Where do I start with my camera? This was the first question I asked myself when I took the shiny new DSLR out of its box.
This post has been created as a shortcut past overwhelm so you take your first encouraging and stress-free steps and start having a lot of fun as soon as you charge up you camera battery!
Table of contents
- Why Do You Want To Take Better Cat Photos?
- DSLR for Beginners
- How Do I Make My Camera do all this?
- Avoiding New Camera Overwhelm
- Technical Camera Terms for Cat People
- What is ISO?
The kinds of questions you will ask:
- Is there a manual? Is to printed or online?
- Where do I look for help if I need it?
- How do I turn my camera on?
- How do I even hold my camera?
- What is ISO?
- What do I want use my photographs for?
NOTE: I use terminology that might be unfamiliar so I have added a Resources* list at the bottom of the post.
Why Do You Want To Take Better Cat Photos?
Here are the kind of questions you want to think about. Not for too long but an idea gives you a sense of direction as you learn.
- Do you want to focus on a single social media channel?
- Do you want to show off the priceless antics of a foster kitten and capture cute derp* pictures for apotential adopter?
- When you feature a sponsor and product, a rescue cat, or a study on cat health what kind of pictures will you need?
My ambition is to take great pictures of the cats who feature my blog and the gorgeous cats up for adoption at my local cat cafe. Having a goal will encourage you to get out there taking cat pictures.
- A good picture grabs attention and I have to learn basic techniques to make the best use of my device.
My own camera is a Canon EOS 1300D, also knows as the Rebel T6 in the US. It is a good basic beginners model that is not too heavy or complicated to use.
DSLR for Beginners
The first question every new camera user must face is this.
How Do I Make My Camera do all this?
There can be a real mental change of gears when you go from reading the manual to picking up your camera.
Do you have to have to choose aperture* and an ISO* number before you start about taking pictures? Is it OK to use AUTO as a starting point?
I put together a few starter tips that helped me:
- Make taking the lens cap off a habit. I forgot often.
- Learn the right way to support your camera (see the video below)
- Get comfortable focusing on something – use auto focus first.
- Hear and feel a real shutter click. OK not essential but very satisfying
Avoiding New Camera Overwhelm
You have to make a start. You can’t avoid using using camera forever. I sat and looked at mine for weeks before I used it!
My cats were getting tired of being smartphone movie stars, they wanted proper portraits, so I had to do some research and get busy taking pictures.
Type ‘beginner DSLR user’ into YouTube. You will discover that there are plenty of tutorials, even if they don’t mention cats very often. Watching these tutorials will help you become familiar with the terminology used. Watch a few videos and you will be comfortable learning the basics.
- My advice to other new users is to watch several YouTube presentations and see which ones appeal to you.
The advantage with videos is you can watch them over and over. The information will become familiar, and you can move on if a tutorial isn’t working for you.
TIP Online videos have helped me learn a lot about DSLR cameras and guided me when I decided which direction to take.
The next video will encourage anyone starting out. Watch and enjoy. This guy teaches online too. His courses are not expensive.
Technical Camera Terms for Cat People
What Are DSLR Camera Modes?
There are four ‘modes’ to explore as well as AUTO. On my Canon these are P, Av, Tv and Manual. Your settings may be slightly different for a Nikon, Olympus or Pentax – study your manual. I discuss each of them below.
For the first time you take pictures and to get familiar with using your DSRL setting your camera to AUTO is fine. This is how I started using my camera. You are guaranteed results that you can download immediately, it’s exciting and you are up and running.
From here, pick a ‘mode’ to investigate.
Each mode has its merits and can be useful to you. I would advise against rushing straight to ‘Manual’ mode. Manual requires experience and practice.
Program mode is great for newbies
To me, it looks like AUTO mode’s big brother. You can adjust the White Balance* and change the ISO* as well as disable the flash. It a great way to change a few things in a non-scary way.
Aperture Priority (Av)
You select the aperture. Your camera decides which shutter speed will work best for the conditions. Av mode interests me because you use it to get the nice soft background or bokeh* behind a cat you want to photograph.
