How To Take Amazing Photos With an Entry Level DSLR

So, let me let you in on a little secret regarding my photography business… I don’t have the best + newest camera model on the market, in fact, it’s far from that. It’s an entry level DSLR. Before I start telling you my other secrets on how this “shitty-to-most-professionals” camera started my business and got me many, many, many happy customers, I want you all to know how this all started.

My whole life I was interested in cameras. I’m talking age two when I could barely speak English and I would follow my dad around with his camera saying “camma, camma” because I wanted to touch it. Not kidding. As I got older I never envisioned myself as a photographer. My dream was an architect, then an interior designer, then a psychologist, it was ever-changing. Then, on my 18th birthday, my grandparents bought me my first DSLR. I had the whole bag and two lenses, I thought I was hot stuff. My friends started requesting that I take their photos + even after months of doing that, I still hadn’t thought about starting a business. I was dead set on college being my only option. Two years later, I finally made moves.

It was one very tiny, yet very big thing that changed my life in May 2016. My itty bitty baby girl was born. I was a stay-at-home-mom who had nothing else to do during the day while my daughter slept, so I messed around with my camera + took pictures of her all day. Then, I randomly met a woman in Babies R Us. We started talking about breastfeeding when I noticed her looking at Medela products, + then we started talking about maternity photography. I gave her my number + we set up my first paid photo session! Then business starting coming at me from left + right with my new Facebook page. Things just happen, + it’s usually when you least expect it to. If you are interested in starting your own photography business, but are overwhelmed at the cost of things, read my article on how I started my photography business with no money + what I used to make it successful.\

How To Start a Photography Business as a Stay-at-Home-Mom With No Money

So, now that you know how my business started, let me tell you how I take the best possible pictures on my camera

How To Take Amazing Photos With an Entry Level DSLR

{This post contains affiliate links + may earn me a small commission at no extra cost to you. Check out the full disclosure at the bottom my sidebar.}

First things first, I use a Canon Rebel T3i. It’s an older model + it is very cheap. If you haven’t purchased your camera yet, you can get mine here if you want! I’m going to break this down into list form to make it easier to read for you.

1. Shoot in areas with LOTS of light

Entry level DSLRs have really low ISO capabilities, so that means that they do not take photos indoors or in dimly lit settings very well. If you are indoors and have a huge window with direct sunlight, this could work, but outdoors is preferred. I also did a session for a makeup artist once, even though its not really up my alley, as I’m a family photographer, and instead of using flash we used external lighting. They actually came out really well. So as long as you have a direct light source, whether it be natural or artificial, it should work. Anything above 800 will look horrible for professional photos, so don’t even attempt it on beginner cameras. Even 800 is pushing it. Nicer models have excellent ISO capabilities and can go above 800 with no issues.

2. Learn manual

This is a must. No professional or wanna-be professional shoots in auto. They just don’t. When you’re a real beginner and still haven’t learned about composition, angles, or subject matter, then using auto will be fine because you’re still trying to learn how to take a photo in general. If you have that down + can take a well-composed photo, then you definitely learn manual. There are plenty of beginner’s guide articles on how to learn manual on the internet, so I won’t go too much into that. However, I will add that it took me awhile to get it down perfectly, so never give up! Soon enough you’ll only take a few seconds to pick the exact settings that you need for the particular lighting + subject in front of you. The book I used that taught me everything, and is very in-depth, is this one right here. I loved how simple + straight-to-the-point this book was. It listed everything, had charts + visuals that helped me so much. I highly recommend it. This book taught me way more than any article I’ve ever read, plus, it looks pretty on my bookshelf 😉

3. ISO is priority

When you’re taking photos and you need to adjust the lighting, never compromise ISO. Change the depth of field or change the shutter speed, ISO should be your last resort. Shutter speed can be easily lowered by using a tripod or getting your subject to stand still more. If you don’t already know what ISO is, it’s basically your cameras sensitivity to light. The lower the ISO the less sensitive it is to light, hence why it is used in direct sunlight, you essentially don’t need any light. The darker it gets, the more sensitive you want your camera to be to light. The higher you go, though, the lower the quality of the photo. Grain or noise is what happens when the ISO is too high, and anyone can agree that noise makes for a crappy professional photo. If you’re doing it for fun, though, sometimes grain adds character.

4. Shoot in RAW

RAW is still pretty new to me, but it makes a huge difference in the quality of your photos + gives you so much more room to edit effectively. When you’re not shooting in RAW, you’re using JPEGs which are much, much smaller than RAW files. Smaller files = less quality. When you use JPEGs, your camera is only saving the settings that you have it set to at that moment, one white balance, one ISO, one aperture, + one shutter speed. Now, you can’t change the shutter speed or aperture with RAW files after that picture is taken, but you have full control over the lighting + coloring. RAW files save all the information from the second that photo is snapped which is almost like giving you a second chance to change your settings. Allowing you to retake the photo almost. This is really great for weddings, from what I’ve heard since my first wedding is in a few weeks, because you have to make lighting decisions quickly + that gives you more opportunities to make mistakes.

The filters that you can buy + download online are meant to be placed over RAW files. All the lighting + color information is saved in the preset file + is meant to go over a photo that doesn’t have any lighting + coloring set in stone yet, which is what a JPEG is. Not to mention, every single edit you make to a photo takes the quality down a notch, so you either need to make sure your manual settings are perfect so you won’t feel the need to edit (which we all know isn’t probable), or you need to shoot in RAW so the quality won’t be compromised. Comprende?

5. Use the right white balance!

I was going to discuss this in the lighting paragraph where I was going to mention shade, but this also has to do with coloring, which is completely different than lighting. So, white balance… It’s extremely important. The photos can be edited, but sometimes they just can’t be fixed. I made this mistake plenty of times. White balance is the little symbol that could either be a cloud, a sun, a light bulb, etc. You want to pay attention to this, especially if you are indoors. You can choose from sunny, cloudy, shade, tungsten light, or fluorescent light. When I’m outside, I usually keep it on the cloudy setting because I like a warmer color. This came back to bite me during a session that I did in the woods.

First of all, you will hear from any professional that they prefer shade + cloudy days for that smooth, even lighting, but when you’re in the woods + you have almost no light coming through the thick trees, you might as well be indoors. The darkness really affected the quality of the photos, but I made it work. However, the white balance, not so much. Trees + grass will reflect green + it looks ugly. It turns their skin a yellowish green color + makes them look jaundice. For this reason you need to make sure that your camera is either on sunny to make cooler tones, or that it’s on shade to negate the greenish color.

I fixed it with the best of my ability through skin tone adjustments, but I did way too much work for the amount I was paid. Simply because of a camera setting mistake. Pay attention to the color + not just the light! I really recommend buying these reflectors which will help with all the coloring + tone issues that white balance can’t, they are life savors. Oh, and they’re cheap!

Okay, so these are the things that I’ve learned over the years that made the difference between amateur + professional photography. If you are a beginner or someone who just does not like the way their photos come out – make sure you try all of these things!

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