Digital Camera Basics/Tutorial

Ever wonder what all those settings on that fancy new compact digital camera are for?  Have you wanted to ask a few questions about your camera?  Perhaps you simply want to improve your picture taking, without a lot of complicated explanations.  Take a look at the two Tutorials here and you will learn the basics of taking a good photo, and gain an understanding of your own camera without having to look at the instruction manual!

                       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 Camera's Eye 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!

               Digital Camera/Photography Basics Part 2

Here it is...Part 2 of the Digital Camera/Photography Basics!!

This will be a continuation of Part 1, which introduced some very basic skills, techniques and composition skills that can be used to take better photos.
I will attempt to speak in general terms that will apply to most digital cameras that have been sold since 2005 or so. Some cameras will have buttons in different places, and differing menus etc., but the terms and the basic setup instructions I provide should translate to most digital cameras. I will however, use the menus and physical layout of the Lumix DMC FS5 as an example, but again, most of this should translate to menu(s) or button(s) available on most digital cameras.

Additionally, I will not be covering the multitude of specific ""Picture Modes" that are found on todays digital cameras. There are 27 specific "Picture Modes" included on the Lumix alone! These specific modes range from "Fireworks" to "Night Scene" to "Portrait" and "Pets" modes. I encourage you to explore all of these available "Picture Modes" as they are meant to allow a photographer to choose the correct mode for the type of photo they are composing/taking, and not have to worry about specific settings as the camera will "pre-adjust" the settings appropriate for each "mode". Each of these "Picture Modes" allow for similar adjustments to the settings and options explained below, so when you have finished reading this you will have a working knowledge that will apply to all the "Picture Modes" as well as the "iA" and "Normal Picture" modes discussed below.

Get your camera, make sure the battery is fully charged, grab your favorite beverage and set aside about an hour if you want to get the most out of this info. It is best used by walking through with your digital camera in hand as you read. If you have a DSLR, this tutorial will be of significant help to you as well!

Read your Owners Manual:

The first thing I will recommend to EVERYONE is that you READ YOUR OWNERS MANUAL! I know, most of you dont have the patience, to do this. I had to say it, because its the best way to get to know your camera. OK, toss it aside if you must....lets get into setting up your cameras "General Settings".

Getting into your cameras options/menus:

Your cameras general/basic menus and settings are usually found by turning your camera on and pressing a button labeled "Menu". I will be using the Lumix DMC FS5 as an example as I go through the menus and settings, but follow along, as your cameras' menus and settings will likely be quite similar. Make sure that when you turn your camera on, the switch that toggles between taking photos and viewing photos that you have already taken, is switched as though you are going to take a photo. If your lens cover has not opened, or your lens has not extended, you are not ready to "take photos"!

Using the picture mode selector knob on the top/right of the camera, (Lumix) select iA mode. (or "auto" mode for your camera) Now, find and press your "Menu" button. On the Lumix, it will be labeled "Menu/Set" and it is located in the middle of 4 other buttons on the back of the camera. Do not mistake this for the "Q.Menu" button. (Lumix) We will talk about that button later.
When you push this button, you will see a "camera symbol" and a "wrench symbol". The "camera symbol" addresses recording options, including the "recording" of it covers all your picture taking options for the selected "picture mode" you have chosen using the rotary dial on the top right of the camera. (Lumix) The "wrench symbol" (accessed by clicking the left most button of the four surrounding the Menu/Set button, then scrolling down/up) allows for setup of the physical properties of the camera, such as how loud the camera beeps, setting the time and date, etc.
Lets look at the "Setup Menu" first. This will be the wrench symbol on the Lumix, and when selected it should say "Setup" at the top of the display screen.

Setup the following items:

1. Set your clock/day/date.

2. Set your "beep" volume. This can usually be set lower or higher to allow you to hear a "beep" when selecting options, scrolling thru photos, etc. If you want the camera to be silent during events that require you to be quiet, select the mute or "off" setting.

