Seven Tips for Better DSLR Photography

Grab your DSLR, and ask yourself, “Have I explored all its potential possibilities?” Well, lets take a moment to check out 7 ideas for your camera in the field. Join me, Apogee Photo Coach, as we find purpose, get down with DSLR’s, and let time lapse.

Everyone uses a DSLR differently. Sports shooters may prefer certain lenses and settings. Each portrait and wedding photographer has their individual style. We all program our cameras with our own matrix of settings, our “fingerprint” if you like.

While we all use different DSLR’S, we share the limits of our lenses, which brings us to our first idea. The middle apertures of your lenses are the sharpest, so for maximum sharp rendering of any lens, close down.

( ABOVE: Time lapse, DSLR idea #4 . Read on for all 7 tips)

1. CLOSE YOUR CAMERA’S EYE

Find the sweet spot aperture of your lens, and if you have enough light or can raise your ISO, close down to that lens aperture. Maybe it is f4, f5.6 or f8. WHY? You will get greater plane of focus (DOF), and a smoother transition from in-focus to out-of-focus areas.

This will get more information in the frame across to viewers. Photography is often the practice of clarity, clearly defining a subject.

For example, while I used to use f/ 1.8 and f/ 2 most of the time, my habit of shooting a DSLR near wide-open often created photos that softened valuable information in the scene. Sure, an 1.4 aperture works for many portraits and for soft, fuzzy bokeh (out of focus areas).

Often, however, an image needs more context and  mise-en-scene environment, and a wide-open aperture can exclude important context. When we stop down and slow down, the Gods we can call “Max Aperture” and “PraynSpray” can take a break and rest their eyes.

2. GET DOWN, LOOK ROUND

Many compositions can be improved by lowering the camera height. Here are two examples from portrait photography. Instead of having a horizon line slice the head of the person you’re photographing, by getting the DSLR just one foot lower to the ground, you can place a portrait subject so they stand out more clearly against the sky.

Shooting from slightly below eye level also ennobles the humanity of a person’s features. Go lower and bring along that tripod.

Here is a very brief Youtube clip, 15 seconds, about one advantage of a tripod:

3. YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD, and I’LL TAKE THE SLOW ROAD

Each  year, camera makers crank out gear that let’s us capture images even faster. Nothing wrong with that. We automatically buy into the habit of faster capture speed is always better.

Recently, I was in a Florida, USA wildlife area, watching groups of photographers rip off 30 frames in 3 seconds, without changing their camera position or image background, as a great blue heron flew by.

Take it from me, slower can be better. Allow more time. Find solitude and silence. Make fewer frames.

Then, see the quality of your craft improve over time. If this makes sense to you, there is an emerging slow photography movement underway; get social support on the Facebook Slow Photography Rebellion page (https://www.facebook.com/groups/1318418024839723/)

DSLR Exercise.

Try This. . .

Enjoy a leisurely half-hour with your scene, walking around and stopping often. Make only 10-12 images during this time with the DSLR drive advance set to ” S ” for a single frame at a time. (I like to tripod-mount the camera;  in addition to stability, the sturdy tripod slows me down and limits my range).

Set your exposure metering mode to Manual. Of course, keep the back button auto-focusing in your skill set, but challenge your self to dial it down to Manual for the exercise.

As we slow down, we let go of “more”, and become mindful of “better”.

4. TIME LAPSE

Many of today’s DSLR cameras have built-in time lapse features, including Nikon D600 ,D610, D700, D750, D800, D800E, D810, D5300, D5500, D7000, D7100, D7200, D4, D4s, Canon 7D II, 5Ds, 5DsR, Leica Q, Panasonic GH3, 4, 5 and GH6.  If your camera has time lapse, you may be surprised by how much fun, and how much of a challenge, that it can become.

Find subject matter close to home that involves movement over time. Your subject can be as simple as a sunrise, snow falling, or the movement of people in a public space. Mount your camera on a tripod and choose three variables: manual focusing, the number of frames, and the interval between frames.

This is a very brief look at time lapse, as there are many in-depth time lapse tutorials waiting for you online.

For time lapse, I start with 10 second intervals over 3 hours of shooting time. This produces a 30-second, in camera .mov file or M-JPEG HD file in the camera memory. In post-processing, I change the frame rate from 30 to 10 frames per second. For Aperture Priority with a day to night scene, I pick an interval time that allows the slowest shutter speed I need to use for the darkest scene.

CAMERA STEPS: 1) Select Interval Timer  2) Select Enable. Press Set or OK. 3) Select Interval duration and number of Frames. Press Set or OK.

For a tripod, choose one that is affordable, light enough to carry, ball head, quick release; two factors make or break a tripod. First, the ball head should be rugged, yet easy to clean. Second, the head and post together should be stable even in gusty high winds.

5. REVERSE YOUR LENS

If you own a 50 mm lens and a DSLR, you also have a macro lens. On a calm day without dust in the air, remove your lens. Set the focus to Manual focusing and the focus distance to Infinity. Turn your nifty fifty lens around and snug the front end up against the camera lens mount.

Hold it there while you experiment with getting close to a subject to make some macro exposures. If you can’t find a subject, there are always two questions that never fail: First: “What is my pet doing?” Second: ” What’s in the kitchen, fridge, sink ?”

6. JUST THIS ONE

Try carrying just one lens with your DSLR body on your next outing.

Take it from me. This works.

There was a study of this with a photography workshop class. On this particular photo workshop, the instructor took just one lens and DSLR body. All of the participants carried backpacks of extra bodies and lenses on the first workshop day.

None of this extra gear got used. On the second workshop day, all the extra gear somehow got left behind, and folks used just one piece of gear. Their photography improved. When we are photographing for ourselves, we can leave the additional gear behind. Our best accessory lenses are our brain, hands, and ears.

7. LET IT GO

Know when to leave the DSLR behind, and use the mirrorless, the smart phone or your smaller point and shoot. Like many of you, I’ve been in situations where people turn away and get nervous when approached with a DSLR. For these situations, a smaller profile camera is better. Know when not to photograph, and have respect and compassion for people whose private lives are more important than your picture.

If you are using your smart phone, you can still learn DSLR photography at the same time. Check out and download, in the App store, the Clickopedia app (play.google.com/store).

8. TIRED TO WIRED TO INSPIRED: FINDING PURPOSE (Bonus Tip)

Here is one part of DSLR photography that always works well for me. In my workshops, this is the single vital idea I include as we wrap up. I invite all participants to think about an altruistic purpose for their photography.

Burning with passion for photography is great, and is even more powerful when we add a goal beyond our own needs, that helps someone else. Do some volunteer portraiture for an animal shelter, or help a high school student in financial hardship to make her beautiful senior portrait.

When we volunteer our efforts, the practice becomes a motivator for creative photography. WHY? Our social connections empower us. You have a DSLR, and something to offer. Use your own values to transform that something into a smile on someone’s face.

Follow through with your purpose until you have a solid body of work.

About the Author: Jim Austin Jimages lives on a sailboat called Salty Paws, currently on assignment in the Bahamas. He writes regularly for Apogee Photo Magazine, and is a photo educator, workshop leader, editor of the eZine Shizen, member of the Society for Photographic Education, and Adobe Certified Expert. Find him on Facebook .

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All written content (and most images) in these articles are copyrighted by the authors. Copyrighted material from Apogee Photo Mag should not be used elsewhere without seeking the authors permission.

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