Thursday 22 October 2015

Finally learning to use my Nikon D3200 with Pink Lady Apples

I've been using a DSLR since 2009, and I'm ashamed to admit that I've never really learned how to use it. I mean, I've kind of always thought I knew enough. I can frame a photograph fairly decently, I can get in super close and make the background go blurred, and I can fix most things on Photoshop. But it's always bothered me - I've read countless tutorials and blog posts on gettinng better with a DSLR, but I've never quite understood it. For instance, I know that a lower aperture creates a softer background, but I've never figured out HOW to actually change it. And manually focusing is haaaard.

So! When Pink Lady Apples organised a photography masterclass with Aspire Photography Training, I jumped at the chance. It was never something I'd organise to go to by myself, but having it RIGHT THERE - it was impossible to resist. I know what you're thinking - "Apples? And photography?" Well, Pink Lady sponsor the food photographer of the year competition, and were hoping that by teaching myself and some other bloggers some improved photography skills, maybe we'd tap into our unrealised talent and win the whole thing!

Ahem. Well, while that option is fairly unlikely - at least for me - I really did learn a lot from the class. Having some one-on-one time with a professional who also uses a Nikon (although hers was a much better model than mine!) was invaluable. She gave me the confidence that I knew more than I thought I did, and from then, making the transition to using my camera PROPERLY has been much easier. I usually shoot on Aperture mode now, I edit my photos on the camera in RAW and I have no problem adjusting the shutter speed, ISO and white balance. I think my photos have improved over the last few weeks (my friend Amy told me they had too, so I'm taking that to the bank).

For me, what was especially useful was finding out that you can still use auto-focus on the manual modes, and if you're using your camera handheld, it's recommended. It's often easier to shoot with Live View - using the screen rather than the viewfinder doesn't mean you're not a proper photographer. I've also learned that you can move the focus square around with the arrow keys on your camera - sounds obvious, but I never thought of it before! And adjusting the aperture is simple - you just twizzle the dial in Aperture mode, and in Manual mode you do the same, but hold down the +/- button.

We also had a go at food styling, which is an area I really need help in. I'm pretty happy with my food photos, but I take them quickly while cooking, or seconds before I dig in. The class taught us to think a bit more about the area in which we shoot - it doesn't mean that we can't still take the photos quickly, because you can set up an area to shoot (along with the camera on tripod) before you finish (or even start) cooking. It's all about a mix of textures and interesting props - I want to start scouring charity shops now for inspo! There were also some great tips, such as making sure your props are relevant - for instance, an apple and a sharp knife works, but an apple and a fork doesn't (because who eats apple with a fork?).

You don't need a huge space for styling - this is the setup from the day, which was on a board on the floor:

Here are some of the tips from the class (and you should enter the food photographer of the year competition, too!).

- Wherever possible, try and shoot in natural daylight and avoid using the flash
- Rather than using the zoom tool, which lessens quality, move closer to the subject
- Use the grid feature on your camera (even iPhones have this) to compose pictures and ensure your lines are straight
- For accurate focus on a smart phone, tap the screen in the camera viewer and on a compact camera, half press the shoot button
- For manual shooting, Aspire recommend an ISO of 100-200, aperture of f3.5 and white balance on auto - this ensures natural, subtle lighting, sharp focus in the middle with blurred edges. For a sharp focus of the whole frame, use an aperture of f8.
- Use tripods if you can for food photography and tilt it down to shoot overhead
- Use muslin cloth or greaseproof paper over a window to diffuse strong natural lighting
- Use a reflector to bounce away shadows - either purchase a small 30cm one like this one, or use any large white surface like paper or styrofoam.

And finally, you don't need a DSLR to take great photos if the light and styling is good. My battery died after I'd taken a few photos so all the ones in this post were taken with my iPhone. Quite a revelation!



  1. Ahh these are great photos - would have come away from reading believing they were DSLR if you hadn't mentioned they were iphone at the end ;)
    I really want to improve my own knowledge of photography as well, mine is very much hit and miss and randomly changing the aperture and ISO when taking them without any real idea of what's happening! Bit shameful considering I've had my camera 3 years... maybe I'll try and do a course! xx

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  3. Nicely done. Looks like you've learned a lot.

    1. Sorry about duplication. Don't know where it picked up that ancient profile from so tried to post with a different profile but it still used the old blogger one. I've not used blogger for *years*.

  4. Love these photos. I keep meaning to try and find a course which would help me with taking photos with my DSLR but they're so expensive here.

  5. I have no idea what to do with mine... I just hope for the best haha xx


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