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dummies guide to using a digital camera

general tips

  • firstly, you should choose the camera to buy carefully and decide what you really need - each camera is a tool to help you create your photos, and each has their strengths and weaknesses - there is no “BEST” camera - no point having a big heavy $10,000 camera if you are not taking it with you - so even for advanced photographers there is a place for compact digital cameras.
  • now that you have brought your camera, READ the manual, and if you still do not understand it, search the internet for help and consider joining an online forum such as MyOlympus on Yahoo Groups as the members are usually very happy to offer you timely help.
  • your camera does not know how to take great photos, it can't read your mind as to what subject or conditions you are chooting, nor what image result you are after - that is your job - see basics of creating a good photograph
  • by a protective UV filter to go on your lens - but remove it for critically important photos, especially when shooting into bright lights as they generate extra flare.
  • do not expect your kit zoom lens to autofocus well and take good shots without a flash in low light such as indoors - if you want to take good photos indoors, strongly consider buying a lens for this purpose with a wide aperture (eg. f/1.4, f/1.8, f/2.0 - not f/3.5, f/4 or f/5.6 as is the case with kit zoom lenses)

your new camera

  • read the instruction manual
  • do not touch or damage the glass of the lens
  • put your protective UV filter on the lens so you don't accidentally put finger marks and oil on the lens glass.
  • charge the battery fully
  • insert memory card
  • you may need to format the memory card inside the camera before using it - see camera manual - usually an item on the menu
  • set camera date and time - see camera manual - usually an item on the menu
  • if the lens is removable DO NOT put anything, especially fingers inside the camera where the lens mounts the camera as this is where your precious sensor is and you do not want it damaged, smeared with oil, or even exposed to dust as these will potentially show up on ALL your photos.

change the default camera settings

take control of the image creation process

  • if possible, the exposure mode should be changed from AUTO to PROGRAM or APERTURE
    • this then allows YOU to decide on:
      • the ISO setting (how sensitive the camera is to light):
        • best to use ISO 100 or the lowest setting as this maximises the image quality and minimises image noise.
        • as you increase ISO you will get more digital image noise in the shadow regions in particular
        • as you increase ISO you will lose dynamic range and thus you will tend to lose detail in the brightest areas which will become a diffuse white.
        • BUT you may need to increase ISO to 400 or higher to get a fast enough shutter speed to minimise camera shake in low light or to reduce subject motion in action shots
          • as a general rule, to stop camera shake, you need to hold the camera carefully and use a shutter speed faster than about 1/30th sec
          • actually this depends on whether there is a image stabiliser in the camera and it is turned ON, and the focal length of the lens (ie. the more you zoom in, the more exaggerated is the camera shake and thus the faster the shutter speed you need to minimise seeing this).
      • if in APERTURE mode, you get to choose the aperture as well:
        • the lens aperture can have a big impact on the way your photo will appear as it will determine how much will appear to be in focus (the depth of field).
        • the wider the aperture (the smaller the f number), the less will be in focus and thus you can emphasise the subject more and as it lets more light in, allows the camera to choose a faster shutter speed
      • SOMETIMES you may like to use SHUTTER mode which allows you to set a shutter and camera will decide aperture:
        • this can be handy for some shots such as:
          • action shots (you may want 1/500th sec to give a moving ball some blur but still keep the players appearing relatively sharp)
          • water shots (you may want to put camera on a tripod and use a slow shutter speed such as 1/4 sec to give a blurred water appearance)
          • star shots (you may want to set an exposure of 5 to 60secs)

ensuring accurate focus

auto focus (AF) mode:
  • many new cameras have a setting called face recognition AF which is designed to find faces in the image then AF on a face, but this can SLOW down the picture taking process and take away control from you.
  • consider changing the AF mode to centre spot only:
    • you can the move the camera so the centre spot is on your subject (make sure it is contrasty and not a blank wall as otherwise AF will not work), half press the shutter while holding the camera steady and once camera indicates AF lock has been achieved, keep holding it at half-press, re-compose your image by moving the camera, then take the photo.
    • to make this a bit easier, the more expensive cameras such as most digital SLRs allow you to change this method a little by allocating half-press shutter for locking AF to a FUNCTION button on rear top right of the camera. Doing this means you can lock the AF and then take your finger off the camera while you wait to re-compose or for the perfect moment, then all is ready to take the shot as usual as long as subject has not moved further fvrom or closer to the camera.
    • unfortunately, using this setting will confuse other people using your camera who expect a half-press will lock AF.
    • in low light, AF can struggle and take a long time and even fail and so it can be handy to lock the focus manually or in the method described above

