Ways to get better pictures out of your DSLR

So as some of you may know, my church does Vacation Bible School yearly. If you know me at all, it should be no surprise that I was in charge of collecting pictures and putting together the slideshow for the Parents.

This years VBS was a learning experience. It, in addition to the vacation taken this summer, have taught me how to better utilize my camera and get good pictures.

I wrote this at some point during VBS this past year, and am finally getting around to posting it.

Normally these lists involve "hold your camera steady," "Compose your shots right," and stuff like that. I'll leave those lists to do their job.

Here's my list of way to get the best pictures out of your DSLR.

  • Expose it right the first time. I used to shoot raw, but now I've decided I can save big on Hard drive space by exposing it correctly and shooting jpeg. I might end up with more pictures (to get the exposure right), but I'll still be using less disk space.
  • Make sure your shutter is fast enough for your focal length. On a consumer level (not full-frame) camera like mine, you have to take the crop factor (1.6x) into account. The general rule of thumb for a 35mm camera is that your shutter speed should be no slower than 1/the focal length of your lens. So if you have a 50mm lens on a 35mm camera, you would need at least 1/50th. Since DSLRs have crop, it has to be 1/(focal length x 1.6). With the same 50mm lens you would need at least 1/80th.
  • Ditch your kit lens. I know, it's convenient and cheap to just use the kit lens. I've used mine, too. It's sad and pathetic how many people walk around places like Yellowstone with a kit lens thinking they're taking great pictures. Go buy yourself a decent prime lens. Amazon has lots of lenses to choose from. Primes are generally faster (let in more light - therefore lower ISO and higher shutter speed) than zooms. They also have wider apertures, so you get nicer bokeh. If you're into lots of landscape photography, I would recommend the 28mm or the 35mm. Just portraits I would recommend the 50mm or the 85mm. If you can afford it, try to get the 28mm, 50mm and 85mm. I have the 28 and the 85, but not the 50, and was just frustrated today because I needed it.
  • Unless you're an idiot (or simply lazy), take your camera off of idiot (auto) mode. I personally have taken maybe 15 pictures with my camera on auto mode. Don't do it. It's not worth it. The least you can do is program mode. Then, if you're exposure's out of whack, it's a quick adjustment to the exposure compensation. I usually do program mode, out of sheer laziness. I do, however, generally set my ISO and keep an eye on my shutter speed.
  • Get yourself a real flash. Most people use a flash inside. Some even try outside. I saw people trying to take pictures of Mt. Rushmore with flashes from 75+ feet away. They probably had their cameras on auto mode, assuming that the camera knew best. In any case, a real flash lets you do a few things:
    • Bounce flash: Point your flash at the ceiling or at a wall to get softer shadows.
    • Less red eye: Since the flash is further away from the lens, the camera sees less reflections from inside people's eyes.
    • Remote flash: Both the T3i and the 60D (On the Canon side, I'm not a Nikon guy, so I don't know about those...) let you use the pop-up flash to fire an external flash in slave mode. That's an awesome thing to have, especially if reflections are an issue.
    • Better fill light. My big flash provides much more light than my popup, which is great for situations where your subject is dimly lit in front of a bright background. Also, great for harsh sunlight when you need to fill in the shadows on people's faces.
I hope at least one of these tips sticks with you and aids you in becoming a better photographer. Now, go put down your laptop (or stand up from your desktop!), grab your camera, and get shooting!