Some are very basic while others go a little deeper.
Introductions to Useful Modes and Settings on Your Digital Camera.
1. Digital Camera Modes Explained – I spoke with a family friend recently who had just bought a new point and shoot camera. She came up to me with her camera when no one was watching and embarrassingly asked me if I could tell her what all the little icons on the dial on top of her camera meant. This article explains what each of these most common digital camera modes means and does. Knowing them can take your shots to the next level.
2. Aperture and Shutter Priority Mode – this introduction talks you through these two very useful settings that can be found on many digital cameras. Aperture and Shutter Priority modes take you out of Automatic mode giving you more control over your images – but don’t thrust you fully into manual mode – they are great settings to explore and master.
3. Introduction to White Balance – one of the most common problems that I see in beginner photographer images are shots with incorrect color. We’ve all seen them – portraits where your subjects teeth and eyeballs (and everything else) has a yellowish tinge. Learn what causes this and how to combat it with this tutorial on White Balance.
4. Understanding Histograms – ‘histograms are scary’ – this is what one reader said to me recently when they discovered that they could view these little graphs or charts on their camera. While they might seem a little technical it is amazing how simple a histogram is to interpret. Know what you’re looking for and with just a glance you’ll know if your image is under or over exposed. It’s a useful tool to master.
5. Automatic Exposure Bracketing (AEB) – this feature is another of those often unexplored settings that many cameras have built into them that will allow you to get well exposed shots in even the trickiest of lighting situations.
6. How to Hold a Digital Camera – this beginner tutorial covers a topic that most camera owners skip over without realizing that it is a foundation lesson in photography. Get this wrong and it can impact the quality of your shots.
7. Shutter Release Technique – another ‘basic’ or ‘beginner’ type tip that many do intuitively – but which can drastically improve your photography if you don’t do it.
8. How to Use Focal Lock – yet another beginner technique that many of us take for granted yet which is at the core of how all digital cameras focus automatically. Get this wrong and you’ll take a lot of shots of out of focus subjects and in focus backgrounds!
9. Shooting with an In Camera Flash – flash photography with an in built flash can lead to some terribly blown out images – here are a few tips on how to avoid them.
i. Get in Close:
The main limitation of built in flash units is their power. Whereas external flash units have their own dedicated power source and can be quite large – a built in flash shares it’s power with your camera’s other components and it’s generally quite a bit smaller.
Knowing this should drive you to get in close enough to your subject for the flash to have some impact (usually within 2-3 meters). If you can’t get in close (for example if you’re at a rock concert and are sitting in the back row) you’ll probably achieve better results by turning your flash off and bumping up the ISO setting.
ii. Try Slow Sync Flash:
Another limitation with in built flash units is that they can produce quite harsh results that mean any other ambient light in a scene is lost. This is partly because the light they produce is unable to be directed/bounced indirectly onto your subject.
One way around this is to use Slow Sync Flash. It involves choosing a slower shutter speed and firing the flash while the shutter is open.
iii. Diffuse or Direct Your Flash DIY style:
One technique that some inventive photographers use is to take a Do It Yourself approach and create their own diffusers.
Some photographers I know always have a roll of semi-opaque adhesive tape in their camera bag to put over their flash. This doesn’t stop the flash’s light but diffuses it.
Other friends take a little piece of white card with them which they put in front of their flash to bounce it up or sideways.
Using these techniques might mean you need to play with exposure compensation (you’ll probably want to increase exposure by a stop or two) as your camera won’t be aware that you’re taking some of the power out of it’s light.
iv. Fill-in Flash:
Don’t just use your flash when it’s dark. Often when shooting outdoors a flash can really lift an image up a notch – particularly when photographing a subject with strong backlighting or one with harsh downward light. A fill in flash lights up shadowy areas.
10. How to Get Shallow Depth of Field in Your Digital Photos – a great technique to learn if you’re into many types of photography (portraits, macro etc) is how to control the depth of field in your shots and make your main subject ‘pop’ out by making your background nicely blurred.
11. Understanding Exposure – Understand the three main elements of Exposure. Along with this also check out how ISO, Aperture and Shutter Speed contribute to a great click.
Camera Care and Maintenance
12. How to Avoid a Dirty DSLR Sensor – one of the fastest ways to ruin every single shot you take with your new DSLR is to end up with a dirty image sensor. learn how to clean it up
If you’ve got a DSLR you’ve probably had the experience of uploading your photos onto your computer after a long day of photography – only to find that there are dark ‘spots’ and ‘blotches’ on your pictures.
These spots and blotches appear on all your shots in exactly the same position. They might be less noticeable on backgrounds with lots of detail (and more noticeable on plain backgrounds (like blue skies – especially when you have a small aperture) – but they’re there in all your shots (the picture to the left is one of the worst examples I’ve seen – and was the result of poor image sensor cleaning technique).
The reason for these marks is that you’ve almost certainly got dust on your camera’s image sensor.
Cameras are being developed that combat this problem (for example the Canon EOS 400D/Revel Xti and others) but until we all go out and upgrade our DSLR we’re all susceptible to it.
Most DSLR owners do eventually get some on your sensor (unless you never change your lens) but here are some tips for decreasing the likelihood of it:
- Avoid changing lenses in risky environments (where there is wind, water, dust etc) – pick a lens and try to stick with it.
- Turn camera off before changing lenses. On some cameras the sensor has an electric charge that will actually attract dust to it like a magnet.
- Hold camera upside down (with the opening facing down) when changing lenses – it’s impossible for dust to fall into your camera if it’s upside down (unless there is wind that blows it up into it).
