I remember the first time I used a DSLR, I sucked for a long time and didn’t bother to put much focus into learning. It just seemed to hard at the time. I also remember the exact moment that I realised that I not only wanted to pursue photography, I had to! It took a long time to realise that I could pursue all my dreams through one incredible passion. Photography became my number one passion about a year ago and it has introduced me to possibilities I never thought I could pursue. Everything Paulo and I now pursue in life is 100% based around Film and Photography.
I used to dread having to learn how to use my DSLR, now I can’t fall asleep unless I learn something new about my passion. I struggle to sleep in because I don’t want to miss my opportunity to test out my new learnings on today's sunrise. Photography and Film are incredible pursuits that can really fuel your creativity and allow you to inspire others or tell an untold story..
I know first hand how hard it can be (and still is) to understand photography and your new DSLR. There are a lot of blogs out there that cover areas of photography but it is a challenge to find one blog that can give you all the tools and information you need as a beginner. This blog is designed to give you all the info you need to go from Day 1 through to paid semi-professional Photographer. How long this will take all depends on how passionate you become and how much time, resources and energy you are willing to invest.
Well… Let’s get started! The next section is a ‘Skip To’ if you are already competent in certain areas and just want to touch up on a specific section you can find and navigate to that section below. If you are completely brand spanking new then grab yourself a strong coffee and let’s kick into section one.
This Blog is split into bite sized sections so please don't try and eat the whole pie at once. 12.5K words is way to much to read, learn and implement in one sitting. Find the section that you require by clicking the links below. Happy learning and welcome to the beautiful passion of photography.
-Essential Kit for Beginners
-Expand Your Photography with these Tools
-The Rules (More Like Guidelines)
-Get it Right in Camera
Essential Kit for Beginners
Photography is exciting. It offers something that so many other hobbies and passions don’t. A never ending chance to learn and grow which means it is very hard to get bored with photography. However during the initial excitement of discovering your new found passion it is very easy to get caught up in equipment and spend all your money on stuff you just don’t need as a beginner. Looking back my brother and I have made several spur of the moment purchases that in hindsight, weren’t yet necessary. Here is my recommendations for your first 9 purchases in order. I have also included options for each item with an image that will link you to an online supplier.
Alright if you are serious about getting into your photography then you probably already have, at minimum, a DSLR Camera Body equipped with the Kit lense that you received with your purchase(probably a 18mm-55mm). If you do not have an entry level DSLR already then I highly recommend you invest in one.
Mirrorless Cameras like the Sony Alpha A6000, are great for beginners and can take some amazing photos. They are lightweight, durable, easy to use, most can shoot video in 4K and they are quite often a lot cheaper. So if you are set on keeping photography as a 'now and then' hobby don’t waste your money on a DSLR set up and skip to the next segment of this blog.
For those of you who want to improve your skills in photography and commit to making this new passion a permanent part of your lifestyle then you should definitely invest in a DSLR Camera Body. You will have more options to progress in different directions, a wider range of equipment and lenses, better quality images, better post production capabilities and an endless lifetime of learning new and exciting ways you can use your DSLR.
A DSLR will also offer you so much more Manual control over the settings on your camera. As you learn more about how to expose a shot correctly and ways you can enhance the composition of your photo you will start creating some incredible shots which you just can’t replicate in a point and shoot/smartphone/mirrorless camera.
Don’t stress out about the manual control either, if you are brand new to DSLR’s you have a host of Auto modes to help you out until you are comfortable with the more creative manual modes that a DSLR offers. If you are looking to get an entry level DSLR that is not going to break the bank check out these two options;
-Canon EOS Rebel T7i/ EOS 800D
The Canon EOS 800D (Rebel EOS T7i in the US) is a great entry level DSLR which you can pick up for under $1000AUD (roughly $849USD).
The Canon 800D is the latest in a long line of Entry level Canon DSLR’s that can trace their heritage back to the original 300D (Digital Rebel in the US). It entered the market on February 14th 2017 replacing the Canon 750D. The predecessor to the 800D is a great entry level camera in it’s own right but is was over 2 years old at the time. With so many new Mirrorless cameras flooding the market and Nikon bringing out 2 of its own entry level DSLR’s (the D3400 & D5600). It was time for a change.
I could go into some serious detail about this camera but for the sake of keeping to the blog topic let’s leave out the technicalities. If you are interested to hear more about the details of any of the equipment PLEASE leave a COMMENT below and we can look at putting a blog together.
-3 Inch Touch Screen Display
-Crop Sensor at 1.6 times (This means if you are using a 50mm lens the final photo will be cropped with a focal length you would normally see in an 80mm lens. If you want images that are going to be coming out in post at the lenses specified focal length without any cropping then you will need to invest in a Full Frame Camera. This is going to cost you a significant amount more money, as a beginner you just don’t need it.)
-Video Capabilities: Full HD 1080P up to 60FPS (Frames Per Second)
-ISO range: 100- 25,600
-Max Burst 6FPS (In burst mode the 800D can take 6 shots every second)
-Shutter Speed: 30secs - 1/4000sec
-Power Supply: Li-Ion Battery (roughly takes 600 shots)
-Takes one SD/SDHC/SDXC
The Nikon D5600 is an amazing choice for an entry level DSLR and you can pick one up at a far cheaper price, as little as $775AUD (roughly $650USD).
This camera is the direct competitor against the Canon EOS 800D and in my opinion it is probably a better entry level buy. However, I prefer the more advanced DSLR’s that Canon offer so my bias still lies with Canon. That is all personal preference though Nikon and Canon both make incredible equipment and as you learn more about photography you will naturally figure out what works for you. To make it more confusing you also have Sony, Olympus, Leica, Panasonic(Lumix) and several other brands that develop DSLR’s. Let’s keep it simple with the two choices for now.
-3.2 Inch Touch Screen Display
-Crop Sensor at 1.53 times (that means less cropping than the Canon EOS 800D)
-Video Capabilities:Full HD 1080P
-ISO Range: 100-25600
-Max Burst 5FPS
-Shutter Speed:30secs - 1/4000sec
-Power Supply: Li-Ion Battery (roughly takes 600 shots)
-Takes one SD/SDHC/SDXC
-SD Cards & Batteries
You may have already got a kit lense with your camera body purchase but chances are you did not get an SD card with your camera. In order to save the photos you take you need an SD card, DSLR’s generally do not allow photos to be stored internally. I would also highly recommend getting multiple SD cards, chances are you are going to lose a few. On long shoots or if you are taking photos while travelling, your photos are going to number in the thousands. So always keep at least 2 backups with you.
