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A Tutorial On Using a Digital Camera

Digital CameraIf the eye is the window to the soul, then your digital camera is the window to your world. Many are simply point and shoot; but to get the truest and most creative images, invest in a digital camera with manual override. Which is more important in digital imaging? Concept or procedure? You'll get professionals swearing by both. Play around a little, get to know your camera. Work with the exposure, shutter speed, try images with flash and without, experiment, and have fun.

Learn your camera's control features, what kind of lenses it has and how to use the automatic flash. You will find that you can tap into your creative side by fine-tuning the sharpness and exposure, playing with lighting and color. The upcoming tutorial will guide you about what are and how to take panoramic images, black and white photos, time-lapse photography, and how to use your digital pictures to make home movies. So take that new digital camera out of its carrying case, review the instruction manual, and then take it outside after reading through this tutorial. After all, it's the window to your world. Open it.

Camera Controls and Creativity

You've ugraded to your digital camera, but have no idea how to use it. Technology, in all its apparent complexity, makes life simpler. You aim and shoot. Look at the image, keep or delete. But how? First, take a good look at the front outside of your camera, as most digital cameras have common features like: power switch, viewfinder, shutter, flash and light sensors, and the infrared transceiver, better known as the IR Port. You will find you memory card and battery doors to the side.

Don't shy away from words like IR Port and sensor. Those are just fancy words for transmitters. IR Ports transmit infrared data or signals into and out of your camera, while a sensor "senses" that something is happening and captures it. Okay, turn your camera over to the backside and here's what you get:

  • viewfinder, ready light, auto LED
  • audio volume and record button, video & audio out,
  • external flash and lens zoom
  • serial/USB connector and AC adapter
  • controller, mode dial, and soft keys
  • LCD screen, menu and display buttons

On the more advanced models, you may have a digital window with such icon information as flash on or off, exposure compensation, picture type chosen, quality, close-up monitor, a self-timer, the battery status, manual mode, infrared information, and how many pictures you have remaining on your memory card. Don't be put off by all the parts and all the buttons. For the technologically-creative disinclined who simply want to point, shoot, and look to see if the image is a keeper; simply take aim and press the shutter. Your aperture is like the pupil of your eye, opening to allow a certain amount of light to your sensor, which captures your image to your memory card. This is what you see on the little LCD screen on the back of your camera before deciding to keep or discard the image.

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  • Imaging Performance: The trends of digital photography, its marketing, and how to guide for taking images. In article and glossary format.

Fine Tuning Sharpness

Every image you take with your digital camera is made up of little dots or pixels. The amount of pixels in your image is dependent on your camera's settings. Pixels make up a photo's resolution. The tighter the pixel, the less grainy the image. Grainy images are pixelated, meaning that the pixels are fewer and less tightly packed, depending on the size of your photo or video display. In order to take sharper images, use a digital camera resolution chart, which will let you know what size picture and resolution equates to what type of quality. Other ways to fine-tune your image is to control your camera movement or by eliminating it altogether with the use of a tripod if your focal length is 300mm. Experiment with your lens, moving it from 35mm to 400mm. Getting the camera stabilized, whether manual or by a lens that compensates automatically for shakiness, will create sharper images. Adjusting and controlling your field depth, and experimenting with your field of motion will also help you adjust the sharpness of your pictures. Use mid-range focal lengths, apertures around f8 to f11, shoot at around 150mm, and find that your images become sharper.

  • Digital Resolution Chart: Find your capture resolution and print size to see if your image's resolution will be poor, acceptable, good, very good, excellent, or photo-quality.
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  • Field Depth Calculator: Receive detailed calculations after selecting your camera or film type, focal length, aperture, and subject distance. Drawings help define and explain the calculator.
  • Unnatural Imaging Elements: Discusses getting rid of artifacts like noise, blooming, pixelation, interpolation, compression, stepping, 24-bit problems, sharpening and unsharp masking.

