Basics of using a Digital Camera


There is so much to learn about using digital cameras, so this is just an overview to help you get started. Though there are many different brands and level of digital cameras, the options below are found on the majority of cameras produced these days.




Digital photos are made up of little blocks called "pixels". The blocks can be different sizes and the amount of them per inch determines the "resolution."

For now, choose the highest level of resolution that your camera allows. Even though that means you can fit fewer photos on your camera's memory card, we want to work with the highest quality iamges that we can. You can always make a high quality file into a smaller one without losing image quality, but you can not change a small poor quality image into a higher quality photo.

Some cameras have a button for file size on the outside of the camera, but many others only allow you to change the file size in a MENU on the lcd screen. Compression is different than resolution, but for now, if your camera has different levels of compression, choose fine or superfine for the best image quality.

Below find examples of the same image at different resolution levels.

hi res

low res





Color temperature is frequently used to describe the color quality of light in terms of degrees of Kelvin. The lower the temperature the more yellow and red are found the higher the temperature and the bluer the light will look.

Color temperature


1500 K

Candle light

2500 - 3200 K

Tungsten (indoor)

3200 - 4200 K


5500 - 6500 K

Daylight and flash

6500 - 7500 K


8000 - 10.000 K


Your camera has several white balance settings to make up for the different color casts of light.

You can leave your white balance on AUTO for most of the time, but if your image looks too blue or too yellow, you may want to go and change to one of your cameras other white balance settings. Generally the white balance is in the MENU, but it may be a button labeled WB on the outside of the camera as well.

In the examples below, white cabinets were taken with low light coming in from a window
on the right. You can see the different color casts from the different white balance settings.

auto....................................daylight................................ tungsten

fluorescent........................ ....fluorescent warm





Your camera meters scenes to find an average 18% grey, just as with film cameras. Therefore sometimes objects that are supposed to be light end up looking too dark, and vice versa. Most cameras allow you to compensate for this by letting you change the exposure.

Often there is a button on the outside of the camera.

Sometimes, however, the exposure compensation is found in the MENU of the camera and will be shown as a scale.

Below you can see that the ) setting may not always be the setting you want for very light
or very dark objects.









Just as film cameras have ISO/ASA settings for the type of film you are using (lower numbered ISO/ASA film is used for bright conditions, and the mreo sensitive higher numbered film is used for low light conditions), digital cameras often let you change the ISO settings as well.

Lower ISO numbers (80, 100, etc) are better for bright conditions and will give you the best quality images with low "noise."

However, if light conditions are low, you can choose a higher ISO setting to compensate. However, higher ISO (above 400 usually) can substantially increase the noise of the photograph.

Noise is random speckles in your image. Different cameras produce different amounds of noise in the high ISO range. Noise is the trade-off for being able to shoot in lower light conditions.

For now, you may want to set your ISO to AUTO or to 100.





Your camera may have several scene settings that can be used in various situations. In this class we call them CHEATER SETTINGS.

Some of the most common ones are:

PORTRAIT - Uses a wider aperture to produce a more shallow depth of field

LANDSCAPE - Uses a smaller aperture to produce a greater depth of field

SPORT - Uses a faster shutter speed to capture frozen motion

MACRO - Allows you to focus very close to an object (2-10 inches). Usually this causes
a shallow depth of field.

AUTO - Sets everything for you. All you have to do is press the button. However, it may
make choices for you that you do not want. Also it may not allow you to change the ISO
or white balance.


More advanced digital cameras may have the following options as well:

A or Av- Aperture Priority. This allows you to pick a specific aperture, and the camera will find a shutter speed to use to make a perfectly metered photograph.

S or Tv - Shutter Priority. This allows you to pick a specific shutter speed, and the camera will find an aperture to use to make a perfectly metered photograph.

M - Manual. This setting allows you to choose both the shutter speed and the aperture. The camera should have a meter that you can view to make sure that you are producing a perfectly
metered photograph.

P - Similar to AUTO, however it will let you make some changes to things
such as ISO or white balance.




A flash can be just the thing on a cloudy day or when your subject is in front of a bright window, however, often a flash makes photos look flat or artificial.


- Automatic setting on your camera. It decides whether you need a flash
or not, based on the lighting conditions.


- Forced flash setting tells your camera that it must fire the flash. However on some cameras this is the symbol for the automatic setting.


- No flash setting tells your camera to turn off the flash.


or - Red eye setting tells your camera to flicker its flash prior to taking
a photo so that your subject's pupils to contract, which lessens the red-eye effect.


This beautiful image could never be taken with the flash on.