Balancing Act

DP #1: Getting down to the basics

So you just got your hands on a nifty DSLR camera. You may have in your possession a Canon, Nikon, Sony, Pentax, etc. Independent of brands, the techniques employed in this blog series will apply to most if not all DSLR cameras. The digital display screen, menu and rotary controller may vary, but each camera will employ cross-recognizable designations for common functionality, i.e. Av for aperture priority mode, Tv for shutter speed priority mode, P for program, M for manual, etc. The entries will also apply to your favorite advance point and shoot cameras as well. If you are well versed on configuration, even a conventional point and shoot digital camera can be used (to a limited extent).

Finally, this blog series is not about the technicality and operation of your camera, nor is it about the science of photography. It's really about applying techniques used by seasoned photographers to take interesting photos. Each entry will build upon the last, from basic to advance, so it's probably best to read from start to finish if you are truly new to the world of DSLR and/or digital photography. If you have experience, feel free to skip around. So without further ado, let's start with basic equipments.

Tripods and tripod heads

If you are going to take your photography career from amateur / hobbyist status to professional status, you will need to invest in a heavy duty tripod. We're not talking about rinky-dink plastic tripods designed for point-and-shoot cameras, we're talking about tripods with a minimum entry level load of 8 lbs. Think about it for a second. If your camera body weighs 2 lbs, your lens weighs anywhere between 1 lb to 3 lbs, your battery grip with extra battery weighs ~1 lb... etc. it all adds up. This figure not factoring in external flash or heavy telephoto zoom lens, like the Canon EF 70-200mm 2.8/f IS. A cheap tripod will not be sufficient. Not only will it not support your equipment for a sharp shot, it will more than likely topple over the sheer weight. Invest in a sturdy tripod that is acclimated to your photographic needs. I recommend brands like Manfrotto and Gitzo. If you're not sure, check out the 190X series by Manfrotto with minimum load of 6 lbs.

All professional-grade tripods are sold without a tripod head. This is a good and not-so good feature. Headless tripods allows you the opportunity to shop for a tripod head suited for your needs (i.e. ball head or multi-directional head). Just like tripods, the heads themselves have maximum load, so I advise that you purchase a head that coincides with the maximum load of the tripod. Manfrotto and Kirk manufacture great entry level profesional-grade tripod head. These heads are pretty pricey themselves, so be ready to shell out at least $100 for an entry level head to accommodate your tripod.

Lens (aka "glass")

Lens requires a mini sub series to cover in itself. Since the topic of camera lens is a large scope, here are a few pointers. Good lens come at a price, but the tradeoff is superior and unrivaled quality. For example, if you're planning to purchase a $500 Canon EF 75-300mm IS 4-5.6/f, then the quality or sharpness level of the photo isn't your primary concern. A Canon EF 70-200mm 2.8/f II IS will yield a superior quality, but the price is $2,400.00. We'll cover the different types of focal lens in subsequent articles, but keep in mind that a quality lens will cost more than a cheap lens of the same focal range. For the average photographer, a wide angle lens (24-35mm), portrait lens (50-85mm) and telephoto zoom lens (70-200mm) will suffice. Of course that doesn't mean you can't have a 180mm macro lens or 15mm fisheye lens, but the aforementioned types of lens will be sufficient for your typical photography session.

Cable release 

If you are interested in taking sharp images, there are several techniques to employ to maximize sharpness. A professional tripod with a sturdy tripod head is the core prerequisite. Next, a cable release design for your camera is a necessity. It allows you to take a shot of the subject without pressing the camera button, which will cause minor vibration and ruin the overall sharp level of the picture. If you can't afford a cable release or forgot to bring it with you, then a free alternative is to use the camera's built-in timer to shoot the subject without pressing the button.

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