Fine Tuning Exposure

Your image's subject matter will have its own unique amount of light that reflects from it. This means that your in-camera light meter measures that reflected light. That measurement is standardized using middle-gray as the typical light luminance to measure the amount of light emanating from a light source to your subject and its reflection back to the in-camera light meter. Using a hand-held light meter will help you find the exposure level you want for your image by measuring aperture, shutter, and ISO. For instance, if you want to take a shot of your child playing outdoor soccer, you may need to do the following:

  • Freeze the child's action by using a higher speed
  • Set the shutter priority and speed to 1/800th of a second
  • Use the light meter to set the aperture to f10 and adjust for sunshine
  • If the image is underexposed, perhaps change the ISO to 400.

This should freeze the shot of your child. Of course, this is just an example. You need to use your light meter to set the correct values for your particular shot, depending on the amount of bright light. If you use auto exposure on your digital camera, the light meter is giving you its "best guess" measurement and you risk over and underexposed images. Just remember that your light meter or sensor measures the bright light, so it will focus on sunshine around the subject. This means you will have to compensate by the exposure compensation or EC value. Cameras usually have two exposure stops, each one either halving the amount of light or doubling it.

Histograms or black and white tonal graphs depicting the distribution of tones of a subject matter are becoming more standard on digital cameras, thus eliminating the need for the handheld light meter under most conditions. This graph will show you the lightest and darkest areas of your subject matter, the medium range being the standard 18 percent that light meters measure from. There are five zones: very dark, dark, medium, light, and very light. Each zone is considered one f stop or 50 discrete brightness levels. This is measured along the horizontal axis (x) of the histogram and the vertical axis (y) measures how much brightness is at any level of the image. Set your camera's histogram to combine with a thumbnail image of your shot, play around with it, checking it every few seconds after a frame and you will see how different settings affect the exposure. In this case, it is practice makes perfect.

  • Understanding Histograms: The 21st century's newest guide to perfecting exposure for the best images possible. If you can read a graph, you can judge your image by the histogram.
  • Exposure Fundamentals: Get a complete educational overview of exposure and the image capturing device needed to precipitate an exposure.
  • Shutter Speed: Tips on shutter priority and how to adjust shutter speed to obtain the style of picture you want.

Capturing Light and Color

Sunlight is actually white light waves that are either absorbed or reflected by objects, breaking it up into what our mind and eyes note as color. For instance, the colors of the rainbow only appear if the sun's light waves are broken up by the moisture or the raindrops in the air creating a spectrum of color. The colors of the light spectrum are: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet, with red, yellow, and blue being the primary colors, and the others a mix. The darker the color, the more light is absorbed; the lighter the color, the higher the reflectivity of light. Thus black is full light absorption, white is full light reflectivity, and green is partial absorption, partial reflectivity.

Light is necessary to discern color. As a digital photographer, you are interested in color, its balance and emotional nuances that resonate in your image. You should also be interested in the variations of color, called hue, the amount of color that is present in your image, called saturation, and the amount of tint or tone between full light absorption or reflectivity, commonly called lightness. Black and white images concentrate more on lightness than they do on saturation of color. Color images depend on all three to create ambient photos. Many photographers choose their subjects depending on the light and color that they feel will elicit the most emotional response from those that view them. Capturing the essence of the last moments of a sunset or the first moments of the sun peeking over the treetops in the morning make for spectacular color combinations. Using light and color as a mechanism to create the most vivid storm pictures, pictures of the moon, or the family enjoying a bonfire on a summer's night, coupled with the setting the correct exposure and speeds, will create images to last a lifetime.

