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Starting out with a digital camera

First steps to prepare to take great pictures


It's always exciting to get a new camera, especially when it's your first digital camera.
It's always exciting to get a new camera, especially when it's your first digital camera.

You have just acquired your first digital camera and are probably wondering “Now what do I do?”

ATTACH THE CAMERA'S STRAP

Most new cameras do not have their strap attached. It is generally packaged as a separate accessory in the new camera's box. Dig it out and attach it securely to your camera. Your manual will provide directions for properly attaching it. This is a step you will never regret. It should always be the first action you take with any new camera.

STEP 2 - READ THE MANUAL

It may seem obvious, but many people don’t read manuals from cover-to-cover, and digital cameras operate differently from traditional cameras. Your camera's manual contains information you need to know. It will keep you from making easily-avoidable mistakes that might damage your equipment. Most manuals have a short “Getting started” or “Quick start” section that will provide the basics to get you up and running, and you should at least become familiar with this information before using the camera, referring to the manual when you need to know about specific features.


CHARGE THE BATTERY

If your camera comes equipped with rechargeable batteries, step one is to fully-charge them. Unless you purchased a separate compatible battery charger, you will likely need to plug in your camera to do this. The manual will provide you with step-by-step instructions. Charging may take several hours.

Your camera may be put into use right away if it takes normal alkaline batteries. Be sure to check the manual to be sure that other batteries are compatible.

POWER UP

Once the battery is fully-charged, you can begin to use your camera. Make sure the camera’s power switch is in the “off” position whenever you insert or remove batteries. With the battery or batteries properly inserted, turn on the camera. The control panel should light up and information will be displayed.

POWER DOWN

If your rechargeable batteries are nickel-cadmium types (read your manual to find out), use them until they are completely exhausted before recharging them to avoid what is known as “memory effect.” (See our section entitled Digital cameras and batteries.)

Make sure you keep the sales brochure, too. It can sometimes explain your camera's features better than the manual.
Make sure you keep the sales brochure, too. It can sometimes explain your camera's features better than the manual.

It's amazing how much can be stored on a digital camera's tiny memory card.
It's amazing how much can be stored on a digital camera's tiny memory card.

DATE AND TIME

Many digicams allow you to set the date and time so that it can be recorded. You may want to do this as your first step. Refer to your camera’s manual for instructions.

PICTURE STORAGE

Since digital cameras don’t use film, pictures you take are recorded on the camera’s digital memory, which can be built in, or, more likely, are recorded on a removable medium - a memory card, memory stick or disk. You will probably be amazed when you see just how small the removable card is. Its memory storage size should be printed on it, appearing, for example, as 16MB or 128 MB or 2GB. The actual number of pictures each size will hold depends on the image resolution you select.

The removable medium (card, stick, etc.) must be inserted with the camera’s power switch in the “off” position. (Later, when removing the card, be sure to turn the camera off to avoid damaging the digital data.) The card will only go in one way, so be sure you have it properly aligned before attempting to insert it, and never attempt to force it. Read your manual if you have difficulty inserting it.


IMAGE RESOLUTION

Although you can probably start taking pictures right away using the camera’s initial settings, picture quality and the number of images that can fit in the camera’s memory storage are affected by the image resolution that is set. You may want to change the resolution to a setting that is more suitable for your intended use of the pictures.

Depending on the make of camera, your resolution options will be termed something like “high,” “super-fine,” “fine,” “normal,” and “standard” or “basic”, and there could even be a “super high” resolution setting.

Image file sizes are smallest at the camera’s "basic" resolution, and you will therefore be able to fit more images in memory at this setting. The "normal" resolution setting will give you somewhat larger image files, providing more picture detail for you to manipulate with your software. Pictures taken at the camera’s highest resolution will require the most memory for their storage, but will give the highest quality image when they are printed. They can be printed in greater detail and sharpness in larger sizes than smaller resolution pictures.