3. Finally, set your "language". (defaults to english)

That is all the settings that are included on the Lumix, while in the "iA" picture taking mode.

Next, lets look at the options listed under the "iA" camera symbol. (the Lumix will display "Intelligent Auto" at the top of the display screen)

1. Set your photo size to the highest resolution (megapixel count) possible. On my camera this is 10m, which stands for 10 megapixels. If you have this set lower than the maximum, change it. Take advantage of the best resolution possible with your camera.

2. Click down one menu item to the "burst" setting. (on the Lumix) This option allows you to take 3 consecutive photos in fast succession, or an unlimited number of photos in fast succession,as you hold the shutter button down, or it can be turned off. This is generally used to take photos of fast moving person or objects. For now, lets turn this "off".

3. Click down one more menu item to the "color mode" option. You will see options for sepia, b/w and standard. Lets select "standard" for now.

That is it for the Lumix camera setup menus using the menu/set button while in the "iA" picture taking mode. Now lets take a look at some other settings that affect the photos you will be taking. Press your menu, or menu/set button again to exit this menu.

Now, on the lumix, (your buttons may vary) press the "Q.Menu" button. This menu allows you to "quickly access a finite Menu, while still being able to view the picture that you are composing. For example you can quickly access the "burst", "resolution" (which we have already set) and LCD brightness menus. There is no need to change these for now. On the Lumix, you will have a "Menu" and a "Q.Menu" available for each of the picture taking modes listed on the rotary dial atop the camera. Other cameras will also have different options available in the menu of each selected picture taking mode as well. (For instance, my Canon "A Series" point and shoot cameras have a very similar menu and settings look and feel) To exit the Q.Menu, simply press the same button again.

Multi Function Buttons:

Located on the back of the Lumix (and many other cameras) is a multi-function group of buttons,(4 to be exact) surrounding the menu/set button. (Again very similar to the Canons) The button on the right with a lightning shaped arrow will always provide you with your flash options in each picture taking mode. Press this now. You will see "Auto" or "Forced flash off".

Setting this will depend upon if you are indoors for instance and want flash, or if you want the flash turned off and prefer to use natural light. I tend to keep this "off" as I prefer natural light most of the time.

On the other side of the menu/set button, is the self timer button. Press this and you will see the options of "off" or "10sec". Selecting the 10 sec option will allow the self timer to trip the shutter 10 seconds after you press the shutter button. (So you can get into the picture if you like etc) Turn this to "off".

In the "iA" mode, which we are currently using, pushing the +/_ button above the menu/set button will toggle "auto focus tracking" on or off. This feature is useful for "tracking" a moving subject, as it allows the camera to constantly adjust focus (once you press the shutter button halfway down) on your subject even as the subject moves. Toggle this on and off and note that you can "lock" or keep this setting on if you click the button specified.(the bottom "Macro" button) Turn this off now.
The button below the Menu/Set button with the "flower" symbol is used for taking "macro" or very close up photos. It is not necessary (or active) in the "iA" picture mode, since the camera will sense any "close up" picture taking and adjust the camera putting it into "Macro" mode automatically! Pretty cool!
Lastly, lets look at the "display" button, (again, specifically on the Lumix) located next to the "Q.Menu" button and below the 4 multifunction buttons. Press this button and you will see that the letters, numbers, the date and any displayed symbols dissapear from the screen, giving you an uncluttered display. Press it again, and you will see a "grid" representing the "rule of thirds" superimposed on the display screen. Pretty cool huh?!! After reading Part 1, now you know how to use this! Press it again and you go back to the standard display. Choose what you prefer here.

Whew!! Alot of options!? While that might seem to be the case, there are MANY more options in the Lumix's "Normal Picture" mode! (which we will cover next)

Lets review: Largest picture size/most megapixels, standard color mode, flash forced "off". In "iA" picture mode, these settings will allow you to take very nice photos, without any further input from you, other than pressing the shutter button. And the Lumix does this in its "iA" (Auto) mode better than any other camera I have owned!

