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Getting Started With That New Digital Camera

Updated on December 21, 2011

Did you get a DSLR for Christmas?

If you're reading this article then your most likely are one of the lucky millions who got a digital camera or DSLR for Christmas. You probably have more photography "firepower' at your disposal than ever before. Now what do you do with it?

Got a new camera for Christmas?

First things first, Learn to use your camera

When you open the box of your cool, shiny new camera, make a note of the contents. There will probably be a bunch of cables and little do dads that might not seem important at first but will come in handy later. I once threw away a little leash for the lens cap of my Panasonic Lumix LX5 that I later had to dig around in the garbage to find. Keep all of the stuff including the packing materials in the box in case you ever want to sell your camera on Ebay or need to send it back to the manufacturer for repair.

Now in you camera box is a bunch of manuals. Sometimes you get extra ones written in different languages. I think you can safely toss out the non-English versions unless you need them. A good place to start learning about your new camera is, amazingly enough, the manual. Take your time and read about all of the features of your new digital camera but don't get too overwhelmed. Today's camera manufacturers have gone a bit feature crazy and alot of the various settings and features are software based so its easy for them to keep adding all kinds of modes and settings to stay competitive.

At first, get to know the Intelligent Automatic or similarly named setting in which the camera select or attempts to select the best setting for you. This is probably the mode you'll use most often. Today's cameras do a good job selecting the correct white balance and can every detect what kind of image you are shooting like landscape or portrait.

The next mode you'll want to try is the Aperature priority mode. Aperature controls the depth of field. In this mode you control the aperture and the camera will control the shutter speed. This is the mode many experienced photographers gravitate towards as the Automatic modes tend to be geared for portraits with fuzzy backgrounds.

You'll also want to figure out how to properly hold the camera and lens so that you take sharp photographs. Incorrect camera holding can lead to camera movement at the moment of the shutter release.

Also, if you are totally new to digital cameras you'll need to understand how the autofocus works. You hold down the shutter button halfway to focus and then all the way to take a photo. If you try to push the button all at once you run the risk of the camera not having enough time to focus or it will focus on the wrong subject. In the old days of manual camera one would focus by turning the lens rings and then push the shutter button to take the picture. Lot of people have trouble with the autofocus cameras and this concept of focusing by holding the button halfway and then taking the snap.

The other concept that bogs new digital camera new comers is White Balance. Every light source, be it the sun, strobe or lamp, puts out a different type of light. Artificial lighting can be anywhere from very blue to very yellow. In the old days of film you'd have to choose between indoor and outdoor film and stick with that choice until the roll was gone.

Today's camera in automatic mode do a great job judging what kind of light is falling on a scene. But sometimes you need to fix the white balance manually so its a good idea to know how to check the white balance setting and also be sure not to leave it set for indoor tungsen lighting when you go outside or the opposite.

The other thing different about modern digital cameras vs. film cameras is that ISO or film speed is determined via software. In the past you would select a film with a certain ISO like 100 for bright days and then if you went indoors with the same roll you'd be screwed. Today the camera can change ISO settings based on conditions. Just watch out for high ISO setting (low light conditions) because the camera will take the shot but the resulting image will be "noisy" or "grainy".

Here is a little check list for things to check before going out to shoot:

  • Is the battery charged?
  • Memory card in camera?
  • Check the mode setting
  • Check the white balance setting
  • Check the ISO settings

Remember that a photographer's best piece of equipment is his brain. Slow down, think of the shot you want in your head and then set the camera up to capture the shot you've imagined.

DSLR Basics

What to shoot?

So you got your new camera - now what should I shoot? Christmas morning is full of great family photo opportunities but after you shoot your shots of friends and family, zero in on some other images of the holiday season - ornaments on the Christmas tree, the front door with its wreath, the mess of paper ribbons and bows under the tree. Look for iconic images that you can later use along with your family snapshots to tell the whole story of the day.

After Christmas get in the habit of having your camera with you as much as possible to capture great shots. Walk downtown and see the well known sights with the fresh eye of a photographer. Once again try to capture a wide variety of shots, wide angle street scenes as well as closeups of doorways, railings and other details. Look for colors, concepts and ideas that capture the story of your walk downtown.

One thing to keep in mind is the basic rules of composition known as the rule of thirds or the golden ratio. The one thing that really screams out amateur photographer is when all of your shots have the subject smack dab in the middle of the frame.

Use your viewfinder guide to display a composition grid to help you compose your images so that the main subject lands in one of four golden spots. Off center by a third. If you are shooting a landscape, put the horizon two thirds up or two thirds down. Never (well there are always exceptions) put the horizon across the exact middle of the frame, it just creates an image that is missing drama.

Rule of thirds

Now for what subjects to shoot, the obvious things are things you find around your house and garden. Flowers are colorful and fun to shoot so that's a good starting point to get to know your camera and any macro capabilities it has. After you've mastered the basics of your camera then the next step is to plan a little trip to some place you are not that familiar with. A new location is excites the mind and lets you see things fresh. Just don't let the newest of the location and your equipment overwhelm you. Take your time, plan your shots and have fun.

Photography Composition

What to do with your photographs?

Once you start producing great photos the next step is to figure out what to with them. Here are some suggestions of what to do with your best shots. Keep in mind that you don't want to be giving away high resolution versions of your best shots because they have actual value and you want to retain the rights to these valuable photographs. If you post your images online be sure to include copyright information and don't upload large files that people could download and turn around and sell leaving you with nothing.

  • Create calendars, greeting cards, books and other products via services like Shutterfly and give them as gifts to your friends and family.
  • Share your work on photo sharing sites like Flicker
  • Enter photo contests
  • Become a stock photographer (see link below for more information) and sell your photographs to greeting card companies, calendar designers, webmasters and graphic artists who are always looking for photographs to purchase for their clients.


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    • peanutroaster profile image

      peanutroaster 5 years ago from New England

      Thanks WD Curry the third. I never considered technical writing but I did work at Byte magazines a few years back.

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 5 years ago from Space Coast

      Where were you when I started? I thought I had it wired, and after reading realized I have been avoiding things I didn't know yet. I worked at Harris Corporation as a graphic artist. Where were you when we needed technical writers?

      Excuse me for checking funny . . . the way you put things tickled me a couple of times.