An Introduction to Digital Cameras and Photography - Pt 1
by Alan Zisman (c) 2017 May 4
— types of digital cameras
— camera jargon
— look at your camera
— menu items - going beyond the presets
— know the icons on your screen
— mobile device cameras
-- digital zoom
— how to take better photos:
—— It’s all about the light
—— pre-set scene modes
—— use macro for closeups
-- -- hdr
—— better composition
workshop is being given in two parts. The first part - this one -
introduces you to your digital camera (or phone/tablet camera) and to
composing and taking better photos with it. Part two
looks connecting your camera to your Windows or Mac computer and using
basic software on your computer to organize your photo collection, make
basic edits to your photos, and using your photos in printed project
like photo books and calendars.
Talking about digital cameras and photography can be confusing and complicated - there are a wide range of types of digital cameras, from simply point-and-shoots to complex SLRs. As well, increasingly people are using their smartphones and tablets to take photos. So no one size fits all! As well, people are storing and editing their photos on Macs and Windows PC, on iPads, iPhones and Android devices and using cloud services. One relatively brief introduction can barely scratch the surface of all of these.
What this isn't: It's not going to be make you a professional photographer - it's not going to into detail on using the many manual settings on a pro-level camera or to use the astounding depth of options on pro-level software like Adobe Photoshop.
Instead, we're going to take a look at a relatively simple digital camera and the camera on a smartphone - your camera and/or smartphone will almost certainly be different, but hopefully you can apply the ideas from to your own gear. In Part 2 we'll look at several pieces of software available for Windows PCs and make some recommendations for Mac-users and users of iOS and Android devices. We'll also look at several cloud-based photo storage services and book/card/calendar printing services.
||45-55 mm lens were 'standard' on
35 mm SLRs; smaller sizes (24-28 mm for instance) were 'wide angle',
larger sizes (80 mm and up) were telephoto/close-up. A zoom lens can
smoothly move from wide-angle to telephoto.
||the opening in the camera's
shutter, controlling how much light could enter - refered to as
'F-stop' - the smaller the number, the larger the opening. This affects 'depth of field' - see: Understanding camera aperture and why it matters
||the measure of 'film speed' -
i.e. sensitivity to light. Standard film was ISO 100-200; higher
numbers can capture images in lower light - but with more 'noise' -
random dots of colour. Digital cameras pretend to be loaded with film of a specific sensitivity
||how fast the shutter opens,
measured in fractions of a second. A longer shutter speed lets in more
light, but risks blur as the subject moves. Shutter speed and aperture
both affect exposure. A quick shutter speed can capture action without
|depth of field
||how much of the image is in
focus - a shallow depth of field, with the background blurry is often a
desired effect. Aperture affects depth of field
||digital camera images are made
up of tiny dots (pixels);
a megapixel is a million dots. Today's digital cameras take images that
are 8 -16 megapixels in size - but more isn't necessarily better.
||set what the camera sees as
'white' in different sorts of light for more accurate colours
|optical vs digital zoom
||with optical zoom the lens
magnifies the image; with digital zoom the camera artificially
magnifies the center of the image by enlarging the size of the
pixels.Try and avoid digital zoom! Most smartphones and tablets only
offer digital zoom.
||on DSLR models (but not on many
less sophisticated cameras) users can choose these partially manual
modes: aperture priority lets the user manually choose an aperture and
the camera does the rest; shutter priority lets the user control the
shutter speed and the camera does the rest. With aperture priority, the
user can control the depth of field; shutter priority lets the user
control the amount of motion blur.
||set your camera in macro mode
when you want to take a close-up picture of something a few inches away
- some cameras may have two macro settings - one for very close, the
other for very, very close. The icon often looks like a tulip.
|Some things to note:
|The first image is out of focus
- the second was improved by focusing on the banner on the wall. Doing
that even improved the focus of the wood on the fire and the people on
the left of the building.
|Poor focus isn't the only cause of fuzziness, however. In this photo, it's the result of shaky hands.
The photo was taken at night, which means the shutter was open longer, giving more opportunity for my hands to tremble holding the camera. As well, it was taken with a long zoom to try to catch the details of the top of the clock on the distant tower. The magnification of the long zoom also magnifies any shaking.
The photo could have been significantly improved if I had the camera on a tripod to hold it still. In a pinch, resting the camera on a wall would have helped.
No tripod or wall was available - the result was a more or less unusable photo.
Take control of the flash:
Auto-flash has ruined more photos than any single thing I could name - sometimes you need flash to light up your photos, but more often its harsh light adds glare, bright reflections and washed out, over-exposured colours. Professional photographers usually use a removable flash and point it away from the subject, often pointing it at a reflective 'umbrella' to soften and spread out the flash. You don't have that option.
