Here’s What You Need to Know About Buying Your First Camera in 2020

So you want to get your first “Real camera” that’s not your iPhone? Great! Cameras in 2020 have reached a point where “cheap” cameras are actually very capable cameras. You don’t have to buy the most expensive camera to get great results. The selection of cameras available is far and wide. There is a camera for any budget and every skill level. I want to give you some tips and advice on choosing your first camera.

Some of the links listed below are affiliate links. I earn a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through my link. I 100% recommend the products I list and I am in no way paid or sponsored to say this.

What are your motives?

Do you want a camera to snap a photo here and there when you are out with friends or do you want to make a full time career with photography? This is a very important question to ask yourself because it will help narrow down your selection the most.

If you just want to snap some high quality images every so often there would be no need to buy a professional level camera. If someone wants to become a professional photographer they wouldn’t want to get an entry level camera would they?

It’s very important to ask yourself why you want a camera before purchasing.

What are you looking for in a camera?

This is another important question to ask. What can a new camera do that my old camera can’t? Or what can a new camera do that my iPhone can’t? As amazing as new technology in cameras are nowadays, they are not a replacement for a bad photographer.

A camera is a tool. It’s up to you to use the tool correctly. If you have a very broad answer like, “I just want better photos” sadly a new camera probably won’t help you much.

If you answered something like, “I want a new camera because I want to take better low light photos” or “I need better auto focus for action shots”. Then most likely a new camera will benefit you and help you take better photos if you discover a limitation rather than just wanting a more expensive camera.

If you can’t pinpoint how a new camera will help you take better photos than most likely you don’t need a “better camera”. It’s important to separate the “wants” from the “needs”.

Do I want that $4,000 camera? Yes. Do I really need it to take good photos? No. Do some people need a $4,000 camera? Yes. Will a $4,000 take better photos? Yes, but only if you know how to properly use it. Learn how to master manual mode by clicking here.

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Price Range

How much are you willing to spend on a new camera? Most likely the more you spend on a camera the better it will be and the more features it will have but it doesn’t always mean you necessarily need it.

It would’t make sense to go to a Lamborghini dealership when you have a Toyota Camry budget. Don’t go drooling over more expensive cameras if they are not in your price range.

The Lamborghini will be an amazing car but that doesn’t make the Toyota Camry a bad car either. Don’t compare the cameras in your price range to ones that are more expensive because it won’t be a fair comparison.

Once you determine a price range you are comfortable with you can narrow down your selection significantly.

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What kind of photography will you do?

Depending on what kind of photography you are interested in will determine which camera you should get.

If you are a sports shooter you should look for cameras with high FPS and good auto-focus. If you want to do macro/product photography having a high FPS won’t be as important to you as it would be for a sports photographer.

You need to determine what type of shooting you will be doing the most. All cameras can take photos for any type of photography but some will be better suited for certain types of photography than others.

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Features

Make a list of all the features you “need” in a camera. Then make a list of the “nice to have features”. If you need a camera with a high FPS for action or sports don’t waste your time looking at a camera that can only shoot a low FPS.

Will the features actually improve the quality of your photos? Many new features on cameras are almost gimmicks to get you to buy the latest model. Most of the time you won’t use all of your cameras features, what’s most important is the ability to take quality photos.

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Brand

Does brand matter to you? You really can’t go wrong with any of the major camera brands. If you have a preference or feel more comfortable using one brand over the other than go with it. Don’t choose a specific brand just because someone said it was “better”.

If you are unbiased towards any camera brand, that’s great because now you have a larger selection to choose from.

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Lenses

Do you have any specific lenses you know you will use or want to use in the future? I am a big believer in quality lenses over expensive camera body.

I would rather use a “cheap” camera with a quality lens rather than an expensive camera with a mediocre lens.

Why does this matter when choosing a camera? Because some manufacturers have better lenses to offer than others. Find a good lens you know you will use and then find a camera body to match the lens mount.

Another factor is DSLR vs Mirrorless lenses. Most brands have a wider selection of lenses to choose for DSLRs because they have been around longer than mirrorless cameras. Let’s not focus on this too much right now, we will discuss DSLR vs Mirrorless in a moment.

Read about what lens I recommend you buy first by clicking here.

