can make one amazing picture!

Depth of Field

Depth of field is, in my opinion, the biggest advantage of DSLRs. Being able to control your aperture manually, you can also control your depth of field, which is usually one of the biggest "wow!" factor of DSLR photography.

Depth of field is a term used to describe how in-focus or out-of-focus the background is. A shallow depth of field means that the background is blurry while the subject is in focus, whereas a deep depth of field means that the background is sharp and in focus. To achieve a shallow depth of field, you'd want a large aperture (small f/stop number). For a deep depth of field, you'd want a small aperture (large f/stop number). Of course, you'll also need to compensate for the exposure with your shutter speed when you change aperture.

To demonstrate, these are some shots I just took with what we shall now call the photomajig:
Shallow Depth of Field

f/1.4 @ 1/80 ISO200

Deep Depth of Field

f/8 @ 1/25 ISO1600

Notice how with the shallow depth of field, even the ring behind the ball is out of focus, and all you can make out of the pink comforter is a big pink blob. With deep depth of field, you can clearly see all the parts of the photomajig, and you can even make out the comforter behind it.

Depth of field has great advantages with photography. If you're shooting in front of a very distracting place, a shallow depth of field would keep your focus on the subject while adding a nice dreamy background. This is especially useful if your background has something that would fight for attention with the subject if it were in focus, such as a busy highway or joggers in a busy park.

With deep depth of field, it's useful if you want to "wow" your viewer with the entire scenery itself. Landscapes are one example where a deep depth of field would be much more beneficial to a shallow depth of field.

Motion Stop/Motion Blur

Shutter speed plays a different role in photography. If you've ever taken a point and shoot to a party only to get blurry images, you've already a first hand experience in how shutter speed affects your images.

Since the shutter speed correlates to how long the image sensor senses the light to create an image, with a short shutter speed there'd be quite a bit of blur with a moving subject. In fact, short shutter speeds can be prone to movement in your hand itself, leading to those blurry point & shoot images mentioned above.

Conversely, a shorter shutter speed means the more the subject is "frozen" in place, even if it's moving. While it's great if you want a clear and sharp shot, sometimes you'd want that motion blur to relay a sense of action to the viewer.

If you learn how to properly control the shutter speed, however, you can have just the right amount of motion stop or blur that you'd want.

Once more, some sample images courtesy of the photomajig:
Motion Stop

1/640 @ f/1.4 ISO1600

Motion Blur

1/6 @ f/16 ISO1600

Believe it or not, in both pictures, the photomajig is swinging, and both pictures are taken at the bottom of the magnet's arc.

As you can see, the first image with a high shutter speed of 1/640 appears as if the photomajig is stationary, when in fact it's swinging just as fast as it is in the second picture.

This of course was taken as an example of the choice between motion stop and motion blur. When used incorrectly, motion blur can make it look as if no action is happening, when in fact the subject is very much mobile. Conversely, with bad use of motion blur, you might not be able to tell what the subject even is. Again, it's up to the photographer to have the right instinct to know when to use which.

Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is one of the fundamental rules of composition. The essence of it is that, if you can divide your viewfinder with two horizontal and two vertical lines into nine different sections, you should try to line your subject on either the lines or the intersection created by lines to create an interesting photograph.

Confused? Here's a pictoral representation!

Imagine this grid across your viewfinder. The rule of thirds states that your subject should be along either one of the lines or on the intersection of two lines, i.e. the red dots.

To see it in practice, we'll now turn to the help of my brother's 18-55mm f/3.5-5.6 IS lens:
Rule of Thirds

Centrally Placed

Compared to each other, the first picture looks more visually appealing than the second, and while beginner photographers might not be able to agree as to why (most say "it just does"), it's because the first picture follows the rule of thirds whereas the second doesn't. Since most beginners usually centrally frame their subject, I did the same in my second picture to show how different a centrally placed subject looks to one that follows the rule of thirds.

To show exactly how my image follows the rule of thirds, I've taken a screencap of the above images with a rule of thirds grid in Lightroom 3:
Rule of Thirds

Centrally Placed

As you can better see now, in the first image, the lens is aligned across the left vertical line with the intersection points at both the "EF-S 18-55mm" and "Image Stabilizer" writing on the lens. This, when combined with a shallow depth of field (the two are the only really in-focus words on the lens in the image) leads to a nice, pleasing effect. With the second picture, however, the lens is centrally placed and avoids all of the lines. For whatever reason, it just simply looks bad.

Of course, the rule of thirds is not an absolute rule. There are definitely cases where breaking from the rule would be beneficial. However, it is definitely a great guide to have and is in my opinion one of the greatest compositional tools for a beginner photographer.

Negative Space

With any image, there's bound to be space in your photo that the subject doesn't occupy. This is called "Negative space". Yep, you guessed it, negative space plays an important role in composition too.

A good rule of thumb with negative space is that you always want your subject (or the action from the subject) to be facing towards the negative space, not away from. If your subject is facing away from the negative space, it makes the image feel unbalanced.

Modeling of negative space will be done with my brother's Rebel XS. Negative space can be modeled even with inanimate objects. People unconciously personify inanimate objects, so even something like a camera can "face" a direction when it neither has a face nor any real action.
Facing Into Negative Space

Facing Away From Negative Space

With the first picture, the camera is facing in, and the image feels more balanced. With the second picture, since the camera is facing out, the image feels very heavy towards the left, and almost as if the image will tip over towards the left.

As with the rule of thirds, this is not a definitive, universal rule, but is definitely a great tool to have for composition.

Image Noise
If you've ever taken your point and shoot to a dark room and ended up with a grainy picture, you've experience with image noise.

Image noise is, to be short, the grainy look that images get. Noise is affected by both ISO and the size of the image sensor, but since the sizes of most DSLRs are the same, the biggest factor for image noise is ISO.