Note as well that the flash on most small cameras has a very limited range - about 10-15 feet at most. That means everything close by is brightly lit, while everything further away is in the dark - you'll see lots of flash photos with exagerrated contrast between overlit foreground and overly dark, under-exposed background.
Learn how to turn off auto-flash. (The icon is usually some sort of lightning bolt). On the S-7000, pressing up on the multi-selector shows a set of flash options on-screen. The lightning bolt with a line through it indicates that the flash is off. On some cameras, pressing a button pops the flash up - in that case, it's easy to control whether the flash is on or not. Even in a relatively dark room you may find you take better photos with the flash off - at least of things that are staying still.
|That last photos of the Orvieto Duomo reminded me
- take advantage of reflections, or natural framing created by windows,
doorways, archways, etc. This photo (not one of mine!) uses the arch of
the bridge for a bit of framing and gets a wonderful reflection of the
bridge (and the tree-covered mountain) in the lake to create a striking
See how the second image (also not mine) uses the passageway to frame the streetscape below - perhaps more effective than just a view looking down at the same vista.
If your color's off check the white balance:
Different types of artificial lighting accentuate different parts of the colour spectrum. Our eyes and brains quickly get used to this and learn to ignore it - but our cameras are more objective. The auto white balance setting tries to adjust for different sorts of lighting, but sometimes fails - my jeweler wife Linda takes lots of close up photos of her work; using auto white balance, her camera often gave her photos a blue tinge. Fiddling with the white balance settings of her camera let her take more natural-looking images.
|I was taking photos indoors at
the Biennale in the Italian town of Viterbo in the basement of a
medieval stone building - all the photos I was taking had a reddish cast like the
image on the left. I assumed it was the result of the dim indoor light.
Then I noticed that my camera was still in 'Sunset mode' from the night
before. Switching to 'Auto mode' got me the image on the right - note
that both photos were taken without flash - the image on the right is
actually a bit clearer and brighter than 'real life'!
Exposure: If there is a large difference in lighting between different parts of your photo, your camera can have problems knowing how it should adjust - to the bright part? To the dim part? Unless you tell it otherwise, it will tend to assume that whatever is in the center is what should be emphasized. Look at the photo below:
the center of the image was so brightly lit, the camera toned down the
light - making the people in the front even darker than they
appeared 'in real life'. There are a couple of things that could have
been done to prevent this - but weren't.
|In its standard modes, your
camera propably can't focus well on anything closer than about two feet
Tying to take a closeup of the red flower in standard mode got us the fuzzy image on the left.
Switchin on 'macro mode' - on the S-7000 using the tulip icon on the multi-selection switch - got the much clearer image on the right.
Again, your camera will have its own way of letting you access macro mode - learn how to enable it, and again, remember to turn it off when you're done!
HDR enhanced sunset photo (not my photo)...
|HDR (High Dynamic Range) is
wildly popular these days - when you see landscape photos with
seemingly exagerrated colours in clouds and sky, those shots may have
been made with an HDR (or HDR+) setting.|
"Instead of just taking one photo, HDR uses three photos, taken at different exposures.... In the case of HDR on smartphones, your phone does all the work for you—just snap your picture and it'll spit out one regular photo and one HDR photo. The result is something that should look more like what your eyes see, rather than what your camera sees." (What is HDR and When Should I Use It In My Photos?)
No HDR enhancement here! (Lake Como)
Get in the habit of thinking in terms of The Rule of Thirds - mentally draw
lines to divide your camera screen into thirds horizontally and
vertically. Try to line up the horizon with one of the horizontal
lines. Place verticals - edges of buildings, people, etc - along one of
the vertical lines. The result will be an image that is more
interesting than if the subject is smack dab in the middle.
Look at the photo on the right (again, not one of mine) - laundry hanging across a canal in Venice. Notice how the right-hand edge of the brick building on the left and the left-hand edge of the building on the right make strong vertical lines at (more or less) the 1/3 and 2/3 mark.
As well, the top of the line of laundry makes a horizontal line approximately 1/3 of the way down.
Finally, the two people in the lower-right hand corner are in the lower-right square formed by the imaginary horizontal and vertical lines.
Your camera - including smartphone cameras - may have an option to add horizontal and vertical gridlines to the viewfinder to help compose your photos using the Rule of Thirds - and to help you get the horizon level. You may want to look for the option to turn these on - note that the gridlines won't show up on your actual photos!
a story - a photo with a story is more interesting than one
without. The photos of the Orvieto Duomo up above show a beautiful
building, but that's all.... the photo of the Duomo with the Italian
soldiers with submachines guarding it against possible terrorist attack
has a story to tell, and is certainly more interesting than the same
photo if it had, say, a couple of tourists eating gelato looking across
the square at the Duomo.