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if you own a dslr camera but want to do a little more than shoot in automatic mode

watercolor dslr

So you’ve obtained your very own DSLR camera thinking it’s the magical device that will allow you to immediately begin producing the awesome photographs you’ve been eyeing on the web… but somehow it’s not working out the way you envisioned… is this thing broken?? I demand a refund right now! Yup, that sounds something like what I thought when I first delved into the world of photography… that is until I started facing reality.

Hmm… maybe there is more skill involved with this photography thing than simply clicking the shutter… Disappointed with the results of my photos, I began scouring the web, books, anything I could find to unlock the “secret” to taking those highly sought after pictures. But what I realized was that once you have a fundamental understanding of how to use your camera, just like any other form of art, there is no right or wrong way. It’s just what looks good to you!

Here are some basic steps for those of you wanting something a little more advanced than shooting in automatic mode:

Set your camera to aperture priority (Av) mode.

To do this, set the dial that is usually located on the top of your camera to Av. Leave it there so long as you want to keep shooting in that mode. As a general rule, use Av mode to control how blurred the background is.

In my very humble opinion, this is one of the first things a beginner should learn. Why? It’s not that hard to learn, it makes you more mindful of what you’re shooting, and it will help give you beautifully blurred backgrounds in your photos. Those amazing blurred colors are one of the most prominent features of shooting with a DSLR instead of your average point-and-shoot or cell phone camera.



Then select your desired f-number.

There may be different ways to do it depending on the camera, but it should be pretty intuitive, so play around with the buttons and wheels or *gasp* read the manual ๐Ÿ˜‰
This is the number that should only be able to stay within the range of 1.2 and 22 depending on your lens.ย The lower the f-number, the bigger the aperture, the more blurred the background is going to be, and vice versa.

Pictured below, with an apple as my subject, you can see the difference between using apertures at opposite ends of the spectrum. To the left, the aperture is f/5.6 and you can still make out the shape of the leaves behind the apple. However, to the right, at f/2.0 everything is so blurred that you can’t even see the basic outline of each leaf.

how to use aperture priority Av mode apple

Focus on the subject.

Once you’ve got your f-number set, put your focusing point on the subject you are trying to capture. Make sure the subject is in focus by clicking the shutter half way. When the focus is locked in, press it all the way down. The camera will take care of the rest of the settings for you to get the right exposure.

Another great thing about this mode is that it does force you to select your own focusing point instead of letting it be automatically selected. That way, not only are you more mindful of what your subject is, you greatly increase your chances of getting your desired subject to be in focus.

Find the right lighting.

Lastly, making photos is only possible because of light. That being said, to get the photos you want, you also have to make sure you have the type of light you want. What does that mean exactly? Well, it’s different for every situation, so I guess you’ll just have to play around with it and experiment. Practice is the best teacher!


This was a very simplified overview, and there are many many other factors that contribute to the end result of a photograph. However, I still hope this post was a little bit helpful. And since it was also inspired and approved by my super awesome friend, I know it’s just as awesome no matter what ๐Ÿ™‚


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