Lessons from a professional photographer to help you document the everyday.

Lesson One

“My DSLR seems too complicated to use”

I agree. This is something that I hear a lot from clients and friends. Going back to my early days as a photographer, I can tell you one thing: I read the manual. Long before I was able to afford a DSLR, I studied photography forums and groups. In those groups I encountered some very strong people. Strong with their words, and their emotions. There was no sugar coating and for the most part, it was entertaining yet educational. One of the things a person said was: Read the manual before you buy. After you’ve done that, read a book about exposure and learn about the settings. I followed these instructions and I feel like I hit the ground running.

“I bought a DSLR and haven’t touched it since”

Okay so you probably didn’t read the manual (if you haven’t yet purchased a DSLR, the manual can be found at the manufacturer’s website online in most cases) and you don’t have a ton of time to read photography forums.. so we’ll get into it. Taking photos with a DSLR in automatic mode is perfectly fine, you’ll get the images and they’ll look better than if you had used a phone. But, if you’d like to get creative, here are some ways to help you learn. I’m still learning myself and I hope that I continue to learn my entire life so you can pick all of these and try them or you can use a few interchangeably, whichever you feel most comfortable with.

Avoid using the on camera flash – this is a default for some people and I can tell you that out of the four years that I’ve been taking pictures, I’ve never used the flash. I think it tends to “cheapen” images and that’s something that I would like to avoid at all costs. Not to mention, children typically don’t respond well to any kind of flash. If you NEED to use your flash, you can fake the bounced flash look by inserting a business card (or any other matte textured card that is white) into the little area just below the flash. This will spread the light and will bounce it off of the ceiling onto your subject.

Always take test shots – When you’re trying to catch your child playing or sleeping, it’s best to take a few test shots in a different room with similar lighting before heading over to sneak up on them. Taking a few test shots ensures that your lighting is correct and that your memory card is in the camera, ready to go.

Lenses – In the photography forums, everyone told me “don’t buy a DSLR kit” I bought the kit. It came with the camera body and an 18-55mm lens which I’ve used a handful of times but realized soon after getting it that it wasn’t creating the look that I wanted for my images. So I invested in a 50mm 1.8 lens. Also called “the nifty fifty” this lens is about $100 and is the go-to lens for many photographers. This lens keeps your subject sharp and the background nice and soft. This is a portrait lens that does not zoom so you will be doing the zooming with your feet, you’ll be in yoga poses you never knew you could do with this thing, but it’s worth it.

Going manual:

All of the functions and settings can be quite confusing but there are three different ones that are easy to get down and understand and if you aren’t going pro, you won’t need to know much more.

Shutter Speed – Here is where I start out, I set my shutter speed to 200. I never let it go lower than this number because if you do, your images might have a blur and not the pretty artistic kind.  You can always set your shutter speed to a higher value, it’s better to use a faster shutter speed if you’re photographing small children or action shots. Using a higher shutter speed will darken the image so be careful with that.

ISO – This is where you tell your camera to bump up the light (or lower it.) Personally, with the equipment that I use, I don’t like to let this number slip higher than 3200. Some of the better cameras out there will let you bump your ISO up very high without noise or grain. Mine on the other hand, it grains and that is harder to edit. If you want to put the training wheels on, in the settings of your camera you should be able to set a max out ISO limit and your camera won’t let you go over that amount (I turn this on because it helps me to be creative in all lighting situations.)

F. Stop – A little trickier to explain in less technical terms but here goes – when you’re looking through your lens you will notice that some areas are in focus and others are not. In short, the more you want in focus the higher you want this number to be and vise versa if you like blurred images like I do. For children, you should always start out with an F Stop number of 2.8 or higher and increase the number by one stop with each face that you’re wanting to get into your photo. Click on the image below to see the difference in fstop numbers, it you pay attention to the outer ring boxes you’ll notice the difference in detail.

“what are the differences in settings when it comes to indoor vs outdoor?”

Indoor vs Outdoor -When it comes to photographing indoor pictures, you’ll more than likely have a higher ISO number. For outdoor pictures you almost always will have this number at 0 unless you’re shooting before the sun rises or after the sun has gone all the way down. Other than that your settings for the most part won’t be touched.

When it comes to taking pictures indoors, your main concern is grain and poor lighting conditions. You won’t need much to get a great photo when it comes to lighting. If the lighting isn’t great, change positions and play with the light! This is my favorite part of being a photographer, discovering new emotions through lighting.

Pro Tip: If you can help it, shooting with settings that show a bit dark is always better than shooting with settings that are too bright. In editing, you can always lighten an image but you can’t always revive the lost highlights that are blown out due to settings that are overexposed.

About the author…

Hi! Thank you for reading my blog posts, I’m a mother to five and professional photographer to hundreds. My days as a photographer began in Southern California where my friends and I had walls full of photos printed from our adventures. I currently shoot with a Canon 70D *gasps* a crop sensor?! Yes. A crop sensor, because it’s not the equipment that makes a good photographer. It’s creativity and challenges that do. I strive to document life as it is, to #sustainchildhood is my ultimate goal for you and for me. If you’ve found my article interesting or helpful, please consider sharing this page and using the hashtag #sustainchildhood so that I can see your work!


Photographer & Blogger, The Black and White Blog Co

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