Want to learn more about your camera? Read this post!!!

I remember when Chris and I bought our first digital SLR. It was way cool. I loved holding it. I loved the sound the shutter made when it oh so quickly took a picture. I loved the LCD on the back and how much fun it was to see right then and there the image I had captured. I loved importing the files into iPhoto and scrolling through all the memories stored on that memory card. I loved everything about it.

Except my pictures. They weren’t exactly what I was hopping for.

Which really shouldn’t have been a surprise. In all honesty, I had NO idea how the darn thing worked. (gasp!!!) The manual was a joke – the 273 pages filled with 6 pt. font might as well have been in Greek for all I could understand. I tried to play around with the menus, but I really didn’t have a clue what I was changing, or if I should be changing it, or – heaven forbid – how to ever change it back. I actually remember going back to the camera store with some prints (that I wasn’t happy with) and my camera and asking what I needed to do to get better pictures! I had an amazing piece of digital technology at my fingertips, but it might as well had been a disposable camera. I couldn’t use it to save my life.

I’m wondering if any of you reading this are in the position I was a while back. Maybe you just got a super doper brand new piece of amazing digital technology – but are not quite sure how to use it for all it’s worth.

I know that as a mom – I want to have exceptional pictures of my kids. Not just a few from the times you hired a professional photographer. But lots of pictures. Tons of pictures. More than you could possibly know what to do with.

If you have a digital SLR and want to learn more about it – this blog post is for you!

In fact, in the near future there will be a lot of blog posts just for you! I am venturing to share with you some of what I learned as a novice photographer so that you can grow in your skill and technique with your new (or not so new) toy. It’s gonna be a lot of fun!!!

If you are feeling overwhelmed, don’t worry! It’s gonna be basic. And It’s gonna be applicable. And I don’t really like numbers very much so it won’t be heavy on the math end of things. I want to keep it basic and simple, and share with you the things that helped me transform my images from poor/mediocre to the kind I want to hang on my walls.

So are ya ready for lesson number one? Here we go:

1. Find a good light source.

2. Switch to “A” or “aperture” priority.


When I say good light source what I really mean is even. That means the light is diffused – it’s coming through a window, for example. Rather than a strong beam like from a flashlight or a spot light, the light covers a large area evenly. This happens naturally early in the morning and in the evening – when your shadows are the longest. Find that kind of light source because your camera can make the best decisions when the light source is even and you won’t have to worry about the angle of your subject to the light. It just cuts out some of the complication

Easy so far! Right?

The second step is to switch your camera to aperture priority. It’s a little scary, I know. But this is the part of the lesson where I stop to say it’s Okay to fail. It’s Okay to take some bad pictures. I personally have taken a TON of bad pictures. That’s how you learn. So don’t worry about getting it right…just resolve to get it better. It’s just a camera – and you can always switch it back to auto. But for now, let’s take some risks and see if they pay off.

You know that little wheel/dial on the top of your camera? Turn that until it is pointing to “A” and you are on aperture priority. When you are on aperture priority you are going to set the aperture and the camera will choose a shutter speed (The shutter speed is how fast the shutter opens and closes…that’s a whole other lesson. For today, let the camera take care of that.) Keep in mind that the aperture is also the f-stop number.

What’s the aperture? Well, technically it’s the devise that determines how much light the lens allows to hit the digital sensor. But really, all you have to worry about is this:

The lower the number of aperture setting = more light on the digital sensor and more blur in the background.

The higher the number of the aperture setting = less light on the digital sensor and less blur in the background.

Easy, easy, easy!!!

Each lens has a different aperature range. For some – the lowest setting it has is 3.5, for some it’s 2.8, and others it’s 1.8. Just remember, the lower the number, the more light and the more blurr.

Now, how should you choose your aperture? Well, there are lots of things to consider – but really, it has to do with the kind of mood you want your final image to have. Check out these two images from an engagement session I just did.  You can see the light was evenly diffused – it was foggy and a little rainy.  I didn’t have a strong “beam” of light I had to contend with.  It made things a little bit more simple.

For one image, I wanted a dreamy, kind of surreal feeling to it. So, I set my aperture really low. (f1.8):

Then I wanted an image that really brought out the trees behind them and kept those somewhat in focus. So, I set my aperture to f10 and this is what I got:

I didn’t move them at all, they stayed in the same place, in the same pose. Just by changing the aperture, I was able to create two entirely different images. The aperture is an extremely powerful tool you have in creating different moods in your images. How much fun is that!?

(By the way – don’t they just make the cutest couple!!!  Erika, I can’t wait for your wedding!!  It’s going to be fantastic!)

So now it’s your turn! Did I forget to mention you have homework? Well, here it is…find a location with lots of diffused light. Then, take some pictures on aperture priority – and play around with the f-stop number. Then, if you want, e-mail me your favorites (please, no more than 3…) I’d love to see and celebrate your craft with you!

This is going to be fun.  I would love to get a few people practicing and learning together – a cohort, if you will – so forward this blog on to anyone else that you think might want to learn more about photography!  We are going to have some fun projects and competitions (with prizes, even!!!)  So break out your camera and let’s get to work!

January 13, 2009 - 9:25 am

Merrilee - What a fabulous idea to have a series of blog posts like this! I know a lot of people will really appreciate this info and you do such a wonderful job explaining. Great job, Sara!

January 14, 2009 - 8:34 pm

Sandy - Ok, that was fun… trying to get Evan to stand still didn’t work so I asked Shelby if I could practice taking pictures of her with my new camera… she thought it was a fabulous idea and gave me many poses and faces that she thought would look marvelous! Such a little diva! Now I will try to email you a couple. BTW, my lowest aperature setting is 4.5 ( I wish I could go lower… oh, well. I am loving my camera anyways)

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