DCR Workshop: How to use your CILC like a pro
by Chris Gampat -  8/15/2010

You've entered the world of the Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera, and you are wondering how you can step up your game to take better photos. Well, by getting a camera with a larger sensor and interchangeable lenses, you've made a start. But put a professional level DSLR in the hands of someone that doesn't know how to use it, and you'll get similar results to a point-and-shoot. Here are some tips to keep in mind and to keep you going as a budding photographer.

Invest into the System
Just because you've got a spiffy new camera doesn't necessarily mean that you'll be able to take photos like a pro with it. This is a whole new ballgame. This camera will outlast your older point-and-shoots for much longer. The trade off is that you need to buy more into the system to take better pictures. Many people are swayed by the marketing that X camera that is coming out in two months is light years better than Y camera. Put some better lenses and perhaps an external flash on Y camera, and it will be able to go toe to toe and in some cases even outperform its newer sibling.

This could mean something as small as a better lens, an external flash, a snazzy leather case, or an electronic viewfinder. Get these items and you'll see that your photography will not only take a step up, but that you'll be getting more out of the sensor's potential.

Understand Exposure
Exposure, in the photography world, is a very broad term and you'll need to understand it better. Your camera has manual modes like Aperture, Shutter, Program, and Manual. Aperture Mode allows you to control the f-stop on the camera and the camera will adjust everything else. Shutter is similar to Aperture but controls the shutter speed. Program is essentially an auto setting and Manual allows for full manual control over the camera. Most professionals tend to use Manual. Reading your camera's meter also comes into play here.

With shooting in Manual exposure comes learning a couple of key new terms:

Shutter Speed: Your camera has a shutter, and it can stay open for certain amounts of time depending on what the user dials into the camera. It is typically displayed as a fraction or a whole number. For example:

The longer the shutter speed the more motion that will be captured and the steadier the photographer needs to remain. This is great for capturing nighttime scenes. As a note, use a tripod.

The faster the shutter speed the less motion will be captured. This is great for capturing fast moving objects like sports action. On your camera, this can be seen with the S mode.

F-Stop: This is also known as your Aperture. Your aperture not only controls how much of your image is in focus or not, but like your shutter speed it can also control how much light comes into the lens of your camera and hits the sensor (the equivalent of film.) In general:

On your camera this is also known as AV mode.

ISO: The ISO (or ASA as it was in the film days) is the current light sensitivity setting of your camera's sensor. The general rule is the higher the ISO, the more sensitive your camera will be to light and the grainier your images will be. The grain is also known and often referred to as image noise. In contrast, the lower the ISO, the less sensitive the camera will be to light and the less grain will appear on your images. Higher ISOs allow for faster shutter speeds. Similarly, larger sensors allow for less grain at higher ISO settings.

Don't Get Trapped into the Bokeh Effect!
If you're sitting in front of your computer screen scratching your head and wondering what Bokeh is, it is a term used for the out of focus/blurry area of a photo. When amateur photographers usually get a brand new lens with a wider aperture, they tend to just shoot with the aperture wide open all the time and lose a lot of great details in their photos because of this.

One of the most purchased lenses is the 50mm f/1.8. The larger f-stop value allows for lots of light to hit the sensor but doesn't get very much in focus. If you want to shoot a portrait of your daughter or puppy, try changing the f-stop to f/2.8 or f/4 so that more gets into focus and the details in their eyes are crisp.

Hold It Like a Pro
There are some big giant red flags as to what not to do when holding your camera.



Use the Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is displayed on your camera's LCD or viewfinder as two lines going horizontally and vertically and therefore dividing the frame into nine sections. When you compose your photos by placing your subjects on those lines, the results are much more interesting photos that the human eye tends to look at for a longer period of time.

Pay Attention to The Details
The very minor details in a photo can totally change it around. Body language is a big one as placement of a bride's hands can tell us a lot about how she is feeling in wedding photography. Others are how the lens is making the body look. In portrait photography, wider lenses tend to distort body parts: making heads look small or legs look like a person is half-giraffe.

Take Careful Notice of Light
Light is extremely important in photography. Shooting a photo of someone with the sun in the background will give you a photo with lots of shadows on the person's face. In the professional world, a reflector, soft lighting or some fill flash will solve this. Your camera will typically meter your images based upon what your focusing on, and there are often very dark and very bright areas where the light caries. Use your LCD screen to preview what your image will look like and try to find a good balance.

Edit, Edit, Edit!
Editing is very important in the photo world. For starters, to get better photos you should be shooting in RAW mode. This mode is much more forgiving to mistakes that you may make. When shooting in RAW, you can process the photo in Photoshop, Lightroom, Aperture or the provided program with better results. Variables like the white balance (color temperature of the photos), saturation and fill light can all be manipulated.

Great photos are created by the photographer, which also means that there is processing in both the Darkroom (film) and programs (digital). Get ready to spend some time creating better photos that you'll be very, very proud of. What you'll need to do is look at your photos, apply different changes and ask yourself certain questions. Perhaps you didn't follow the rule of thirds in your first shot, here is where you can correct that by cropping!

Now that you're at a higher stage in your photography and you have a Compact Interchangeable Lens Camera, you'll need to take the steps to make your photography better. Taking and creating better pictures isn't easy as it requires fresh new ideas, different perspectives, knowledge and understanding gained from making mistakes, and constantly keeping at it. Keep shooting and you'll eventually be able to use your camera like a pro.