Help Wanted: Compulsive Baker Needs Help With A New Toy

Being 40 has definite advantages. For instance, toys get better with age. Much, much better.

Like my new “Big Girl” camera! An Olympus PEN E-PL1. I am so excited about this camera, I could just squeak! It’s really cool, and has a lot of “room to grow.” I hope having this on my hip, rather than my (now deceased) point & shoot camera, or my (woefully inadequet) Blackberry camera, will bring much more dynamic pictorals here on Comfortably Domestic. That is my plan, anyway.

The reality? I have absolutely no idea what I am doing. None. So far, I’ve been taking really nice photos on the “Auto” setting. I rock the Auto setting. But this camera can do SO much more than Auto. Far be it from me to stifle this little beauty’s creativity. No one wants to be stifling. It’s bad for a relationship.

So, I need your help! Amateur Photogs out there, my questions are this:

1.  What the heck do I do with my new camera?  I’ve plowed through the manual, and while it makes a little sense, I don’t understand much of it. I’ve spent the weekend delving into PW’s archived posts about Aperture,Shutter Speed, and Photoshop. I can take the next class available to me at the camera shop in town, but that isn’t until May.

2. Where do I go from here?  Do you have any favorite instructional photography sites? I looked for a book called “Elementary Photography for the Desperate Housewife & Blogger,” but no such title seems to exist. I’m looking for as much free educations as I can get.



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  1. says

    Once you understand the basic functions of shutter speed, aperture, and focus, the rest is all technique and lighting.

    PW’s tutorials are really helpful, so I highly recommend browsing through her whole photography section to learn a little bit more about photographic technique. Look at other food bloggers’ photos and see what sort of styles you like and are popular, then try to figure out – based on what you’ve learned – what they’ve done to achieve that look.

    Next step…PRACTICE! Just keep taking photos of everything you can, and try to keep style in mind. What do you like about a shot that you want to focus on? Try to figure out how it stands out to you the use your camera’s tools to make it stand out the same way in the photo.

    Remember that lighting is key, so if you have poor lighting, try to use a tripod so you can use a slower shutter speed and get more light. The aperture and shutter speed should balance each other out, so that your photo is not over exposed or under exposed. Again, think of what you like about something before taking a picture of it, and adjust either aperture or shutter speed for that, then the other one to balance out the light intake.

    Like anything though, you won’t fully understand it until you do it repeatedly, so get out there and take some crappy photos so you can learn to take beautiful ones! Reading the manual helps, too…. 😉

  2. says

    Congrats!! That’s so awesome! I just got a Canon EOS Rebel T2i last fall, and I’m also learning. In my case, however, there really was a “Dummies” guide to my camera, so OF COURSE I bought it! It’s much easier to understand than the owners manual. I also love PW’s tutorials, and the I Heart Faces website with their tutorials, and I found the forums at pretty helpful, too. I agree with Valerie. Once you understand the basics, it’s just a matter of practicing with all the settings, and learning how lighting, movement and framing influences your photos. I also like to browse photography websites to see other people’s work. From personal experience, photos taken in natural lights ALWAYS come out best (especially food & people). Can’t wait to see the new photos you post with this little rock star!!

  3. says

    I mean, I’m no longer taking BlackBerry snaps (though those were epic), but I rely on my DroidX as my primary camera. My vote is to take lots of pictures and embrace Natural Light.

  4. Greg Flynn says

    My mom mentioned that you posted this. I’ve been playing with a Canon Rebel, as well, for the last year and a half or so.

    There are lots of great tutorials on the web. If you don’t mind sitting down, reading them, and trying to wrap your brain around the more scientific aspects of what’s happening, they can make a big difference in how you take and how you enjoy taking photos. Although, for someone who bakes, I think you should be well-adjusted to the strict science of some arts.

    It’s possible that your camera’s instruction booklet has a lot of information, as well. My Canon’s booklet and the booklet for an old Olympus film camera my family had both explain everything for a novice.

    Flickr is also a great place to find information:

    One thing that’s really nice about Flickr is that a lot of people upload their photos with all the Exif data. This data shows all or some of the camera’s settings when the shot was taken. Once you’ve read some tutorials, then look at the Exif data for shots you like. Here’s an example
    (When you look at a photo on Flickr, there’s a line of text in the upper right that says, for example, “This photo was taken on October 2, 2008 with a Canon Rebel xti,” and the name of the camera will be a link toe th Exif data.)

