With a digital camera, you can also take as many pictures as you want without worrying about wasting film. You can look at pictures right away and decide whether to keep them or delete them. And, you can print only the images you want -- you don't have to process whole rolls of film and then figure out where to store all the pictures.
But digital cameras also have a few disadvantages. A film camera can take a picture almost immediately when you press the button. Digital cameras, on the other hand, can take a few seconds, especially if they're making adjustments automatically. They also require more light than traditional cameras do. Sometimes, the abundant space on a memory card encourages people to take so many pictures that they're not sure what to do with them later.
By keeping a few tips in mind, it's easy to overcome the disadvantages and get a lot out of your digital camera. See the next page to get started.
Control the light
It is good to remember that a digital camera is a lot like a film camera, but it uses a sensor and a memory card in place of film. When you take a picture, a digital shutter opens and exposes the sensor to light. The sensor reacts to the light, and the memory card stores the resulting picture.
The light that hits the sensor determines virtually everything about the picture. Your camera may be able make some adjustments, but it has to work with the amount and type of light that it receives. You can control how the light hits the sensor with three settings:
- The focus adjusts the lens in relation to the sensor, making sure that the light converges on the sensor's surface. Most digital cameras have an automatic focus feature, but a few focus manually and have interchangeable lenses.
- The aperture, measured in f-stops, determines how wide the shutter opens. A wide opening lets in more light, and a narrow opening lets in less. Higher f-stops mean that the opening is smaller, and lower f-stops mean that it is larger. The aperture determines the picture's depth of field, or how much of the picture is in focus. At low f-stops, the foreground of the picture will be in focus while the background is out of focus. At high f-stops, objects in both the foreground and background are in focus.
- The shutter speed determines how long the shutter is open. The longer it's open, the more light will hit the sensor. If you or your subject is moving while the shutter is open, the image will be blurred.
Choose the best exposure
On most cameras, you can manually adjust the aperture and shutter speed. This can reduce the amount of time between when you press the button and when the shutter opens. Most cameras also have a fully automatic mode that adjusts the settings, including the focus, for you. You can take lots of good, clear pictures with this mode. Many cameras also have several presets for capturing portraits, fast action or outdoor scenes.
But automatic exposure might not be best for every situation, so understanding f-stop, shutter speed and presets can make a huge difference in how well your camera works for you. Being able to set the exposure on your own will also let you cut down the amount of time between when you press the button and when the shutter opens. In other words, you can take the picture you want before the moment passes. You can learn more about setting exposure by taking several pictures of the same scene using different settings and seeing how the finished product changes.
Hold the camera steady and lock the focus
Since digital cameras require more light than film cameras, the shutter is often open longer. This can cause your pictures to blur. Using a tripod or monopod can help you keep your camera still.
Also, on most digital cameras, pressing the button halfway will focus the camera. You can hold the button in this position until you're ready to take the picture. This can further reduce the time between when you press the button and when the shutter opens. It can also let you keep the camera in focus while re-framing the picture.
Use optical -- not digital -- zoom
An optical zoom physically changes how far the lens is from the sensor. Digital zoom, on the other hand, simply forces the camera to create the picture from one portion of the sensor rather than the whole thing. You can do the work of a digital zoom yourself using image editing software, and you can often do it better than your camera can.
Preserve the battery
It's tempting to use the LCD screen as a viewfinder. Sometimes, it's the only good way to see what you're taking a picture of. But the LCD screen uses lots of battery power. If possible, set your camera to preview pictures on the screen after you take them but to keep it turned off the rest of the time.
Delete unwanted pictures right away
Unless you're quickly taking several pictures of the same scene, look at your picture as soon as you take it. You'll know right away if you need to take another. If you do, go ahead and delete the one you don't like. If you wait to review all your pictures and delete unwanted ones, your camera will probably insert new pictures into the spaces the deleted ones left. This can make it harder to sort and organize your pictures later.
Maximize your storage space
Most cameras come with a very small memory card. Upgrade it to something larger, and keep the old one as an emergency backup. You can fit more pictures onto your card by lowering the resolution or increasing the compression that the camera uses. Even if your camera has a high megapixel rating, you can manually set it to take slightly lower-quality pictures. You should still be able to make average-sized prints with little to no loss of quality.
