Digital Camera Lessons – They are FREE online! Just Google them!

Alford Lake by Sheree Zielke

Have you been told to shoot in RAW?  Have you looked at photographs that seem not up to par?  Are you having trouble getting great shots from your expensive DSLR?

Then maybe you should put down the camera, and do some reading instead.

Read on . . .

(Below is part of a response to a thread on  A person wondered about how to get great color shots from a Nikon D80 and used another person’s online photos as an example. )

Any camera (including the point and shoot type) is capable of taking a correctly exposed shot so long as AT LEAST five functions have been set correctly.  These include: White balance (WB); ISO (“film” speed), Aperture (the camera’s “pupil”); Shutter speed (the camera’s blink); and the Exposure Compensation (if necessary).

All light has a color cast (a temperature on the Kelvin scale); our brain eliminates this color cast but the camera cannot, at least not without help – therefore a correcting WB must be set to ensure a natural light, and natural flesh tones, in particular when shooting portraits.  AUTO WB tends to work well about 75% of the time, but the rest of the time, the photographer must choose a pre-set WB or do a CUSTOM white balance (an Expodisc is perfect for this – see the thing in my hand below).

Sheree with Expodisk

ISO (the camera’s ability to see in the dark) must be set properly to ensure a correct exposure (100=bright sun, 200=shade/overcast, etc.).  When setting an ISO, the camera will assist you in setting the most appropriate shutter and aperture (look for red numbers – they are your clue that the camera is unhappy with your settings.  Keep adjusting until the red numbers turn black).

Aperture (the camera’s pupil) settings have to do with available light, but moreso the aperture setting is an artistic choice.  A wide aperture (a small F-stop like 5.6 or lower) is the preferred setting for portraiture work because it blurs the background.  A narrow aperture (F-stop of 8.0 or higher) will ensure that everything from the camera’s digital sensors into infinity is in focus.

Shutter (the camera’s blink) speed must work in tandem with the aperture.  There is a scientific formula set between the aperture width and the shutter speed that is built into the camera’s intelligence, to ensure a correct exposure.  You will notice that on A/Av or S/Tv priority, that when setting one, the camera will set the other.  You will also notice that changing the ISO affects the shutter speed, too.  You want the fastest shutter speed possible (in keeping with the F-stop chosen) to ensure a clear and in-focus (no camera shake) exposure.

Having set your WB, your ISO, your Aperture, and your Shutter, you take a test shot.  Now is the time, using your camera’s histogram (that little moutain in the rectangle), to decide whether or not you will need to employ your Exposure Compensation feature (the little square with the diagonal line and the plus and minus signs).

Tweaking your exposure by forcing your camera (you could use your “bracketing” feature) to expose a picture at a full stop lower and another at a full stop above your “0” setting, will give you more choices when you get back to your computer.

Shooting in RAW or NEF (Nikon’s terminology) is NOT for the average Joe camera user.  In fact, the average person will do more harm than good when shooting in RAW, rather than shooting in JPEG.  Unless you are very versed in using photo manipulation programs like Photoshop, Photoshop Elements, etc., you should shoot in JPEG.

RAW is the equivalent of an old film negative – every photo taken in RAW must be developed afterwards, and many people have no clue how to do that properly.  You can still tweak JPEG photos, in your computer, using much simpler photo manipulation programs, that don’t take an intensive course to understand.

If you do want to get into photoshopping, then learn from a pro, Ben Willmore. He holds seminars all over North America and his teaching is terrific.

As to learning how to use your Nikon D80 or any digital camera better, type in “digital camera tutorials or instructions or lessons” online into any search engine.  You will find a raft of FREE camera tutorials.  Some are easier to understand than others, but there are lots to choose from.

Most camera manufacturers like Olympus offer FREE tutorials. Another excellent site is Chris Roberts site.

We, as photographers, feel very emotional about our photographs; we hate to have them criticized, just like we (perhaps as parents) hate to have our children criticized.  But we must learn that not all (and probably, most) of our photographs are not good.  Most professional photographers take hundreds of shots to get one or two great shots.  That’s the way it is.

If you aren’t shooting garbage shots, and then changing your camera controls to correct your shots, you will never progress.

After a while, you will find it easier to get better shots, with great color, great exposure, great composition, and all the other greats that come with fine photography.  Your eye will become so practised that you will never again pass off poorly exposed, poorly composed photographs as good pictures.  You simply won’t be able to do it.

How do I know?  I take thousands of butchered shots, until I find a winner.  And I teach digital cameras.

In the meantime, I wish all my fellow photographers (all of you from the novice to the pros) the very best.  Keep shooting, because that next perfect shot lies just around the corner.  But you won’t find it unless you go out and shoot some of the worst pictures you can, first.  Only then will you ever shoot that perfect shot.

Join a site like You will soon learn the difference between a “snapshot” and a well-crafted “photograph.”

Wishing you safe and happy travels (and photography),
Sheree Zielke

PS  Here is a link to the forum thread I was addressing in this blog:

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