Having said that, I recommend the iA or (auto) mode only as a last resort..."oh crap im not ready for the picture"..."what settings do i use"..."its night time and I dont know what to do"...moments. This camera will do a good job capturing a decent picture, but its almost always better to use the "normal" (or the other specific picture modes) if and when you can, as these will afford you much more control over your camera and photos. *Note The "iA" picture mode (Lumix) has proven to be a VERY capable mode for shooting night scenes. Experiment with it for urban night scenes etc., as I am quite pleased with its "Intelligent Auto" results in the nigh time environment!

Forget "Auto" I want to be in control!:

We will now cover the options in the "Normal Picture" mode on the Lumix. On the Lumix, rotate the picture mode dial to the red "camera symbol" that does NOT have the letters iA superimposed on it. Other cameras will have very similar settings etc., and will be accessed in similar menus, but you should be able to find the different settings by looking around a bit. (For instance on the Canaon "A Series" this would be called "Program Mode" or noted on the selector dial as "P")

Instead of explaining all the options, which would literally take many,many pages, (See your respective manual) I will provide the setup I generally use when using my Lumix (or any other camera I use) in the "Standard", or "Normal Picture", or "Program" mode. Once set, you can leave most of these settings alone. I will make note of anything particularly important or noteworthy as we go along. I will also review some settings in more detail later, as there are several very useful features that can be changed/accessed quite easily, that will dramatically improve your picture taking. Feel free to play around with these settings as you go!

Here we go!

On nthe Lumix,rotate the dial selector on top of the camera to the red camera symbol that does not have the letters "iA". (other cameras, select "Normal", "Program" etc.) On the Lumix, the display screen should say "Normal Picture". Now press the "Menu/Set" button. As we go thru these, scroll down (these are in order top to bottom for the Lumix) or find these settings on your respective camera(s). I will also note the settings I personally use on my Lumix DMC ZS3.

1. Picture Size: select the highest megapixel/picture size possible (I use 10m)

2. Quality: select the highest "Quality" setting. (or most number of "blocks" shown in the graphic)

3. Aspext Ratio: select 4:3

4. Intelligent ISO: select "Off" (this menu option provides for a "Max ISO" limit)

5. Sensitivity: select 80 or 100 (I always try to use the lowest ISO possible. Higher ISO = higher noise in (your photos)

6. White Balance: Select AWB or "Automatic White Balance". (We will cover this in detail later, as proper White Balance is crucial to taking good digital photos!

7. AF Mode: select the "11 area" mode for now. This will be the option with the 11 small boxes within the frame. (Lumix) We will cover this and other options for "AF Mode" later. For other cameras, use the setting that gives you the most focus points. (For now)

8. Pre AF: select "off"

9. Metering Mode: select "spot" (on the Lumix this will be the option with the lone dot in the square frame. Other cameras may simply show "Spot" vs. "Evaluative" etc. In any case, select "spot metering".

10. I. Exposure: select "off"
11. Burst: select "off"

12. Digital Zoom: select "off" (Do not use this unless you are VERY familiar with its degrading effects)

13. Color Mode: select either "Natural" or "Vivid" for Color Mode. (Vivid will provide for more vibrant colors...its your choice)
14. Stabilizer: select "Mode 2"

15. Min Shutter Speed: select "1" (This represents 1 full second)
16. Audio Record: select "off"
17. AF Assist Lamp: select "off"
18. Clock set is self explanatory.

Those are the settings I recommend for the vast majority of "normal picture taking". These are what I use most of the time, in concert with some other, additional settings we will look at later.

While we are at it, lets look at the settings I use under "Setup". Click the button to the left of the Menu/Set button, then click down to enter the Lumix "Setup" menu. For other cameras, the menu should be similarly accessable.

