If you have recently migrated from a compact point & shoot to a DSLR you no doubt will be very excited. Finally you are in a position to make ‘better’ photos with your bigger and more professional looking camera. But, there is a problem. Your ‘smarter’ camera somehow isn’t quite able to make better photos on its own. Somehow the results that you obtained with your new DSLR are somewhat similar to what you were getting with your point & shoot. The thing is your camera may be a better shooting tool, but, that does not mean that it can make photos on its own. It still needs a brain to operate it. In this article we shall be looking at a few common situations. These are situation from everyday life and  where you need to tell your camera what you want rather than the camera telling you what it feels is right. We will be looking at a few essential tips to improve your photography straight after you have unboxed your camera.

  • Understand the Relationship between Shutter Speed and Aperture

Shutter speed and aperture form two facets of the holy trinity of photographic exposure. Together, shutter speed and aperture form what is known as the exposure value. It is a quantitative measure of the amount of light that your camera receives when you press the shutter release. You can arrive at the same exposure value by using different combinations of the two.

Let’s say that your camera is set to aperture f/4. The shutter speed, as indicated by the camera, for the scene is 1/250. If you now reset the aperture value to f/5.6 (one stop smaller) and leave every other setting as the same, the camera will indicate a stop slower (longer) shutter speed of 1/125. This is of course provided the ambient light condition does not change between the two shots.

The crux of the matter is aperture and shutter speed has an inverse relationship between them. It may appear that the two are connected, somehow, at the middle. If you reduce one the other needs to be increased so that the same exposure value can be maintained.

Having said that, however, this is not mandatory. Especially, when you are shooting in full manual mode. Manual mode allows you to be flexible in selecting both the aperture value and the shutter speed. In that regard consider manual mode to be the ultimate shooting mode.

  1. The Light Meter, Selection of the Right Metering Mode

One of the most essential tips to improve your photography is to watch out for the built-in light meter; and override it when necessary. The built-in light meter is not my favorite for measuring the ambient lighting, because it measures reflected light. Reflected light metering is inherently a flawed system. It gets skewed depending on the average reflectance of a scene.

Brighter the colors, the more the meter will indicate that the scene is bright and try to compensate by pulling down exposure. Conversely, darker the colors in a scene, the more the meter will indicate that the scene is underexposed and try to raise the exposure in order to adjust for the ‘underexposed image’.


Rider Park (2) by Nicholas A. Tonelli

Having said that, the digital light meter on your camera is a subject of intense scientific research. Camera technicians are working to improve the accuracy of the digital light meter so that it can better ‘see’ a scene, read the colors and accurately meter for it. Canon’s 150,000 pixel RGB+IR metering e.g., used in the EOS 7D Mark II is a case in the point. Canon calls this technology iTR or Intelligent Tracking and Recognition and is the latest when it comes to accurate scene recognition and consequent application of the correct metering mode. However, even then, manual adjustment and overriding of the metering is probably the best way to go.

I prefer to change the metering mode around and select something that is better suited for the type of scene that I am photographing. If it is a landscape scene I select matrix metering. If it is a portrait photo session I prefer the partial metering. If it is back-lit or where I need to emphasize only a small aspect of the image I prefer the spot metering mode.

Even then, with all the technology working behind and the accurate identification of the scene, I have to sometimes compensate for the deficiencies of the built-in digital light meter. How do I do it? Experience. Let’s say that I am photographing a scene that is overtly bright. Let’s take a classic example. You are holidaying at a skiing destination and recording your experience on your camera. However, the camera is tend to underexpose all of your snow scenes.

Exposure compensation for snow scenes

Kaimaktsalan 2009 SL training by Apostolos Follow

This happens because when you are photographing the built-in meter ‘sees’ all that bright white snow and meters the scene to be too white (or over-exposed). Thus, it reduces the exposure to compensate for all that brightness. The result is an overtly gray snow and darker shades across the scene.

The solution is in overriding the exposure settings and telling the camera that you like your snow to be white and not gray. In other words you have to crank the exposure up. You can do this using two methods with your camera. The first method involves using something known as Exposure Compensation.

