The DCR staff went back to school recently - Nikon School, that is. A series of seminars held across the country, Nikon School offers new DSLR users and old pros the chance to learn some new tricks and brush up on the basics. We've picked five illuminating tips to help out a beginning DSLR user.
- Take your camera out of Auto White Balance at sunrise and sunset
If you've ever tried to photograph a stunning sunset only to find the colors in your image are not as vivid as you remember them, chances are high that your camera is removing some of that intense color. If you're shooting in auto white balance and letting the camera determine what your scene's white, neutral and black should be, it might see an orange tint as problematic and attempt to neutralize it. If this is the case, try switching to another white balance mode like daylight for a color boost. If other modes aren't working for you, try shooting in RAW and use compatible post-processing software to set a color temperature once all the shooting is done.
- Buy an external flash
One of the easiest things a beginner can do to for better illumination is to invest in an external flash unit. When you're working in a space with a low, white ceiling you'll be able to turn your flash upward and bounce it for a softer effect. Better yet, move your flash from the top of your camera and mount it nearby. Diffuse the light with a translucent white umbrella to give your subject's face a glow without harsh shadows.
- Tell your light meter to take a hike
Your camera's meter, in default "evaluative" mode, takes in the brightness of the entire scene that you're shooting and adjusts shutter and aperture speed to try and find the right exposure. That's just fine most of the time, but if you're trying to capture something like silhouettes at sunset, you'd be better off manually setting your exposure for the deepest, richest colors of the sky and leaving the shadows in the dark. The same goes for backlit subjects. When your subject in the foreground is in shadows, let that take precedence and overexpose the brighter background if necessary.
If you're not comfortable shooting in full manual mode, you can work around the metering problem by setting your mode to spot, a mode that takes a reading only at the very center of the frame. Move your metering spot so that it's positioned over open sky and the camera will give exposure precedence to the sky.
- Don't forget to compensate
When shooting in automatic and semi-automatic exposure modes (Program, Aperture priority or Shutter priority), remember that you can easily shift your exposure by using exposure compensation. Your camera has calculated the "correct" exposure, but you'll be able to override that and experiment with slight over/underexposure. Your DSLR has a button with a +/- icon, and by pushing it (or pushing and holding, depending on your system) you'll be able to bring your exposure up by moving the slider into the positives or down, into negative numbers. Try experimenting with different EV compensations in different scenarios. You may find on occasion that you like a darker exposure than your camera suggests for a particular scene.
- Go forth and photograph light
Forget flora and fauna for a minute and take a look at how light and shadows play around certain subjects. Try and capture what you see, and the results may surprise you. It's helpful to step outside of searching for objects and channel your energy into taking notice of light and shadows.
Interested in attending Nikon School for more tips and tricks? Take a look at the schedule and find out if class is in session near you. And if you're looking to do a little holiday shopping for a new DSLR, take a look at our Holiday Buyer's Guide for some of our favorite options.