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Size

Does size matter to you? Does a camera need to fit in your pocket? Would you mind carrying around a big clunky camera all day if it took good photos? Some people don’t mind a clunky camera and others want the smallest possible camera.

There is no right or wrong to this one, it’s a matter of preference. Most higher-end cameras are a little bigger and heavier than the entry level cameras because of a few different reasons but it’s not always the case.

Most of the time it’s a trade off between portability/size and camera quality/features.

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Video Features

Are video features important to you? Will you be doing lots of video work with your camera or just an occasional video clip.

If you are only planning on using your camera for an occasional video you will be well equipped with just about any modern camera that can shoot full HD video or higher.

Many people are brainwashed into thinking they “need” 4k because their smartphone can shoot 4k but that’s not true at all. The sensor size on a DSLR or Mirrorless camera is much larger than a smartphone and will produce way better results at 1080p than any 4k recording smartphone.

If you are going to use your camera for lots of video work I would lean towards recommending a mirrorless camera. Mirrorless cameras typically have better video quality and better features than DSLRs.

This is not to say that DSLRs don’t have good video capabilities. DSLRs can take amazing videos as well but mirrorless cameras typically have more of the latest features for video work.

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DSLR vs Mirrorless

The million dollar question when it comes down to which camera should I buy?

DSLR vs Mirrorless seems like such a tough choice. It’s really not that difficult as it may seem. They both have their pros and cons but it’s a fairly straight forward choice.

DSLR Pros –

  • Optical viewfinder
  • Better battery life
  • Typically more rugged/durable than mirrorless cameras
  • Wider range of lenses to choose from
  • Better low light autofocus
  • Better autofocus for action (especially high end DSLR)

Mirrorless Pros –

  • Electronic viewfinder
  • Smaller/lighter than DSLR
  • Better video features
  • In body image stabilization is more common in mirrorless cameras
  • Some models have eye/face detect autofocus

DSLR Cons –

  • Heavy and bulky
  • No in body image stabilization
  • No eye/face autofocus
  • Can’t preview image in viewfinder

Mirrorless Cons –

  • Typically not as rugged as a DSLR
  • Not as many lenses to choose from
  • Viewfinder lag
  • Battery life isn’t as good as DSLR
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Bottom line

Neither the DSLR or Mirrorless camera is “better” than the other. They serve different purposes and depending on what type of photography you are into one camera system might fit better for you.

The first step is determining what kind of camera will best suit your needs. Once you have decided on DSLR vs Mirrorless you will then need to set a budget you are comfortable spending on a camera.

What do I recommend

No matter what brand you pick or if you get a DSLR or mirrorless camera I 100% recommend you buy the camera body separately from the lens.

Don’t fall for the trap of buying the kit lens bundle which may appear to be a good deal at the time of purchasing. You will quickly outgrow a kit lens and you will wish you had bought a better lens.

Make sure you factor the cost of a good lens into your budget. If you have to buy a cheaper camera to stay within your budget than do so.

You can always upgrade your camera sometime in the future if you do outgrow your camera but you will get better results right now using a good lens on a cheaper camera rather than using a kit lens on a better camera.

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My Picks

I can’t fully recommend a camera and lens combo for you because your needs for a camera will probably be different than mine. Below are my picks for what I think would be the best value for each price range if I had to buy a new camera.

Under $350 – In this price range you will most likely have to look into a used/pre-owned camera to stay under your budget. You can find some good cameras new under $350 but it most likely is a kit lens combo.

There is nothing wrong with purchasing a pre-owned camera, I have done so and saved a lot of money rather than buying new. It’s important to read what condition the camera is in before purchasing. Make sure refunds are accepted when purchasing a used camera.

If you shop around you may be able to find some of these cameras under $350

I cannot guarantee prices of these cameras listed below. At the time of writing the cameras were available in their respected price range but prices are always fluctuating. Use these as prices as starting guidelines.

Under $350

Under $500 –

Under $1,000 –

Under $2,000 –

Under $3,000 –

I hope you can use this information to make a great selection for your first camera purchase. Leave a comment down below if you still have any questions.

The best camera, is the one that you have with you!

