The first thing everyone will tell you is to take your camera of “auto”, but unless they went straight into doing a photography class or already knew a bit about what they were doing, I’ll bet the first picture they took was on auto. Don’t feel too stressed about learning how to use every single feature on your camera straight away. For me, the quality of moving from my old point and shoot to my Canon was so different, that even auto mode looked amazing; take a look at the pictures below, the first was taken with my old point and shoot, the second a month later with my Canon. This isn’t to say that if you have a fashion blog you must go and buy a DSLR – of course, everyone’s priorities are different, but for me, I wanted to learn how to use a camera better and I had an upcoming trip to Greece that I wanted amazing pictures from, so it made all the difference. The pictures below show an image from a point and shoot (on the left) and my DSLR (on the right) within a month of each other – I hadn’t yet learnt many settings, and I didn’t have a fancy lens, but you can see how the quality, even on auto, makes a big difference:
Take a few pictures on auto, then take the plunge and spin that dial. I’d recommend starting on a “semi-auto” mode such as macro – you’ll have a bit more freedom to change settings, but things won’t go completely wrong, not that it matters if they do – all that will happen if you go wrong is you’ll end up with something like an overexposed (too bright) or underexposed (too dark) picture which you can delete and try again.
Once you’re comfortable with using those, try going manual. There isn’t actually much scary about this once you’ve figured out all what all the numbers and letters mean. Brief list of the different camera modes:
This prioritises Aperture (see below), meaning you choose the amount of light to let into the lens, which allows you to keep a background in focus (“large depth of field”) or make it blurry (“shallow depth of field”). It’s useful for fashion photography (with a blurry background to focus on the subject) and landscapes (getting the whole scene in focus). This is the setting I use most on my camera for outfit photos and fashion photography. With my portrait lens on, I set the F stop to around f/1.8 up to f/2.2, make sure the white balance is right and mostly just leave the ISO and shutter speed (which is auto on this mode).
This prioritises Shutter Speed (see below), meaning how long the shutter stays open and how much light comes in (you can hear the shutter on DSLRs making a “click-clunk” sound as it opens and closes). It’s useful for capturing moving wildlife or sports (with a short shutter speed so it doesn’t blur), to blur moving objects (ie. waterfalls) or when it’s dark (to get maximum light).
You can set either the aperture or shutter speed, and the camera will deal with the exposure for you automatically.
You have full control over both the aperture and shutter speed as well as the ISO (see below). You will need to balance them correctly depending on the setting you’re in to get the correct exposure, so that it is light enough and the focus is how you want it.
So there are a few words there you might not know if you’re a beginner DSLR user; here are the important ones and the very basics of what they mean and what they do:
How long the shutter stays open, which allows more or less light into the lens. A slower speed (ie. 1/25) will allow more light in if the scene is dark or will help to blur the scene (ie. waterfalls). A quicker shutter speed (ie. 1/250) will let in less light for bright places and to capture moving subjects without blur.
How sensitive the camera is to light. Most DSLRs will deal with this themselves so you don’t need to worry too much. Use a lower ISO, around 100 or 200 in bright outdoor scenes, or 400-800 if it’s cloudy. A higher ISO will make a picture grainy but is useful in low light conditions. Try to use the lowest ISO possible for your lighting, but the camera will try to do this for you on most settings.
A DSLR will have an autofocus and a manual focus switch (usually on the lens). Stick to autofocus as much as possible to start with (and further on too!) to make life easier. You hold the shutter button half way while lining up the subject where you want them in the frame, wait for the small beep or flash of red light from the focus point dots in the viewfinder which means it’s found its focus point, then click the button all the way to take the photo.
This affects the colour temperature of your photos. If it’s set wrong, you may end up with bluish or orange toned photos. Your camera will have preset modes such as “Daylight”, “Cloudy” and “Shade” which are self-explanatory, and “Tungsten”, inside lighting that gives a yellow tone, and “Fluorescent”, inside lighting with a green or blue tone. Simply choose what the lighting is like around you, and the camera will compensate it giving you more natural tones. You can set it manually if you want, but even professionals don’t always do this.
Once you’ve figured out how your camera works for you, you’ll want to start thinking about what “extras” you might want to make your fashion photography a bit easier. For me, there are a couple of necessities for taking outfit photos: a tripod and a portrait lens.
If you take photos by yourself, or even if you want to take product photos with a steadier hand, a tripod is worth buying. Yes, you may feel a bit silly out in the street with a tripod, but it’s better than balancing it on a wall or pile of books! My tripod is an old one, but a simple one is only cheap to pick up. I started off with a little GorillaPod which is super handy wherever you go in case of uneven flooring, but I’d also recommend one with sturdy adjustable legs for outfit photography – I think mine is the second on this page, but any of those are great.
My second piece of kit that I always use is my portrait lens. It’s the Canon Portrait Lens 50mm, f/1.8 and is perfect for fashion photography, nature shots, portraits (obviously), and, well, I pretty much use it for everything! It has a fixed zoom (50mm), which is fairly close, so not perfect for close quarters like a small dining table. But its selling point is the F stop of f/1.8, which means you get that blurry background that all the fashion bloggers love. My Canon came with a kit lens, which is great for everyday use when you want to change your zoom length, but doesn’t give you the blurry background to such an extent.
I’d also recommend getting a camera bag too to keep your bits and pieces safe and undamaged. I have the Canon camera bag which Ben bought me and fits in all my lens along with my camera and battery charger as well as a few other things I haven’t mentioned here (filters, a flash and a remote). Really it’s just important to ensure your camera is safe, so all it needs is a fairly padded inside and the ability to stay fairly dry. It doesn’t necessarily need to be a branded one like your camera, for example, the AmazonBasics camera bag would work just fine.
There’s only so much you can figure out on your own, so it’s worth taking a look at the tutorials that are already out there to save yourself a bit of time. I keep my favourite tutorials and inspiration in a Photography folder on Pinterest. Here are just a few I’ve found useful in the past:
There are loads of other things that you can learn about how to use your camera – all the different modes, fancy things you can do, learning how to get your pictures physically better by using fancy studio lighting and external flashes. But before you delve into all of that, there’s one simple thing to do: practise. Learn how to frame your photos best for your subject and your surroundings. Experiment with natural lighting for fun shots, such as ones which are backlit (with the sun behind the subject for a silhouetted look). Focus on something unexpected so that your subject is blurry. Just try everything; you might end up discovering an angle that works perfectly for what you’re trying to show off. And once you’ve got all the basics down (I know I still haven’t!), then delve into the more complicated and expensive bits of kit, but remember that throwing heaps of money at something isn’t necessarily going to give you the perfect shot; practice will do.
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