Aim to get the largest storage space possible. This will give you a lot more peace of mind if you don’t have any back up SD cards and you won’t have to worry so much about running out of storage space when recording video.
Here are a few options for you to consider: Click the image below.
No point buying any top of the range lenses if you don’t have any batteries right. Don’t worry, you more than likely got a battery when you purchased your camera body but I suggest you get a couple of spares. Just like with SD cards you cannot shoot without a battery, entry level DSLR’s generally will not last a full day of shooting on just one battery. If you are filming that time will be significantly shorter. The easy fix is to carry at least one spare battery.
If you are buying a spare battery I highly recommend you buy a battery made by the manufacturer that made your camera (Canon, Nikon, Sony etc). Other manufacturers are hit and miss, they often copycat the design of a manufacturer battery. It is very common for these manufacturers to make mistakes or miss non obvious components. Spend that little bit extra and know that your battery will be reliable.
CLICK here for the Canon website
CLICK here for the Nikon website
Everyone wants to take those incredible landscape photos, get there work featured in National Geographic and travel the world with David Attenborough photographing the most beautiful places on earth. I know I do! But the reality is you are not going to be able to take those amazing photos straight away. That level of photography takes years and years of hard work and practice. As a beginner I recommend you start by focusing on Portraits. Taking portraits will help you understand the basics of photography; Setting your ISO, Shutter Speeds and Aperture to capture the perfect Exposure.
Look to purchase a Fast Prime lense that you can utilize for low light filmmaking and photography. Fast lenses are lenses that have the ability to have a wider aperture. Prime lenses have a fixed focal length meaning your image will be sharper. Subscribe and get notified when our lenses blog goes live.
You can pick up a great portrait lense for as little as $100. Click the images below to get started.
Wide Angle Lense
A lot of photographers can trace their passion for photography back to a trip overseas. A lot of you are probably in the same boat, you are going somewhere amazing and you want to capture the most beautiful images to show off on your social media and to your family and friends. While you are traveling the majority of your photos are going to be landscapes but you also want a lense that can do a bit of everything. A Wide angle zoom lense will sacrifice how sharp your image is. But, it will give you a great focal range and the ability to capture everything from portraits to landscapes. Perfect for the fast paced and ever changing travel environment. For more about a travel photography subscribe to get notified when our Travel Photography blog goes live.
On a beginners budget? Check out these options for your first Wide Angle Lense:
No matter how much care you take and no matter how anal you are about covering up your lens. It is going to get dirty, you are going to get smudges and it is going to need a clean up. Enter the amazing Lens Cloth! Do Not wipe your lens with other household cloths and try to refrain from using your t-shirt. Other material can ended up scratching and permanently damaging your lense, plus it looks really unprofessional.
Grab you Lens Cloth now for less than $10- CLICK HERE
Having a Tripod will open up your eyes to the world of long exposure, night photography and time lapses. Essentially a tripod acts as a stabiliser removing any form of natural camera shake. This gives the photographer the ability to shoot at lower shutter speeds without having to worry about blurry or distorted images. Tri- is derived from Latin and Greek roots meaning three, funnily enough a Tripod is a central pod (to hold your camera) and three legs designed for support.
When it comes to tripods you have a huge selection available. From your simple stock standard $50 Tripods to your advanced hurricane proof super tripods costing upwards of $1000. Remember you are a beginner and you have an entire lifetime to purchase the best of the best. Start simple and as you progress you will know what equipment you need to upgrade. It is rear to find similarities between camera brands but one thing that seems to be the same across all camera brands is the tripod fitting.
Here are three options for you to take a look at:
I got cash to splash and want to invest in a Tripod that will not fail my needs as I improve- Manfrotto MK055XPro3
I am on a budget and am still unsure how much I want to invest in photography-
Manfrotto Compact Action Aluminum Tripod
I just want a tripod for sick selfies on my travels-
Joby Gorilla Pod 3K stand
Good Quality Laptop and Storage Space
As you start progressing with your photography and film you will run into a big problem. Especially when you start using the RAW settings on your camera and venture into the world of advanced editing software. Your trusty old university laptop that has been by your side for 5 years taking hit after hit. Coffee spills while working on assignments, accidental floor drops while you are rushing out of the lecture hall and that gradually decaying battery life that has meant your laptop is now permanently connected to the charger. It’s time to say farewell to that trusty old laptop because there ain’t no way it will stand up to the requirements of a photographer. If you are truly serious about photography and you want to begin working your way into the professional world then it is time to invest in a good laptop. If you want to know more about Laptops and Software CLICK HERE, if you just want to know my three top picks then check out the links below.
For the Enthusiast: Apple Macbook Air/ Microsoft Surface Book
For the Dedicated Travel Photographer: Apple 13inch Macbook Pro
For the Aspiring Professional Filmmaker and Photographer: Apple Macbook Pro with Touchbar for Travel & the Apple IMac Pro 27 Inch with secondary screen.
Adobe Editing Software
Alright so you want to get into the world of editing and really stamp your mark on the photography world and unleash your creativity. That’s awesome news! I will be honest though, there is a lot to learn and it is going to take time to master the software and create your own unique style.
If you are madly passionate about photography but you are not that into video then stick with Lightroom and Photoshop. If you are into your film and want to create incredible short films and eye catching motion clips then start off with Premiere Pro. To get into the world of visual effects you will need to look into After Effects.
CLICK HERE for the full rundown of the amazing Adobe Creative Cloud Range.
Lightroom Subscription Fees: $14.29 per month
Lightroom + Photoshop: $28.59 per month
All Apps Plan: Student: $28.59 per month
(Includes Premiere Pro & After Effects) Adult: $72.59 per month
Adobe Creative Cloud offers the best and for those of you that are passionate about creating and want to make your way into this amazing industry then the investment is well worth it.
Your in camera flash is handy as a beginner but you will soon realise its limitations. The flash is harsh and you do not have much control over its strength or positioning. If you are looking to take portraits in a studio, in low light or if you have managed to pick yourself up a job or two photographing events. You will definitely need a good external flash.
An External flash is a separate accessory that connects to your camera’s hot shoe and works, very cleverly, in conjunction with your camera. Want to know more about External Flash Units(EFU’s)? New Blog coming soon!
If you are looking to get an introduction into the world of external flash photography but you do not have a huge budget you still have options. EFU’s are advancing quickly which means even the basic units are still incredibly effective machines. But, don’t go to cheap. I did, and ended up regretting my decision and upsetting my client at the time.
