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Mastering Your Camera (A Brief Guide)

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Fri Dec 24, 2010 11:21 pm
Mizzle says...

Alright! Photography has long since been a passion of mine and the Art and Photgraphy forum has always been one in which I constantly find myself reviewing pieces. By no means do I count myself an expert (goodness knows my photos are nothing too grand) on photography, but I do think some basic explaining of common buttons/parts/features on every camera and how to master them would be quite the handy-dandy little thing to some of you!

To begin, I would like to state that I have only worked with Nikon and Olympus cameras in the past, so some of the buttons and such that I mention will appear under a different name or category-type place if you have a Canon, Fuji, or any other brand, really.

I. A Photographer's Vocabulary (Defined)
I will begin by explaining some basic vocabulary you might have noticed people saying in a review someone did of your work, or just around basic photo forums on the internet. If you are confused by some of these terms, having heard them before, then this should be a useful 'dictionary' for you (and much easier to look up words in then pulling out the heavy dictionary itself).

Ambient: ambient light is the available or surrounding light.

Aperture: Aperture isthe amount of light being let in through the lens (lens opening). See: f-stop.

Automatic Camera: A camera with a built-in exposure meter that automatically does the work of adjusting the aperture, shutter speed, or both, for proper exposure.

Backlighting: When the light comes from behind the given subject of a photo.

Bracketing: The process of taking a series of photographs of the same subject through a range of exposures, both lighter and darker, to insure a correct exposure. Some SLR cameras have settings that allow automatic bracketing.

External Flash: A supplementary flash unit attached to the camera. External flashes are used for many things including increased flash range and red-eye reduction.

Film: A photographic emulsion of an image that is fixed on a flexible, transparent base.

Filter: A colored or transparent round glass the size of a camera lens which a photographer attaches to the camera by either screwing it onto a lens, holding it in front of the lens, or inserting it in a filter holder. The filter gives different effects to the photographer's images. (ex.: UV filter, star filter, etc.)

Finder (or viewfinder): The area on the camera where the photographer views the subject area that will be recorded on the film.

Fixed-Focus Lens: A non-adjustable (meaning it cannot change) photo lens which is set for a certain fixed distance.

Flash: A brief, intense burst of light from a flash unit or bulb. (Also: the built-in flash on your camera, which can cause red-eye, etc.)

F-Stop or F-number: A number that indicates the size of the aperture lens opening such as f/1.4, f/4, f/5.6, f/16, and f/22. The larger the f-stop number, the smaller the lens opening. F-stop determines your depth of field.

Focal Length: The distance, as marked on the lens, between the film and the optical center of the lens when the lens is focused on infinity. The distance is often listed in millimeters, such as 50mm.

Focus: The act of adjusting the focus setting on a lens in order to clearly and sharply define the given subject of a photo.

Highlights: The brightest areas of a subject.

Hot Shoe: The area of a camera that holds a small external flash.

Image Stabilization or Vibration Reducing: A lens with an internal system to detect how much a camera is shaking and compensate for it.

Internal Flash: A flash integrated into a body of the camera, usually on top.

ISO Number: A rating of the film's sensitivity to light. The higher the number, the more sensitive or "faster" the film; the lower the number, the less sensitive or "slower" the film.

Lens: Optical glass (or a similar material) that collects and focuses light to form an image on film.

Macro Lens: A lens which changes the perspective to focus from an extremely close distance to infinity.

Manual Focus: The process of setting the focus using the focus ring on the lens instead of using the camera's automatic focus system.

Normal Lens: A lens that does not change the perspective of the image like a telephoto or wide-angle lens.

Overexposure: The washed-out, overly bright areas of a photograph due to too much light reaching the film.

Reflector: Any device which reflects light onto the subject (commonly used in portraiture).

Shutter Speed: The duration for which the aperture will remain open. On an SLR camera the shutter speed can be adjusted. The numbers represent either seconds or fractions of a second. For example, 1 = 1 second, 15 = 1/15 second, 60 = 1/60 second, etc.

White Balance: A function on the camera that compensates for different colors of light being emitted by different light sources.

If you find yourself ever needing more definitions than those given on here, some great websites to consider looking at are:
1. ... s/1046.php
3. ... -know.html

II. Buying The Right Camera

Many cameras have different builds and ergonomics, which is why some people prefer Canon to Nikon, or a Nikon D3 to a Nikon D70 - the different builds of the cameras influence a buyer's choice of camera. When purchasing a camera, there are many different factors to think about.

