Lights, Camera, …Uh, What Do I Do Now?
A Guide To Photography For The Absolute Beginner
You’ve decided to take the plunge and learn how to use that new camera you got for Christmas, birthday, etc., or perhaps, you are still trying to decide what kind of camera would be best for you. Through the course of this book, I hope we can answer that question or, at least , steer you in the right direction.
I have written this book with the absolute beginner in mind. This book is not intended as a guide to make you a professional photographer. I would recommend college or, at the very least, a direct apprenticeship with a skilled and established photographer to reach that goal. You may have never even used a camera or only had a very simple point and shoot camera in the past and have now decided that you would like to take things to the next level.
Congratulations! You are about to be bitten by the photography bug! Don’t worry! It won’t hurt and you actually might find that you enjoy it. Let me warn you, though. It does involve exercising your brain a little as you learn some of the basic “rules” of photography. Once you understand the basic rules, then we’ll discuss how you can bend or even break them! That’s right! You can break the rules without any more severe a penalty than the need to reshoot the image. How cool is that?
Kick back in your easy chair and relax while we begin your journey!
Which Camera Do I NEED?
While this may seem on the surface to be a rather simple question, there are several things you should consider first.
The key word in the title of this chapter is NEED. Will you be primarily taking photos of your family, friends and pets? Do you want to make sure you capture the best memories of that family reunion or your trip to the
Grand Canyon? How
about the marvelous landscapes you pass every day on your way to work? These
questions and many more will be a part of your decision on camera purchases.
Unless you are independently wealthy, price is always going to be a consideration as well. Digital cameras today can range in price from under a hundred dollars to well over several thousand dollars. In most cases, the more you invest, the more control over the final image and the more you will have to study all the functions of the camera to use it to it’s full potential. Every new camera sold comes complete with a little book referred to as the “Owners Manual”. Take the time to read that little book and keep it handy so you can refer to it often. Believe me; it is not in the box as padding! It is your best friend as you learn to use and become familiar with the functions of whatever camera you have decided is right for you.
“But what camera is right for me?” , you ask. Let’s see if we can sort that out by learning a few things about modern digital cameras.
Yeah, I know. Less than a couple of pages into the book and I am already throwing gobbledy-gook words at you. A megapixel is simply a term that refers to the number of pixels on the sensor of the camera that will record your image. Each digital image is made of tiny little color pixels (red, green, and blue) that will be activated by the light passing through the lens of your camera and are either turned on or off by that light in such a way to form a copy of the picture you are attempting to capture. A single megapixel is one million pixels (or points of light). That is the first item that will determine the quality of the image you get. Theoretically, the more megapixels you have, the more detail will be seen in the final image.
“Oh so I need a 36 megapixel camera so all my pictures will be super sharp!” In a nutshell, no. Just starting out, keep it simple. If most of the pictures you make are destined to live on the internet to be shared on social media, a camera with only 4- 8 megapixels will be plenty. An image from an 8 megapixel camera can be blown up to 11x14 or even larger print without any discernible loss of resolution (sharpness). I know of several renowned professional photographers that use 12 megapixel cameras on a fairly regular basis to photograph images for publication in some of the best magazines.
So let’s take a look at some of the different camera types.
POINT AND SHOOT
One of the most common cameras is a fixed lens camera, often referred to as a “point and shoot”. By fixed lens, I mean that it will have one lens that is permanently attached to the camera and will usually have a feature that allows you to zoom in and out to make objects appear larger or smaller in you picture. There are many manufacturers of good quality point and shoot cameras, such as Nikon, Canon, Kodak, Sony and many, many more. They can range from 4 megapixels up to 16 megapixels as of this writing. The prices range from as low as fifty dollars or less up to several hundred dollars. I carry a 12 megapixel Canon point and shoot every where I go for those moments when I want to grab a quick shot of something without having to really think about what I am doing. It is pretty simple to get a decent image from a point and shoot camera. By changing a few simple settings on the camera, I have shot magazine quality images with that simple point and shoot. So can you.
The larger you blow up an image from a low resolution (read - small number of megapixels) camera, the more it will be pixilated or seem to fall apart and have little squares that are out of focus. The more pixels you have, the larger you can make your images. Planning on doing a billboard? Then you will likely need a camera in the 16 megapixel and up range. But believe me, for a billboard, you will likely have to use something more than a point and shoot camera.
The majority of professional photographers and a great number of amateur photographers use what is known as a DLSR camera. DSLR stands for “digital single lens reflex”. A single lens reflex camera is very simply a camera that has the ability to accept a number of different lenses that attach to the camera giving you an option of shooting things close to you or far way depending on the lens you put on the camera body. Reflex in the description refers to the way the mirror in the camera moves out of the way of the viewfinder when you push the shutter button. Think of it as the same as the standard 35 mm film cameras used almost exclusively into the late 1990’s. Instead of film, modern DLSR cameras have a sensor inside that collects the light reflected from whatever you are photographing and sends it to a small computer chip in the camera. The image is stored on a data card that allows you download the images to your computer. From there, you process the image in the editing software of your choice, the most popular of which is Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom.
DLSR cameras offer you a lot of creative control in the camera. By changing certain settings on the camera, you can alter the look of the scene entirely. You have the ability to capture the image almost exactly as you see it or you can alter the scene to fit the mood you wish to convey in the final image. While you can do that to a great extent on many point and shoot cameras, a dslr will allow you an even greater control because of the ability to change lenses for effect.
Digital images require a lot of space on your computer. The more megapixels, the larger the image file on you computer. An average 18 megapixel file when you are shooting in the raw format, is approximately 120 megabytes and that is before you do any processing of the image. Image editing software will most times make the file even larger depending on what you do to the files. We’ll talk a bit more about the various file formats soon.
If your primary focus is photography for social media, sharing photos with friends and family, then a point and shoot camera may really be all you need. Weigh the options of the two types of camera outlined here and make the decision based on what you can handle, both on the learning level and the cost level. Just remember that with a dslr, you will also have to purchase lenses for more creative control. Lenses are not cheap. At least, good lenses are a not cheap.
My best advice would be to go the your local camera store and talk to them about the different cameras. A reputable camera store will have a knowledgeable staff that will be happy to point you in the right direction. They are in the business of selling cameras and related equipment, so take that into consideration when they start recommending a camera that is way more than you need. Don’t be afraid to tell them the LOW end of your budget. If you can afford $1000, start at $400 and see where they steer you. Salespeople generally make commission on what you buy and will do their best to lead you to the higher end of your budget. This is not always the case, but always check in more than one store before you make a purchase decision.
Check on social media (ie. Facebook, Google+, Twitter) for local camera clubs. The folks in these clubs are usually a pretty good source of information and, in my experience, are pretty nice folks that are more than willing to share knowledge with others. Internet reviews are also good, but keep in mind that not everything you see or hear on the internet is necessarily true. GASP!!! Double check information with reputable sources.
There are also some great places where you can purchased equipment that has been previously owned. I would highly recommend stores like Adorama (www.adorama.com), KEH Camera (www.keh.com), or B&H Photo ( www.bhphotovideo.com ). I have personally done business with each of these companies and they are all very reputable. I am sure there are many others out there, but these I can personally recommend.