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You are hereHome > Tutorials > Learn > Basics

The Basics

You'd be surprised how many photographers do not know the basics -- and wonder why their pictures always seem to have something wrong with them. These basic pointers are so common sense that we should not have to say them -- but we will anyway, because they are important. They might be simple, but not simplistic.

Holding the camera
What is there to learn about holding a camera? Not much, but before you skip this section, think about how small those digital cameras are getting to be. There're a lot of dials and buttons packed into a tiny area, and if you are not careful, you press a button inadvertently and the results are often disastrous. It does not help that some cameras have buttons in the most improbable places. It seems that one almost has to hold the camera using one's fingertips.

Right hand: The index finger rests on the shutter; the thumb is at the back to stabilize the camera; the middle finger (and the rest of the other fingers, if you so desire) holds the front of the camera. Be careful that the thumb is not pressing any button (except resting on the zoom toggle), and that the other fingers are not hiding any sensors on the front of the camera. The Nikon Coolpix 4300 has a very clean camera back with ample space for the right thumb without pressing other buttons.

Left hand: The thumb and index finger holds the bottom edge of the camera. Or, as in the case of the Nikon Coolpix 4300, you can place the index finger on top and the thumb under the camera. For clarity's sake, the other fingers of the left hand are not drawn in the diagram; they would rest against the left side of the camera. Again, be careful you are not in the way of sensors or even the lens.

'Nuff said!

Clean Optics
It is quite easy to touch the optics of a camera and leave fingerprints. The result is that your pictures do not turn out clear in certain areas. Or, the autofocus sensors (if your camera has them) can be fooled by the smudge you leave on them, and deliver blurred pictures. Regularly clean your optics with an appropriate cloth and solution (both obtained at any respectable camera store). Do not use tissue paper, your finger, spit (ugh!) or household cleaning solutions, duh!

Pressing the Shutter
Most cameras with autofocus provide a two-step shutter release. Depressing the shutter lightly half-way locks the focus; depressing it fully takes the picture. This two-step shutter release allows you to select the part of the picture you want to be in focus (especially if it is not in the middle -- usually the focus zone -- of the screen), depress the shutter release half-way to lock the focus, and then reframe the picture. Your main subject, even if it is not now in the camera's focus zone, will still come out in focus in the final picture.

When depressing the shutter, do it gently, not with a jerk. Do not hammer it down with your index finger. Place your index finger on the shutter, and let it rest gently there until you are ready to take the picture. Then depress it gently half-way to lock the focus. Reframe, hold your breath, and then depress it fully, but still gently, to take the picture. [Editor's note: don't forget to breathe again!] This helps you maintain your composition and keep your horizon level. Unless you wanted your picture to have the "Tower of Pisa" effect....

It does not help that digital cameras have a relatively long shutter lag. Shutter lag is the elapsed time from the moment you press the shutter release to when the digital camera actually takes the picture. Meanwhile, your subject might have moved. Some digital cameras are worse than others in this respect making taking snapshots and action pictures almost impossible. It is getting better, but meanwhile, remember to press that shutter release gently and hold for at least 1 full sec. until the camera has recorded the picture. To reduce shutter lag, always use the lock focus feature on your digital camera.

Aperture vs. Shutter Priority
Which is better to use, aperture priority or shutter priority? The answer is, it depends on what you want to take. If you are at the basketball court and want some action stopping shots, select shutter priority. Set your shutter speed to 1/125 sec or even 1/400 sec and let the camera figure out the proper aperture (you might settle for the highest shutter speed available for proper exposure, depending on the light condition). Chances are that most everything will be blurred but the subject in focus. Which is fine since you want to "freeze" the action.

On the other hand, if you want to take a landscape and desire most everything to be in focus, select aperture priority. Here, you select the aperture you want, usually stopped down to f/8 or f/16 (unfortunately, many digital cameras do not stop down to that aperture yet, sigh!), and let the camera figure out the appropriate shutter for the correct exposure. Since this might result in a slow shutter speed, you might want to use a tripod in this case.

Using a Tripod
Did we say, use a tripod? Oh, come on, you must be joking, right? Right! We, here at Photoxels, rarely use a tripod. Notice, we said, rarely. Most times, a tripod might not be necessary, but some shots just scream for one. Panoramic shots may require one. Macro shots definitely require one. Night shots at slow shutter speeds demand one. So, invest in one if you plan to take a lot of landscape shots or are especially keen on macro photography. We find that even one of the small ones can be a big help.

Depth of Field
When you look at a picture where there are objects in the foreground and in the background, you may notice that, besides your main subject, some objects in front of your main subject and going all the way back to behind your main subject are also in focus. This "zone of sharpness" is called the depth of field.

The depth of field is dependent on the aperture you are using, the focusing distance, and the size of the projected image. The depth of field decreases as you open up the lens, i.e. as you move to a larger aperture. It decreases as you move closer to your subject. And, at a fixed image size, the depth of field is the same irrespective of the focal length used (though to someone viewing a photograph, it appears that DOF is greater with a wide-angle and shallower using a telephoto -- which is all we care about really).

You would want to use a shallow depth of field to isolate your main subject from its surroundings, as in a portrait. You can accomplish that by moving in close, by zooming in (again, because it makes the background appear larger and more out of focus) and/or by using a large aperture.

Conversely, if you desire the foreground and background to be as sharp as possible, as in a landscape, you would want to increase the depth of field by using a a small aperture or wide-angle setting on your lens (go away, don't bug me anymore with the technicality ;o)).

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