-Chase Jarvis

Check out my recent blog posts below!

camera

Here’s What You Need to Know About Buying Your First Camera in 2020

So you want to get your first “Real camera” that’s not your iPhone? Great! Cameras in 2020 have reached a point where “cheap” cameras are actually very capable cameras. You don’t have to buy the most expensive camera to get great results. The selection of cameras available is far and wide. There is a cameraContinue reading “Here’s What You Need to Know About Buying Your First Camera in 2020”

This One Easy Trick Will Instantly Improve Your Macro Photography

Do you want your macro shots to pop? Do you wish they weren’t so boring? I’ve got one very easy trick to instantly improve your macro photography. First off, this is directed more towards nature photography but you may also find other creative uses for this photography “hack”. I’m dying to know how I canContinue reading “This One Easy Trick Will Instantly Improve Your Macro Photography”

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This One Easy Trick Will Instantly Improve Your Macro Photography

Do you want your macro shots to pop? Do you wish they weren’t so boring? I’ve got one very easy trick to instantly improve your macro photography.

First off, this is directed more towards nature photography but you may also find other creative uses for this photography “hack”.

I’m dying to know how I can improve my macro photos! Tell me how! Well here it is! The instant “hack” to take better macro photos is to use a spray bottle/mister.

How will a spray bottle help me take better photos? It can’t take pictures? I need a camera to take pictures!

Learn why you need a macro lens by clicking here.

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We may not be taking pictures with a spray bottle but we can use it to spray droplets on a leaf or on whatever we may be photographing.

Using this “hack” allows us to replicate rain drops whenever we want to. Who doesn’t love the look of rain drops?

Water droplets from a spray mister

If you have a mister with an adjustable nozzle you can choose if you want a light mist or bigger water droplets depending on the style of photo you want to create.

It may not be practical to carry a spray bottle with you in your camera bag but it’s a fun way to be creative with macro photography around your house or yard.

water droplets on a leaf
Water droplets

Next time you are out doing macro photography don’t forget to bring along a spray bottle for some dramatic shots. You can also use the mister from a hose attachment if you would like to.

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This is a very easy way to make your macro shots more interesting and creative. Comment down below what your favorite macro “hacks” are, I would love to hear from you!

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camera settings

Master manual mode

Want to learn how to use your camera to the best of its abilities? Do you want to know how to get perfect exposure in manual mode? Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, what does this even mean? It’s too complicated when you are just starting out as a photographer but I want to show you howContinue reading “Master manual mode”

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Perspective is Everything With Photography

Why does it really matter where we take a photo? Will it really make a difference if I move over a few feet and take another photo? It may not feel like much but it makes a huge difference where we stand when we take a photo.

Photography is a creative art so we should always be open to trying new things when shooting. If we always take photos from the same angle, same location, same subject we are just recreating the same thing over and over again.

Creativity may be natural to some but it can definitely be learned if that’s something you struggle with. There is no such thing as creativity if we don’t try new things. The quickest way to become more creative is to try something new. You may end up not liking the result but you will probably learn a lot from trying something new.

I took this photo while walking on a nature trail and as I approached these stairs I saw an opportunity for a good photo with the nice leading lines from the path. I was happy with the result and I could have been satisfied with the photo if that was the only photo I took that day. I wasn’t satisfied, I knew I could do better!

Stairs on a trail
Stairway on a nature trail

The first photo we take is rarely ever our favorite. We should use the first photo as our baseline and try to improve upon it. After I took the photo I thought about how I could make it better. I was outside so I couldn’t change the lighting, I wanted a wide view so I kept my wide angle lens on my camera.

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What could I do to improve on this photo and still include the stairway? Aha! Move! I had then discovered an idea. What would this photo look like from the top? It may not look good but there’s also a chance it will. The only choice left now is to try it.

Once I got to the top I instantly knew this was the right choice! I loved this angle much better than the one from below.

stairs leading to a creek
The money shot

The easy thing would have been to take the photo from below and call it a day. The easy way is rarely ever the best way. We need to constantly push ourselves to create better images. It’s too easy to fall into the trap and only take photos a certain way.

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Next time you are out shooting don’t forget to try something new and improve upon the first image you take. Don’t be afraid to take a lot of photos, you will increase your chance of getting the perfect shot if you do.

What’s your favorite creativity hack for photography? How do you make a photo unique? I’d love to hear from you! Comment down below and let me know how you achieve the perfect shot!

