Our guide to SLRs
Hotcourses Editor

Our guide to SLRs

First published date February 11 2014 Amended date February 11 2014

So, you're a budding photographer, you're armed with your SLR camera and you're enjoying pointing and shooting (you've even managed to slip the dial off of auto mode). Sometimes things go well, the haphazard world aligns and the moment is captured perfectly, other times the focus has slipped slightly and the whole frame looks a little over exposed. Perhaps, you've mastered aperture and exposure and you're keen to brush up on composition and hone your lighting skills. Or, like many people, you are keen to pick up a camera for the first time and get off on the right foot from the outset. If any of those descriptions ring a bell for you, then there are a plethora of SLR courses available for everyone from the complete beginner, through to the intermediate and the burgeoning expert.


What is an SLR?

A course will teach you all the basic facts to make sure you really understand what each of those levers, buttons and dials do, but here are some of the basics:

·         SLR stands for Single Lens Reflex and can describe both film-based cameras and digital cameras.

·         SLRs use a mirror and prism system between the lens and the film or image sensor to provide a focus screen (to get technical). Practically, what this means is the image that you see through the viewfinder will be exactly the same as what appears in film or as your digital image.  Being able to view and focus the image through the attached lens allows for complete precision - your eyes become the real asset - what you see, is indeed, what you get.

·         SLR cameras are extremely versatile and depending on the model (though more often than not) they have a wide variety of interchangeable lenses available to suit different shooting environments.

Whether you want to shoot portraits, fashion or landscapes to name but some of the reasons you might pull out a camera, the SLR is an excellent choice of equipment to master.


Digital formats vs. film

Many SLR courses will introduce you to film and digital formats. Some of today's most famous photographers still shoot using film and some are even a little reluctant to move across to digital. Annie Lebovitz, a photographer who is a dab hand with a film camera has shot famous people and historical events across the world. Annie shot one of her more recent series', Pilgrimage, entirely in digital format, finding that the images were rendering things almost exactly the way she was seeing them, and that she could look at them instantly. Digital means that rather than capturing the image on a negative or a plate, the images are embedded as data on a computer chip and are more exact to those impressions recorded by the eye and the brain. Early film-based SLRs were built for large format film; Ansel Adams famously shot his landscape photography on large format, as the high resolution ensured that he was able to capture the real detail within the wilderness. More commonly the SLR came to be produced for medium format film, and 35mm film before moving digital. Many of the great photographers that we know today – Mario Testino, David Lachapelle, Gregory Crewdson, to name but a few – have all dabbled in the varying formats of film and digital throughout their careers, often putting the emphasis on experimentation and learning.


How to find inspiration?

What makes a good photo? Well, that really is up to the photographer to decide. Everyday life and the ordinary, can be just as inspiring as the extraordinary when looking for your next subject or spark of inspiration. Keeping your camera close at hand as you journey through life means that you're always able to capture that moment when inspiration strikes. Taking an SLR course won't just teach you the technical know-how that means you know what you're telling your camera do but will also teach you how to engage creatively with your subject and how to use light and composition. A great way to get started is to shoot your family and friends, shoot an event like a birthday party or a sporting event, take a household object and take pictures of it in different ways or maybe even try and tell a story in three photos. Take a 360 degree view of the world. As a budding photographer, it's important to explore the world from all angles, look up, down, left and right, look behind you and see what you can find. Shadows and reflections make for interesting composition, and playing with your settings can help you discover the potential of your SLR and reveal some happy accidents.


Our tip to try

Some cameras have a self timer function, this can be super useful if you want to try some slow shutter speeds as it will eliminate any camera shake that you might get from engaging the shutter.


By Sarah Butcher