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Digital Photography Basics

How to Take Good Photos
An external flash unit
An external flash unit
Image courtesy HowStuffWorks Shopper

Taking photos with a digital camera follows many of the same techniques that make for successful film photographs. However, digital cameras differ in a few important ways.

There's usually a lag between the moment you press the shutter release button and when the camera takes the picture (except for the most expensive models). A longer lag time means that it's more difficult to capture a moment. Here are a few ways to minimize this problem:

  • Set your focus ahead of time. When using auto focus, pressing the shutter release halfway tells the camera to focus in on your target. You might have to wait for a few seconds with that button halfway down, but when you finally take the picture, the camera won't have to waste time focusing.
  • Use manual exposure settings. It takes time for the camera to calculate exposure settings in full automatic mode, so set them manually whenever you can.
  • Don't use flash unless it's absolutely necessary. The time it takes to charge the flash can create additional lag. If you need a flash, consider using an external flash unit.
  • Use the viewfinder instead of the LCD screen. This will save your batteries and reduce the amount of work the camera has to do.
  • Reduce image quality. Digital cameras allow you to adjust the size and resolution of the photos you are taking. Huge, uncompressed tiff files will look great, but they might create lag. If you are trying to capture action shots, try a lower quality setting with smaller images. Obviously you're sacrificing large, high-resolution images, but it will increase your chance of getting the shot you wanted. Experiment with your camera's settings to find the right balance between image quality and shutter lag.
  • Use burst mode. If your camera offers it, burst mode is a great way to get the precise moment you're shooting for by taking a series of quick photos over the course of a few seconds. Depending on the camera, burst mode (or continuous mode) may require a compromise in image quality.

Learn more on how to shoot the best photos by accounting for the problems on the next page.