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Read my last post here!

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Professional Photography Lens Without the High Price

Some of the links listed below are affiliate links. I earn a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through my link. I 100% recommend the products I list and I am in no way paid or sponsored to say this.

Photography is expensive! Want that shiny new lens? It’s 50% off right now and only costs one kidney, full price is both kidneys.

Shopping for new photography gear can be frustrating when everything seems so expensive. One of the best purchases I ever made for photography was buying a 50mm f/1.8. It’s not only one of my favorite lenses it’s also the cheapest lens I own! How great is that!

Depending on what camera you use the prices can vary for a 50mm f/1.8 but typically it’s one of the most affordable lenses a brand has to offer.

What is so great about a cheap lens

You get what you pay for… You might be thinking if it’s so cheap it must not be any good? Not true! The 50mm f/1.8 is a fantastic lens for any price point. It can compete with lenses 2x, 3x, even 5x its price!

The 50mm f/1.8 is often the first lens that is recommended if you want to upgrade from your kit lens because of its tempting price point. So what actually makes this lens so great? Here are some of my favorite features about this lens.

  • Price
  • Wide aperture
  • Sharp
  • Size
  • Bokeh
Price

For such a good camera lens the 50mm f/1.8 is very affordable. Some lenses are thousands of dollars but you can get a 50mm f/1.8 for as low as $99! The price can vary between brands so I recommend you check out the prices below.

Aperture

Most kit lenses have an aperture of f/3.5-f/5.6 which not the best for low light and blurry backgrounds. Going from f/3.5 to f/1.8 is about 2 stops of light! If you needed to use ISO 1600 with a f/3.5 lens that means you could use ISO 400 if you had a f/1.8 lens because it lets in more light from the bigger aperture.

That’s a huge difference! That’s the difference between a grainy photo and a sharp photo.

Another benefit of a f/1.8 lens is having the ability to blur the background. At f/1.8 it will much easier to have a beautifully blurred background than if you shot at f/3.5.

Leaf in nature
50mm taken at f/1.8 with a blurred background
Sharpness

The 50mm f/1.8 is a very sharp lens and it’s much sharper than a kit lens. If you want sharper photos the 50mm f/1.8 is an excellent choice.

Even shooting at f/1.8 the 50mm is very sharp and won’t disappoint.

Most kit lenses have lackluster sharpness but the 50mm is so sharp it can compete with lenses that are priced much higher than it.

Car show photo
Sharpness of the 50mm f/1.8
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Size

The 50mm is really small and lightweight. You hardly even notice it if you throw it in your camera bag. It makes it very enjoyable to shoot with because you aren’t carrying around a big clunky lens all day.

If you had the choice to pick between a heavy lens and a lightweight lens which would you choose?

50mm lens
The 50mm has a very compact size
Bokeh

Who doesn’t love bokeh? I sure love it! You can get amazing bokeh from the 50mm f/1.8 lens. There are many factors that play a role in bokeh but the aperture of f/1.8 helps tremendously.

All three of the 50mm lenses listed have a 7 bladed aperture which helps with bokeh. Generally the more blades the better the bokeh.

Most kit lenses struggle to get good bokeh because of their aperture limitations but the 50mm excels when it comes to bokeh.

Fern in the woods
Bokeh behind a fern
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Sample 50mm f/1.8 photos
Overall

Overall a 50mm f/1.8 is a great investment for photography! Even with its affordable price it still packs a punch and can compete with some of the more expensive lenses out there. Don’t miss out on a great opportunity to improve your photography! Check out the 50mm lenses listed below and be on your way to better photos!

Can’t miss tips from our last blog post!

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5 Lightroom Tips to Improve Your Editing

I am no Lightroom expert but I’ve learned a lot from editing thousands of photos in Lightroom and watching tons of Lightroom YouTube videos. After using Lightroom for a few years now I want to share some tips I’ve learned along the way that have improved my editing and sped up my workflow.

What you need

Some of the links listed below are affiliate links. I earn a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through my link. I 100% recommend the products I list and I am in no way paid or sponsored to say this.

There are a few different versions of Lightroom but today I will be talking about Adobe Lightroom Classic for Desktop. If you don’t have it installed I highly recommend you do so. You can download Lightroom Classic for Windows or Mac by clicking here.

