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Make Friends With Your Digital Camera

Jun 20, 2008
When a brand new SLR (single lens reflex) model digital camera is put into your hands, whether it is a purchase or a gift, you are holding an exquisitely crafted instrument designed to deliver sharp, crisp, brilliantly colored photos.

If you spend the time to acquaint yourself with its technical aspects, a whole new world of photography can open up to you.

I admit that the typical manual for digital cameras can be intimidating. I have two manuals for a small digital camera that I bought two years ago. The camera can be used in automatic (point-and-shoot) or manual mode and the basic guide is 32 pages, the advanced guide is 144 pages.

Fortunately, camera manufacturers now have show and tell instructions in the form of DVDs and that should help. But sometimes technical terms discourage new owners from getting up close and personal with their new cameras.

With computer access it is really easy to search a free online encyclopedia to investigate many technical terms like, for instance, mega pixels (tiny, tiny dots of color). When you see that the more mega pixels a camera has, (like 10.1mp or 12.1mp), the sharper the image is going to be because there is more pixel information being recorded when you shoot.

This means that you will be able to have your photos blown up to, say, poster or mural size because there is a greater density of pixel information and the image will keep its clarity at large sizes. Photos taken with less mega pixel data appear grainy because there are fewer recorded dots of color information.

Perhaps you remember with fondness the user-friendly cameras preceding the latest addition to your collection of memory makers.

With the stalwart (if slightly boxy and heavy) 35mm film camera, inserting a roll of film was sometimes a little tricky, lining up the film edge holes on the sprockets, and being careful to shield the camera from too much light when inserting the film.

But then once that was done, your automatic film camera was good to go. Just point, shoot and no worries. Of course, you really had no idea if you actually got the photos of what you were shooting until the film was developed days or weeks later.

Stepping into the 21st century, that scenario has changed dramatically with the advent of the digital camera. You know what you have right away.

(I was amused recently while watching a TV show where an irate actor snatched a camera from a paparazzi photographer to destroy unwanted photos. A scene like this done ten years ago would have been super dramatic with the person pulling out yards of exposed film. Now it is merely a matter of snapping out a tiny memory card!)

Here are a few of the basic things to learn about your camera.
Controlling the amount of light perceived in a scene
Put very simply, the aperture (opening) of the camera lens is like the iris of the eye, enlarging to let in more light in low light situations and narrowing in brightly lit scenes like snow or water-reflecting scenes. In automatic mode, when there is too much or too little light coming through the aperture, the camera computer corrects for this.

You can manually control the amount of light by adjusting the f-stops on your camera lens. Basic f-stops range from f-1.2 to f-22. The lower number setting indicates a low light situation where the camera aperture is opened to its widest diameter to allow in more light. The high number setting shows an extremely brightly lit situation where the aperture needs to be closed down, letting in less light so that the image will not be over-exposed and washed out.

Setting the speed (ISO) at which the camera shutter opens and closes
You can control the speed (ISO) at which the photo will be taken. In film cameras, the only way to change speed was to change rolls of film, sometimes wasting much of a roll. With your digital camera, you simply switch by dialing the speed you desire.

This is important if you are, for instance, shooting sports photos where the shutter is open a tiny fraction of a second so you can capture action without blurring. Or, you may want the shutter open for long periods if you are shooting night scenes or fireworks

Selecting the focal distance
The part of your camera that is governing how far away from your subject you are shooting is the lens. If your new digital camera is an SLR (single lens reflex) model, you are a very fortunate person. The SLR model is very versatile because with the flip of a button, you can change lenses quickly and easily. You can instantly change from shooting panoramic shots to intimate portraits or switch to a macro mode of ECUs (extreme close-ups).

Even if you start out with a basic lens of 18-55mm, the time you spend learning about the effects of using different focal length lenses will reward you with the knowledge to take spectacular photos.

Your digital camera is capable of taking stunning and memorable photos if you take a little time to really get acquainted.
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