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DSLR Guide News - How to Break Photographer's Block
September 01, 2009

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DSLR News - August 2009

Writing this newsletter wasn't easy.

Since I spend my days spewing out information about digital SLR cameras, there are times - few I'll admit - when I just can't think of anything else to say.

While it's not complete writer's block, it's selective - I have a very hard time writing about my chosen topic.

It should come as no surprise that the same type of "block" can occur when you're a photographer.

If you often take the same pictures of the same subjects day in and day out, the creative juices stop flowing and you find it harder and harder to capture an image with some "wow" factor.

In the case of this newsletter, I broke the block with a simple approach: I forced myself to start writing.

I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to write about as I started, but the important thing was that I at least jot down the first sentence. That sentence lead into the next, and the next and so on.

The interesting thing here is that you can do the exact same thing with your digital SLR camera.

If you haven't had your camera out in weeks because you have been totally uninspired about the subject material around you, then I encourage you to go get it.

Go on, I'll wait.

Having the camera in your hands is the first step toward breaking a photographic block. When you're uninspired and the camera isn't right there in your hands, it's easy to pass by some photo opportunities because getting the camera out just takes too much effort.

Now that the camera is in your hands, take a picture....of anything.

It really doesn't matter what that something is, just look through the viewfinder and start pressing the shutter release button. I often take shots of my own two feet when I can't find any other decent subject.

The mere act of looking through the viewfinder should fire up the right side of your brain that's been sitting dormant.

After the first couple of shots, you should start to see more and more interesting images all around you. You'll discover that the environment that you previously thought plain and rather boring is instead full of interesting image opportunities.

If this doesn't work for you then there is an alternative - just travel to some exotic location and surround yourself with scenery that just begs to be photographed.

Of course, the first solution is significantly cheaper...and you may often find that snapping a few frames is just what you need to break out of a photographic funk.

In This Issue
  • Photographer's Block
  • Q & A
  • Canon T1i 500D Guide
  • Rule of Thirds

Latest SLR Guides
Canon Rebel T1i Nikon D5000 Nikon D90 Nikon D60 Canon Rebel XSi Pentax K20D Canon 40D Olympus E-510 Nikon D80 Canon Rebel xTi Nikon D40

Digital SLR Terms
Megapixels Stabilization ISO / Image Noise Sensor Dust Crop Factor RAW vs. JPG Continuous Photos Autofocus Points Aspect Ratio

Lens Terms
Focal Length Prime vs. Zoom Maximum Aperture First vs. Third Party SLR Lens Features Canon Lens Glossary Nikon Lens Glossary

canon t1i 500d

For Sale

The Canon T1i 500D camera and lens that I used to write my guide are now available for sale on eBay. Get a great camera at a great price!
  • Starting bid price is $680 USD
  • Auction ends Sunday September 6
  • U.S. shipping only
View the Auction

Digital SLR Q & A

Last month I launched my new Digital SLR Question & Answer page, and the submissions have been non-stop ever since.

My apologies if you've been waiting for awhile for me to answer your question - I'm trying to get to each one in turn.

For the readers of the newsletter, I've decided that it will be helpful to feature a new question each month.

Sometimes I will have already provided an answer of my own, but sometimes I won't - if I don't know the answer to your question, there might be someone out there who does.

Whether or not I have provided an answer to someone's question, I encourage you to add input of your own. Anyone can comment on a question, and the response of the community will be far more valuable in the long run that just my own opinion.

This month's question is a good one, since it gets right to the heart of the 4-step process that I recommend when you're searching for the best digital SLR.

In step 1, I suggest that you take some time to consider what you want to photograph with your camera. Still life photographers don't need the same features as action photographers.

But what if - when it comes to photography - you'd like to "do it all"?

For those who are undecided about just what - or who - they'd like to photograph, this question is for you: What if I can't pick a photography style?

Beginner Digital SLR Lessons

  • Master the controls of any digital SLR
  • Dramatically improve the photos you take
  • Learn at your own pace
  • Download each lesson as a PDF
  • Ask me questions
Learn More

New Article: Canon T1i 500D Guide

I've just published my Canon T1i 500D guide - you're welcome to read the entire article - but I'll also take this opportunity to quickly summarize my impressions of this camera.

First and foremost, the Canon 500D is really for people who want video with their stills.

If you have no desire to capture video, then stick with the perfectly capable Canon XSi 450D. I see few reasons to spend the extra money on the 500D.

If you do want to capture digital video with this camera, be prepared for the enormous file sizes that are created by even a short video segment.