Applying presets on import

This is not for your typical “preset”. A preset can be anything you do to all your photos even if its not the entire edit. My favorite way to use this tool is by enabling “lens corrections” on import. But feel free to use this however you would like.

Lens corrections in Lightroom

I used to go through every photo and manually select “Remove chromatic aberration” and “Enable profile corrections”. I wasted so much time doing this because I never knew I could have Lightroom apply it to every photo on import.

Okay, this is great but how can I do this? Here’s the great part! It’s very simple to set up! First start out with an unedited photo in Lightroom and apply only the edits you want to save for your import “preset”. Once you are done with that go to the develop panel at the top of the page and look for “New Preset”.

New preset in lightroom
New Preset

Alternatively you could use the keyboard shortcut “Ctrl+Shift+N” to save a new preset (I use windows so I am not sure if these keyboard shortcuts are the same for Mac).

Once you click “New Preset” you will need to assign a name and select which settings you want included in the preset. Click “Create” when you are ready to save.

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Now there is only one step left to apply a preset on import. Next time you import photos there will be an area on the right side that says, “Apply During Import” once you click on that you should see, “Develop Settings” and that’s where you will select your preset that will automatically apply to every photo during import.

apply during import lightroom

Range Mask

I love the range mask tool because it allows you to fine select a certain part of the image to edit. Range mask works when using the Graduated filter, radial filter, and the adjustment brush tool. My favorite is the radial filter but you can use whichever one you prefer.

Click on the “Radial Filter” and apply it to your image.

radial filter lightroom

Scroll down until you see “Range Mask” and click on it. Choose color, luminance, or depth depending on what you want to select in the image. My favorite is “Color”.

range mask lightroom

Now click on the color range selector tool.

color range selector lightroom

Find a spot on the photo to take a sample color. (Tip) You can either pick one specific spot by right clicking or you can sample a larger part of the image by clicking and dragging over an area.

lightroom range mask

Once you have made a selection you can adjust the selection by dragging the “Amount” slider left and right.

That’s it! Now you can make adjustments on your selection without affecting the rest of the image by using the range mask tool.

camera settings

Master manual mode

Want to learn how to use your camera to the best of its abilities? Do you want to know how to get perfect exposure in manual mode? Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, what does this even mean? It’s too complicated when you are just starting out as a photographer but I want to show you howContinue reading “Master manual mode”

Previous Button

One of my favorite tips for editing in Lightroom is using the previous button when I have similar images to batch edit. The “Previous” button is similar to a preset but you don’t save it like you would with a preset. Once you have edited one image you can then select a new photo and press the previous button to “paste” your edit onto the new photo.

previous button lightroom

You can also do the same thing to multiple photos. If you want to pick and choose which photos to apply edits to you can click and hold “Ctrl” to select multiple images. If you want to select a row of images you can press and hold the “Shift” key and select the first and last images and Lightrom will automatically include all the images in between the two selections.

When we select multiple photos in Lightroom it’s called “Sync” instead of “Previous”. This is a great way to speed up your workflow and helps give unity between multiple photos.

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Edit in Photoshop

I know, I know, this is 5 tips about Lightroom, so why did I include Photoshop? Because sometimes Lightroom isn’t enough and we need to export to Photoshop. It’s your choice whether you edit in Lightroom or Photoshop but this tip comes in handy when you need to flip between editing in LIghtroom and Photoshop.

edit in photoshop lightroom

If you have Photoshop installed which hopefully you do, because you can get Lightroom and Photoshop bundled together for the same price as Lighroom by clicking here. You can select “Edit In” to send your files from Lightroom to Photoshop.

You can also use keyboard shortcut “Ctrl + E” to edit in Photoshop.

When you select edit in Photoshop you will be given the choice to edit with Lightroom adjustments or edit the original file. Select whichever is best for you and Photoshop will open up with your file ready to be edited.

Once you’re done editing in Photoshop you can hit save or keyboard shortcut “Ctrl + S” and your adjustments in Photoshop will be updated in Lightroom.

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Masking

Whenever you use sharpening on a photo you need to use the masking slider for the best results. The great thing is it’s very simple to use. First adjust the sharpening slider to your desire then press and hold the “Alt” key while dragging the masking slider.