Many digital photographers routinely shoot at normal to high resolution, and reduce the image size later when the file has been downloaded onto a computer. Some recommend always shooting at the highest resolution, allowing them to make decisions about image quality afterwards, but remember that this limits the number of pictures that can be stored in the camera’s memory.

If you intend to use your pictures only on your computer (for a website, to send via email or in a computer document) and have no plans to have them printed, you won’t need to shoot at high resolution. Use the “basic” or “normal” setting.

Refer to your camera’s manual for instructions on setting resolution. Commonly, your options are displayed on an LCD control panel, and choices can be easily made at the press of a button or two.

If your camera uses removable memory cards, it's a good idea to purchase extras, especially if you plan on lots of shooting away from your computer.
If your camera uses removable memory cards, it's a good idea to purchase extras, especially if you plan on lots of shooting away from your computer.

Take the time to read your camera's manual, cover to cover. You won't regret it and you'll be prepared for all picture situations.
Take the time to read your camera's manual, cover to cover. You won't regret it and you'll be prepared for all picture situations.

FILM SPEED EQUIVALENCY (SETTING SENSITIVITY IN YOUR CAMERA)

A traditional camera must be set for the speed of the film with which it is loaded. Film speed is a measure of the film’s sensitivity to light, and is indicated by an ISO number. (See our section entitled “ Film speed” for more information.) Digital cameras can also be set for their light sensitivity or ISO sensitivity, allowing you, for example, to take sharp pictures in dim lighting situations without the need for flash. A digital camera's sensitivity is sometimes referred to as its "sensor speed."

Digital cameras use the same terminology (ISO rating) for setting light sensitivity as traditional cameras even though there is no film. Use a high ISO-equivalency setting for low-light picture-taking and be sure to reset it when shooting under brighter light. Your camera’s manual will provide specific instructions on choosing the right setting.

LIGHTING CONDITIONS (WHITE BALANCE)

Pictures you take should show white objects as being white, but the type of lighting on your subject can make white look orange or blue. The same effect occurs with traditional cameras, where ordinary household lighting makes images taken on daylight film look too warm and unnatural. (See our section entitled “Light and its color”.) When shooting with film, this effect can be corrected by selecting a film type that is designed for a particular kind of illumination or by using color correction filters. In digital photography, you correct for the type of lighting by adjusting the camera’s “white balance.”

Your digital camera's white balance is preset for normal daylight photography or AWB (Auto White Balance). If you plan on shooting indoors where your subjects will be illuminated by household (tungsten) bulbs or fluorescent 1 or fluorescent 2 lights, or if you will be using flash or shooting in shade, or if it is cloudy, you can manually set your camera's white balance to correct for these variations. Refer to your camera’s manual for instructions on changing the white balance to suit the type of lighting.


TAKING PICTURES

Once you have chosen settings that are appropriate for the shooting conditions, you are ready to take digital pictures.

The three most important topics that you need to get a firm understanding of in order to make good pictures are:

Other sections of PhotographyTips.com will help you with shooting techniques that apply to both traditional and digital cameras, and we recommend you visit them to improve your picture-taking skills. Remember to use your camera’s LCD display to check pictures immediately after you have taken them. This is one of a digital camera’s great advantages. If you are unhappy with the image, you can just erase it and shoot the scene again until you have the kind of picture you want. Your manual will explain how to do this.

COMPUTER-READINESS

The software that was supplied with your digital camera may need to be loaded onto your computer to enable you to download and display images from the camera’s memory or its memory card. You may not need to download the image-editing program supplied with your camera if you already have a better one on your system, but you will need the hardware and software that enables you to transfer pictures from the camera to the computer. Your camera’s manual will provide full installation instructions and directions on downloading images, which you can then save in your computer’s memory, allowing you to fully-erase the camera’s memory, permitting you to take more pictures.

Remember to always turn your camera off when changing batteries or when you remove or insert memory cards.
Remember to always turn your camera off when changing batteries or when you remove or insert memory cards.
Further information...

Composition

Depth of Field

Exposure

Digital pictures management

Downloading images to your computer
Related topics...

Film speed

Light and its color

Your digital camera's settings