Tips for a First-Time Photographer

Learn the Best Ways to Start Using Your New Camera Immdiately

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If you're new to photography, you certainly want to make the most of your new camera. You’ll want to make sure you remove all of the components from the box carefully, so nothing is damaged or lost before you have a chance to use the camera.

But you have to balance that desire for careful consideration with a desire to begin shooting photos as fast as possible. No one wants to spend hours reading the user manual, just to figure out how to turn on the camera.

Fortunately, many cameras no longer require hours of study before the photographer can at least use them in the most basic format.

As a new photographer, use the following seven tips to help you figure out the most important things you need to know about your new camera to gain the most benefit immediately.

  1. Go automatic. Every point and shoot camera has an automatic setting, and the performance of beginner-level cameras on fully automatic has improved quite a bit in the last several years. Down the road, you'll want to explore the camera's other features that give you a bit more control over the shot, but, in the beginning, the fully automatic setting usually works very well.
  2. Know the flash range. Most beginner-level cameras have a flash range of about 5 to 10 feet. Any flash photo shot outside of that distance probably will not work very well. However, each camera is a little different, so be sure to look on the camera's box or in the list of specifications in the user manual to figure out your camera's optimal flash range. Then, make sure you're shooting within that range each time you shoot a flash photo.
  1. Shoot at a high resolution. Although these photos take up more space on a memory card, shooting at the highest possible resolution is almost always a smart option. After all, you cannot go back and add resolution to a photo later. Just make sure you have a really large memory card or several memory cards available. 
  1. Only use optical zoom. Avoid using the digital zoom, if at all possible. Optical zoom actually magnifies the image using the lens, while digital zoom uses software to enlarge the pixels in the photo, which can affect image quality when making large prints. When zooming with most beginner-level cameras, when you hit the maximum optical zoom, the camera slightly pauses its zoom movement before advancing into digital zoom territory. On the LCD screen, the digital zoom usually will be represented by a different colored bar than the optical zoom as well. Just make sure you stop zooming when you reach the slight pause at the end of the optical zoom range. If you need more zoom, try moving closer instead of using digital zoom, if at all possible.
  2. Pre-focus for moving subjects. Nearly all cameras allow you to pre-focus on a subject by pressing the shutter release button halfway. By pre-focusing, you'll reduce the amount of time the camera needs to record a photo, improving performance. As shown in the photo above, the photographer knows the dog will be jumping from the ladder, so she could have prefocused on the ladder and then captured the photo as the dog jumps. By trying to follow the dog's movement, it almost appears as though the she pressed the shutter late and the dog has jumped out of the frame (which is a composition problem). Instead, by focusing on the ladder, she could have timed the photo better. She doesn't have to follow the dog's movement to the ladder or focus on the moving dog at any point.
  1. Find the mute setting. All of the beeps and noises a camera makes are fun when shooting at home, but they’re annoying for other people to listen to when you’re shooting at an event. Mute the camera’s sounds as soon as you take it out of the box. Look through the Setup menu of the camera for the mute command.
  2. Read a little bit. If your camera has a "quick start" guide, make sure you at least read it before starting. It will give you some key tips for finding your camera's basic features. As you want to learn more about the camera later on, you can read the full user guide.

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