When you’ve had experience in something you can look back and see so many mistakes you could have avoided or easier ways to do things. That’s how my photography journey has been. I would make mistakes and then learn from those mistakes by trying something new or finding the information I needed. This isn’t a bad way to learn, but it could be so much easier. In this post I will share with you the DSLR photography tips I wish I’d known when I first started out in hopes that you can bypass some of the learning phase in your photography journey.
Back Button Focus
This technique can make all the difference if you are struggling to get sharp images. I hadn’t even heard of back button focus until I’d been taking photos professionally for several years. Then I found a video of someone I admired using the technique and I thought it looked too complicated so I still didn’t jump in. I sure wish I would have. Once I made the switch to back button focus I was hooked. It became so easy to get the focus I wanted and maintain the composition I wanted without having to fumble to change my focus point or keep focusing and recomposing. If you aren’t sure what back button focus is, you can read my tutorial here to get started.
The magic is in the lens
Your camera body is important too, but the real magic is in the lens. A kit lens (the lens that comes with your camera) doesn’t have the capabilities of the higher end lenses you can buy separately. If you want to have full creative control of your camera, you need a lens that allows for wider aperture and has powerful focus and sharpness. These lenses can cost a pretty penny, but there are a few affordable lenses that will do the trick and help you get started. I recommend the 35mm f1.8 or 50mm f1.8 for all beginners looking to really understand their camera.
There is no ‘right’ exposure
Your camera will have a light meter that tells you when your images at the perfect exposure. While this is a handy tool to guide you in the right direction, the right for your photo is completely subjective. If I were to rely on my light meter, it would tell me I was overexposing all of my photos. However, this is a personal preference of mine. The ‘right’ exposure is the amount of light that creates the image you want. There is no right or wrong here.
You can get great images outside of golden hour
I use to be so afraid to take photos in harsh midday sun or after sundown inside my house. But do you know what I realized? Most of my favorite moments happened at these times. I thought that good photography could only happen at the coveted golden hour. While I love the magical glow of this time of day, it is not the only hour of the day that magic happens in my life. What about bedtime snuggles and middle of the day picnics. What about bath time and park play? In order to document your life you have to be able to take photos at anytime. Plus, it’s important to learn how to see and use the light in any situation in order to grow as a photographer. You can take good photographs in any light, you just have to practice.
Focus slightly inside your subject
I can bet you’ve had someone tell you to place your focal point on the eye of the front and middle person in your photograph. This is actually what I teach to brand new photographers as well. But as soon as we get a little deeper I move them to placing their focus slightly inside that person or their subject. If you are taking a photograph, there is depth to that photo. Whether there is one person, multiple people, a landscape or anything else you are photographing, it is a 3 dimensional scene you are trying to capture in 2 dimension. Because of this, if you place your focal point slightly inside (about a third if the way through your front person) you will utilize all the focus area your camera has available (the ⅔ that falls backwards and the ⅓ that falls forwards).
Speed up your shutter if there is any risk of movement
One of the biggest problems I see, and one I always used to struggle with as well, is a shutter speed that is too slow for the image. If you want a crystal clear image you have to make sure the motion is completely frozen. In order to do this you need a shutter speed fast enough to make it freeze. Don’t be afraid to speed up your shutter if you think you may need a bit more clarity. My shutter often stays between 1/500 and 1/1000 if I have enough available light.
It’s ok to take bad photos
Everyone takes bad photos. They will get fewer, but even when you are taking photos you love, you will still take photos that are just not good. That’s okay. In fact, just like everything else, that’s how you get better. You look at those photos and learn from what you don’t like about them. It’s also ok not to have only frame worthy photos. Some of your favorite moments will happen in bad light, when you only have your phone, and so on. The point is to just capture the memory even if it’s not the perfect photograph.
Experiment with composition and perspective
For the longest time I was so afraid of taking bad photos that I didn’t experiment and find my own voice. I would look through Pinterest at photos I liked and try to mimic them (which is actually an okay way to practice). But I didn’t feel confident enough to create my own compositions or look for new perspectives. As soon as I felt more confident as a photographer I was able to experiment more, but I wish I would have started doing this way sooner. If you allow yourself to get creative and find your unique style, your photography will improve tremendously.
I hope these DSLR photography tips help you bump up your skills and give you the freedom to try out new things and even make mistakes. Learning to take great photos is all about experimenting and enjoying the process. I wish someone would have given me these DSLR photography tips long ago so I could have let go of some of my insecurities and found my voice sooner. Take these photography tips and start taking photos you love!