You'll need large, fast SD memory cards, a modern memory card reader (for faster transfer speeds), and a computer with plenty of free hard drive space.

If you'd like to upload the videos you capture, be prepared for long waits even with super-fast Internet connections.

For still-image photography, the Canon T1i 500D is a solid performer - autofocus is extremely fast and quite accurate (even under challenging conditions) and images captured by the camera are sharp and colorful.

The 500D produces very little noise, even at very high ISO settings, making it a good choice for photographers who often shoot in dim available light.

The live view mode is slow, but this is pretty much true for all of the digital SLRs of 2009. One notable difference from other cameras is that the 500D uses a separate button to autofocus in live view (rather than the standard shutter release button) - this can throw you off when you're used to pressing the shutter release to activate autofocus.

I was impressed with the quality of images captured with the kit lens, and found it useful for both landscape and portrait photography.

One great thing about the T1i 500D is how small and light it is - when the camera first arrived in the mail I thought something was wrong...the box it comes in is way too small.

This isn't a bad thing - it's just evidence that both the camera and kit lens are compact - this makes the T1i 500D a great choice if you want to tote your DSLR everywhere you go.

Stay Updated!

The Digital SLR Guide is now on Facebook. If you're on Facebook, drop on by to get frequent updates about new digital SLR cameras and photo techniques.

The Rule of Thirds

I spend a lot of time in these newsletters talking about the technical side of digital SLR cameras - how to leverage settings like aperture, ISO, white balance, etc.

But I realized that I have not devoted any time to the other side of photography which is equally important: how to create interesting compositions.

It's pretty easy to get caught up in the marketing hype that surrounds the release of any new camera - it's also easy to be awed by the feature set offered on any particular model.

But here's a fact, and this one has been true for a LONG time: a cheap camera in the hands of an experienced photographer will capture better images than the world's most expensive camera in the hands of an amateur.

This is because a lot of what makes an image interesting to look at is how the photographer chose to compose it.

A plain composition won't be that interesting to look at - regardless of the camera used to take the shot - while a dynamic composition will hold your eye for a long period of time.

So how do you create dynamic compositions that are interesting to look at?

The first step is a technique called the Rule of Thirds.

To apply the Rule of Thirds, mentally divide the image you see in the viewfinder (or on the LCD) into thirds, both horizontally and vertically.

The dividing lines will create 9 individual "boxes" in the viewfinder - instead of placing your subject within the boxes, place your subject along the imaginary lines.

Let's see how this concept can be applied to different types of photography:

Portrait Rather than placing your subject dead center in the viewfinder, shift the camera so that the subject is off-center either to the left or right.
Landscape Drop the camera so that horizon lines don't cut straight through the middle of the photo - line up the horizon with either the third line at the top or the bottom.
Action If you're tracking a moving subject, try to capture the subject off-center moving INTO the frame rather than of out of it.

When you're photographing small subjects and people, you have an opportunity to place the most important part of the photo at the INTERSECTION of the lines which is a subtle yet powerful way of drawing attention to a specific part of the image.

If you look at a lot of photos taken by professionals, you won't see the Rule of Thirds applied with any sort of consistency.

This is because the Rule of Thirds really is a starting point for further exploration of composition. Pros have taken enough photos to know when they can break the Rule of Thirds and still capture an image with impact.

But for anyone just starting out, the consistent application of the Rule of Thirds will yield a better-looking image just about every time.

Photo Links

Photo Contests

Other Photography Sites

  • Betterphoto - a wealth of photography learning opportunities
  • Flickr - share your photos with friends and others
  • - plenty of learning resources and examples of exceptional photography
  • Borrowlenses - rent lenses to use on your digital SLR before you spend tons of money on one
  • Photojojo - tons of photography do-it-yourself (DIY) projects
  • - read product reviews from other consumers like yourself

Great Photo Blogs

  • Digital Photography School - hundreds of photo tips and techniques
  • Strobist - everything you ever wanted to know about lighting with external flash
  • Joe McNally - get the "behind-the-scenes" thought process from a professional photographer

Recommended Digital SLR Retailers

(These are the three online stores that I use to purchase all of my digital SLR photography gear)

In Conclusion

It's a shorter newsletter this month thanks in large part to the work that I was doing to complete the Canon T1i 500D guide.

I'm going to take a break from camera guides this month to turn my attention to the pages of the site that haven't been updated in some time.

I'll announce updates as they happen on the Digital SLR Guide's Facebook page, but will also present a summary of changes in next month's newsletter.

Until then, happy picture taking!

--Chris Roberts, Your Digital SLR Guide

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