1. Clock set: ...self explanatory.

2. World Time: ...dont worry about it. (Its used to set the correct time in another part of the world so you can toggle between "Home" and your "destination")

3. Travel Date: ...same thing...dont worry about it or check the manual for details
4. Beep: select the volume of the cameras' "beep"...loud, soft or off. Up to you

5. Volume: select "2" for volume. This will be the playback volume of any recorded video (Adjust it later to your liking)

6. Monitor: select your preference on the "Monitor" brightness option. (I keep mine at "0")

7. LCD Mode: select "off" for LCD Mode

8. Display Size: select your preference for the Display Size option. You may choose "Standard" or "Large". This will determine the font size of your menus. I keep mine on "Standard".

9. Guide Line: select the "rule of thirds grid" for the "Guide Line" option. Set "Record Info" off in the same option menu.

10. Histogram: select "off" for the Histogram" option. (unless you know what it is and how to use it)

11. Economy: select your preference for the "Economy" option. (This is power saving stuff and I have my camera set to "Power Save" after 2 minutes and have the LCD Display turn off after 15 seconds)
12. Auto Review: select "2 Sec" for the Auto Review option. (or to your preference..this is how long the picture you just took, stays on the screen before going back to allowing you to view through the display)
13. Zoom Resume: select "off"

14. NO. Reset: Disregard this
15. Reset: Disregard this
16. Select "Set On Connection"

17. Version Display: Shows the cameras "Firmware Version"

18. Format: Used to "Format" your memory card. DO NOT PRESS "FORMAT" UNLESS YOU UNDERSTAND WHAT THIS MEANS! (Not used very often, but should be used when a new memory card is inserted into your camera)

19. Language: Selects what language to display (Defaults to English)

20. Demo Mode: provides a "demo" of some of the Lumix's features

These are the settings and options that I use most often. They are a good foundation for this particular picture taking mode. Several of these settings and options warrant a closer look.

Sensitivity Settings and ISO:

Sensitivity refers to your cameras ability to capture differing amounts of light. Low Sensitivity (think 80 ISO or 100 ISO) refers to a setting that captures and records light more slowly than High Sensitivity settings (think 400 ISO or 800 ISO) which are "more sensitive" and thus, capture and record light more quickly. Basically, the sensor that records your photo has a "volume" control in the form of a "Sensitivity" or ISO setting. As you turn up the "volume" (higher ISO) it turns up the ability of the sensor to capture dimmer and dimmer light/scenes. However, turning up the "Volume" also produces more and more noise from the sensor itself, which degrades the detail and sharpness of your photos. Its a double edged sword, but used properly each ISO setting comes with an advantage and subsequent disadvantage!

The "Sensitivity" setting is significant for a couple reasons. First, any digital camera will produce its sharpest and most detailed images when using the lowest "ISO" setting. This lowest setting is usually 80 ISO or 100 ISO for most digital cameras. Higher ISO settings produce higher amounts of digital "noise" and "artifacts", that essentially blur the details of digital photos. This noise is more visible the larger your prints become. Large prints will always look best at these lower ISO settings. "Larger" prints (in my opinion) are prints bigger that 8 x 10 inches. However, the 200, 400 and 800 ISO settings can be particularly useful in low light condtions, and depending on the final print size, can produce perfectly acceptable photos, while allowing you the flexibility to take photos in low light or of very fast moving subjects. When printed at 8 x 10 inches or less, these high ISO photos can be quite sharp!

Many, many shots can be obtained using 80 and 100 ISO's. This includes low light and action shots but, at some point, when one becomes very familiar with the limits of low ISO photos, it becomes necessary to use the higher ISO's as they are certainly very important tools. I recommend you try the higher ISO settings, but be judicious in their application. What is NOT a good idea, is to keep the camera set to a high ISO, so you can "capture everything including low light etc", as you will be degrading your daytime photos and photos you can take within the fairly broad limits of 80 and 100 ISO.

White Balance and Color:

White Balance settings have the greatest impact of any setting, when it comes to the accurate color of your photos. Read that statement again...commit it to memory and ALWAYS double check your White Balance setting before you start taking photos!
Earlier I suggested that you set the White Balance to "Auto White Balance". (Or AWB) I stand by this recommendation....untillllllllllllll you become familiar with what White Balance is and how to adjust it using your White Balance setting option. I will not attempt to go into great detail here, but will briefly speak to the White Balance issue and why it is so important.

