After our son was born I started noticing the amazing photos others were taking with semi-professional and professional digital SLR cameras and I knew I had to take the leap from “point-and-shoot”. Opening the box to my spanky new DSLR, I was overwhelmed with settings, options and buzzwords. I wanted to take awesome photos right away — not get an engineering degree in optics!
Once I finally sorted out all the jargon I was relieved to understand how simple DSLR photography really is. This is the quick-start guide I wish I had back then…
The goal is to get a shot that is sharp, bright and clean. In outdoor sunlight this is easy. (You could just use the camera’s “auto-mode”.) It’s really for low-light indoor shots that you have to know what you’re doing.
It turns out that the qualities of sharpness, brightness and graininess are trade-offs among each other. So the trick is to adjust the camera in low-light to get the right balance of each.
ENEMIES OF SHARPNESS:
1) Poor “original” focus.
Auto-focus doesn’t always get it exactly right. You might have to use the manual focus to get the subject as sharp as possible.
2) Camera shake
If you got the original focus exactly right, the subject will still come out blurry if the camera shakes even a little while the shutter is open. If the shutter is open for a long time, then you are more likely to see blur from camera shake.
To minimize camera shake on hand-held shots, you should use a “fast-enough” shutter speed. As a rule of thumb, “fast-enough” is 1/30th of a second for a 30mm zoom length, 1/60th of a second for a 60mm zoom length, and so on. Note how the numbers sort of match. (When the camera doesn’t have settings for these exact speeds, use the closest faster speed. e.g. 1/60th of a second for a 50mm zoom.)
3) Subject movement
Even if your original focus is exact and you don’t shake the camera at all, the subject must be in the same place while the shutter is open, or you will get some amount of blur from subject movement. The longer the shutter is open, the more potential there is for motion blur. The faster the subject is moving, the faster the shutter speed must be.
4) Large aperture
The aperture is the size of the hole in the lens that the light comes through. It turns out that a large aperture will produce blurriness for objects behind (and in front of) the original focal point. This can be an acceptable, even desired, type of blur since you can use it to make a sharp subject stand out from an otherwise blurry background. Using this effect for shots of people in particular will give your photos a professional quality that a typical point-and-shoot camera can’t achieve. [Read more…]