Free crash course in DSLR
July 5, 2011 8:16 PM   Subscribe

What is the best resource for giving yourself a crash course in using a Digital SLR camera? Food photography tips also appreciated.

I've been taking pictures with a pretty good point-and-shoot for the past three years, and editing them in psp to clean 'em up. My photos look pretty darn good this way (I'm a good artist I guess?), but I know you need a DSLR for that super high quality shot, and that "zoom" and blur mode. I saved up like crazy and bought a used Canon 40D (~25K shutter actuations) with a Canon EF 50mm f/1.8 II Camera Lens based on the recommendation of a blog with amazing food photos. I'm on a time crunch and need to learn how to use this thing within the next week. Where should I turn to? Is there some sort of condensed manual to explain this stuff to total amateurs [with short attention spans]? I'm not an instruction manuals kind of person, and seem to get the hang of things rather quickly by just tinkering around. Please don't recommend a forum, since I could hyperfocus and be on there for hours. That's why I'm asking for something a little more targeted in terms of its information.

1. Any resources (preferably free - I'm a po' student) that could tell me exactly what I need to know about DSLR photography, without excess background info or boring details?

2. Any essential tips you have for using a DSLR to photograph food?
posted by sunnychef88 to Media & Arts (9 answers total) 66 users marked this as a favorite
Digital photography tutorials.
posted by smartypantz at 8:21 PM on July 5, 2011

Lifehacker just ran a short series on photography basics and using a dSLR. Also contains links to other resources.
posted by palomar at 8:22 PM on July 5, 2011 [4 favorites]

That is a brilliant lens, SunnyChef88. The tutorials listed above will give you a good overall view of camera function. Some lens-specific observations I have (that's one of my primary lenses, although I use it on a different camera body): it's fantastic for lower-light situations, does a lovely almost-macro shot of things, and also does a nice smaller landscape if necessary.

A non-camera specific thing that is very important to good photos: LIGHTING. This is a great lower-light lens (e.g. "fast"), so avoid using a flash if at all possible as it washes the hell out of things unless you're 1) a pro or 2) have a very expensive ring flash that you know how to use. Have a key light (strong light) for highlights and a fill light (diffused, not as bright) to fill in the shadows. Using a DSLR, you have the advantage of deleting pictures that don't come out the way you'd like them. Take advantage of that by playing around and paying attention to the settings you're using while you do so. Enjoy!
posted by smirkette at 9:34 PM on July 5, 2011 [2 favorites]

Ken Rockwell has some simple and informative tutorials (though his style may not be to everyone's taste. I found Bryan Peterson's Understanding Exposure to be a really fun and quick way to learn about using my DSLR, of course it's not free unless you can borrow it from a library.
posted by Elmore at 2:52 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Camerasim allows you to fiddle with DSLR settings and see what the outcome would look like right from your computer. The consistency of the subject allows you to spot the difference and play around with different settings.
posted by drea at 5:17 AM on July 6, 2011 [3 favorites]

The Pioneer Woman has some great, simple, easy to follow photography posts. Here is a good one about food photography.
posted by jrichards at 7:17 AM on July 6, 2011 [2 favorites]

From the site description: Stop Shooting Auto! is a set of beginner-level photography lessons, mostly dealing with getting the correct exposure.
posted by rmd1023 at 7:18 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

Basic quick tips for food photography.

-Use a wide aperture between 1.8-2.2. Focus manually. Try shooting in aperture priority and then compensate the exposure +1/3 to 1/2 stop. If it is overexposed you can correct that in an editing program
-Window light is great, use it. Even better if there is a white curtain over the window to soften the light a bit.
-Don't use flash. Go find a window.
-Backgrounds are hugely important. White plates are classic and look great. Watch for other things creeping into your background. You want nothing back there to distract the eye from the focal point on the food. Shoot at a 45degree angle above the food as a way to clean up the background easily. Crazy tablecloths will distract. A nice place setting in part of the frame will class it up too.
-Shoot a ton and use your lcd screen often to check your exposure, background, etc. Then shoot more. Change angles, shoot high, shoot low, shoot close, shoot far. Since you are trying to learn all this last minute it is better to play the law of averages.

The food is your model. Make it look as good as possible. Sometimes that means not cooking things all the way, or even over cooking them. You just want them to look as appetizing as possible.

Lastly from a business standpoint, you didn't mention it but I would be remiss if I didn't say something. If you are doing this for a company, magazine, or newspaper, then please don't do it for free. Ask for money. Working for credit is a joke. If you need help with a quote you can memail me.

Good luck.
posted by WickedPissah at 8:18 AM on July 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

There's nothing particularly different about using a digital or film SLR. Shoot in RAW and be careful not to blow out the highlights. You can recover details in the shadows more easily than a highlight that has turned full white.

I've said it before, much more verbosely, but there's nothing particularly difficult about taking a well-exposed picture. You've got exactly 3 settings to change when you take a picture: ISO, aperture, shutter speed. Each one affects the settings for what the other 2 must be. Understand the relationship between those (and keep your ISO as low as possible), and you'll have well-exposed pictures.

The best advice to get you comfortable with taking pictures in a variety of situations is to take many more pictures than you ever thought possible and to tape down the camera's flash (if it has one). On-camera flash, unless you're going for a specific aesthetic and know how to achieve it, makes good pictures bad and bad pictures worse. Don't use it. Pretend it's not there. Tape it down. Forget about it.

A good photographer can find light and use it in any situation (I know a photographer for the Chicago Tribune who hasn't used a flash in 10 years), and that's what you want to be able to do.
posted by msbrauer at 7:09 AM on July 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

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