New Camera? Overwhelmed? Start here…

Hi Friends,

As a photography instructor, I frequently encounter folks who are simply overwhelmed by the options available on their digital cameras: exposure modes (full auto, program auto, aperture priority, shutter priority, manual); scene modes (nighttime portrait, sunny mountain ski slope, running man, cute cat playing piano for YouTube, etc.); ISO;  flash modes…the list goes on.

5.5 Tips for Learning Your Camera

1) and I credit Douglas Adams of “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” fame for this: DON’T PANIC. It’s not necessary to learn EVERYTHING about your camera to be able to use it effectively.

Corollary to tip #1: Take a deep breath, and let it out…slowly.  Seriously. Not only will you feel better, but it will help you with holding the camera steady (key to reducing blur in your photographs).  Take a lesson from marksmen…

2) Turn off your flash.
Unless you’re indoors in a low light situation where flash would be REQUIRED to make an image, you’ll be happier with your results via ambient / available light.  Built-in on camera flash (either pop-up or not) is not particularly flattering, and actually, not very effective beyond about 5 – 6 feet.  There are reasons to use flash (in fact, I shoot almost exclusively with flash – but never on camera, and seldom unmodified).  But for now, turn it off unless you really need it.

3) Get out of full automatic mode (usually denoted by a green icon on your camera’s exposure dial).  Until you do, you’ll never learn how to bend your camera to the will of YOUR photographic vision.

4) Pick ONE exposure mode and stick with it for a while until you get comfortable.  For example, if most of your photos are people pictures, try aperture priority mode (“A” or “Av” – you pick the desired aperture, your camera selects the shutter speed to go with it) so you can control your depth of field  — throwing the background out of focus so it doesn’t distract from your subject. Choose a large-ish aperture (the smallest f-number on your lens), and have at it. If you’re shooting sports and want to freeze motion, try shutter priority mode (“S” or “Tv” – you pick the shutter speed, camera chooses the aperture).  Pick a fast shutter speed (1/500 second, for example), and go out and shoot your preferred sporting event on a sunny day.

5) Keep your camera user manual handy.  Carry it in your car. Have an electronic (PDF) version on your computer or iPad. So when you need to know how to set the aperture, shutter speed, ISO, turn off the flash, format the memory card, what have you — you have the information at your fingertips.

Eventually, as the need arises, you’ll begin to explore some of the other features of your camera and have those skills / techniques in your quiver for the next time you need them. Just take it a step at a time.  You’ll get there with much less frustration!

Thanks for dropping by!


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