  1. Overriding the Light Meter – Exposure Compensation

Exposure compensation is a small adjustment function on your camera that allows you to override the metered exposure by your camera and set your own exposure for the scene. It works in Auto, Aperture priority and Shutter Priority modes. In manual mode you don’t need this feature because you can manually adjust the exposure the way you want.

On most DSLRs, mirrorless systems and advanced compact cameras you have a button that is labelled something like this – (+/-). This is the exposure compensation button. You need to press this and then turn a command dial or some other button to crank up down pull down the exposure.

In the above scenario where the camera was underexposing consistently. Thus, you will need to increase the exposure. If you were shooting in aperture priority mode, cranking the exposure up would result in a slower shutter speed (slower shutter = longer time frame lens remains open = more light collected).

  1. Overriding the Light Meter – Manual Mode

The second method is in shooting in manual mode. One of the most essential tips to improve your photography is to shoot in manual mode. Manual mode is also known as the creative mode of shooting. This is because manual mode allows you to choose your own shutter speed, aperture and ISO combination. You don’t have rely on what the camera states is the right shooting combination.

Confused? Let’s start from the beginning. Let’s take that previous snow-scene scenario. The camera was set at f/4 and was underexposing at 1/250 sec. You could simply switch to manual mode, keep the aperture at f/4 and then set the shutter speed to 1/125. The other option would have been to boost the ISO from whatever you had it set on your camera and crank it up by a stop.

The importance of the manual mode can be explained further with the use of the image below. In this image the shutter speed used was 30 seconds. A normal exposure do not need such a long exposure. This image, however, could not have been shot without any other setting. If the camera were set to Auto mode it would have simply frozen the moment. The long exposure smoothed out the flowing water, which enhanced the quality of the image. Plus, the small aperture of f/16 gave it a vast depth of field.

low light photography

Esplanade Theatre, Singapore by Lenny K Photography

  1. Back-button focusing

We have talked about the advantages of back-button focusing on this website before. The concept of back-button focusing is all about separating the two functions of focusing and shutter release to two buttons on the camera. Rather, it is about separating the focusing function from the shutter release button and assigning it to another button, usually at the back of the camera.

Each camera system is different and their menus differ as well. This means no two set of steps to assign a button for back-button focusing would be the same. The general steps involve digging deep into the menu system of the camera and assigning one of the button at the back of the camera the task of focusing.

The greatest advantage of back-button focusing is that when you disconnect the shutter release from the task of focusing, you can lock focus in advance and just press the shutter release to make an image. At this point you may ask how that is in any way different to what you have been doing already; i.e., setting focus and making an image at the same time.

With back-button focusing you are always pre-focused. The advantage of that is that the shutter release process doesn’t have to check whether you are focused in order to fire, a precondition which often results in you losing critical images while the camera is still hunting for focus.

  1. Experiment with your compositions

I am not going to go too deep into the composition aspect of photography here. Just a few points that can help you make better compositions in everyday situations. The first thing that you should try to inculcate into your photography is that you should stop making dead-center compositions with immediate effect. Instead put your subject on a side. Off-center compositions always appeal to the human eye more than dead-center compositions.

essential photography tips

In the bamboo forest by aotaro

Another thing that you can try is not to shoot from the eye level at all times. I know that coming from a point & shoot camera system means you are quite adept at the art of raising your arms and making snapshot. It is very difficult to come out of that ‘set-up’. But you have to if you want to improve your photography. I have absolutely nothing against shooting from the eye level. But the thing is when you do that on a consistent basis you deprive yourself the wonderful photography opportunities that comes from experimenting with the other camera angles. There are a plethora of shooting ideas that you can explore once you decide to take the camera off the eye level.

Rajib Mukherjee

Rajib’s love for the road is second only to his love for photography. Wanderlust at heart and a shutterbug who loves to document his travels via his lenses; his two passions compliment each other perfectly. He has been writing for over 6 years now, which unsurprisingly, revolve mostly around his two favourite pursuits.
Rajib Mukherjee

You may also like

Ben Novoselsky August 21, 2014

Tips for Shooting Fireworks Photos

Every Independence Day, or even Memorial or Labor Day, it’s common — a given, even — to see ...