Your digital camera records what it see's electronically. It uses different settings to tell it what it is seeing and how to process the info when taking a photo. One of the things the camera needs to know, is what color casts need to be "corrected" when the photo is being taken. Light has a different "color cast" or temperature, depending on the light source, and what the light is shining through. (think clouds, trees etc) Different light bulbs for instance, cast a different temperature of light. (Different color cast) Standard incandescent light bulbs are "warmer" (think yellower) than flourescent light bulbs, which cast a "cooler" light. (Think bluer) Sunlight has a different temperature and produces a different color cast than light bulbs.

To illustrate this, simply turm your digital camera on in your house and try the different White Balance settings. You will notice that each produces a different color cast, and that generally one of the settings will produce a more natural scene as you look at the LCD Display. If it is night time, and you have lights on in the house, you will find that the "incandescent" setting (usually noted by a symbol of a light bulb) will produce a natural scene very similar to what your eye sees. If you try another setting, you will instantly see that the overall color cast changes significantly.
Generally speaking you will have the option of "Daylight", (Sun Symbol) "Cloudy", (cloud Symbol) "Shade", "Incandescent", (Light Bulb) and "Custom White Balance". If you make it a habit to set the White Balance to "Sunlight", (When it is clear blue skies) or "Cloudy", (When it is cloudy/overcast) or "Incandescent",(when indoors or outdoors at night under standard light bulbs) or "Flourescent" (when the lightinjg is flourescent tubes/bulbs) etc., you will SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVE the color and quality of your photos!

You might ask, "shouldnt I just leave it on AWB (Auto White Balance) all the time and let the camera figure it out"? Well, you could do this and "generally" get good results, depending on the conditions and lighting etc. However, since it is so easy to adjust, wouldnt you prefer to get the rich, natural and vivid colors that your camera is capable of producing by simple switching to the appropriate White Balance setting? It only takes a couple seconds and will almost always outperform the AWB setting!
The AWB setting has to "figure out" and in some cases "average out" the color cast correction. This often results in dull or poor color reproduction. Your camera is capable of stunning color, if you select the correct

White Balance. If nothing else, try a couple different White Balance settings when you are about to take pictures, and choose what looks best to you!
If you truly want the most accurate color reproduction your camera can offer, you can use "Custom White Balance". Most digital cameras include the ability to set a "custom" White Balance setting! This is generally done by pointing the camera at a blank, white sheet of paper and pressing the appropriate "Custom White Balance" button. (while in the right menu) Doing this will set the most accurate White Balance possible, for the current lighting and will give you the best possible color reproduction. Please see your Owners Manual for instructions on how to do this. It is VERY worthwhile...keep a piece of white paper (you can fold it up/unfold it when needed) with you.

Metering Mode and Exposure:

This setting determines how your digital camera "reads the light" and determines how much or how little light the camera allows to be recorded. This is simply referred to as "Exposure". There are several options within the "Metering Mode" settings and it is important to understand the basics of these options. Light and how much or how little is recorded, determines the brightness, contrast and dynamic range of your photos. It is the most important consideration next to good focus, when it comes to recording a digital image.

Generally speaking, your digital camera will give you a few "Metering" options.

First will be an "Evauluative" or in the case of the Lumix, an "11 area" option. This allows the camera to evaluate many different parts of the picture you are taking and decide the best light metering option based on thousands of stored "lighting situations" one of which will closely resemble the scene you are photographing.

The next common option is an "Average", or in the case of the Lumix a "1 Area" option. This option "averages" the light within the whole scene and uses this average to determine the scene lighting.

Lastly, (there may be more but these are the three most important/most used) there is a "Spot Metering" option. This option takes a small and central spot within the photo that you are composing and assures that this spot is accurately exposed when you take the photo. It makes this small "spot" the highest priority with regard to proper exposure, and does not take other areas in the scene into account. This is my personal favorite when it comes to metering, as it allows me to obtain excellent exposure for someones face for instance, rather than getting good exposure of the nearby tree at the expense of losing proper exposure for the subjects face.