AF illumination

  • most cameras by default pop up the flash in low light and use the flash to send out a series of annoying flashes while it attempts to AF.
  • if this is annoying, there is a setting on most cameras that allows you to turn this feature off and you can resort to other means of AF or manual focus as described above.

getting the colour right

white balance
  • most cameras do a good job of setting white balance outdoors or when using the flash and most of the time AWB (default auto white balance) mode will be the best.
  • for incandescent or flourescent lighting when you want accurate skin tones then you really need to do a custom WB (check the camera manual) or at least use the appropriate setting although these are not that accurate.

preventing camera shake from blurring your images

image stabiliser:
  • in general, this should always be turned ON as long as it is not the pseudo-image stabiliser anti-blur mode that just increases your ISO setting.
  • in general turn it off if you put the camera on a sturdy tripod.
  • if you want a panned motion shot, then most systems have a panning mode you will need to set it to.
if using aperture priority exposure mode
  • if there is camera shake despite having IS on, make sure you use the widest aperture available (if. a small f/number), and if this is not enough, you may need to increase ISO to allow faster shutter speeds.
if using shutter priority exposure mode
  • for certain situations, using the shutter mode (“S”) may help as you can then have ISO set to autoISO (if available) and set the shutter to a fast enough speed to prevent camera shake (eg. 1/focal length of the lens for hand held), or to freeze action (eg. 1/500th sec for most ball sports)

set the image file type and quality

image file type:
  • if you want the best quality image, then always shoot in the best quality and largest size jpeg setting, and preferably in RAW plus jpeg, although in this case it is fine to use a small jpeg setting as if you have the RAW file you can re-create an even better quality jpeg later on.
  • the RAW file is the equivalent of a digital negative, if the photo is important to you, you should try to capture it in RAW mode as it will give you the most flexibility to tweak your images later for better results.

auto-popup flash:

  • if you don't want to be using camera's flash, set Auto Popup flash to OFF.
  • in general, on camera flash should be turned OFF all the time EXCEPT for dimly lit parties or strongly backlit faces, or for certain special applications such as triggering other flashes, etc.

noise reduction and sharpness settings:

  • if you are not using RAW files, then you may want to optimise these settings by reducing the amount of noise reduction, particularly for low ISO settings as noise reduction tends to lose image detail which is often not desirable.

digital zoom

  • turn digital zoom OFF:
    • digital zoom is a total waist of time (except in video mode) and should only be used if you are running out of memory space and are sure you don't need the whole image
    • you can do this much better by cropping in Photoshop or similar later.

correcting the exposure - how light or dark your photo is

  • NOW AFTER you have taken the shot, and you check your image on the camera
  • if it looks too dark or too light, then you have three main options:

use spot meter mode

  • change exposure metering mode to spot metering and half-press shutter whilst the centre spot is on the subject and hold the half-press until you recompose and take the photo - this will ignore an extremely dark or bright background and hopefully give you a better exposure,

adjust exposure compensation value

  • use the exposure compensation button to set a plus or minus exposure amount

resort to manual exposure mode

  • you take FULL control over exposure by setting ISO, aperture AND shutter speed
  • you can adjust settings until image looks just right.

if using flash

  • the flash may not have fired if batteries low or flat (comes out nearly black)
  • the subject may be too far for the flash to work - consider moving closer, increasing ISO or using a wider lens aperture (make sure you don't have a polarising filter on your lens which reduces the amount of light coming in)
  • the subject may be too close (comes out too white) - do the opposite of the above
  • the flash exposure may be being fooled, thus alter flash exposure compensation value or consider changing to manual flash and experiment with ISO and aperture.
photo/dig_dummies.txt · Last modified: 2011/09/27 23:29 by gary

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