A [Bloggers] Guide to Camera Conundrums, by Laura Lawson

Recently I have been getting more and more frustrated. Like a lot of bloggers I suspect, I have a huge interest in photography. I also have a little knowledge, having been taught by my Dad how to use his fancy Canon SLR before I even hit my teens. A combination of the passage of time and little time to practice means that put my beautiful Canon 40D into my mitts and I cannot get it to behave.

Not only do I want my photography to get better but I want great images for the blog, and as it’s me who produces those images, in the main, I need to get learning fast. However, the ‘T’ word gets in the way again… time. As I’m sure you can imagine, I’m not exactly swimming in the stuff. Things have gotten so bad recently that I have even thought of selling my camera and over the weekend I abandoned it all together in favour of our old Canon Coolpix then was hugely disappointed at it’s lack of function while we were in London. (Don’t even get me started on the fact that I can’t seem to get the images off the darn thing right now.) One of my biggest issues is that I need my camera to be be a little bit more compact and portable than the huge DSLR that is the D40. I always need it in my bag, literally everywhere and so when Laura Lawson offered to write a bit about cameras and how to use them, I knew my blogging readers and perhaps those of you interested in photography would love to hear her tips. It doesn’t hurt that she’s not only a brilliant photographer but a funny girl, and if you’re coming to the Florence Finds Afternoon Tea in Manchester you can meet her (and her equally talented husband Pete) too!

Thanks Laura – you’re a star. 🙂

WHAT THE HECK IS ISO AND WHY ARE ALL MY PICTURES WHITE?
– A guide to camera conundrums by Laura Lawson.

I have a DSLR and I’m scared to take it off Auto!

Your camera is simply a tool. It doesn’t have a life of its own, it just does what you tell it to do, and once you figure out a few simple things you will feel completely in control. There is nothing more freeing than flicking that little switch off Auto and onto Manual!


Image courtesy of Lawson Photography

Firstly, all cameras are different and it’s important to actually read the instruction booklet! You’ll come up against some stuff you won’t understand – google it. There’s nothing difficult about knowing what settings to use.

The three main things:

ISO – This is how sensitive to light your camera is. A lower setting is like sunscreen – protecting those precious pixels from ‘burning out’. When a pixel ‘burns out’ you get a white image (don’t worry – it’s not permanent!). If you’re outside and it’s sunny then go for a low number like ISO100 or 200. If you’re inside you might need to choose one of the higher ISOs that your camera allows like ISO1600. The higher your ISO the more grainy the picture will be (which is why you always get a bit of grain when it’s dark).

Shutter Speed – This is how long the sensor in your camera is exposed to light. If a shutter is open too long the picture will be too bright, and if it’s not open for long enough it will be too dark. If your picture is too blurry you’re probably using too slow a shutter speed.


Image courtesy of Lawson Photography

Aperture (or ‘f stop’) – This is the size of the opening in the lens, which controls how much light is coming in. A large aperture like f1.8 lets in lots of light, whereas a small aperture like f16 lets in very little light. It can seem confusing because a LARGE aperture is a SMALL number – but basically the lower the number, the better your camera will deal with low light (and as an added bonus, the more awesome and blurry your backgrounds will be!).

When you put your camera on Auto you are giving away the chance to get brilliant pictures. Your camera doesn’t know what you want a picture to look like! A good stepping stone to setting everything yourself on Manual is using Aperture Priority (or AV mode). This basically means you decide what aperture you would like, and what ISO you would like, and your camera will guess the shutter speed itself.


Image courtesy of Lawson Photography

Laura, can’t you just tell me a couple of settings which will probably work?!

  • Inside, with some windows so it’s not exactly dark: Put it on AV mode. ISO1600, f1.8 (or the lowest number your lens will allow).
  • Outside: ISO100 (or 200 if it’s cloudy), f1.8 (or the lowest number your lens will allow)

If your picture is kinda blurry it means the shutter speed your camera chose was a bit too low, put your ISO up a bit.

WHAT LENS SHOULD I BUY?

The lens you use is so important, and getting your hands on a good one can take your photos to the next level. Personally I am a massive fan of prime lenses as opposed to zoom lenses. A prime lens is a fixed distance, so you have to get used to moving your feet rather than standing still and zooming in and out! The benefit of a prime lens is that they have large apertures, and your images will have shallow depth of field. As professional photographers, we go for the top of the line £1000 lenses, but there are actually some great bargains out there which will make a big difference to your pictures and aren’t crazy expensive!

A 50mm lens is a great start and these f1.8 beauties are a bargain at around £100!

I JUST WANT A CAMERA I CAN CARRY AROUND WHICH TAKES NICE PICTURES!
The biggest thing to keep your eye out for is a camera with a big sensor; an increased sensor size gives you better performance in low light, more depth of field (pretty fuzzy backgrounds!) and generally better image quality. The great thing is there are lots of great cameras out there that fit this ‘handbag friendly and much better than your iphone’ category.


Image courtesy of Lawson Photography

£700 BUDGET

£450 BUDGET


Image courtesy of Lawson Photography

Pro Tips…

Ok so you’ve got the camera and you’ve had a play with the settings. Here are some general tips for pretty picture taking:

1. Position yourself so the sun (or main light source) is BEHIND the person/thing you’re shooting. Although it may seem natural to have the sun shining on your subject, this kind of light is actually really harsh and nasty – it will give you bags under the eyes and no one wants that! By back lighting your subject you get a lovely flattering rim light and creamy skin. Even better – if you can choose a spot where a bit of light is bouncing back onto them (i.e. the sun is behind the person and a white wall is behind you – they’ll be lit by the light bouncing of the wall). You’ll have to shoot on Manual mode and have a play with your settings so your subject is exposed correctly and doesn’t appear too dark (slow your shutter speed down a bit if they’re too dark and speed it up if it’s all a bit bright!)


Image courtesy of Lawson Photography

2. When shooting products try to choose a background with complimentary colours. A popular look in magazine product shots is using a shallow depth of field; to emulate this get as close to the item as your camera will allow and use the biggest aperture you can like f1.8. Textures look great when they’re fuzzy in the background, so have a play using floorboards, patterned sheets, old doors etc.

3. Organise your pictures so you can find them easily! We organise our folders by date, so for example: ‘2012_03_09 Tea Party’.

4. Print the pictures you love. There really is nothing like flicking through an album, it beats scrolling through images on your computer any day! I love Blurb books for personal stuff, they’re a total bargain.

Happy snapping!

I’d love to hear if you are a camera enthusiast and have any tips on the right (compact-ish) camera or like me are learning the ropes and frustrated with set backs… Laura will be reading and available to answer any questions you have for her, and Pro togs, feel free to pitch in too! 🙂

Love,
Rebecca
xo

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