Here are a couple Options for the Canon users among you:
Exposure is the amount of light per unit area reaching a photographic film or electronic image sensor. Lots of words that are hard to understand? Let's simplify it. An Exposure is essentially a photo, it is the process of light entering the camera and, in the case of a DSLR, hitting the image sensor. There are three main ingredients that make up an exposure; Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO. Mastering these three things is your first step in becoming an incredible photographer.
These three components of an exposure directly affect each other as they are altered. Think of these three as corners of a triangle. A perfect exposure = A perfect triangle. As one corner of the triangle moves the triangle becomes imperfect, therefore you need to alter another corner of the triangle to perfect the exposure once more. Check out the diagram below if you are a visual learner like me:
For more on Exposure subscribe to find out when our In depth Exposure blog goes live.
Basic Camera Functions to Learn First:
Before you dive into your camera functions make sure you grasp a strong understanding of Exposure. Know how your changes to ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture will affect your final image and how they affect each other. Once you have grasped the basics of these three elements it is time to start figuring out your camera’s shooting modes as you make your way towards Manual Control. Understanding how the shooting modes work will slowly give you more of an idea of how to control your Aperture, ISO and Shutter Speed. More importantly it will give you a deeper understanding of how changes to these elements affect the overall exposure of your image.
As you get better at understanding your camera modes you will notice a gradual shift towards the Manual modes on your camera. Ultimately you will find yourself using only; Shutter Priority Mode, Aperture Priority Mode and Manual Mode.
Once you begin to use these three modes you will find yourself wanting to learn more and better your images. Your next three steps will be to learn your focusing modes, metering modes and how to adjust your white balance in different light. No clue what I am talking about? Read on to find out.
Do you have any clue as to what the shooting modes do on your new DSLR? Don’t worry neither do most beginner DSLR users, I know I didn’t.
There is a lot of confusion as to which mode you should be using and when. I also find there is a lot of bias amongst amateur and professional photographers who use only Manual Mode. Manual mode offers the most control but there are some situations were other modes are a better option.
What does the camera actually control? This may seem like a silly question to ask but a lot of people don’t actually realise how much their DSLR controls in each mode. You have the ability to control how much light is let in, how the camera focuses on an image, where that focus is placed, how the camera takes a photo and more.
Different modes allow you the ability to choose how much control you have.
Full Auto Modes:
This includes; auto, action, portrait, landscape, macro
What it Controls:
-Flash Exposure Compensation
What you can control:
-RAW or JPG
When to use this mode:
If you have just purchased a DSLR chances are you have no idea how to use it. A lot of DSLR users only use Auto mode for holiday photos and family snaps under the presumption that because it is a DSLR the image quality will be better and your photos will look professional. This is far from the truth. A lot of the time you will end up with overexposed photos with harsh pop up flash that look like a smart phone capture. If you are at all serious about photography then you NEED to learn how the camera works.
When to avoid using this mode:
Honestly.. I don’t think you should use this mode at all. Maybe if a friend wants to try take a photo. When the Camera is set to Full Auto it has to do all of the guess work including; ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. The camera very rarely gets it right when it has to do all the thinking for you.
If you want to truly progress as a photographer you are going to have to do some serious learning. It will take time and that is fine, just give it a go and avoid using this mode.
What it Controls:
What you can control:
-Flash Exposure Compensation
-RAW or JPG
When to use this mode:
Considering using Full Auto? Don’t. Instead switch to Program Mode and have a go at controlling the ISO and your White Balance.
This mode is great for beginners who have a basic knowledge of DSLR’s and want to start taking better images. Having the extra control can make for far better images, you need to know what you are doing though.
This mode is great to start learning the basics of how your camera works without being overwhelmed. As you progress as a photographer you are able to choose your settings at speed without much second thought. As a beginner you will be far slower so Program mode allows you to capture decent images without having to think about too many setting changes.
When to avoid using this mode:
In Program mode the camera is only ever guessing at what the settings should be and how the image should look. As you start out Program Mode will be greeting for taking photos of still subjects and landscapes. The moment you introduce movement you will find your images start looking blurry and noisy because the camera does not know what to do.
For better results you need to control the exposure yourself and tell the camera what it should be doing. Time to move into the Priority Modes.
Shutter Speed Priority:
What it controls:
What you can control:
-Flash Exposure Compensation
-RAW or JPG
When to use this mode:
A large percentage of photographers will swear by using Manual mode and manual mode only. But Priority modes like Shutter Speed Priority are on your DSLR for a reason and they definitely come in handy for certain situations. At times a subject may be moving to fast to allow enough time to be setting your ISO, Shutter Speed and Aperture. This could result in you missing the photos that you want to get. If you have reliable lighting Shutter Speed Priority will come in handy for this type of situation. All you need to do is set a fast shutter speed and a suitable ISO and your camera will select the appropriate aperture.
When to avoid using this mode
If you are shooting anything other than fast moving objects you should really be using either Aperture Priority or Manual mode. I would only recommend using Shutter Speed Priority for fast moving objects in good light.
What the DSLR controls:
What you can control:
-Flash Exposure Compensation
-RAW or JPG
When to use this mode:
When you have lots of good available light you can really use Aperture Priority to your advantage. You can set your Aperture to a more creative f-stop -the unit of measure for Aperture, the lower the F-stop the blurrier the background becomes and the narrower the Depth of Field is- This allows you to create some amazing Depth of Field (DoF) in your images without having to worry about setting the right Shutter Speed.
You can also experiment with finding your lenses sweet spot; normally between f/8 and f/11. If you are not to worried about creating an interesting DoF then finding your lenses sweet spot will allow you to take the sharpest images your lense is capable of.
When to avoid using this mode:
If your lighting is constantly changing, dark or inconsistent then you are better off throwing on your big boy pants and switching over to manual mode. Manual Mode will allow you more control over your exposure and result in a better exposed photo.
What it controls for you:
What you control:
-Flash Exposure Compensation
-RAW or JPG
When to use this mode:
Manual mode hands you the reins to your DSLR and gives you all the control you need to create the perfect exposure for your creative concepts…. If you know how to use it that is.
I use manual mode for the majority of my photography as it gives me so much more control to create the exposure I want. Here are some practical examples:
-I use Manual mode whenever I have an external flash attached to my DSLR, manual mode gives me far more control over the ambient light in my photo’s and allows me to make the necessary quick adjustments if need be.
-Using manual mode when you are taking long exposures, especially when it is dark, allows much more control over the outcome of your final exposure.
-When I am doing a creative portrait shoot and am after a specific exposure.
-If you have plenty of time while out shooting landscapes attempt using manual mode. Try to align your settings and create your envisioned final exposure.
