On Sunday I attended Coffee + Cameras, a free photography workshop with Sophorn Kuoy at Langford Market. We were treated to delicious coffee from Java Cabana as Sophorn gave us tips on how to get “the perfect shot”.
We all had different cameras ( I have a Canon Rebel xsi), and were all at different skill levels, so she didn’t focus on how to use our individual cameras, but moreso on what to think about when shooting, and general settings to experiment with, while also showing us some of her work.
One of her biggest tips is to just keep shooting. The more you shoot, the better you get at figuring out composition (how you want your shot set up) and the mood that you’re going for in your images. Sophorn is self-taught (her background is in Architectural Design) and shoots almost always in natural light, so paying attention to your surroundings, nature, and the time of day (which affects your lighting) really helps when you’re just starting out and want to learn to shoot w/o automatic settings.
Everyone took a prop to play around with, then discussed our images and got feedback. Because it was coffee and cameras in a boutique, I used one of her old-school cameras, a shirt from Java Cabana plus her “cheat sheet” she gave us.
I liked my composition, but I could definitely see a few changes I could have made to make it even better (shot it vertically and at a slightly lower angle to give it more depth).
Regardless of what type of camera you’re using, the 3 things that affect your images the most are your settings with your shutter speed, aperture, and ISO.
Pay attention to your shutter speed: it affects how quickly light comes through the lens so that the image isn’t blurry. The lowest setting she uses is 1/125 because she’s shooting mostly objects (or food). The range I use 90% of the time is 1/125-1/160.
Aperture (F-Stop) affects the depth of field (what’s in focus). She general keeps her on F/4.5 (this basically means the subject she’s shooting is in focus but everything else is blurred/out of focus). An f/4.5 is an average that, with a lens with f/1.4 or f/1.8 for greater depth of field works nicely for close ups. When I’m doing portraits/shooting bloggers, I usually stay between f/2.8-f/4.5 so that I can still get good bokkeh but their outfit’s still in focus.
ISO: Settings start at 100 and can go up to at least 3200 (mine goes to 1600). This basically affects how grainy your images look. 100-400 is the most versatile range to work with when you’re shooting in natural light because coupled with your shutter speed and aperture settings, you can still get enough light so that your images will be crisp, but won’t be too pixelated when blown up. If you’re just shooting for web, going higher won’t be a huge issue, but if you plan on printing your images, this is something to watch (in addition to shooting RAW files but if you’re at the point, you pretty much know this already).
If you’re not sure what’s working, use your camera’s light meter. It will always show you if your exposure is good, over or under (you typically want it in the middle) when you make adjustments to your settings (Sophorn likes to shoot with it underexposed to make sure her whites aren’t blown out).
After the workshop I walked around taking pictures of the store. All of the photos in this post are completely random and unedited, but I was really impressed with the amount of detail I was now able to capture, especially considering the store’s soft, warm lighting.
If you’re shooting on a sunny day, try to find a shaded area. You will have a natural (light) diffuser so that images won’t be as harsh. You can also shoot a little underexposed to ensure your image still has “texture” and lighten later if needed.
If you’re shooting multiple objects, focus on what’s closest to you. This will add more depth to the photo, making it a little more interesting.
She shoots vertically most of the time (portrait instead of landscape). In a way, this forces you to get a “tight shot”.
Keep your lens clean (click for more info)! Just like your phone, you want to make sure you don’t have anything on camera that could possibly distort your image.
If you’re not satisfied with how things are set up, just move things around. The more you experiment, the better you will get with your props, and the better stories your images will tell.
There are tons of resources online to view for more info, but for myself, it was fantastic getting some hands-on help with my camera. I prefer natural lighting as well, but because of a mechanical issue with my camera’s internal flash, I had a hard time getting the images how I wanted them in the manual setting but once she explained those 3 things to me, I was instantly able to shoot better. I still have a TON of work to do, but I’m excited.
If you’re a blogger (or interested in blogging), definitely take some time out experimenting with your camera. If you know a photographer, reach out to them for tips. Learning how to really use your camera (without always having to rely on someone else) will make your images THAT much better.