Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Using Your New Camera - How to get the most from your new camera

Although specifically aimed at newcomers to photography, especially those just starting out with a new camera, some of the advice here will also be useful to those who've been taking pictures for a while and want to improve their photography. Even experienced photographers - myself included - would benefit at times from some of this advice. It's all too easy, especially with a new camera, to rush out and start taking pictures without much thought, only to find results that disappoint or even failures.

Read the Manual

When we get any new piece of equipment, most of us want to jump straight in and start playing with it. Although it's a very natural reaction, try to restrain yourself, and at least after a little playing, sit down and read through the manual.

Make sure you understand each section as you go through it, finding the parts mentioned on the camera as you read about them. Don't load the camera with film at this point, as you will want to open it and look inside. If you have a digital camera, you can't look inside much anyway - usually only in the battery compartment, but it doesn't matter if you take pictures trying out the controls as you will soon learn how to delete them.

You will soon run down the batteries on a digital camera playing around with it, so if you haven't got spares, one of the first things is to find out how to use the recharger. An advantage of the digital is that you can try out more or less everything as you read about it and see the results.

It usually pays to go through all the details, making sure you understand. This isn't always easy as sometime the manuals are very poorly translated into English. One Russian camera I bought only had the manual in Russian, which was even less helpful. Fortunately there were enough diagrams for me to work out the important points - and I needed to use them as it was an unusual camera design.

Getting Help

If you are new to photography, you may find some words you don't know. The 'Glossary' (links at right) may help you with these. Some more complicated cameras come with a brief sheet with important details for you to carry when you go out to take pictures, at least when you are starting. It may be a good idea to make your own card with what you think are the most important points.

I still need to do this with some of my cameras for the features I use less often. Almost every camera I use, for example, seems to have a slightly different way of using flash, and there are often several different settings. I'm not sure how many cameras I own. There are a dozen or so I use fairly often (3 SLR bodies, 3 rangefinder bodies, 2 compacts, 3 panoramic cameras, a medium format camera and a digital) as well as those that see the very occasional outing. Fortunately most of them are pretty simple.

Find all the controls and what they do

This is really point 1 again, but looked at from the camera rather than the manual The great Henri Cartier-Bresson used to advise photographers to learn how make all the camera settings (shutter speeds, apertures and distances) without looking at the camera.

The aim was to be so familiar with the camera you could even operate it in total darkness, working completely by feel. This isn't possible with many camera designs, which rely on LCD menus and various buttons, switches and wheels.

Older cameras - such as the Leica M series - could become almost an extension of the photographer. His main purpose in doing this was to get the camera ready so that when he wanted to take a picture he had only to raise the camera to his eye for a fraction of a second to frame the image precisely and take it. If you want to be a photojournalist you certainly need to learn to work fast and without fuss, and to get it right.

Greater automation in cameras has fortunately made the kind of total control he had less necessary. Often we can get away with letting the camera sort out the exposure details, using automatic or programmed exposure settings. Expensive autofocus systems can focus fast enough for us to leave it to them, although it is still better to rely on manual focus in some situation.

However you still need to know your camera. Even with static subjects like architecture or landscape, you will sometimes have to work fast to catch an effect of light or a person in the right place. Time spent getting to know your camera, and what all of the buttons and menus do really will help you to take pictures

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