This is a series for novice digital photographers. It will take you through the different types of digital cameras, settings on a digital camera, what they are used for, how and when to use them, and tips for setting up shots with the best angles and lighting. Experienced photographers may find the information redundant until further into the series. I expect this to be a long series, but I’m determined to help you learn to use a digital camera, so get comfortable and take notes!
I am going to start with the absolute basics by pretending you have no clue what you are doing. For a lot of people, that actually is the case. Their first digital camera is both exciting and confusing. “I can take all the photos I want now! But wait… what in the world are all these buttons? ISO? I-S-WHAT?!” (We’ll get there!)
For this series, I will be using a Nikon D3100 dSLR, a Nikon Coolpix P510 advanced point-and-shoot, and my daughter’s Nikon Coolpix L18, which is a basic pocket-sized point-and-shoot. From here on out, I will use “P&S” for “point and shoot.” (This isn’t a post sponsored by Nikon, it just happens to be my brand of choice and what I have at my disposal. The brand of camera you use will not matter, as the information will be applicable across the board.)
What can I expect from each of these different camera types?
In terms of photo quality, the more advanced the camera is, the better the photos will be. To the layperson, the difference may not be that noticeable, but if you are a blogger or enjoy photography as a hobby – and especially if you intend to print the photos – picture quality is a Big Deal. Higher quality photos also come with a higher price tag. The Coolpix L18 was around $100 when purchased back in 2010, and $100 is still pretty close to the base price for a pocket-sized point-and-shoot. The P510 was bought in 2012 and is still selling on Amazon for $418. The D3100 is a discontinued model, bought in 2014, and still retails for $434 on Amazon. I think I paid around $500 for it.
Here’s three photos, in my kind-of-dim kitchen lighting, of the same object – one photo from each camera. The photos are not retouched or resized, although they obviously will not display their full size on a blog. If you don’t understand the technical jargon, don’t worry – you don’t need to yet. That’s more for my own reference and because you’ll see these pictures again later on when that extra info IS relevant to the discussion.
The Coolpix P510 is the obvious winner between the three. You may be wondering, “Why purchase an expensive and complicated dSLR when the point-and-shoot is clearly a better camera?” The easiest explanation to that is the advanced shooting abilities a dSLR provides that a P&S doesn’t: Multiple lenses for different photo types (landscape, macro, portrait, etc.), the ability to shoot in “RAW” (I’ll explain the relevance of that soon), and lenses that offer “vibration reduction” which helps you get sharper, clearer photos, among other reasons.
So how exactly do I improve my photography?
Practice and patience. Learning digital photography is like learning to bake. You know what a cake is, you know what you do with it, and you know it goes in the oven to bake, but if you don’t know what ingredients will result in a cake, or how to use an oven, then you have no way of getting the idea of a cake out of your head and into reality. You know what you want your photos to look like. You know what you need your camera to do, but how do you make it do it? That’s what this series will teach you.
Question #1: Are you using the right camera for your needs?
Think about what you need from a digital camera. Are you just wanting to take photos of your vacation that you can get printed off at Walgreens? A basic point-and-shoot can do that, as well as just about any smart phone on the market, but it won’t do much else, and forget about zooming in on an object and having the photo be clear. Inexpensive, pocket-sized P&S cameras are designed and marketed for their ease of use, not their picture quality. They work poorly in low light and are often too slow to get action shots. They work best for well-lit, stationary subjects.
Are you a blogger who needs to take quality photos of your projects, or want to get your daughter kicking that winning soccer goal without blur? A more advanced P&S or a dSLR would be the way to go. You will need to be able to adjust settings such as ISO, shutter speed, aperture, image size, and F-stop. This can only be done with a more advanced P&S or a dSLR.
Question #2: Do you know the composition rules of photography?
Yes, good photography has rules, and quite a few of them! Some of the rules are okay to break, such as the Rule of Thirds, but others are very important for good, clear photos. To keep this post shorter, I’m going to link to The 10 Photography Composition Rules from Photography Mad.
Your homework for today:
- Write down what you want your camera to do.
- Go on to Pinterest, or any other photo-heavy website, and pick 10 photos you admire and would want to be able to recreate on your own. You can pin them to a private Pinterest board, or bookmark them for later reference.
- Print off The 10 Photography Composition Rules and keep them with you when you go to take photos.
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