So you’ve been blogging for a while, and you’ve even bought a nice DSLR to step up your blogging game. But what now? How do you use this new fancy piece of equipment that you purchased for $500+ dollars. Sure, you can read the manual but that’s a snorefest. Here are some photography mistakes that you might be making and how to fix them:
BTW: All my photos in this post are completely unedited except for resizing them.
Shooting in Automatic Mode
You’ve bought this great camera and you should be using it to it’s full potential. Don’t be scared to put it into a mode other than automatic. You’ll get much better pictures once you start to learn the features. There will definitely be some trial and error, but after a while you’ll get it. The three main settings that to adjust are Aperture (f-stop), Shutter Speed, and ISO. First off, I started in Aperture Priority mode, it’s marked with “AV’ on your settings wheel. When you shoot aperture priority mode, you set the aperture and also the ISO. The camera will then set a shutter speed for you so that the picture is properly exposed. Aperture priority mode is powerful because it is amazingly simple to use, and still allows the photographer a lot of creative choice. In fact, most competent photographers use aperture priority mode every single day.
On my camera, you can also do an auto ISO. So I started off with doing an Aperture priority mode, auto ISO, and only working on the shutter speed. Now that I’m a bit more familiar with Aperture and F-stops, I work fully off manual mode and keep auto-ISO on. All I do is adjust shutter and aperture and I’m good to go.
Shutter speed is pretty simple. Shutter speed is measured in fractions of seconds. The bigger the denominator the faster the speed (i.e. 1/1000 is much faster than 1/30). A slow shutter speed keeps your shutter open longer. The benefit to this is that since your shutter is open longer, it will let in more light giving you brighter photos. The downfall to this is that since the shutter is so slow, any motion will be very blurry. So sports photos, anything that’s moving in the breeze, or even a shaky hand can mess up a photo at a low shutter speed. If you need to have your shutter speed that low to get more light into your photo, it’s best to use a tripod.
ISO also helps with light and the “grainy-ness” or noise of a photo. Since I don’t manually adjust mine, I won’t speak to this but you can take a look at this handy cheat sheet.
Hand in hand with getting brighter photos are F-Stops and Aperture. The lower the F-Stop means you have a bigger aperture (think the pupil of your camera). The more open the aperture is (the lower your f-stop is) the more light your photos can take in. Another thing you’ll adjust with aperture is depth of field. Depth of field is basically that creamy dreaminess that blurs the background but keeps the subject nice and clear.
To learn more about that and to get more in depth to shutter speed, aperture, and ISO, check out this article.
This will now lead into the next part…
Ignoring Your Light Meter
Like I said before, reading manuals are a snorefest. Except I probably could have benefited from reading the manual for this one. No other “Starter Photography” guides helped me with this. When you take a photo you’ll see an indicator that looks like this:
See the meter that goes from -3 to +3? That’s the indicator of your exposure. You want to aim to get it right on zero. -3 means it’s underexposed and too dark, and +3 means it’s over exposed and too bright. As you adjust your settings, this indicator will move around. So before you even start taking photos, aim up your camera and check your meter. You’ll know what to adjust based on this. Here’s some examples of some photos I took and what settings they were at.
These were taken inside a restaurant at around noon, two months after I started playing with my camera.
So I started off, and I obviously didn’t look at my light indicator. Wayyyyy too dark. So I decided to pop down the shutter speed even slower. Still too dark. So this time, I popped down both the aperture and shutter speed even further and I got a decent photo. If I had to shoot this again, I would have dropped down the aperture more and kept the shutter speed probably at 1/80. A shutter speed of 1/30 is very slow and I’m surprised I even got this clean of a shot without using a tripod. I must have had really steady hands that day.
Since I typically shoot in restaurants, I try to go when there is still sun in the sky. Once the sun goes down, your photo quality will greatly diminish. My typical aperture settings can go anywhere from f/1.8 to f/4 when I’m inside at a restaurant. Again, shutter speed will be low depending on the natural lighting you have. But try to ask for a patio seat or a seat next to a window for the best conditions.
Restaurants are notoriously hard to shoot in, so if you’re a budding restaurant photographer or blogger, follow the above two steps and try to have as many early dinners or lunches as possible. Here’s a decent shot when the sun was setting (taken at 8:11 p.m. during April) and I didn’t have much natural light to work with.
Since it was super dark in the bar, I had to really drop down the f-stop and the shutter speed. You can see the depth of field (blurring of the background) by dropping down the f-stop, but I risked losing some clarity on the subject of the photo which was my wine glass. I probably could have captured the legs on this wine a lot better if I didn’t have my f-stop so low!
Using artificial light instead of natural light
You’ve heard this a million times and it honestly is true. I won’t delve too deep into it because you’ve probably heard it a 1000000x. Using artificial light will give you wonky colors, usually yellowy tinge, and will create unsightly shadows. Especially if you’re photographing food, you don’t want your food to look yellow. You can try to adjust your photo’s warmth using Lightroom or Picmonkey or whatever, but it won’t look as good as a natural light photo ever.
Ew, yuck. I cant believe I ate this. The photo is so cringe worthy. Things that are wrong: artificial overhead light for the photo, composition of the photo (not centered, you can see shadows of the glass next to it), too busy (the placement throws this whole picture off by the color and the pattern). UGH. I can’t believe I just shared that, but I did. Let me just keep telling myself that it’s for teaching purposes.
Not knowing the difference between soft light and hard light
I heard about hard and soft light a few times. Didn’t understand the difference and chalked it up to all natural light is good. Right?! Wrong. Here’s why: Hard light makes distinct, hard-edged shadows. Soft light makes shadows that are barely visible. A sunny day is hard light. A cloudy day is soft light. It’s that simple and that complicated. That’s why most fashion bloggers say they like to shoot outside during the golden hour on an overcast day. (P.S. The golden hour is a few hours before sunset or right after sunrise) Trust me, I didn’t get it for a long time either.
It took the smallest thing to finally get it. I was shooting for my post about struggling with running and got my loving boyfriend to agree to take some shots of me stretching, tying my shoes and whatever else. It was a gorgeous Saturday morning, super sunny with lots of natural light. There’s no way I should having any issues with lighting, or so I thought. It took a fluke of two different photos, one when the sun was glaring down on us and one where the sun was thankfully hidden behind some clouds.
Let me remind you again that I have not edited these photos one bit minus resizing them. These were taken seconds apart, same settings, everything! The only difference is that the sun was behind a cloud on the second photo. Isn’t the difference crazy?!
If you take photos in your apartment, you’ll have some tricky situations where the only light you can get into your apartment is hard light. Yes, it sucks but sometimes it’ll be okay. You can get a cool looking shadow like this.
That’s all for now folks! If I didn’t explain something well, please let me know and I’ll try to fix it. If you have any questions about photography in general, restaurant photography, or food photography, leave me a comment below! I always keep my comments open until the end of time so I’ll update this post as people post questions 🙂
What I Use
If you’re curious what I use, I purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T3i DSLR camera. It’s an entry level camera and has a flip out screen that I like to use. This is now discontinued, however you can buy it refurbished directly from Canon which is what I did. The newer model of this camera is the T5i.
The lens I use is the Canon 50mm 1.8 lens. It’ll get you a gorgeous depth of field (blurry background, with subject in the foreground). If you have a bit more money to spend you can get the 50 mm 1.4 lens, but this one is cheaper.
Otherwise, check out my whole Pinterest board here of photography resources. These are all the tips and tricks I read up on to get me acclimated to my camera once I bought it.