Digital photography has come a long way since its early days and decreasing prices are making digital cameras more easily accessible to the public today. However, some aspects of even the relatively basic models of digital cameras can be somewhat confusing for a beginner. The best way to learn is to experiment with different functions and see what effects they have on the photos. Apart from just shooting pictures, digital editing can add a world of difference. Many cameras come with a variety of bundled editing software. Make good use of this to add some vitality to the pictures. Browse through this guide for some additional help on shooting and editing beautiful photographs.
Understanding Digital Photography & History
The first version of a digital camera was produced in 1981 when Sony released the Mavica. Back then, the camera used floppy discs to record image data as opposed to the small high memory data cards we have today. By the mid-80s, digital cameras capable of shooting with 1.4 megapixels were creating a sensation and selling at over $10,000. Two main types of digital cameras became prominent over the years: automatic (“point and shoot”) cameras and digital single lens reflex (DSLR) cameras. The main differences between the two are that DSLRs offer the ability to remove and change lenses, manual shooting and a higher resolution image quality. In terms of physical appearance, DSLRs tend to resemble some film cameras, while most point and shoot models are much smaller and available in eye-catching colors and shapes. In the last couple of years, automatic cameras have been catching up and today many models also offer video capability, greater zoom length and multiple shooting modes (some offer manual as well).
Camera Features & Settings
Today’s digital cameras provide many features and this can even vary from one manufacturer to the next. One of the most common types that can be found in automatic and DSLR cameras are shooting and exposure modes. Some of the popular modes automatically adjust the camera’s settings to shoot under night-time settings, cloudy outdoor light, sports (or other fast moving objects), portraits (for a good close-up exposure), landscapes (sharp detail of faraway scenery) and macro mode for shooting extremely tight close-ups of flowers, insects and other small objects. Another heavily-used option is the red-eye removal tool which automatically eliminates the red-eye phenomenon when photographing people or animals.
The manual mode is for more advanced users and allows photographers to manually adjust settings such as the ISO (“film” sensitivity), aperture (open width of the lens), and f-stop (for sharpness). Photographers sometimes intentionally change these settings in a way that the camera normally would not, in order to achieve a unique effect.
Some cameras also include a setting that dictates how many shots the camera can take at a time. The single shot mode allows a user to shoot one image at a time, while the burst mode (also called continuous drive) will shoot several images very fast, one after the other. The latter setting is useful when shooting subjects such as sports, dancers or moving objects because it freezes the action. Next to these settings is also a timer mode that allows a countdown of several seconds before shooting.
Taking Quality Pictures
Possibly the most important factor about shooting a good picture is to make sure, to your best ability that the lighting is sufficient and the subject is well composed. In terms of photographing people, this would mean positioning them well and placing them in an area with adequate light. Although we cannot apply the same technique to other subjects, such as landscapes or wildlife, other options include waiting for better light or changing angles.
When you are composing an image the rule of thirds is the most basic but important rule to remember. View the image through the viewfinder and mentally divide the image into a grid of three equal columns and three equal rows. The intersecting points indicate where the subject of interest should ideally be placed.
When lighting is a problem, try using the flash on the camera to provide additional light. Most camera flashes tend to be quite harsh and cast a very hard light and shadows if the subject is too close. To avoid this, take a small square of translucent cloth or paper and tape it or attach it with a rubber band around the flash. Now when the flash is fired, it will be diffused and the resulting light will be a lot softer and complementary. If there is absolutely nothing that can be done to help with the lighting, use the tried-and-tested trick: shoot in black and white. The photo will look intentionally contrasted and moody.
Just remember that contrary to popular opinion, a big expensive camera isn’t necessarily needed to produce a beautiful image. Anybody can shoot a good picture, even on a disposable camera, by carefully considering the composition and lighting before clicking.
There are many photo editing programs available online. Some are freeware, such as PhotoScape and GIMP, while some of the more robust and higher-priced options include Adobe Photoshop and Corel Paint Shop Photo Pro.
One of the greatest flaws in photographs is that they display a color tint which is normally too yellow or too blue. This can be fixed by adjusting the yellow or blue color levels for the image. Another common shooting mistake is that the picture might not be framed very well. Fortunately this can easily be corrected by cropping the image until it looks more pleasing. Always remember to zoom in to a hundred percent to determine whether the image is blurry or sharp. If it is blurry, try running a sharpening filter over the image. Always sharpen in small increments. If too much sharpening is applied then the image, data will begin to look distorted.
Have fun with the pictures! There are so many creative options available in editing software today that users can concoct all sorts of interesting photographic creations.
Tutorials & More
A great way to learn more about photography and digital editing, apart from experimenting, is to study photo tutorials. There are many websites that offer free tutorials and live video workshops online. For a different type of camera effect, a tutorial on lens filters provides a great introduction on altering the lighting of an image. As mentioned earlier, a lot of the most interesting photography effects are planned before the shutter button is hit. Photography magazines are a wonderful source of inspiration to learn about new tricks and techniques. If you find that the equipment is somewhat limiting, try creating some DIY equipment at home with common household objects.
General Photography Tips & Resources
A very helpful way to improve photography skills is to ask for feedback from more advanced shooters. Several community-based photography websites and forums encourage users to share images and offer feedback to each other to help develop better techniques. After becoming more comfortable with photography, don’t be afraid to break the rules! Above all, don’t forget that photography is made to be seen. Don’t keep it hiding in folders on the computer for months at a time. Learn how to make beautiful photo prints and display the pictures or give them as gifts to family and friends.