"I found your blog about a week ago in anticipation of upgrading to my first dslr. I really enjoy your blog. After learning everything I could in a week pouring over photography sites I thought I was ready to take pics with my new Canon T3i (just received last night). I only have 2 lenses right now: 18-55mm kit lens and the 50mm f/1.8 (per your advice!). I took about 40 pictures last night of 4 different subjects (3 children and 1 practice object) using both lenses. The results are terrible (all subjects are out of focus when zooming in on the pics). I was able to get the blurred background effect (bokeh?). Below is some of the info of the shots taken. I only used AV mode (as recommended) and tried different Apertures and even ISOs. Also, no flash was used (part of the reason for upgrading to a dslr) so I adjusted a couple light settings for the 50mm to get enough light. One interesting note was when using the 50mm and trying live view rather than the eye piece on my last attempt, my subject was in sharp focus
Aperture: 5.6 (first time out of box)
ISO: 3200 (Camera chose this)
Shutter Speed: 1/15 (Camera chose this)
Distance from subject: Approx. 4-6ft
ISO: 200, 400, 800 (I kept changing this this)
Shutter Speed: 1/8 - 0"4? (Camera chose this)
Distance from subject: Approx. 2-4ft
This is such an incredibly common problem for people have when they get their hands on their first DSLR that I thought I would tackle this on the blog today for those readers who are new to photography.
The problem is instantly clear to me - in every single one of the settings you have given me your shutter speed is far too low. Many people think that their DSLR camera will pick the correct shutter speed for the job - and a lot of the time it does - unfortunately, sometimes it also gets it woefully wrong, as it has in this case. This is particularly true if you are shooting indoors or in low light.
To help you understand this a bit better, I'll give you a little info on how your camera works. In basic terms, your camera needs enough light to reach the sensor to capture the image. If there is not enough light (and you are shooting on automatic or aperture priority without flash) your camera will slow down the shutter speed to allow more light to reach the sensor. Unfortunately, slower shutter speeds means blurry photos! If your shutter speed is very slow, even the slight movement of your hand pressing the shutter will be enough to give you a blurred image even if your subject is stationary - in your case, the shutter speeds above were too slow even for you to get a sharp handheld image most of the time (You must have lucked out the last one!) If your child was also moving it will have been even worse. The more movement there is from your subject, the higher the shutter speed you need.
To start you off, here's what you need to do:
1) Get out of Auto and use AV (Aperture Priority)
2) Select your Aperture. Start with around F2.8 or F3.6 to begin with.
3) Select your ISO. If you are indoors start at ISO800, if you are outdoors start at ISO200.
4) The camera will select a shutter speed for you. Look at the list below and chooses the activity that best matches what you are trying to photograph, then compare what the shutter speed I have suggested to the shutter speed that the camera selected.
5) If the number is smaller than the number I suggested, then increase your ISO to a higher number (e.g ISO1600 for indoors or ISO400 if outdoors.) Keep doing this until you get a shutter speed that you need!
6) If the shutter speed is much higher than I have suggested, move down the ISO numbers until reaching the shutter speed that you need. (it's better to keep your ISO down if you can)
7) You can also play with your Aperture to let in more light - the reason I am suggesting F2.8 or F3.6 is that it's a good compromise between letting in enough light and having a reasonable depth of field. You can choose a lower number which lets in more light (and therefore will also increase your shutter speed) instead of increasing your ISO if you prefer.
Suggested Shutter Speeds
Stationary Subject: 1/80 Minimum
Child Sitting: 1/125 Minimum
Moderate Movement: 1/250 Minimum
Fast Movement: 1/500 Minimum
This is an extremely basic introduction just to get you going, I would suggest that you read the following articles to get a better understanding of it all.
Hope this helps!