From A to M – this often describes the full-circle journey of a photographer, and the essence of photographic expertise. Read the right way, it translates to “from Automatic to Manual”. Whether a first-time photographer, or a seasoned moment-capturer, it is this progression from A to M that often defines the capability.
The Canons and Nikons of the world have come up with affordable and enticing models of what is known as the DSLR. Every person these days is seen strutting around with the big black bodies. But how many truly know what goes inside those jazzy-looking black boxes? Or even how to make the most of the various functions that make it a masterpiece? Here is a brief glimpse into all that remains unknown to many of us.
What is a DSLR?
Many of us associate the big black bodies with the term “SLR” or “DSLR”, often not knowing what it is exactly, that gives the device its name. DSLR stands for digital single-lens reflex, which means that it uses a digital sensor, as opposed to a photographic film. It essentially uses a mirror mechanism to reflect light from a camera lens to an optical viewfinder and onto the sensor. The reflex mirror sits at a 45 degrees angle, and reflects the light to the viewfinder, which is the eyepiece through which you see. As a result, you are able to see the exact image that you are going to capture without alterations.
Basics of DSLR photography
The basic technique of DSLR photography is seen in the Exposure Triangle. Understanding this can help give you the best results, because different genres of photography may demand different modes of operation. Of course, every person has his or her own style of photography, but it is good to know the basics before settling on a personal style that suits you. The three basic components that comprise the basics of DSLR photography are as follows:
- Aperture (f number): Aperture is the opening which lets in light into your camera when you are clicking a picture. It is measured in “f number”. The smaller the f number, the wider the opening, the more the light allowed inside, the brighter the image. An aperture f 1.8 is wider than an aperture f 9.0. This is also related to the “depth of field” the effect where the subject in front is clear and the background is blurred. A larger aperture leads to greater depth of field i.e. if you want a pronounced blur, you should shoot on f 1.8 rather than f 9. On the contrary if you want all planes to be sharp, use a smaller aperture.
- Shutter Speed (seconds): It indicates the amount of time (in seconds) the shutter is left open when capturing an image. It is measured in seconds. For example, a shutter speed of 1/15 s means that the shutter is open for a longer time, than a shutter speed of 1/200 s. Faster the shutter speed, lesser is the light allowed inside the camera, darker is the image. A faster shutter speed (say 1/200 s) “freezes” moving objects, while a slower shutter speed (say 1/15 s) creates a “motion blur” effect.
- ISO (absolute number): ISO indicates how sensitive the sensor is to light. The term has been derived from the International Organization for Standardization. Higher ISO creates a brighter image and hence should be used in low light conditions. However, higher ISO also creates higher noise i.e. a grainy image. Hence one should be wary of shooting at very high ISOs.
Apart from these technical aspects of the device itself, there are other learnings like understanding light, getting the right composition, understanding distortion and other image anomalies and so on. But to get started, it is essential to master the above three elements of the Exposure Triangle and then proceed to other aspects.
Modes of Shooting
Depending on how much control you want to exert on the individual shooting functions, there are various shooting modes available on DSLRs. Automatic means that the camera decides and controls mostly everything, leaving you little control over the image you want. Other modes are as follows:
- Aperture Priority Mode (Av): You decide the aperture (f), and the camera intelligently decides the optimum shutter speed for the scene.
- Shutter Priority Mode (Tv): You decide the shutter speed, and the camera intelligently decides the aperture size (f) for the scene.
- Manual Mode (M): You need to manually set / control all three above mentioned parameters i.e. Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Thus, it allows you a high degree of control to create the image you want, leaving little to the camera.
Many cameras have other modes too, like Portrait, Program mode, Creative Auto mode etc, but these may lessen the degree of control and may be seldom used by professional photographers.
Why use a DSLR in wildlife photography?
Clicking wildlife is a different ballgame in itself. Firstly, due to the “natural” nature of the subject / scene, not much is in your control. After all, no wild animal is going to pose for you by flashing a million-dollar smile! You must make the best of uncontrollables like available light conditions, constant movement of the subject etc. To surpass these external limitations to some extent, knowing your camera in and out is a must. A DSLR can give you greater control on freezing the wildlife moment you desire, whether it is a predator in fast motion, or a macro of a tiny insect.
It is important to build technical proficiency when starting to use a DSLR, however it even more important to remember that photography is not merely about technicalities, but also about the creatives. One should condition oneself to “see the shot” with the best camera ever made- the eye! As Roger Kingston once said, a camera is the “Save” button for the mind’s eye.
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