There is a reason so many photographers swear by only using Manual mode. There are endless options and countless scenarios where this mode can be used to your advantage. Once you master this mode you will see your photos improve dramatically.
When to avoid using this mode:
Honestly there are not many situations that Manual mode wouldn’t do the best possible job. As a beginner though, using Manual mode may be quite discouraging. Try to master the priority modes first before leaping into the world of Manual mode photography.
In certain cases where you know Aperture or Shutter Speed will take priority and you have reliable light. Why not use the priority modes? It is what they are on your camera for. Plus it will save you time, time that may result in you missing the crucial shot.
Now that you know the basics about each shooting mode and when they are best applied your next step is to go out and start learning them. Pour most of your energy into learning your priority modes and manual mode. Grow your understanding of ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed. Learn how they work together to create the perfect exposure for every situation.
So you have mastered your shooting modes and your photo quality has gone from amateur to “Wow that photo is amazing. Where is that?” But you are still noticing issues with your exposure and seem to be struggling to get your subject in perfect focus. It is time to dive into your camera’s focusing modes and learn which mode fits which situation.
Nothing ruins a photograph more than blurry, unfocused images. Except maybe if you leave the lens cap on… Modern DSLR’s offer incredible auto-focus allowing a photographer to worry about controlling the exposure while the camera worries about the focus. Sometimes the camera gets it wrong though, having an understanding of the four auto-focus modes on your DSLR will help you ensure that the camera has every opportunity to get that focus right.
The four focusing modes; Continuous, Single, Automatic and Manual, give the user a huge amount of control and allow for the perfect focus in every situation.
Continuous mode known as AI Focus (Canon) or AF-C (Nikon) is most useful when you are trying to keep moving objects in focus as they shift in the viewfinder as you track the object. As soon as you start pressing down on the shutter button or engaging the back button autofocus(AF), the camera goes to work. The camera will automatically detect movement and refocus continuously as the subject moves ensuring your subject is perfectly in focus. Depending on how good your cameras auto focus is this mode can often predict movements incorrectly as your subjects directions change. Incorrect predictions will often result in blurs, especially in the arms, legs and sometimes the face.
Continuous focusing has its limitations but is really useful for capturing photos in motion.
Single shot focus better known as One shot-AF (Canon) or AF-S (Nikon) is quite possibly my favourite focusing mode. It is harder to master but when you nail it and your exposure is perfectly set.. well.. the images are so sharp. Unlike continuous focus when you press down the shutter halfway/press your back button AF the camera only focuses once. Although it can be done with patience and practice, shooting moving subjects while in One Shot- AF/AF-S is very difficult and I recommend using continuous. You will find Single shot focus perfect when taking portraits/ still brand shots and subject orientated landscape photos. Honestly I use this mode for most of my photos, only switching to Continuous when filming or shooting movement.
Automatic Auto-Focus(AI-Focus AF on Canon & AF-A on Nikon) mode is a relatively new feature in DSLR’s. It is an ingenious combination of Continuous and Single Shot Focus. The camera bounces between the two focus modes ensuring that if the subject moves the focus changes to suit. But if the subject is still the focus does not change as it does in continuous. This will be the default auto-focus for DSLR’s that have this focusing mode.
Remember that photography is an art, in art you need to be able to follow your minds eye. If objects come into your viewfinder that may add to your artwork you want your camera to adjust with your mind, focusing on the objects that matter. Automatic Auto-Focus can help you.
Manually focusing your camera is hard. I won’t lie to you, learning how to use manual focus is no easy task. However, learning how to use manual focus is perhaps one of the biggest barriers between being a good photographer and being a great photographer.
Achieving absolute perfect focus means using the distance measurements on the lens barrel and even measuring the distance between the end of the lens and your subject with a tape measure. High end photographers will shoot products this way as it gives the most accurate focus, at that level it matters. I don’t have a tape measure but I want to get the best possible focus?
Well you are going to have to use your eyes sense of focus and know the critical focus zones for the set aperture. Now this can be hard if you have issues with your eyesight but most DSLR’s have a built in diopter (sits next to the viewfinder usually). You can adjust this to fix any irregularities in your eyesight. You can also use the depth of field preview button, I would recommend using this if you are an advanced photographer.
Manual focus can come in very handy if you have a unique focus point that you are trying to capture. An example could be a subject in the background when the foreground is too busy.
I wish I had found out about Metering when I first started taking photos. I am definitely glad I know about it now though.
All modern DSLRs are equipped with metering modes, also referred to as Camera Metering, Exposure Metering or just Metering. Having a strong understanding of Metering and how it works is important. Understanding metering will help you control your exposure with minimal effort and help you take better photos in unusual lighting. So how does it all work and how will it help you?
You may have noticed that you have issues controlling the lighting, some of your photos are coming out to dark and others to bright. Metering will help you fix this.
What is Metering?
Metering is the brains behind how your camera determines the Shutter Speed and Aperture, based on the lighting conditions and what your ISO is set to.
Camera’s never used to be able to read light the way they do now. Photographers used to rely on external light meters to determine the right exposure. Since photos were all film based this process could take some time to ensure the photo would come out at the right exposure. No previews on film and no ‘delete and try again’ shots. Today DSLR’s have integrated light meters that automatically measure the reflected light and determine the optimal exposure.
There are three main Metering modes with some Canon cameras being equipped with a fourth. Let’s get into them:
Evaluative Metering (Canon)/ Matrix Metering (Nikon)
This is the default metering mode on most DSLRs. It works by dividing the entire frame into multiple “zones.” These zones are then analyzed by the camera on an individual basis for light and dark tones. Colour, distance, subjects,highlights and shadows are just some of the factors that affect metering. One key factor that has a big affect on Evaluative/Matrix Metering is where the cameras focus point is set to. After reading the information from every zone, your camera’s metering mode will then look at where you have focused the camera. That zone will be marked as more important. It is important to note that there are several other variables used in your camera's metering equation, these will differ between manufacturers. One cool feature that Nikon has allows its metering system to compare your image to a database with thousands of similar exposures.
When will I use this mode?
You will use this mode for almost all of your photography, from landscapes to portraits. This mode does a great job determining the perfect exposure in most situations. Keep this mode as your default.
Alright let’s say you have a subject smack bang in the middle of your frame with the sun blazing behind them. Evaluative/Matrix metering is probably not going to do a great job suggesting the right exposure. The background will be exposed well but the all important subject will not be. Why? Because the metering has analyzed data from the whole image. In this situation Centre-weighted metering is going to give you a far better analysis meaning you will make the right adjustments to your shutter speed. This will ultimately result in a much better exposure.
