Face it, those Canon radio commercials touting how easy it is to get shots like the professionals, are effective. You’ve gone out and bought a digital single lens reflex camera. Prices are crazy low.
You can get a very nice Canon 40D, although that’s just for the body by itself, for under a grand.
Now that it’s unwrapped and in your hands, batteries charged and memory card inserted, start reading the owner’s manual from front to back. But really who wants to do that?
If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the thick manual. Here’s what you should learn step-by-step to just “operate the camera.”
I say “operate” because these steps will give you a jumpstart if you have experience with film and are making the transition to digital.
- Set the camera on auto. If there is full auto, do so. The idea here is to take some pictures to give you something to work with.
- Download the images to your computer. Fancy speak for “getting those images off your memory card onto your computer.” There is 2 options for this, although a 3rd one now exist which is quite spiffy, but may not be for everyone.
First option requires you to install driver software on your computer and connect your camera via a cable (usually USB 2.0)
The 2nd option using an external card reader is the one I recommend because it doesn’t drain your camera’s battery and your camera doesn’t need to be tethered to your computer. This allows you to continue shooting if you have another memory card. Why wait around? Life is too short and those memory cards are so cheap now.
Your 3rd option, if your camera uses the “sd” or secure digital type, involves buying a Eye-Fi, a Wi-Fi enabled memory card. This special sd cards can transfer your images wirelessly to your computer through your WiFi network to your computer and then upload it to the numerous photo-sharing websites.
- Format the memory card. When the card is full and after you’ve downloaded those images to your computer, this setting erases the images on the card and frees it up to be re-used again and again.
Once you’ve mastered steps 1,2 & 3, you’re ready to be dangerous and proceed with reckless abundance. Jump around your owner’s manual to figure out how to change these settings next
- ISO. ISO refers to the sensitivity of the ccd or charged couple device. If you were a film shooter, this is like having the ability to change film speed in mid-roll.You might find yourself in poor light, so this is a must.
- Shutter Speed and Aperture. Select aperture priority and set the lens aperture to f 5.6.So long as you don’t get some sort of protest from your camera, you should be fine.Â If you’re shooting a moving subject, choose shutter priority and see if you can take a picture at 1/500 second.Again, if there is insufficient light, there’s usually some indication.The focus confirmation LED in my camera changes color from green to yellow as an indicator. Yours may have something similar.
The picture above of a cattle egret was shot in Canon’s RAW format(.CRW). I wanted to make sure I got the full resolution of my camera with no compression. RAW means I’m getting the full 10 megapixel image as captured by the CMOS (complementary metal oxide semiconductor) sensors. That way if I have to crop in, which means I’ll be discarding pixels to get a bigger image, I can still have great quality for prints.
- Compression. This is the setting or what is known as “quality” that the camera will record your images.
Used to be more of an issue when memory cards were expensive.These days everyone has a drawer full of these cards because most folks never download their images like in the film days, they never developed that roll of film until they absolutely have to.Â Â Â Â Â Â Â
The only difference is memory cards supposedly can store your images indefinitely without any degradation.Film because of its chemical nature deteriorates.
- White Balance. The default on the camera is automatic white balance. That works for 95% of the time.Since you’ve invested the money in a fancier camera, why not see what you’ve paid for? If you don’t try changing the white balance manually, you will never know.
Generally speaking most digital SLR’s have presets for daylight, overcast, florescent, incandescent, auto and custom.
The surest way to know is to test by taking the same subject under all the different lighting conditions and then open up the image on your computer.
That little LCD (liquid crystal display) monitor on the camera is not a good gauge.
- Auto focus sensor. When you look into your viewfinder by default most cameras have the “red” cursor centered.Canon cameras have a red LED that lights up when you press the shutter button.
You want to be able to change this at times unless you want your subject to always be in the center.
So there you have it. The very basics. This information should be enough to get you snapping away confidently.