Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Digital Camera/Photography Basics Part 1

This will be Part 1 of the first "How To" I will attempt to write, in an effort to help others get the most out of their digital cameras/photography. Digital cameras are truly amazing things! Most of us have more camera than we will ever use, unless....we begin to explore and understand the incredible features most of these cameras possess.

I was asked in a comment posted on the The Photo Page, (Tiffany) if her camera could produce high quality images. She also asked if she learned a few basic skills and learned to set the camera up manually, (instead of always setting the camera to "AUTO") if she could expect better photos. Finally she asked, "or do I just need a new camera?"

These are perhaps the most common series of questions asked, when it comes to owners of digital cameras. Even the folks that buy the expensive DSLR Cameras often shake their heads, wondering why their photos are dissapointing. Most think its the camera, and they keep buying the next best camera hoping for better photos....

I am here to tell you that ALL OF YOU have cameras that are plenty capable of high quality photos, that can be printed at least as large as 11 x 14 inches! YOU DO NOT NEED A NEW CAMERA so save your money! The photo below was taken years ago at Yellowstone National Park with a 3 megapixel camera. It was printed at 13 x 19 inches, framed and hangs in my house. Nothing special was needed to take the photo, (other than a tripod) and the camera that took the photo cost about 99.00 dollars at the time!

It all comes down to a couple of basic skills/techniques,(that you will learn in the next 5 minutes) good composition and good exposure/camera setup. We will talk about the the basic skills/techniques and composition here in Part 1 of this "How to".

Lets start with the basics:

1. Your camera must be steady! A "monopod" or tripod is probably the most important tool of a photographer. It provides for a solid base for the camera that eliminates movement, and thus, blurring of a photo. Can we take good photos without these items? Sure, but if/when possible, use them and you will be rewarded with sharper photos. If these tools arent available, brace the camera against a pole, a tree, or put it on top of a bench, anything that will keep the camera still when you press the button!

2. Pressing the button...hmmmm sound easy enough! Learn to GENTLY press the shutter button on your camera. The very act of pressing the shutter button, without a tripod, will blur your photos! (Yes even if you have Optical Image Stabilization) Get used to being gentle,and being aware of camera movement. Most of you do not have optical viewfinders and just hold your cameras away from your body in a most unstable manner, in order to frame your shot as you look at the display screen. We should be holding the camera close in, like you used to see photographers do with the old 35mm cameras, but many manufacturers simply do not include an optical veiwfinder (little window you look through) with their digital cameras these days.

3. Keep your camera lens clean! Shooting photos thru multiple thumbprints will NOT result in crystal clear photos!  If you need to clean the lens, get some lens cleaner (Walmart) and a few Q-Tips. Spray a tiny amount of lens cleaner onto the Q-Tip. (NOT ON THE CAMERA LENS PLEASE!) Gently, and while holding the camera "lens down", (toward the ground)  move the cotton tip in circles until the lens is obviously but lightly wetted. Take a new Q-Tip and gently move it in circles until the lens is clear and dry. Finish by lightly breathing on the lens, and gently using another Q-Tip to dry the lens again. This will help remove any residue left by the lens cleaner. It is best to never touch or clean a lens, but half of you will have a fingerprint on your lens (or lens window) so there you go.

Thats the Basics!  Any of those seem difficult? Nope, just have to remember them EVERYTIME and not sometimes!


OK, there are years of instruction available concerning the great Renaissance Artists, (where much of our photographic composition and lighting knowledge comes from) great landscape Photographers like Ansel Adams, and any number of books and guides to taking good photos. They are all well meaning. The truth of the matter is that when it comes to Composing a photo that is pleasing to the that will stand out from other peoples photos, the most important rule is the "rule of thirds". Yep its a rule!

It is simply this: Whenever you compose the subject of your photograph, be it a person, landscape or object, it is best placed (with exception) one third of the way into the frame from the top, bottom, left or right of your photo. The easiest way to explain the "rule of thirds" is with a diagram that shows a photo cut into thirds.  I have superimposed a diagram over the photo of the Dragonfly below.  Placing the point of interest along these vertical and horizontal lines is the goal when using the "rule of thirds". 

More specific than that, you will find that placing the "point of interest" or subject, at any of the four points that have intersecting lines, will generally give you the most pleasing results. These intersecting points are called "power points" as the eye is generally drawn to these areas when looking at a photo.  The photo of the dragonfly below illustrates this principle.

Are there exceptions, sure. But honestly, go look at good photos. Most of them will have the horizon for instance, at the bottom third or top third of the photo, never in the middle.  If you look thru Life Magazine, you will see this rule in effect, over and over. It is a common "rule" for professional photographers, now you know it as well!

Thats it for composition. Yep, thats all you need to know to start off!  Is there more to composition? Sure, but it will come to you in time. Do you need to always follow the "rule of thirds"? No, sometimes a centrally located, bold subject is perfect...but thats the exception not "the rule":)

If you follow the above tips, you will be taking photos that are sharper and better composed than 90 percent of your friends! Honest!

Part 2 of this "How To" will discuss the basic setup of the point and shoot digital camera. We will go over some terms and settings that you should know and use, as well as some "hidden" options that will make your picture taking easier and more satisfying!

Happy shooting!

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