Center-weighted metering will only analyze the central area of your frame and will not take into account your focus point. This is important to know if your subject is not going to be in the direct centre of the image.
When will I use this mode?
Use this mode when your subject is in the middle of the frame and is the main focus. This mode will be most handy when the background is very bright (eg a sunset behind the head). The metering will allow you to perfectly expose the subject even though the background will most likely be over-exposed. Remember it is your subject that takes priority.
Spot Metering will only evaluate the light around your focus point and ignore everything else. This mode will only evaluate the single cell that you are focused on and nothing else. The area evaluated around the focal point is roughly 3.5%. This mode is great as it allows you to get perfect exposure on your subject even if they are focused in the corner of the frame.
When will I use this mode?
Spot metering is incredibly useful when your subject is small, centre-weighted metering would more than likely analyze to much surrounding area resulting in an incorrect exposure. An example would be if your subject is standing in front of the sun in the centre of your frame but at a distance. In this scenario the subject would be small, using centre-weighted metering or evaluative metering would result in a silhouette. Spot Metering is the right choice for this kind of scenario. Spot metering is also helpful if your subject is small and not in the frames centre. For example a small bird perched in the corner of your frame.
Another great example would be photographing the moon. The moon will be surrounded by darkness so we don’t want to be metering all those shadows, it will give us the wrong data resulting in a poor exposure. Spot Metering would give the best data in this scenario (make sure you focus on the moon first though!).
You will find this metering mode on Canon DSLRs, it works in a similar way to Spot Metering but allows for a larger area to be analyzed around the focal point. 8% as opposed to 3.5%. This could be a good middle ground between Centre-weighted and Spot metering.
Some Canon’s also come equipped with Multi-Spot Metering which allows the camera to collect light data from multiple ‘spots’ in the frame. This would be very useful if you have two subjects in different areas of the frame.
Changing the Metering
Changing your camera’s metering mode differs depending on your manufacturer. On most Canon DSLRs this is normally changed by pressing the ‘Q’ button on the back of the camera. This differs with higher end models which are equipped with a separate metering button. On Nikon’s metering is normally changed through the Info button but also differs with higher end models. Higher end models will have separate metering buttons.
Metering is incredible but just remember that it has its limitations so you need to know when to use each mode and when to ignore the information that you get back. Light meters assess the light from different objects within the selected area (the area depends on what mode you have selected of course). This can get tricky if you have multiple light sources/objects emitting varying levels of light or shadow. By default the light meter will offer the best exposure levels to suit every object within the analyzed zone/s.
Let’s use an example:
You are taking a photo of the sky on a clear blue day using evaluative/matrix metering. The light meter analyses and comes back with the data, you adjust and the photo comes out perfectly exposed. Now add clouds, a mountain, the sunset and a little moss covered cottage in the bottom third of your frame. The light meter analyses the data and comes back with an overall suggestion, you change your shutter speed to match the exposure suggestion. Your sunset is well exposed, the clouds have some detail but the sky is now more white than blue. The mountain and your main subject (the cottage) are now shrouded in shadow and well under exposed.
It will take some practice but understanding your metering modes and how/when to use them will drastically improve your photography.
White balance(WB) is a very important aspect of your photography but you most likely don’t understand it and when you start reading about it you just lose interest. Don’t worry a lot of digital photographers are in the same boat but trust me when I say; Understanding White Balance will drastically improve your photography and save you a huge amount of time in post production.
To make it simple, white balance is used to get the colours in your images as accurate as possible.
But why bother setting the correct WB?
You may have taken photos in the past and wondered why they have come out blueish or yellowish even though to your eye they seem quite normal. These tints are due to the different sources of light in your images. Different lights give off different colours (temperatures) that affect the colour of your subject/s. Fluorescent lights will add a blueish (cooler) colour to the image whereas a tungsten light will make the image look more yellow (warmer).
Temperatures can range from the super cool blue skies to the warm feeling tones of a yellow candle light. We don’t normally notice these tones as our eyes will naturally adjust to the lighting we are in. Yep! Our eyes have there own built in WB modes.
DSLR’s don’t have this ability and they need us to tell them how to balance the whites according to the lighting. For those cooler blue/green tones you will need to tell the camera to warm things up and for those warm orange/yellow tones adjust the WB to cool things down.
Adjusting your WB
Adjusting your WB differs from brand to brand and also between models of the same brand. To get the specifics you will need to open up your camera’s manual. However, most DSLR’s have several automatic and semi-automatic modes to help you make the adjustments. Let’s get into them and find out how they work.
Auto- In Auto mode the camera reads each shot and adjusts the WB each time. This mode is not the most reliable as the camera is basically making a ‘best guess’ each time.
Use Auto mode in good light while shooting basic shots without any complex composition.
Tungsten- This mode is represented by a light bulb, giving you an idea of what kind of light it will be used for. Yep, those photos taken in a home or office lit by those orange glowing tungsten light bulbs. Tungsten lighting is the most common form of lighting used in homes and gives off a strong orange glow, close to that of a candle.
Use this mode when you are shooting in homes, offices and streets lit with the tell tale orange glow of Tungsten lighting.
Fluorescent- Fluorescent lighting gives off far less heat than Tungsten light giving it a much cooler bluish glow. The easiest example of fluorescent lighting would be those long lights you tend to see hanging from the ceilings of large office spaces. To fix the WB this mode will warm the shot slightly.
Use this mode when you notice the artificial lighting is giving off a bluish tone.
Daylight/Sunny- I think you will know what this setting is used for. The Sunny setting is designed for a fairly standard WB at 5200 Kelvin (K). Be aware though at Dawn and Dusk golden hours the light is not as harsh and quite often differs in warmth. So this setting may not be applicable at those times.
Cloudy- The Cloudy mode is designed to substantially warm your shots. Cloudy days are naturally cooler in temperature and can give off a significant blue shade to your photos.
Use this mode on Cloud covered days but be aware that if the cloud is thin this mode may warm your shots too much.
Shade- The shade mode sits 1000K lower than the Cloudy mode and is designed specifically for photos taken in shaded areas on clear sunny days. Remember when you notice a change in light you need to check then change your WB to suit. This goes for sunny days moving in and out of shaded areas.
Use this mode for shaded areas and on cloudy days when the clouds are thin.
Flash- Your cameras built in flash and all external flashes will emit a white light similar to that of a fluorescent light, just not as blue. The Flash mode will warm your shots up slightly, be sure to use this mode when using your flash.
