DSLR 101
June 5, 2011 8:44 AM   Subscribe

DSLR 101 filter: thinking of offering a class to people who have invested in a DSLR camera, but are used to point-and-shoots. What do you wish you knew when you first bought / played around with a DSLR - or - what do you want to know about working with a DSLR?

The question above says it all - that said, I'd be interested in hearing your take on what a DSLR 101 course should cover:

How did you go about learning the basics of your DSLR? Youtube, camera manual, a kind friend, a class, etc.?

What do you know now that you wish you knew when you first got your DSLR?

Was the science / physics behind things more interesting, or was it just nice to have more control over what you wanted a picture of?

Assuming you're still shooting with a DSLR, what equipment beyond the kit lens was your first major purchase?
posted by chrisinseoul to Technology (19 answers total) 25 users marked this as a favorite
I have a micro 4/3 camera, which is like a DSLR. After having a regular old point-and-shoot I think it took me a little while to get a hang of all of the various settings. I got it because I wanted more control over my pictures.

Where a crappy point-and-shoot will try to brighten up a whole image taken in the dark, sometimes you really just want to emphasize the sparkly lights, so you have to set a higher shutter speed to keep the lights from being overblown.
A wide aperture can make the background look more blurry.
Higher ISO pictures are more speckly.
White balance makes pictures look different!

I learned things mostly by putzing around with my camera and looking things up on the internet sometimes, and some opportune comments by my friends. There is probably still a lot I don't know.

In a class I would probably be most interested in sample images of the same thing taken with different settings (this is obvious probably), and how you can emphasize different aspects of the scene with different settings.

My kit lens was a pancake, and the first extra thing I bought was a zoom lens.
posted by that girl at 9:09 AM on June 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

1. 98% of my development was just learning by doing. The rest was learned from photo blogs, books, and a friend with similar interests/equipment.
2. To skip the kit lens entirely and go directly to a body/prime lens setup. (Then again, I'm a prime lens nut.)
3. The control over the camera was the bigger interest.
4. 35mm f/1.8
posted by litnerd at 9:12 AM on June 5, 2011

Yeah, different samples: a very closeup face in focus with the background blurry, a bright sunny day shot, the "christmas lights" shot, the indoor birthday party shot, the kids jumping with their hair flying all over, etc.

I think it would be good things about shutter speed and whatever else but I don't care to know why a slow shutter speed is better for [x], I just want to know that it is used for certain shots and not others.
posted by dawkins_7 at 9:29 AM on June 5, 2011

Learn how to vary the ISO, Aperture (fstop) and Shutter speed and get the same photo different ways.

Essentially setup what's in this simulator and you'lll do all sorts of cool pictures.
posted by filmgeek at 9:38 AM on June 5, 2011

Learn how to vary the ISO, Aperture (fstop) and Shutter speed and get the same photo different ways.
+1, this is where i would start.

also, compostion basics (rule of 2/3, etc.)

and white balance if there is time.

I would consider all that a solid 101.
posted by dzot at 10:11 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I can't emphasize this enough, make your students use a prime lens. I feel like it's the best learning tool. Somehow, when you do this, over time the composition of the shot becomes the artistic responsibility of the photographer - where he/she's standing, how far, the angle , the flow of the image, what's in the frame - rather than a mechanical setting on the camera.

You can get a Canon 50/1.8 for like $100.

Also, are you teaching off-camera lighting? If so, strobist is an excellent resource. Learning how to light, the affordability of flashes, the image improvement... this is probably a lot of bang for your buck in terms of teaching material. i think syl arena has a really great book on cheap lighting. also take a look at creativelive for tutorials.

I've bought and sold a bunch of equipment.. I've pared down to what I really need. I currently own a really nice tripod, 4 prime lenses, a couple of filters, a bagful of strobes, and of course lots of little equipment like lights stands, clamps, filters, diffusers, etc.. and I am ready to go. Lots to do, lots to learn.
posted by phaedon at 10:20 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Basic composition, practice with manual focus, how to deal with the trades offs that need to be made in less than adequate light, lighting control.
posted by yeolcoatl at 10:24 AM on June 5, 2011

Beyond the basic smaller number = larger aperture, and how that relates to depth of field and low-light photography:

1.) hyperfocal distance
2.) how aperture affects sharpness, which is often best at f/5.6 - f/8
3.) using the histogram to "expose to the right". And always shoot RAW.

Also, it'd be good to explain crop factors. I rarely used my 50/1.8 lens on my Digital Rebel because it became a rather useless mild tele. It and my much nicer 85/1.8 basically collected dust until I found an inexpensive full-frame body to use them on.
posted by unmake at 10:33 AM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

Must have accessories: tripod, UV/CPL filters, dust blower/puffer.
posted by unmake at 10:38 AM on June 5, 2011

The relationship between aperture and depth of field, shutter speed and motion blur, iso and dynamic range. Then, the relationship between aperture, shutter speeed, and iso.
posted by the jam at 12:04 PM on June 5, 2011

If you can get some students, then Bravo! My background is in old school photography and I have been digital imaging since the days of capturing a single frame off of tape video cameras. I'm not the answerer you have in mind but I do have many ideas about how people should be taught to take photos.

You need to break these people from the "just stare at the monitor until the picture looks like I want to take it" "deer in the headlights" stance. Shouldn't be hard since they are migrating to viewfinders.

Mrs. Shmoobles and I just gave birth to Baby Shmoobles #2, and were surrounded by three or four iPhoners and point and shooters just staring into the little screens, waiting for just the right image. Teach photofolk to just take the shots, take the shots and take the shots. They'll find one or more they like on their hard drives afterwards. You can wait your whole life for just the right photo and it will never, ever come. In fact you might have missed it while looking too hard for it, so shoot instead.

