Happy New Gear!
So, you got your first "real" camera over the holidays and are feeling a little intimidated. Fear not — you'll love it.
Whether your new baby came with a mirror or not, it sure has its fair share of buttons and controls, doesn't it? And one look at the rats nest of menus on the LCD monitor, you may be wondering if you've gotten yourself in over your head. As you learn more, the results you can achieve are limited only by what you put into it. Here are a few pointers to get you started in the right direction.
Start by reading the manual
I remember the days when new cameras came with a printed manual rather than Adobe Acrobat pdf. Each new model I bought came with a thicker manual than the one it replaced since it came with more features and allowed for improved customization. By now, camera manuals are indeed weighty tomes, whether measured in pounds or megabytes. But still, to make optimal use of your new gear, you need to learn to use it. There's little sense in spending a lot on a new camera (or in cajoling friends and family to buy one for you as a present) unless you do your homework. Sorry about that, but trust me, it will pay off in the long run.
Set the date and time
Every image you make will contain the metadata for the shutter speed, aperture, and other settings used. It also gets datestamped with when you shot it, or at least when your camera thought you did. Many new camera owners forget the important step of setting the date and time and are surprised after being out for the day shooting and then realizing. Take it from me. It's a lot easier to set the time beforehand than fix the time on a folder full of images after the fact.
Check for firmware updates
Cameras today are specialized computers with a lens mount. From time to time, camera makers release firmware updates for their products. Sometimes, these updates fix bugs in the camera operating system. Other times, they enable new features or improve the performance of existing ones. It's not uncommon to find your brand-new camera already has a firmware update available.
Understand file formats
You can shoot in either jpeg or raw format, and which you choose depends mainly on your needs and shooting style. Jpeg files are easier to deal with and take up less space, but raw gives you considerably more control over your images' eventual appearance via post-processing. Beyond this fundamental division in formats, both jpeg and raw have several sub-variants that are helpful to fine-tune your workflow. It helps to think about this some up front before you build up a collection of images you wish you could reshoot.
Understand exposure modes
I'm an unabashed fan of shooting in manual exposure, but it probably isn't the best choice for those new to all this. I'm also a big believer that the enjoyment you derive from taking pictures can serve as the driver for learning more and taking greater control of the process. If you start by attempting full manual control, you can easily get discouraged. If you begin shooting on automatic exposure, you can gradually branch out into aperture and shutter priority, and eventually manual. As your skills improve, you can begin taking greater control over exposure.
Getting to know your memory card
You may have heard that cameras don't use rolls of film anymore. OK, let's try that again. You may have heard that there used to be a thing called film rolls that recorded images. But even with digital, your photos still have to go somewhere once you take them. Introducing the memory card. Depending on your camera model, the type of card you need will vary, but the purpose and best practices remain unchanged. Format the card in your camera rather than on your computer, so you know it will be set up the right way. Invest in a card reader to transfer images to your computer. Start with a card that's neither the smallest nor the highest capacity available. The price doesn't increase that much until you get to the upper limits. Card speed ratings matter mainly if you plan to shoot video.
Settings and more settings
You are unlikely ever to need all of your camera's settings and gizmos. Not everyone needs the same options because not everyone shoots the same subjects in the same way under the same conditions. Camera makes do their best to please everyone and include as many as they can. But you'll just be winging it until you at least understand what they do. Did I mention it's a good idea to read the manual?
Accessories and more accessories
Some beginning photographers assume their new camera will come with everything they need. But just as not everyone needs the same settings and options on the camera, the same hold for everything else. Macro photography opens up a world of odd little adapters and specialized accessories, but so, too, do other types of subjects to varying degrees. Regardless of what you shoot, make sure you have the proper lens hood for every lens you own. And skip the protective filter unless you've thought things through and need one for something specific like sand and salt at the beach.
While it may be going too far to suggest that practice makes perfect, it certainly does help. When I look back at some of my earliest images, I know this to be true. Even some I thought were great at the time now seem merely average. Yet the whole way, I was taking photos I liked and learning and growing. It really is that simple if you enjoy what you are doing and are willing to put in a little work.
So, regardless of whether you are a new reader or have been shooting for some time now, welcome to 2021. I'm glad to have you here.
Happy New Year, and Happy New Gear!