Currys DSLR Workshop

We’re not going to sugar coat this for you, the internet is big, really big in fact. We’re not lying when we say that there are a hell of a lot of websites out there nowadays, a ridiculous number actually (we’re not sure how many, use your imagination). They’re getting better as well. They’re more functional, they hold increasing amounts information, you can even look at them on your phone. Yes, that’s right, on your phone!

Long gone are the days when a dial-up connection meant downloading a single image of Caprice had to be done while you went away to Scarborough for the weekend. Now massive high-definition images can appear in seconds, less than seconds in most cases. Good for the average person flicking through the web but a lot more work if you’re the person setting up the website. Especially a good looking website. And people want good looking websites these days.

Fine, mobile phone cameras are pretty good now. You can take some impressive looking pictures, providing there’s good light, you’re not that bothered about depth of field and you don’t want to zoom in on anything. But they have their limits – limits that are noticeable if you compare with what you could do with an actual camera.

At The Allrounder, we’ve only recently entered the world of DSLR cameras – a world where the simple process of taking a picture becomes a labyrinthine balance of numbers and mechanical function. It’s a place where slight modifications in your camera set-up can mean the difference between an overexposed, blurry mess or an award-winning masterpiece. Well, at least that’s what it feels like when you first start out.

Luckily for us we were invited by the teams over at Currys and Canon to take part in a much needed DLSR training day. As part of the #LightsCameraCurrys campaign, us and various other bloggers would learn about how to effectively use the settings on our camera, pick up various tips and tricks to taking a good shot and even go out into London to put our new skills to the test. All under the guidance of Camera afficianado Paul Hames, aka Photocoachuk. Our blogs would be looking better in no time.

Now it’s probably important to mention here that we are by no means experts in DSLR cameras. If we were we wouldn’t be going to a training day. So we won’t try to impart detailed explanations of how to use them or what the various technical features do. What we will try and do however is tell you what we learned from the day, or at least try to. If in doubt ask Paul (that’s our motto from now on).

And not only did those that attended the day receive priceless training. They also got the chance to win one of two Canon 1200D’s with 18-55mm Telephoto Zoom or a Canon 700D with accessories kit. The pressure was on to up our game (they’re pretty damn nice cameras).

So why exactly should you use a DSLR camera? Well, aside from the obvious benefits of picture quality when used correctly, perhaps the most important factor is the element of control. Yes they can be confusing to a newbie, but when used well a DSLR camera will give you an ability to adapt to your medium or location in a way a camera phone or standard digital won’t. Whether you’re in low light, you’re taking pictures of fast moving objects or you want to be able to focus on a specific element of your photo, a DSLR pus you in control. Sometimes you may need that control to fulfil a brief or perform a very clear objective, other times you may just want to let your creativity flow and play around with the settings to see what happens – that’s the fun part.

If you know anything about photography you’ll probably already have heard of the three main principles that affect the final image – aperture, shutter speed and ISO. It’s these three functions that can be used to create your desired effect. It’s also these three functions which cause the most confusion for people just taking up photography. It took us quite a while to get our heads around it, and even now we’re not 100% sure we get it. Each on its own is relatively simple to understand, however, it’s the careful combination of the three which makes things very tricky.

We’re not going to try and explain how they work because we’ll no doubt get some bit of it wrong. Instead have a look at this link for a ridiculously easy way to understand the effect that each has on your final picture.

So anyway, back to the training day. Our morning was spent understanding these major principles of DSLR photography. Times when we might use them and tips and tricks associated with taking the perfect picture, or at least the picture we want to get. To go through the whole session would take a while, we covered a hell of a lot. Highlights include using the viewfinder, choosing a lens, using a remote to take pictures, DIY lighting and what exactly makes a great picture. It was a lot to take in.

But if we had to give you a rundown of the main things we took away we’d go for the following:

1) Memory

When buying a memory card for your camera make sure you get one with a “10” symbol on it. This number denotes the speed that the image can write to the card. The higher the number the quicker the card. You don’t want to lose valuable seconds when you’re trying to take the perfect shot. Paul recommends a San Disk.

2) Auto focus

Unless you’re filming you should always try to use auto-focus. It’s designed to quickly react to the changes in the camera.

3) The “Nifty Fifty”

If you want a good, cheap lens pick up one of these. It’s what’s known as a prime lens, which basically means it has a fixed length. Yes, you can’t zoom but that means you have to just work harder. Your body effectively becomes your zoom lens, but for that extra effort you get a much nicer image than your kit lens for around £70.

4) Experiment with time

We’ve all seen those amazing time lapse shots of stars moving across the sky or lights across a cityscape. That’s all done by controlling the shutter speed on your camera. Yes, sometimes they may look rubbish, but practise makes perfect.

5) Experiment with the bulb setting

Yeah, we’d never heard if it either. It’s a setting in the camera that allows you to control the length of time the shutter stays open for by holding down the button. Good for creating artistic effects, if you’re that way inclined.

6) Creating movement

Using your shutter speed at 1/15 second won’t be great for sports shots, unless you move with the subject. If you do it right you can keep the moving object in focus and allow the rest of the image to blur. The result is a rather nice moving image effect drawing attention to the action. We’d show you an example here… but we’re still working out how to do it well.

7) Shoot from the hip

In the digital world you can take a lot of pictures at no extra cost. You just delete them afterwards. That means that you don’t have to worry about taking the perfect shot. So don’t worry about always using the viewfinder. Just hold your camera and let fate do some of the work. You might get lucky. It also means people don’t know that you’re taking pictures.

8) Keep an eye on the light meter

If you look into the viewfinder whilst it’s ready to shoot you’ll see a little line of dots at the bottom. At some point on it is an arrow. If the arrow is in the middle the image should be at optimum exposure, if it isn’t you may need to make some changes.

9) Always shoot in colour

Yes, black and white shots are cool. But you can do all that from a colour picture afterwards. If you only take black and white pictures you’re limiting yourself.

10) Saving formats

Jpegs are good for web and if you have a very specific requirement. However RAW files are layered, which means you can go back into the file and make far more changes than a flat Jpeg file. They’re much bigger files though so weigh up the pros and cons.

11) Experiment

Photography is subjective. There’s no perfect picture for everyone so experiment as much as you can. You may find that by playing around with settings or acting upon an impulse, that you’ve created something beyond the usual best practises.

12) And lastly… You’re the most important thing

Yes you can spend thousands of pounds on camera bases or lenses but ultimately you are the most important factor. If you can’t use the camera effectively or you don’t think about how to take a picture that’s worth looking at then it’s all fairly pointless.

So what did our pictures look like after our day’s session you may be asking? Well, luckily you can see for yourself here. Just don’t judge us. We’re still learning. Give us a bit of time and we’ll be winning awards… or at least getting things in focus some of the time.

So a big thanks to the guys at Currys, Canon and Joe Blogs for an intense yet enjoyable day. and especially to Paul at @photocoachuk for his accessible training format. Great bloke too.

For more details on the #LightsCameraCurrys read about it on Techtalks, or search for it on Twitter.