The image will turn completely black and white and the white parts represent what’s being sharpened. The more you drag the slider to the right the more you target what is in focus.

masking in lighroom
Pressing Alt while masking

It’s best to use masking because most of the time we don’t want the whole photo sharp. Using the masking slider helps us to select what we want to be sharp in the photo.

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Master manual mode

Want to learn how to use your camera to the best of its abilities? Do you want to know how to get perfect exposure in manual mode? Shutter speed, aperture, ISO, what does this even mean? It’s too complicated when you are just starting out as a photographer but I want to show you how to make it simple.

Requirements: First lets make it clear what kind of camera we need. The only requirement is your camera must be able to shoot in manual mode, or have the ability to change shutter speed, aperture, and ISO independently from each other. That’s it, you can you use whatever brand camera you want and any lens as long as it has the ability to shoot manual. Now you can follow along and learn how to use and understand how to shoot in manual mode and achieve the perfect exposure.

Exposure triangle

I didn’t sign up for a geometry class, what’s this talk about an exposure triangle? Don’t worry, no geometry is involved in this post. The exposure triangle consists of the 3 most important settings on your camera. Shutter speed, aperture (a.k.a f-stop) and ISO make up the exposure triangle. If any of these terms seem daunting to you, relax, I will explain it all to you. It’s important to understand that these 3 settings work independently from each other but they all work together to achieve the correct exposure.

Shutter speed

Exposure – Shutter speed is defined by how long the camera allows light to hit the sensor. If you imagine shutter speed as a faucet it will help understand how it relates to exposure. If you quickly turn on a faucet and turn it off as fast as possible a very small amount of water will come out. If we think about this example as shutter speed it is very easy to understand that if we have a very fast shutter speed we have the lens opening and closing at a very fast speed and the amount of light that can hit your cameras sensor is very small. What this means is that if you use a very fast shutter speed your photo will be exposed darker. The same is true if we turn on a faucet and leave it running for a few seconds. What happens when you leave it on for a few seconds? A lot more water comes out than if we had quickly turned it off. Same principle applies to shutter speed, if we have a slow shutter speed we let in a lot more light to the cameras sensor. Having a slower shutter speed will make your image expose brighter.

Purpose – Shutter speed doesn’t just have an impact on exposure it also is important for sharpness, freezing motion, and the ability to hand hold your camera without the need for a tripod. Your shutter speed is important if you want sharp photos. If your shutter speed is too slow it will pick up on your hand movements and cause the image to be blurry/out of focus. Depending on your scene or your subject your shutter speed will determine how much motion blur you get.

There is no correct choice, if you are photographing a fast moving subject and want to freeze motion you will need a fast shutter speed. If you are photographing a waterfall and want to show the motion of the water you will choose a slow shutter speed to show the motion blur from the water.

If you handhold your camera while taking photos its important to understand the reciprocal rule. The reciprocal rule states that whatever mm your lens is (example 50mm lens) your shutter speed should be higher than 1/50 of a second to have a sharp image. If you are using a 100mm lens you should have a shutter speed of 1/100 of a second or faster.

Aperture
aperture of a lens
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Exposure Aperture controls how much light can enter the lens by opening or closing the blades inside a lens (see photo above). Let’s use the faucet example again. Suppose we have two faucets side by side and one has an opening of 3 inches and the other has an opening of 1 inch. Assuming the flow rate is equal on both, if we turn each them on at the same time and let them run for 5 seconds while collecting the water in a bucket, the faucet with a 3 inch opening will dispense more water in the bucket because it had a larger opening for water to flow through.

If we use the faucet example and think of aperture its easy to understand how it influences our photos. If you have a large aperture (large opening) more light will go through the lens and reach the cameras sensor meaning the photo will be exposed brighter. If you have a small aperture (small opening) less light will go through the lens and it will be harder for light to reach the cameras sensor meaning the photo will be exposed darker.

F-stop? Aperture? F/2.8? – Why are there so many different terms if they all mean the same thing? When you are just starting out a lot of these terms can get very confusing. No one learns this in 5 min, it takes time to be able to understand how to use manual mode. Learning what all the terms and functions of your camera are will help you take better photos.

