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December 31, 2012 at 2:34 PMComments: 1 Faves: 2

Be Better with a DSLR

By Dayton from SLN More Blogs by This Author

Did you recently decided that you were going to become a photographer and then run out and buy a Canon T3, ready to face the world? When you got your camera home, did you excitedly attach the newly charged battery and put in your FAN-DANCY 2gb SD card that came with it. If so, you knew you'd achieved some SERIOUS photo-cred when you unscrewed the body cap and attached the lens! That's right! "No more point and shoot! The time has come!" you thought as your screwed on your BRAND NEW Canon EF-S 18-55mm lens that came in your camera kit!

Oh... dang.

Why Your Pictures Still Suck

There are unlimited ways in which you can make a good photograph. Don't be under the impression that because you have a DSLR that makes you a photographer or under the impression that you will automatically take quality pictures. Really good photographers get paid to take pictures because they have learned to be really good at photography. Here a few quick tips to make your pictures look better, not professional, but much better than what you originally started with.

Learn to use your camera

On your DSLR, you have much more control over your end product than a point and shoot. Your basic controls are shutter speed, ISO, and aperture. When you learn what these functions are and how they affect the final product, the more power you have over your photo.

HERE is a great in depth discussion of how the aperture setting on your camera affects your photo.

Throw away your kit lens

That's right! Throw it on the ground and smash it. Then burn it. Or maybe you are considering buying a new DSLR, don't pay the extra money to get the kit lens! Everything that you shoot will look dark and grainy, and will be lacking depth because it's such a poorly performing lens. 

Buy a new lens

Unfortunately, finding a good lens and finding a cheap lens are two very different things. The first thing that you'll need to establish is your subject. Are you shooting portraits? Landscapes? Sporting events? Once you know the type of photo you'll be shooting, an informed decision as to what lens to purchase can be made.

For portraits, I would recommend a 50mm prime lens. Assuming that you are shooting with a cropped sensor, your "actual" focal length will be about 80mm. That focal length is flattering to the human face because it causes very little distortion, as opposed to a wider lens would. 

Here is a good one if you're a Canon user:

Canon EF 50mm f/1.4 USM

-Around $350

-Large aperture (1.4)

-Affordable, but still has a metal mount

For Landscapes, you'll most likely want something that has a wider angle of view (especially with a cropped sensor). A shorter focal length translates into a larger field of view, so a 15mm lens will be able to "see" much more than a 200mm lens. This is crucial when you are shooting landscapes because you can get up relatively close to your subject, but still take it all in. Unless you want a fisheye look to your shot, you should avoid going down too far in your focal length.

Another thing to take into consideration is that, when shooting a landscape, you'll probably want to keep a very deep depth of field to get everything in focus, so a large aperture isn't necessary. 

A good landscape lens:

Canon EF 17-40mm f/4L USM

-Around $900

-Has a little wiggle room in focal length

-Little vignetting at low focal lengths

-Has a fancy red ring

When shopping online for a good lens, a great resource is The site will tell you everything you need to know to make an informed choice on what lens to purchase.

Learn to compose a shot

There are a few "rules" of visual composition. To make your pictures look nicer, you need to learn your basic composition skills. A great one to learn first is the "Rule of Thirds."

This rule isn't absolute and can (and should) be broken at times. The rule of thirds is very easy to master, and it involves splitting your composition into thirds vertically and horizontally. You then place your subject at the intersection of your imaginary lines. Any of these four places are where your eye will naturally gravitate toward and the final product looks very artistically pleasing (reference the super cute puppy).

Remember, the Rule of Thirds isn't absolute. In some cases, always at the discretion of the photographer, a different composition technique may be used. When using very strong leading lines traveling into the distance, it's typical to center your subject. The picture on the left is not obeying the "rule" of thirds, but is still very aesthetically pleasing.


If you want to become a good photographer, it's going to take some practice! Try to model your work after other photographer's styles, and try to master different techniques. Eventually, you'll be able to look back on your work and see a progression in the quality of your photos.

Happy Camera-ing :D

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1 Comment

  • Well I think you wrapped up my 11 week Photo 101 class in 5 minutes. Well done!

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