  • Interactive Color Wheel: Hover over the wheel in the center of the page and watch the proper html codes come up in web-safe, web-smart, and unsafe syntax for use with web sites and any inserted digital images.
  • Color Theory: Definitions, design applications, and concepts adaptable to understanding color for your digital camera.
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Understanding Lenses

Camera lenses work by bending light at angles. Lenses come in two basic shapes: concave and convex. Concave lenses curve inward, convex lenses curve outward. Curving a lens out increases distance between points on the lens making the light waves turn sharply or angle. If the lens is flatter, the light converges closer to the lens, not needing to make a sharp turn or angle in order to snap the image onto the memory card. Most digital cameras give you a lens which can be set to normal focal length, zoom, wide angle for those panoramic shots, and telephoto for those cropped shots. Zooming in, for instance, brings your subject closer and you compensate with adjusting the focus. The focal length of the lens is actually the magnification, by adjusting the focal length, you are adjusting whether the image will be closer, farther, or widened. Increase the distance, the light spreads out, the higher the focal length, the greater the magnification. If you are shooting mountains a mile away, use your telephoto setting and a long focal length for tighter composition. Use your wide-angle lens for a portrait as it has a shorter focal length and shrinks your image. Your average lens, for objects neither near or far, use your 35 or 50mm settings.

Make sure that you understand that digital zoom is not the same thing as optical zoom. Digital zoom simply crops your images, it does not readjust your focus as you zoom in. Optical zoom allow your focal length to continuously vary without need to refocus. This is especially important if you want images that your eye sees, not that are cropped to fit your LCD screen. Optical zoom is arguably the most important feature to look for when purchasing your digital camera as it offers you the most flexibility.

  • Wide Angle Lens: Perspective stretch and technical descriptions related to how to make the most of your wide-angle lens.
  • Digital Photography FAQs: Includes a lengthy section on lenses and optics, among many other questions about digital photography.

Using Automatic Flash

Most digital cameras are equipped with automatic flash with a preset range. The flash's intensity depends on how far the object is that you are imaging. It falls off with distance. The further away your subject, the less light from the flash reaches it creating less reflected light back to the camera. This is the inverse square law: if distance between flash and object doubles, only one-fourth of the light will reach it as it is spread out in a greater area. Halve the distance, get four times the light. Note that objects nearer to the flash, then, will be brighter, while objects in the background will be darker. Your auto flash will focus on one object in the image and work out from there.

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Exploring Close-up Photography

Macro photography is the correct name for close-up photography. This does not mean using the digital zoom, although for novice photographers, it is a tool to get used to focal length. Use a long focal length or a macro lens for close-up photography as you can be further away from your subject allowing the subject to fill more of your image space. Macro lens standard is a 1:1 ratio, meaning that what you see is what you get or that your digitalized image is the same size as what your eye sees. Here's some categories of macro lenses and focal length:

  • Product and small objects: use 50-60mm
  • Insects, flowers, small objects: use the standard 90-105mm
  • Insects, small animals: 150-200mm gives more working range still under 1:1 magnification

Macro photography used most often for nature photographers to get those intimate shots that would otherwise disturb the subject, such as a hummingbird sitting still on a clothesline before he flies off.

  • Macro Lenses: Why it is important to have a macro lens and know how to use it.
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  • Tech Tips: Tips on finding the best quality of light, lenses, using flash and background light to bring out the best in your images.

Special Topics

Once you have mastered your digital camera basics, explore how to use panoramic images in art, or how to create multiple images on one digital frame, or making the sharpest black and white photos. You can also learn how to create scrapbooks with your digital images. Make home movies on your computer through specialized software. Find the best quality paper to print your images on your particular printer. The topics are as endless as your imagination.

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Seeing Creative Images

It's your world. You see it from a perspective that no one else does with a vision that only you can convey. Finding an subject to image is the easier part of photography, playing around with all the bells and whistles for the special effects is the harder, fun part. Play around with shadows, reflections, and patterns. Get down on your stomach in your yard and look at a blade of grass from the point of view of an insect. Photograph the local wetlands and the concentric circles arising from the geese playing in the water. See things the way you used to see them and ask yourself the question: "What if I did...."

This article was written by , co-founder and managing partner of CCTV Camera Pros. If you found it useful, please share it.