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10 most common photography questions answered with image of crystal ball on beach

I get asked a lot of questions about photography and I love it! It is exciting to see people trying to learn about photography. Here are 10 of the most common photography questions that I get asked all the time.

How do you get a blurry background?

This is all about your lens and your choice of aperture.  The lower you set your aperture (f-stop) the more blur you will introduce into your photo.  For that dreamy blur you will want to be using a prime lens that has a low aperture threshold of at least f2.8 but you will do better with an aperture of f1.8.  Check out this article on prime lenses to learn more.

How do you select the correct shutter speed?

Choosing the correct shutter speed is dependent on what you are trying to do.  If you are trying to capture motion blur you will want a lower shutter speed, probably less than 1/60.  If you are trying to freeze motion or take tack sharp photos you will want a fast shutter, meaning no less than 1/250 (I usually don’t go below 1/500).  If you are trying to capture light trails you will want a super slow shutter.  Take your shutter down to at least 2 seconds.  Check out this article on getting tack sharp photos, or this one on capturing sparkler light trails for more information.

Why is my subject soft or out of focus?

Subjects being soft or out of focus is probably the number one question I get and really the solution is in the answer to question number 2.  It’s all about your shutter speed!  Your shutter speed needs to be faster than 1/250 to get tack sharp photos.  The reason behind this is because unless you are shooting a statue and/or you have the steady hands of a neurosurgeon the subject is always moving and so are your hands.  Choosing a fast shutter speed will freeze the motion allowing the photo to be tack sharp.

What lens should I buy first?

Another favorite question!  In my opinion the first lens you should buy after buying your camera is the nifty 50.  It is called this because it is one of the most versatile lenses for both crop sensor and full frame cameras.  The nifty 50 is a prime 50mm lens with an aperture capability of f1.4 or f1.8.  This allows you to get that dreamy blurry background you have asked about above.  Here is an article that goes over various lenses and how to choose the right one for your shooting situation.

Why do my pictures look grainy?

Grainy photos happen for a variety of reasons, but the main one is basically your ISO.  If your ISO is super high, say above ISO 2500 your photos will start to have grain.  The way to combat this is to play with your aperture and shutter speed so that you can lower your ISO and reduce the noise.  The second reason your photos may be grainy is the post-processing you are doing.  If you have accidentally underexposed or overexposed your photo and are trying to fix it by reducing the exposure in a post-processing software such as Lightroom, you will automatically introduce noise.  The more you lower or raise your exposure in post-processing the more noise you will introduce.  

What is White Balance?

White balance is the color temperature of your photos.  When you are shooting in different lighting scenarios you are technically shooting in different color temperatures.  A photo shot outside on a sunny day will have a different color temp than a photo shot indoors under incandescent light.  White balance is how you tell your camera what lighting condition you are in.  You can leave your white balance on auto and let the camera try and figure it out or you can set it to your specific scenario.  The other option is you leave your white balance on Auto and then fix it in post-processing.  This can be done without introducing any noise at all so this is actually what I prefer to do.  One less setting to worry about!

What is the difference between RAW and JPEG?

This is a big question for most newbie photographers.  RAW files are large photo files that contain a ton of data to make the picture.  The extensions for these files are dependent on the brand of camera you have.  These files cannot be shared or sent to printers as is but must be converted to jpeg files using a post-processing software such as Lightroom before sharing.  These files are best used by photographers who are going to do a lot of editing after the shoot and have a ton of storage space.  JPEG files are compressed photo files.  They don’t need to be processed by a photo editing software to be used straight out of camera, although they can be edited.  They are also smaller files that don’t take up as much space on hard drives or cloud storage systems. 

Do I need to shoot in Manual mode to get great photos?

The simple answer is no.  You can get great photos out of the priority modes on your DSLR such as Aperture Priority or Shutter Speed Priority.  Manual mode simply allows you to have control over all the settings on the camera.  The only modes you will want to avoid are the Auto modes.  Auto mode on a DSLR camera is about the same as using the camera on your phone.  Here is a great article explaining the shooting modes on the Canon and Nikon.

How do I get out of a photo rut?

To get out of a photography rut you must pick up your camera and look at your scene or subjects in a different light.  There are some simple things you can do to change up what you are shooting.

  1. Change your perspective – shoot from above or below, find a different angle, change your camera orientation
  2. Shoot through objects – find a plastic bag and tear a hole in it to put over your lens, hold a crystal up to your lens, use colored straws next to your lens to create a cool colored effect
  3. Change your location – finding different places to shoot will spark your creativity

Here is an article on using objects to shoot through to give you some creative ideas.

Should I use the on-camera flash in low light?

You should try to avoid using your on-camera flash at all costs.  The reason is the on-camera flash will only shoot light in one direction, primarily at your subject.  This will create a bright spot on your subject and look like manufactured light.  To avoid using on-camera flash try raising your ISO or turning on lights in your scene if you can.  If you really must use the flash try diffusing it with a tissue or napkin wrapped around the flash.  This will make the light more even and less harsh on your subject.  To learn more tips on avoiding on-camera flash read this!

Did I miss a question you have? If so, leave me a comment. I love helping people on their photography journey.

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