- Have your lens ready when you’re changing lenses (be prepared and have your new lens ready to attach so that your camera is open for as short a time as possible).
- Check your lenses for dust before attaching them – have a blower that you can get any specs off your lens with.
- Clean your image sensor with care. There’s a lot of debate about whether to do it yourself or whether to get your sensor professionally cleaned (see below for of some of the DIY approaches to cleaning sensors) If you do tackle it yourself do so with extreme care – let the picture above be motivation to get it right!
To test if your image sensor is dirty photograph a white wall with a small aperture (large number) and you should see it in the images that result if you have any.
13. How to Clean a DSLR Lens – as much as you try to protect them – lenses tend to get a little grimy over time. This tutorial shares some basic tips on how to clean them up so that your shots will be as clear as possible.
I’ve noticed that my DSLR’s lens has lots of smudges on it that are starting to impact the quality of my images but I’m too scared to clean it because I’m worried about scratching it. Do you have any suggestions? – Chris
Cleaning your camera’s lenses should be a regular (although not too regular) part of any camera owner’s maintenance. While you do need to be very careful during this process it’s not something to be frightened about. The best time to clean a lens is when it’s dirty – don’t get in the habit of cleaning it off daily or you’ll do more damage than good.
However when the time comes to clean it here are a few simple tips:
Use a UV or Skylight filter
Before I get into cleaning techniques let me share a tip that all DSLR users should consider. For each lens you own you should consider purchasing a UV or skylight filter. Keep it attached to your lens at all times. In addition to it cutting out UV light they will protect your lens from scratches or even breakage. It also means that when you do your cleaning you’ll just be cleaning the filter instead of the actual lens (unless dust gets right in). Keep in mind that filters come in different levels of quality – if you have a high end lens consider investing in a higher end filter.
Lens hoods can also help protect the end of your lens as do the lens caps for both the front and back end of your lens that come with it – always use them!
Lens Cleaning Fluid
In most camera stores you’ll find an alcohol based lens cleaning fluid that is well worth having. It will help you to lift off fingerprints and other smudges without leaving streaks on your lens or filter. Keep in mind that you don’t need too much of this fluid at a time – usually just a drop or two wiped in a gentle circular motion with a cleaning tissue will remove most marks on a lens or filter. Always apply the fluid to a cloth or tissue rather than the lens itself.
Alternatively – many photographers believe that simply breathing on your lens and then wiping with a cloth is a safer method for cleaning it – rather than introducing harsh fluids. My own approach is to start with breath and then use the fluids for difficult marks to remove.
To apply the cleaning fluid grab yourself some lens tissues. They are a very thin paper that will let you wipe your lenses without scratching them. These tissues are one use tissues and should be thrown away after using. Don’t use normal facial tissues – these are too rough and will scratch your lens.
An alternative to cleaning tissues is the more modern microfiber cleaning cloth. These washable cloths grab a hold of dust and oils on your lens. The main thing to be aware of with them is to keep them clean themselves with a regular wash – alternatively just buy yourself a new one as they are very cheap to buy and that’ll negate the risk of wiping something from your wash into your lens.
Before using a cloth always check the lens to make sure you don’t have any larger pieces of grit on it. The last thing you want to do is wipe it into your lens causing a scratch. Remove any larger gritty dust using a blower or brush before wiping.
Most camera stores sell blowers of different varieties. While I’d personally advise being very careful with them on the inside of your camera (you could actually end up blowing dust into it) they can be great for cleaning the outside of your camera – including the lens. Before you use a blower make sure you squeeze if a few times first to get any dust that might be inside it out.
If you have a lot of dust on your camera one good tool to get the big stuff off is a brush. Get one with fine and soft hair (camel hair) to avoid scratching your lens. Similarly you might like to invest in a lens cleaning pen which has a retractable brush on one end an a cleaning pad on the other.
One lost preventative measure before we end. Grab some silica gel sachets to throw into the bottom of your camera bag. The little sachets will draw any moisture in your bag to them to save your lenses and DSLR from being impacted by it. Keep changing over this sachets over time or they’ll attract too much water and become useless.
Much of the above cleaning gear is pretty low cost and will be available from a good camera store (often as a full kit). Don’t go for the very cheapest gear though – when you’re looking after gear that you’ve paid big dollars for it can be worth paying a little extra to ensure quality.
Lastly – take a lot of care when changing lenses. Cleaning the outside elements of your camera and lens is a lot easier than cleaning the inside where things are much more delicate. When changing lenses turn off your camera first, always point your camera and lens to the ground and attempt to do it inside or out of the wind. Learn to do these things quickly and you’ll have less dust and grime to clean off your camera and lenses.
14. The Rule of Thirds – whether you know it to follow it or break it – it’s something you should at least know about.
15. Points of Interest – an image without some visual point of interest in it is unlikely to hold the eye of anyone viewing it.
16. Getting Horizons Horizontal – the perfect way to ruin that lovely sunset or landscape shot is to make it lean to one side. Get your Horizon Horizontal!
17. Fill Your Frame – this is not applicable to every shot you take but many photographers could drastically improve their photography by getting in close to their subject and filling their frame.
18. Getting Backgrounds Right – the background of your shot can make or break your image.
19. Adding Randomness to Your Photos – learn how to set your images apart from everyone else’s by injecting creativity, variety and a little randomness into your shots.
Of course the above 19 Settings, Techniques and Rules for beginner camera owners just scratch the surface of all there is to learn about the art of photography.