WHEN you get your first digital camera you are faced with so many buttons, dials and scroll wheels and a huge and confusing menu! It is suggested by the maker that you read the user’s manual before you try taking pictures – after all it’s probably only 400 pages long… Worse, it may just be on a CD. OK, the manual is valuable for reference purposes but you would have to be a nerd to read it from cover to cover and I’m sure we don’t have such people in Accrington CC!
So below are some suggestions to get the best out of your new camera:
1) File Format. Jpeg or Raw. Select via ‘Menu’
If you are new to photography then this is the best choice until you are more experienced. Jpegs take up less space on your memory card and on your computer. But the file is compressed when it is saved and so file information is discarded. This file format requires less tweaking in Photoshop but you should opt for the finest setting.
Raw files include all the data but they take up more space on your memory card and on your computer’s hard drive . However, Raw allows much more control over the final image. Raw files need to be processed before they can be opened in Photoshop. Even if you are happy with your Jpegs you will probably eventually change to Raw because of its better potential quality.
Your camera menu might well allow you to shoot using both Jpegs and Raws simultaneously.
2) ISO or ASA. This is equivalent to film sensitivity and is set via a button or menu. A major benefit of digital cameras is the ability to change the ISO at any time. A low ISO, such as 100, usually gives the best quality but care is needed if shutter speeds become too long ( unless a tripod is being used). ISO 400 or 800 often gives perfectly good results. A good compromise is ISO 200.
3) Aperture Priority, Shutter Priority, Program and Manual.
Nowadays the automatic modes usually work well.
You choose the aperture and the camera adjusts the shutter speed to give the correct exposure.
A small aperture – large f number eg f22 gives the greatest depth of field (the amount that appears to be sharp). Landscapes often benefit from a large depth of field. But lens and sensor diffraction may degrade image quality at very small apertures.
Beware that small apertures may mean slow shutter speeds and thus the chance of camera shake (unless a tripod is being used).
A large aperture – a small f number such as f2 , f2.8 or f4 makes for a limited depth of field ie only a small part of the image appears to be sharp and the rest out of focus. But this method can be useful to make the subject ‘stand out’ from its surroundings.
A portrait might well be shot at f5.6 with the focus on the eyes.
You choose the shutter speed and the camera adjusts the aperture to give the correct exposure. This is the best choice for action photography, as it avoids blur by freezing the action, or where long lenses are being used, to avoid camera shake.
This gives a good compromise between aperture and shutter priority and often works well. But as a serious photographer you would probably want to exercise more control.
You decide both the aperture and the shutter speed. The camera’s meter will give guidance or you may wish to use a separate hand held meter. This is best left to experienced photographers.
There may be other modes where everything is sorted out by the camera such as portrait, landscape, sports and fireworks but this is not really the thing for serious photographers.
4) Exposure Compensation. Access via a button or menu
Camera exposure metering is now very good but the camera does not always get it right. Check for burnt out highlights (blinking) when you review your image on the screen . Or check the histogram which shows the distribution of pixels – too far to the right means burnt out highlights.
Re-shooting with one stop less may cure the burnt out highlights.
If the lighting is very tricky it might be best to bracket ie take several shots at different exposure values. You can then choose the best one or you might try to integrate all of them using HDR (High Dynamic Range) software.
5) Metering Mode
Probably best to stick with evaluative. Spot metering does require experience to get it right.
6) White Balance
Leave on auto. It is easily changed later if shooting in Raw
7) Drive Modes: Single, Continuous, 2-sec Self Timer, 10-sec Self Timer. Access via button or menu.
The 2-sec self timer is very useful if you are using a tripod and don’t have a cable release. The 10-sec one is great if you want to be in the picture!
8) Auto Focus / Manual Focus
In most situations it’s best to stick with auto focus. But make sure you know how to change the focus point. To maximise depth of field focus one third into the picture.
9) Image Stabilisation
It’s often suggested that this should be switched off if the camera is on a tripod.
10) It makes sense to always carry a spare battery and spare memory card.
If you are serious about the quality of your images you will want a decent tripod.
Download your images as soon as possible on to your computer and if possible a second external hard drive. Then format your card via the camera menu.