Lighting and exposure is much more complex than I have just explained, and I recommend you refer to your respective Owners Manuals for more details on your exposure options. Certainly experiment with your exposure settings when photographing the same scene, and see what the differences are.

Exposure Compensation:

This setting allows you to "compensate" for different lighting conditions.

The button used for this is the top button of the four surrounding the center "Menu/Set" button on the back of the camera. It is marked with a +/- symbol. This is a button/setting common to other camera makes as well. Turn your camera on (if its not on now) and ensure its ready to take a photo. Now, press this button once and you will see a scale appear in the LCD Display. If you click the left button(next to the Menu/Set button) it will move the cursor into a negative scale/setting. If you click the right button, it will move the cursor into a positive scale/setting. As you do this you will see the scene on the LCD Display brighten or darken. This gives an indication of the effect this adjustment will have on the picture you take.

While we are in this setting, take the time to set your Exposure Compensation to -1/3. Digital cameras of all types, tend to "blow out" highlights...meaning, they tend to over expose highlights...the brightest or lightest part of the photo. I reccommend that you leave the camera set to -1/3 Exposure Compensation. I do this on my own camera and often set it to -2/3 Exposure Compensation, just to make sure I do not overexpose my photos.

Last but not least...Exposure Bracketing:

My favorite option on the Lumix cameras is "Automatic Exposure Bracketing". (Also commonly found on other digital cameras)

This simple option allows a photographer to take 3 photos of the same scene in quick succession and the camera will take one photo at the exposure you have set, one photo exposed a bit brighter and one photo exposed a bit darker. On the Lumix, setting this up is accomplished by putting your camera in any of the main Picture Taking Modes, and then pressing the "Exposure Compensation" button we just looked at, twice. The first time you press it, you will be presented with the Exposure Compensation scale. The second time you press the button, you will be presented with the Exposure Bracketing scale.
If you are taking a photo that is generally static, such as a scenic shot, this Bracketing can really assist you in getting a perfectly exposed shot. Simply press the left or right buttons as previously discussed, and you will see the scale "expand", providing you with a shot -1/3 and +1/3, or -2/3 and +2/3 and so on. The camera will simply take a "normal" shot at the exposure you would be using if this option were not selected. It will ALSO take a photo at -1/3 (a little darker) and +1/3 (a little lighter) exposure compensation settings, automatically! The only thing you have to do, is make sure you hold the camera steady (or use a tripod/the self timer) until the camera has finished taking the additional photos at the different exposure settings. You then have 3 photos with different exposures, and one of them is bound to be exactly the exposure that gives you the best range of brightness and contrast. Or simply put, youll get a pic that suits your taste perfectly!

Experiment with this setting and you will soon appreciate the power of this setting!
Lets review.

We want to set the Sensitivity of our camera as low as we can get away with. In most cases 80 ISO or 100 ISO. We want to ensure that we set or at least double check that the appropriate White Balance (Sunny, cloudy, shade etc) has been selected based on the indoor or outdoor conditions. We want to always set the Exposure Compensation to -1/3 stop.(or -2/3...your preference) Finally, we want to make sure that we select the correct Metering Mode to ensure that we get our primary subject (think "Spot" Metering) or several different objects (think "11 area" or "Evaluative") properly exposed within the photo.

Dont forget that you can use the Q.Menu button at any time to "shortcut" your way into the most often used options in each Picture Taking Mode. You can set most options (ISO, White Balance etc) from the Q.Menu on the Lumix. Use it to your advantage!
If we combine these things with correct composition (think "rule of thirds"), proper camera stability (think tripod/monopod) and a clean lens, we can expect sharp photos, that are properly exposed and exhibit beautiful color. With a little practice and after establishing a few good habits, you will be pleasantly surprised with your your resulting photos!

Happy shooting!