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Digital SLR Photography: Helpful Tips for Taking Better Photos

written by: Brian Nelson•edited by: Amy Carson•updated: 10/29/2010

Digital photography has revolutionized the world of photography. However, with each new generation of cameras comes ever more settings and modes to choose from, and even the most clever cameras can't compose the best shot for you. These digital SLR photography tips will help.

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    Digital SLR Photography Skills

    Before the advent of digital photography many photographers never though much about the pictures they took. Advanced cameras were primarily used by professional photographers and others used various simplified cameras like point and shoot cameras. However, as digital photography became mainstream, people began to wonder what all of those buttons on their digital camera did. In turn, more people began reading about taking good pictures and the best photography practices. When single lens reflex, or SLR, style cameras moved into the mainstream digital camera realm, and many amateur photographers and semi-pro photographers took an even deeper look at the art of photography.

    digital camera mode settings wheel Digital SLR cameras, sometimes abbreviated as DSLR cameras, offer a world of possibilities for novice photographers and professional photographers alike. As people learn more about photography, they use more settings, features, and modes on the DSLR. More importantly, they begin to understand how much taking a good picture depends not on what buttons are pushed, or what the camera dial is set to, but how they compose, or frame the picture they are taking. This leads to improved photographs and new photography opportunities. Some camera owners take it to the next level and build a home photography studio, or start a side business taking semi-professional portraits for friends and family members.

    However, all of this newfound photography skill can lead to a major problem for the average person looking to capture life-like pictures of the world around them.

    Ferris Bueller said, "Life moves pretty quick. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you might miss it." His sage wisdom can be related to photography thusly: "Life moves pretty quick. If you don't press the button once in a while, you might miss it."

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    Single Most Important Photography Tip Ever

    There is a lot to learn about digital photography. Books literally line the shelves at libraries and bookstores offering advice for better pictures. Most of the photography tips inside are worth every word, but there is one thing that every photographer must never forget.

    If you don't push the button, you don't get the shot.

    Consider the difference between grabbing the DSLR, setting the dial to automatic, pointing the center of the frame at the boys, and pushing the button, and grabbing the DSLR, placing the boys so that their faces are near the "thirds", setting the flash to on as a fill flash, and then pressing the button. It is the difference between getting a shot of your three-year old son's triumphant smile at his first ever appearance on the top of a pile of three brothers, and just another shot of the boys playing around in the backyard.

    Never forget that when it comes to photographing your life, taking the picture and capturing the moment is more important than all of the composition, settings, and modes combined. Take the picture now, and then, if life stays still long enough, take another shot using everything you know.

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    SLR Photography Tips: The Best Digital SLR Photography Tips & TechniquesThere is a lot more to great digital photography than just getting the settings right on the SLR camera. Use these tips to make sure you're ready for great shots of life without having to know every SLR photography tip ever given.
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    Top Digital SLR Photography Tips

    Prep Your DSLR Camera

    How many movies have you watched where the hero chases the villain, gun at the ready, through a house in a deadly game of cat and mouse? When he's so close to his prey that even a loud breath might give away his position, only then does he reaches his thumb up and cock the weapon!

    Hollywood theatrics aside, there is no reason for you to be unprepared to shoot your quarry with your digital SLR fully cocked, so to speak.

    If you are taking your camera with you, that means that you are potentially planning to shoot some photos. Why not be ready?

    canon camera menu back button If you are heading outside, find the menu on the back of your digital camera and set your camera's ISO to a nice low number and set the white balance for daylight. A cloudy day? Nudge that ISO setting up a bit and move the white balance to cloudy. If it's a family event like a birthday party or you'll be trying to capture funny Thanksgiving photos, set your ISO for the lighting conditions and adjust your white balance. If you're talking about running kids, make sure you've got your digital camera settings ready for faster shutter speeds with your digital camera's shutter speed priority mode.

    The photography tip for parents is to leave your camera out of reach from the kids in your home's main living area instead of tucked away inside a camera bag. Make sure the batteries are fully charged and you have the settings ready to go for a fast living room shot when little Mia figures out how to climb up the ficus plant, but not back down!

    Other Important Digital SLR Photography Tips

    Watch your ISO camera setting. ISO affects how fast your shutter speeds can be, and how much light there has to be before having to use the flash. Higher ISO speeds mean less flash and faster shutter speeds, which is a good thing for virtually all photography except for those photos carefully posed in the home photography studio under perfectly arranged lights. The catch is that when the ISO goes too high, photos get grainy and unpleasant. Take test shots in a wide variety of conditions with your DSLR using all the different ISO settings. Then, you'll know how high you can go in any conditions.

    Another great digital photography trick that often gets overlooked it to pay more attention to the data your camera writes to your picture files. Almost any digital photography program will display your picture's metadata from EXIF data or other. This data is a goldmine of advice for taking better digital pictures with your camera in the actual places you take photos. When browsing through your pictures on the computer, don't just eliminate the poor quality shots, check the data and see if you can find what made it a poorer quality picture. If it's too grainy, was the ISO set too high? If it's blurry was the DSLR set to manual mode or semi-manual camera mode? Could you have gotten the shot with a faster shutter speed?

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    Important Digital SLR Photography TipsAvoid common digital SLR photography mistakes with these important digital SLR photography tips.
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    Digital SLR Photography Composition Framing and Focus

    Not all digital photography issues can be solved with camera settings and DSLR modes. Sometimes, you just need to take a different picture.

    background-light-window-problem-publish The one piece of advice that would improve many digital SLR photographs is to watch your background. Don't worry about blurry background or not — you can make it blurry in Photoshop — worry about the background light. How many shots do you have of dark faces because the subject was sitting in front of a sunny window? You probably didn't even notice it when you took the shot, but your camera did, and it metered for a brighter picture.

    While controlling the background light in a photograph is best, but when that isn't practical (Remember, get the shot first.) These digital photography tips will help prevent those too-dark subject faces from happening to you.

    • Zoom In - Less background in the frame means less background light throwing off the camera's meter. Less background also means less distracting elements in your shot.
    • Set Flash To On - When you camera is adjusting the exposure down for the flash, it's also adjusting down the exposure it calculated from the backlight. As an added bonus, the flash will fill-in the dark parts on your subject.
    • Shoot Lower - Unless the subject is standing in front of a window, chances are that there is a lot more empty window pane above the subject. Drop to one knee, scrunch down, or just angle the camera a little lower -- get more floor or chair and less wall and window -- and you'll remove some of that overexposed window.

    Use these quick Digital SLR photography tips to improve your digital photography shots and reduce the amount of time you have to spend in a program like Photo Explosion Deluxe 4.0 fixing everything later.

    Camera Images courtesy of Canon USA

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