I am so thrilled to have Tamara Bowman joining us here today as a guest blogger. But I’ll let her do the introductions!
“I am a professional photographer, a mama of two, a writer/blogger at Tamara Camera Blog and a nearly professional cookie taster. I’ve been known to be all four of those things at all hours of the day and night. After two cross country moves, due to my intense Bi-Coastal Disorder, I live with my husband, daughter and son in glorious western Massachusetts. Pets are soon to follow. We like it here and we aren’t going anywhere, but we dream about northern lights, moose and whales always. I also like caramel lattes and rainbows more than most things.”
As a child I was struck one day by the sight of sunlight through a window lighting the eyelashes of my classmate on the school bus. I wanted to express that feeling of beauty that was brimming inside of me, and I discovered that where words escaped me, maybe taking a photograph could express how I felt. I didn’t take that particular photo but that was a day when things changed for me.
I studied photography more intensely after my first child was born because I wanted the love and memories of my family to be captured visually as close to how I saw them in my mind as possible. So my passion grew further than it ever had previously, and I studied hard to let my skills catch up. And to start, I had to learn to use my DSLR after years of film cameras. My tips are how you can start taking better portraits – but each one requires further reading the manual on your particular camera, as well as practice.
Photography by you is how you see the world. No one can do it in place of you, and it’s so wonderful to better understand how your DSLR works so that you can control and cultivate your vision.
1. Shoot in manual mode. That’s the little “M” button on your camera dial. This is the best way to get you to think about the process of taking a photo, and to understand the exposure triangle of aperture, shutter speed and ISO. Note: shooting in manual mode still means shooting in AF – auto-focus (using manual focus can be very challenging). A big benefit to shooting in manual mode and taking control of your camera settings is that the camera’s harsh pop-up flash will not engage. You can also choose your own focal points, blur your backgrounds (or not), and control the amount of light in your photos. You may not understand these functions overnight, but over time you will get your lightbulb moments as you learn the feel of your cameras and lenses. It’s a lot about light!
2. Let’s briefly start with aperture. To describe it simply, aperture is a hole within a lens, through which light travels into the camera body. A properly exposed photo is one that is not too bright and not too dark, and aperture is a large part of that. A lower number is an indication of more light coming in whereas a higher number is an indication of less. However, aperture helps determine how much of your photo will be in focus and more light can equal less area of the photo in focus. A good way to practice with aperture is to set your camera to “A” or “M” mode and experiment with the focal stops your lens allows. Many people like the look of a blurred background which generally requires a wider aperture (lower number) rather than a narrow aperture (wider number) but you have to take care to find a balance that will ensure that your photo is both properly exposed and in focus, or at least the subject is in focus.
3. Which brings us to shutter speed. Shutter speed is the duration of light you let in your camera. I think of it like a speed limit. There’s a rule of photography that suggests your shutter speed should be double your focal length, at least for still subjects. If I’m shooting with a fixed 50mm lens, I will want to set my shutter speed to at least 1/100th of a second. However, I mostly photograph babies and toddlers and they do not stay still so I’ve found that my shutter speed has to be 1/250th of a second or faster to get them in focus. The balance between aperture and shutter speed is delicate, and is mostly something to watch for in low light. I set my aperture as wide as I can while still getting all that I want in focus (both subject and/or background). Then I set my shutter speed to at least 1/250th of a second, 1/200th if I’m desperate. If I still find that the subject is not properly exposed, I then turn to ISO.
4. It’s time to talk about ISO. Remember buying film based on ISO? You’d use 100 for bright days, 200 for outdoors, 400 for indoors and outdoors, and 800 for indoors or night. These days I can’t believe how many times I’ve set my camera way above 800. DSLRS are now made to use higher ISO. One thing I have learned is to not fear the high ISO for worry of graininess. Underexposed (too dark) photos cause more unattractive grain than using higher ISO. Also, there are noise-reducing softwares if need be. Say you have set your aperture to cover the area of focus you desire. And say you have set your shutter speed to be fast enough to catch a wiggly subject (at least 1/250th). If you still feel your images are too dark, crank the ISO.
5. And then we talk lighting and flash. I’m not going to tell you that you should never use flash, but maybe I’ll tell you that you should not use flash unless you know what you’re doing. There will be times in which aperture, shutter speed and ISO are all set to levels for optimal exposure and you’re still getting too-dark images. Of course there are numerous times in which professionals use lighting techniques. As a mentor once said to me, “I just can’t base my career around the weather of any given day.” The trick is to diffuse or bounce light because pop-up flash is mostly always too harsh. I carry an external flash which bounces light off of the walls and ceilings. However, external flashes are expensive. A cheap and easy alternative is a lightscoop, which you will have to check is compatible with your camera body. And lastly if you have no other choices is the “business card trick.”
6. If you’re not totally exhausted yet, let’s touch upon white balance. White balance is the process of removing color casts from your photos to make that which is white in person, appear white in photos. Ever shoot a photo of a pale baby against green grass? Green color cast on their face. Or how about a little girl in a bright red dress? The red can reflect back on the skin. The reason to adjust white balance is to get the colors in your photos as accurate as you can. The professional way to achieve this is to use purchase a grey card or something similar to manually set a custom white balance. This is actually easy to do once you locate this setting in your particular camera’s menu. Another cheat or trick that works well is to use one of the white balance settings on your menu. There are settings for sunlight, shade, clouds, flash, tungsten, etc. It may be tempting to use AWB (auto white balance) but the downside to that is that the camera will guess the settings differently with each shot, and your whole set will be inconsistent. It’s better to use a preset white balance (ex: sunny) because then all of your photos will be consistent, and can all be edited together.
