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How to Take Exceptional Photos with Your DSLR

By Edited Aug 18, 2015 1 0

Before we get started, don't get me wrong, there is a reason manufacturers like Canon and Nikon can charge thousands for a professional DSLR camera body. These machines in the right hands, systematically produce the most stunning photography we will ever see. So, why then, do professionals and professors alike continuously profess, "don't spend all your money on a DSLR body. The body is not important!"

Lies you tell!

Well, that's both true and false. In the right hands all a pro DSLR body will do is make taking photos easier, more importantly, it makes taking stunning photos more consistent. With features and technologies like 12 frames-per-second continuous shooting, 61 point auto-focus and weatherproofing, it's no wonder why aspiring photogs put so much faith in the body of a DSLR. But what they don't realize is that these features only aid the pro, they don't take the photos for you. There are a few aspects of great photography that must be considered everytime  you flip the on switch, whether it's a $600 camera or a $6000 camera. It doesn't matter...

lens

The single most important aspect of photography is "the glass."

Don't let the bells and whistles of a pro body blind you. Remember, without the lens the body is useless. So it would then reason, the better the lens the better the body will be at taking photos. All the body of the camera does is process the light that it receives through the lens.

So, the first thing you need do is get yourself a few prime lenses. Primes generally offer more sharpness and bokeh than zooms. Here's a list of primes that are sure to get you pinpoint sharpness and buttery bokeh:

  • 24mm f/1.4 - landscapes/architecture
  • 50mm f/1.4 - portraits/general
  • 85mm f/1.4 - portraits/fashion
  • 400mm f/5.6 - sports/action

Some zooms are just as sharp are even sharper than a few primes. Those, however, tend to be a lot more expensive (do to technologies like image-stablization  and quite-zoom). With a high quality glass in front of even the most meager of camera bodies you're guaranteed to take higher quality photos. But even with good-glass the second most important aspect to exceptional photography still need to be regarded...

lighting

It's been my experience that the more light you have the better the photo. Or more to the point the more light that is absorbed (or processed by the sensor) the better the rendering. With more light you have more control. Even if the mood of the photo calls for dim lighting or you're taking a candid shot at a party, the more light you let in through the lens the better the photo. Photographs are just that, paintings made of light.

Again, even with an entry level DSLR body you can still take amazing photos with good glass and great lighting. So, first your going to want to get as much light into your setting and onto your subject. Whether you do that with natural lighting or strobes is up to you. So long as there is a lot of light. You can always adjust the setting on the camera to take in less light but it's better to have more light and not need it.

Now, depending on the subject and the subject matter, you're going to want to choose your lighting setup. Here are a list of classic lighting compositions for portraits:

  • Butterfly Lighting - key light high above the head, pointing directly down at the subject

butterfly
  • Edge Lighting - key light off to the left or the right, usually parallel to the subject.

edge
  • Rembrandt Lighting - key light pointing down at a 45 degree angle, to the side and a little to the front.

rembr--

Done right, it will cast a shadow on the cheek from the nose and create a triangle of light. Already we can see the benefits of good lighting. Good lighting helps shape the photo and provides atmosphere and mood. This is referred to as chiaroscuro, an Italian word that’s literal translation is light-dark.

Lens and lighting, those are the most important aspects to keep in mind but there is one more "L" to consider if you want to take your photography to the next level...

the "little things"

Yes, the little things. The details. Those things that you overlook whether by accident or ignorance. It's easy to forget these things but as a photographer it is important to remember that these high resolution DSLRs pick up everything. And, even if you're a Photoshop wizard there are some things that just cannot be corrected in post processing. So, try to pay attention to even the most minute of details. It'll save you time in the long run and separate you from the novices.

So, just keep the 3 Ls about you and you'll start to notice the quality of your photography improving 10 fold. All without upgrading the body of your camera. It's as I stated earlier, the body only makes it easier to take a great photo but it wont take that great photo for you. You need to make sure your subject is captured accurately, it has enough light and a good piece of glass to capture that light.

Understanding Exposure, 3rd Edition: How to Shoot Great Photographs with Any Camera
Amazon Price: $25.99 $13.25 Buy Now
(price as of Aug 18, 2015)
A great book explaining how lighting/exposure makes for great photography. It explains in more detail the importance of good lighting.
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