Using your manual WB mode
For the majority of your photos the above WB modes will do a good job and help you create the right exposure. But to get the most accurate WB possible consider using Manual WB. The process of using manual WB will differ between DSLR brands and models but the basic idea remains the same. You are telling your camera what perfect white looks like allowing the camera to adjust the WB to suit.
You can do this by holding up a perfect white card designed for setting WB, you can PICK ON UP HERE. Or you can find the whitest object in the room and use that instead. For perfect WB I recommend investing in a portable card.
Mastering the Manual WB adjustment in conjunction with your portable White Card is the best way to ensure a perfectly balanced exposure. Getting your WB right in camera will result in a much better exposure and save you hours in post production editing. Definitely worth learning.
Expand Your Photography With These Tools
Photography is an art form but there is only so much you can do with the Camera itself. Take your photography to the next level by investing in tools that can help you create new angles, longer exposures, shoot at night or add a unique element of symmetry to your photos composition.
Having a unique style that makes you stand out as a photographer is hard nowadays, with such advanced equipment and editing software allowing almost any average joe to put together an eye catching image. Adding props, unique symmetry and shadows to your exposure can give the image a unique style and help you stand out above the rest.
But before you start working on your unique touch let’s work on getting some of the basic tools working for you.
Right about now you are probably wondering, ‘What the hell is a Histogram?’ Fair enough. If you have not used any editing software before or attended any sort of photography course it is unlikely that you would have known about a Histogram. I had no idea what a Histogram was for months and when I did find out what it was I was clueless as to how to use it in order to take better exposures (photos). Well it is your lucky day because the next section will cover the basics of a Histogram and how to use it.
What is a Histogram?
Alright get this haha.. This is the dictionary definition of a Histogram; A bar graph of a frequency distribution in which the widths of the bars are proportional to the classes into which the variable has been divided and the heights of the bars are proportional to the class frequencies.’ Umm… OK sooo.. What does that mean?
Let's simplify that for you. A histogram is a graphical representation of the tonal values in your image. To simplify even further, a histogram shows the amount of tones of particular brightness found in your photograph. It ranges from Black (0% brightness) to white (100% brightness).
An RGB(Red, Green & Blue) Histogram does the same thing but reads the brightness levels of the Reds, Blues and Greens in your image. This can be very handy as you will be able to see which colours are being clipped on either the shadows or highlights side. Clipping (as seen below) is shown on a Histogram with spikes on either end. Clipping suggests that you are using crucial colour information in your image.
How do I read a Histogram?
Do you remember your high school maths class? Remember using bar graphs to map out statistics? Cool, now imagine your histogram is like a bar graph but without any spaces meaning it is all squished together. The Histogram starts on the left as 0, the left third of your histogram is your shadows section. The scale moves up in brightness to the right. Full white is 255 on the scale, the right third is known as your highlights. The very middle of your histogram is %18 grey, this middle third is known as your mid tones. Each section within the histogram (0-255) is one pixel wide representing the number of tones in each section. Peaks along the graph suggest a larger number of pixels associated with that particular tone.
Using the Histogram to better your photography
Understanding how to read a histogram will help you improve your photos. A histogram will show you whether your photo is overexposed or underexposed. An RGB histogram will go one step further, The distribution of Blues and Greens will suggest a high concentration of cool blue tones or warm yellow (green) tones.
An overexposed image is represented with a high concentration of pixels spilling up the right (white) side of the histogram. An Underexposed image is the opposite, pixels will be spilling up the left side of the image.
In the perfect world a perfect exposure (there is no such thing, photography is very subjective) will be represented by a bell curve with pixels being the highest in the centre and gradually decreasing on the left and right of the histogram.
When is the Histogram telling me to adjust my exposure?
When you notice that there is a significant gap showing no pixels on either the left or right of your Histogram, you can safely assume that you need to either lower or increase your exposure using your ISO, Shutter Speed or Aperture (most commonly your shutter speed). Unusual spikes on the far left/far right also indicate over/under exposure which will result in lost data that cannot be retrieved in post production.
Why should I worry about the spikes on the left and right of the Histogram?
The spikes on the far left/right of the above Histograms suggest clipping. Clipping is not good, it means that the image is far to exposed/underexposed which will result in a loss of that tonal information. In most cases you cannot retrieve this data which will ruin your exposure. Here is a quick tip though; it is much better to have an underexposed image, data is much easier to retrieve through shadows.
Similar to the Pirate code a Histogram is ‘more like guidelines, not a set of rules.’ There are going to be some situations where overexposure and underexposure will be unavoidable and in fact, will better suit the exposure you are trying to achieve. Examples of these situations would be sunsets, silhouettes, night portraits and club photography. Think about what kind of exposure you are trying to get before you take a photo or start a job. If you know what kind of exposure you are after you will be able to use the Histogram as a guideline to achieve your perfect exposure.
As your photography begins to advance you are naturally going to want to start experimenting with longer exposures. Everyone loves those incredible photos of the milky way or that once in a lifetime moment on the top of a mountain shrouded in the northern lights. So you have seen some of these shots on Instagram and decided to give it a go. You go out for the night to a spot outside of the city light influence and start snapping. But all of your images are blurry and shaky, basically they look like S#%T. You probably jump on google to figure out what’s wrong and realise you need a tripod. BUT WAIT! Before you get trigger happy and buy the first tripod that comes to mind (that $5 one you found on Amazon). Do some research and buy the tripod that is going to serve your needs. Check out the ESSENTIAL KIT FOR BEGINNERS SECTION for more information and some purchase options to suit your needs.
Tripods are essential for taking long exposures and are an important piece of equipment to carry with you at all times. Invest in a decent tripod and you can guarantee your photo game will improve. Not only will you capture those mesmerizing your exposures, you will also learn more about how your camera settings function at slower shutter speeds.
Some tips on how to use your tripod
-Get a tripod that can handle your cameras weight. There is no point grabbing an amazing lightweight portable tripod that simply cannot handle the weight of your camera.
-Spread the legs out to their maximum width to allow for the most stable base.
-If you need to extend the tripod legs start from the top with the widest leg extensions. Make sure you lock off each leg once extended.
-If you have extended the legs to their full extension but still need more height then consider raising the centre column. Bear in mind that a higher centre column can make for more camera shake resulting in blurred shots.
-If your tripod comes with a spirit level then make good use of it. This could save you having to level your photo in lightroom and potentially losing some of the image out of your corners.
-Invest in a quick release plate to avoid wasting time screwing in your DSLR everytime.
-Make sure you tighten all your screws and latches before shooting to avoid unnecessary slips during your exposure.
