Learn to use a digital camera, part 1

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!

Learn To use a digital camera: A weekly series from AllTheVs.com

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.

D3100 example photo in dim lighting. Learn To use a digital camera: A weekly series from AllTheVs.com

Coolpix P510 example photo in dim light. Learn To use a digital camera: A weekly series from AllTheVs.com

Coolpix L18 example photo in dim light. Learn To use a digital camera: A weekly series from AllTheVs.com

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.

To make sure you don’t miss a post in this series, be sure to subscribe so that you’ll get an email each week with the new post!

Linking up with Weekend Wind Down, Motivational Monday, Pretty Pintastic Party, The Casual Craftlete, Tip Tuesday

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27 Comments

  1. June 7, 2015    

    Hi Stephanie, I am at a crossroads with my photography at the moment… I have been using a canon sx150. I am pretty competent at finding the settings I need to but I feel I can do more with something a little better… I feel comfortable using this little camera but I think I can do better with something better… so it is taking the leap + hopefully buying a camera that will grow with me…

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 7, 2015    

      I think we all get to the point where we feel like we’ve outgrown what we have when we get into a hobby. I’ve never used a Canon, but I have heard great things about the Rebel, and honestly I would buy one for myself, definitely. In fact, I think a Canon will be my daughter’s next camera.

  2. June 5, 2015    

    Thanks for the quick little lesson in digital photography! Please come share your blog posts over at the Home Matters Linky Party! We’d love to have you for a visit. The Door is OPEN. http://lifewithlorelai.com/2015/06/04/home-matters-linky-party-40/ 🙂

    ~Lorelai
    Life With Lorelai

  3. June 4, 2015    

    I need absurd doses of patience with my photography. I have been using my boyfriend’s old Nikon D60. I don’t think I should go for anything better with my poor skills.
    I will do my best to join the challenge. Without working on it, I will never improve.
    Thanks for joining #TipTuesday!

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 4, 2015    

      Very true Debbie! It took me years to learn, as I was self-taught. I do think anyone can learn to take great photos though.

  4. Sue Sue
    June 3, 2015    

    What a fabulous post and full of information. I love taking photos but it is usually hit and miss with me. I like the way you showed three photos and the different results. I’ll be following further blogs from you on this for sure.

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 3, 2015    

      Thank you Sue! Next post is this Thursday, but I’ll be sure to share it where you’ll see it.

  5. June 2, 2015    

    I sold cameras for 4 years and it’s great to be reminded of the basics. Thanks!

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 3, 2015    

      Sometimes we get so caught up in the advanced stuff that we forget that sometimes, easier is better, and simple is grand.

  6. June 2, 2015    

    What a great, useful, and informative post! I LOVE it!

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 2, 2015    

      Thank you Rachel!

  7. June 2, 2015    

    I love this! I can’t wait to read the rest of the series! I never remember what all the settings are for and get overwhelmed when I take on the challenge of trying to learn them on my own. Thank you!

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 2, 2015    

      Thanks Angela! The second part comes out on Thursday 🙂

  8. June 2, 2015    

    Awesome Stephenie, This is a great idea. I like the way you are setting it out. I can always find things to learn. Got to love blogging.
    Kathleen

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 2, 2015    

      Thanks Kathleen. Be sure to check back on Thursday for part 2.

  9. Thomas Ives Thomas Ives
    June 2, 2015    

    Thank you so much for this and looking forward to reading the rest of the series. Always wanted to buy a digital camera, I probably will after reading the whole series. #debbieinshape

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      June 2, 2015    

      It’d be easier to follow along if you had a camera, but I intent to publish an inexpensive e-book when the series is done with additional information that would have been too much to cover in blog posts, however that probably won’t be until later this year, maybe even early next year. So you could follow along now, then get the book when you get the camera.

  10. May 30, 2015    

    This is exactly what I’ve been looking for! I have been unable to find tutorials for my Sony camera and I KNOW it can do way more than what I’ve been able to figure out so far. I’m glad you’re including info for all three levels. I just think a DSLR is more camera than what I need.

    • StephanieV StephanieV
      May 30, 2015    

      Well I hope you find it helpful Maria. And a dSLR is more camera than what most people need, if I’m honest. You really have to be dedicated to photography to spend the money and effort to make that kind of purchase worth it.

  11. May 29, 2015    

    I’m really excited to see the rest of this series too! Thanks!

  12. May 29, 2015    

    I can’t wait to see the rest of the series! Definitely some things I need to learn, lol.

  13. May 29, 2015    

    I’ve had my camera for over a year and I still can’t get the hang of taking decent photos. Looking forward to more in this series!

  14. May 29, 2015    

    These are some awesome tips!! Thank you so much for posting!! Now I am going to re-evaluate my camera! It might be time to upgrade! 😀

  15. May 28, 2015    

    Great series – I need all the photography help I can get! Thanks!

  16. May 28, 2015    

    What a great series! Excited to follow along! 😀

  17. May 28, 2015    

    I love my dSLR camera, it takes beautiful pictures. I need to get better with finding out all of the functions of it.

  18. May 28, 2015    

    Great series idea! Can’t wait to learn more!

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