Archive of ‘Photography Tutorials’ category

How to take great photos with your DSLR Camera and 18-55mm Kit Lens

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6  ISO 320 18mm f/3.5 1/800sec

This tutorial will help you understand how to take better photos with your DSLR camera using your basic 18-55mm kit lens. 

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I have had a few friends approach me every now and then with questions about photography and even if I often feel like a newbie myself, I think it would be helpful if I shared some photography basics for those who want to learn how to get the best out of their “nice cameras”. And this way I can always share this post with people who have questions! haha

Also, I know there must be about a MILLION photo tutorials on the web (I know, I’ve read a few of them!) but I wanted to write one just for those awesome Camera Latte fans :) .

So lets get this started. I’m going to talk about a few different things. So read this when you have time to relax and really dive deep into your camera.

Let’s start with what you have to work with, your tools of the trade.

Your Camera Body

Congratulations, you just bought your first “nice” camera, a DSLR! It even comes with detachable lenses, fancy! Now I will point it at anything and get fantastic Pintrest worthy photos! Or at least, that’s what we all fantasize about, right?

And while you should see a jump in the quality of your photos when using a DSLR, you may be wondering what happened to the awesome blurred backgrounds you were hoping for. Wasn’t this the reason you purchased this camera in the first place? Other’s will convince you that you need a better lens, or camera body, or both. But wait a minuteeeee… Let’s see what we have to work with first!!

Even the most basic entry level cameras have everything you need to get started. And while a better camera body will render better images, unless you are looking to take professional level photos, your entry level body will do just fine. I don’t say that to make you feel like the cool cameras are only for “pros”, what I mean is, if you are not ready to drop 1K-4K on a camera body, and most beginners won’t (I sure didn’t!!), don’t worry about having the highest level camera (remember, professionals make a living on their photos, so yes, they spend top dollar on their equiptment). What you have should be perfect to learn on. Once you start pushing your camera’s capabilities to their limit, consider upgrading. What camera do I use? Depends! I have a Nikon D90 for home life, a Nikon D7000 for my professional work, and a Fuji TX1 for travel.

Nikon D7100 24.1 MP DX-Format CMOS Digital SLR (Body Only)

Fujifilm X-T1 16 MP Compact System Camera with 3.0-Inch LCD and XF 18-55mm F2.8-4.0 Lens

Here’s the thing, DSLR’s are complicated machines being marketed to regular consumers as a “fancy awesome camera”. I mean, look at them! They are bulky, need their own special bag, and did I mention you can switch the lens?! Fancy. The end. But most consumers will never know how awesome their little machines really are because they never switch out of… AUTO MODE!

Let’s do that right now. Pick up your camera, locate your main control dial, and switch it from AUTO to M (Manual).

Ok, now we’re getting somewhere!

Now… here’s what you do next. Put your camera down. And locate your User Manual. Yup, that’s right… That oddly large booklet that came with your camera. You have to actually read it! Turns out that each camera brand (and even model to model) is a little different. And as much as I wish I could easy tell you how to control your Aperture, Shutter Speed and ISO on your camera, I can’t. You are going to have to figure that out yourself. So I just officially gave you some homework! You can either come back to this post later, or finish reading this and later pull out your manual, but from this point on, I will have to assume you know how to adjust those settings on your camera.


Find out how to do these things on your camera by reading your User Manual

#1 Learn how to switch your camera to Manual Mode

#2 Learn how to gage the Exposure on your camera

#3 Learn how to adjust ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed

Using your Camera

OK! Now we are ready to play :)

Lets pick up your camera and start taking photos on Manual.

Most people would start talking about exposure, aperture and shutter speed at this point, but I want to start with light.

Look around you. How much light do you have to work with? Are you indoors? Outside? Is it super sunny or cloudy and dark? Is it a bright room, or is there only artificial light?

Step 1

Adjusting your ISO to lighting conditions

This is IMPORTANT. Because the amount of light you have to work with will determine your ISO setting. Your ISO setting with determine how much light your camera sensor will use. You can think of your ISO as empty ice trays all over censor (the part of your camera that “sees” the image). The bigger the little containers on your tray, the more water *light* they can hold, right? Too much light, and you will have frozen over ice (no good). And too little you will have tiny useless ice cubes (also no good). You want your tray to get the right amount of water *light* to make perfect ice cubes.