-On very windy days try attaching a weighted bag to the centre column to help alleviate camera shake.
Remember you can use your tripod for many situations; straight horizons during landscapes, multiple portraits with the same background, for long shoots to avoid fatigue and for long exposures of course.
Let’s keep this one real simple. Lens Hoods are designed to keep light flares (harsh unwanted light coming into the lens at an angle) from ruining your exposure. Ever used your hand to shield your eyes from the sun? This is exactly how a lens hood works for your camera lense.
Should you use a lens hood?
Well this is entirely up to you and what kind of photo you want to produce, if you want to avoid harsh light and flares then be sure to use your lense hood. Be careful when using a lens hood on a zoom lense though. Even though the hoods for your zoom lense are designed to suit all focal lengths they can cause out shadows in the corners of your image depending on how the light hits them.
If you have the light source directly in front of your lense there is no point. Also in some situations you will want to use flares to create artistic shots and add to your exposure.
Lighting is one of the most challenging aspects of photography. Is till struggle hugely with lighting and I think it will always be a constant struggle. I shouldn’t say struggle though because the great thing about photography is the continuous learning curve. Lighting is crucial in your photography though. When it comes to taking unforgettable portraits, amazing club photos or gaining that brand contract over all the other competition to have your image displayed all over the world on billboards… You are going to need to use external artificial lighting (in most cases) lighting. It all starts with your first External Flash.
So why not use my camera’s flash?
Your cameras flash is very limited and hard to control. Due to its high intensity, minimal control and proximity to the lense it often results in harsh shadows, eradicates fine textures and contours, bleaches out skin tones, causes red eye and yields flat uneven lighting.
If you want to take great photos with your flash then it is time to invest in your first external flash.
How do I start using my flash? The basics
First of all you need to attach your flash via your cameras hot shoe. Lock the flash gun off, turn it on and then turn your camera on.
You can use your flash on camera or if you invest in a wireless flash trigger you can use the flashgun off camera to create those studio style photos. You can utilize a flashgun in so many different situations and it will give you a whole new perspective on lighting. Using a flash will step your photo game up!
Composition- Take your photo game to the next level with these 9 composition rules
Alright you ready for that well timed cliche statement? Well here it comes… The only real rule with photography is that there are no rules. Photography is like art, it is your way of sharing your creativity with; yourself, your friends or the world. You can choose to pursue any style you want and that is the beauty of photography.
Before you get all Jackson Pollock on your photos though get yourself a basic understanding of composition. There are 9 basic composition guidelines that can be applied to your photography. This is not to say that you want to apply every single guideline to all of your photos, you can however pick and choose these guidelines to enhance your image and create an eye catching image that stands out from the rest.
The Rules (More Like Guidelines)
Alright let's get into it. Here is the list of 9 composition rules. I have included images below each rule to highlight how the rule can be applied to your photo. Get creative though try not to copy the image, instead take the concept and make it your own.
The Rule of thirds
When you look at a scene that you want to capture imagine that the image is divided into 9 equal sections using two horizontal lines and two vertical lines.
The rule of thirds suggests that you should try and place your subject (you can have multiple subjects but try and avoid it. Multiple subjects can distract the eye and confuse the viewer.) along one of these lines or where these lines intersect.
Using the rule of thirds adds balance to your photo and creates a unique difference. Your image will also look much more interesting than a straight centred photo.
I absolutely love leading lines! They are my favourite composition technique and when combined with a great depth of field they can really draw your viewer into the image. Use natural leading lines to draw the viewer towards the subject. But what is a leading line? Anywhere you go, whether it is an urban environment, jungle, mountain, desert or ocean you will always be able to find naturally occuring leading lines. Get creative and find something unique that can drag that viewer in. It is in our nature to be inquisitive and curious, when a person sees a line the eye naturally wants to follow it to find out what is at the other end. A line could be the curving tops of a sand dune or the white lines on a mountain road. Try and combine leading lines from different corners and sides, the more lines that lead to your subject the easier it will be for the viewer to find what you want them to be looking at.
Diagonals and Triangles are almost an extension of the leading lines rule. Finding Diagonal lines to add to your images composition can really add a sense of movement to your photograph. If you can get those diagonals to intersect the sense of movement is often stronger and will really add some depth to what would normally be a very flat image. Diagonals are beautiful and I guarantee they will captivate your viewers.
My other favourite! Framing is probably exactly what you are thinking.. Go on take a guess?
Chances are you got it right. Use natural or artificially added features and landscapes in your image to frame your subject. Framing can add depth and is a natural draw card for your viewers eyes. Lay two photos down on your table at home, one with a frame and one without. Which one catches your eye first? The frame right.. The same applies in your photos.
Figure to Ground
What the heck does this mean? Does it mean I have to lay my subject on the ground? Straight up that is what I thought when I first saw this rule. Just to clarify.. That is not what this rule means. Figure to ground is a rule of contrast; your subject (figure) is in near direct contrast from your ground (background). This ensures that your subject does not blend in with the surrounding environment. This rule is great when shooting landscapes, especially if your subject is quite small. An example could be a subject standing next to a distant waterfall with a yellow jacket on.
Fill the Frame
Filling the frame is mostly applicable to portraits. Get close to your subjects and fill the majority of the frame with that subject. It helps to also use a low aperture so that whatever background you do have visible is blurred and out of focus. This gives the viewer no other option but to focus on the subject in your portrait.
Centre Dominant Eye
This is another rule best suited for portraits. In fact you cannot really apply this rule to anything but a portraits. Ever stared at the Mona Lisa from different angles and noticed that no matter where you are it seems as if she is staring at you? Well this can be achieved through photography using this composition rule. By placing the dominant eye in the centre of your frame you will give the impression that the eye is following you. This can make for an incredibly captivating photo.
Patterns and Repetition
Patterns are aesthetically pleasing to our eyes. But, the best is when you find a way to break that pattern. A break in a pattern will draw the eye straight away and give the photo a unique punch. Patterns naturally occur and occur in urban areas making this a useful rule to experiment with.
Symmetry is a powerful composition tool which gives the viewer a pleasing sense of balance. Balance can create a feeling of calm and awe which is why I think this rule is great for landscape photography. Landscapes give us a natural feeling of awe so why not play on this feelings further by creating symmetry. A reflection in a lake is a great example.
These 9 rules of composition are incredibly helpful but just remember to follow your own eye and create a style unique to you. Rules are meant to be broken.
By now you should be looking at the photos you first started taking and think … Wow I was terrible! This is great news! If you are continuously looking at your past images and thinking ‘Wow these are great’ then guess what.. It means you are not progressing. In order to progress you need to do two things; Learn & Practice.