7. And while you’re at that, why not try RAW? You may have to check to see that your camera has RAW as an image format, but most DSLRs do these days. RAW format captures exactly what the camera sees and stores it. This leaves your files largely untouched. JPEG format is compressed, sharpened, contrasted, and more while RAW files are wild and untouched – and for you to do your editing from scratch. I believe this is as close as it gets to developing film from negatives. The downsides to shooting in RAW are that your computer needs to have software to support it (lots of choices out there – many at no additional cost) and also, RAW files are very large and can slow down your computer if not properly archived. The plus sides are numerous – you can pretty much “rescue” photos you could not rescue in JPEG format. It’s so much easier to change the white balance and exposures of a RAW file. Of course it’s important to get your photos as right as you can in the camera, but I think we all know that isn’t always possible and that some memories are too precious to discard.
8. Do I edit? Of course I edit! I shoot mostly in RAW these days. And that means a certain level of editing is required in order to change my files into JPEGs and do the necessary tweaks with contrast, white balance and exposure. Beyond that, am I into creative editing? Not really. I call what I do clean editing. Clean editing is like clean eating – not too many filler or ingredients. I do basic tweaks and then I may run my own homemade actions to brighten a face, make eyes pop, and add or take out colors.
9. Know when to use shortcuts. And mainly, know that it’s ok to use shortcuts. I know I preach the power of manual mode, because I think it’s important, but I have used “P” (Program) mode during necessary times. Sometimes you’re in situations in which the light changes constantly, such as a parade on one of those days in which the sun ducks in and out of clouds every minute. In those cases, “P” mode allowed me to choose the ISO, flash and white balance options while letting the camera choose the aperture and shutter speed. Not all of the pictures worked out, but many did. There is a fully automatic setting (usually a green rectangle) on the dial that I have never used and never will. Program mode is what I would call semi-automatic, and it goes with Aperture (A) mode and Shutter Priority (Tv) mode as being a dial setting in which you control some things, and let the camera choose the rest. I did this below photo in “P” mode and I’m always grateful I captured it at all. Shortcuts are there for a reason, and you CAN use them.
10. It’s the little things sometimes. Even though setting your camera functions is time-consuming and head-spinning enough, there are some issues to look for in composition. An important part of your photo is background. Is there clutter or garbage in the background? Are you shooting in front of a tree and it’s coming out of your subject’s head? Now look at your subject. Are you chopping off any limbs or fingers? Are there catch-lights in his/her eyes? If not you may want to rotate your subject, even if it takes nearly 180 degrees, until he/she is facing the light in an eye-catching way.
Thursday 15th of August 2013
Ok Tamara! I've taken one photography class on my DLSR. I felt it was to basic. I loved this post but I think I'll have to take my time and walk through it one by one. I think It will be extremely helpful to me. Thank you Michelle for having her guest post this.
Thursday 15th of August 2013
Hi Kate! There are some great manual tips from Tamara in my post about online friendships becoming real too!! I've been shooting in manual for the last week!!
Monday 6th of May 2013
I LOVE this and am going to print this out. Great tips and I really, really need them. I got a DSLR camera two years ago and sometimes I get great pictures and sometimes not so much. This will help a lot!
Saturday 4th of May 2013
This was a great post and the photos were beautiful! I took a local photography class and they covered all these things, so this was a great refresher. I'm still very much a beginner, but I love it! Question for Tamara - what type of lens do you use? I'm using the one that came with the camera and was wondering if a different lens would help me capture shots like yours (stunning!).
Sunday 5th of May 2013
Lenses are very important, but you can still capture beautiful photos with a kit lens. That said, I never use mine so who am I to talk? I use a 50mm 1.4 for many situations because it's beautiful and crisp. For distance and parades, I use a 55-250mm. It's not an expensive, luxury lens but honestly, I love what it produces!
Saturday 4th of May 2013
Your photos are stunning! I get confused sometimes with what to do because I get different information. The other day I was on an outing with the president of a camera club and she clearly was annoyed I was shooting in manual! She said Av is what she uses most of the time and manual is not necessary for most situations. Other times I've heard manual is best for control. She also said not to mess with white balance. OY!
I'm writing this in western mass. at our weekend place right now. We are in Tolland. Are you in the Berkshires? Aren't there so many beautiful places to shoot here?
Sunday 5th of May 2013
I'm in western Mass but not quite as west as the Berkshires. I'm about 45 minutes to an hour from there. We did go on Friday to Hancock Shaker Village and it was awesome! As for your camera club president, I think many people think differently. I think it's really important to know how to use manual because it shows you how your camera works and will also help you learn your Program, av and other modes. I think it makes a world of difference to know manual and to shoot in it, but I don't think it's necessary at all times. I think it is in my career, yes, but not for personal shooting.
I can't imagine why she'd be annoyed that you'd be tackling the most complicated aspect of shooting, so I say kudos to you!
Wednesday 1st of May 2013
Hi Guys ;)
This post for me was like waking up Christmas morning. Thank you, thank you, thank you! I am such a newbie to all of this and this is the first time that I have had SUCH a clear and amazing explanation of ISO and aperture! I mean seriously I have scanned the blogs and pinterest and google and nothing is are great as this is! I can't sing your praises high enough because I was in such need of this. I'll stop my gushing. I will also study this when I don't have 2 children hanging off my leg. ;)
This pictures are BEYOND. Which is like why I love your blog so much Tamera!!
Wednesday 1st of May 2013
I think I need to copy and paste this and stick it on my forehead because this really made my life. Thank you from the bottom of my heart for making me feel at all helpful.