F-stop – What is f-stop? F-stop is related to your aperture and how open or closed it is. It is basically a fancy way of describing how much light can go through the lens. When you see f/2.8, f/4, f/11 those are all f-stops. Each one allows a different amount of light into your lens.

A number like f/1.4 is a very large opening and brings in a lot of light and f/16 is a very small opening and brings in a very small amount of light. Every f-stop we go up or down slowly opens or closes the lens and changes the amount of light allowed to enter the lens.

Purpose – Aperture does more than just control how much light enters the lens. If you have ever seen a photo with a beautiful blurred background you may have wondered how they did that. The aperture controls how much depth of field you have (a.k.a. background blur) if you have a large aperture such as f/1.4 it will produce more background blur than f/16. Background blur looks nice but there are times we need to use a smaller aperture to have more of the image in focus such as landscapes.

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ISO

Exposure – ISO is basically your camera trying to brighten a photo without actually using real light. When you control shutter speed and aperture you are actually allowing more or less light into your camera which is what exposes your photo. What happens when you have your shutter speed and aperture set to the right settings but your photo is still underexposed? This is where ISO comes into play.

ISO is measured by numbers such as ISO 100, ISO 400, ISO 1600. What does this even mean? The lower the number, the less the camera is trying to “add light” to your photo. Most cameras have a lowest ISO of 100 but can vary from camera to camera. The maximum ISO varies greatly from camera to camera but it ranges anywhere from ISO 400-ISO 100,000.

If the camera adds light to the photo then why can’t i just use the highest ISO? I like to think of ISO as a “last resort”. Why is ISO so bad? The reason you should try to keep your ISO as low as possible is because it adds unnecessary grain to your photos. Most of the time grain is not very pleasing in photography and can ruin a photo if it’s too grainy. You should try to set your shutter speed and aperture to correctly expose your photo while keeping your ISO as low as possible. If that’s not possible, raise your ISO until your photo is properly exposed.

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Tying it all together

The most important thing to remember about all of this is that you will need to actually practice. Depending on what camera you use there are different controls for shutter speed, aperture and ISO. You need to learn which buttons control these 3 important settings so you can correctly expose your image.

Try figuring out each setting individually and then slowly tying it all together into the exposure triangle. If you are just starting out you will most likely mess up and that’s okay it’s part of the learning process.

Practice, practice, practice and then practice some more. The more you use your camera in manual mode the better you will get at using it and you will be able to perfectly pick your settings for each photo.

You probably don’t want to hear this but there is no “secret” to manual mode, it takes lots of practice to master it. There is no “right or wrong” settings. Photography is an art and its up to you to pick the correct tools for your masterpiece.

If you found this post helpful or if you still have any questions drop a comment down below. Don’t forget to follow and sign up for email alerts so you never miss out on any new posts. Feel free to share this post with your photographer friends.

Read my previous post here

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How to take next level product photos

Are you interested in product photography or just wanting to step up your product photography game? I am here to share with you my best product photography secrets to help you take your product photography to the next level.

  • Use overhead lighting
  • Use a macro lens
  • Add fun colors
  • Show the product being used
  • Wear the product (if possible)
  • Showcase the brand name
  • Use a simple backdrop
  • Show the product in motion
  • Take the product out of the studio
  • Throw the last 9 tips out the window

Some of the links listed below are affiliate links. I earn a commission at no extra cost to you if you purchase through my link. I 100% recommend the products I link and I am in no way paid or sponsored to say this.

Use overhead lighting

This is one of my favorite setups for product photography. Overhead lighting is great because it highlights the design and gives the product a bold look. I like to pair overhead lighting with a black background to give the photo an extra bold look and it helps make the product pop.

Samsung Galaxy S9 product photo
Overhead lighting with a Samsung Galaxy S9

Use a macro lens

Using a macro lens for product photography is an excellent way to show fine details and capture close-ups of a product. Macro lenses allow you to capture shots that traditional lenses don’t allow because of their close focusing distance. My favorite macro lens is the Canon 100mm macro. It has allowed me to create shots I never thought possible and I am blown away by how good it is every time I use it. Read my full review of the 100mm macro by clicking here.

