Since I’m just starting this blog I’m going to make the assumption that you also just got your camera, so today I’m going to cover some tips and tricks for setting up and using your camera that I’ve noticed new photographers tend to overlook.
Focusing the Viewfinder
One of the first things you should do with a new camera is make sure the viewfinder is properly focused for your eyes. This is especially important if you’re like me and have fairly poor eyesight and ensures that what you’re seeing when composing your shot is also what your camera is seeing. The focus adjustment is called the diopter and is generally located right next to the viewfinder as shown on my camera (Nikon D90) in the picture above. One of the easiest ways to make sure the diopter on an optical viewfinder is properly focused is to turn the camera off, remove the lens, then point the camera at a point of light and adjust the diopter in the + or – direction until your auto-focus points are as sharp as possible. For those of you with an electronic viewfinder this article from B&H photo has a great description.
Your Copyright Information
Something that you may not have thought of but could be very important in the future is the intellectual property that is your photography. All modern cameras produce what is known as exif data, which is extra data stored in the image about the image such as type of camera, lens, aperture setting, shutter speed, etc. One of the things you can have your camera add to this data is your copyright information. Having your information embedded in the exif data makes it more difficult for someone to take your image and use it as their own. Some cameras have a full Copyright section where you can fill out the artist’s name and copyright, on others you can use the user comment field to fill out your copyright information. If your camera does not support the copyright symbol © you can just use (c). On most cameras this is configured directly in the setup menu, but check your manual for specific instructions.
Choosing Your Image Quality
Many cameras give you the option to save images as RAW and/or JPEG files. RAW files are somewhat analogous to negatives in traditional film cameras and contain the raw information from your image sensor. The big advantage here is that you have the best overall image quality and a wider range of options if you’re going do any serious editing, but most programs and website don’t know what to do with a raw file so you must use a program which can decode the file. The downside of course is that RAW files are very large. Each camera will produce a slightly different file size depending on the sensor in the camera but a raw image can take around 2-6 times as much space as a JPEG. JPEGs, as I’ve already mentioned, don’t take up nearly as much space as a raw file. This is because they are compressed using a lossy method, causing a loss in image quality. They are also more difficult to edit but are much easier to share online or with friends and family. The method I prefer, is to have my camera store RAW and JPEG images at the same time, this allows me to easily edit images that I feel would be good art, but also allows me the flexibility to share images online with little effort when I just want to show friends and family what I’ve been up to.
Many cameras have the ability to display a grid over the viewfinder. While this is more about personal preference, I find having the grid invaluable as it allows for easily checking that a picture is level with something in the frame. This can save a lot of time in post where you might have to re-level the photo. If your camera has an electronic grid it can generally be turned on through the camera’s menu. On my camera this is found in the custom settings menu under auto-focus, but check your manual for specific instructions.
In later posts I’ll be covering more complex topics such as the exposure triangle (ISO, Aperture, and Shutter Speed), various exposure modes, White Balance, Composition, etc. I plan to have a new post available about every two weeks, with a few scattered in-between if I have other things I want to share.