Ben Novoselsky July 18, 2016

How to Work with Leading Lines in Your Photography

Leading lines are one of the most important aspects of photography. They have the power to draw a ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 23, 2015

Benefits of joining a photography class

Digital photography is a vast field of specialized knowledge. Well, even if not many ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 5, 2016

Five Ways You Can Use An External Flash In Outdoor Shooting

This article is meant for photographers who want to learn how to use an external flash in outdoor ...

Ben Novoselsky April 20, 2015

Low angle photography tips

One of the least used perspectives in photography is the low angle. I bet every photographer thinks ...

Rajib Mukherjee August 30, 2016

Introducing Canon Dual Pixel RAW Technology

Last week, the much awaited Canon 5D Mark IV made its debut. The rumor mills have been abuzz for ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 20, 2017

How to Pick the Best Shooting Mode among Auto, S, A, Manual in any Situation

All digital SLR camera systems comes with a series of shooting modes. These are the Auto mode, the ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 21, 2014

Improving Photography Skills – Landscape Images

The title of this discussion might evoke a feeling that this is yet another mundane and clichéd ...

Ben Novoselsky August 19, 2016

Why You Should Invest in a Tripod

There are probably a hundred reasons why you should invest in a tripod. I am not going to detail ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 24, 2015

Flowers photography: tips to shoot better images

One of the most fascinating subjects for photography are flowers. They are bright, vibrant, comes ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 11, 2016

An Introduction to Hyper-lapse

What is a Hyper-lapse?
Hyper-lapse is one of those cool photography techniques which uses a ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 9, 2016

Advantage Of Shooting Film In The Digital Age

Old But Not Obsolete
The dawn of digital sensor also brought in the demise of film. In many ways ...

Rajib Mukherjee February 25, 2015

How to Make Your Backgrounds Blurred

Sometimes you may need to blur out the background of your images. Let’s say you are shooting ...

Ben Novoselsky October 27, 2014

7 Silly Mistakes I Made as an Amateur Photographer

1. Leaving the lens cap on

Amateurs are guilty of making some of the most cardinal of mistakes. ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 9, 2016

The Most Incredible Thunderstorm Photo Ever Taken

We have all seen and admired thunderstorm photos. As incredible as it sounds these are nothing new ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2015

Light Painting in Photography: An Introduction

Light painting is a very interesting technique in photography that predominantly uses artificial ...

Ben Novoselsky July 2, 2017

Best Books on Portrait Photography

In this discussion we shall take a look at some very useful books on a particular genre of ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 26, 2014

Don’t copy the masters’ style blindly, create your own style

Growing up as photographers one of the biggest source of guidance are the works created by already ...

Ben Novoselsky October 29, 2017

Tips to Take Better Photos On Your Phone

We're not all famed photographer Annie Liebovitz but that doesn't mean we can't try to take amazing ...

Ben Novoselsky September 17, 2015

About focal length and background distortion

You may have heard professionals talking about the right focal length and how choosing anything ...

Eva December 25, 2019

Easy In-Camera Effects For 2020

Picture this: you’re an amateur photographer. You want to make an utterly astounding photo, and the ...

Rajib Mukherjee December 21, 2015

Some creative uses of Depth of Field

The main shooting mode dial on your camera has the letter(s) A or Av (depending on the camera ...

Ben Novoselsky April 28, 2015

6 Ideas to Shoot Beach Photos

We all love the beach (ok at least most of us do). I love the concept of splashing around, making ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 6, 2014

Everyday photography ideas

I wrote a detailed article on the topic of photographic inspiration recently. The aim was to keep ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 25, 2014

Photography inspiration: How to keep shooting images

As an amateur we see images taken by photographers like Eric Kim or Jeremy Cowart or Chase Jarvis ...

Ben Novoselsky May 18, 2017

Best Metering Mode for Landscape, Portrait, Wedding Photography

One of the most fundamental aspects of photography is to meter a scene. Metering denotes measuring ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 3, 2017

A Beginner’s Guide to Shoot Environmental Portraits

As a genre, environmental portraits are a challenge of sorts for most photographers. It is because ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 6, 2016

Basic Real Estate Photo Tips

The following real estate photo tips will help you to get started as a professional photographer. ...