Red Rpse
Red Rose

Add fun colors

Black backgrounds can be cool and dramatic for product photography but sometimes you need to add a pop of color to your photos. The easiest way to do this is by using a colored backdrop such as this one. It’s easy to get carried away with product photography by using lots of colors, backdrops, or props in our photo but we should always remember to keep our product the focus of the image. Don’t let your background overcome your product and don’t use so many props that the product is no longer the main focus of the photo. Simplicity is beautiful, everything we do in product photography should revolve around the product and do help make the product pop.

Blue and Pink Nike Shoe Photo
Blue and Pink backdrop with Nike shoe

Show the product being used

It’s good to show a product in a variety of environments but one of the most important ones is being able to show the product being used. It helps the viewer know what they are looking at and it helps the viewer to understand how the product is meant to be used. Showing a product in use makes the photo helpful to the viewer and it adds an element of interest.

Espresso machine making coffee
Espresso machine
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Wear the product (if possible)

If you are photographing something you can wear such as a hat it’s good to show the product being worn. It helps the visualize what the product will look like on yourself if you see someone else wearing it. Depending on what’s being photographed it can also help to “shape” the product such as a bracelet or piece of clothing.

Mercia's clothing hat
Me tipping a hat

Showcase the brand name

If the product has a brand name clearly displayed on the product its important to showcase it in a photo. Try to include the whole product in the photo but make the brand the feature of the photo. In the photo below, I could have taken a photo of any baseball and it would look pretty similar but when you highlight the brand name you know that it’s a “Rawlings” baseball. Your clients will be happier with your photography if you pay attention to details like this and will be more likely to hire you again and recommend you to others.

Baseball
Baseball

Use a simple backdrop

Using a simple backdrop such as a black background can help simplify your product photos and put the attention on the product being photographed. Eliminating all other distractions such as colorful backgrounds and props puts all the emphasis on the product. Keeping product photography simple is key to clearly displaying the product being photographed.

product photography of a tree
Mini tree
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Show the product in motion

This tip goes back to showing the product in use. If you can show the product in motion you will make the photo more interesting. Having the product in motion will help understand how the product is designed.

Hourglass in motion
Hourglass

Take the product out of the studio

Sometimes taking a photo out of the studio helps to add variety to a product photo. If every shot is a plain and simple white background it will quickly get boring. Take the product outside in natural lighting and try taking photos in unique locations that can’t be replicated in a studio.

Macro lens
Macro lens in pine straw
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Throw the last 9 tips out the window

Throw the last 9 tips out the window? Did I just waste your time reading the last 9 tips just to tell you that they aren’t even important? No, all the tips mentioned above are great and helpful for product photography but it’s important to remember that we don’t always need to use the same tips and techniques for every photo. Get out there and try something new and you might end up loving it. Product photography has endless possibilities don’t ever limit yourself to one way of shooting, always be learning and trying new things and your product photography will improve dramatically.

Bonus tip

If you made it this far in the article, I want to thank you with a bonus tip! One of the easiest ways to guarantee your photos come out razor sharp is to always take product shots on a tripod. When you handhold your camera while doing product photography often times we will make our photos slightly out of focus or blurry from the small movements we make holding the camera but if your camera is locked in on a tripod you can nail your focus tack sharp every time.

Here is a list of my favorite product photography gear to help improve your photos

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Why you need a macro lens

Products listed below are affiliate links. I receive a commision at no extra cost to you when you purschase using my links.

Canon 100mm macro lens

No matter what brand you shoot with, a macro lens is an exceptional lens to own. Generally speaking, a macro lens is a lens specifically designed to take photos at a very close distance to the object you are photographing. Most macro lenses are around 100mm but can vary depending on the manufacturer. Don’t let the word “macro” fool you into thinking this is a one trick pony, it’s not. A macro lens is great for detail shots and product shots because it is usually one of the sharpest lenses a manufacturer produces. It’s also a great choice for portraits with an aperture of f/2.8 and the 100mm focal length is great for background compression.

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Canon 100mm macro lens

There are endless uses for a macro lens. Using the 100mm macro lens allows me to be more creative with my shots which wouldn’t be possible using a regular lens. Wether you are just starting out with photography or if you have been shooting for years, a macro lens is a great addition to your camera bag. Click the link below to check out the macro lens that’s made for your camera.

A sample of some of my favorite photos taken with the Canon 100mm macro lens.

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