Don’t ever stop learning or you will find you begin to lose interest in your photography passion. Time to learn something new, something that will make your photos stand out from the crowd and reignite your passion. Here are two tips to try out in your next photo shoot:
Depth of Field
Depth of Field(DoF) can be described as the zone of acceptable sharpness within the photo. In every photo there is a certain area in front of and behind the subject that will be in focus. If your image has a very small DoF then only a small amount of area will be in focus. If your image has a very large DoF your photo will have a huge area in focus.
There are three ways that you can control your DoF and completely change the outcome of your exposure. Using your; Aperture, changing your distance from the subject and changing up your focal length.
How does Aperture control your DoF?
Large Aperture = Small F number = Shallower Depth of Field
Small Aperture = Large F number = Larger Depth of Field
Does that make sense? The lower you drop your F Stop the shallower you can make your DoF. But for some situations a shallow DoF is not the right option so push that F Stop up and increase the area that is in focus.
What about distance?
Here’s an easy one for you. The closer you move to your subject the shallower your DoF will become. Experiment with how close you are to your subject and watch how drastically it can change your image.
Focal Length? How does that make a difference?
Focal length refers to the capability of a lense to magnify the image of a distant subject. Focal length can be quite confusing to understand. If you maintain the same distance between you and your subject and keep your aperture the same but change your focal length you will alter your DoF. Essentially if you increase the focal length of your lense you are going to decrease the DoF and if you decrease your focal length.. Yep you guessed it. You will increase your DoF.
Change your Perspective
Here is another really easy way to completely switch up your photography and stand out from the rest. Find a landmark or icon and look at it or even take a shot from the spot that you have seen every other image taken. Now turn around and start searching, left, right, up, down or through. Find a totally different spot or angle and now take a shot. Finding a unique angle can drastically change how people see your image and help you stand out.
What the heck is post processing? Yeah fair enough let me try and explain that again. Heard the term ‘photoshopping.’ Chances are when you were last scrolling through Instagram or checking out your favourite photographers website you stumbled on some photos that made you swallow your breath. ‘How did they capture such an incredible exposure?’
It is highly likely (I will almost be prepared to bet on it) that they used post processing methods to enhance the original image. Now some, a small few, are against post processing. It is up to you whether you wish to enhance your photos or not. In my opinion if you are using a DSLR in 2018 and you want to get serious about your photography then you need to learn how to post process your photos and make any necessary enhancements.
I recommend using Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Lightroom, let’s briefly go over their functions.
Lightroom is my go to first stop post processing program. If you are looking purely to enhance your images then this is the software to use. Lightrooms software is non-destructive and does not allow doctoring. If you are wanting to add to, alter or remove parts of your image then you will need to use Photoshop.
Photoshop has so so so many options when it comes to editing your images. You can completely alter your image from the original or simply use it to make the necessary touch ups and adjustments. Photoshop is great for touching up portraits, combining images, creating a higher dynamic range and graphic design.
Post Processing is probably a 5000 word blog in itself so we will be putting together a comprehensive blog on Post Processing. If you have any questions in regards to Lightroom or Photoshop then leave a comment below and we will attempt to answer your questions in our Post Processing blog.
Get it Right in Camera
Post Processing is amazing and can drastically improve your photography but it can be incredibly time consuming, especially if you have poor exposures that need a lot of additional enhancements. Also, post processing is still limited. Sure you can create almost anything in Photoshop but when does it stop being photography and how much time are you willing to spend on a single photo?
Here are a few tips to help you get it right in camera so you can avoid spending hours trying to fix your exposures.
In Camera settings to help save time in Post Production
Post processing is amazing and can take incredible photos and make them unforgettable. However, post processing has it’s limitations so in order to set yourself up for success then you need to get the best possible exposure in camera. So you are probably thinking, “Well I just went through your entire 12,000 word blog and practiced every tip, trick and lesson to the tee. Shouldn’t my photos be amazing enough to create an unforgettable image in post processing?”
Well, maybe. But remember every professional at the top of their field has been practicing for years if not decades. It is no different with photography and film- keep practicing everyday and find that healthy balance between in camera practice and post processing practice.
Personally I am far from top of my field but I have no doubt in my mind that I am going to get there! I am willing to practice everyday until I do.
Enough about me let's get you those last few tips.
Always shoot in RAW
If your have taken some time to explore your cameras settings then you have probably come across RAW. But what is RAW? RAW image formats are named as such because they are essentially raw image data straight from the cameras sensor. Unlike JPG they are un-processed meaning they are not ready to print straight away. At this point (unless you are already shooting in RAW) you are probably thinking, “Well whats the point if they aren’t ready to print?”
Fair question, and yep there are some scenarios when you will need to print images on the spot so JPG will be the right format to use for your image quality. But, and it is a big but. RAW images store far more data than JPG images. so if it is quality you are after, if you want know you want to make some significant edits to the image or if you simply want to improve your photography then you NEED to be shooting in RAW.
High Dynamic Range
No matter how good your DSLR is it cannot compete with the human eye. The more I immerse myself in the world of photography and film the more I find myself feeling amazed at the human eye. Having a brain as an image sensor definitely helps! A great way to think about it is to remember the last sunset/sunrise you saw that made your jaw drop. All those incredible colours just swirling around the sky, you just had to capture a photo. When you put the edit together regardless of how much work you put in you just can’t replicate that incredible range of colours. The human eye is just far more effective at capturing a huge range of light.
High Dynamic Range (HDR), refers to scenes that has a very large difference between light and dark.
Ok so we have already established that your sensor is not capable of capturing all of that information in one image. So we need to use some tricks in order to replicate that HDR in post processing. The trick is to take multiple photos of the same scene, from the same spot at the same time using different exposure levels. This is referred to as Bracketing by photographers and can be automated in many DSLR’s (Nikon and Canon included). Bracketing involves taking 3 photos; one slightly underexposed, one slightly overexposed and on perfectly exposed. Depending on what DSLR you have you can set your bracketing to take 4,5,6 or even 7 bracketed exposures. Bracketing is set in camera and completed during the post processing stage.
Having a solid understanding of the settings in camera will drastically improve how your photos turn out after post processing and save you a lot of frustration over your final images. Get to know your camera!
You made it! Congrats! I have one last piece of advice for you before you go out and continue to discover your very own style. NEVER EVER Stop Learning! Keep progressing, keep trying new things even if it scares you. Be different and try things that others think is weird or too hard. Make this passion your life and discover the world through a Photographer's eye! Trust me it is an exciting world indeed.