I could keep going and going, but my second and final thought is teach them to have an eye for when an image can use fill-flash BEFORE they take the picture.
It's another opportunity to miss the best image, so teach them to use their eyes BEFORE they look into the viewfinder.
Damn, that sounds pretty good....

Remember to use your eyes BEFORE you look in the viewfinder.
posted by No Shmoobles at 12:26 PM on June 5, 2011

I'm not going to be very helpful, but I first learned about photography by borrowing my mother's SLR and a couple of photography books she had. I basically treat my DSLR like it's an SLR. I'm sure I'm missing some DSLR super power by doing that, but I don't think using the list of things that have been taught in photography classes since time immemorial as a starting point is a bad move.
posted by hoyland at 12:45 PM on June 5, 2011

I'm currently learning how to work my Micro Four Thirds camera properly, here are a few things that I think would be helpful:

* The basics of the relationship between ISO, Shutter, and Aperture.

* "Quizzes" where you're given a picture of a scene and can talk through what mode you'd use, and what kind of Aperture / Shutter you'd apply

* Encourage them to learn within constraints - i've had a DSLR before, but since i've "downgraded" to a M43 with a prime lens and no flash, i'm learning a hell of a lot more about composition, natural light, and so much more.

The book i'm reading is Exposure: From Snapshots to Great Shots and to be honest, if i just had that book in classroom form where i could interact with an instructor, i'd be freaking delighted. It even has assignments!
posted by ukdanae at 2:08 PM on June 5, 2011

Self-taught, using blogs and forums.

I wish I had understood aperture a bit better, e.g wide open is not necessarily the right choice, that with a high aperture the kit lens can take quite respectable photos, and that a tripod and a flash are probably the best investments you can make to immediately improve your pictures.

Also, the importance of RAW (I mean, I had *read* about it, but it wasn't until I was using it regularly I truly understood how many shots it can either save, or add some extra sparkle too). Basic raw processing (underscoring basic there, cause the sky's the limit).

More control, I don't give a crap about physics except insofar as they help me take a good picture.

Assuming you're still shooting with a DSLR, what equipment beyond the kit lens was your first major purchase?

First major purchase was a fast fifty.
posted by smoke at 3:36 PM on June 5, 2011

What can you do with a DSLR that you can not do, or not do well, with a P&S? Teach that. Of course you should probably make sure they know how to operate the basic controls, etc., but most people can read the manual. A DSLR generally has better optics, better low light capability, faster shutter speeds, external flash options, better control of depth of field and bokeh, focus and exposure control options, raw format, etc. These can help you make pictures that you can not get or get as well with a P&S.
posted by caddis at 6:22 PM on June 5, 2011

You know all the presets on a point-n-shoot?
Go through those one by one and explain how to do them yourself.
I think that would be a great way to teach people how to get ready for lots of situations and they'd already have a good general idea of what they're aiming for.

Something like that would have been great for an audiovisual learner like me.
posted by artof.mulata at 10:13 PM on June 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I wish I'd known to get a fast (ƒ/1.8 or faster) lens, in order to get the blurred backgrounds that I'd always associated with Serious Photography. Also that kit lenses, as a general rule, are only impressive (or, for that matter, even good if we're talking about virtually anything other than Panasonic's 20mm ƒ/1.7) by the standards of someone used to point-and-shoot compacts.

Gonna disagree with shooting RAW, though. I don't shoot RAW for the same reason that I don't save newspapers or make my own butter. At a certain point, the time savings for the hundreds of photos I'll take in a session just aren't worth it (and my hard drive certainly appreciates it as well), especially on modern cameras that do a bang-up job on the in-camera JPEG processing. Plus JPEGs are universally viewable and editable etc. etc.
posted by DoctorFedora at 12:41 AM on June 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

Start out on a high note by running down some of the most obvious advantages of the DSLR cameras, including:

1. Don't be intimidated by the enhanced feature set. You can dumb down a DSLR to one of several fully automatic modes and essentially turn it into a point and shoot. There's nothing wrong with rolling like this initially.

2. The vastly improved shutter response time of a DSLR over a p&s camera means that the delay between the time the shutter is pressed and the image is created opens a whole new world to most former p&s users. Embrace it!

3. Nearly everyone is able to hold a DSLR steadier than a p&s camera. Teach good hand holding technique (elbows in, squeezing the shutter release instead of stabbing it, etc.).

4. Even though photography with fast lenses and wide open apertures is currently a flavor of the month, I fully disagree with pushing people in that direction initially. It's great to be able to point out the advantages of lens interchangeability (hopefully with demonstrations of wildly different focal lengths), but avoid the "here's what you have to buy next to do what you think you want to do" syndrome.

5. Urge students to get into the habit of carrying their camera with them as often as possible. This will be an adjustment for people who've been used to sticking a p&s into a pocket or handbag.
posted by imjustsaying at 5:38 AM on June 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

I already had a good idea of how aperture and shutter speed affect pictures before getting my dSLR (i.e. depth-of-field and blur, respectively), but they really didn't make nearly as much difference on my puny P&S camera... So, I'd definitely say teach ("SHOW, don't tell", as the saying goes...) how those make a difference.

(Along those lines, I'd say have them use the "Aperture Priorty" mode on their camera. This should help them understand the relationship between aperture/shutter-speed and exposure.)

As far as ISO: I don't think teaching about ISO is terribly important. Just set the ISO to "Auto" and be done with it. It's not like you need to choose the appropriate roll of film to go out and shoot for the day anymore... >_<
posted by StarmanDXE at 2:13 PM on June 6, 2011

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