How difficult is it to learn to use a DSLR?

Discussion in 'Photography' started by Ronald Epstein, Jul 27, 2010.

  1. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    I am really fascinated about DSLR cameras. It's like I am

    venturing into this entirely new complex field that I know
    nothing about -- so complex that members here are recommending

    books to read.


    So, my question is, just how difficult is it to learn how

    to use a DSLR?


    When I put that camera into MANUAL mode I am going to

    have to worry about ISO settings which I know nothing about.

    Then there are dozens upon dozens of lenses available for the

    cameras, but just looking at the numbers on them, I still don't

    quite know their advantages over others.


    Found a really good blurb here about the basics of DSLRs.


    If I take the time to read a book or two (and hopefully it won't

    be as long as War and Peace) should I be able to pick up on

    using these cameras effectively? Is it really difficult to understand?


    You would think this is the question I should have asked

    first before even looking at cameras.


    Thanks, guys, for all your help.
     
  2. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    Best advice I can give you is take 20 minutes and read this:

    http://photography-on-the.net/forum/showthread.php?t=414088
     
  3. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Thanks, Sam. Good read, but mostly in Chinese.

    I have a better understanding of what aperture,

    shutter speed and ISO is and does, but when it

    went on to talking about using it in manual mode

    I got completely lost.


    I am hoping that the book(s) and video I buy will

    cover this in more detail.


    It's scary!
     
  4. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    If that's too technical for you get Scott Kelby's Digital Photography book.


    If that's too technical for you there's no help =)
     
  5. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Ron,


    The books that John Rice and I recommended in the other thread should be a help. Also, you do not have to go fully manual to shoot manually (if that makes sense). There are two "manual" modes called aperture priority and shutter priority where you adjust either the aperture or shutter speed and the camera will automatically select the proper setting for the other. However, the challenge -- whether shooting in aperture priority, shutter priority, or fully manual mode -- is knowing when the camera's built-in light meter is wrong and being able to correct for it. That is something that you will learn as your skills develop.


    The main thing to learn is why you want to use different aperture and shutter speed settings, and how the three components of proper exposure (aperture, shutter speed and ISO) relate to one another. Once you understand those basics, you should be fine. The Peterson book I recommended does an excellent job in explaining all of this.


    Digital SLR's have a very useful tool called a histogram that you can view on the LCD display after taking a shot that can help you identify whether you got the exposure right. This is one area where digital blows away film, especially for someone learning. You can get instant feedback on whether you got the shot correct, and immediately change your settings to compensation and reshoot.


    Personally, I shoot in aperture priority mode (AV in Canon lingo) probably 90% of the time and use fully manual mode only for indoor flash or extremely difficult lighting conditions. Shutter priority (TV in Canon lingo) mode only gets used when I am shooting action, which in my case is mostly wildlife (I have not gotten into sports photography).
     
  6. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    +1 for Scott Kelby's books. Have gone through them while sitting in Borders and they are going on my purchase list soon.


    I own Exposure Photo Workshop by Jeff Wignall and found it to be excellent as well. A good mix of theory and practical lessons with examples. It's misleading at 320 pages - there are obviously a LOT of pictures in there so the actual amount of reading is 1/2 that, maybe even 1/3 that. And what is written is very clear, concise, written for the "average guy trying to get into photography" rather than for a professionally trained photographer.


    Another book to buy: a "field guide" for whatever camera you end up buying. I bought this Canon 7D field guide and found it to be extremely helpful. It takes what is in your instruction manual and applies it to everyday scenarios. Again it's 304 pages but the amount of actual reading is much, much less (lots of pics, big font, small sized book, etc.)


    The field guide will help bridge what you learn from books like the ones by Kelby & Wignall, which deal with DSLR and photography technique in general and map it to your specific brand and model of camera.
     
  7. Bryan X

    Bryan X Producer

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    I also shoot in AV mode (aperture priority mode) probably 90% of the time. Like Scott, if I'm shooting indoor flash I'll switch to full manual. I also shoot full manual for sports. I can't remember ever using shutter priority mode. I just don't like not having the control over the aperture as I'm usually concerned with depth of field whenever I'm shoting.


    Learn the relationship between aperture, shutter speed, and ISO and you'll be well on your way. I wouldn't even worry about full manual mode until you get comfortable shooting in a mode like aperture priority. But the great thing about digital is that it doesn't cost anything but time to shoot and learn.
     
