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Posted on: Monday, 8 April 2013

Great tips for using your DSLR – PART TWO

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Get the perfect shot

Get the perfect shot

I’ve just started using my DSLR and want to get the hang of modes other than auto. Whilst playing around trying to find out where to start and where best to focus, I’ve written a few pointers to share with others who also want to do more than simply point and click:


This is one of the tips I picked up from the journalist fellow I mentioned in part one. Our hike at the time was along the coastline on the beach, thus exposed to typical beach fog, rain and the inevitability of a dropping or scratching the camera. It is cheaper to replace the filter than it is to replace the lens (do I need to add that I have yet to do this!)


Think AV (Canon) or A (Nikon) mode. Using AV mode allows you to determine how much of your picture is in focus. Now to confuse you even more, aperture is the F number. When you’re in AV mode on the camera, you’ll see the F appear roughly in the centre of your LCD (it is on mine). The higher the F number, the more of your pic will be in focus. Let’s say that you’re photographing an insect on a leaf. You want the insect in focus but nothing else. For this you’ll need a low F number like 4. If you’re shooting a landscape, you want as much of it in focus as possible, thus you’ll want a fairly high F number, like 11. Whilst you’re fiddling with the F number, the camera will update other settings, like shutter speed, automatically.

Timing is everything

Timing is everything


Shutter speed uses Tv mode (which stands for time value, not television, as I initially thought I know, blonde roots are showing!). Shutter speed is measured in seconds and is written like a ratio, so ranges anywhere from 1 to 8000 (although my camera goes only as high as 1/4000 but it scrolls right back to 30”). You’ll want to play with shutter speed if you have movement in your shot. Fast shutter speed (or exposure time) helps freeze any action completely, whilst low shutter speed creates an effect known as ‘motion blur’. You’ll have seen stunning pics of waterfalls in which the water is literally a blur, a white whoosh of colour – that’s because the photographer used really low shutter speed.

A fast shutter speed takes the photo right away and freezes motion, whilst a slow shutter speed takes time to capture and slows motion. For example: take a waterfall at 1/200 and it will be crystal clear. Take the same waterfall at 1/3 and it will get a smooth, white effect, but this is where you’ll need a tripod stand.

Capture the moment

Capture the moment

Examples: a shutter speed of 1/150 (slower) of a second allows the shutter to stay open twice as long as a speed of 1/300 (faster). Thus the setting of 1/150 allows twice as much light in. In other words, the higher the number, the faster the shutter speed, the less light it allows to reach the film.

  • Want to create a unique portrait of someone with a moving background of a train / cars / bicycles? – use a really slow shutter speed of around 1/10 up to 1/30 (use a tripod).
  • Want to get the sky to blur, creating a moving cloud effect, with a house in the foreground in focus: use 50 seconds (very slow – my camera only goes to 30” apparently because anything longer than that leads to over exposure).
  • Want to catch a dolphin in mid-air try 1/1600 to freeze its motion in the frame.

Some photographers recommend taking photos most of the time using Av (aperture) mode and letting the camera automatically set the shutter speed. The idea is that we play with these settings so that we can understand them (ah huh).

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Wanda Coustas


Wanda Coustas has written in one form or another for 10 years, seven of them as a copyblogger. She has travelled the Western Cape extensively and the rest of the country in protracted road trips that have given her both joy and an ongoing relish for experiencing what she writes about first-hand. She is a trained opera singer, poet, eurythmy dancer, philosopher, and bee whisperer.

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