    With all of that as an introduction, here’s a super-basic tutorial in SLR photography:

    -Shutter Speed. This is the most conceptually accessible setting you can change. The longer the shutter stays open, the more light comes into the camera. Longer shutter speeds help brighten up photos in low light, but they allow more room for blurring.

    -ISO. This refers to the digital sensor’s sensitivity to light. If you’ve ever used a film camera, its similar to the old film speeds. 400 is a good setting when you have a lot of good, even, environmental light. Once you get into indoor and evening/night-time shots, you’ll want to increase this if you don’t want to slow down your shutter. However, increasing your ISO will increase the amount of “noise” in your photo. Smaller sensors also produce more noise at higher ISOs. This is why cell phone shots at night always look so grainy.

    -Aperture. This can be the hardest to conceptualize but can also have a huge impact on the artistic quality of your shots. The aperture (also known as the f-stop; i.e., f2.4, etc.) is a ratio describing how wide the shutter opens relative to the lens. So, f1 means the shutter aperture opens as wide as a lens (few lenses and non on the Pen open that far). So, the bigger the f-number, the smaller the hole. Imagine squinting vs. opening your eyes wide.

    When the aperture is small (f10, f11), very little light comes in. This lets you use a slower shutter speed in brighter light to get effects like soft waterfalls, etc. Also, a smaller aperture means more of the photo will be in focus.

    When the aperture is large (f3 or less), it lets in a lot of light. This lets you use faster shutter speeds indoors and at night. However, it means less of your photo will be in focus, especially if you’re close to your subject. F1.4, for example, will give you a photo with an impressionist-like background such as this:

    Anyway, I think those 3 settings are the main ones to fool around with. If you want to see how each one changes a shot individually, switch your camera to manual mode. Adjust them all until you get a good shot, and then start fiddling around with just one.

      • Greg Flynn says

        I thought of a few other bits of advice I thought I’d share. These are some of the less-apparent foibles of the Pen series.

        First off, lenses. I don’t know what lens you got when you bought it, but if it’s the same one in the photo above, it’s a great choice. The lens in the camera pic above is the 17mm f2.8.

        The 17mm refers to the focal length. Here’s where we encounter the first unique characteristic of the small body and sensor of the Pen (and other micro four-thirds cameras): this lens’s 17mm isn’t the same as 17mm on a full-bodied SLR (the huge, $2000+ bodies). On a camera like that, 17mm would be a fairly wide focal length used for capturing landscapes or large indoor areas. With the Pen’s smaller sensor, 17mm actually equals about 35mm, the standard of the old, consumer-model film cameras. It basically captures about as much as your eye can focus on, which makes it fun and easy.

        The f2.8 is the maximum aperture. That’s pretty wide, and if you’re taking close-ups of food or portraits, it’ll keep the subject in focus while giving the background a nice blur. (If you want more in the background, you can always make the aperture smaller. But you don’t want to go too far beyond, say, f11.)

        Here’s a lens with totally different features:

        40-150mm means it can zoom pretty far and get you close up shots of objects at a medium distance. Or it can probably do pretty nice detail shots of closer but very small objects (macro photos). The f4.0-5.6 means that at 40mm, the maximum aperture is f4.0, but fully zoomed at 150mm, the maximum aperture is f5.6 (pretty wide for that range and lens price; zoom lenses with long focal lengths and large apertures usually cost over $1200).

        The other foible is totally unrelated, and I offer it more as something to keep in mind. The Pen is small and light enough to be used as an always-with-you camera. An SLR-quality machine with point-and-shoot usability and portability (no, I don’t work in the Olympus marketing department…haha). Olympus managed to make the Pen that way by taking out the mirror inside. So in fact, it’s not a single-lens reflex camera. So with the Pen, everything goes straight from the lens to the sensor all the time. The major drawback to this (that other foible) is that the auto-focus is slower than an SLR. I haven’t looked into the reasons yet completely, but it’s related to the fact that the mirrors in SLRs add an optical component to the auto-focus process. If you’re upgrading from a point-and-shoot, you won’t notice a thing since they work the same as the Pen. But if you ever feel disappointed when shooting things like kids or sporting events, the slower auto-focus may be at fault. It’s by no means a crippling weakness for the Pen (I really really really want a Pen–my Canon is heavy!), but it’s something I think Pen users should be aware of.


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