Photography Lesson

It was a chilly, early Saturday morning more than a week ago when I would have preferred to be at home in bed but instead found myself driving to Fort Edmonton Park.  Once I got over the grogginess, I was actually excited to learn more about using my Canon EOS Rebel XSi (a fairly basic but capable SLR camera) so I convinced myself that it was worth the effort.  I am definitely a beginner with this camera despite the fact that I’ve had it for years.  I even have a somewhat neglected second lens that I received as a birthday gift in 2010.  As someone who loves to travel and take pictures, I was overdue for a proper lesson in photography.  During my Europe trip last fall, Rajini (AKA wifey and travel buddy) tried showing me some tricks and tips about using the digital SLR.  But a professional class was still a good idea.  Since I aspire to take many more pics in amazing places, then I need to be comfortable with the features of my camera.  Now that the class is done, I’ve been playing around with the features more often.  Here are the main lessons that we learned during out session with Learn Photography Canada taught by James and Barbara.  Hopefully this helps you out as well!  I apologize in advance if I make any mistakes… I’m still fairly new to this.


First, get to know the anatomy of your camera.  Anatomy?  Well, that’s something I can relate to… I love anatomy!  I’m not going to go through all the details here because every camera can be different.  Take out your user guide and locate the important parts- the main dial (for altering the setting you are on), the mode dial (from AV to TV to manual mode “M” to full automatic mode, etc), the shutter button (waiters and tourists always have a hard time finding mine when I force them to take pics of me and my friends), the aperture/exposure compensation button (fun to play with, it is labelled “AV +/-” and is beside the LCD monitor on my camera), lens, flash, etc.  Get to know where things are on your camera.  Keep your user guide close by to reference as you are learning.

The next lesson (and most important) was understanding the three important components that determine the EXPOSURE of every picture you take- the shutter speed, aperture, and ISO setting. If you stop reading after this point and apply those principles in AV mode (where you control the aperture and the camera chooses the corresponding appropriate shutter speed), you’re doing fine.

  • The shutter speed is the number that shows up often as a fraction when you’re about to take the picture.  This is how fast the camera shutter window opens and closes when it captures the image.  If the speed is fast (very low number), then less light will be allowed in but you will get a sharper picture, eg. for sports photography.  It the speed is slow (a few seconds, higher numbers), the lens will stay open for longer when capturing the picture and this will allow more light in but can also result in a blurry picture.  Everyone has seen those pictures of the night sky that show the stars as bands across the image?  That is achieved using a long/slow shutter speed (higher number) because the camera shutter is open long enough to capture the earth’s rotation relative to the stars.
  • The aperture is how open the lens becomes.  Think of like our pupils- they dilate or open up to let more light in when the room light is dim and they constrict or make a really small hole to allow less light in under bright circumstances.  James had these handy pictures of little circles in different circumferences to demonstrate this.
  • Finally, the ISO is the sensitivity to light.  Remember when we used to use film cameras?  The film would come in 100, 200, or 400 and you would buy 100 for very bright, sunny settings vs 400 for inside or dimmer settings.  The same logic applies here.

The 3 above mentioned components together determine the exposure (extremes being overexposure vs underexposure) of your picture.

Now that we have a good foundation of basic camera anatomy and function, let’s get into some more specific features:

1.  Draw attention to your subject.  In AV mode, play with the aperture level outside to change the depth of field.  If you want the effect of a focused nearby subject and blurry background, you can for manipulate the level to achieve this.  Portraits are usually shot with a higher aperture.  This draws your attention to the subject-

Notice the sign in the background- the letters are clear

Notice the sign in the background- the letters are clear.

Now when you increase the aperture, the field depth becomes more shallow and the letters in the background are blurred.  This draws your attention to the subject

Now when you increase the aperture, the field depth becomes more shallow and the letters in the background are blurred, making your subject stand out.

2.  Shift your focus.  The next lesson was about changing focus shift.  I practiced this later with my little cousin.  Basically, you choose your subject and then start to halfway depress the shutter so it knows to focus at this depth.  Then you can slightly shift over and the focus can be off-center-


My little buddy is in focus…

and now the focus is on the truck then shifted over so it is off-center but still in focus

… now I focused on the truck then shifted over so that it’s off-center but sharp

3.  Sensitivity.  Now we’ll talk about the ISO (International Standards Organization).  Lower ISO results in a sharper image but has a low sensitivity to light so ISO of 100 or 200 should be reserved for bright settings.  ISO of 400 or 1600 are good for dimmer settings (indoors, candle light) but they can result in more “noise” in the image.

4.  Make ghost people.  A fun trick is to increase time of shutter opening (higher number which means slower speed) to blur people or background “noise” (traffic, cars, etc) and keep the focus on one main object/subject. For example, focus on one monument or stationary person in a busy area and blur moving pedestrians (they’ll look like ghosts) by lengthening the shutter speed to 1/4-1 second range-

photo taken by Raj Kalsi

photo taken by Raj Kalsi in Grand Central Station, NYC


5.  Shed some light on the subject.

We were taught 3 ways of bring light back on a subject that looks dark in front of a brighter background:

  1. In AV mode, you can trick the camera (exposure compensation) using av +/- button (beside the LCD screen for Canon or often above the LCD screen for Nikon).  For example, James stood in front of a bright window and he was dark, more like a shadow.  In this case, you can overexpose by going into the “+” side of the av +/-.
  2. Use the evaluative metering or light metering feature.  You can switch from matrix or multi zone metering (which is the camera default) to point metering.  Matrix metering is the camera measuring the amount of light by taking an overall average vs spot or point metering where the camera is measuring light at specific focus point.
  3.  In AV mode again, choose the aperture that you want then half depress the shutter button to see which shutter speed correlates.  Then switch to manual mode and set this aperture value with shutter speed but add flash.  This was my favorite option of the three.

6.  Distort your world.  The most true to life depth perception on a full-frame camera is 50 mm zoom, whereas longer (150 mm or so) is more flattering for portraits. A wider angle (eg. 18 mm) makes things at different depths look more distorted.


Using a wide angle lens (18mm or so) makes my hand look abnormally large!


With a more narrow lens angle such as 50 mm or higher, my hand looks less distorted.

7.  See the world through rose- (or tungsten-) colored glasses.  Changing the white balance can change the color scale.  Don’t mess around with resetting the white balance in custom, just switch between the pre-set options or you’ll make things more complicated.  Professionals may use custom white balance to whiten bride’s dresses under non-ideal lighting.  Here are some pictures under the different options in white balance-IMG_6547 IMG_6546 IMG_6544 IMG_6542 IMG_6548

Note:  They advised us beginners to avoid shooting in automatic mode and to avoid using the “P-mode” and A-dep” (glorified automatics). Stick to AV mode most of the time except for special cases or subtle changes in same room. Tv is the mode for altering only time (shutter speed) but you will rarely use this except to focus on something and blur rest (see above example in Grand Central Station).  There were many more interesting tricks that we learned but they are better explained in a class instead of via blog.

IMG_6666Thanks again to James and Barbara for keeping it informative and interesting at the same time!  I enjoyed the fact that we would learn a lesson then they would take us outside so we could practice and ask questions.  Learn Photography Canada also offers many different courses (portraiture, advanced digital, photoshop, etc)- I would definitely recommend them!  Happy snapping!

Bonus- if you sign up by phone (1 877 778 8993) and mention my name, you and I will both get a $40 credit towards a course 🙂


And can’t forget the Coachella song of the post: 


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