ISO is a measurement of how sensitive the image sensor is. The higher the ISO, the more sensitive the image sensor and the less light (smaller aperture or faster shutter speed) necessary for a proper exposure. Unfortunately, cameras make the sensor more sensitive by running more electricity through it, which can lead to the pixels becoming hot, resulting in that grainy look.

To show the difference, we now turn back to the photomajig, now with the image cropped to highlight the image noise:


As you can see, while you can start to make out the noise at ISO400, it's extremely noticeable at ISO3200. Keep in mind that newer DSLRs can handle noise better @ ISO3200, and full frame cameras can chew up that ISO and will pop out a clean image, but the principle is the same: high ISO = more noise.

First, in case anyone is interested, the setup I used to take this batch of photos is a Canon 50D Gripped with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.4

As an ending note, be aware that there are more compositional/exposure techniques out there, and this is just a small sampling of what there is to know. These are the ones I find the most relevant to beginner photographers and the ones I think will make the biggest impact on your photos.

Of course, everything listed is just a general guideline and not an absolute law. As with everything else in photography, you are allowed to color outside the lines. Try bending the rules and stepping outside of the box a bit. In the end, the only absolute rule in the photographer's toolkit is that the photographic instinct trumps all. If you feel that an image would look better breaking one of these rules, step outside of the box and go for it!

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Discussion Starter · #5 ·
Hopefully you found this guide to be useful!

However, photography does not end here! There are many more techniques to learn as you become more advanced. Lighting, flash photography, action, portraits, and events are just some of the more advanced photography branches to learn about. As you grow as a photographer, you'll find that there will be certain types of photography you prefer, each with its own rules and techniques.

Some good resources to use would be photographic forums such as POTN, The Photo Forum, or even the photography forum here on OCN!

If you've found this thread to be helpful but want to learn more, check out Dream Killer's For New DSLR Users: A Slightly More Advanced Guide. In it you'll find an expansion of topics already discussed here as well as many helpful tips and techniques not yet touched upon in my guide.

Additional threads you should check out are the Camera Thread, Photo Rating Thread, sti_boy's A Guide on DSLR Systems, and xlastshotx's Photography Essentials.

I want to give some special thanks to sti_boy and xlastshotx for their respective guides, Gone_Tomorrow for stickying this and being an active editor in the photography forum, and the OCN photography forum as a whole for getting me into this great hobby!

Happy shooting
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Can't wait to see. Got a Canon t2i last week.

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I'll go ahead and stick this. PM me if you need an author!

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Discussion Starter · #9 ·
Phew, need to take a break. Will work on this after dinner (and a few laps in NFS)

Originally Posted by GoneTomorrow;11785045
I'll go ahead and stick this. PM me if you need an author!
Much appreciated!

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Discussion Starter · #10 ·
Second section done, two more to go!

Also, feedback will be appreciated

EDIT: SF Trip today, but will try to finish this by tonight.
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This looks fantastic. I've definitely learned a lot by reading this. Keep up the good work! I just got a T2i and I have been reading up on so much material to get a better understanding of how each of the exposure triangle's settings affect one another. Awesome job!

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you should also show how to properly hold a dslr. most people will hold them point and shoot style.

i volunteer my own photo for holding a camera in portrait orientation:

or you can take the photos from the canon manual. good stuff there.

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Discussion Starter · #13 ·

Originally Posted by Dream Killer
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you should also show how to properly hold a dslr. most people will hold them point and shoot style.

i volunteer my own photo for holding a camera in portrait orientation:

or you can take the photos from the canon manual. good stuff there.

Good idea
I'll include that in there. I've been a bit busy the past few days with emergency stuff, but I'll finish this before the new year
Just one more section on gear, I think, and I'll go back to add RAW vs JPEG and your suggestion of how to properly hold a DSLR.


Originally Posted by Burn
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This looks fantastic. I've definitely learned a lot by reading this. Keep up the good work! I just got a T2i and I have been reading up on so much material to get a better understanding of how each of the exposure triangle's settings affect one another. Awesome job!

Thanks! Very much appreciate the kind words

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Discussion Starter · #15 ·
Originally Posted by faraz1729;11874124
This is really helpful. I'll be getting my first DSLR soon (probably the D3100). Thanks very much for doing this.
Thanks for the kind words

Well, I added a new section on equipment, shuffled things around a bit, added RAW vs JPEG to the second section, and now I think I'm done

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·

Will do some edits later to add in Dream Killer's suggestion of proper DSLR handling, flash units, and some low light shooting techniques, but by and large this guide is now done

Of course I'll update this whenever new equipment comes out as well. You know, to keep things current.

As always, if you have any comments, questions, or things you'd like for me to add on, leave a post! C&C is always appreciated.

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Major props to you sir. I'm glad to see people here still provide useful content that is beneficial to others. No pie in the sky opinions but ones develop with experience. I have been learning how to use my DLSR through many different forums but this is a very nice one place shop for common questions.

I'm sure techniques can be added later

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also you might want to add a section on metering and understanding what it's trying to tell you. it's not a simple thing that should be centered all the time and should be compensated to what you see. in fact most of my good shots are never at the center of the meter.

for most people getting their feet wet in manual exposure, the meter is counter-intuitive. very bright scenes need more exposure and darker scenes need less exposure. this is because meters in cameras try to set the "zero position" to black gray and white gray.

a good place to start is the different metering modes. you could also touch on reading histograms which is an infinitely invaluable tool next to your exposure meter. put tricks like exposing to the right for better shadow recovery in raw.

however, this might be a little overwhelming for a thread meant for beginners. maybe there should be a separate thread for "advanced" techniques instead?
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