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10 Tips for Digital Beginners!

Presented by Pixalo

How Many times have we heard "Digital cameras do all the work. You just push the button and great pictures magically appear. The better the camera, the better the photos."

The truth is that you can capture great photos with a simple consumer point-and-shoot camera, or take lousy shots with the most expensive DSLR. It's not the camera that makes beautiful images; it's the photographer. With a little knowledge and a willingness to make an adjustment here and there, you can squeeze show stopping photos out of the smallest camera.

To help you down the road to great photographs, here are ten tips that will enable you shoot like a pro without maxing out your credit card on all that expensive equipment.


1. Warm Up Those Tones

Have you ever noticed that your shots sometimes have a cool, clammy feel to them? If so, you're not alone. The default white balance setting for digital cameras is AUTO, which is fine for most snapshots, but tends to be a bit on the "cool" side.

When shooting outdoor portraits and sunny landscapes, try changing your white balance setting from AUTO to CLOUDY. Why? This adjustment is like putting a mild warming filter on your camera. It increases the reds and yellows resulting in richer, warmer pictures that most of us find more pleasing.

If you don't believe me, then do a test. Take a few outdoor shots with the white balance on AUTO, then take the same picture again with the setting on CLOUDY. When you get home upload the images to your computer and look at them side by side. I'll guess that you'll like the warmer images better.



2: Sunglasses Polarizer

If you really want to add some punch to your images, then get your hands on a polarizing filter. A polarizer is the one filter every photographer should have handy for landscapes and general outdoor shooting. By reducing glare and unwanted reflections, polarized shots have richer, more saturated colors, especially in the sky.

Polarizing filters work by blocking certain frequencies of light and for modern digital cameras circular polarizing filters are required. These work by revolving the glass in the filter to alter the amount of light that is filtered and thus the amount of effect it has on the final image.

Don't despair if your camera doesn't accept filters. I have a trick that has been used for years with point-and-shoot cameras. If you have a pair of quality sunglasses, then simply take them off and use them as your polarizing filter. Place the glasses as close to the camera lens as possible, then check their position in the LCD viewfinder to make sure you don't have the rims in the shot.

For the best effect, position yourself so the sun is over either your right or left shoulder. The polarizing effect is strongest when the light source is at a 90-degree angle from the subject.



3. Outdoor Portraits That Seem Alive

One of the great hidden features on digital cameras is the FILL IN Flash or FLASH ON mode. By taking control of the flash so it goes on when you want it to, not when the camera deems it appropriate, you've just taken an important step toward capturing great outdoor portraits.

In FLASH ON mode, the camera exposes for the background first, then adds just enough flash to illuminate your portrait subject. The result is a professional looking picture where everything in the composition looks good. Wedding photographers have been using this technique for years.

After you get the hang of using the flash outdoors, try a couple variations on this theme by positioning the subject so the sun illuminates the hair from the side or the back, often referred to as rim lighting. Another good technique is to put the model in the shade under a tree, then use the flash to illuminate the subject. This keeps the model comfortable and cool with no squinty eyes from the harsh sun, and this often results in a more relaxed looking portrait.

Remember, though, that most built-in camera flashes only have a limited range, so make sure you don't stand too far away when using fill flash outdoors. Playing around and getting to know your camera will help find the effective flash range.



4. Macro Mode Madness

You might not want to lie on your stomach in a field, but if you activate the MACRO mode on your digital camera and begin to explore your world in finer detail, you'll be rewarded with fresh new images unlike anything you've ever shot before.

Even the simplest object takes on new fascination in MACRO mode. And the best part is that it's so easy to do with digital cameras.

Just look for the MACRO mode or CLOSE UP icon, which is usually a flower symbol, turn it on, and get as close to an object as your camera will allow. Once you've found something to your liking, hold the shutter button down halfway to allow the camera to focus. When the confirmation light gives you the go ahead, press the shutter down the rest of the way to capture the image.

Focus on the part of the subject that's most important to you and let the rest of the image go soft. This is called shallow depth of field, and is often used when in the MACRO mode.



5. Horizon Line Mayhem

For some mysterious reason, most human beings have a hard time holding the camera level when using the LCD monitors. We all suffer with this and the result can be cockeyed sunsets, lopsided landscapes, and tilted towers.

What can you do? Well, there's no golden rule to solve all of your horizon line problems, but you can make improvements by keeping a couple of things in mind.