So, in a dark room, there really isn’t much light. Think of it as a warm drink that needs MASSIVE ice cubes. You’re going to need a high ISO as the amount of light you have to work with diminishes. Outside on a sunny day, 100-300 ISO. Indoors 500-1200, evening/dark room anywhere from 1200 to 3200. Your camera may go up even higher! But remember this, once you pass 1200 ISO, be prepared to see grainer photos. That is just the nature of the beast. Remember those “pro” cameras? They will have minimal grain at the highest ISO settings, but for the rest of us, grain will happen. And if you are trying to capture a photo of your babies sleeping in a dimly light room without ruining the ambience with a flash, a little graininess is fine.

If your ISO setting is too high for the amount of light you are working with, you will also get grainy photos. Your “ice trays” will over fill and cause little specs of light overspill on your photos. No good!

So lets starts with what is easiest to practice on, walk outside on a relatively bright day and set your ISO to 100-300. If it’s a little cloudy try 500-800. This should help you get the sharpest image while still having a full range of use of your Shutter Speed and Aperture to get a proper exposure.

(I promise once you read your User Manual all this will make a little more sense!)


Outside on sunny overcast day, ISO 320

Notice my subjects are slightly underexposed because the sky is so bright! I could have slowed that shutter speed to get a better look at my hubby!

photography tutorial

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 320 18mm f/3.5 1/800sec

Outside on cloudy day under lots of shade, ISO 1000

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 1000 18mm f/5 1/200sec

Indoors ample light from a window on a cloudy day, ISO 1600

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 1600 18mm f/3.5 1/200sec

Indoors with limited light during the evening,  ISO 2500

Notice how much graininess is happening in the darker areas of the photo. This photo is also underexposed, but with my ISO already cranked up to 2500, a wide open aperture, and my shutter speed at 1/40th of a second, there wasn’t much else that I could do. But I wasn’t going to miss this moment just because it was so dark!

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 2500 18mm f/3.5 1/40sec


Step 2

Using your lens Aperture to your advantage for portrait photography

Ok, so lets work on getting that awesome blurry background! Yay!

Here is the part where your lens matters. You will need a lens than can have a wide aperture to get those blurred background, you get some fantastic bokeh at 2.8 or wider (and by wider I mean smaller number, confusing, I know). But let me tell you a secret… Most of my blog’s photos, and many of my favorite photos at that, have been taken with a lowly kit lens. Yup, that’s right! A basic 18-55mm kit lens that comes with most DSLRs. This kit lens’s aperture starts at 3.5, giving you very minimal bokeh. Surprised? You shouldn’t be! Because I told you, you can take great photos with the tools you already have! While my kit lens wont deliver the bokeh that my 50mm 1.4 does (not by a long shot) it still gives me a sharp beautiful image when wide open with just a hint of bokeh to give the subject that popping out of the photo effect.

Why do I use the 18-55mm when I have the 50mm 1.4? It’s wide and cheap, that simple. My subject is usually a toddler, I can’t be on the other side of the room trying to snap a cute photo of her. I might not even HAVE the other side of the room if the space is small. And I don’t always want photos of her hands or just her eyeball… I want to see her painting with water colors and get the full scene. If we’re outside, I want to see her, AND the awesome park/woods/mountains/ocean/whatever in the back ground. I want to have a snap shot of what her room looked like in one or two photos, not a series of 20 because only a few feet of wall fit in each frame. In essence, at 18mm, the 18-55mm is a great wide angle that gives you the freedom of being really close to your subject for great portraits or getting a full view of a scene/location.


Notice how much more of the scene you get with the wider the lens. All of these were taken with me standing in the same spot in the room about 15 steps away from my subject. Big big difference!

Taken with a 18-55mm 3.5-4 at 18mm

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6  ISO 320 18mm f/3.5 1/800sec

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 1000 18mm f/3.5 1/100sec

Taken with a 35mm 1.8 from the same spot

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 35mm 1.8

ISO 1000 35mm f/3.5 1/160sec

Taken with a 50mm 1.8

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 50mm 1.4

ISO 1000 50mm f/3.5 1/200sec


Now what was that about shooting wide open?

To get that blurry background effect, you need your aperture to be as open as possible (without compromising your subject’s sharpness). I can’t shoot my 50mm wide open at 1.4 because the depth of field becomes so shallow that only my subject’s eyes, or nose are in focus. Everything else starts to blur. I usually shoot it at 2 or 2.8 because I want the subject’s entire body in sharp focus. Since most kit lens’s widest aperture starts at 3.5, you will never have that problem. Your subject will always be in focus (as long as your camera is focusing on the right element you want in focus) and you will get a nice modest amount of bokeh.