First of all, you will need to decide what you will be using this camera for. Are you a professional photographer who will need a high-end, luxury performance DSLR? Or are you a hobby photographer, who takes snapshots of friends and family but who is just getting started and may be more suited to a point and shoot? These are important questions to ask yourself. Do you really need a high-end DSLR, or is a point and shoot more suited to your lifestyle? This is also the time to begin considering your price range, whether you have chosen to buy a DSLR or point and shoot, because nowadays, the lowest price for a DSLR is around four hundred dollars (American money) and the highest for a point and shoot is around four hundred dollars as well, the lowest price being somewhere around one hundred dollars or so.

With ergonomics, price, and usage taken into account, you also need to think about the inevitable: Canon v. Nikon wars or perhaps trying another brand like FujiFilm or Olympus. However, Canon and Nikon are the most widely reccommended due to the fact that they generally have better quality as they are practically racing against one another to produce the best camera equipment for photographers and hobbyists alike.

To decide on a brand, you will most likely need to go into a store and actually pick up each brand of camera and play around with it - see what you like and what you don't quite like about each brand. Then, with that experience in mind, you will need to think about which brand's positives outway their negatives. By now you should have a brand in mind. Now, with brand in mind, you can check out various websites like Best Buy, enter a brand (for example, Nikon) and then enter a price range. A list of available cameras will pop up; now, print that list out and go to the nearest Best Buy to check out each camera.

Obviously, whichever one you like the best will be the correct buy. Just be sure about your purchase because most cameras come with a hefty price.

III. Mastering Your Camera

Great! Now you have your camera and are all set to start using it - right? Well, sure - if you want amateur photos.Instead, why not browse the internet and read some tutorials on your camera and it's different workings? For example, when I first bought my very first DSLR, a Nikon D3000 which suited my needs wonderfully, I came home and read what must have been a zillion reviews and tutorials and just different effects you could get if you played around with the features of your camera!

You can usually find some fantastic tutorials by just going on over to and entering this into the search bar:
tutorials for (insert camera model/make here)

Aside from this, here is a brief run down of most camera's features. Usually a camera will have a little dial on the top or such where you can twist it and it will pop up as "portrait setting" or "children" or "sports." There are usually little pictures on the dial to guide you. For example, a picture of a man running with a tiny soccer ball will usually indicate that that is the automatically programmed setting for sports.

Personally, I would advise you to learn to shoot manual (usually the big 'M'). Manual sure is hard at first, but if you look into some tutorials and just play around with white balance/shutter/aperture you should finally come to some settings that fit what you want to do as a photographer. Manual allows you to be in total control, and control is nice, isn't it? You have complete effect on how your photos turn out. You can make them blue-tinted, yellow-y, even blurry. Mastering Manual is a definite key to being a great photographer, in my opinion.

I cannot help you much personally, because we are oceans and oceans apart (in some cases). However, you could always read tutorials or perhaps even sign up for a photography workshop. Just make sure your instructor is qualified and knows what you would like to learn as a student, specifically, so he or she can help you expand in that area.

I hope this helps all of you aspiring photographers expand on your skills and further understand photography. Remember, these are pretty much just the basics.Once you have mastered Manual and know shutter and aperture, there is literally so much more to learn that it would be impossible to include in just this guide. I will except questions, however, and never hesitate to message me if you need anything (even a review on photography).

xoxo Mizz
"Chase your dreams, and remember me, speak bravery,
Because after all, those wings will take you up so high."
-- Owl City, "To the Sky"
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Sat Jun 25, 2011 11:35 pm
Areida says...

Hey Mizz - thanks for the tips! I'm kind of a destroyer of point-and-shoots because I take so many pictures (I go through one or two every year) but now I'm looking into a DSLR because I'll be the photographer for my Glee Club this upcoming year and I want to get some really quality shots. Some of your suggestions were really helpful as I begin shopping around. Thanks for the guide!
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Sat Nov 26, 2011 11:01 pm
murtuza says...

Hey, Mizzle!

Thanks a bunch for this guide! I'm not much of a photographer but I do enjoy snapping. I have a point-and-shoot Sony as well as my phone's camera as well, lol. They might seem a little underwhelming but they get me the pictures I want.

Also, if I could make some suggestions - other definitions such as 'Bokeh' and the other forms would fit well here. Just saying, since you've covered up all the important things here so well.

This is great and I'll be back here for when I finally try to get myself a camera!

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