  8. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    During normal shooting I usually use Av. When shooting sports/motion outdoors, I use Tv. When shooting indoors/low light I use either Av or Full Manual and set the ISO to the max level I find acceptable. For example when I was at the Getty this weekend, I would use Av and set the ISO to f/4 (which is the sharpest aperture of my EF-S 17-55 f/2.8 lens). The camera would then tell me the shutter speed at a certain ISO - which would often be at 1600 ISO since it was trying to do a shutter speed of 1/30. So then I knew that I could lower the ISO to 800 and underexpose by 1EV, which would yield roughly a shutter speed of 1/20, and with IS that is good enough to get a steady shot of a work of art. In better lit galleries I was able to go down to ISO 400 and still maintain a shutter speed of 1/20 or faster at f/4.


    Did I mention I love shooting works of art in museums? My biggest regret is only having a P&S when I went to France in 2006. I'm going back some time in the next year and I will be fully armed with my 7D when I hit the Louvre and the Orsay. My shots at the interior of Notre Dame Cathedral and Saint Chappelle (the most amazing stained glass I've ever seen) were also sorely lacking due to the limited P&S. I go around Los Angeles shooting museums and low-light indoor scenes specifically to increase my skill for my return to Paris...


    Do I sound a little obsessed?
     
  9. Cameron Yee

    Cameron Yee Executive Producer
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    I too shoot in Aperture Priority most of the time.


    I usually shoot in manual when there's stage lighting or simply any time the lighting is constant. I find the right exposure and keep it there since there's usually very little variation in quantity of light. Things can get a little interesting at concerts, but even the pros say there's no more than a few variations of the lighting level and once you figure them out it's a simple matter of turning the dials.


    At the recent stint at Comic Con I basically employed two strategies for the panel sessions. At panels like Human Target and Mythbusters, I shot in manual mode with a set shutter speed and aperture combination. This exposure was pretty much the same from room to room, whether it was in the Hilton's ballroom or Room 6A at the convention center. My educated guess is that since they had to video each of the sessions they standardized on a level of illumination that was best for the video cameras they were using. This proved to be a side benefit for me as I could walk in with a pretty good idea of what the exposure was going to be.


    I chose not to use flash during these stage lit panels, preferring the drama of the directional lighting. Other photographers used flash (but usually through some kind of diffuser) to even out the illumination on faces. Just comes down to what you prefer (or I suppose what your editor wants).


    The press panels were a different story. These weren't stage lit at all and had only standard, top down room lighting with very high ceilings. Flash was pretty much a necessity. In this case I didn't want shots to be dominated by flash illumination (which would produce a "hard" light), so I found the proper exposure for the room, setting the ISO as high as 1600. I then bounced the flash off its built-in white card to throw some light onto people's faces. You can see the difference between no flash and flash in this pair of photos:


    [​IMG]


    [​IMG]


    The exposure was about the same in both photos, the only difference was the flash was turned on for the second one, resulting in a mix of ambient light and light from the flash. Basically I used "fill flash" at the press panels.


    In answer to Ron's original question, I wouldn't say learning exposure or how to basically use the camera is difficult, especially in the semi-auto modes of Aperture or Shutter Priority. What tends to be difficult or the challenge, is - as Scott said - when the camera's light meter will be thrown off. There are usually plentiful examples in books (e.g. snowy daylight scenes or any time the scene is dominated by white or black), but it ultimately comes down to experience and being able to recognize those situtations. Experience ultimately comes by doing, learning from the mistakes, and - most importantly - not becoming discouraged when the photos aren't exactly what you wanted.
     
  10. Marianne

    Marianne Supporting Actor

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    This is a good book for beginners:


    http://www.amazon.com/Betterphoto-Guide-Digital-Photography-Amphoto/dp/0817435522/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1280414119&sr=8-1
     
  11. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Marianne,


    That looks like a great book. Lots of rave reviews

    on Amazon. Added it to my wishlist.


    I need something that is the equivalent of "Photgraphy

    for Dummies" which they do have here:


    http://www.amazon.com/Digital-SLR-Cameras-Photography-Dummies/dp/0470466065/ref=sr_1_sc_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1280414338&sr=8-1-spell


    However, if you look at the Amazon reviews some

    say this is not a book for beginners.


