Take Better Pictures - Lesson 1


Hello! This is the first of ten digital photography lessons you'll be getting from me. I'm starting off by detailing the most important menus on your digital camera. Some of it will be review if you have been in any of my classes, or if you have been taking digital photos for awhile.

Whether you are using a point-and-shoot digital camera or a high-end dSLR you are probably a bit overwhelmed by all the menu items and settings you need to choose. Even if you read the camera manual, it is hard to know what is important. This first series of lessons will explain the important ones:

After that you will learn about seeing light and basic composition.

Before you get started reading this lesson

Have a look at this video demonstration I made about holding your digital camera properly. Yes, I know it sounds simple enough, but many people do not know how to hold their digital camera so that they can easily operate the zoom, focus and other controls.


Okay, here we go!

Lesson 1 - Image Size

Camera menu

The graphic above is a typical menu item on your digital camera. This particular menu comes from the Canon G9 compact camera. dSLR cameras have similar menus.

Image size refers to the pixel dimensions of your file, described as the width times the height. It is also sometimes called file resolution. All cameras allow you to set different image sizes of the photos you are going to capture. For example, I have a 12 mega pixel camera. Mega means million, so the camera has a sensor with 12 million pixels.

Let's do the math: 4000 x 3000 = 12 million, or 12 mega pixels

You don't always have to shoot using the largest sized file. It's best to choose the one that's most appropriate. The image size menu of my camera shows several choices of resolutions to choose from:

So which one should you use?

Well, that depends on the specific usage of your final image. Yes, size does matter! If you're on a holiday in some exotic locale, you could set your camera to the highest resolution so that you can make large prints for your walls from the best images. One the other hand, if you're at a staff party taking photos for the company web site or a screen presentation, you could set a file size of 1600 x 1200 pixels. See the extra tips section below for more info on file sizes for specific print sizes.

Anything over 8MP is large enough to work with in most situations if the file is of good quality and good exposure, but those are upcoming lessons.

Extra tips for this lesson »

»The Green AUTO Button

Green square of death green square of death 2

In my classes I joke about this being the green square of death, but in reality using this fully automatic setting locks out your ability to set ISO, WB and whether you use flash or not. When this is set, the camera makes those decisions for you.

Instead, use Program mode (P), Shutter priority (S, Tv), or Aperture priority (A, Av). The camera is still using automatic exposure, but you will be able access all the menu items, giving you more control over the technical aspects of your photography. And, my motto is, if you understand the technical, the creative will flow!

»Print Sizes

Common print sizes and how they relate to mega pixels. Sizes are approximate.

If you're not sure what your final use will be, and you capture your image larger than you need, you can re-size the file in an image editing program like Photoshop, iPhoto, or iPiccy.com.

»Pixel Pushing

So why the push for more and more resolution on digital camera sensors? Well some of it is just part of the ongoing improvements being made to the sensors, and that is all a part of marketing.

You've probably realized by now that digital photography is a never-ending spending spree. There is always going to be something bigger and better on the market. I am happy if I can upgrade my camera, computer and imaging software every 18-24 months. This is enough for me to keep up with the latest technology.

Truth is, clients are impressed with photographers who are working with leading-edge technology.

Next Lesson: File Quality

This lesson will show up in your mail box in a few days.

In Between

LIfe gets busy, so sometimes you don't get the newsletters as fast as you might want them. In between the newsletters don't forget about my website, ImageMaven.com.

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Happy Shooting!