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Top 10 Tips for Working With a DSLR Camera

written by: Shane Burley•edited by: William Springer•updated: 7/29/2011

Many of the basic photographic concepts are universal, but a DSLR camera is a very direct and, potentially, difficult technology. Here are a few tips that are going to help you when trying to get the best use out of a DSLR camera.

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    Camera Technology Determines Choices

    Photography is not a finite art form, and it actually depends greatly on the specific type of camera you use. If you are utilizing a DSLR camera you have very specific technical choices, settings, and light decisions you have to make that are not necessarily true for conventional SLR cameras, point and shoot cameras, or other types of still photo cameras. Instead you have to consider the unique elements of this technology when you are taking photos, otherwise you will lose your intention. Here are some of the top ten DSLR photography tips focusing on how to use the camera itself.

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    Aperture

    The aperture is the primary place on a DSLR camera that you will be working with to determine how much light is allowed into the camera. The lower light then the more you need to open it, and the reverse is true of high light situations. The first thing that you have to note is that this is measured in f-stops and the lower the f-stop then the more open the aperture will be. You have a couple of options for determining where you want to set the aperture: based on sight and based on a light meter reading. A light meter is an object that you place in the area you will be photographing that will measure out how much light is there and then give you an f-stop reading of where you should set your aperture. This is going to be the most accurate representation since you will not be able to determine how the image will reflect the light when looking through the viewfinder.

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    RAW Files

    The DSLR camera utilizes the structure of the more traditional SLR camera, yet it then imprints it to a digital file. When you are working with digital photo files on your computer they are often compressed for storage space, but this is not how you want to actually capture the image with your camera. Instead, you want to set it to a RAW file type. This is the largest and most uncompressed file available and will include all the photographic information that there is. You can convert and compress the files later when they are actually on your computer and there is an impending reason to do so.

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    Lenses

    The lens length is going to be part of the way that the depth of field, which is the relative area where the subject remains in acceptableCamera Lens  sharpness, is set. This means that a longer lens will often give you a longer depth of field while a wide angle lens will be much shorter, and have distortion on the sides of the image. The best option is to always determine how far away you have to be from the subject and make sure that the lens choice you make it customized directly to that. There are few "all purpose" lens choices when figuring out how to use an SLR camera, whether it is digital or not. If you need to be far away then use a telephoto lens, but if you need to be closer make sure that you set what is appropriate.

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    Shutter Speed

    The shutter speed is going to determine the way that the camera accepts motion. The shutter opens to reveal the sensor, and when figuring out how to use an SLR camera this would indicate how much light the film is exposed to. On a DLSR camera it simply exposes the sensor, but the principle remains the same. The longer the shutter is open then the more motion blur will be allowed, as well as more light. The faster the shutter speed then the more still a moving object will appear and the darker the image will be. In general, anything below a 1/60 shutter speed will require a lot of stability from the camera and the subject. Staying around this number is a good option if you want to maintain enough light yet not make the image a constant blur of light.

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    Flash

    The flash creates a hard and tough light on the subject, which is both unnatural and somewhat sharp. This is why it is not used very often except in situations where there is no other option, such as spontaneous moments in the dark. If you have the ability to control the light when you are shooting on a DSLR camera then you should always forgo the flash, no matter what type it is. The flash aesthetic is, however, chosen for artistic purposes at times if you want to blow out subjects, make it appear as specific types of photography like crime scene photography or older "memory based" photos, or even to cast strong shadows. In general you will not have much control over it, so if you want that it is better to utilize a strong key light from a portable light kit in its place.

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    Now that we have brought the manual camera set up to the digital world there are even more things to consider, including settings, lenses, exposure, and digital file elements. Here are ten key tips on how to use a digital SLR camera for professional level photos.
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    Cleaning

    Lens care and maintenance is going to be more important, and more possible, with a DSLR camera than any type of point and shoot model. The reason is that you have the ability to remove and clean lenses, replacing them as needed. Any debris or damage to the lens will end up on the final photo, and though you can attempt to remove this with photo editing techniques it will still end up in the photo information. Lenses should be removed every couple uses and cleaned adequately, as well as being stored in lens specific cases with multi-fiber linings that will protect them from damage.

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    White Balance

    White balance is a critical part of how to use a manual camera, which the DSLR is in it essence. A white balance, plainly put, tell the camera what "true white" is. This means it tells the camera how to read the white color, and then balance all other colors against that interpretation of white. To do this you place a pure white card with the proper subject lighting in front of the DSLR camera and press the white balance so it balances to the white card, thereby allowing all other colors to be accurately represented. This is important on the DSLR camera in a way it is not on point and shoot options because it is necessary for the camera to actually know how to interpret the colors that it is seeing and functionally produce the correct image.

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    ISO

    The ISO is going to also determine the exposure of the image is a unique feature to digital cameras that indicates how sensitive the sensor will be. The higher the ISO reading the better it will do with low light, but it will add noise and grain to the image. The range for the ISO tends to be larger on newer DSLR cameras because they can handle the setting without adding as much grain. You should not go above a 1600 ISO reading on your DSLR, and never above a 3200 otherwise the grain may be so dramatic that the picture will be difficult to distinguish. The general rule, however, is that you will not want to go much above 400 or 600 ISO, especially if you have an older DSLR. This is also not a setting that you should change nearly as often as you do with the aperture and shutter speed.

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    Compact Flash

    The digital storage format on many DSLR cameras is based around a dual method: internal and external storage. There can be storage space within the camera itself, but it is often left out and they will also allow outside cards for storage. A compact flash card, which is going to be the best option as long as your DSLR camera supports this, will allow you to have more mobility with your photos. When you utilze compact flash cards instead of internal memory you can easily change them out when you're shooting, which lets you control how many images you take rather than storage limitations. The only thing that you have to remember if you are saving images onto a CF card is that you will have to have a card reader to act as an intermediary between the card and the computer.

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    Automatic vs. Manual Settings

    DSLR Most people with digital point and shoot cameras and cell phone cameras have become especially comfortable with automatic settings. Automatic white balance, ISO settings, shutter speed, focus, and others are designed to make photography simple for quick and easy images. This is not the purpose of a DSLR camera, and part of learning how to use a manual camera is using the settings that are intentional for your uses. In general, automatic settings are only going to be useful for images that do not use the actual technology of the DSLR and will almost always be off from what they should be. They can respond to low light by putting the ISO far above what it should be, lowering the shutter speed so much that it creates dramatic motion blur, or altering white balance so the colors are off. Stick with only manual settings so that you can actually create images that are professionally crafted.

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    Technology First

    The basic photographic vision is one that is essentially up to the artist, and the camera itself is only a means to create that image. Understanding the technology of the DSLR should be primary for understanding photography, especially in how this equipment actually interprets the image and manipulates it. The DSLR has brought the standard manual camera into the digital age, but it still requires hard knowledge as to how the basic functions of the camera work and how to make them work for you.

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    References

    Photos

    Camera Lens

    DSLR

    Source: Author's own experience.