    So, I am going to give serious consideration to
    your book.
     
  12. Marianne

    Marianne Supporting Actor

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    When you get a bit more advanced:


    http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-Photographs-Digital-Updated/dp/0817463003/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1280416391&sr=1-1


    The above is the 2004 edition but a new edition comes out on 8/10/10:


    http://www.amazon.com/Understanding-Exposure-3rd-Photographs-Camera/dp/0817439390/ref=sr_1_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1280416391&sr=1-2
     
  13. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Thanks for the 411 on the new edition Marianne. I had found the revised edition to be quite good, but being a 2004 book it straddled both the film and digital world. I'm going to guess the new one will have a greater focus on digital.
     
  14. Thomas Newton

    Thomas Newton Screenwriter

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    I'd be a bit wary of any book whose title included "Digital Photography". Most of the principles of photography are the same for digital cameras as for film cameras. So what you often get are books that focus on computer post-processing while ignoring the basics of exposure and of artistic composition.


    Some of John Hedgecoe's books seem pretty good. Looking on Amazon, I found several that appear to be your basic "introduction to photography" book:


    "The Book of Photography" (2005)

    "The New Manual of Photography" (2003)

    "John Hedgecoe's New Introductory Photography" (1998)


    Then there are the old Kodak standbys: "The Joy of Photography", "The Joy of Photographing People".
     
  15. Scott Merryfield

    Scott Merryfield Executive Producer
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    Bryan Peterson's "Understanding Exposure" books are still good, even though they may now have "digital photography" somewhere in the title. Some of the other "digital photography" books will be as Thomas describes, though -- I own one that is not very good.


    There are a few concepts that are unique to digital photography that are helpful to have covered in these books, though. Setting proper white balance and learning to read the histogram are a couple that come to mind.
     
  16. Carlo Medina

    Carlo Medina Executive Producer

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    Yeah I usually browse the book before buying just to make sure it isn't a purely digital photography book. This despite the fact that I'm only shooting in digital. I make sure the author knows and is conveying an understanding of true film photography and theory, and then translating it to the digital world. But I also check for level of writing - I'm looking for a more basic language since I'm not a professionally trained and educated photographer.
     
  17. Marianne

    Marianne Supporting Actor

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    Actually, the book I mentioned (BetterPhoto Guide to Digital Photography) devotes only 3 pages (out of 224) to software.


    To quote from the introduction:


    "This means that anyone who wants to put off learning about computers, software and printers can leave these lessons for a future time, focusing instead on photographic techniques. For this reason, this book focuses on shooting techniques, rather than software techniques. We're going to take things one step at a time and concentrate first on the art of taking great pictures."
     
  18. Ronald Epstein

    Ronald Epstein Administrator
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    Nikon seems to have their own line of DVDs that

    cover the D90 that I think I will pick up.


    In fact for about $45 I can pick up DVD vol. 1 & 2

    as well as the Nikon D90 Field guide which is getting

    a lot of positive reviews on Amazon.


    http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Nikon-D90-Vol-Controls/dp/B001KQF9Q8/ref=cm_cr_pr_product_top


    (Check out package Amazon offers mid page)


    I am just figureing these tools are more specific

    to the camera than a general DSLR photography

    book. Then again...what do I know about this hobby.
     
  19. Sam Posten

    Sam Posten Moderator
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    I'd pair the books mentioned with some study here and skip the DVDs:

    http://chsvimg.nikon.com/products/imaging/lineup/d90/en/index.html


    http://www.nikondigitutor.com/eng/d90/index.shtml
     
  20. Thomas Newton

    Thomas Newton Screenwriter

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    Remember how when you got your Mac, no manual fell out of the box? Yes, there was online Help, but if you wanted an old-fashioned paper manual, you had to go and buy a book like "Mac OS 10.6: The Missing Manual".


    With DSLRs you get manuals. Trouble is, they're not always the best-written things. So there's a thriving market for third-party manuals (both those aimed at beginners, and those aimed at advanced users). The books you mention seem to fall mostly into this category.


    My advice would be to get both a general photography book, and camera-specific manuals such as these. The general photography book will help you know what the camera should be doing for you, and the manuals will help with specific ways of achieving that.
     

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