Having your aperture wide open will also mean that your lens is capturing as much light as possible! On a sunny day, that can be a LOT of light, sometimes too much. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to worry about that because you have already selected the correct ISO settings? 😉 Yeah, I thought so!

So in simple plain instructions. If you want a blurred background photo with your kit lens, shift to the closest range (on a 18-55mm, this would be 18mm). And now adjust your aperture as wide as it will go, to 3.5.

Side note, when working with any zoom lens you should get some background compression which also blurs the background a bit. This also helps when working with this lens at other apertures, not just 3.5.


Here’s a great example of how much bokeh you can get with your 18-55mm when you get really close to your subject. The flowers are blurred and the background is also well blurred and your subject perfectly sharp. Yay!

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6  ISO 320 18mm f/3.5 1/800sec

Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 320 18mm f/3.8 1/800sec


And in case you’re wondering, will you get better results from a better lens? Say a 50mm 1.4 or a 35mm 1.8 like I mentioned above? Absolutely. But I want you to work with the tools you have right NOW and practice practice practice. Once you get the hang of it, you will truly enjoy a lens upgrade.

Step 3

Achieving proper Exposure using your Shutter Speed

(I hope you did your homework, because from this point on it’s going to get tricky!)

Alright! We are almost there! Now is the time to start worrying about exposure.

Your photo is properly exposed when the image is not too dark or too bright/washed out.  You want to expose your photo to cater to your subject. What I mean by this is that maybe it’s really bright out and your camera is giving you a properly exposed photo. You take the shot and your subject is really dark and all you can see is a blue sky. In this case you want to over expose the image just a tad to bright up your subject. You need your camera to take in more light. But you don’t want to adjust your aperture (either way, you can’t really make it wider if you’ve followed these suggestions thus far, it’s already taking in as much light as it can!). You could adjust your ISO if it’s not at it’s very lowest setting, but often ISO is adjusted by clicking on multiple dials/buttons so not really ideal for quick thinking. The easiest way is to adjust your shutter speed.

Your shutter speed is the amount of time that the lens’s shutter remains open during a single shot. This could be 1/4000 of a second or 1/100 of a second or even 8 seconds. These tiny fragments of time make a big difference in the amount of light the censor has access to and yet a minimal effect on the type of photo you want up to a certain range.

If you are working with moving subjects (I know I am) I want to freeze time. I don’t want my daughter to look like a messy blur. Any shutter speed from 1/4000 of a second to 1/100 or even 1/60 of a second will freeze her actions. Giving me a clear sharp image. That means that I can adjust my exposure working solely that range on my shutter speed. That’s makes things pretty easy on me!


Under exposed Image, shutter speed 1/60 sec

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 2500 18mm f/3.5 1/40sec

Over exposed Image, shutter speed 1/8 sec

Notice it’s also blurry

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 1000 18mm f/3.5 1/8sec

Properly exposed Image, shutter speed 1/60

1/60th of a second is also the slowest shutter speed I recommend to use with moving subjects such a children.

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Nikon D90, Nikkor 18-55mm 3.5-5.6

ISO 1000 18mm f/3.5 1/60sec


And, that’s it! Shoot away! Once you have selected the shutter speed that creates properly exposed images for your current lighting conditions, you are good to go!

If you are all the way up to 1/60th of a second  on your shutter speed and you are still getting an under exposed image, what does that mean? You don’t have enough light! And you can’t change your shutter speed, or your photo will be blurry. And you can’t change your aperture, it’s already as wide as it will go! So that means you have to adjust your ISO and bump it up so that your censor can use more light. (This is why I try to select the correct aperture first!) Try bumping it up by 200-500 units or even more so you have a little more leeway. Now readjust your shutter speed to expose your image. DONE!

You did it! You should be able to take some fabulous photos IN MANUAL SETTING with that awesome BLURRY back ground with your KIT LENS! How sweet is THAT?!

Now go be awesome! Take awesome photos of your family and PLEASE if possible share them with me by posting a link in the comments of your success! I would truly appreciate it.

If you have any questions, comments, or anything to add, please feel free to share with me. I would love to hear how this works out for you! And don’t stop here, keep learning and reading up on your camera and how to use all your settings for different types of photography.

Good Luck!

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