First of all, be aware that it's important to capture your images as level as possible. If you're having difficulty framing the scene to your liking, then take your best shot at a straight picture, reposition the camera slightly, take another picture, and then maybe one more with another adjustment. Chances are very good that one of the images will "feel right" when you review them on the computer. Simply discard the others once you find the perfectly aligned image.

If you practice level framing of your shots, over time the process will become more natural, and your percentage of level horizon lines will increase dramatically.



6: Massive Memory Cards

When you're figuring out the budget for your next digital camera, make sure you factor in the purchase of an additional memory card. Why? Because the cards included with your new camera are provided just to get you going and are not nearly large enough to hold all your images.

Prices of memory cards are consistently dropping and sizes are increasing. For most people using a small camera, a 512mb card should be enough to keep you going for a long while.

Don't let the lack of storage space mean that you miss that killer shot because your memory card is full.



7: High Resolution All the Way

One of the most important reasons for packing a large capacity memory card is to enable you to shoot at your camera's highest resolution. If you paid a premium price for a 5 megapixel camera, then get your money's worth and shoot at 5 megapixels. Also while you're at it, shoot at your camera's highest quality compression setting too.

Why not squeeze more images on your memory card by shooting a lower resolution and low quality compression settings? Because you never know when you're going to capture the next great image and your best ever. If you take a beautiful picture at a low 640 x 480 resolution, that means you can only make a print about the size of a snapshot, not exactly the right dimensions for hanging in the wall in your living room.

On the other hand, if you recorded the image at 2272 x 1704 (4 megapixels) or larger, then you can make a lovely 8- x 10-inch photo-quality print suitable for framing or even for gracing the cover of your favorite digital photography magazine. Shooting at the largest resolution will also enable you to crop the picture in case you were not able to get as close to the action as you had liked, it should still leave you a file size large enough to get a decent sized print.

The point is, if you have enough memory (and you know you should), then there's no reason to shoot at lower resolution and risk missing the opportunity to show off your work on a big scale.



8: Tolerable Tripod

For certain types of shots, these three-legged supports can be very useful. The problem is tripods are a pain to carry around. They are bulky, unwieldly, and sometimes downright frustrating. Does the phrase "necessary evil" come to mind?

For digital shooters using the small cameras there's good news: there are some compact, versatile, ingenious devices now being made that will fit in your back pocket and enable you to steady your camera in a variety of situations. You can open the legs and set it on any reasonable flat surface such as a tabletop, fence post or a boulder in the middle of nowhere. You might not need a tripod that often, but when you do, nothing else will work.



9: Self Timer Fun

Now that you have your tripod in hand, you can explore another under-used feature found on almost every digital camera: the SELF TIMER. This function delays the firing of the shutter (after the button has been pushed) usually for up to 10 seconds, allowing enough time for the photographer to get in to shot.

This is usually a good time to turn on the flash to ensure even exposure of everyone in the composition. Make sure the focusing sensor is aimed at a person in the group and not the distant background, or you'll get very sharp trees and fuzzy family members.

Self timers are good for other situations, too. Are you interested in making long exposures of cars driving past at dusk, leaving those long red and white lines? Once again, secure your camera on a tripod, set the shutter using the self timer. By doing so, you prevent accidental jarring of the camera as you initiate the exposure and you should get a well focused professional looking result.



10. Slow Motion Water

These pictures are created by finding a nice composition with running water, then forcing the camera's shutter to stay open for a second or two, creating a soft, flowing effect of the water while all the other elements in the scene stay nice and sharp.

You'll need a tripod to steady the camera during the long exposure, and you should use the self timer to trip the shutter. If you camera has an aperture priority setting, use it and set the aperture to f-8, f-11, or f-16 if possible, the larger the better. This will give you greater depth of field and cause the shutter to slow down and stay open for longer.

Ideally, you'll want an exposure of one second or longer to create the flowing effect of the water. That means you probably will want to look for streams and waterfalls that are in the shade instead of the bright sunlight.

Another trick is to use your sunglasses over the lens to darken the scene and create even a longer exposure. Plus you get the added bonus of eliminating distracting reflections from your composition. Be careful not to knock the camera during the exposure as this will give a blurred result.



Final Thoughts

Most digital cameras, even the consumer point-and-shoot models, have a tremendous amount of functionality built into them. By applying a little ingenuity and creativity, you can take shots that will make viewers ask, "So what kind of camera do you have?"

You can tell them the answer, but inside, you'll know it's not the camera responsible for those great pictures. It's the photographer