Begin at the Beginning
So, you've bought your new digital camera, taken it out of the box, put in the battery and taken your first shots. So what now? Well, the fact that you are reading this tells me that you want to learn how to use it properly, so let's begin at the beginning.
Setting up the Camera
Let's start with what the camera does well. If you set your camera to the full automatic, super program, do-it-all-for-you-and-then-some setting, it will produce great shots most of the time. That's the good news. Provided, that is, that you are taking pictures with plenty of light coming from the right direction, and you're not overly fussy about the results being perfect. The exposures will be pretty much correct most of the time, the color will be right most of the time and the contrast will be acceptable most of the time. So that would seem a good place to start. Set the camera on full auto and carry on reading.
What the camera can't do for you is point itself in the right direction and frame the picture just the way you want it. So let's concentrate on learning something about composition. Composition, framing and viewpoint are the keys to producing great photos instead of mediocre ones. Here's a list of the three most common faults with beginners' photos, especially when shooting people.
- They place the head in the middle of the frame and leave a load of unnecessary space above it. Placing the head near the top of the frame fills you picture area with the subject instead of the background.
- Not filling the frame is the next big fault, so many photos I see contain too much background and not enough subject.
- People are very reluctant to turn the camera on its side. This is essential if, for instance, you are taking a picture of one person on their own, it just helps fill the frame properly. Look at the subject you are going to shoot and decide whether it will best fit in an upright frame or a horizontal frame. If you can't decide which is best, shoot both.
Have a look at the composition section of the site to see some pictures showing what I mean and to learn more.
Holding the Camera Properly
In bright light you can often get away with holding the camera badly without getting blurred pictures. I see a lot of people these days holding the camera with their finger tips. However, as the light level drops, it becomes more important to hold the camera properly and avoid camera shake. Have a look at my tutorials on holding the camera and camera shake to see how it should be done.
There is another short tutorial you should look at in the beginner section of the site called selection. This is slightly tongue in cheek but it makes a very valid point, you can't expect people to enjoy your photography, or rate it as good, if you show them all your reject pictures as well as the good ones.
Now that we all have digital cameras, where the cost of taking a picture is nothing, we are able to take loads of pictures and play the percentage game. If you take enough pictures, at least some of them will be OK won't they? Well, actually no, you still need to learn how to do it properly and apply that knowledge. It is true to say, though, that you need to take a few shots of each subject so you can choose the best, but then you need to get rid of the rest.
This kind of informed percentage game is how the pros do it. I have often heard people say, especially back in the pre-digital era (when film cost money); "if I took that many shots of the same subject, I'd get some winners too." Well no, not necessarily. When I set up to take a series of shots of, say, a fast moving sports event, I will take just as much care in my setup as I would if I was only taking one single shot. The option to keep popping the shutter and therefore have a series of photos from which to choose the best one, is a bonus. If I don't setup right before I start, they will all be rubbish.
In a nutshell
The first things to master are how to hold your camera securely, how to frame the picture and compose the shot in an interesting way and how not to bore your friends with too many pictures of the same thing.
If you enjoyed this page you might
be interested in my eBook
Learn Photography with Geoff Lawrence
Other tutorials in this section
A good place to start for complete beginners, the first few things you need to know.
A short piece of advice on showing your pictures to others.
How to hold the camera properly and why. Also illustrations of how not to hold the camera.
What is it? What does it look like? What causes it? How to avoid it.