Shutter Priority (Tv)
In this mode, you can choose the shutter speed. The camera decides which to aperture to select to give you a good and well exposed shot.
I will leave this for another post. Manual mode is a real skill you develop over time. It gives you total control, but learn to use your camera’s basics first.
What is ISO?
Learning a bit about ISO is a great way to begin your photography journey, then you can move on to the rest of the ‘exposure triangle’ which are Shutter Speed and Aperture. I began by learning about ISO because it’s easy to understand. 100 = sunny day right up to 1600+ = inside and dark!
It is acceptable to set your ISO to auto and let the camera work it out when you are a beginner. You want to learn your camera in small bites, and Auto may be the first step. It will not be the only one you take but to get out there and take your first photos start super easy.
In basic terms, ISO is simply a camera setting that will brighten or darken a photo. As you increase your ISO number, your photos will grow progressively brighter. For that reason, ISO is a good tool to help you capture images in dark environments or be more flexible about your aperture and shutter speed settings.Photography Life
TIP You may find that your cats dislike the sound of a shutter* but be patient and keep taking pictures. The shutter makes a distinctive noise, and your cats will all need to become familiar with it. Even my fussiest and most timid cats don’t move away now when I take photos. The key is patience (and maybe a treat or two).
The Exposure Triangle
ISO is part of the Exposure Triangle that balances your light, shutter speed and aperture. Aperture is how far your shutter opens to take a photo.
What Will You Explore First?
You can take your pick but I recommend trying Aperture Priority. It’s a good place to start because the results can be exciting with the soft background blur that showcases a feline so perfectly.
My aim is to take pictures of the Dash Kitten Crew out in the garden, in natural light. The background is busy with greenery but as Av mode lets me explore a fuzzy ‘depth of field*’ it seems a good place to begin.
I will also experiment with ‘exposure compensation*’ to see what a difference this makes.
Beginner Photographer Inspiration
If you are learning to use a DSLR you could be inspired by classic cat photographer Walter Chandoha.
Or, you might love the contemporary inspiration of photographer Larry Johnson. Look for cat photographers online. A great photographer can inspire you so look for their work online and in print.
*Resources for New DSLR Camera Users
- Derp: Cat speak for a cute or dumb face pulled by your model that makes people go ‘Awwww”. Also used as a substitute for speech regarded as meaningless, or to comment on a foolish or stupid action when speaking about humans.
- Bokeh: bokeh (/?bo?k?/BOH-k? or /?bo?ke?/BOH-kay) is the quality of out-of-focus or “blurry” parts of the image rendered by a camera lens.
- Aperture: Aperture changes how wide the lens’ opening is. Inside the camera, a set of circular blades widens and narrows as the photographer adjusts the aperture. The human eye adjusts to bright light by controlling the size of the pupil. Aperture follows a similar concept in that the opening adjusts to different light, only mechanically, not biologically – Creative Live
- ISO: Is the sensitivity of your sensor to light. The ISO setting you use depends on the amount of light in the scene you are photographing. The more light you have to work with the lower you can set your ISO. As settings go, ISO is one of the key camera menus you need to learn. – ImageMaven
- Shutter: When a camera fires, the shutter opens and fully exposes the camera sensor to the light that has passed through your lens. After the sensor is finished collecting the light, the shutter closes immediately, stopping the light from hitting the sensor – Photography Life
- Modes great for clear in-depth definitions of each mode.
- Exposure Compensation is used to alter the exposure from a value selected by the camera, making photographs brighter or darker. In Nikon modes P, S, and A, (Canon P, Av and Tv) the camera automatically adjusts settings for optimal exposure, but this may not always produce the exposure the photographer intended. Nikon
- White Balance: White balance in digital photography means adjusting colours so that the image looks more natural. Full definition: Photography Life
Depthof Field: DOF for short, refers to how much of an image is in focus, specifically the distance between the nearest and farthest in-focus parts of an image – SLR Lounge