Transfer your pictures
After taking pictures with your digital camera, the next step is to transfer them from the memory card to your computer. Depending on your camera, you either remove the card and place it in a card reader, or you plug your camera directly into your computer's USB or FireWire port. Some people wait until the memory card is nearly full, but it's a good idea to go ahead and copy your pictures soon after you take them. That way, you won't lose your pictures if something happens to your camera, and you can sort and share your pictures while they're still fresh on your mind. You should also back your pictures up onto CD-ROM or DVD-ROM regularly.
Many digital cameras come with software to help you manage your pictures. Often, the program will show you thumbnails, or miniature versions of your pictures, so you can quickly navigate through your collection. You can use the program to categorize your photos by date, subject matter or type. Many programs also let you make basic image corrections, like removing red eye. Or, you can use more advanced software, like Adobe Photoshop, to completely change the look of your pictures. See Digital Photography Basics for more details.
Know your print options
You can print pictures at home on a photo printer, or you can send them to a printing service. Both options have some pros and cons. If you buy a printer, you can print your pictures right away. Many printers are portable, so you can take them with you on vacation and print photos as you go. But the cost of the printer, ink and paper can add up -- in general, this is an expensive way to print your photos.
Most of the time, using a professional printing service is a more economical option. You can make standard-sized prints for a few cents each and very large prints for a few dollars. Typically, you sign up for a free account, upload the photos you want to print, and place your order. Sometimes, you can take CDs of images to an in-store kiosk and place your order there.
Using a professional service is generally cheaper than buying your own printer, and your prints will probably be better quality. However, uploading the pictures can take time, since you'll want to send full-sized, high-resolution pictures. You'll also have to wait a few days for your prints to arrive.
Share your photos online
If you're going to share your photos via e-mail, it's a good idea to re-size them before you send them. Digital cameras can create very large image files, and these files can take a long time to download. To reduce the size of your pictures, open them in your photo editing software. Make the files smaller in one of two ways:
- Reduce the resolution, measured in dots per inch (DPI). The minimum resolution for good-quality onscreen viewing is 72 DPI.
- Reduce the image size, measured in inches, centimeters or pixels. A 3 by 5 inch (7.6 by 12.7 centimeter) picture will travel well by e-mail but will still be big enough to see.
Save the result as a new file, and keep your original high-resolution image.
If you'd rather share your photos in an online gallery than via e-mail, you can start an account on an image-sharing site like Flickr, Fotki or Snapfish. Your camera's software may also include automatic uploading options. Many of these services are free, but some limit how many pictures you can upload per month or how much disc space you can use. CNET has a good comparison of online sharing and printing sites.
To test your knowledge, take the digital camera quiz, or see the next page for more information and tutorials on digital photography.
There's a camera that lets you to shift the focus of a photo — after it's taken. Find out about light-field camera technology from HowStuffWorks Now.
- Camera Quiz
- Digital Camera Quiz
- How Cameras Work
- How Digital Cameras Work
- Digital Photography Basics
- How Photobucket Works
- How Autofocus Cameras Work
- How Photo Sharing Works
- What are the best settings for e-mailing or printing pictures?
- Why do people have red eyes in some flash photographs?
- How does a pinhole camera work?
More Great Links
- Getting the Best out of Low-end Digital Cameras
- Digital vs. Film: One Photographer's Experience
- Digital Photography Tips
- Digital Photography FAQ
- Online Digital Photography Instruction
- Cambridge in Color: Digital Photography Tutorials
- O'Reilly: Top Ten Digital Photography Tips
- Kodak: Taking Pictures
- A Short Course in Using your Digital Camera
- Getting the Best out of Low-end Digital Cameras http://www.tasi.ac.uk/advice/creating/bestuse.html
- A Short Course in Using your Digital Camera http://www.shortcourses.com/using/index.htm
- Digital vs. Film: One Photographer's Experience http://www.nicholsonprints.com/Articles/digital.htm
- Digital Photography Tips http://www.digital-photography-tips.net/digital-photography-blog.html
- Digital Photography FAQ http://www.cs.duke.edu/~parr/photography/faq.html
- Digital Photography Tutor http://www.digital-photography-tips.net/digital-photography-tutor.html