Mystified By Your New Digital Camera? It’s Easier to Understand Than You Think!

Are you a fairly new digital camera owner?
Do all the new-fangled, highly-technical terms make you yearn for the days when all you had to do was pick up your little compact camera, point, and shoot? Digital photography can be that simple, too, but it is so much better if you employ at least a few of the on-board features provided by most of today’s digital cameras.

As a digital camera teacher, at our local arts college, I find many students tend to ignore their digital camera’s special features, opting to leave their camera on AUTO, and thus avoiding the frustration of not understanding the purpose of unfamiliar terms like “scene mode” or “exposure compensation.” But that’s a shame because today’s high tech digital cameras offer the average shutterbug so much more than did our old compact film cameras.

Here’s a list of 5 of the most basic things worth knowing and basic features worth exploring on your digital camera.

  1. Scene modes: Many new digital camera users think “AUTO” and “Scene Mode” are the same things; of course, they are not. Represented by tiny icons like a woman’s face (portrait) or a mountain (landscape) or a palm tree (beach), a scene mode is a brilliant and complex formula contained within your camera; it’s a formula designed to help you take your best picture possible (under the conditions), with no prior knowledge of F-stops or shutter speeds, ISO or white balance. If you don’t use these modes, you are ignoring your camera’s brain.Examine your camera carefully. Usually, the most popular scene modes like portrait or night shooting (moon and star) are available as an icon on the body of your camera. If not, move your dial to “scene” or “scn” or tap your “function” button to bring up your camera’s scene mode options. You may have a very limited group or you may have up to a dozen options including “museum,” “candlelight,” “fireworks,” and “night portrait.”Scene modes don’t always work perfectly, but they work better than just leaving your camera setting on AUTO.
  2. Exposure compensation: This feature is usually represented on digital cameras as a square divided by a diagonal line, one half is white with a plus sign, and the other half is black with a minus sign. This option allows the photographer to overexpose or underexpose their picture (allow in more light or less light) depending upon lighting conditions. This affects the intensity of shadows, highlights, and mid-tones. If you have time to learn only one feature on your camera, learn to use your exposure compensation; it is so effective at improving your images.For example, while on vacation at a beach during a beautiful sunset, set your EC to the plus side to ensure humans are properly exposed instead of becoming black silhouettes against the strongly lit sky. Against a dark background, like a dense forest, set your EC to the minus side to ensure your foreground subjects aren’t overexposed on an AUTO setting. The rule of thumb is to “add light to light” (adjust to the positive) and “dark to dark” (adjust to the minus).Every camera is different, so experiment with this feature to get an idea of your camera’s sensitivity to your EC settings.
  3. Flash controls: About 85% of the students, in my Digital Camera Basics class, do not know how to use their flash other than on an ‘A’ or auto setting. But it is imperative digital camera users learn how to “force” their flash or how to cancel their flash entirely. Believe it or not, one of the most necessary times for your flash to fire is in full bright sunlight. And you can only make this happen by selecting the “lightning bolt” symbol. This “fill” or “forced” flash will help to eliminate dark shadows on human faces caused by the bright overhead sun.In addition, when taking pictures indoors of humans, or especially of animals, you don’t want to flash your subject as this discolors skin and in the case of animals, turns eyes glassy. In this case, you want to shoot in the best available natural light (near a window), and disable your flash. This is done by selecting the lightning bolt in the circle with the slash through its center. Even with your camera on its AUTO setting, it cannot flash with the flash disabled.
  4. Memory cards: Memory cards are for TEMPORARY storage only; photos must be removed and the cards formatted to keep them working properly. There are many ways to move your photos from a memory card into print or into a file on your computer including: USB cable direct from camera to computer or printer, docking station, memory card reader attached to your computer, an on-board computer card reading slot, memory card direct to printer, or memory card to drugstore kiosk printing machine. The point is that memory cards should be cleared. And then they must be re-formatted once they are cleared of any important images.Avoid larger size memory cards (2GB and larger); opt for several smaller sizes instead. The cards are so tiny and can be easily lost or damaged. In other words, “don’t put all your eggs into one basket.”
  5. Begin your new digital photography venture with a plan to file your photographs right from the start. As you download your images, scrap the garbage ones, and sort the good ones into keeper files. Use a program like PicaJet which allows you to tag your images with keywords, give them a star rating, and sort them into themed categories. Later, when you need that shot of your spouse riding on a donkey’s back down the Santorini cliff, all you have to do is search the words: donkey, or Santorini, or foolish things we did while in Greece. You get the picture.

It’s really that simple. Don’t worry about all the other bells and whistles; you can concentrate on the other options later. For now, just follow the above 5 points, and you will be well on your way to a warm and rewarding friendship with your digital camera.

—Sheree Zielke—

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