Digital cameras have revolutionised photography – you can look at your photos as soon as you have taken them, delete the ones you don’t want, and try again. And you can take as many pictures as you like, at no extra cost. Find out the basics of how to get the best out of your digital camera in this short guide.
Taking pictures with a digital camera is almost exactly the same as taking pictures with a film camera - but instead of needing chemical processing and printing, digital photos are files that can be loaded onto a computer, emailed to friends and uploaded to Facebook. If you want prints, you can print them out at home or at a local shop, but most digital pictures live a purely digital life.
The best thing about taking photos with a digital camera is that if you didn’t get everything right, you can crop and retouch your pictures using computer software (such as Adobe Photoshop) or do it online at a photo-editing site. It’s all very liberating, until you start to run out of battery power…
Back to basics
Remember to stand with the sun coming over your left shoulder, get close to the subject, and if there’s not much light or the subject is in deep shadow, use flash. Apart from that, digital cameras are highly automated and will do almost everything for you.
Instead of taking every picture with the programmed setting, tell the camera what you are doing. It may have from 5-25 icons for selecting portraits, landscapes, action shots, close-ups, etc. The landscape icon will probably show a mountain range while the close-up setting might be a flower. The various modes are not hard to decipher and they’ll be listed in the manual.
Always shoot at the camera’s maximum resolution, if you can. For example, a 12MP camera will take pictures at 4,000 x 3,000 pixels, and each one will take up roughly 2.5-3.0 megabytes of space on the camera’s storage card. (Pictures are compressed, so a picture of a crowd of people will need more space than a picture of a white wall.)
If you switch to a lower resolution, such as 2,000 x 1,500 pixels, the files will be smaller, perhaps 1.0-2.0MB. However, you have also reduced your picture from 12MP to 3MP, and any pixels not captured at the time can never be recovered later.
Digital cameras are often sold with a small storage card, and sometimes with no card. Either way, buy one or two big cards - perhaps 2GB or 4GB - and carry one as a spare. If you have a 12MP camera, a 2GB card should hold 600-800 photos. You’ll rarely need more.
Saving and editing your pics
When you have finished taking pictures, copy or move them to a PC. Most cameras can be connected via a USB cable (there’s usually one in the box) and often the transfer is automatic. Alternatively, many PCs now have built-in SD (Secure Digital) memory card slots, so you can just remove the card from the camera and plug it into your laptop. If your computer doesn’t have a slot, you can buy a cheap adaptor that plugs into a USB port.
Once your pictures are on a PC, you can edit them - make them lighter or darker, correct the colour balance, remove ’red eye’, and so on. With some software, you just click a button and it does its best. Don’t edit original photos, though. Copy and back up the original file and keep it somewhere safe - you can do anything you like with a copy.
The drawback with editing photos is that they are usually in JPG format, which uses compression to save space. Each time you save a JPG, there’s a slight deterioration in quality. Try to do all your editing in one go, then save the picture at the end.
The photo-editing market is dominated by Adobe Photoshop, which is expensive, but Adobe Elements is marketed for home users. Corel’s PhotoImpact is a powerful alternative that even beginners can use. There are several good free programs for Microsoft Windows, such as Paint.net and Photoscape. The open source GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program) also has fans, and there’s a special Mac OS X version called Seashore. Windows users should also download a copy of the free utility, Irfan View. There are also lots of free photo-editing sites, such as the powerful Aviary.
Finally, because digital photos are just files, they can easily be turned into books. Some online printing sites offer templates for albums with different sizes and layouts. Paste in a selection of your best photos and you can have record of your wedding or holiday that’s like a printed book.