Ben Novoselsky August 6, 2014

Auto Exposure Bracketing: Everything You Wanted to Know

Multiple camera shots with different expose combined in HDR photo
by sumitrodda

If you are just starting out in digital photography, you have probably never heard about auto exposure bracketing (AEB). If you are an enthusiast photographer, probably you have heard about this but never quite mastered the concept to use it with confidence. Regardless of your expertise in digital photography this article can help you master an extremely important feature of your DSLR, i.e.; auto exposure bracketing (AEB).


Rajib Mukherjee September 7, 2014

Understanding the Basics of a Good Exposure

Exposure is the key concept that governs all forms of photography where light in some form or the ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 15, 2015

Photographing at the Beach

Summer in India is legendary for all the wrong reasons. So much so that there is actually a phrase ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 7, 2015

Some Tips on Landscape Imagery

I would say landscape photography is the most underestimated genres of photography. Budding ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 23, 2015

Understanding ISO, the least understood of the three exposure parameters

If you look at the main aspects that govern exposure, you would obviously realize that there are ...

Ben Novoselsky May 14, 2017

Survey of Photo Contests by Industry

Does photo contests make sense in participating? – For Recognition
Absolutely. There is no better ...

Rajib Mukherjee January 19, 2016

Tips for Photographing in the Snow

In many parts of the world the weather changes around this time of the year. It’s the time of ...

Ben Novoselsky April 22, 2016

How to Photograph Birds in Five Easy Steps

Bird photography is a supremely satisfying pursuit if you do it the right way and get results to ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2017

Background for Portrait Photography

Background for portrait photography – An Introduction
Backgrounds assume a critical importance in ...

Ben Novoselsky April 25, 2016

How do you tweak the Sunny 16 Rule in Photography?

You are out with your family on a bright sunlit day. The kind of day on which photographers prefer ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 22, 2015

What is Focus Stacking?

Landscape photographers are obsessed with the idea of sharp images. They use a multitude of methods ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2015

How editing your stock photography can lead to more sales

Before you can start selling your images on microstock websites you ought to know a few things ...

Ben Novoselsky September 12, 2014

The Basic Rules of Photography and Common Mistakes

Everyone, even professionals, makes mistakes, although their mistakes are rare and usually caused ...

Ben Novoselsky May 2, 2016

How Does Hyperfocal Distance Affect Your Images?

Landscape photographers often use the terms focusing distance and hyperfocal distance in relation ...

Ben Novoselsky November 13, 2015

Shooting Wide Panorama of Cities

Even with a wide angle lens you need to realize that there is no way that you can shoot a wide ...

Kelsey Fox June 29, 2014

6 Tips for Shooting in Harsh Light

Whether they dabble in photography or shoot with the pros, most photographers know that there is no ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2017

Wedding Photography – the History of the Genre

The history of recording a wedding dates back to a time long before photography came about. The ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 19, 2016

Choosing the Best Travel Photography Lens

A lot of amateur photographers find it difficult to zero in on the best travel photography lens for ...

Ben Novoselsky March 25, 2015

The Use of Diagonal Lines in Photography Composition

We often read about the creative uses of lines in photography. The horizon line is one such oft ...

Ben Novoselsky April 9, 2016

Finding the Right Light for Your Landscape Photos

The art of photography is God’s way of saying man, he needs an audience. When his mighty yet subtle ...

Ben Novoselsky December 23, 2015

Outdoor Photography Beyond the Golden Hour

Landscape photographers love shooting during the golden hour of the day. They love the warm mushy ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 10, 2014

An introduction to creating timelapse videos

Timelapse videos have become somewhat clichéd these days with an increasing number of photographers ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 22, 2016

How to Photograph Christmas Lights

Watching the Diwali lights come on one by one, at each house in our colony I couldn’t stop thinking ...

Ben Novoselsky May 11, 2015

Understanding Lens Vignetting

A technical term that you are likely to hear a lot is lens vignetting. Lens vignetting (sometimes ...

Ben Novoselsky July 28, 2016

Why Adjusting White Balance Can Lead to a Better Image

One of the challenges faced by photographers on a daily basis is adjusting white balance of their ...

Rajib Mukherjee June 15, 2016

Photographing Storms – An Introduction

Mother Nature is whimsical. She has her mood swings from time to time. When she does she can ...

Ben Novoselsky August 3, 2014

5 Useful Tips for Making Great Images in Low Light

Cameras like the Canon 5D Mark III and the Nikon D3X have completely changed the playing field when ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 11, 2017

Camera Settings Presets for Shooting Different Scenes

Camera settings presets are a combination of buttons and dials that can be used to recall a ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 10, 2016

Winners of the 3rd Annual International Drone Photography Contest Announced

Dronestagr.am holds the annual International Drone Photography Contest, an annual extravaganza ...

Kelsey Fox October 9, 2014

Tips for Overcoming the Challenge of Landscape Photography

If you’ve ever had to look through a friend’s vacation pictures, you likely already know that ...

Ben Novoselsky January 7, 2016

Product Photography Tips to Get Started

Apart from portraiture, product photography is one of those few genres which can provide a steady ...

Ben Novoselsky June 29, 2017

7 Main Mistakes when Retouching Wedding Images

If there were one genre of photography that you could do without retouching then that genre would ...

Meg Speak June 27, 2014

10 Tips on how to Shoot in Snowy Weather

1. Dress appropriately

Check the weather for the altitude you’ll be shooting at. The temperature ...

Ben Novoselsky November 7, 2017

Tricks for Mastering Long Exposure Night Photography

Mastering long exposure night photography is a brass ring for amateur photographers. And why not? ...

Ben Novoselsky October 6, 2016

Some Basic Food Photography Tips

If you are a genuine foodie it would be a natural transgression to want to shoot images of the ...

Ben Novoselsky August 12, 2016

About Flash Sync Speed Limitations and How to Work Around It

We often hear about flash sync speed and how we normally cannot use a flash to sync at extremely ...

Ben Novoselsky April 6, 2017

Correct Framing in Portrait Photography

Framing is an integral part of the whole process of image making. Be it landscapes, or portraits or ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 8, 2015

Great Images Come From Great Underlying Stories

I am a photographer who loves making photos of people and places. So every now and then I pack my ...

Rajib Mukherjee April 28, 2016

How to do Breathtaking Forest Photography

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep.” ...

Ben Novoselsky July 14, 2015

Five Natural Light Shooting Tips

You may have heard, nature and natural light photographers often say this – you must head out at ...

Rajib Mukherjee October 3, 2016

Getting Started in Low Light Photography

Introducing Low Light Photography
For those of you who primarily shoot with a smartphone or even a ...

Rajib Mukherjee September 17, 2016

How to Bounce an On-camera External Flash to Produce Better Images

Having purchased your first external flash you must be super-excited. You must be experimenting ...

Ben Novoselsky August 9, 2016

How to Use Backlighting to Isolate Your Subject

I love shooting with backlighting. Backlighting is one of those acquired tastes in photography that ...

Rajib Mukherjee March 21, 2016

Lighting techniques for shooting in studio environment

A studio setup allows you to be creative in ways you could never ever manage without lights. There ...

Rajib Mukherjee May 1, 2015

Five features on your DSLR camera that you probably never use

Your camera comes with three handy metering systems. If you are using a Canon system camera yours ...

Kelsey Fox December 18, 2014

How Properly Holding Your Camera Can Lead to Better Photos

The way you hold your camera is almost as important as choosing the right kind of camera to shoot ...

Rajib Mukherjee July 31, 2015

How to use the Panning mode in photography

Panning is the technique of going with the flow of a moving subject to make images. The movement of ...

Rajib Mukherjee November 26, 2015

Photographing a landmark at night

Often, when traveling through a foreign land we find ourselves in front of an iconic building or ...

Popular posts

Amy Grace October 25, 2021

How to Create a Ghost Mannequin Effect in Photoshop

It can be alarming for e-clothing stores when someone adds a product to the cart but does not ...